A Divided World, A Divided Nation, A Divided Church, A Divided Home, A Divided Marriage, A Divided Soul…

Crack

(FreeImages.com/AndrewHildebrand)

There is so much that can unify us, but when I look around, I see so much division!

I see a divided world: first-world countries versus third-world countries.  I see a divided nation: very clearly defined differences in ideologies/beliefs and political systems.  I see a divided church: legalism versus grace versus faux-grace and one denomination against another denomination.  I see divided homes: parents warring against children and vise versa.  I see divided marriages: marriages that elevate one gender against the other and one belief system against another.  I see divided souls: people that walk in confusion, doubts, unrest, and inconsistency.  I see divided identities…

I see a world that reflects nations that reflects churches that reflects families that reflects marriages that reflects souls.

I see so many divided souls because the pains/wounds and mistakes of the past still imprison the present and the futures, unless truth/life is allowed to bring healing.

This can seem to over-simply things, but it is not a simple process.  It takes layers of healing to occur before we begin to stop living from the past and begin to live from the future.

We experience pain in our past, and we decide to live differently.  In fact, we will often pick something very different from our past and think that choice and system of belief will guarantee that we have moved on.

We understand that the systems of our past were broken and faulty, but what we don’t understand is what wholeness looks like. 

Without understanding wholeness ourselves, we will hop from one broken system to another.  They may have a different name, appearance, and message, but the crazy thing is they can often be just the other side of the coin that we had in the past.

Just picking a different system does not guarantee that we are headed into true life, freedom, and healing.

The problem is that when we are wounded, we will choose something different, but the different is not necessarily all whole and good itself. 

At first, the different feels good, safe, and liberating.  It’s a break from those things and people that wounded us in the past.  After awhile though, we begin to realize that throwing off one yoke doesn’t mean we haven’t picked up another yoke with which to replace it.

In fact, the nature of woundedness means we will often pick up another yoke just as heavy or heavier than the one before.  It just looks different and feels different so we don’t realize that it is still a yoke.

And… Freedom is not living a life free of any constraints, responsibilities, expectations, structures, or truth to guide us. 

Something in life is always compelling us.  It’s either others, a system, a belief, or ourselves.

We hear that we are to live freely for ourselves — that we dream our biggest dreams and allow no one to hold us back.

We think that by breaking free from others we break free ourselves.  There is some merit to this.  We don’t want to live to please everyone else, but on the other hand, we don’t want to live to please ourselves or that is the ultimate form of narcissism.

How do we therefore break free from people and at the same time break free from ourselves?

When you have felt the bondage of control and manipulation by others, you often think that freedom means the absence of accountability, structure, or response on our parts.  You think it means that you are free to live and believe however you choose.  To a huge extent, you are.  We are free to choose what we believe and how we live, but we are never free from the outcomes of those choices — just like, thank God, neither are those who have hurt us!

Do we really want a world that is devoid of consequences or accountability? 

Do we really want a world that chooses to live for self in order to liberate self?  Does that really make sense?

Can we be liberated if we live in bondage to the whims and desires of self?

Ultimately, we will also hold others captive to our own selfish desires.

…And… Can we really live free when we merely live in a reactionary state from the past?  Is that not still living under the influence of the past?

The point is we may choose something different because it is different, and maybe we will find something true and good in the process, but maybe we won’t.

If we are simply living from reactionary mode, our decisions are not based on clear and truthful thinking.  Reactionary mode means that we are unable to accurately position ourselves and our beliefs on a foundation of clear and stable thinking.

What then is the answer?

Find healing.  Be aware of your sources.  Find God for Himself rather than the twisted examples perhaps you were shown.  Find Him where He reveals Himself: creation, His Word (take off others glasses when reading it), simply communicate with Him.  Talk with Him, ask Him your questions, and listen.

Know that freedom is more than throwing off bondage.  It’s replacing it with truth. 

Truth is actually the surest form of freedom there is.

I hear though a lot of people who react to the word truth.  There are several reasons for this response: reaction to their past (haven’t healed fully yet), they are still in the state of living ultimately for themselves, they are reacting to twisted thinking that was portrayed as “truth,” and they don’t actually understand what truth is.

