Through Raging Waters: From Belief To Freedom

If you want to get across a swift moving river there’s only one way to do it. Get it wrong and you may die. Get it right and you'll have a story to tell.

I’d been swept away by a stream or two so getting a lesson from an expert was a Godsend. I’d always walked in with firm steps, eyes fixed on the other side, and leaning sideways as I fought against a raging river. Invariably I’d lose the battle when the water rose to waist level. So watching this crazy dude cross an ice-cold glacial stream that was chest high and make it across? Amazing! 

He did what seemed counter-intuitive. Facing up-stream he stared the raging waters in the face. One tool changed everything. He had a strong long pole held out in front of him, plunged vertically into the riverbed. With every sideways step he moved the pole just slightly and anchored it in the river bottom again, keeping the pole firm and into the teeth of the water that was unrelenting. After 20 minutes he was a touch hypothermic but he made it across. Simply breathtaking to watch! 

There’s millions of Christians today who stand in belief of one side of a spiritual river. But on the other side is true freedom. Freedom from addictions, a foul mouth, laziness, gossip, and pride of every kind is on the other side – getting over is the only way for us to experience the spiritual freedom Jesus came to give us. 

That’s the picture Jesus paints for some Jewish people he encountered who believed but were still stranded in slavery to all kinds of nagging sins – the very sins you and I battle with today. Look at these two simple verses:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31-32

There is a way to cross over from mere belief and into true freedom. You and I MUST be people of the word. It’s the truth of God’s word that keeps us balanced, solid, and secure in the face of opposition - God’s word is mighty pole of spiritual river crossers. By the truth of God’s word we stay on our feet and taste freedom on the other side. Freedom is not the privilege of a select few. Freedom is for all of God’s kids. Amazing indeed! 

This isn’t a one-time gig. You’ll have more rivers to cross but keep God’s truth and promises ever in front of you. When you’re anchored by truth you won’t be as intimidated by raging forces of evil.  

You believe God? Good! But do you want freedom? Very good! Then get the word of God in your hands and don’t let go. It serves us best when opened regularly. Yes, you CAN move from belief to freedom.

 

Cut To The Heart

Strip away all the trappings of health-wealth prosperity and pop psychology, and we can discover how someone's life truly changes – how we can have abundant life. Behavior modification (which usually trades one bad habit for another) and victimization counseling (which avoids dealing with personal sin) can both be a huge help but something else must pierce through. Being cut to the heart over our own sin can take second place to nothing.

We've all been burned by someone and we've all burned others, either by sins of commission or omission. If you can't own that, you're in a bad place. But for anyone willing to face the music, you're about to dance.

Imagine you get burned, and I mean scorched, by someone you love. But now raise the stakes and add in that people are watching – drawing conclusions without knowing all the facts. This will undoubtedly be a way of life, in this life, so we better learn how to handle it. I believe there are three general responses to being burned. Each of these three will dictate what we think about, talk about, and how we walk-out this life.

Tough It Out: This is a mental psyche job. We amp ourselves up. We say things like "greater is He", "I know who I am", and "it's a new day". These things are powerful and true, but without one critical piece, it's all bandaids. All the goals, grit, and willing ourselves forward will only intensify the pain down the road. Self-will always collapses in a heap.

Blame Someone Else: This is so easy and so incomplete. I get it, pointing fingers isn't always wrong. Sometimes we point the right direction and put our finger on a problem. But casting blame is a funny thing. It can leave us feeling justified at a gut level, and our public persona left intact, but personal peace will remain illusive. There's a level of satisfaction in casting blame but there's a hollowness that remains.

Cut To The Heart: We can never enjoy something as being sweet without a taste of bitterness. We can't understand the rush of mountains until we've crawled through valleys. And we can't know peace without being cut to the heart. The first revival in scripture is predicated on one supernatural reality - "they were cut to the heart".

There is one savior, a big problem, and one solution. People must be cut to the heart over their personal and individual sin. We can't be tough enough to handle the pain of our own failings. And we can't point fingers without running low on energy or running out of people to blame.

