Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Evil One Cannot Touch us

What does it mean to surrender a loved one to God?  Does it mean you turn your back and walk away?

No, certainly not.  Surrendering does not mean abandoning.  It does not mean you no longer care.

Surrender is motivated out of love – such deep love for the person that you are willing to get out of the way and let God sit in the driver’s seat.  Admit it:  with us in the driver’s seat, things weren’t going quite so well.  There were just too many things we were powerless to control.

Surrender is choosing to yoke up with Jesus.

"Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."                Matthew 11:28-30

Surrender requires a profound trust in God.  Trust that He will do a better job in the driver’s seat than we were doing.  Trust that He has our loved one’s best interests at heart, that His heart is inclined towards them.  Trust that He knows what He is doing, He knows every moment of the future, and that He never stops working.  Trust that even if it may appear that He has forgotten them, He has never taken His hand off them.

Kathy talked in class of this verse in Psalm 91:

For you have made the LORD, my refuge,
Even the Most High, your dwelling place.
No evil will befall you,
Nor will any plague come near your tent.
                                         Psalm 91:9-10

I hear her heart’s cry.  My heart cries out likewise.  It certainly appears that evil has befallen us, our families.  That we have been abandoned and unprotected. I look at my life, at your lives, full of pain and hardship, and I wonder, is God really working for our good?  Is He really protecting us?

            I am thinking of a parallel verse from 1 John:

… He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.                                                 1 John 5:18 NASB

And in the Amplified:

… the One Who was begotten of God carefully watches over and protects him [Christ’s divine presence within him preserves him against the evil], and the wicked one does not lay hold (get a grip) on him or touch [him].                                                                                                                                                             1 John 5:18 AMP

It sure looks like evil has befallen us.  That the evil one has gotten his putrid hands on us and our families.

Let’s look up this word touch, lay hold, get a grip on.  It is haptomai in the Greek, meaning “to handle so as to exert a modifying influence; to connect; to bind.”

Hmmm… We cannot walk through our lives unscathed.  We are all “touched” by evil in that sense of the word – but haptomai means more than just that.  It means a deep binding to the enemy.  Because we belong to Jesus, the evil one cannot wrest us from His hands.  Satan can grope around for us, but he cannot get a grip on us.  He can handle us, but cannot exert a modifying influence on us.  He can nudge us, even collide with us, but he cannot connect us to him.  The evil one cannot haptomai us, for no one can snatch us from Jesus’ hands.

I have come to understand that belonging to Jesus does not guarantee no pain.  It does not guarantee we will not be affected by the wickedness of the world. It does not guarantee our lives and the lives of our loved ones will be untainted by trouble.  It does not guarantee that we will not make sinful choices with horrendous consequences.

Belonging to Jesus does mean that God is working for our good.  He has ordained each trial, each battle.  We are under His shelter of protection – and only He knows the full extent of what His protection really means:  that we are conformed to the image of Christ.  Satan may inflict pain in his attacks, but, just as we read in Job, in the end, Satan is still God’s servant.  God has the last word.

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

Looking through eyes of the flesh, we may see lack of God’s protection.  But looking with eyes of God, we will see the eternal weight of glory.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When we fall we are not hurled headlong . . . but is there anything we can do to keep our feet from even slipping?

When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the one who holds his hand.   Psalm 37:24

I love this verse; it is so encouraging; it settles my heart into a deep peace with the Lord.  When we fall we are not hurled headlong . . . but is there anything we can do to keep our feet from even slipping?  Let’s study Psalm 37 for an answer.

Open you Bible to explore Psalm 37, a spiritual warfare psalm from start to finish.  As you read, put it into spiritual context by seeing the “enemy,” the “wicked,” and “evildoers” as not people, but as forces of Darkness, Satan and his demons.  See the “land” as territory in your heart.  Recognize that the battle is for that territory in your heart.

            “Don’t fret” is a repeated theme.  “Fret” (or “worry” in the NLT) is charah in the Hebrew, and it means “to blaze up with anger or jealousy, to burn, to be incensed.”  Remember our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12).  In verses 1and 2 of Psalm 37 we are commanded not to waste our time and energy blazing up with anger, for their time is short (Rev 12:12). 

So what do we do with our energy instead of being incensed?  Go on to verses 3 through 6 for the answer… and I’ll let you continue prayerfully through Psalm 37 from there.  Let me know what God shows you through this psalm – and if there is anything we can do to keep our feet from slipping.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Forgiving Yourself

I remember the first time I forgave myself.  It was about four years ago.

I had sinned greatly.  Repented deeply.  Did everything God called me to here.  But I couldn’t escape the torment.  The weight of the sin was crushing me.  I didn’t know if I would survive.  I didn’t understand why.

I went to a dear Christian girlfriend to confess.  She listened carefully, prayerfully, and said, “You haven’t forgiven yourself.”

