Is Loneliness a Sin?

Creepy Forest

Is loneliness a sin?

I found myself asking that question in prayer recently.  In retrospect, it sounds a little bit silly, but at the time it didn’t. It was a raw, serious question.  As a single, middle-aged Christian, loneliness is not an unusual occurrence for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total loner. I have a lot of acquaintances. I have some friends. But I have few deep connections, particularly with people who love and live for the Lord. I’ve found at my age it’s just plain hard to make real, authentic connections.

And last week was just one of those weeks I felt it.  Surrounded by people everywhere, yet alone.  (Make that a few weeks ago. I had to let this marinate and decide if I really wanted to go public with this one.)

We know that all we need we find in our relationship with our loving Father, right? He is our sustainer, provider, confidante. He calls us “friend”.  So when I do get lonely, I have at times felt guilty, like I shouldn’t.  Well-meaning people will tell you to just pray and it will all be okay.  I’ve decided that most of those people go home to their families and haven’t got a clue.

But does God desire us to live lives in social isolation, as long as we’re seeking Him daily?

So let’s start with the basics. Like, right back to Genesis basics. God didn’t really think making us for a solo flight was the best idea. He cracked a rib right out of Adam so that he would have a helper and companion. God could not find a suitable helper in all other creation for Adam. I’m not even getting at the whole male/female thing here. Just the people/people thing. If God felt like Adam needed companionship aside from himself (and mind you, this was in the idyllic, pre-fall, walking with the Lord in the cool of the day phase), then I’m pretty sure God doesn’t think life is meant to be lived in (relative) isolation from other humans today, either.

What about Jesus commanding us to love others as ourselves? Do you think that has any application to seeking community? How can you actually love others as yourself if it’s just you and God in your prayer closet, shutting out the world? No, God designed us as relational creatures.

So if you still aren’t convinced and think no, Jesus really is all we need, then loneliness could be a sin. Failing to trust in God completely and all that, right? So what shall we say, then, about King David? He dealt with his fair share of loneliness. In Psalm 25:16 he says “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted,” (NIV).  What about Elijah hanging out in a cave, believing he was the only surviving prophet? I’d be willing to bet he felt some loneliness. I guess if you think having feelings of loneliness at all is a sin, then they were guilty of it, and the Bible proves it.

I say loneliness by itself is not sinful. (Or any emotion, for that matter.) It’s what we do in that emotional state that has the potential to become a problem. Even sinful. Loneliness, or any emotion, brings us the opportunity to draw nearer to God or take us farther from God. In all because of unchecked, unbalanced emotions.

In the frenzy of my unchecked, unbalanced emotions, do I try to deal with them in prayer like David did? Do I cry out to God and lay that messy and raw, but very real, bucket of feelings at the cross and bring Him into the middle of it? Or do I just go straight into enemy territory (really, it’s the territory the enemy is just waiting for me to venture into) and let the emotions take over completely, dictating my next thoughts and actions, watching them tumble like perfectly lined up dominoes?

How many times have I not even paused before I suddenly realize I’ve given in, yet again, to the lies of my emotional state? And when I do that, I often go one step further and use something other than God to fill the void. Now my loneliness has turned into sin.

God knows me. God knows my situation. Everything about it. He also knows that we have emotions. He wants us to come to Him with everything.  Everything. And that’s a learned behavior, but it can be learned.  Thank you, Jesus!

 

Psalm 25

Who is the man who fears the Lord?
    Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose.
His soul shall abide in well-being,
    and his offspring shall inherit the land.
 The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
    and he makes known to them his covenant.
 My eyes are ever toward the Lord,
    for he will pluck my feet out of the net.

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
 The troubles of my heart are enlarged;
    bring me out of my distresses.
 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
    and forgive all my sins.

But Your Mess Is Messier Than My Mess!

 

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Not too many days ago I stumbled across a comment on social media somebody had made about their repugnance for the choice of sermon prepared by the pastor that morning and how it was clearly not the best use of her time. The sermon’s topic? The Prodigal Son.

