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Posts tagged ‘Holy Spirit’

ABSOLUTE SURRENDER

(Adapted from The Seeking Heart by Fenelon, p. 175-176)

Inward peace comes with absolute surrender to the will of God.  Learn to accept counsel with humility and straightforwardness.  This will help you grow closer to God.

The reason you feel so agitated is that you do not accept everything that happens to you with complete trust in God.  Put everything in His hand, and offer yourself to Him as a sacrifice.  The moment you stop wanting things to be your way, you will be free from so much worry and concern.  You won’t have to hide anything or make up excuses for anything.

Until you reach this point of surrender, your life will be full of trouble and aggravation.  So give your heart wholly to God and you will find peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

PRAYER OF SURRENDER

My God, I want to give myself to you.  Give me the courage to do this.  My spirit within me sighs after you.  Strengthen my will.  Take me.  If I don’t have the strength to give You everything, then draw me by the sweetness of Your love.  Lord, who do I belong to, if not to You?  What a horror to belong to myself and to my passions!  Help me to find all my happiness in You, for there is no happiness outside of You.

Why am I afraid to break out of my chains?  Do the things of this world mean more to me than You?  Am I afraid to give myself to You?  What a mistake!  It is not even I who would give myself to You, but You who would give Yourself to me.  Take my heart.

What joy it is to be with You, to be quiet so that I might hear Your voice!  Feed me and teach me out of Your depths.  Oh God, You only make me love You.  Why should I fear to give You everything and draw close to You?  To be left to the world is more frightening than this!  Your mercy can overcome any obstacle.  I am unworthy of You, but I can become a miracle of Your grace.

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NOTE: François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon, more commonly known as François Fénelon (6 August 1651 – 7 January 1715), was a French Roman Catholic archbishop, theologian, poet and writer.

A Wife’s Role Defined

(Adapted from Different by Design by H. Dale Burke)

A wife has a lot to learn as she tackles the daunting assignment of understanding and loving the man in her life. The average woman may be more sensitive to a man’s needs than he is to hers, but she faces some significant challenges. The primary concepts found in God’s Word to direct wives in loving their husbands in the servant-wife role include: a) Respect; b) Trust; c) Support; d) Acceptance; e) Admiration.

One issue that needs to be addressed and properly understood deals with submission. Scripture states, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph 5:22), and “As the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (Eph 5:24). It is clear that God calls on wives to submit, to be subject to their husbands. The very sound of the term submission is enough to offend many modern couples who so want to serve as equals on a team, pulling together to build a quality marriage. A thorough examination of the apostle Paul’s concept of submission is essential to understanding God’s unique blueprint to marriage, a design that transcends today’s culture.

Biblical submission is NOT: inferiority, intellectual suicide, without fulfillment, passivity, or silence.

Submission is not inferiority. Wives aren’t the only ones called upon to submit. The Scriptures are clear that even Jesus’ relationship to His Father was one of submission. At the height of His anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed to God, asking to be relieved of the assignment He had been sent to Earth to fulfill. His prayer concluded, however, like this: “Yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) This act of submission typifies Jesus’ relationship with God the Father, but there is never a hint in His words that He was in a position of inferiority. Biblical submission does not place the one submitting in a lesser, or inferior, position.

Submission is not intellectual suicide. Anyone who would suggest that a woman must blindly submit to her husband’s leadership needs to know that to make such an assertion is just as irresponsible as suggesting that Christ calls us to come to Him by blind, unthinking faith. The opposite is the case. Jesus challenged those around Him to think, perhaps more seriously than they’d ever thought before. Submission is a choice that follows serious, informed consideration. It’s not acquiescence to a second-class role in the relationship. It’s a choice to follow another’s leadership with your brain in full gear. Again, Jesus as the Son of God may be our strongest proof that submission has nothing to do with intellectual suicide. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are truly equal in Their divine omniscience. However, each has a role to play and each performs that role in perfect harmony and mutual respect. Likewise, a wife who chooses to honor God and love her husband with a submissive spirit should still be highly valued for her God-given wisdom and abilities.

Submission is not without fulfillment. Nothing promises or delivers a deeper sense of satisfaction than the assurance that you’re doing the will of God. Wives who submit to their husbands according to the command in Ephesians 5:22 can expect no less. The fact is that real fulfillment is found not in the pursuit of our dream but God’s dream. Fulfillment for the Christian man or woman is not being all that you can be; it’s being all that God calls you to be. Pleasing God is priority one. Supporting or encouraging your husband to take responsibility for leadership in the home should never, ever be labeled as boring or unfulfilling. The wife still can, and should, play a vital role in the direction of the family.

Submission is not passivity. The verb rendered “be subject to” in Ephesians 5:22 and “be submissive to” in 1 Peter 3:1 is in the present tense, which suggests a habit pattern. It’s imperative, meaning it’s a command. And it’s in the middle voice, meaning this is not something done to a woman but by her. She’s actively involved in every aspect of marriage, including this one. It’s action oriented with the distinction being that it’s done under another’s authority. God designed women to contribute fully and significantly to every aspect of the marriage and family.

Submission is not silence. One common misconception about submission is that it condemns wives to suffer in silence when their husbands fail to lead and love as Christ leads and loves His church. No man is perfect, and disappointment, frustration, and exasperation are part of every marriage in pursuit of intimacy. Still, the clear challenge to love with a submissive spirit is given to every wife, even to those wed to men who are missing the mark. In 1 Peter 3:1 God calls wives simply to imitate Jesus. To love that difficult, disobedient, even unbelieving husband without preaching to him, without demanding that he change, without threatening to leave if he doesn’t shape up. But does that mean total silence? No! Ephesians 4:25-27 says, “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Honesty should never be abandoned in the name of submission. Whether leading or following, never stop being open and honest with your spouse. Silence is as dangerous to your marital health as ignoring pain is to your physical health. When it comes to marriage, silence is never golden.

What does it mean for a woman to submit to her husband as to the Lord? Submission is willingly placing yourself under the leadership of another. This is an “as to the Lord” type of submission. The psalmist was involved in this activity in Psalm 17:8-9 and 61:4. He was hiding, dwelling, taking refuge in the Lord. He was willingly placing his trust in another. He chose to follow his Lord and to trust in Him. That loving, trusting relationship became a place of shelter and refuge. Similarly, the wife’s decision to obey God and submit to her husband’s leadership is the ultimate expression of respect and trust. It is important to notice the extent of submission expressly stated in Ephesians 5:24 covers everything. This is not a part-of-the-way proposition; not 30 percent, 50 percent, or 99 percent. It’s 100 percent. Paul’s commands to the husband demand a similarly wholehearted response. He is to love his wife, sacrifice for her, and nourish and cherish her whether she having a bad day or good – 100 percent of the time. However, for those who would distort Scripture to say that a woman must obey her husband, period, note one significant exception. First Peter 3:1 challenges women to submit to their husbands even if they may be “disobedient to the word.” But, this is a far cry from submitting to a husband who tells you to disobey God. Paul and the apostles put that notion to rest in Acts 5:29 when they responded to the Jewish authorities who told them to quit teaching in Jesus’ Name: “We must obey God rather than men.” Coming under the authority of another is never a call to violate the Word of God.