What?  Honestly, I had never given a thought to forgiving myself.  It never even crossed my mind.  I had never forgiven myself before.  Ever.  Didn’t even know I should think about it, let alone do it.  I thought, who cares about my unforgiveness of myself?  We’re supposed to forgive others, to show compassion and love toward others, to release and pardon others . . . does it really matter if I forgive myself?

My friend insisted on it, and prayed with me.  It was one of the most difficult prayers I have ever prayed.  It came out haltingly, chokingly, in great fearful gasps.  The release was unlike any I had ever experienced before.  Like a strangulating hold was thrown off me.

Sometimes we may look at ourselves with condemning judgment and even hold ourselves to a higher standard than God does.  If you are burdened with guilt, self-hatred, or worthlessness, you may not have forgiven yourself.   “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Mt 6:14). God commands forgiveness – and I believe that includes forgiving yourself. 

When we do not forgive ourselves, we are saying that Jesus’ death is not sufficient to cover all our sins.  We are declaring that our sins are so great that we need Jesus plus something else to be forgiven.  We are trampling on the precious blood of Christ, shed for all our sins.  When we forgive, God releases us.  And if God releases us, who are we to hold ourselves in bondage? 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why Am I Stuck In Unforgiveness?

I have been on this journey of forgiveness for quite a few years now, and this week, God showed me forgiveness was not at completion.  Not for lack of trying, for sure.  But still I am shocked at the length and depth of the process. 

I do know that some things that God requires us to forgive will be a longer deeper process than other things.  If we have been hurt by someone close to us, like a spouse, parent, child, or dear friend, or if the pain has been repeated and protracted, or if the tragedy occurred when we were a child or adolescent, or if the trauma was particularly heinous or the loss very profound, the process of forgiveness will be longer and require more of us.

Like you, I have a number of people and incidences to forgive.  I will focus on just one offender right now for simplicity.

I started years ago with the first step of forgiveness:  release.  Releasing the offender to God.  “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord (Rom 12:19).  For me, that was huge, and took many many months, maybe more than a year, to take that very first step.  I thought that completed my work in forgiveness.

But a while later the Holy Spirit brought me to new revelations that there were areas of unforgiveness that I was still holding on to.  I had forgiven in general, but not specific memories, instances, moments.  He walked me through it, and this time, it did not take me so many months.

But later the Spirit showed me I still harbored resentment.  Why?  I asked.  Didn't I cover everything?  The Spirit revealed that I had forgiven the actions, but not the person.  Wow.  That was really deep.  Took a bit for me to reach forgiveness there.

Finished yet?  Nope.  The Spirit soon began to reveal to me the judgments I held against the offender.  I was prideful that I had not sinned in this same way, so I judged the offender with a condemning judgment.  I considered myself better than the offender, thinking, somehow, my sins were less sinful.  Oh, there was much to process with the Lord that time.

Another time He revealed my secret desire for revenge.  I wanted to hold something over the offender’s head.  Somehow, I believed the lie that by not quite releasing the offender it gave me power over that person.  Like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  Admitting my revenge to the Lord was very challenging.  Of course, He already knew it, but somehow I thought I could hide that part of my heart from Him.

Yet another time He revealed my deep fear.   I feared that if I forgave, I would open myself up to further pain.  I did not trust God to be greater than my pain.  I could not trust His protection or comfort.  I felt I needed to keep control over the situation, over the person, because I could not trust God to protect my fragile heart.  Not trusting God is a very deep root indeed.

He later revealed my stubborn refusal to reconcile, because that would require me to humble myself and ask forgiveness for holding onto unforgiveness.  To ask forgiveness for my sinful response of walling myself off.  He showed me the idol of myself, my reputation, and I have to admit that I did not want to expose my sins to the offender.  I wanted to remain this holy and upright person that I pretended to be.

Each time the Spirit revealed, and I repented, He drew me ever so much closer into His heart.  Each time, I was sure I had covered it all.  Each time, I thought forgiveness was complete.  What else could there possibly be?  But again and again we revisited the same issue.  Traveling down that spiral staircase, reaching a landing of rest, but then being called down to another level again, deeper and deeper into the Lord’s heart.

So here I stand, many years deep into the process.  And this week, the Spirit said, “It’s not finished yet.”  Ugh!  Still not finished?  I could not imagine what else could possibly be blocking me from completion of forgiveness.  Once again, I had absolutely no idea.  Once again, I went to prayer and fasting to hear His voice, begging Him to reveal what only He knew.

He said, “You’re angry at Me.”  I argued with Him a bit.  Futile, of course; He’s always right.  He reminded me that He took full responsibility for everything on this earth.  He even quoted my book, from Chapter 4, Sovereignty. He went on to say,  “You have been hurt, and your sinful response to your pain has left your life in a big mess.  And although you accept My sovereignty, you don’t like what I have chosen for your life.  I call that rebellion.” 

As I was on my face repenting, God explained, ever so gently, that the offenders in my life were His servants.