If you don’t know this parable, you can read it in Luke 15 (and please do, it’s a beautiful story), but here is a brief synopsis: A man has two sons, one is the good son, who does everything right-a real daddy’s boy. Then there’s the other son. This kid is selfish and demanding. He decides he doesn’t want to follow the rules, so he’s going to go out on his own and do it his way. Oh, and by the way, Dad, give me my inheritance now. Can you even imagine asking your parents such a thing? But the father gives it to him, and he uses it to get in all kinds of trouble. All kinds. Until the money runs out. Then he decides to go back home and see if  Dad will let him be a hired servant. Meanwhile, the other brother is back at home being the perfect and awesome son that he is.  But, when Dad sees the younger son coming down the road, the son who was took his money and squandered it, the son who was disrespectful in a time where disrespecting your parents was SERIOUSLY uncool,  he takes off running to meet his son. Terribly undignified for the dad to run, by the way. But run, he did! Then he tells the servants to start preparing a party. A massive blowout. Dad welcomed back his son, who the Bible refers to as the Prodigal, not as a servant, but as his son, just as though he’d never left.

And his older brother was ticked off. He was the one who stayed to help dad. He was the one who followed the rules. ALL of them.  He didn’t squander anything. And HE never got a party.

And so was the person who posted about the sermon being a waste of her Sunday morning. She wasn’t just arguing that her pastor was giving the prodigal too much air time, she had a beef with the Bible putting him in such a favorable light.  Light bulb moment here: the prodigal isn’t shown in a favorable light. He is a mess. But this parable isn’t so much about the character of the sons, it’s about the character of the father.  It’s to show us the character of THE Father, despite the character, or especially in light of, the character of His creation.  God is is overjoyed when we, the hot messes, make our way back after telling him we can do it our own way. So for my friend who made the post, I sadly think she has completely forgotten, or never really understood, the amazing grace of God that He shows through redeeming us from our mess.

But let’s go back to the older brother. We all have to be mindful of the Older Brother that has the potential to lurk within us. When we encounter people who don’t know Christ, living like prodigals, we have to remember that they don’t live by our ‘code of ethics’. So don’t place that on them and cast your judgment for how poorly they perform. Remember that we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and need a Savior. There are some messed up people out there, folks! We are living in times where people seem to be exchanging the truth of God for lies at a record pace. Evil is not idle. But there is still a God who redeems the lost and hurt, and He can reach the worst of them! Praise His name for that! So when they come walking through the door, instead of demanding your goat (read the story!), go help get the party ready for the prodigals who have come home. Welcome them in! Whatever is in their past, do not it compare to yours. Jesus’ blood still has cleaning power.

But what about what we do to each other? Or have you completely mastered the art of not judging and comparing yourself to anybody else? Don’t lie.

I had a very humbling moment a last week.  I have her permission to share this. A couple of weeks ago a young woman I know, Bethany, who loves the Lord with all her heart, announced via posting pictures on Facebook that she was expecting a baby.  She looked so happy in her pictures. But I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. She’s not married. In my mind, all I could think of was, ‘doesn’t anybody pursue holiness anymore’?  Every time I saw her post for about a week, this would go through my head. Folks, this is classic older brother. Her sin is bigger than my sin.  This one is often subtle. But after about a week, the Holy Spirit wasn’t so subtle with me. I was sitting in our Bible class at church and it hit me. She didn’t even know. But I knew. And God knew.  Even though she didn’t know I had sinned against her, I knew I had to ask her to forgive me.

The Older Brother is made possible because of something called “comparative righteousness”.  It’s pretty simple, really. If you get any sense of righteousness by assessing how you stack up compared to somebody else, that’s comparative righteousness. (This also works in reverse–if you believe somebody, compared to you or another, is more righteous in their standing with God.) We do not earn righteousness in comparison to others.  There is only one standard of holiness by which we are compared and that’s God Himself. And every single one of us falls terribly short. Thankfully, Romans 3:22 tells us that for those who put their faith in Christ, we receive his righteousness. Whew! 

