The Danger of Vows

5 08 2015

What kid could resist Jesus? His pictures always showed Him kind and loving; so gentle and welcoming – especially if the male faces around them are angry and mean most of the time; their actions rough and unkind.

The Sunday School class I attended as a child used big songbooks with beautiful pictures. My two favorites were “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “How Great Thou Art.” I fell in love with Jesus because of those two books!

As a child, though, we moved countless times to several towns and three states. Church wasn’t a high priority, and we attended only on Christmas and Easter most years.

The ‘face’ of Jesus that I’d come to love when I was little began to be replaced with the one I saw every day, everywhere we moved…because he moved with us. Back then families didn’t split up. You went to a new location where ‘things were going to be better.’ When you’re taking the ‘problem’ with you, that just doesn’t happen.

Like kids do, I assumed that God was like my ‘dad.’ Distrust of His love for me took root.

After all, if He was supposedly in charge, why wasn’t He doing something about the way we were treated by this man? And, without spiritual leadership – people who could explain free will and the other factors involved, I was left to figure out how it all worked on my own.

Few eight-year-olds are equipped to do this well.

By the time I was ten, I’d decided that the God-Who-Was-In-Charge either didn’t care about me, or was too weak to help. If life was going to get better, then I needed to take over.

Vows made in times of distress are dangerous.

“When I grow up, I will live in one place.”

“When I have a family, my kids will have a happy childhood with loving parents.”

“I will never let a man treat me the way my step-dad treats my mom.”

These little seeds are planted, but lay dormant for many years.

It isn’t until we become adults that these vows begin to interfere with life.

If we closely examine our vows, we discover that many factors were beyond our control.

For instance, where we will live is not dependent solely upon us. Unless we were able to purchase a house right out of high school, moves would happen. Apartments, more apartments, rent this house and that, until we bought a home and settled down.

When it came to parenting, I was only one voice of many in my kids’ lives. Since five out of seven were boys, I had less of a voice than any male. The simple truth is that it takes a man to raise a man. While this is not a popular belief, it is true nonetheless.

I had no control over how my kids’ dads would treat them…whether he would be loving or bring happiness to our home.

As for men…well, I can’t control how they choose to treat me. I can only control my response.

Here is where the vow becomes a problem:

I’d set boundaries around what my life would look like. Because none of them were dependent solely upon me, they were unsustainable.

Take my first vow: I will live in one place.

Hubby says, “I want to move to (this town, or that house).”

That’s a problem. I swore I would never move when I grew up. Now I have to decide which vow will be broken – the one about not moving, or the one about my kids having a happy family.

If I refuse to move, but dad has a job in another town and must go, then that means a split in our family – and there goes the loving home.

{Keep in mind, this is not a stable, healthy family to begin with. In a godly family, one where Christ is central, this would all work out. I get that.}

Or:

Hubby is abusive (no man will treat me…). If I take the kids out of this mess, I now bump up against the other two vows: I will not move, my kids will have loving parents – plural. What to do?

The bottom line is this: the vows I made boxed me in. No matter which decision I made to maintain one, others would be broken.

Before you judge me as an idiot, you need to know that I didn’t consciously remember the vows I made. My line of reasoning didn’t look like what you just read. At the time, I had great confusion as to the ‘right’ thing to do. I could see no way out of the messes I got myself into. I did the best I could, without ever understanding the underlying issues…my vows.

Consequently, I’ve made decisions that made no sense to anyone – including myself. As a result, I saw myself as a huge failure, and thus deserving of whatever kind of treatment I received from the world at large, and from the family members whom I’d failed.

But God loves me and wants me free. Over the course of the last year, He’s revealed countless vows that I made when I was young so I could dismiss them. Bit by bit, I’ve relinquished control to Him – the only One who can work all things for my good.

I’ve had to forgive myself for making the vows, and let myself off the hook for how things panned out. I take responsibility for those areas which were truly dependent upon me, and leave the rest on the table.

There is a lightness to my heart these days. Much of what I presumed to be my failure turned out to belong to someone else. They can have it!

“But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one. Matthew 5:37

*****

Next time we’ll discuss agreements – the ugly twin to vows.





Truth = Free…If…

5 08 2014

I’ve been getting a massive dose of “reality check” lately…and discovered that while Denial may be a place to vacation for a day or two, it’s not somewhere to take up residency.

And I did this.

For far too long.

Lately, the Lord has been peeling my hands off my eyes and revealing things that I need to see.

Sad, painful, ugly truth.

However, seeing truth is not enough.

It’s what I choose to do with this truth that will set me free –

– or leave me in bondage.

Often, the mere task of deciding what to make for dinner has been so overwhelming that I have a meltdown. Simple meal preparation feels like more than I can handle.

That’s pathetic.