If you want to know truth, find God.  Seek Him.  Ask Him to reveal Himself to you and then listen, observe, and ponder.

Luke 20:21

21 Then they asked Him, saying, “Teacher, we know that You say and teach rightly, and You do not show personal favoritism, but teach the way of God in truth:

John 1:14

The Word Becomes Flesh

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 8:32

32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Fear Versus Love

Handwriting - Love

(FreeImages.com/BobSmith)

Struggling with fear?

How do you live fearlessly in a world that has hidden dangers, agendas, and impending hurts?

What’s wrong with protecting oneself? 

How do you love fearlessly in a dangerous and abusive world?

How do you trust when it may mean being hurt again?

Trust is essential to any good relationship, but doesn’t it make sense to hold back and keep your “best cards” hidden?

Sound familiar?

Want to know what the answer to fear is?

It’s living loved.

That simple.

How do we live loved though if we don’t believe we are loved fully?

How do we offer what we don’t have or haven’t received (accepted/believed)?

There are some very clear differences between love and fear:

Fear walls against, locks out, controls, tries to predict, measures, withholds, imprisons, incapacitates…

Love empowers, gives freedom, enables, expands, gives generously, is limitless, hopes, receives, believes…

Fear is the scarcity mentality.  It is a prisoner to the past and a prisoner to the unknown and what-ifs.  It fears and expects the worst, instead of believing the best.

Fear holds any new relationship prisoner and answerable to the wounds of the past. The present and future are never released from the wounds of the past.

Fear says that my future is only preserved by hoarding my present.

Fear refuses to be vulnerable and transparent.

Love though is the abundance mentality.  It overflows.  It releases the present and future from the wounds of the past.

Each new relationship is received with the openness that comes from freedom from the past and a hope for the future. 

Love focuses on others rather than protecting self.

Love is able to be vulnerable because to be loved is to be secure.  When there is true security, there is no fear of vulnerability.

Love is an expanding force.  It expands our borders, expands our abilities, expands our hopes, expands our giving and our receiving…

The relevance to understanding the difference between love and fear as it applies to my life and to your life is this:

I.  Fear is rooted completely in self.  It is completely self-centered and as a result imprisoning.  It holds you, your circumstances, your dreams, your life purpose, and your loved ones prisoner to what hurt or scared you in the past and what might hurt or scare you again in the future.

You will never grow, expand, or be “all in” for God so long as you are a prisoner of your past.

II. Love is bigger than self and expands me beyond myself, my fears, my borders, my experiences, my past.

In order to live fearlessly, you must learn to live fully loved.

As I was contemplating this, I immediately thought of the verse:

1 John 4:18

18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.

Don’t Let Envy Keep You From Skating — From Living With Joyful Confidence

roller skates

(FreeImages.com/LukePartridge)

Last night, our family got to roller-skate with our church family.  What a blast!

It brought back so many fun memories of skating as a child with my sister in our unfinished basement.

As an adult, it is so much fun to be able to skate now with my own kids!  Last night, I loved being able to clown around with them, embarrass them a little, and just plain have fun!

As I was skating, I saw a kid that was really impressive in his skating abilities.  While watching him, I overheard some of our visiting kids say, “He is a show-off.”  I wish I had thought in the moment of an appropriate response, but I kept thinking later that evening: “It’s okay to let someone enjoy themselves, to enjoy something they are gifted in, and to not feel intimidated by someone else’s talent/gifting.” 

I was thinking how easy it is to judge another person.  Maybe the kid was showing off, but if so, maybe he was looking for someone to validate him.  Either way, enjoying someone else’s talents and abilities doesn’t cost us anything except our own insecurity and pride.

Why does it bother people so much when someone is displaying skill and talent?  Should we tell them to hold back or hide their skills?  Is the issue really about them displaying too much skills/gifts, or is it more about us — our insecurity that doesn’t want someone to outshine us?

Why not let others shine?