So after a week of lamenting about one girl’s choices that could have been time spent dealing with my own poor choices, the Spirit gave me a smack down (as he is apt to do once in a while) and said “Ahem! She is not your problem! YOU are your problem!”

Oh yeah.  All of MY sin. Worrying about another’s sin doesn’t do anything to help me confront my own. It just adds to my own with my judgments and harsh words.

We will never become more holy by attempting to mitigate the sin in our own life by putting a spotlight on the sin of another, or showing how farther on the scale of “bad” their sin is. It doesn’t work that way.  God deals with us individually.  And yes, there is room to approach a brother/sister with a sin issue (see Galatians 6:1-3), but that’s not really the issue we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with good, old fashioned judgment and deflection.  It keeps you from giving grace to the one you judge, and it keeps you from seeing the need for grace in your own life.

Let’s take one last look at the story in Luke 15 for some perspective. It’s about a loving father. Okay, we know that’s representing God. And the prodigal is representing sinners. But since we are all sinners, why is there a good brother and a bad brother? Who does the older brother represent? The Pharisees. These guys felt entitled to the kingdom of God based on their own righteousness, through their actions. NOT through their love for God and others. Nope. By showing how good they were, by having all the right moves and making sure everybody knew about it. They were the kings of comparative righteousness!  They didn’t need grace, or so they thought.

How can we keep from falling into that trap? Be free with grace. When you are free in your grace towards others, there is little room for self-righteous judgment. And when we do that, we are open to the Holy Spirit to move in and work in our own lives. We can work on our own mess. And thank the Lord that He promises to keep working on our messes until we are complete!

Bethany was full of grace for me. I’m thankful for that. I am grateful for a God who has enough grace to lavish on anyone who seeks His face.  So the next time we find ourselves letting that inner Pharisee come out, seek His face in that very moment. Praise Him for his grace and mercy. I’m willing to bet that voice of judgment slinks away with nothing to say.

 

 

 

The Sacrifice of Praise

Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)
Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10 ESV)


She stood there, her eyes transfixed on the flames that jumped into the air with no sign of relenting. Though they had long since delivered the death blow to the victim, they would not soon give up their prey.  The home she grew up in, the home her mother and family still lived in, was disappearing before her eyes.  Yet the tears she shed and cries of anguish she made could not and would not silence her praise. Through it all, she knew in the middle of pain and tragedy, God would not leave her side. She knew without doubt in the middle of heart-wrenching tragedy and loss, He was worthy of all her praise, no matter the outcome. Standing in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of her devastation, she lifted her hands and her voice and praised the One who is worthy of it all.  No matter what. And it was the most beautiful, inspiring thing to witness.

There are few things guaranteed in life.  We can do everything in our power to stay healthy, put money away in the bank, live our lives fully submitted to God’s will. And yet, there are still no guarantees that this life will be free of trials and hard times. In fact, Jesus told us we will have hard times. (John 16:33).  I think it’s pretty safe to say that every one of us will face a few things that shake us. The loss of a job, a catastrophic illness, the death of our parents, or a fire wiping out the family home. We will go through trials of varying degree, no doubt. But Jesus said as certain we can be of troubles in this world, we can be certain we have one who walks with us through them who has overcome sin and death–he has overcome the world!

After I left my friend that night, I asked myself if my faith was that strong? Sure, I know God is with me in all things. Sure, I know God works out all things for my good. But in the middle of the raw emotion when tragedy first strikes, will my first reaction actually be to praise Him? Or will I have to wait to make sure God came through on the promise first?