These are days of sorting out unhealthy behavior, taking in the whole counsel of God, being brave, and standing firm. 

There comes a time when we must say, “Enough!”

I feel like a field that’s being thoroughly plowed at the moment. Things previously unseen are being brought to light.

This is good news, for after the plowing comes the planting – then growth – then a harvest.

God is good at what He does, so I am in good hands.

When one has walked in denial, though (as I have all my life), learning to face the truth – and then bravely doing what needs to be done is hard. It is scary.

Thankfully, the Lord let me know that I can trade in my headless collar for an Anchor!

I’ve learned the lesson of an unmanageable life. A life beyond my control – circumstances beyond my control.

Having done so, I no longer need my rhinestone circlet to hang on my wall as a reminder.

Instead, I’m  in the market for an anchor… which is kinda’ funny, because I got rid of the Asian decorative stuff in my house and have been replacing it with ocean-ish stuff. (I love yard sales!)

In 2005, I realized that I had four main Scriptures to which I would cling in times of adversity:

Jeremiah 29:11 – His plans for me are for good, and not evil, this will end gloriously!

2 Cor. 4: 19 – in light of eternity, this is momentary…and will end gloriously!

Deut. 33:27 – God is my refuge, underneath me at all times are His arms, ready to catch me if I fall.

Romans 8:28 – This is all being worked together for my good – and will end gloriously!

Now I have new ones:

Isaiah 42:9:

“Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.”

Isaiah 35:3-6

Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.

Being transformed, I’ve discovered, means having what I believe and how I think adjusted to what is true…about the Lord, about me, and about life in general: a renewed mind.

Sometimes the paradigm shift this brings alters the course of life by a few degrees. At other times, it’s more like a 90-degree adjustment. These days it’s more like a 180! The greater the shift, the more stressful it can be due to opposition from others.

So I ask for your prayers: that I will continue to allow the Lord to transform me and not harden my heart; that I will stand firm and be brave; and that I will walk in a manner that is worthy of the Lord.

Thanks for “listening.”





Of Alligators and Such

14 07 2014

When we are up to our necks in alligators, there are a couple of important things we need to know:

Our opinions and judgment calls don’t change anything; and

We will need help to make it to safety!

This has been a season of alligators and valuable lessons.

It began in January, when the Lord warned me of an approaching trial that would be like none I had experienced before. Whew! He wasn’t kidding. He’d never given me a heads-up before. I’m thankful that He chose to do so this time. I doubt things would have gone as well without this info.

At the time, my hubby and I were taking a class at our church on mentoring and discipleship. The instructor, Jim Bailey, gave excellent training. So good, in fact, that the Lord wanted us to really ‘get’ it – to practice what we’d learned.

Application, it seems, was very important. Not only did He give us people to mentor…He asked us to let them stay with us. No “two-hours-per-week” sessions for us, but around the clock “Tami, you need to learn how to do this!” We were given three adults and three small children…then five kids…with two more kids part time!

I can tell you this, for sure: People in crisis are not always easy to live with!

Further, when life is interrupted and we are asked to set aside everything in order to be available, it feels like a free-fall. The only thing within our grasp is the wind rushing past us – which, I discovered, is the Holy Spirit!

At first, the tendency is to kick against the thing – work lays unfinished, our “tidy little life” is no longer ours to run.

After a while, though, it becomes easier to let productivity go – and focus on relationships instead.

I wanted to have opinions about our new residents, to judge their cases, to straighten them out. God sent them to me so I could fix them…right? Wrong!

Shhh! was all the Lord kept saying. Just love them.

This became easier with time, as well, and made possible more peace than I would ever have thought possible. (Ever been around an opinionated person…whose thoughts about you were not complimentary? It’s amazing how quickly we can build walls to protect ourselves. We are unwilling to receive anything that person has to say.)

Oh…my opinions and judgments turned out to be mostly wrong! I would have done a lot of damage had I voiced what I ‘thought’ I knew to be true!

Cowardice loomed large during this time as well.

I didn’t want to do or say anything that might make people not like me.

Yeah, that definitely had to go! At the end of the day, if God was pleased with me then I was content.

I learned the word, “Enough,” and that I had a right to use it for the purpose of maintaining my home as my sanctuary. After all, I didn’t have anywhere else to go.

Boundaries are beautiful!

Joshua 1 is a pep talk between the Lord and Joshua. In the third verse, He tells Josh, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, just as I promised to Moses.”

Read that: “You’re headed into the Promised Land, my child. It’s filled with giants. There will be battles; but every place where you put your foot down and say, ‘Enough,’ that territory is yours to claim.”

The other important point is that when we’re surrounded by pressing matters, we dare not try to be the Lone Ranger.

We need the support and encouragement that can only come from other people.