When we are cut to the heart we begin to gain strength that we could never contrive. And God himself goes to bat for us to deal justly with all the injustice we've every faced. Go ahead, let the grace of God cut to the heart. That's when abundance begins.

Acts 2:37

"Ornamental Fringe"

This weekend I read a 1863 message from the "prince of preachers". Old London is not much different from today. I can say for myself, that it's easy to live on the "ornamental fringe" and miss the reality, and yes the joy, of remembering God's power and grace.

This week I had a chance to hear a man share his brutal and beautiful story of life-change. Three times he asked me "are you sure you want to hear this". I am richer for having spent an hour listening to his story of God's power and grace to change a man.

And then this morning God allows me to read what's below. A reminder to never forget what lives behind the "ornamental fringe". May God allow us to always remember the spiritual "back streets" and "blind alleys" he's pulled us from.

"Some of you ride through our fine wide streets, which are a sort of ornamental fringe upon the skirts of poverty, and you know nothing about those narrow back streets, those blind alleys, and those courts inside of courts, where poverty is huddled together, and where too often sin, lust, and disease become its natural consequences."

Spurgeon, C. H. (1863). The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit

Habits: Break em' or Starve em'

There's one big thing we must agree on from the get go. We can't afford to give sin any real estate in our soul. We can make zero "provision for the flesh". We can't give destructive secrets a way to survive. Gossip can't be given a place to hang out. We need to evict jealousy and tell envy it has no home with us. We must put all the empty spiritual carbs on notice. All addictions must be seen for what they are - life thieves. There can be no provision for sin to live. It's a battle that must be fought and in Christ it can be won.

We can all identify habits in our life that needs to die. So let's get real and raw with sin. When God reveals to us any sin that is stealing life from us, give it no food. Let it eat nothing because it won't stop until it consumes us. Withhold any nourishment whatsoever. And when sin screams for mercy offer it none. There is no quick death with sin. It must be starved to its death and sin will never go without a fight. Just when a sin is about to lose its foothold in our life and breath its last breath, it will call out for just a scrap. But give it nothing. One morsel in the mouth of sin is like giving new life to a monster. Starve sin to the very end. There's a mercy killing that God smiles on - Putting sin to death.

New sin will always crop it's head but one victory produces more victory. Get a win today and we'll have a track record tomorrow. We can live in Christ...when we starve sin to death. Some habits have to die.

Romans 13:14

 

What Jesus Did For Us All

Life is a battle and the stakes are high. Recognizing that we are broken and in need of help is the best thing that could happen to any of us. The truth is that self reliance and pride are the enemies of real life. When we have a moment of clarity we're then ready for the deepest and most important questions of life.

If you're uncertain about where you stand with God, this will help clear things up. God's passion and power to save people from their sin and tangled brokenness is truly amazing. Let God speak into your heart and soul. Let him remind you of his goodness or maybe you can taste it for the first time. 

Take Sin Seriously...(even the smallest sins)

This week I heard word of another high profile pastor who had fallen morally. It made me sad and then caused me to stop dead in my tracks and ask myself, "What do you want to teach us Lord, what do you want to teach me"? I had heard John Piper speak of this classic by John Owen. It is tremendous!

It's never too soon to take sin seriously. If you desire to honor God with your whole life, this book will rock your soul and cause you to make tangible changes throughout your days. This is not legalism...it's wisdom and discipline. And don't be deceived by what you may write off as "small sins". Howard Hendricks often said, it goes something like this... "There's no such thing as a blowout...our life goes flat because of a slow leak". I don't believe I'll be the same as a result of reading this great work. Get this on your reading list...you won't regret it and it may save you from serious pain.

Another warning: Don't look at your life and assume that because you have stayed faithful to your spouse, or faithful in singleness, that it equates to purity. Many have grown cold in faith and suffer paralyzing, joyless living, and it's because sin has not only crouched at the door...we have allowed it to pounce on our soul. But in Jesus we have the victory over it all! Praise God!

Enjoy!