I was impressed by one woman, whom I respect, who recently stated, “I get my good looks from my mom.”  I have been raised to think that such a statement is arrogant, and it’s better to imitate weakness or to hide talents — to display false humility.  It was such a different perspective to see someone own their blessings and gifts.  Sometimes, it seems like we feel like we have to apologize for the blessings God has given to us.

A friend told me how someone recently said to her: “Humility isn’t the same as meekness.”  How true!!!

In other words, you can be humble but also be bold at the same time.  Just because you are “meek” or quiet doesn’t mean you are humble.  You can walk around “passive” and “submissive” but be full of pride and a sense of superiority.

Last night, I decided not to worry whether someone would take it as arrogance or not but to skate my best and to have fun, to be silly, and to skate with joy and confidence.

There is so much freedom when we quit living our lives to please everyone around us but live to please the Lord!!!

The result was I felt more confident on my skates, I had a blast with my husband, and I had fun with my kids and the other kids on the rink.  During a couple of the songs, as I felt the freedom to skate confidently and to allow myself to skate my very best, I couldn’t help but feel Abba-Daddy’s delight in me.  I couldn’t help but feel the pure joy that comes from living my life to His credit and to know that I can live my life with bold confidence because I live in the assurance that I am beloved and cherished by my Heavenly Father.

The Brave Voice

shadows

(FreeImages.com/GerardoAlvarez)

The woman, brushed back her brown hair, pensively looked at the computer screen one more time, and bravely wrote the words.  With a simple click of the mouse, her words were posted.  They were words, expressing something that she cared about and appreciated.  She had asked for feedback on her post, and she was not disappointed by the amount of comments she received.  They poured in.  The post had definitely “plucked a few strings.”

The feedback was very honest.  Some was super positive, some was very doubtful, some was skeptical, and some was clearly negative.  She had asked for honest feedback, and she had received it.

At first, some of the feedback stung.  The words were raw in their honesty.

As the woman read all of the comments, she realized that she could view the responses two ways: she could take them as rejection and/or harsh criticism, but that wouldn’t be fair because she had asked for honesty.  The other choice would be to feel honored that people felt safe enough to voice their opinions to her.

One commentator even apologized for voicing some skepticism, and she quickly assured that person that they should never apologize for having a voice.

Every day, we have these moments — these encounters with others — when we choose how we will respond to the voices around us…

Over the past year, I have been feeling called into this place of freedom — a place where I can have the courage to speak and to not feel it necessary to apologize for my voice.  …apologizing for my existence.

It is not a matter of being offensive with my voice because that would be a different matter.

It is a matter of answering this defining question: 

“How will you respond when the temptation is to shut down, to hide, to walk away from freedom because of the fear of the risk and the fear of rejection?”

Here are thoughts that I recently wrote:

“There is an enemy that wants us to apologize for existing, wants us to fade into the background, wants us to hide behind our fears and insecurities and rejection, wants us to not exist…

There is a Lover/Creator who keeps telling me to not apologize for being, thinking, believing, and feeling.

He keeps telling me that He placed His voice inside me, and that regardless of who agrees or doesn’t or who likes me or not, that I am to stand bravely and securely because I am unfathomably, completely, lavishly loved!

This entire past year, the Lord kept telling me, “[…], you know your freedom; now walk in it.”

It brings tears to my eyes every time I am made aware of how He is changing me, making me brave, helping me to become His warrior-princess!

Am I perfect? Far from it!

Do I make mistakes? Daily.

BUT, this I know: I am learning the freedom of being completely secure in eternal, unceasing, undeserved Love!

…and I am learning the beautiful humbling merits of His grace!

Grace… The Great Exchange!

Grace

(FreeImages.com/KaiNorneby)

It’s easier to talk grace more than live it, and living it is also about recognizing that God wants to use us now — even when we aren’t perfect.

We often want to wait until everything is scrubbed “clean,” but God wants to use us now. He says, “Give me your brokenness, and I will give you my wholeness.”

Grace is the great exchange.

It’s the recognition that I can’t, will never be enough, but I don’t have to. …because He was and is enough!

Grace is the freedom and security in knowing we don’t stand in our own merits and appearance of perfection. We stand in His merits and therein lies grace.