How are they Your servants?  I was desperate to know.  The Lord explained that only He knew my heart, and that He was using my offenders to expose the deepest darkest depths of my heart.  The core of my heart that remained hidden from me, the darkest sins of pride and control and fear, of not trusting Him, of idolatry and rebellion.  God, in His absolute sovereignty and infinite love for me, desires to expose the dark areas of my heart, to bring me to repentance, to cleanse me and deliver me and heal me, to drive out darkness and fill me with His Spirit.  He wants deep relationship with me that badly.  He wants to invade me with His Spirit in greater and greater measure, so He will do whatever it takes to expose my heart.  He chose to use the evil of this world as His servants.  Only He knows what it will take.  And not one tear more. 

I accept His perfect plan for my life.  Every moment, past, present, and future.  And, now that I can see with His eyes, I am deeply grateful to my offenders.  For I know, I am certain, that without their influence upon my life, my sins would remain hidden, blocking me from receiving Him in deeper and deeper measure.  I trust that only He knows what it will take.  I trust Him with my life, my loved ones, my heart.

For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”                                                                                                        Luke 8:17

And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.                                                                    Hebrews 4:13

As I reflect on this 12-year journey, it is so abundantly clear that each step was only by His grace.  The kindness of God brings us to repentance (Rom 2:4).

Where are you on your forgiveness journey?

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Only the Potter knows how we should look, because He chooses our purpose.

I think sometimes we forget that only the Potter knows how to fashion us to suit His purposes.  We think we know our purposes here on this earth, and what we need to fulfill them. But the Lord says in Jeremiah “I know the plans I have for you” (emphasis on the “I”)  (Jer 29:11).

Or maybe we get some great ideas and plans, run off to implement them, and then ask God to bless them.  But Corinthians says that the thoughts of the wise are futile (1 Cor 3:20).

Or perhaps God has revealed some of His plans for us, and we think we know how to bring them to fruition.  But He says in Isaiah His ways are higher than our ways (Isa 55:9).

I think that we rarely know what God is up to.  Only He knows the intimate details of the plans, the step by step journey that He has planned for us.  Only He knows the upcoming battles we will face.  Only He knows the current state of our heart, and His desired state of our heart.  Only He knows what equipping will be required.

He loves us so much, He is so fiercely protective of us, He will not send us into battle unprepared.  The battle is the Lord’s, and His plan is victory.  Our equipping is critical if we want to partner with Him in victory.

Does it frustrate you, or bring you comfort, that God is the only omniscient One who knows how to shape us to fit the plan?  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Wrestling with God's Sovereignty

As I wrestle once again with His sovereignty, I realize the deepest question my heart is asking:  Can I really trust that He knows what is best for me?
When life is smooth, it is easy to give lip service to believing that He knows what is best.  But our commitment to God and His plan is challenged when life is not so smooth.
So what exactly does "smooth" mean?  Smooth means life is going according to my plan.  And that's the crux of it.  Deep down in the darkest corner of my heart, the place I don't want to admit exists -- much less allow God to penetrate it with His Light and Truth -- deep down in that horrid corner I see what I really want is life according to my plan.  Control, rebellion, and pride all wrapped up into one big mess.
Bowing to His sovereignty means that I surrender my "good" plan for my life (and the lives of those I love), to His perfect plan.  It means humbly acknowledging that He knows best, that He is the only One who is infinite and eternal and knows all -- the past, present, and future.  It means realizing that I certainly cannot predict the future, much less control it.
I can bow to His sovereignty kicking and screaming . . . or, I can come to more deeply know the One who died so I could live.  In knowing the depth of that love, I cannot help but to trust that His perfect plan, His plan that is colliding with my plan, does indeed have my best interests at heart.
Are you wrestling?  Tell me about it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What Does It REALLY Mean to Surrender?

Does surrender mean we wave the white flag in defeat?  Come out of the castle we have been defending with our hands high in the air?  Lie face down on the ground praying we won't be killed?

I have often wrestled with surrendering, alternatively angry and fearful.  Angry at Him for demanding it, requiring that I walk on His path and not my own.  And afraid of the unknown.  Although the current place may not be perfect, at least I know it.  I am familiar with the ropes.  No surprises here.  I can keep everything under good control.

But surrender is a leap into the unknown.  Will He really catch me before I hit the bottom?

Yes, surrender means we come out of the castle we have been defending.  The castle of idolatry of our plan, our way.  And no, we don't need to pray that He won't slay us in anger, for He is all grace, and His mercy triumphs over judgment.

To me, surrender is laying aside my plan -- which seems good and comfortable and right -- for His better plan -- which is completely obscured from my eyes.  I mean, if I knew a better plan, wouldn't I be on it? Can I really trust that there could be a better plan?

The most fascinating thing about surrender is that surrender to the Lord is actually victory.  It is His triumph of lordship in my heart, and it is always a vastly better path than I had chosen.  Sometimes, the "vastly better" about it is not obvious for a while.  But the deeper and deeper I surrender to Him, the more I am able to trust that His way is absolutely for my good.

What are your thoughts on surrender?  I invite you to share with me.