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.

Freedom to walk, run, or crawl

When my oldest was little she was a big fan of the army crawl.

First she rolled everywhere she needed to go, then she got determined enough to put elbows to carpet and chug along. Being a very new mom I had no idea this phenomenon existed. My husband and I would stand there cradling our mugs of some warm beverage and watch just for entertainment. She didn’t crawl in the traditional way for months. Who needs knees, when you can use your core and have abs of steel, right?

What struck me most in all this was her determination. She was undaunted.

She didn’t want help. She wanted freedom.

Freedom to roam.

Freedom to try and fail.

Freedom to use some grit.

Freedom to journey in her own way.

People have all kinds of opinions about how we should get to where we are going, don’t they? Our journey on Earth rarely looks like someone else’s but we all sure try to get there by someone else’s methods all the time.

Paul reminds the Galatians that they are Free with a capital F. Their freedom comes from God, not from man, not from manuals that tell them the “right way to do it,” not from generations of tradition, but from a God who loves, who forgives, who holds.

Paul proclaims to the Galatians in Galatians 5:7-8 –

 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.

Who cut in on you?

Whether it’s others or our own expectations, the “shoulds” of life, or persuasion from others, ideas of rightness – the freedom to fall flat on our faces and get up again comes from God and God alone.

He calls us to this life.

He calls us to walk, to run, or to crawl in this journey, and he calls all three of them Good in Christ.

Paul brings a little more insight and a little more wisdom in Galatians 5:16-18:

 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 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. 

“You were running, walking is good too,” Paul says, “but remember that all of it is done in the Spirit.” (Heidi’s paraphrase)

Why are we so convinced that we need to run, when God is telling us, “Go ahead and walk, sweet child”?

Why are we so convinced that we need to do it the right way, the non-existent and evasive only way, someone else’s way?

Whether these ideas are put on us by others or well up in our own hearts and minds to yoke us up, they aren’t from the One who called us, but Paul also tells us that the Spirit is alive and well.

Acts 17:27-28 is so reassuring I think we should post it on our foreheads for one another:

God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

He is not far. He put Himself inside of us in His Holy Spirit. He lives there. He moves there. His desires begin to mesh with ours in a way that we can’t quite fathom. And when we mess up, when we yoke ourselves to those earthly desires, when we walk contrary, He doesn’t desert us. He doesn’t leave us on a whim. He watches us army crawl, and gently guides us away from the giant electrical sockets of life, sometimes letting us get that little jolt first, for useful teaching later.

I honestly think crawling is better. It gets us to that place of humility where Christ does His best work. The sting of pain, the consequences of failure, bring us before His feet, resting our burdens before Him, where they were intended to be anyway.

The freedom to crawl, to do life the imperfect way, sets our hearts on fire with grace and forgiveness in a way that propels us into a run, a sprint, a marathon, a good race in His love and His mercy in this abundant life.

So run, walk, crawl, or do it any other way knowing that the Spirit is alive, well, and active in your soul this day and every day.

Free in Christ!


Discussion questions:

What strange methods of crawling have you seen?

What places do crawling, walking, and running have in our faith walk?

When have you found God lifting you up in your journey to propel forward when you thought you were too tired, or you wanted to give up?

Freedom in Love: People and all their opinions

People are difficult.

They have a lot of opinions.

Frankly, I am difficult. I have a lot of opinions.

I like dark roast coffee, thick and rich. I like it so dark and thick that a guy in our first congregation told me that my coffee had hair on it.

I think conversation is more important than time. I’ll choose talking over getting a move on every time and it drives people batty.

I don’t like words like conservative or liberal, traditional or contemporary, confessional or progressive. What do they mean? Very different things to different people, and so I find them troublesome and confusing, and they unintentionally create unnecessary assumptions.

See, I have a lot of opinions.

Paul feels like a brother to me, because he is a man of opinions too. And he’s not afraid to share them. He began Galatians 5:2 yesterday with “I, Paul…”

I like that he doesn’t hide behind another source, but is willing to take the heat for his thoughts, even when he is proclaiming the Gospel. “I’m saying this…not someone else, not the elders, not Peter, but I, Paul.” This is wise and we can learn from Paul in this. Why?

