Freedom or License?

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13 


Discretion: the ability to choose an action based upon its potential effect on others. Discretion is a word we don't hear much anymore in this society of rights-fighters. We proudly champion our freedom to do whatever we please, as though that was a virtue. Even among Christians, the idea of intentionally limiting ourselves in order not to offend a brother is rarely considered.

Freedom is a glorious thing, but for followers of Christ, it is a weighty responsibility. Freedom from legalism is a precious gift. Jesus has already fulfilled what was lacking in our righteousness. But to know Him is to voluntarily give up some of the freedom He bought for us. That freedom is only beautiful when it is paired with discretion. Without discretion, freedom can become license to sin and an offense to others. We have freedom to live in joyful abandon to the will of God, rather than continuing our enslavement to old passions and habits. What an awesome example to our world when those who have been set free willingly choose to limit their freedom for the sake of a broader testimony.

Freedom is the right to say, "I can do anything and God still accepts me." Discretion is the maturity to say, "I could, but I won't." Are you practicing discretion in your personal life?


Turning Jesus Away

Anna shot me a worried glance and slowly pulled up a pant leg to reveal tattoos. "I dunno, I mean, I have these and more in other places. Does He...does Jesus want people with tattoos? Somebody told me one time that God doesn't want people as messed up as me."

I fought down the surge of anger and smiled. "You're exactly the person Jesus came to earth to find." Tears filled her eyes when I showed her Jesus' words about her, and that Paul had her beat if she wanted to be the worst sinner ever. She had never known any of this before.
Lacy shook her head in disbelief when we finished our first counseling session. "This is all so new to me. I started going to a church one time with my three kids, and some lady told me I couldn't keep coming back because I've never been married. I was so embarrassed. Since then I've thought God was for other people."
My heart breaks at these stories. Unfortunately, they are not rare. What message has the church been sending these precious human beings, the very ones that Jesus came to find? Who are these church people who dare turn Jesus away at the door?

My favorite part of counseling is when I get to lead these hurting ones into the presence of a God they thought belonged to other people. When they grasp the reality that Jesus knows their names and loves them just like they are, they cannot give their lives to him fast enough. 

And no, the tattoos don't go away. The children still don't have fathers. But wasn't it Jesus who said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick?" (Luke 5:31)

One of the greatest joys in life is watching a pierced, tattooed, single mom with battle scars on her heart slowly transformed by worship. Her complexion actually changes when she eagerly inhales the truth that she matters to God, sin and all. So many people never imagined that God has answers for their broken places. They've just been doing the best they can wandering in the dark.

Most likely the ones who are conveying the message that turns these people away at the church door do not realize what they are doing. They are complacent church people who are so settled in their religiosity and self-righteousness that they believe they are displaying spiritual maturity. It's a dangerous trap, set by Satan himself. They may not say so with words, but sometimes attitudes and actions send the same message: "Until you are like us, you are not welcome here."

Think about your church environment, the comfortable habits, practices, words, and expectations you accept without a thought. Could you be sending the message these ladies heard without realizing it? Are you turning Jesus away at the door?


The Always-Learning Church Lady

Second Timothy 3 begins with this warning:  
"But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant... For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." 

Have you ever wondered who these women are? Have you met one? She is most likely someone you know well and never connected with this verse.

In my work as a counselor, I have met a few of these women. Each time I do, this scripture echoes in my head. Based upon the patterns that I have seen, here is a composite sketch of this woman in 2015:

She is old enough to know better. She has experienced more in life than most and has "gotten saved" at some point in there. She embraced Christianity with all the passion with which she has embraced a dozen other fancies. She absolutely LOVES church things. She is at every Bible study, and sometimes starts her own. She is at most church functions, if they offer a chance to "fellowship."Fellowship" for her means either the opportunity to show off her hostess abilities or gives her a chance to gossip, which she calls sharing prayer requests. She has started and sometimes finished a great assortment of discipleship programs, deeper-life studies, and new-and-improved Christian self-help fads. She has big, multicolored Bibles in every translation available and is well-known for her outspoken and strongly-held viewpoints.

She is drawn to obscure-type churches with off-brand names like "Holy Ghost Anointing Tabernacle" or "God's Shining Radiance Abounding," which she will proudly tell you is due to the fact that other churches are just not spiritual enough for her. She boasts of spiritual experiences that most "regular Christians" are not privy to, such as "seeing the Shekinah glory" and basking in "hours of supernatural manifestations." She lives for these manifestations and it never occurs to her that the demonic could be involved. 