Thankfully, although we’ve only been at our new church since January, I’ve made several good friends, in addition to the dear friend I’ve had for a few years.

Friendship is something new to me. In the past, I’ve been ‘relationally challenged!’ We moved so much during my childhood – and then again as an adult – that I never learned how to maintain a friendship. Sad, but true.

Every week I meet with one or two of them just because we enjoy one another’s company! We don’t have an agenda, which is a weird concept to me, but one to which I am growing accustomed.

On particularly heavy days, I can shoot any (or all) of them a text and ask for prayer. Once in a while, I’ve run things past them to get input. Because they are godly women who are after God’s heart, they speak life into my situation and point me in the right direction…back into Abba’s arms. I love them all dearly.

As I suspected, all the “wax on, wax off, paint the fence, and sand the floor'” training (Karate Kid) I received was indeed preparation for a much larger trial…the ‘granddaddy’ of them all. That’s where I am today. Thanks to the lessons learned over the last four months, I am able to deflect blows that would have taken me out last year. Muscle memory was well-developed, thanks to the Lord’s thorough training program!

Today I heard from the Lord that this season is over. What a relief!

Thanks to all of you for your prayer support. Christianity is about community – life together. Your prayers and words of encouragement empowered me to continue on when I had no strength left. Words can’t begin to express my gratitude.

Because of what we’ve been through, God prepared us for the issue at hand. While I am not at liberty to give particulars, just know that these captives are being set free. Although the process is in the early stages, we begin to see a little more light every day. God is so good to us!

In conclusion, when surrounded by alligators remember that our opinion of them doesn’t make them go away…or fix them; and that we’re not going to make it to safety alone!





Forget-Me-Not

13 12 2013

“Forgive and forget…isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Then why do I continue to remember what others have done to me?”

Let’s look at what forgiveness is NOT today.

First, forgiveness is NOT “forgive and forget.” God does remove, release, and cover our sins:

“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” Hebrews 10:17

God is stating that He is not holding our sins against us any longer. Why? Because of the work of Jesus on the cross. All we ever did – or will do – has been paid for in full by Jesus…

if we have accepted His sacrifice as atonement for our sin.

“The life I now live I live by believing in God’s Son, who loved me and took the punishment for my sins” (Galatians 2:20b God’s Word).

(Thanks for the Scripture reference, Viewoutsidethepew!)

Without a relationship with Jesus, you’re on your own.

“And when you were dead in your transgressions…He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us, and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to His cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

Back to the “forgetting” thing. If we are going to mature and become like God, then shouldn’t we be able to forget what was done against us?

That sounds right, but the Bible doesn’t say God “forgets.” He’s not a dottery old man who has trouble remembering things. Scripture says that He chooses to not bring what we’ve done back to remembrance. There is a difference.

Sometimes it would be dangerous to “forget.” More on that in a moment.

Second, forgiveness is NOT tolerating sin. It does not mean that we allow someone to keep hurting us. It is not saying, “Oh, it’s okay” when it’s NOT! God does not call you to be a doormat.

Get this:

Behold, I have taken out of your hand the cup of reeling; the chalice of my anger, you will never drink it again.

And I will put it into the hand of your tormentors, who have said to you, 

“Lie down that we may walk over you.”

You have made your back like the ground, and like the street for those who walk over it. Isaiah 51:23

Abuse is NOT God’s will for you, nor is it your just punishment for sin. Jesus took all our punishment on the cross. Don’t lay down for those who are out of control “in the name of Jesus!”

Third, forgiveness is NOT demanding repayment or revenge; nor is forgiveness contingent on justice for the consequences suffered.

As we consider this, we must realize that no amount of unforgiveness can ever undo what was done – and no amount of apology can ever rewind the clock and erase what took place. This is a cold hard fact. You’ve heard it said, “what’s done is done.” That’s true. That time is past, and no amount of unforgiveness or repayment can change history.

When we demand repayment, or insist on revenge, we have set ourselves on God’s throne. We will be the judge…the jury…and we will decide when they’ve paid enough for their sin.

I’m thankful that God does not treat us in this way – aren’t you?

We must forgive…and then leave justice up to God.

Fourth, forgiveness is NOT rationalization. It is NOT trying to understand the reasons why: “I’m sure he had no idea…” “She really is not like this usually.” or “He was under a lot of stress.”

Nonsense! See their actions for what they were – sin. Forgiveness is not denial. We tend to accept abuse when we believe we don’t deserve better treatment.

You’re a child of God, for heaven’s sake, not a punching bag!

(This is not to be confused with being martyred for faith in Christ…that is an entirely other matter.)

Finally, forgiveness is NOT bad boundaries. To forgive someone does not necessarily mean that we keep the relationship the same.