Grace is a position of victory because it is the supremacy of the cross over everything — every sin, every wound, every weakness.

Grace doesn’t excuse sin. It cancels sin’s power, and it cancels Satan’s burdens of shame and guilt. It puts it all where it belongs: at the foot of the cross.

So amazing and so beautiful!

Which Is The Greater Right?

Washington DC 6

(FreeImages.com/GregPinkston)

I was recently involved in a friendly debate/discussion regarding rights.  I awoke this morning, thinking about individual rights, and my conclusion to the matter is also my introduction to this post:

Both the Democratic party and the Republican party support the free exercise of rights.  The debate is really over which right or which freedom is the more important one to protect with legislation.

Which is the greater right?

I am going to do my best to respectfully express both views and the rights and/or freedoms that are being debated by each side of the arguments.

I will try to not over-simplify the issues, but realize, for the sake of clarity, the arguments will be abridged.

I. Gun Rights Vs. Gun Control

Gun Right activists believe in the right to protect oneself and to bear arms.  They believe that, according to their Second Amendment rights, they should be able to buy firearms in order to defend themselves or another innocent citizen from dangerous criminals.

Gun Control activists believe in enforcing stricter laws to protect the welfare and safety of the general public.  Their goal by enforcing stricter gun control laws is to prevent criminals from having as easy access to weapons that can be used to harm the general public.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Freedom To Protect Oneself & Bear Arms

Vs.

Protecting The Welfare Of The General Public

Note: There is much more to this debate.  For example, Gun Right Activists debate how personal firearms have been used in numerous occasions to protect citizens.  They also argue that criminals never obey laws so gun regulation is really about curbing the rights of law-abiding citizens rather than criminals.

Gun Control Activists argue that they are for legislating the regulation of specific types of firearms.  For clarity, see the following link, differentiating the types of firearms and what those actual terms mean: http://www.gunsandcrime.org/guntypes.html

II. Wearing A Burka In Public

Vs.

Public Safety (Travel) — Protecting The Welfare of The General Public

France passed a law on April 11, 2011, preventing the wearing of Burkas in public places.  The argument, supporting this legislation, was for the safety of the general public.  To understand some of these issues at stake, read the following: http://www.dw.com/en/five-years-into-ban-burqa-divide-widens-in-france/a-19177275.

The argument supporting an individual’s right to wear a Burka in public places falls under the category of Freedom of Religion.  Those arguing in support of Burka-wearing in public places believe that individuals should have the right to exercise their personal religious convictions.

The argument against Burka-wearing in public places is that religion is a private matter and should not be expressed when it places the public sector at greater risk.

Freedom Of Religion (Within The Public Sector) Vs. Welfare Of The General Public

Bill of Rights

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

III. Socialized Healthcare Vs. Individual Health Plan Options

The arguments for socialized healthcare is that every individual should have access to the same healthcare as everyone else.

The arguments for individual health plan options are that individuals should have the option whether they want to purchase healthcare or not, to have healthy competition within the healthcare marketplace, and to have options when it comes to the price and quality of their healthcare.

For more information on this debate, see the following sites: http://healthcare.procon.org/ and http://www.balancedpolitics.org/universal_health_care.htm.

Right For Every Citizen To Obtain Proper Healthcare

Vs.

Right To Have Individual Freedom Of Choice In Their Own Healthcare

Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

IV. School Vouchers Vs. Mandatory School/Property Tax

The argument for school vouchers is that citizens feel they should have a say in where their money goes and therefore greater choice in the where and what of their children’s education.

Those supporting mandatory school taxes argue that it is the government’s responsibility to insure that all children receive a proper education.  (Therefore, the government needs to tax its citizens in order to cover the costs of education.)

Freedom To Choose What Type Of Education Your Children Receives And To Have A Say In Where Your Money Goes

Vs.

Right To An Education

The argument could be made that this over-simplifies the issue because vouchers do not prevent children from having an education.  It merely gives greater opportunities in the selection of educational choices.

V. A Woman’s Right To Choose (What Affects Her Body) Vs. The Unborn’s Right To Life

The argument in support of a woman’s right to choose abortion is that it’s her body and therefore, her choice.  It is argued that she should not be forced to become a mother if she doesn’t want to be.