Praise is easy when things are, well, easy. We have no problem (at least I hope!) giving God glory and praise when things are going great! Or how about when you’ve come out on the other side of a trial. We can praise God then because He got us through. But how many of us truly stop to give God heartfelt praise and adoration the minute the trial starts? I’m going to be honest with you, it takes me a minute to get there.  But how could things change for me, for us, if we trained ourselves to have that as our reflex reaction? Our natural reaction is fear. What if we asked the Holy Spirit to help us to reprogram that?

I spend a great deal of time in the Psalms during my devotional time. The psalter contains hymns written by the various authors that hit pretty much every human emotion. Joy, dread, fear, anguish, anger. It’s all in there.  But of the 150 psalms, about 2/3rds of them are what’s called psalms of lament. In other words, songs  written to God when the writer was having a pretty tough time.  Many of David’s psalms are his words crying out to God, asking ‘where are You in all of this?’ That’s right. David, the king. David, that man after God’s own heart.

Our friend David wasn’t just handed the keys to the castle. (If you haven’t spent much time reading the richness of the Old Testament, I high encourage it! You can read all about David starting in 1 Samuel 16.) David spent a lot of time on the run, fearing for his life before he got to be king.  After he became king, he had another batch of challenges. David had real reasons to be crying out to God.

The psalms of lament generally follow a pattern, and it’s a pattern we can all learn from to help cultivate our prayer life in difficult times. Of course, the pattern from psalm to psalm may be in different order, or the order may jump back and forth a bit, but the elements are generally consistent.

Let’s look at Psalm 22 in the New International Version as an example.

First, the writer cries out to God in his distress. There is no pretense, no trying to clean up before going to God. Just messy, raw emotion.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

so far from my cries of anguish?

My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

by night, but I find no rest. (verses 1-2)

 

Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

Roaring lions that tear their prey

open their mouths wide against me.

I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted within me.

My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death. (verses 12-15)

Second, the writer entreats God for help.  Come, LORD, to the middle of this mess and get me out of it! (Sometimes the request is imprecatory, where the writer asks for God to bring retribution to his enemies.)

But you, Lord, do not be far from me.

You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

Deliver me from the sword,

my precious life from the power of the dogs.

Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

save me from the horns of the wild oxen. (verses 19-21)

 

Lastly, the writer includes thanksgiving and praise to God.

I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you.

You who fear the Lord, praise him!

All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!

Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

For he has not despised or scorned. (verses 22-24)

 

These psalms, especially those of David, are like a sneak peak into his journal.  If you look through these psalms of lament you will see real people struggle with real feelings, sometimes asking God “where are you?”  Does that surprise you? Don’t ever feel like you can’t take your raw emotions straight to the throne room of God in prayer. He can handle it. What kind of genuine relationship would you have with your best friend if you couldn’t really be honest with your feelings, always saying what you thought was the ‘right’ thing? That would get old pretty fast. God knows your struggles. He is okay when we say “where are you?!” But even in our doubt and despair, we can always, always rest on God’s promises when it doesn’t feel like He’s there. Because of His promises,  in our struggles and doubts, we can praise Him because of the truth that cannot change. The God that does not change. And that God, our God, is worthy of that praise!

David knew that. Even when his enemies were on his tail and closing in, he knew that. So in the same breath, he could ask where God was and still give him praise.

My friend Maria knows that. It’s why she can stand in front of a surreal scene of fire trucks, news crews and the charred remnants of the home her family has known for close to 50 years and still lift her hands to praise God for His goodness. Even when the good seems hard to see.

I pray we all have a faith so deep that, should the kind of world-shaking trial come, and it will, that in our anguish we instinctively offer God our praise. For He is worthy!

If you feel so led, a GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds for Maria’s family.

 

Mocking Grace?

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It’s Holy Week. Thursday, to be specific. This was the day Jesus celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples and then took the bread and wine, and told them to eat of the bread, his body, that would be broken and drink of the wine, that was the new covenant–his shed blood poured out for the sins of the world.  This sacrifice, this shedding of blood that had to take place if you or I (or anybody) could have atonement for our sins,  by the grace of the Father. That fact that we even have a chance at salvation is purely because of the great grace of God.  We sure don’t deserve it. But that’s what grace is–getting something you don’t deserve.

