Freedom to walk away

I used to work with offenders.

That’s a terrible way of saying it. Really, I worked in treatment with those who came to me with notes written on their file, like sex offender and domestic violence offender. We used fancy terminology like recidivism and compulsion, but mostly we were concerned with the recurring nature of the problems, the abuse.

I thought, going into it, that I would teach people skills and I would uncover lies; I would advocate for voices that had been silenced. I did, but mostly I learned a lot about others, about myself, and about grace; about what is dirty and clean, what is conceivable, and what is forgivable.

I had to look in a mirror in that work and come face to face with this Truth:

I am capable.

I am not better.

I am not above.

Chief of sinners, though I be, Jesus shed His blood for me.

See, I have a slightly shady past. At this point in my life, I like to follow that up with, “don’t most of us?!” because it’s true. Most of us have struggled at one point or another with one big, bold question and it is robbing freedom right and left, for me, for you, for those who have rebelled, offended, abused, and every person in the middle of all of that-

Am I forgivable?

Until we answer this question our sins will haunt us and our offenses will remain the same. That was a giant lesson I learned. Mental capacity, family structure, employability – all were important, but slightly irrelevant in recidivism, that fancy word that means “Will they do it again?”

Galatians 5:17-21 tells us we have a flesh-and-Spirit war going on inside of us and around us, as believers or unbelievers. Satan wants our souls. The best way he can figure getting them is through the entanglement of shame:

For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul lists all of these deep and difficult things that separate us from God, quickly, or slowly over time as they are practiced. When we hate, when we have fits of rage, when we envy, when we act out in sexual immorality, we turn away from God just enough so that we can’t see Truth and then Satan uses shame to keep us turned, believing a lie that this thing, this sin cannot be forgiven.

A funny thing happens, we keep at it. Without a place to turn, we just keep walking straight into the desires of the flesh, into sexual immorality, into jealousy, into discord.

Jump ahead to Galatians 6:1 –

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

In hearing the Word of Truth, in another person opening our hearts and minds to the Spirit’s work, we can walk away…

walk away from shame

walk away from unforgiveness

walk into Light

walk into redemption.

God forgives. He forgives division, He forgives dissension, He forgives sorcery. He forgives orgies, he forgives idolatry. He forgives every dark thing we could encounter and He breathes life into broken hearts who have been abused, used, and tossed aside.

He also gives us one another to fight the good fight and walk away.

Whether your past looks like sexual impurity and selfishness or that of someone else’s, whether you did pretty darn good and avoided rebellion altogether…

You are forgivable.

You are forgiven in Christ Jesus.

You are loved.

He restores. Walk to Him in the Spirit and away from all the junk of life.

Forgiven, Restored, Set Free.

Live free.

Discussion questions:

What sins do you think people label as “worse sins”?

How do labels for “worse sins” rob all of us of the freedom found in Christ Jesus? What part do you see shame playing?

What darkness have you seen Christ overcome in your past or around you that shines His Freedom into your life?

 

Finding Help and Healing:

If you need help and healing for sexual abuse or assault go to https://www.rainn.org/

If you need help and healing for domestic violence go to http://www.thehotline.org/

Find help and healing for porn addiction and sexual compulsivity at https://www.xxxchurch.com/

Find help and healing for violent behaviors in a specialized local treatment program. You pastor can help you find a local one, pray with you, and offer ongoing spiritual care and confession.

The good fruit of correction


Not many of us like correction. When you were little were you timid and easily molded by your parents instruction or did you have a rebellious internal spirit, difficult to tame and lead, what Dr. Dobson would refer to as the “Strong Willed Child”? Maybe you were a mash up- delightful one minute but bullheaded.

Even if we were easily corrected as a child, no child really likes correction. Who loved a spanking or even a good talking to? Whether we cowered at our parents’ mention of time out or busted full throttle through a threat and on to serious discipline, the correction itself is not the part we liked so much as the satisfaction of independence.

As adults, we’re not much different. No one naturally likes a demerit at work, no one loves to be the one who receives a redo on a project, or a “honey, could you do such-and-such differently” at home. We might like the fruit of correction eventually – a promotion, better understanding, richer marriage communication – but criticism, even when it’s absolutely and wholly constructive, is not found on any of our lists of “Favorite Things”.

James has something to say about correction in James 4:5-10. First focus only on the center of this section and then we’ll zoom out. James 4:7-9:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.

This is correction. A requirement to submit to the authority in charge, namely our mom or dad, our husbands, our teachers, our bosses, or our government leaders. Our internal spirit vacillates between relief that someone else is in charge and frustration that it’s not us. We like control, so submission, even in the most submissive of individuals, is a task of growth, best done intentionally.

Listen to James’s words – submit, humble, cleanse, purify. I’m reminded of just how hard it is to get my kids to remember to intentionally wash their hands after using the bathroom, much less the intentional work of submitting to my husband, even though he is kind of gentle, and to my government leaders when I rarely 100% agree with their ideas and laws.

But we submit to a Higher Authority first. Our big beef with correction when we get down to it, is that God is in charge and we are not. We like to choose our own path, direct our own ways and we simply were not made for that. James uses the best language imaginable for the type of submission that goes with correction in our relationship with God. Look back at James 4:8 –

Draw near to God…

Write it somewhere to remember it. If I were crazy (and I am) I would write it on my hand, or my foot, or the top of my knee, to remind me that relationship with God means bending said knee and bowing my pretty little head. It is submission and that’s important- He’s Holy and Mighty and Far Above. But God operates differently in relationship with Him than He does outside of relationship with Him. Submitting in relationship with God is drawing near, being held, and yes, being corrected.