The arguments in support of the unborn’s right to life is that the unborn baby is a separate being (separate blood types, different gender, different physical characteristics, different DNA, etc…) — a human.  Therefore, it is argued that the unborn baby has the right to the most fundamental and basic of human rights: the right to life.  It is argued that the child’s right to life should not be based upon its ability to defend itself or upon its dependence upon another to survive.

Freedom To Exercise Personal Choice Vs. Right To Life

Declaration Of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men,

VI. LGBT Couple’s Right To Hire Any Professional Or To Shop From Any Business They Choose

Vs.

A Private Business Owner’s Right To Choose With Whom They Make Business Transactions, Based Upon Personal, Religious Convictions

The arguments in support of the LGBT Community’s right to shop where they want is that they should have equal opportunity to obtain the same goods and services as any other individual.

The arguments in support of the private business owner’s right to choose with whom they interact with in business transactions is that they should be able to choose how they operate their own personal business and that they should not be forced to do something that goes against their religious or moral convictions.

Again, this is another sticky debate — with many sides to consider.

It is argued that views against homosexuality are a personal matter and therefore should be kept out of the public sector.  In addition, it is argued that every paying citizen should have equal access to services.

It is also argued that private business owners should not be forced to do something that goes against their religious convictions, thus infringing on the Freedom Of Religion.

It could be argued that there are many choices available from where to shop, and you don’t have to force your lifestyle/opinions on another.  The point of this blog is NOT to make a stand for or against this issue, but I would say that my husband and I choose to not shop at various stores due to the dubious ingredients they use, due to the offensive content of the merchandise they carry, and/or due to unfair business or trade practices they use.

It could also be argued that there would be a major civil issue if business owners started to withhold their services to various groups of people, based upon their ethnic or religious backgrounds. Again, the point of this blog is NOT to make a stand for or against this issue, but I would be upset if a business owner decided to prevent me from shopping at their store due to my religious affiliation.

Once again, the debate is over which right or freedom is perceived as the most important:

The Right For All Citizens (Regardless Of Lifestyles/Values) To Have Equal Opportunity Vs.

Freedom Of Religion (To Exercise Religious Values Within The Public Sector)

Note: I need to clarify that this is not preventing religion within the private sector, but it is preventing the free exercise of religious views by a private business that interacts with the public sector.

Bill Of Rights

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

What I find interesting is, when you look at each of these separate issues and then at the issues at whole, people often pick and choose which right and freedom they support — rather than the actual right or freedom those issues support.  When you look at the actual freedoms and rights these issues represent, you see that there are double-standards on both sides of the political parties.

If we want to see these issues with clarity, maybe we need to stop shouting the buzz-words and being distracted by all of the personal issues but instead look at the issues from the standpoint of which right or freedom is truly the more important freedom or right to defend.

One final thought: I actually think it is possible, in a number of these cases, to be able to find a solution that integrates and supports the rights and freedoms of both groups/individuals. 

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The Connection Between Pride And Fear

(http://www.freeimages.com/photo/osprey-leaving-nest-1547342)

I believe God gave me one of those “light-bulb” moments when I began to realize there is a big connection between pride and fear.

At first glance, they can seem like total opposites.

Pride seems to indicate self-reliance and an over-inflated ego/view of oneself.

Fear, on the other hand, seems to speak of the opposite.  It speaks of self-doubt, doubt of others, circumstances, objects, and events.

The opposite of these two negative qualities is that of faith and humility.

Humility speaks of a sweet submission, a concern for others, and love.

Faith speaks of trust, reliance, and a measure of humility as well.

Just as pride and fear go hand-in-hand so do faith and humility.

When people are self-absorbed, we would call them proud.

What produces an obsession with self?

I believe that a lack of contentment and resting in the Lord brings about a preoccupation with ourselves. 

When we are “complete” in Him, we are secure in who we are in God, and we don’t need the validation of others.  It is insecurity that causes us to be preoccupied with ourselves.

What is faith — the true definition of faith?  Is it not a complete trust in the Lord and submission to Him?