The sheer magnitude of this grace should overwhelm you. If it doesn’t just try to comprehend, though I’m not sure we can even scratch the surface of it, what it must have been like for Jesus to hang on the cross and take on the full wrath of God for your sins and mine.  I can’t even begin to imagine. Yet Jesus did it. The human part of him, mind you. The part of him that was flesh and bone. The part that felt physical pain and human emotion. The humanness of Jesus hung on that cross.  Yet in his humanness, perfect and sinless.

That day the world was ushered into the dispensation of grace. We were freed from the law. We no longer had to try in vain (Romans 7) to uphold the Law that we just could not.  We have grace, through Christ Jesus. And this grace frees us! But to what? To live with reckless abandon and shout “grace” and know that God will cover all of our sins?  Paul may start off Romans 8 with “there is now no condemnation”, but he also says if the Spirit is in us (which it is in all believers), then we should not operate in the realm of the flesh.  In Galatians 5:1 Paul says Christ liberated us, so we should not go back and take up the yoke of slavery. This is to say, don’t go back to the old manner of life you lived, in bondage to sinful ways and  habits.

Here’s the deal. I’m a little saddened. Recently another big name in Christian circles has stumbled.  People stumble, I get it. I don’t hold that against this person. People make mistakes. People can be forgiven and people can be restored. But two things really got me, and I don’t think they are unconnected. The first was some pictures surfaced which show  poor judgment at best. I’ll leave it there.  The second thing is so many people on social media explaining away these behaviors either by 1) manipulating the word of God (i.e., it doesn’t apply anymore, that was so long ago and our culture is different) or; 2) playing the grace card.

Here’s what I’m going to say about the first. God doesn’t change, nor does his word. You can fool yourself into thinking he only meant it for some people but not you. You are being deceived, my friends. Make your choices based on the truth–the Word of God. Can’t really go wrong there.

As for the latter…the grace card. Yes, by all means our God is FULL of grace and mercy.  But he is also a righteous judge. He has also made some things clear about how we are to conduct ourselves SO AS to separate ourselves from the culture of today, whatever time period that may be. Are we always going to get things 100% right? Of course not! And that’s what grace is for! I submit to you, grace is NOT for you to live how you choose, thumbing your nose to the truth , all the while claiming grace will cover you. The theological term for that is antinomianism. It’s often called “cheap grace” or “hyper grace”.  And it’s wrong.  The apostle John says if we say we know Christ but fail to keep his commands, we’re lying–we don’t know him. Ouch. (I John 2:4).  But I saw comment after comment effectively saying “just do you”. NO! NO NO NO! We aren’t called to live like that. We are called to deny ourselves. Your flesh is still going to want to do a lot of things contrary to what the Spirit of God leads us to do. That is why we deny ourselves. That is why we must pick up our crosses and die to ourselves daily. And for a high profile person to be making choices that very much suggest impropriety, whether it’s happening or not, leads people to think it’s okay. Even if it’s subconsciously.  (Not to mention the witness this is to non-believers! Ugh!)

So if you even contemplate for a moment the concept of grace being a permission slip to live in any manner you choose, and you can even bring me back your doctoral dissertation why antinomianism is not dangerous, then I would submit to you for your consideration simply this: Let’s go back to imagining our perfect savior hanging on the cross, bearing the full wrath of God so that we might live. So that we might have freedom. Let’s ponder the magnitude of this Jesus, fully God but fully man in a human body, feeling that crown of thorns dig in to his head. The pain he took from the scourging. His hands and feet with nails driven through them. Every breath excruciating. But he chose that for you. And for me.

So I ask you, this Jesus who thought you were worth all that, is he worth more your mocking his grace?