Scripture continues to say, “For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body (Eph 5:23). Indeed, “authority over and responsibility for” is the meaning of head, in God’s definition of marriage. Not the heavy-handed, harsh rule of the world, but the gentle, loving, sacrificial leadership of a savior. A leader who will give anything to care for his wife. One who takes his responsibility seriously, knowing he will give an account to God for the health and well-being not only of his wife, but of his entire family. Some have incorrectly thought that the statement in Ephesians 5:21, “Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ,” negates the following command. This command is actually a consequence of being filled with God’s Spirit and calls all of us, men and women alike, to exhibit a submissive spirit whether leading or following, whether husband or wife, whether parent or child, whether employee or employer. However, in each of these relationships someone is told to exercise loving leadership and someone is encouraged to follow. The concepts of submission and headship are anchored in truths that clearly transcend any culture or time in history. They are as relative today as they were in the culture of the time they were written about.

Christ is the Head of the church and the husband is the head of the wife. Jesus is the church’s Lord and Leader as well as its Source. He takes responsibility for the life and health of the church, just as the husband takes responsibility for the life and health of his wife. It is in light of this challenge for husbands to lead and love by sacrificially caring for every aspect of their wife’s welfare that God then calls the wife to follow. She will someday answer to her Lord in heaven for how she loved and followed her leader on earth.

A Servant-Wife Respects. As important a concept submission is, it is not the only issue or even the main issue contained in Ephesians 5:33 – And the wife must see to it that she respects her husband. Respect is the real issue for men. Submission is not the end; it is only one means to the end. The real target in God’s sights is to see wives shower their husbands with a gentle rain of respect. It is the gift that best says to a man, “I love you.” Just as sacrificial love is only a tool, a means of communicating to wives that we care, so submission is only a tool, a means of communicating respect to a husband. Respect, or reverence, is a gift that can be given to men, even imperfect men or ungodly men. First Peter 3:2 clearly calls on wives to win over their husbands by their “chaste and respectful behavior.” Moreover, these men are described in verse 1 as men who are “disobedient to the word.” That is often taken to refer to husbands outside the faith, unbelievers, but that’s not necessarily the case. All too often, it is the Christian who finds himself or herself with a spouse who is less than an angel. Many wives know the challenge of living with a mate who has little to no interest in spiritual things. It is to that wife that God says, “Give the gift of respect to your husband.”

A very common statement that floats around this subject is “Trust can be given, but respect must be earned.” Is that really true? If by respect we mean a feeling of respect or admiration, then it is true. However, respect used in reference to marriage is not just a feeling; it’s an action. It is something to choose to give whether I feel it or not. We do this all the time. A student may not like a teacher, principal, or coach. A citizen may not feel a lot of respect for a particular president, judge, or policeman. However, he or she had better learn to show those figures respect. How much truer this is in a marriage. A wife’s feelings of respect for her husband (or a husband’s for his wife, for that matter) will grow or diminish as she gets to know him, observing his character and skills. When she feels respect for him, showing it – expressing it – will come easily. However, God isn’t calling us to the easy thing, but the harder thing: showing respect whether it’s deserved or not. It’s the same challenge God gives to husbands. The call to sacrificially love, nourish, cherish, and honor our wives isn’t limited to their good days. It extends to every day!

Respect is not optional. It’s essential in a healthy marriage. What can you do if you don’t have a lot of respect for your husband?

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

1) Focus on the positive. Stop and take time to identify the good instead of the bad. Tell him and others where he excels; talk about things excellent rather than things deficient. Concentrate on the actions worthy of praise, not criticism. Thank God for what is right about this man, not what is wrong. Every man has some areas that are honorable; talk to others about those areas. Dwell on the lovely, not the ugly; the true, not the false. This may seem hard at first, but trust in God’s help to do this, and just do it! Focus on the positive, and see if the negatives don’t begin to diminish. However, this takes time, so commit to the positive and stay there.

2) Focus on the position. God calls us to respect the fact that leaders may not always be right, but they are always responsible. God will hold the husband accountable for the condition of the home, so respect that position of responsibility. It is not so much an issue of authority as it is an issue of accountability and responsibility. Respect that position of responsibility and his calling as the leader in your home. Permit me to paraphrase another passage – one written to call the church to respect its leaders – and apply it to marriage.

Obey your leaders (husbands) and (respectfully) submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls (and your homes) as those who will give an account (to God). Let them do this (lead out in your marriage) with joy (sensing your support and respect) and not with grief (as you nag them about their shortcomings and poor decisions), for this (type of disrespectful relationship) would be unprofitable for you (and all those in your family). (Hebrews 13:17)

3) Focus on the Lord. Ultimately, our calling is to the lordship of Christ, not to any human being. We must not focus on a husband’s worthiness, but on Christ’s worthiness. It is our Redeemer, the Lamb of God, whom we serve. It is out of respect and worship to our Sovereign God that we give respect to those He places over us in life. Remember that fulfillment is not about being all I want to be, but about being all God calls me to be. What a difference it makes when my desire for holiness is greater than my desire for happiness. In the end, the desire for holiness is the key to real joy through all the days of my life and my marriage. God wants us to understand that giving a husband respect is not just about trying to please a man. It’s about trying to please the One who has showered us all with more respect than we could ever deserve.

A Servant-Wife Trusts. Trust means so much to a man. As a wife encourages and follows the leadership of her husband, that expression of trust becomes a powerful act of love. It says to him, “I believe in you.” Again, do not misunderstand the point. Women certainly need to receive trust from their husbands. Everyone, man or woman, yearns to be trusted. But for men that desire is much more intense. Remember, we are different by design. Just as the woman’s greater need is to feel that her husband truly cares about her, so the man’s greater need is to know that he is trusted by his wife.

A question many women ask is, “How do I trust when trusting isn’t easy?” That’s a legitimate question. Just as trust is a component of respect, so the solutions for repairing a lack of trust are similar to the solutions that apply to building up a spirit of respect. Just as in that circumstance, you need to focus on the positive, the position, and the Lord.

1) Focus on the positive. Begin by focusing on your husband’s strengths. Every man has areas in which he excels. Trust comes easier when you let your mind dwell on those things.

2) Focus on the position. God has called the husband to lead. Remember that God’s desire is not to enslave but to bless. The leadership envisioned is one modeled after Christ’s sacrificial love at the Cross. It is important that the wife remember that God has called her husband to a position of responsibility and accountability for his family. Just as church leaders will someday give an account for the souls under their care, so husbands will someday stand before God and be accountable for the health and well-being of their family. A wife must trust her husband, let him lead, and encourage him to grow as a leader, for he will someday stand in the presence of God and be held accountable for the decisions and direction of his home. He may not always be right, but he is always responsible.