The Real Answer For Sexual Sin

Any strategy to fight off sexual sin that leaves out the joy of the Lord is destined to fail. Having protection in place to prevent the ease of compromise is a wise thing, but the only real answer for sexual temptation is to overwhelm it with a passion for God. And a passion for God can be cultivated with a few critical things:

1. Heathy sexuality begins with a humbling of our humanity. Seeing our need for God is where the power for overcoming any earthly temptation resides. 

2. Joy found in God is the enemy of compromise. Sexual purity in the fruit of a relationship with God that is flooded with joy.

3. Saturation of the mind and soul with God's word and truth is the fuel of joy. The more we're filled with truth, the less we'll feel the need to satisfy our soul with lies.

Defensive movements are a good thing for sexual sin. But going on offense and finding our joy in God is the strongest move that we can make.

(Please check out this John Piper Montage)

 

Accusation

The voice of railing accusation rings out from the mouth of Satan every day and the intent is to distract, derail and defeat God’s kids. Satan’s voice will one day be silenced and “the accuser of our brethren with be thrown down”. The constant, “day and night”, barrage of accusations must be dealt with, if the child of God is going to stay on track with God.

Satan is splitting time between earth and the throne of God. He “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” and carries accusations to God in an attempt to throw a wedge between God and his children. Accusation left unattended becomes of pile of defeat and unnecessary shame. The relief from accusation won’t be fully resolved until Satan is "thrown down”, but until then we can do one powerful thing that will offload emotional burden that comes through accusation.

The best thing to do with accusation is to face it head on. Literally "take every thought captive”. When a thought of accusation hits us we have two healthy responses. 1. Own and confess any aspect of the accusation that rings of truth. Unconfessed sin gives Satan’s chatter credibility and we need to strip him of that power. Confession "cleanses us of all unrighteousness” and allows us to move forward in freedom. 2. Throw the balance of accusations away and let God deal with it. Satan love to badger God’s children and keep us in a state of emotional turmoil, confusion, and defeat, even when our victory has been sealed.

When we find ourselves under a pile of accusation we need to dig out one issue at a time. Letting Satan’s voice go unchecked becomes an all consuming noise of discouragement. Grab an accusation and deal with it by owning/confessing it at a heart level or rejecting/pitching it to the foot of the cross.

It’s worth saying that we can’t allow ourselves to be sucked into Satan’s work. Any charge against a fellow believer must be grounded in truth, held to the scope of only those who need to know, and with the intent to restore. Any other motive lends support to the “accuser of the brethren”. Let’s strip Satan of added support by putting a check on our words.

Revelation 12:10, I Peter 5:8, II Corinthians 10:5, I John 1:9

Make Sure, You Are Leaky

Guest Blogger - Jim Strietlemeier

Last week, a seven years old boy, in my Sunday School class said “I want to make sure I’m saved.” It was the end of class. We had been working through memorizing the names of the books of the Bible. Our teaching was about Joseph and the coat of many colors. I wondered what had spurred the question. This young man has a particularly Biblical name. But up until the question about salvation, I thought his name was the only bit of Bible he knew. He and I worked through the Romans explanation of salvation. He already believed that God had raised Jesus from the dead. He confessed that Jesus was Lord. He seemed to have a clear enough understanding of the concepts. So clear, that I could tell him “if these things are true, you are saved!” I took him to the lady who brought him to church. She brings lots of kids to church, as do all our leaders. I found out that he and his brother had gotten into so much trouble that they were not welcome in another church. Of course he was worried about his salvation.