Because opinions were made for relationships, and more than that, relationships were made for love.

In our section from Galatians today you can hear and almost feel the affection of Paul jumping off the page. Don’t get me wrong. He’s pretty hot tempered. He’s pretty opinionated. He’s got some stuff to share, some Truth to dispense. But he begins with love, ends with love, and there’s a whole lot of it in between. Please read Galatians 5:6-15. Note anything that sounds like love to you, whether a word, desire, or tone:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

These are some of my favorite words from Paul, mostly because of the great vulnerability you find in his heart for the people.

“None of it counts, but Jesus…but faith in Love!”

“You were doing so well…what the heck happened?”

“I have confidence that you’ll see Truth here, because I know you all. I know your heart for Christ.”

It’s a segment that lends itself to paraphrase because you have been there. You have sat with someone who you want to convince so deeply of Christ and His great love, of His Truth working in love, that your heart is breaking. It’s easy to sit with Paul as he writes to the Galatians and understand his zeal, but don’t miss his love and enduring affection. It’s the suck-your-breath-in emotion, of longing for something better for someone, of not only sharing an opinion, yes, but hurting because they hurt, so much so that you can feel it in your chest.

This is the best place to be to share an opinion. Should we share the Word with people every day and every way? Yes! But the rubber hits the road and we can be heard in relationship with someone that began at one point, shared a lot of love in the middle, and is open to the Truth because of all the love passing back and forth.

The Greek root word for emasculate in Galatians 5:12 is apokoptó, meaning to smite, cut off, mutilate, or emasculate. Translators choose emasculate here because Paul is a wordsmith of great cleverness. This feels tongue in cheek to me, and so while you may not have noticed or set it aside as a point of affection earlier, hear it now. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Paul is joking, because he’s so fired up, but certainly we can classify it as tongue-in-cheek. Paul is proclaiming that the Judaizers, the false brothers that trouble the Galatians so, would do to themselves the very thing and more that they so strongly insist from the Galatians, whom Paul loves.

It reminds me of my mom, when I would share my high school woes. “They should just go catch a duck!” she would say, or something else odd like that. Bottom line, I understood the point – they are trying to catch something, or someone rather, and you don’t need to be it. It was kitchy and thoughtful and always made me laugh, which was half the point.

Paul’s message is similar- don’t let them catch you. They don’t value you. God values you and He gave you freedom.

Love looks like freedom.

I don’t say that lightly. You can’t run around and proclaim freedom on the street corner (well, you can, but it just may not be very effective) because there is not relationship. Proclaiming love and freedom outside of relationship says, “Do whatever you want! Be whatever you want! No worries! Sin away!”

Love in relationship says, “Ack. This is unsettling you. Do you see how it’s hurting you? I want more for you.” (Galatians 5:12)

That is an opinion that can be heard. That speaks with purpose. That showers love.

As Paul tells the Galatians, we remind ourselves, “Use your freedom wisely.” (Galatians 5:13) Aka love, love, and love some more, always in Christ.

Sometimes, church bodies like to bite and devour one another, mine included. Opinions, because they are connected to the Word of God, and they value the Word of God, get louder and more aggressive all the time.

Your church body may seem similar. It’s been going on since Paul was a pastor. There’s nothing new under the sun.

Paul’s wisdom still holds true:

May love consume our zeal.

May it come at the beginning, at the end, and be found flowing like mad in the middle. May all our opinions be spoken and grounded in a love that carried a cross, walked out of a tomb, and ascended so the Spirit could move in us, bring freedom to us continually, every day.

Brothers and sisters, drink dark roast coffee or light roast, be on time or five minutes late, share the Word in season and out of season in its most unadulterated form, but do so in love, always, always in His love.


Discussion questions:

What strong opinions do you have on silly or big things?

What difference do you see in the way we share our opinions online or in other public ways versus sharing in relationship and conversation? What good do you see in either? What difficulty?

How does love change zeal? Where have you seen this done well?