What if you don’t agree with the direction or decision of your husband? Communicate! Share your input and observations. Every man needs help as he leads. Every wise leader seeks to utilize the strengths of his team, especially his number one assistant. Even the best of leaders blows it sometimes, but God still calls us to follow those leaders.

3) Focus on the Lord. It is only possible to trust your husband if your ultimate trust is in the Lord. God never expects a wife to follow a husband into sin. The highest authority and accountability in all our relationships is to our Lord and our God. But when decisions are not a matter of obeying or disobeying our God, that very God calls wives to respect and follow the lead of the man He as brought into their lives. The only way for any woman to do this is to recognize that her hope, ultimately, is not in her husband but in her God. To trust and follow a mere man is only possible as a wife deepens her trust in God. She must believe that God will be her true Source of security and hope. It is only then that she will be able to risk trusting the man in her life.

A Servant-Wife Supports. Another effective tool for loving your husband is to back him up. Every man loves to know that his wife not only believes in him and wants to see him succeed but is also willing to help make it happen. She supports him. She is proud to serve with him and be at his side. The Lord knew men need helpers. A man feels loved when his wife says, “Wherever you go and whatever you do, I’m in. I’m with you. You can count on me.” However, there is a fine line between supporting and mothering. Men love to sense support, but often pull away from unsolicited assistance. If you act like a mother, often telling your husband how to do it or how to do it the right way, he will withdraw and feel resentment. If you just can’t hold back, then at least give the advice as a suggestion, respectfully. Don’t act irritated that he’s approaching life or some challenge big or small from a direction different than the one you would have picked. Men do need to honor and listen to the wisdom of their wives. However, every man needs just one mother in his life. When we get married, we need a friend, a lover, a fan who believes in us, one who sticks closer than a brother, a soul mate, a helper who believes in us and loves us just the way we are. Men feel loved when they are supported.

A Servant-Wife Accepts. Acceptance flows from the gift of unconditional love. One of the most common complaints from men is “She keeps trying to change me.” The problem is, trying to “fix” a man begins to trigger resistance, even anger. A word that fits perfectly here is: nagging.

It is better to live in a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious woman. (Proverbs 25:24)

A nagging wife is as annoying as the constant dripping on a rainy day. (Proverbs 27:15 NLT)

The nagging spouse is never happy, constantly complaining. A man feels like no matter what is done, he can never make her happy. Does this mean a wife can never mention a concern or a frustration or offer a suggestion for change to her husband? Submission is NOT silence. Submission is NOT passivity. God wants to use our spouses to help us grow. A man needs to know when his wife’s needs or expectations are going unmet. The key is communicate, but don’t nag. Share your ideas, concerns, fears, or expectations, but then leave it alone. Give God a chance to work and your husband time to change. Don’t bring it up time and time again. And always communicate acceptance. When the marital atmosphere is full of acceptance, approval, and affirmation, feedback will fall on receptive ears. But when a man feels he can never be good enough to please you, he will soon quit trying. Ultimately, the secret to giving such unconditional acceptance is not found in a wife’s relationship with her husband but in her relationship with God. As long as God is left out of the formula, she will think the responsibility to change her husband falls to her. Without acceptance and the respect that comes with it, the husband will most likely withdraw into passivity or flee to another woman who gives him that respect.

Again, what if the man is far from perfect. Scripture in 1 Peter 3:1-2 shows how God has it figured out. Nagging a man never gets the best result. It never draws him to you or to your faith. But a respectful spirit, full of loving acceptance, can draw the unbeliever or disobedient husband like a magnet toward his wife and her faith.

A Servant-Wife Admires, Appreciates, and is Affectionate. Admiration, appreciation, and affection. Men yearn for all three and love to know someone thinks they are special. This in no way minimizes the need for women to be and feel “cherished” by their husbands. But somehow, these qualities seem to mean even more to men than to women. And when it comes from their wives, the impact of receiving these qualities goes up dramatically. Keep the following unique differences concerning men in mind:

1) Men are turned on by praise. Praise is a powerful tool that means much to a man.

2) Men appreciate attention to physical beauty. Men are drawn to the physical far more than women are. When a man’s wife takes the time to make herself look good, it is an expression of love.

3) Men highly value physical affection. For men, affection begins with respectful admiration and builds with sincere appreciation. But it is the sexual relationship with his wife that best says, “I love you.” It is crucial for the wife to understand that most husbands value this physical act of love more highly than their wives do. God speaks to the importance of the physical relationship in marriage:

But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (I Cor 7:2-5)

Sex is a responsibility, not a right. It is about giving, not getting; about pleasing more than pleasure. Of course, the beauty of this mysterious act of love is that the more you give, the more you’re likely to receive. According to God’s blueprint, your body belongs to your spouse. Therefore, work at saying yes to one another. Focus on giving pleasure to your husband.

Does this mean you should do whatever he wants, not matter how you feel? Not necessarily. The application of this text must be keep in mind the rest of God’s directives for husbands and wives, such as:

1) “[Speak] the truth in love” (Eph 4:15);
2) “Be angry, and yet to not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26);
3) “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit” (Phil 2:3);
4) “Do not [just] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).

Keep in mind that just as the wife’s body is under the authority of her husband, so also the husband’s body is under the authority of the wife. God always provides for balance. God, knowing our differences, calls both, men and women, to be givers, not takers, in the sexual relationship. This may call the average husband to focus on greater patience and sensitivity and the average wife to take seriously the sexual needs of her husband. God’s advice to wives is “just say yes” as often as possible. Make your sexual relationship a priority. Don’t ignore the fact that in 1 Cor 7:5 Paul placed your sexual relationship right after your prayer life in importance. God says that if we really need to “just say no,” then we should follow these four guidelines from that verse:

1) “Stop depriving one another” – don’t say no often;
2) “Except by agreement” – talk about it;
3) “For a time” – make it the exception, not the rule;
4) “Come together again” – plan and keep it a priority.

HE FEELS LOVED SHE FEELS LOVED
He gives more care She gives more respect
He sacrifices She admires
He nourishes She accepts
He cherishes She supports
He honors She trusts
He understands She respects

THE SEARCH FOR FREEDOM: Demolishing Strongholds

(Adapted from the The Search for Freedom by Robert McGee)

Strongholds are those things which control us –they are compulsions.  Compulsions are those behaviors that we regret doing, but continue doing.  No matter how negative these behaviors are to us and no matter how we hate them, we still do them.  When we were very young, we developed patterns of responding to two worlds: our inner world and the outer world.  For most of us, the inner world of our thoughts, dreams, feelings, fears, and imagination is even more powerful than the outer world of people, places, and things.  As we move through each world, we encounter pain and pleasure.  Although we gravitate toward that which gives us pleasure, pain is usually a much greater motivator.  This is especially true of emotional pain.  The way we respond to emotional pain creates the most important behavioral patterns we have.  It is, in fact, these patterns that create the core relationship problems in our lives.  I can tell what I really believe by how I respond to life, not what I say I believe.  Here’s how the process usually works:

1) We are born and know little if anything about truth;  2) As we’re growing up, the people around us teach us what life is all about – Who I am, Who to trust, What’s good or bad, What I’m worth, What life and this world is all about…and so forth;  3) The things we are told become a system of beliefs upon which we evaluate all new incoming information accepted or rejected as we compare it with our basic beliefs (i.e., Basic Beliefs vs. New Information); 4) Our definition of “truth” becomes whatever it is that we have been taught, and our beliefs begin to dictate our behavior.  Then, as other people respond to our behavior, their responses tend to reinforce what we believe to be true.