Follow Me

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Last week we looked at the difference between cultural Christianity and actually being a follower of Jesus.  So for the next few posts let’s look at a few key points in a little more detail.  Today I want to talk about what Jesus meant when he said “Follow Me”.

On several occasions throughout his ministry, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. I’m sure most of you are familiar with Jesus’ words to Simon (Peter) and his brother Andrew in Matthew 4:19 when he found them fishing on the Sea of Galilee. He said “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” We all remember that line.  But do you recall what Simon and Andrew did? The Bible says “Immediately the left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:20, English Standard Version).  And how about Matthew, who Jesus found at his tax collector’s booth. He simply says “Follow me.”  Matthew’s response? He got up and followed Jesus. No hesitation.  (Matthew 9:9). Another disciple asked if he could go bury his deceased parent, but Jesus told him too let the (spiritually) dead deal with burying the dead, and follow him right then.

But what about us? Do we drop everything and follow Jesus?  Certainly some people do. But I think for the vast majority, when we repent and receive the gift of salvation and ask Christ to be our Savior, we ride a spiritual high for a bit. We enter a honeymoon phase. It may last very short time or a little bit longer. But what happens when that wears off and you’re back to feeling the normal grind of the daily routine. You don’t feel super spiritual. You may not feel much of anything at all. (Feelings are all well and good, by the way, but the basis of your faith should not be on your feelings. Ever. The basis of your faith should be on the indisputable truths of our unchanging God. Feelings are fleeting and sometimes misleading. The heart can be wicked and deceitful, after all.) So now what?  Now is when we get serious about following Jesus. Without hesitation.

There’s another example of going all-in to follow the calling of the Lord. And this guy meant business. In 1 Kings 19:19-21 we learn about the prophet Elijah who is seeking out Elisha in order to anoint him to eventually take his place as the go-to prophet.  Elisha is in the field, plowing with his team of oxen when Elijah throws his cloak on him. Elisha knew that was the sign of something big.  He killed the oxen and burned the plows. He just removed anything to go back to. He was jumping full on into his calling and removed the safety net of a back up plan.

Does this mean Jesus wants us to sell everything we own so we can follow him? Well, unless you’re planning to go on a long-term overseas mission, probably not a wise idea.  But what he does want is for you to kill the oxen and burn the plows of your past and jump into your future in him. Don’t leave anything to go back to that will keep you from living in the fullness he has for you.  I get it, that’s not always easy. You may have to leave behind friends who influence in bad ways. These kinds of things are not cookie cutter, so it’s for you and the Lord to work out in prayer. I also highly recommend a mentor and/or a pastor or elder you can talk to for guidance. But know that God doesn’t ask us to give things up just to be a jerk. That’s not who he is. Personally, I had to walk away from the only friends I had that weren’t 2000 miles away. I was scared to death to have no friends. But God looks for obedience, and he rewards that with giving us better things in exchange for what we gave up. I know that was true for me.

In Matthew 10:38 (ESV), Jesus said “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.  And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” So what He is saying here is not that you are not supposed to love your mother and father, etc. He’s saying be careful not to love them MORE than you love him. And that goes for spouses, boyfriends/girlfriends, children, money, cars, fame…you name it. He wants your WHOLE HEART.  The greatest commandment starts with loving God above all things.  He continues to say “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”  (Mathew 10:39). Does that have you scratching your head?  No worries.  It’s simply this: when we hang on with a white knuckle grip to our old self, wanting do everything like we always have, and basically retaining the lordship over our own lives, we haven’t gained anything. And he says we aren’t worthy of Him. (Now, I’m not going to suggest you need to have a lot of expertise in Biblical interpretation, or do hermeneutical hopscotch to figure that one out. And I’ll let you decide how you wish to interpret that. But in my limited training in hermeneutics, it means “we aren’t worthy”.) But, when we let go and surrender ourselves completely and let Jesus be Lord, following His ways, we may have lost our old life for his sake, but hallelujah, we will find a brand new one in him. And it’s SO MUCH BETTER.