Zoom out to the wider view of James 4:5-10. Read the whole passage below. If you have your Bible out, underline verses 5-6 to see the relationship that we are given with our Father through the Savior.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

He gives more grace…

That’s Who He is. He gives more grace. Correction is hard…

That pinprick of the conscience when we know we’ve done wrong

Opening our mouth for words of apology when we have spoken too harshly

Walking the hard road because we took our own way the first time around

Correction is hard.

But take heart! Correction by the Father is always delivered with grace. We can see the fruits of it through this lens.

Forgiveness can come in –

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:9

Goodness comes in, completeness comes in  –

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.   2 Timothy 3:16

Rootedness comes in –

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge,
    but he who hates reproof is stupid.
No one is established by wickedness,
    but the root of the righteous will never be moved.          Proverbs 12:1,3

These are good fruits! God fruits.

James calls our laughter to be mourning and our joy to be gloom, but only because he knows that in that correction for a moment, we can see the light of Eternity forever.

We see our God clearer and closer. He’s right there, eyes in the back of His head, just like a Father, watching in tenderness.

He gives more grace…Draw near…

He’s ready to pick us up when we fall down, dust us off, and help us along as we journey the steep and the narrow, the wide and the open, always one day closer and nearer to Him.

 

Discussion:

What were you like as a child? How did you deal with correction?

Is there any particular instance of correction you remember growing up?

How has God corrected you in adulthood and when is a time you came through the correction, thankful for His guidance?

Grocery shopping and the steadfast fruit of forgiveness


I love the produce department at the grocery store. It’s full of colors and textures. There are piles of just-ripe oranges and pretty see-through containers of any kind of berry you could want. Displays are round and square and triangular. It smells fresh. Sometimes if you inhale just right there’s a snap of citrus for the sinuses.

The biggest bummer about the produce department is that there are seasons. I could buy blackberries right now, but only if I want to break the bank. And if I want a ruby red grapefruit in the middle of the summer, I’m gonna pay. I live in America. I can get what crazy outlandish fruit I want, when I want it, but it may be four times the price or traveled across miles to overripeness, because fruit can’t be controlled by my desires and whims.

God’s fruit is unlike the fruit at the supermarket. It doesn’t have a season or region. It just is. But like the fruit at the store, I can’t make it happen for me just whenever I want it. I can’t demand what I want and get exactly that. Fruit grows when and where it will, based on God’s plans. Still, God does promise we will never be without His fruit, because it is of His Spirit. This week, we’ll discover all kinds of tidbits about God’s fruit in us. James highlights a few different fruits in particular that come from a God who plants Himself in us to water and grow and build up one another in all we do.

Turn to James 2:17-20, to remember a discourse central to James’s viewpoint of fruit.

17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?

The word written work in our translation is from the Greek root word ergon – an action that carries with it the desire within. It’s not just work, it’s work done with purpose. It’s work done with the knowledge of the Creator. This is one reason we call it fruit. It’s the natural growth of the tree planted and watered by Christ in our baptisms, as we read the Word and worship together.

Our work is steadfast because He is steadfast. Our work is a sure thing, because He is as certain as the sun, and more so. Look back at James 1:17. Just how certain and sure is our Creator and Lord?

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 

The physical manifestation of His steadfastness in us creates doers. Look at Matthew 7:24-25 for a passage that shares what the fruit of a steadfast doer looks like:

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 

We don’t just change with shifting shadows either. Let’s honor that for a moment. Thank goodness for security in Christ when everything else seems to be crumbling around us.

That said, we are sinners. We can surely separate ourselves from the Word, whether by avoiding opening it or listening with one ear closed. Then it becomes harder, not impossible, mind you, but harder to be doers of the Word, producing bountiful fruit. How do fruit trees do in a drought? Not so well, I hear.

Jesus puts all the pieces together. Read Luke 3:8 –

Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 

While Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees here, James is also calling out our pharisaical tendencies.

The secret to fruit is repentance.

Whether we can see the fruit of God in us or not, whether we feel like the produce department at the grocery store or the dried and cracking field of a too hot, too dry summer, we simply turn to Him in repentance every day.

Lord, I have failed to love You and Your Word most. Lord, I have hurt others and put myself first so many times. Lord, open my heart to hear You, follow You, and know You more each day.

Christ is faithful. The Spirit in us is steadfast, not a shifting shadow. Forgiveness is His primary fruit that brings Life and Salvation and is that which all other fruits come from. In taking the time to admit our sin, we can be more aware of the work He is doing in our lives on any given day. Look- He offered forgiveness when I yelled at my kids. Look- He offered forgiveness when I avoided my neighbor. Look He offered forgiveness when…you fill in the blank.

Repentance keeps us steadfast in the Spirit, turning back, turning back, and turning back again and again to a God who loves us.

Let Him work that fruit of forgiveness and see what comes from it, friends. The grocery store produce section holds nothing on God’s bounty of abundant Life.

 

Discussion:

What is your favorite fruit to pick up at the supermarket?

When have you seen Him stay steady and faithful when the world seems to waver?

What repentance can you offer today, privately or with a friend or study group for accountability? What fruit do you think He can bring from that situation when forgiveness enters the picture?