In John 8:32, Jesus says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Is it possible to hear truth and not be free?  Sure it is!  It’s not enough to intellectually know truth.  We must know the truth experientially as well.  Intellectual knowledge can become dangerous if it is not put into practice.  Many people think their intellectual knowledge of Scripture makes them more spiritually mature than others.  Yet such people are not always better off for all their so-called knowledge.

God’s Word can be profitable only as the Holy Spirit provides understanding.  Scriptural principles that are learned and applied apart from direct interaction with God may be worthless and perhaps even destructive. But when we include God in the learning process, He helps us know and experience the truth.

God makes it clear that freedom is possible if we only put what we know into practice.  Although strongholds exist and hold power over people, they are problems that can be overcome.

In 2 Cor 10:3-5, God’s promise is:  “Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Contrasted against the ineffective weapons of this world, God’s weapons wield His power.  And because His power is infinitely stronger than the power of the flesh, only His weapons are capable of destroying strongholds.  These strongholds are so named because they are stronger than the flesh.  It takes a higher power to destroy them. The flesh is no match for the power of any spirit – God’s or otherwise.  Strongholds exist because of the influence of ungodly supernatural forces.  They can only be destroyed by God’s Spirit, Who is not only infinitely powerful but also is motivated by love.  God is Truth.  Satan is a liar.  As long as we believe Satan’s deceptions, we will not experience the freedom God intends for our lives.  We will live instead as slaves to the strongholds that are built upon false beliefs.  So many of the false beliefs we suffer from are negative messages we learned as children that continue to control us.  That’s why it is so essential to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).  This is a key step.  It is one of those specific truths that must be experienced – not simply absorbed intellectually.  Spiritual maturity means consistently conforming one’s own thought life to the thoughts of God.

THE C.R.O.P. PROCESS – CONFESSION,  REPENTANCE,  OBEDIENCE,  PRAISE

Confession. To confess literally means “to agree with God.”  We need to agree with God that our strongholds are evil.  We need to acknowledge our sinful behavior as a major obstacle on our road to freedom.  True confession of sin is more than agreeing with God about the actuality of sin.  It must go beyond and help us to realize the reality of sin’s destructiveness.  Until we see evil for what it is, we will never understand the full depth of God’s forgiveness.  In addition to helping us see the destructiveness of our sin, confession helps us by revealing the connective ness of our sins.  We may confess the sin of lying, and God may show how the lying is connected to pride or a need to keep everyone pleased with our performance.  Our sins are usually connected to other sins.  If we allow God to show us the connections, we can clear out a network of evil from our lives.

With confession we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to show us: (1) our surface sins, (2) how each sin might be connected to other sins, and (3) the extent of destructive evil in our lives due to our sins.  Attempting to discern these things apart from the Holy Spirit will only lead into morbid introspection and the unveiling of hurts that will not be comforted.  The Holy Spirit knows exactly what and how much we are capable of handing.

Repentance. The concept of repentance is one of “turning back.”  Through repentance we turn from our self-willed approach to life and reestablish a face-to-face relationship with Jesus.  We often think repentance involves promising to do something to become more worthwhile to God.  By focusing on our performance, we miss out on what it really means to be in a relationship. When we truly relate to God, we can do no less than relate to Him as LORD.  We must accept His leadership and lordship in our lives through the Holy Spirit. Some of us find it hard to accept a complete yielding to God, especially those who have lived with great hurt in their lives.

Ironically, the more we need to control this yielding process, the less control we have.  Fear begins to rule because we feel if we lose control something bad will happen to us, something hurtful, so we refuse to yield to anyone – including God.

Trust is a precious commodity.  The Lord challenges us to: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him”  (Ps 34:8).  Through repentance we “turn back” the control of our lives to God.  He’s the only One capable of handling it without all the hurts and fears that would otherwise result.  Associated with repentance is reliance.  For too much of our lives, we have relied on the patterns of childhood.  We cannot be in a state where we are not reliant on something or someone.  We will rely either on the patterns of our flesh, or the guidance of the Spirit.  Scripture states this clearly in Galatians 5:16 when it says, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (NAS).  Unfortunately, we often try to turn from something without turning to the God who can set us free.  Pray for the courage and exercise of faith that only God can give so that you can repent and rely on God.

Obedience. In the step of obedience, we need to turn our attention to God’s power.  By the time we discover strongholds in our lives, we also see that we are incapable of doing away with them using our own power.  If we are to discover what God can do through us, we must learn to respond to Him differently than we have in the past.  If we have failed to respond to Him, or have responded in wrong ways, we need to change how we relate to Him.  If our confession and repentance are genuine, we should see things from God’s perspective.  Obedience shouldn’t seem like an unpleasant alternative.  It’s a change of response that we should be more than willing to undertake.  If we have prepared through true confession and repentance, we have tapped into God’s power to confront the darkness of our souls.  Does this mean our battle against evil is won?  Not by a long shot!  That’s why obedience is such an important step.  Continued obedience results in continued victory.  But it’s easy to revert to our old, self-centered ways. When we seek to take back the control of our lives, we set ourselves up for failure.  Yet God is quick to forgive us when we see the error of our ways and turn back to Him.  When it comes to obedience, we can learn by trying even if we fail.  A far worse mistake is to refuse to change how we respond to God and fall back into the same patterns that have always controlled us.

Praise. We are commanded throughout Scripture to offer praise and give thanks to God.  Probably praise is the highest form of spiritual warfare.  After genuine confession, repentance, and obedience, praise is not optional – it’s automatic.  The first three steps will produce freedom from our strongholds and an overriding sense of freedom in our lives.  As we experience this freedom that only God can provide, our hearts will praise Him.

 

AN EXAMPLE OF HOW THE C R O P PROCESS WORKS  (With Bitterness) –

Confessing Bitterness. We need to pray that God will search our hearts and find anything that might be there which would trace back to bitterness.  As we yield to the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we might recall events we have not thought of in years.  Allow the Holy Spirit to bring the truth to light.  It’s also important not to argue with the Spirit when such things are revealed.  Our first instinct will be to defend our actions.  Often, we give ourselves permission to react in destructive ways – rebellion, drug use, sexual activity, withdrawal, self-will, or passivity.  Things such as these can be connected to bitterness, and we need to deal with each stronghold.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how these responses have destroyed or limited your life.  Take your time.  Unless you experience with God what these improper responses have done to your life, you will not be ready to go forward.  When God says you have seen enough and you have confessed these things, then you are ready to go to the next step.