This is the case for all of us who know the Lord. We receive Christ. We grow in our knowledge and relationship with the Lord. We learn more of His Word. We begin to live the abundant life. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We have prayed the prayers. Then we find our feet dirty from living in the world. Sin has intruded into our fellowship with the Lord and we feel a need to make sure that we are in Christ. The Apostle Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure. We are people who should be in the habit of confessing our sins to each other and especially to God, so that the faithful and just One will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. For those who attempt to keep short accounts with the Lord, we can agree with DL Moody, the best known evangelist of the eighteen hundreds. He answered about the filling of the Holy Spirit, “I need a continual infilling, because I leak.” We all must agree with the Apostle Paul, “Oh Wretched man that I am who will deliver me from the body of this death? But thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The victorious life is one of moment by moment submission to God. But when sin stands in the way of the deep parts of walking with Christ, then we feel like that seven year old in my Sunday School class. Yet we have an answer. Make sure you are in the faith. Look to Jesus, the author and finisher our our faith. Then press forward with the confidence of a seven year old. And know that unless you change and become like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Romans 10:9-10, John 10:10, 13:1-17, James 5, I John 1:9, II Peter 1:10, I Thessalonians 5:19, Romans 7:24,

Hebrews 12:2, Matthew 18:2-4

Read more of Jim's blogs, go to Richinfaith.org

Temptation Can't Be Stopped, But We Can...

It's coming and there ain't no stopping it. Temptation is as certain as federal taxes and ocean tides. No amount of maturity can grow us beyond the reach of temptation. And the only thing we can be sure of is that temptation will hit us at our weakest moment and at our deep area of need. 

We only need to read Matthew 4 to realize that Jesus was hit with temptation at a time when he was the most susceptible. But scripture is clear that our Savior is able to "sympathize with our weaknesses". But rather than being fatalistic and assuming that we're certain to fail the test, God's word is equally clear that God will "not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape".

There are really just three choices we can make when faced with any temptation, and this applies to every temptation that threatens to pull us off the path and into a ditch of sin. 

1. Take It: This usually involves hesitating for a bit and then taking the bait. The problem is that the pain soon follows and the shame can linger until we confess it to God (and others if needed). We usually come away from this experience swearing off being so foolish and the wise ones talk it over with someone who can help in the future.

2. Sample It: Sampling temptation is rarely spoken of but can be a common response. We rationalize that we're not taking the deep dive and that we can easily step away. But this can lead to a cycle of defeat and victory, followed by the same crazy cycle all over again– it never seems to end. The net effect is that our trajectory with God stays flat line. We find ourselves managing sin (or sin managing us) rather than growing in grace and wisdom. When we nibble at the edges of temptation it may not outright kill us, but it sure will certainly stunt our growth.

3. Escape It: It's time to take God at his word. If he says he has "provided a way of escape", it's gotta be there somewhere! Whatever the temptation is, bank on it, there's a hatch to escape the heat of temptation. Here's the deal: By faith, the moment a temptation hit us, ask God to illuminate the way of escape and then look for it. We may have to crawl out, jump out, sprint out, move out or shut it out, but take the way that God has made. By the way, don't worry about tomorrow's temptation, deal with the one you get hit with today and you'll have more wisdom for tomorrow. 

Hebrews 4:15, I Corinthians 10:13

Travel Light

When I signed up for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race it was in it's infancy. Back in 1979, mushers were still figuring out the basics of how to get a dog team 1,100 miles from Anchorage to Nome. But one thing was certain: The price we paid to get into the race gave us the right to gather up thousands of pounds of supplies and ship it on ahead to checkpoints so we didn't have to carry it all in the sled. To have not taken advantage of this would have been more than foolish, it could have been fatal, but it would have resulted in failure to finish. 

The price that God paid is not just to get us into the race, it's to get us to the finish. We don't have to pile everything for the journey onto our shoulders. We can't fully anticipate the supplies we need anyway, so leave it unless God says take it. God never asks us to anticipate what the last hundred miles of our spiritual journey will look like, he asks us to trust him that when we get to that stretch, he'll have everything we need. The awesome thing about the walk of faith is that it began by God's grace alone and it will continue by God's grace alone. No one is more passionate that we travel light than God. So here's a few quick travel reminders:

  • What God starts in a person, he will take to the finish line. Philippians 1:6
  • Never carry the junk that can only weigh us down and hold us back. Hebrews 12:1-2
  • The Word of God is mandatory equipment. It's the only way to see where to go. Psalm 119:105
  • Anxiety is an emotional killer. Throw that on God as well. I Peter 5:7
  • Conversation with God will guard our heart from enemies on the trail. Philippians 4:6-7
  • Keep envisioning the finish line, it's gonna be awesome! Revelation 21

Travel light...