This surrendering, by the way, is a daily thing. Sometimes more than that. It’s an intentional handing over the control and saying “not my way, but Yours”.  On paper that might sound easy, but the flesh we still carry around makes it a challenge. Get in your car in rush hour. Or the slowest checkout line at the grocery store when you’re in a hurry. Or on a three hour flight with the person behind you kicking your seatback every two minutes. Jesus’ way says patience and grace. Your flesh says something entirely different. Luckily, we are given the fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22) to help combat the flesh. But it’s not an automatic response at first. We have to develop these good habits of yielding to the Spirit and not the flesh. Just like building a muscle by working it out.

We also have the great gift of the power to transform to be more and more like Christ through the renewing of our minds. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2 that we are not to behave like the rest of the world, but be “transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Part of following Christ means we strive to become more and more like him.  So how, exactly, can we renew our minds?  READ THE BIBLE!!
“Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” (John 17:17, New Living Translation).

Following Jesus means things are going to change. You’re going to change. And that’s a good thing. We all came to Jesus because we needed a Savior. If we were completely fine on our own, then there would be no reason to change.  But we come to him broken, or with a yearning in our soul for something we’ve tried to fill with any number of things the world promised us would satisfy that desire, but never did. If we agree that we all ended up at the cross because we need Jesus, then can we agree there is no shame in admitting that it’s time to stop trying to live this life by our own rules and plans?  What have you got to lose by jumping in the deep end of the pool and going all in, and completely selling out for Jesus?

Sweet, sweet Jesus! I am eternally grateful to have heard your voice, the voice of my shepherd, calling me to follow you. I am grateful that as a shepherd gently tends to his flock, so you tend to each sheep in your flock. You guide with a sure, steady hand. You keep your flock safely in your arms. You are Lord of all of my life. Remind me, nudge me when I start to take over. Thank you, above all, for your steadfast love. I pray all who call you Savior will also call you Lord.  

 

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To keep and bear arms….or not.

Bullets

Two caveats…

First, this post is a little bit outside the norm. This one is my personal muddling through an issue I never thought I’d be muddling through.

Second, in no way whatsoever am I attempting to tell or suggest what YOU should do in this particular matter. There is no black or white here.  It’s certainly caused some lively debate lately, and I have no problem with sharing of opinions in the comments. I encourage that! Please just be courteous and remember. your opinion is your truth, and another is their truth. Be respectful.

It’s no secret the media wants to play up the “fear” angle of almost everything they can, and the Syrian Refugee crisis has seemingly played into their hand. This has brought up a lot of gun talk in the scope (no pun intended!) of defending yourself and your family, due to the possibility of terrorists sneaking in with refugees (and terrorism in general).

But none of that made me think for even a moment about the need to defend myself or get a weapon.  Prior to last month, the only time I ever considered it (for about ten minutes) was when I moved from California to Texas, because everybody in Texas has a gun. (That’s not really true, but almost!)

But just about 5 weeks ago, my comfortable, safe, routine world was shattered.  I’ll try not to take too much time on this, but I have to give God all the glory He deserves here.  I live alone, with two cats who think they’re humans. I was sound asleep when I was awakened by a loud noise that I couldn’t describe. Then nothing. This woke me from a dead sleep, so I was a little dazed.  Within maybe 20 seconds my cats (who were on my bed with me) FREAKED OUT so I grabbed my phone and dialed 911 and within 5 seconds there was a man with a flashlight standing in the doorway of my bedroom saying something to me which, to this day I cannot remember, except it ended with “b*tch”.  And I pray regularly that God continues to block that from my mind. But just at the moment the 911 operator picked up and I screamed into the phone. He left. As it turns out, the police told me, there were two people, based on two distinct footprints on my front door. That was the noise, the door being kicked in.   I have NO DOUBT that God protected me. I have dealt with some crazy anxiety since then, but God has been SO FAITHFUL I can’t even tell you without taking an hour. He has brought people to minister to me,  my church family has been amazing, and He keeps speaking peace into me in a time when my head wants to believe anything BUT peace.  So that sets the stage.