Repenting of Bitterness. Bitterness and its related behaviors are the products of a self-willed life.  The thought of living any other way will be frightening.  You may have heard about, talked about, and sung about the lordship of Christ for most of your life.  But at this stage, when you actually begin to experience it, you may experience a sensation of death within your soul.  You are, in fact, putting to death your old ways of responding to life.  This will feel uncomfortable and frightening at first.  As we repent and turn back toward God, there will be an awesomeness about the experience.  We clearly see who we are only by first seeing clearly who He is.

Obedience as a Replacement for Bitterness. Much of our behavior is not what it should be due to the bitterness we have harbored for so long.  God has shown us the problem areas and we have repented of them by agreeing that they are wrong and seeing the extent of their destructive influence.  But now we have to replace each of those errant behaviors with obedience to God.  In some cases, we already know what we’re supposed to do.  In other instances, however, we might need to continue to search God’s Word and seek His will for how to stop being so bitter.  Again, take your time.  God does not reveal problems without also revealing solutions.  As we begin to conform to His will in the ways we know how, we will begin to see what we need to do in the other areas as well.  It is through obedience that you see God’s complete power over the stronghold of bitterness.

Praise for Victory over Bitterness. The struggle against bitterness has been a long and difficult one, even with God’s help.  It has taken time and energy to see the extent of the effects of bitterness in your life.  It has been painful to repent of each of these things.  Replacing improper behaviors with godly ones has taken a lot of effort as well.  When you experience release from the devastating weight of bitterness, joy will fill your soul.  Praise will flow from your lips.  This newfound feeling of freedom will affect everything you do.  You don’t have to understand it.  You can’t understand it.  Just enjoy it and appreciate it.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER –

Going through the C.R.O.P. process will be difficult at first.  But as you begin to use the steps of Confession, Repentance, Obedience, and Praise on a regular basis, the process won’t seem nearly as cumbersome.  Since you are following the same pattern, you’ll quickly become accustomed to going through the steps.  When handled correctly, these steps are weapons.  No stronghold – not even Satan himself – can stand against them.  Strongholds can only be formed when you let a problem go unattended for a long period of time.  When you were younger, you didn’t know any better.  Your strongholds took advantage of your childhood patterns, your fears, and your desire to avoid pain at any price.  Now that you can see things a bit more clearly, you can eliminate those strongholds.  They will try to come back.  However, you will have destroyed the power of Satan in those stronghold areas.  So as long as you continue to draw on God’s power to face down your strongholds, they should never regain control.

AVOIDING COMMON FAILURES AND SETBACKS –

“I’ve tried this before, and it didn’t work for me.”

Some people don’t give it a chance.  These doubts are what Scripture calls “fiery darts” or “flaming arrows” (Eph 6:16, NAS).  Go back through the process and see where you may have gone about it in an ineffective manner.

“My case is worse than other people’s.  God can’t fix me.”

This excuse limits God’s power.  You will remain in bondage if you think God is not strong enough or willing enough to set you free.

I’m afraid.  What happens if I try and fail?”

Many people continue to do nothing because they fear the solution won’t work.  What do you have to lose?  It’s as if one has lost most hope of getting well and isn’t willing to risk the little that remains.  As long as you do nothing, you can hope your problem will go away by itself.  The thinking is if I try something else and fail, the little hope I have will be lost.  However, without overcoming this passivity by taking some kind of action in God’s power, the problem will never go away.  Indeed, it will only get stronger and harder to deal with.  If we direct the little bit of faith we have toward God, He will provide us with “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).

“I don’t want the responsibility of freedom.”

While some people are afraid of seeking freedom and not succeeding, others are reluctant to risk freedom because they fear they will succeed.  They realize their strongholds are a prison, yet they’ve learned to cope with them.  They now know their way around. The pain is intense, but they are managing it…so far, at lease.  They may even realize that it’s a fairly sick way to operate, but it’s gotten them this far, hasn’t it?  It scares them to consider change.  If they become free of this stronghold, what will happen? The thought of freedom is just too scary.

“I gave it a shot, but forget it.  I quit!”

Some people simply quit too soon.  The pain generated by trying to break free seems too much for them.  Jut when they get to a breakthrough point, they give up.  Quitting before acquiring freedom makes it very difficult for a person to attempt the C.R.O.P. process again.  Patience and perseverance are required to get all the way through.

Hope for the Depressed

by Ed Welch

Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying—your world is dark, heavy, painful. Some days you think that physical pain might be easier to endure; at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression goes to your very soul, corrupting everything in its path. Dead but walking is one way to describe it. You feel numb, but you still remember when you actually felt something. Somehow that makes it harder to bear.

You aren’t alone, of course. Depression affects as much as 25% of the population. But statistics offer little comfort. In fact, a depressive spin on them can make you feel worse: You wonder why so many people are depressed, and you’re afraid that means there is no solution to the problem. Yet there is another perspective. God tells us that he cares about one wandering sheep in a hundred (Matthew 18:10–14) and counts the hairs on individual heads. If he has this much compassion for a solitary, lost individual, he certainly cares for you and such a large group of suffering people. You may not understand how he cares for you, but you can be certain that he is.

SUFFERING MAKES US AWARE OF GOD

You are suffering, and suffering brings God into view. That’s the way it always happens. The soldier who escapes from a treacherous battle will instinctively thank God. The stock broker who just lost a fortune might instinctively curse him. When hardships come we either cry out to God for help, shake our fist at him, or do both. There is actually a picture of this in the Bible: throughout history God has taken his people out into the wilderness, and you are certainly in the wilderness.

The journey in the wilderness is intended, in part, to reveal what is in our hearts, and to teach us to trust God in both good times and hard times. Why does he do this? To show us those things that are most important. Don’t forget that God takes his children into the wilderness. He even led his only Son into the wilderness. We shouldn’t be surprised if he takes us there as well.

While you are in the wilderness what are you seeing in your own heart? How are you relating to God? Do you avoid him? Ignore him? Get angry at him? Do you act as though he is very far away and too busy with everything else to attend to your suffering? Are you frustrated that God is powerful enough to end your suffering but he hasn’t? In your depression, let God reveal your heart. You might find spiritual issues that contribute to or even cause your depression.

WHICH PATH WILL YOU CHOOSE?

You are on one of two roads: faith or isolated independence. On the road of faith you are seeking and following God. You are calling out to him. You don’t understand what is happening, but you have not lost sight of how the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ assure you that he is good. You feel like you are walking in the dark, but in your best moments you are putting one foot in front of the other as an expression of your trust in God. Whether you know it or not you are being heroic. On this path, although you are suffering, you are still able to notice and marvel that God’s Spirit is empowering you to trust him through darkness and pain.