Pride relies or trusts only in itself and will not allow itself to be mastered by anyone else.

It takes faith to humble ourselves before God.  It takes humility to submit ourselves to the care of God.

Faith is submitting oneself to the care of someone or something.

Fear, on the other hand, refuses to completely surrender to anyone or anything other than its own rationalizations or self-preservation.

For example, if I have an improper fear of riding in a car, I will refuse to get in one or will ride in it while anxiety roils through me.

There is no sense of security or peace while I am encountering the object I fear.

When I am proud, I am relying on myself — my own rationalizations, self-preservation, and strength to protect me.  I am my own “master.”  As my own “master,” I instinctively know that I cannot control everything or anything and thus I live in fear of the things that I can’t control.

Let me reiterate that again because it’s worth repeating:

As my own “master,” I instinctively know that I cannot control everything or anything; and thus, I live in fear of the things that I can’t regulate, contain, or dominate.

An indication of both fear and pride being alive in my life is if I struggle with “control.” 

Those who are able to put their trust/faith in the Lord and surrender to Him (in humility) experience the greatest peace and flexibility.  They understand that relying on themselves is the greatest position of weakness, but relying on God, the Great I am, is their greatest source of security.  They are confident and “relaxed” because they are “resting” in God — in Who He is — rather than in who they are themselves.

Pride produces fear.  It’s that simple.  It’s also a good chance that if you “suffer” with pride, you “suffer” with fear.  The opposite is also true: if you “suffer” with fear, it’s a good chance you “suffer” with pride.

Humility and faith are two of some of the best characteristics for walking in freedom.

Humility frees us from the bondage of self.  Faith frees us from the bondage of everything else, including ourselves.

Knowing the above truths have caused me to look more closely at my own heart and life and to be convicted of more areas that need to be yielded to the Lord.  It’s not from fear or “self-righteousness” that I confess these things but because I desire to walk in greater freedom in my spiritual walk.

The Simplicty About Sin…

(http://www.freeimages.com/photo/checkmate-chess-1181519)

This past Saturday, I was pondering some truths I had read in Scripture, dialoguing with the Lord, and then He gave me this thought…

It was so “simple” and yet so profound in its impact…

Anything independent from God is sin. 

That means any time our wills are not aligned with God’s or simply put, submitted to God, we are in sin.

Understanding this simple truth is changing the way I pray and is changing the way I view my own sin.

It “emblazons” my sin before my eyes so that I no longer can justify or minimize it.

When I understand that I am sinning when I am not aligned with God’s will in ALL AREAS, I realize that I have a decision to make: I either respond to God’s conviction with contrition/repentance, or I rebel and reject His ways and reap the consequences of my own actions.

Thinking about this simple truth means I have been doing a lot of confessing lately — not prompted by fear or pride — but prompted from my own desire to walk in freedom and for greater communication in my relationship with the Lord. 

I don’t want hindered communication in my relationship with the Lord.

Sin hinders communication.  It produces “soul noise” that “drowns out” the voice of God.

Repentance reopens those channels, “unplugs” my ears, and removes the “blockades” in my spiritual life.

True repentance produces unprecedented peace and joy. 

Understanding the profound truth that my will needs to be aligned with God’s will in order to walk in truth, life, freedom, and righteousness means that I now pray the following prayer:

Lord, may your will be done in such and such a situation…”

“Lord, change my will to be yours in such and such a matter…”

So simple and yet so life-changing!

It does not matter that I want certain things.  Unless what I want is in alignment with what God wants for me at that time or in that way, to proceed ahead would be sin.

Yes!  I have been praying a lot of prayers, asking God to change my will in many matters and asking His will to be accomplished in many situations.  It is so exciting and amazing to be a part of His work in the lives of others and to be receptive and responsive to His leading!

May 2016 be a year of amazing revival in my life, my home, my family, and yours as well!

Feet Of Clay

A potter is kneading the clay to be used to making Lord Ganesha Idols in Pottery Town, Bangalore.