Her family would describe her as very religious. She would call herself deeply spiritual; yet if cornered in a moment of honesty, she would admit she has never felt really close to God. That becomes easier to understand when you learn about her personal life. It is at strange odds with what she professes to believe. Multiple marriages, sexual immoralities, and often abortions, dot her after-salvation past. She shrugs when she admits to sleeping with whatever "true-love " she happens to be with and justifies it by declaring that "God understands."

The saddest part is that she cannot see the discongruity. Even after hours of therapy, interventions, and confrontations, she emerges shaking her head at the shallowness of those who have not attained her level of spiritual wisdom. She is usually in the middle of whatever conflicts are going on at her church or home, or she is the cause of them. She will admit to some flaws with loud weeping, and is often seen at the prayer rail, in the pastor's office, or on the prayer chain. But she never seems to get any better. She admits to some weaknesses that she feels comfortable with, but angrily denies the ones that others loving point out.

She is "ever learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth." She is a caricature of the Proverbs 31 woman; yet, she cannot see that she is not the epitome. For all her Bible reading, she never seems to grasp the most basic concepts of love, humility, surrender, and obedience. For all her spirituality claims, she lives entirely in the flesh.

Have you met this woman? Paul warned that in the last days, they would be everywhere. Some have labled her the Jezebel Spirit. Paul simply calls her a "weak woman weighed down by various sins." The worst part is that for all her bold "witnessing," there is little spiritual fruit. Rather than drawing people to Jesus, she alienates them. While smiling at her face, those in her circle turn and walk away from any Jesus she professes. If she owns Him, they want nothing to do with Him. And that is the greatest harm of all.



Guess What I Found Out...!

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 1 Corinthians 13:6

There is nothing quite so delicious as a juicy piece of gossip about someone we don’t like. Our hearts give an evil little jump when we hear that somebody got what was coming to them. And then—we hate to admit it—but we feel disappointed when we find out that bad news wasn’t true. You mean the jerk got promoted, not fired? The hateful woman at the counter got engaged, not dumped? Sometimes, we’re even mad about it. We are the opposite of this verse. We often delight in evil and refuse to rejoice with the truth.

This verse convicts us all. Jesus told us to love our enemies, and one way we do that is by refusing to delight in their misfortunes—even when they deserve it. Love wants the best for everyone, regardless of their worthiness. Love sees people the way God sees them and hopes for their restoration. Love keeps a clear conscience and quickly confesses to God any resistance to loving. A commitment to love keeps our hearts pure and in step with God’s heart, and when we are pure in heart, we can see, hear, and know God (Matt. 5:8).  When we choose to love instead of following our selfish tendencies, we find that we are the ones who are blessed and happy.

Do you delight in evil or do you rejoice with the truth? What if you purposed to see every person as God sees them? What if by loving, you were the one who was blessed?


Love Like That

He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, 
and now he loved them to the very end. John 13:1

Sometimes love is easy. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and everyone’s acting like they should. Jesus had plenty of those times with his twelve closest buddies. They had been a ragtag bunch of misfits when He found them: fishermen, tax collectors, selfish, greedy, and rough. But He had patiently taught them what they needed to know to become the men He knew they could be. He’d watched their eyes widen in amazement when He turned the water into wine, turned a sack lunch into a feast, and turned cripples into sprinters. He’d loved it when they clamored for more: more miracles, more understanding, more of God. He loved these guys, rough as they were. God had given them to Him. They were His friends. And in their own way, they loved Him too.

But now the end was coming. He knew it and they didn’t. He sat across the table from the backstabbing Judas who was about to betray Him to His enemies. He listened to the boastful claims of the self-confident Peter who would deny they had ever met. He looked over the heads of his twelve closest friends and knew that none of them would be there for Him when He needed them most. He knew more about them than they knew about themselves. They were all going to fail Him…but He loved them anyway. Right to the very end.

Do you have that kind of loyalty to the people in your life? It’s easy to love when they love you back. But what about when those people have failed you? When they weren’t there for you when you needed them? Jesus shows us how it’s done. If He could love us, knowing what He knows about us, then we can love people too. Right to the very end.