The other path is the more common one, even among Christians. Even if you believe that God has revealed himself to you in Jesus Christ, it doesn’t seem to make much difference. You don’t feel as though you are consciously avoiding God. You are just trying to survive. But if you look closely you will notice that you are pushing God away. Look at the tell-tale signs:

  • You have no hope, even though Scripture, God’s words to you, offers hope on almost every page. Here’s just one example, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21–23).
  • You think life is meaningless, even though you are a servant of the King and every small step of obedience resonates throughout eternity. This is God’s purpose for you today, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).
  • You think God doesn’t care, even though Scripture makes it clear that we run from God, not vice versa. Listen to what God says to you, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7).
  • In other words, in many areas of life, you simply do not believe what God says.

Practical Strategies for Change

Depression tries to tell us what is true and what isn’t. For example, it says that you will never feel any different, and you can’t continue to live in such a condition. It says that God doesn’t care, and no one loves you. It tries to persuade you that nothing matters. Know, however, that depression lies! You have to tell it the truth, rather than listen to its interpretation of life.

Do you remember times when you were grouchy and everything in the world looked horrible? Or you had PMS and it colored your interpretation of other people? Our emotions are loud, but they do not tell the whole story.

TURN TO GOD AND LISTEN

Turn toward God, and instead of listening to your depression, listen to what he says about himself. The center of his message to you is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus, the Son of God, became the Son of Man. He obeyed the Father perfectly, emptied himself, and became your servant. He died to give you life. Now he is the King, and through his death he brings you into his kingdom. Here on earth the kingdom of heaven is riddled with suffering, but we know the King is with us and our suffering is only for a short while. We also know that the King takes our suffering, which seems senseless, and makes it profitable in his kingdom. Read all of Romans 8 and pay special attention to these words, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:28–29).

This is God’s message to you. Beg for grace and mercy so you can hear it over the din of your depression.

The Spirit of God speaks most clearly to you in the Bible, so take the small step of opening it and reading it. If you can’t, ask someone else to read it to you. Ask God to speak to you through his words in the Bible. Ask a friend to talk to you about the good news that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. Any friend who knows that good news would love to talk about it.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
  • Use the Psalms to help you talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 86 and Psalm 88 your personal prayers to God.
  • Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies (Romans 5:6–8; 1 John 4:9–10).
  • Don’t think your case in unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you, and God did not fail them.
  • Remember your purpose for living (Matthew 22:37–39; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:15; Galatians 5:6).
  • Learn about persevering and enduring (Romans 5:3; Hebrews 12:1; James 1:2-4).

Gradually a new goal will come into view. Without doubt you will still want depression to be gone, but you will also develop a vision of walking humbly with your God even in the midst of pain. When you read Scripture, you will find that many people have walked the same path.

CONSIDER THE SPIRITUAL CAUSES OF YOUR DEPRESSION

Next, consider some of the spiritual issues that might play a part in your depression. There is no one cause of depression, but there are some common paths that provoke a depressive spiral. Identifying these in your life may help you move out of depression and avoid it in the future.

Depression rarely appears overnight. When you look closely, you usually find that it crept up on you gradually. Take a closer look at its progression. Personal problems that are left spiritually unattended can, in susceptible people, lead to depression. Do you see any of these things in your life?

  • If you made someone besides God the center of your life, and you lose him or her, you will feel isolated and without purpose. Can you see how this can give way to depression? You made another person your reason for living and now, without him or her, you feel hopeless and unable to go on. You may not realize it, but the Bible tell us that this is idol worship—you are worshipping what God created instead of him.
  • If you feel like you failed in the eyes of other people, and your success and the opinions of others is of critical importance, you can slip into depression. Can you see the spiritual roots? Your success and the opinions of others have become your gods, they are more important to you than serving Christ.
  • If you feel like you did something very wrong, and you want to manage your sin apart from the cross of Jesus, depression is inevitable. We always want to believe that we can do something—like feeling really bad for our sins—but that is just pride. We actually think that we can pay God back, but this attitude minimizes the beauty of the cross and Jesus’ full payment for sin.
  • If you are angry and don’t practice forgiveness, you can easily slide into depression. The simple formula is sadness + anger = depression. What makes us angry shows us what we love and what rights we hold dear. Unforgiveness shows us that we are not willing to trust God to bind up our broken hearts and to judge justly. Deal with your sadness and anger by pouring your heart out to God. Use the psalms as your prayers. Ask for faith so that you can trust God to be your defender and your helper.

Even students of depression who reject the Bible acknowledge that anger, resentment, and jealousy can contribute to the beginnings of depression. So take a hard look. Look for sin patterns you can confess. This is hard, but it is not depressing. If punishment was on the other side of confession, it would be foolish to follow such a path. But get to the gospel of Jesus and on the other side you will find full forgiveness, love, hope, and joy. They are yours for the asking. “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

TAKE ONE STEP AT A TIME

Now, take one small step at a time. Granted, it seems impossible. How can you live without feelings? Without them you have no drive, no motivation. Could you imagine walking without any feeling in your legs? It would be impossible. Or would it? Perhaps you could walk if you practiced in front of a large mirror and watched your legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical but it could be done.

People have learned to take one step at a time in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.

As you walk, you will find that you must tap into every resource you have ever learned about persevering through hardship. It will involve lots of moment by moment choices: take one minute at a time, read one short Bible passage, ask for help, try to care about someone else, move outside yourself, ask someone how they are doing, and so on.

When in doubt, confess your unbelief, trust in Jesus, and look for someone to love. A wise depressed person once said, “The reason I get up—after years of depression—is that I want to love one other person.”

GUIDELINES FOR MEDICATION

The severe pain of depression makes you welcome anything that can bring relief. For some people, medication brings relief from some symptoms. Most family physicians are qualified to prescribe appropriate medications. If you prefer a specialist, get a recommendation for a psychiatrist, and ask these questions of your doctor and pharmacist:

  • How long will it take before it is effective?
  • What are some of the common side effects?
  • And, if your physician is prescribing two medications, will it be difficult to determine which medication is effective?

From a Christian perspective, the choice to take medication is a wisdom issue. It is rarely a matter of right or wrong. Instead, the question to ask is, “What is best and wise?” Wise people seek counsel (your physicians should be part of the group that counsels you). Wise people approach decisions prayerfully. They don’t put their hope in people or medicine but in the Lord. They recognize that medication is a blessing, when it helps, but recognize its limits.

Medication can change physical symptoms, but not spiritual ones. It might give sleep, offer physical energy, allow you to see in color, and alleviate the physical feeling of depression. But it won’t answer your spiritual doubts, fears, frustrations, or failures. If you choose to take medication, please consider letting a wise and trusted person from your church walk come along side of you. They can remind you that God is good, that you can find power to know God’s love and love others, and, yes, that joy is possible, even during depression.

DEALING WITH SUICIDAL THOUGHTS

Before you were depressed, you could not imagine dreaming of suicide. But when depression descends, you notice a passing thought about death, then another, and another until death acts like a stalker.

Remember, depression doesn’t tell the whole truth. It says you are all alone, no one loves you, God doesn’t care, you will never feel any different, and you cannot go on another day. Even your spouse and children don’t seem like a reason to stay alive when depression is at its worst. Your mind tells you, “Everyone will be better off without me.” But this is a lie—they will not be better off without you.