 

Break Free (part 1): Look At The Ugly

This is a small series of blogs to walk us through a normal road to true life-change. It’s not pretty, sanitized, and religious people who like it clean will find it rather dirty. But it’s the way God changed (and still changes) my life, and he may do the same for you!

We can only break free from what’s killing us, after we’ve seen how ugly it truly is. Jesus led a woman at a well to rehearse the pain of her past. Memories flashed through her mind of the five husbands she’d had and even the man she was now shacked up with. All the pain of being used, abused and reinvesting her soul into that which could never deliver, must have pained her deeply. The prospect that now again her heart was about to be broken over her shame, would have been brutal to bare. But instead of running away from more condemnation, she heard the voice of truth dripping with compassion. This precious woman was about to break free from what was killing her, but it required a deep look into just how ugly her sin (and the sin others visited on her) really was, and how damaged her soul had become.

That long deep look into our sin is not a sadistic game that God plays, it’s a small price that positions us for the priceless freedom we can only find in Christ. No one can see their need for someone to save them, unless they’re certain they’re sinking. God will only show us the depths of our depravity, in order to reveal the inestimable heights of his mercy and love. 

God lifted the fog from my life over several months in the early eighties. But the more I could see, the less I could envision any kind of solution or future with genuine hope. It was at the bottom of empty that I came to grips with my life–I had to “look at the ugly”. The escape of Cocaine had no more pop. Now I was only more paranoid with every line that I snorted. The desired effects of alcohol was no longer for social release, it was for emotional relief. I drank to dull the pain and passing out was fine by me. No one saw any of this like I felt this, and that's why it is so important to have freedom as we’ve truly dreamed, not as we hope others perceive.

So I humbly ask you to “look at the ugly”. Grasp how empty that food addiction has become. Get ahold of how far that ladder-climbing in business and material pursuit has pulled you from the family you love. Take an honest assessment of how numb and self-absorbed that fantasy and/or pornography has left you. Get sobered up for a moment over how much that substance you pour into yourself has become a crutch that you can’t imagine not leaning on. Stop blaming others long enough to see that the very things you desire to receive you rarely give away. Look at the ugly. But look only long enough to realize that there is a voice calling into the dark night of your soul. And when you turn to see it, you’ll be utterly amazed.  

John 4

Starving Sin...

Life in Christ is, by nature, a whole new deal. The new birth miracle is real and supernatural. If we've surrendered complete control of our life to God, he's done two profound things: 1. Set us free from sin slavery. 2. Locked us into the righteousness of Christ. So what we must do is walk in agreement with God and the miracle of new birth. We're neither bystander nor initiator. We're spiritual partners in our own life-change. God initiates and we walk in agreement with him. And God's given us all the power we need to make the moves that are necessary to win this spiritual foot race. We can do this!

There's one big thing we must agree on from the get go. We can't afford to give sin any real estate in our soul. We can make zero "provision for the flesh". We can't give destructive secrets a way to survive. Gossip can't be given a place to hang out. We need to evict jealousy and tell envy it has no home with us. We must put all the empty spiritual carbs on notice. All addictions must be seen for what they are - life thieves. There can be no provision for sin to live. It's a battle that must be fought and in Christ it can be won.

We can all identify something in our life that needs to die. So let's get real and raw with sin. When God reveals to us any sin that is stealing life from us, give it no food. Let it eat nothing because it won't stop until it consumes us. Withhold any nourishment whatsoever. And when sin screams for mercy offer it none. There is no quick death with sin. It must be starved to its death and sin will never go without a fight. Just when a sin is about to lose its foothold in our life and breath its last breath, it will call out for just a scrap. But give it nothing. One morsel in the mouth of sin is like giving new life to a monster. Starve sin to the very end. There's a mercy killing that God smiles on - Putting sin to death.

New sin will always crop it's head but one victory produces more victory. Get a win today and we'll have a track record tomorrow. We can live in Christ...when we starve sin to death.