It may be necessary to put emotional – if not physical – distance between us and those who sin against us.

It may take time to rebuild trust.

Forgiveness does NOT mean that we have to continue to put ourselves in harm’s way. Get some distance between you and the offender, some help from a wise Christian counselor, and some time to heal. It’s lunacy to continue to put one’s hand on a hot stove…physically and emotionally.

(If you need some information on this, I recommend Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend.)

*****

In the next post we will discuss what forgiveness IS.

*****

Our current study is on the Discipline of Forgiveness. It begins here.

You’ve dropped in on the series Intimacy with God. It begins here: C’mon In…

The section on Living by the Rules starts here: Where Image Is Everything

Learn about other Obstacles to Intimacy here: A Clogged Conduit

Are loss and grief obstacles to intimacy? Our discussion on the matter begins with Plastic Hearts





Quit – I Double-Dare You!

21 11 2013

There is a better way to live life than from a “Bounded Set.” It is the way of freedom.

Freedom to love authentically

Freedom to live authentically.

Freedom to pursue God with our whole heart.

It is living from a “Centered Set,” so called because our focus is centered on the Lord.

We live to please Him through the power of the Holy Spirit within us, and let Him sort out the rest.

Living from the Centered Set is beautiful in its simplicity.

We are released from people-pleasing, the root of which is fear.

People-pleasing causes us to say “yes” to something when we really mean “no,” and visa verso. We find ourselves compelled to do and say things that we really don’t mean in an effort to control how others feel about, and what they think about, us.

Let’s face it, when we do this, we are lying. {gulp}

However, this is not God’s will for us. We are told:

“Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.” (Matthew 5:37)

and again,

“Speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15)

Here’s His promise concerning this:

When a man’s ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies be at peace with him (Proverbs 16:7).

When our primary goal is to please the Lord every day, we can evaluate others’ requests, demands, and expectations through this lens. We are no longer subject to manipulation through guilt, anger, or concern for what others might think.

When He is our focus, and we move toward Him, our attitudes and behaviors begin to change. We begin to see growth and freedom like never before. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17).

When we blow it, we apologize, repent, and re-align our focus on Jesus.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; You do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. Psalm 51:16-17

Before we can live a centered life, we must know our identity in Christ. If we define ourselves by what we do, our only option is to continue “performing” in ways that others will applaud.

Further, if we define ourselves by others’ evaluation of us, we have no choice but to continue to keep them happy by doing what they want, when they want, and how they want.

This is bondage!

As the blood-bought children of the Lord Most High, who have been chosen before the foundation of the world; ones who are accepted (as we are), adopted, redeemed, justified, sanctified, glorified, seated in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, and sealed with the promise of the Holy Spirit, we are free to be who God says we are.

No one else has the right to define us.

At first, the changes we make will feel scary. Fear is only a feeling…not reality. Step over that fear and do it anyway. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus.

We may get “change back” messages from people around you by way of anger, frustration, or hurt. Let them carry the responsibility for their feelings. Who knows, this might be the very thing that pulls them closer to the Lord as well!

If we’re not meeting a need like we used to, they will seek to fill it with something else. That “something else” could very well be God…and it may be that we’ve been in His way!

Meanwhile, we become the individuals God intended for us to be all along – and are free to discover His plan for us (which is often vastly different than what man would have us do).

It will feel risky…but it is the way we discover that God is trustworthy.

Here comes the most challenging part:

We must allow others to live from the Centered Set as well!

No more manipulating people to get what we want.

No more demanding that they “make” us happy.

No more insisting on having things our way. (We are not Burger King!)

We extend grace to others and encourage them to seek God’s will for their lives.

Where we see a weakness, we come alongside them to strengthen them; to pray with and for them.

As we do this, we set others free from the bondage of people-pleasing as well.

When we live from a Centered Set, we view ourselves as:

Loved

Free

A dearly-love child

The apple of His eye

A joint-heir

Valued

We view others:

As friends!

Equals, not competition

As sisters and brothers

Fellow travelers

And we can celebrate one another’s progress

We can be honest and authentic with one another.

We view God as:

A very good Father

Our great Provider

A Lover

Our Caretaker

Faithful

Unfailing

Trustworthy

Sympathetic

Our Protector and Defender

Compassionate

What a difference is ours to enjoy when we shift our focus from man and place it on the Lord!

Quit striving to please mere mortals. You’ll be glad you did!

To help you on the journey, I leave you with this “walking stick:”

I can only please One Person per day.

Today is not your day…

…Tomorrow doesn’t look good either!

***

“For am I now seeking the favor of men,

or of God?

Or am I striving to please men?

If I were still trying to please men,

I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.”

Galatians 1:10

*****

Intimacy With God is the current topic. If you missed the beginning, it’s here: C’mon In…