Because you aren’t working with all the facts, keep it simple. Death is not your call to make. God is the giver and taker of life. As long as he gives you life, he has purposes for you. One purpose that is always right in front of you is to love another person. Begin with that purpose and then get help from a friend or a pastor. Depression says you are alone and you should act that way. But that is not true. God is with you and he calls you to reach out to someone who will listen, care, and pray for you.

PERSEVERE IN HOPE

Will your depression go away? Perhaps. If you follow these suggestions, your depression will, at least, be changed. But to guarantee that you will be depression-free is like guaranteeing that you will never have suffering in your life. The cross of Christ is a sign to us that we will share in the sufferings of Jesus rather than be free of all hardships.

Your hope rests on something much deeper than the alleviation of pain. Depression can’t rob you of hope because your hope is in a person, and that person, Jesus, is alive and with you. The apostle Paul put his suffering on a scale and found that it was out-weighed by all the benefits he had in Christ. Of course, that kind of hope and vision doesn’t come overnight, but it does come. Set your sights high. You can set a course where you say “Amen” with Paul.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16–18)

Edward T. Welch, M.Div., Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at CCEF. He has counseled for over twenty-five years and has written many articles, booklets, and books including When People Are Big and God Is Small; Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave; Blame It on the Brain?; Depression: A Stubborn Darkness; Crossroads: A Step-by-Step Guide Away from Addiction; and Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest.

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Think You Don’t Need A Counselor? Think Again!

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Karl Benzio/Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

We all have so many unanswered questions about ourselves.

Am I really a good person? Am I truly lovable? Why do I do the things I do? Why do I feel the way I feel? Why do I continue to make the same mistakes? Can I change? Will I ever be fully in control of all areas of my life? Why can’t I handle adversity or stress?

We often struggle to answer these questions for ourselves. And it’s difficult to get to the core answers without a reliable counselor or coach who knows how to help us probe and analyze.

The combination of our arrogance and pride has kept most of us from realizing that we do need counseling.

Our usual response: “Me? I don’t need any therapy, thank you very much!” And the counseling profession carries huge stigmas — mental illness, Freud, Prozac and all that.

All of us need a counselor. What athlete would ever think he doesn’t need a coach anymore? Does any student ever really know it all? Your doctors continue to study and get more education, going to classes and seminars, relying on consults and guidance from experts in hard cases, until they retire. In life, the most complicated activity ever, we will never know it all. But thankfully, as Christians, we have the best counselor at our fingertips and He lives right inside us.

The Bible tells us Jesus sends us his Spirit as a Counselor. That ought to make our need very clear. And apparently, we need quite a lot of counseling—the Spirit isn’t just stopping in to give us an annual checkup or a quick tune-up. No, He has come to stay and give us a complete makeover … from the inside out. Now we just need to figure out how to “hear” His counsel and quit sabotaging His efforts in our lives.

This next statement might sound blasphemous, but we need more than the Holy Spirit’s presence. That’s why we listen to sermons and study the Bible … to help us get out of the Holy Spirit’s way and so we can begin to partner with the Great Counselor. This is where a human counselor, mentor, coach, or disciple can have dramatic impact. Obviously, an earthly counselor needs to understand and help you apply the Holy Spirits’ instruction and principles.

Today, confess your sins, then talk to God about a struggle in your life. Open His word and then listen for His counsel. If you have trouble following the counsel, or continue to sabotage His efforts, consider getting someone to help show you how to listen and follow His counsel. Whether you listen to the Counselor and apply His teaching or you act as your own counselor is your decision, so choose well.

Dear God, I thank You for sending me the ultimate Counselor, Your Holy Spirit. Help me recognize my daily need for guiding advice and for the Spirit of truth. Help me listen and heed Your advice. Help me gain wisdom and courage to follow Your guidance, and humility to set aside my agenda. Thy kingdom, not my kingdom, come. Give me humility to seek out and listen to Godly advisors so I can overcome my areas of struggle. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who asked You to send the ultimate Counselor, the Holy Spirit;  – AMEN!

The Truth
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” John 14:16–17

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Hebrews 4:12-14

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”              Proverbs 1:29-33

I do the connecting, and then God does the perfecting!

SOURCE:  Jan Johnson

Rowing or Sailing?

Transformation into Christlikeness and the Christian life in general seem like a lot of work to many people.

They may even think: 

There must be more to this life than trying;

God must be disappointed in me;

It feels like I live a double life (a public Christian life and a secret life of pain, disappointment, or failure);

No matter how hard I try, I don’t seem to measure up to the standards I know are right and good.

In fact, most of us have experienced the weight of knowing all the things we should be doing and not doing, and the exhaustion of being behind where we think we ought to be. Giving more and trying harder seem to be the only alternatives. As a result, a lot of people give up hope of becoming more of what God wants them to be, because they have no idea how to add any more to what they are already doing.

With that approach, the spiritual life is like rowing a boat (by yourself!). You do your best to persist, even when it is hard. You go to conferences, study, and get involved in serving. You try to do the right things, but never get as far as you think you should.

At times you may even feel as if you were issued only one oar and so you keep going in circles. Some find themselves rowing against the current and going more backward than forward. When they ask for help they seem to hear: “Row harder” or “Do more” or “You are not dedicated enough.”

There is another way in which the wind does most of the work. Sailing. In sailing we learn how to align the sail with the wind and let the wind take us places we could never get to (or imagine) on our own. As we learn how to interact with the sail, we see forward movement because the wind (the Spirit) is doing the hard work.

The sailing approach is spiritual formation, which works from the inside out, relying on the Spirit. Instead of forcing myself to say the words, “I forgive you,” I learn how to engage with God so my heart truly forgives. I can then express the forgiveness from my heart. Instead of only acting as if I love my enemy, I interact with God so that God can change my heart so I actually love them. I demonstrate the life of God because of who I am, not in an effort to override who I am. This changes where I focus my efforts. My task is to learn how to let God work on my heart, rather than trying to do what I think is the right thing to do.

We no longer depend on willpower to override contrary feelings and inclinations, with repeated cycles of repentance and re-dedication: Stability/Failure/Repentance/ Stability. Instead we participate with God to move our inner life forward in ways we cannot manage by our own willpower and effort. The results? Deeper intimacy and trust in God. Scripture comes alive. Internal healing and growth become our normal everyday experience. Life is increasingly seen the way God sees it (through the eyes of heaven).

Formation is then relational.

It is, as many of you have heard me say: You do the connecting, and then God does the perfecting.

The connecting occurs as we glimpse that vision of life in the kingdom of God where I live in companionship with God and rely on God every minute. I use spiritual disciplines (as God invites me) to connect with God. The change in my character then flows out of living a life with God that is rich and full, challenging and adventurous.

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Much of the above is adapted from David Takle’s excellent DVD course, Forming, (www.KingdomFormation.org) with his kind permission.