You can imagine after that how many times people told me I needed to get a gun. (Did I mention I live in Texas?!) I couldn’t get away from it.  I would spend a lot of time thinking about it, researching them, playing out scenarios in my mind. I went to a gun range to shoot (I’ve done it before, I’m not anti-gun), but all of that just wrapped me up in knots. As time went on, those you’d think they’d get looser, but no, they just tightened up every time the gun topic came up.

Now, again let me say, this is MY conclusion for ME. Not you. This is based on MY time with the LORD. Not what I think scripture says is black and white.  It’s what, in my quiet time with God, I believe we have decided is right for me.

I’m not going to get a gun.

Here’s my main reason.  I don’t know if I can take a life.  Even if I’m being threatened.  I know there are some who will think that’s the dumbest thing they’ve ever heard.  But I don’t know that I can take a life under any circumstances. We, all of us, are His image bearers. Even those jerks who broke down my door. Even the people who sit on death row. Even the tiny humans some consider an inconvenient pregnancy to just deal with. Every life is valuable to God. I just don’t know that I can take one.

I still have some PTSD-like symptoms I deal with and when some intrusive thoughts come on, one of the things I sometimes remind myself of is what Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  That’s comforting to me, even when I think about my life being taken in a violent way. (Hey, Paul wasn’t looking at riding off into the sunset to die at the old folks home of old age, either.) I don’t spend a ton of time thinking about (but more than I used to, to be perfectly honest)  confronting death at the hands of another.  (Welcome to my new world!) As with all of the anxiety based responses my brain is throwing at me these days, I have two choices. One is to give in immediately to what the flesh wants to do and think, and the other is to run to Jesus and hold on. We can talk about anxiety another time, but I choose Jesus, even when that means I’m running to him while the anxiety is tearing through my brain. So if I’m choosing Jesus, I choose to rest on his promises. And he promises that all of this world is going to pass away. My house, my safety zone, all the things that make me feel safe and secure. And it’s nothing, NOTHING compared to what’s to come. Including this life I have now.  So if I say this too nonchalantly, it’s just my trust in that promise when I say, I’ll take my chances and leave the rest to God.

I also know that every life, no matter how corrupt it looks, is not beyond the redeeming power of the shed blood of Christ. What if I took that chance away from somebody? What if I could be planting a seed?

Do you know the story of the missionary Jim Elliot and the Huaoroni tribe of Ecuador? Jim and team of missionaries were determined to bring the gospel to this unreached tribe deep in the jungle. They had met with the tribe peacefully, but on one meeting, for reasons unknown, something went wrong. Now the missionaries were armed with guns, but when confronted with the angry tribesman, they chose not to use the guns in self-defense. All five were killed. Why, do you suppose, they chose not to defend themselves when their very lives were clearly on the line? I have a pretty good guess. These gentleman had gone in laying the groundwork and sharing the gospel of the love of Christ. Had they shot their attackers. there would have been little chance the gospel would be preached any further to that tribe.  (As an aside, two of the missionaries’ wives, Elliot’s and another, eventually made peaceful contact with the tribe, lived among them for a couple of years and converted many to Christianity. God has a plan for everything, boys and girls. Everything.)

One final thought, and then I have church bulletins to fold. In the aftermath of my incident, I just wanted to feel secure and comfortable in my space again. I thought a gun would do that. Along with increased security and several other things. And one day the LORD reminded me that HE is the only absolute safety and security we have, and anything else I do, while good and helpful, is not the ultimate security, HE is, and I need to put my trust in Him. The same for my comfort.

I have purposely left out scriptures to back up my decision because I’m not trying to win arguments or plead a case here. Again, this is not about that. You do what YOU feel you need to do. Just please do it responsibly! But I will leave you with this:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.               (Psalm 73:26, 28)