Romans 13:14

Chivalry: Part 13 - First Blush

“...naked and were not ashamed."

Most women like a man who can blush. And most men do everything possible to resist blushing. Blushing signals that we’re not invincible. This is why real men will lead when it comes to admitting that we don’t have it all together. That’s just good ol’ spiritual chivalry. To be vulnerable in front of our wife about our shortcomings and sin is a rare, but manly, character trait. Godly women love men who lead, so go ahead and be the first to blush over sin.

There is something attractive about righteousness. I’m not talking about doing things for the eyes of man or for our own sense of self-worth. I’m referring to those choices that courageously deal with the ugly stuff that is too often left hidden. We all wrestle with what exactly to share with those we love. “Will I be loved and accepted if I were to tell someone the things that are killing me? Would I be left on an emotional island if I were to risk it and share my battles?” For men, the need to get sin into the light of God’s love is critical for health, healing and vitality. Yet too often we fear what will happen if we put our sin out there–will we be hung out to dry? This is particularly risky when it come to being honest with our spouse–men wonder if it’s worth the risk.

But it’s the cost of secrecy we need to consider. Isolation leads to a helpless cycle of frustration and hiddenness. Yes, we need men who can help us offload our sin, but being honest with our wives can introduce to one our greatest allies in our battle for victory. So here’s a bold proposition: Begin to cultivate a relationship with your wife where you are the first to initiate your need for support and encouragement to get victory over sin and the flesh. This isn’t about laying out your dirty laundry. It’s about living in a posture of need.

All it takes is for you to be the first to blush. But make it an ongoing conversation and you won’t, one day, need intervention. Here’s a few categories to blush/converse about.

Basic Needs - Blushing requires letting your wife know what you need to help get victory over temptation. Our sin is not her responsibility, but letting her in on how you’re wired can help her understand her man. Godly women want to understand their man.

Basic Struggles - Your wife needs to know the basic struggles that you face personally. Our wife is a helpmate who has resources and ideas that we didn’t come equipped with. When we share our basic struggles they won’t tend to become debilitating struggles.

Basic Strategies - Letting our wife share in our struggles can be humbling to say the least. But when she has the inside scoop on our challenges and weak spots, she can help us navigate around these tar pits by using her intuition and wisdom. Women can see stuff that men can’t see. 

This is why chivalry needs to be the first to blush. Your woman will find you more attractive than ever imagined.

Now or Later...How to overcome procrastination

iStock_000027026087Small.jpg

Understanding what procrastination costs us is a good way to have it change us. The price of procrastination is high. Procrastination isn't  just missed opportunities, it misses the mark spiritually. It's actually a sin to procrastinate. This passage in James is clear. "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." Now before you think God blasts us for procrastination we need to remember a couple of key things. 1. God doesn't want us just be a dreamer, he wants us to be an achiever. 2. God knows that one of the best ways to miss God today is to not fully live in the moment. The cost of procrastination is high but the upside of mastering procrastination is even higher.

So let's break it down. There are things to do in life and it feels like more things than we have time to do them in. But God never gives us more than we can do. So we have to first learn what "the right thing to do" really is. This can only be done by seeking God for direction in our life and for our life. God's clearly not wanting us to mark our day by the second or analyze our every move, but God is wanting to speak into some critical areas.

We need to let God map our day professionally. This is for every adult alive. You may not think you have a profession but a stay-at-home parent is really a manager or social engineer. We need to offer up our profession to God and say, "take this day and fill it up with the things that can't wait". God will honor that request. Write them down and give it your best.

Relationship building is critical. Ask God for those most important relationships in the next 24 hours. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even service workers we run into in the course of a day. Some people need encouragement, some a nudge, others just a shoulder to cry on. The point is simple, we can't procrastinate with relationships. 

Do a "180 Now". Turn toward God and ask him for wisdom for today. Ask him. Don't let your life be flooded with self imposed "should's". How do we prevent false condemnation and hit the bulls-eye? Seek God for today's list. It'll be totally doable and fulfilling to the max. 

James 4:17