Engaging Our Gay Friends, Relatives and Colleagues

Source:  John Freeman/Harvest USA

It seems that homosexuality has embraced our culture and the culture has embraced homosexuality. It is a part of the fallen nature of things, that man has always been an expert at creating ingenuous ways to celebrate his brokenness. So, men and women in the gay life have no corner on this:. Apart from faith in Christ and submission to the authority of Scripture, we are all experts at rationalizing and justifying what we want to do. The more we live, in any way, outside of God’s design, the more we convince ourselves that what we are doing is OK. This happens on both an individual level and a corporate, cultural level. Homosexuality is not the only thing that was once considered unacceptable or immoral, but later is embraced by the culture (consider abortion and sex outside of marriage).

Scripture says we’re all a mess and that we all need forgiveness and cleansing. Biblically speaking, we’re all in the same boat. We all need the same medicine of the gospel to free us from whatever attachments or idols we cling to— from whatever we have decided “gives us life” apart from Christ. This realization about ourselves should bring to us a growing compassion for others. Believers in Christ should be the first ones to acknowledge that we still pursue our own personal idols, and it is only by the persistent work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we become aware of our own sin and the need to repent of it.

Homosexuality is one of those topics that draws intense and passionate reactions. Complex issues of the heart usually do. Christians are in a sort of no-man’s-land here today.   Suggesting to those who have embraced the current cultural position that homosexuality is sinful and not part of God’s design for sexuality appears as uneducated, homophobic and ridiculous. On the other hand, though, suggesting to fellow evangelical believers that God loves and forgives sinners who struggle with homosexuality and that we should do the same may appear compromising and wishy-washy.

While we can oppose the advancement of a social movement that would encourage everyone to embrace this cultural shift by vocalizing our concerns and participating in the political process, for Christians a far deeper response to homosexuality and the gay community is needed. When believers proclaim the gospel of Christ both to gays and to the culture at large in a loving, redemptive manner, punctuated with “grace and truth,” this sets us apart and truly reflects the person of Christ. In such a heated and increasingly emotionalized debate, Christians have a responsibility to represent Christ to a fallen world in four ways.

Patiently Listen 

“Let every person be quick to hear” (James 1:9).  This doesn’t mean looking for loopholes in a debate or seeking a chance to criticize and find fault as you talk about this issue. We must listen in order to understand the “heart thrust” of what a person is saying. This is hard work, a relational skill to be learned. It’s not natural. It takes practice. Listen to what moves other people. Listen for their passions, what they value, what their experience has been (especially with other Christians) and what they fear.

The more you understand a person’s point of view, the more you can profit from it. Why do they think the way they do? What events have led up to their adopting their worldview? What’s been their experience of Christianity—of other Christians or the church in general? What wounds from their family of origin and from other people lie festering in the background? As adults, we’re a composite of all these things—upbringing, personal wounds, cultural norms and our own heart-generated responses to these powerful, shaping influences. Get to know the persons you are talking to so that you truly know who they are. Otherwise, we tend to conveniently lump them into a group, label them on the basis of what we read in the news, and think this is “knowing” them.

Personally Repent

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans? . . . No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5). Only a redeemed sinner, knowing he stands condemned apart from Christ’s death on the cross, can reach a sinner who doesn’t know he needs redeeming. What’s your motivation when you engage someone with the gospel? Is it to reach lost people with the enduring love that has found you out— a love that has exposed you as a cut-throat and depraved sinner and yet has embraced you with fatherly love? Is it your own awareness that, at heart, you’re a sham, a misfit, a counterfeit, a phony and that there is nothing good inside you to warrant God’s love, yet He still died in your place to make you whole? Do you really care about homosexuals, as men and women who need the love of Christ, or do you only want them to shut up and disappear? Remember that Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). If you have no love for gays, then you have not understood the forgiving love of Jesus in your own life.

Patiently listening and personally repenting also means loving those who are different, who believe differently. Gays have long been “demonized” by Christians, held up as the examples of the worst kind of people. This is grossly unfair and unloving, not to mention grossly unbiblical. No single group of people corners the market on sinful behavior outside of God’s design. There is simply no place for believers to verbally demean or physically abuse gays. If your neighbor or colleague proclaimed to you that he didn’t believe in God, would you go around mocking him?

Gently Instruct

“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim. 2:22-25). How do you talk to people who don’t believe what you do? An argumentative, win-at-all-costs approach does not conform to what Paul wrote to Timothy. You need to ask the Holy Spirit to instruct your own heart as you instruct others. Engaging someone “with gentleness” does not mean being weak or vacillating in your argument; it means treating everyone with respect and dignity even when they persistently disagree. An unloving and impatient heart is a hindrance to the gospel message. The Lord’s command to us through the words of Paul teaches us here: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

“Gently instruct” also means that your words must be grounded in the truth of Scripture, not your own opinion. The real issue regarding what Scripture says about homosexuality is not about whether the key passages are culturally relevant anymore, but whether Scripture in its entirety still has authority over all of life. It should always be the truths of Scripture, and not our demeanor or presentation of it, that people reject.

Do you really care about homosexuals — or do you only want them to shut up and disappear?

Talking to those who are blind to the reality of their hearts but who live in a world that applauds their sin is both a privilege and a challenge. They are victims of their own sin and the lies and sin of others. Therefore, they’re caught. But they’re also accountable before a holy God for their continued choice to live life on their own terms and not submit their lives to the Lordship of Christ. We must represent both aspects of the truth as we share Christ.

  Mercifully Pursue and then Engage the Heart

“Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). God calls us to be neither reclusive nor rude, but to move boldly into confusing, high-stakes situations with the gospel of God’s mercy.

We bring the gospel where it is most needed: to the vocally anti-Christian pro-gay activistto the mild-mannered clergy who says the love of Jesus means affirming homosexuality as God’s gift; to the confused and scared teenager who fears he’s gay and there’s no other option. Showing mercy means practically caring for people. It means being patiently and persistently available to help those who live in a fallen world. It means lovingly holding our ground against those who say that our beliefs are hateful.  We must not wilt from the irrational heat of those who say that we are hateful bigots merely on the basis that we do not agree with their beliefs.

As we do this, we’re able to move into other people’s worlds. Engaging people by asking good questions, respectfully, is an important part of this.   I once approached a man who was marching in a gay rally. Subsequently, I had a two-hour conversation that ended with this man shaking my hand and thanking me for stopping him— in spite of the fact that I shared the gospel with him! I had listened to him, heard his concerns and engaged his heart with matters important to him. Didn’t Jesus do the same?

My approach appealed to his heart. Listening, asking questions, and engaging people with respect, even if we have fundamental differences, gets people into their story more quickly than anything else. When we take time to get people into their stories, they become more open to us and to the gospel.

Jesus, of course, was the master of all that I’ve just described. We should be, too. His methods are the most under-utilized and missed aspects of evangelism. They also make the deepest and most heart-felt impact, often leaving people wanting more!

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This article originally appeared in the May 2010 edition of Tabletalk magazine, but has been edited and expanded for this publication. We invite you to comment on this article on the Harvest USA blog, Sex, Lies and God’s Design at http://www.truthandmercy.wordpress.com

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