(http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=12073361&searchId=88b5c637595cd7c0c9675d03efa58f0b&npos=93)

With another scandalous headline concerning the Duggar family splashed across the news, my heart began to ache once again…

The story “hit close to home” because I grew up in an environment similar to the Duggars. I was surrounded by friends and affiliates who espoused the ATIA teachings, of which the Duggar family is also a part.

This is what I have learned coming out of that environment of ultra-conservatism — how it started “wrong” and how it continued to go wrong:

Note: This was not necessarily the way I was raised or the teachings of my family.  These concepts were what I was exposed to by ultra-conservative groups of which we were affiliated, people with whom we associated, church groups, etc…

1.  There was an over-emphasis on the outward (works, appearance, actions, expressions).

A lot of attention was given to how a person dressed, acted, talked.  Spirituality was based upon those outward indicators that were “supposed” to be inward indicators.

When the outward becomes our focus, it is easy to avoid looking at the inward and to cover up our inner struggles with pretty exteriors.

2.  There was an emphasis on pleasing God, but the reason was motivated from fear — fear of God’s wrath.

Growing up in that environment, God was seen more as a holy, wrathful God — that a person must appease or constantly live in fear of His judgment.

A fearful environment produces shame, guilt, condemnation, anxiety, anger, wrath, judgment, harshness, and extremes.

3.  There was an emphasis on living a “godly” life, but perfection was what was really intended.

We were expected to be practically perfect.

Our worth was judged on our performance — how “godly” we appeared.

There was no room to give grace.  There were harsh consequences for anyone who “slipped up” — even over the smallest or most ridiculous infractions.

4.  It was taught that if you lived the “godly” or really perfect life, you would be honored by the world and would receive material blessings.

This became another form of the “wealth, health, and happiness” type of “gospel”.  There was an over-emphasis on good works, called “godly behavior”, and the results were supposed to be physical and material blessings.

5.  It was taught that you could avoid sin in your life by avoiding sin out there.

Sin was blamed on the the “world”.  So to avoid the “world” meant we could avoid sin. 

This can result in condemnation of the “world” rather than a humble love that reaches out to the world.  This can also result in the avoidance of taking responsibility for our own actions.

My above list is not conclusive or exhaustive, but it reveals some of the heart issues behind the “ultra-conservative” movement.

It’s been 15 years since I was immersed in such an environment.  Since that time, God has revealed many truths to me concerning my past and revealed the wonderful freedom of His grace.

I still try to live a “godly” life, but it is no longer based on the fear of appeasing a wrathful God.  God has been so gently teaching me that He is a loving God and full of grace.  He convicts me ever so gently in a way that doesn’t leave me condemned but leaves me with a desire and hope for growth and the future to which He has called me.

God has been teaching me that I have “feet of clay”.  This means that I am not a “paradigm of godliness or perfection”.  My claim is the righteousness of Christ alone.  My standing is in His righteousness!

When I understand my security is found in God’s grace, I am able to acknowledge my own sins and take responsibility for them.

I understand that I don’t have to pretend perfection or constantly live in fear of being found less-than-perfect.  Instead, I have a desire to run into the “arms” of a loving God who is always ready to receive the repentant child back and longs to restore us into full fellowship with all the privileges of being His child.

I understand that God’s love is not performance-based or conditional.  God chose to love me and to die for me, fully aware of my sinful and unlovely condition.

I am also learning to give more grace to my children and to stop holding them to an impossible standard of perfection.  I am still learning this though…

I am learning to accept myself and others in our all of our imperfect, messy states.  God knows we have “feet of clay” and still chooses to use us, as we yield ourselves to Him.

I don’t claim to be perfect at any of this.  In fact, as my family can attest, I mess up on a regular basis, but I have the confidence to get back up again because I have a God who loves me way more than I can even dare to hope and who won’t give up on me.  I have a God who chooses to use me, with feet of clay, to reveal the power of His grace at work in my life. 

So, when we are tempted to elevate a mere human, let’s remember that we all have just “feet of clay”.  All goodness and true righteousness and true godliness is in God alone!

Soul, take a deep breath and bask in the freedom you have to walk in His power and grace and to be completely accepted in Him.  Get back up on those feet of clay.  He’s not finished with you yet.