The Religion of Self-Sufficiency

When I look back on my fourteen years as a believer, I see some sins that differ from the ones I used to commit when I didn’t know Christ. I used to be immersed in sex, drugs, and fleshly pleasure that dug my pit so very deep.  I am forever thankful that God decided to make good on his promise to “Make all things new!”.

However, God never stops with the obvious “nuisance sins” as he draws us out of the world.  He is ready to shine a light on our inward parts, our attitudes, our thoughts… the meditations of our heart.  When God was dealing with my idols and discontent I took out devastating student loans because I hated my current job. I kissed an atheist during my time as a single mom and struck up a relationship with a Christian man I shouldn’t have because I was serving my idol to be married. I struggled with pride as a baby Christian and alienated certain people instead of drawing them to Christ. I now shake my head as I think about some of the fruit of my belief as God was “making all things new” in my earlier years.

I came across Psalm 69 one morning and couldn’t help being drawn to King David’s reflection on his own sins. Adultery, and you know, hiring a hit-man for his mistresses’ husband. Maybe when he wrote this Psalm he was reflecting on this disaster, or maybe he was thinking about his lack of discipline with his sons which caused much chaos.  Whichever sin David was referring to in verses  5-7, his repentant heart is clearly understood.  David is not justifying or blame shifting, he is owning his failure.

There is a type of Christianity out there that I believe we have a warning against in Psalm 69.  This type of religion is as old as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day and the serpent in the garden. The danger of this religion is that those in it’s clutches many times do not know they are tangled up. Pride is this religion and its nothing new under the sun.

David reflected on these people immersed in pride in this Psalm.  His heart is broken and he knows God himself is chastening him.  I am not sure if his persecutors were professing believers but we do know in the book of Job that Job’s so-called friends were.  Its so easy to look at the speck in our brothers eye while ignoring the plank in our own. Gossip, self-justification, and tarnishing another believer is so very easy, but God will not let us get away with it. We are all accountable for this sin.  We have to be desperately careful when dealing with the sin of others because we are not God.

How do we avoid this trap?

1. Don’t be the judge of others. Some Christians in your church have been delivered of some deep darkness and have behaviors that still offend, but God could be working deep within their hearts. They will be delivered in God’s timing, not ours! Pray for the specific issues, extend kindness, and be a Godly example. See if the Holy Spirit will use you to break a chain in their life with your words or actions because you truly love the person and have left the judgement up to God. It’s easy to be a judge if you haven’t been delivered of much before coming to Christ.  But we know that the righteousness of all people is a filthy rag compared to God, so we must not compare our lives to others. Mercy always triumphs over judgement.

2. Take our own mask off. Are you always counseling others whether formally or informally? Does everyone see you as a spiritual giant?  If you like that attention, stop it right away! There is only one on a pedestal to be worshiped and that is Christ the Lord! Taking off your mask does not mean to stop helping people, it just means to always check your motives for what you do. Why do you help others? Do you get identity in the adoration of people instead of identity in Christ? Do you keep your own sins in blind spots, refusing to see them or refusing to think they are as bad as another persons folly? The sin of the Pharisee wasn’t outward sexual lust or drunkenness, it was pride.  Pride thinks, “You poor thing, you would really benefit from my helping you.” Pride says, “I told you what you should do, and now that you chose not to- God is not pleased with you!”  Pride has a controlling agenda as it deals with people and is not the selfless love of God. Pride blinds us and makes us think our darkness is really light. Only God can deliver us when we are infected with pride.

3. Do all you can to identify more with the tax collector than the Pharisee in the Luke 18 parable.  Jesus starts the parable with telling the people it is for those who trust in their own righteousness and despise others. It takes activity on our part to not be a prideful Pharisee. When we see others who are in sin, who have wronged us, or those who we flat out don’t care for, we must consider them in the eyes of God.  There is a time and a place for church discipline but let it not be biased according to our pride, our agendas, and our insecurities.  

At the end of all things, I pray that we all are not immersed in this sin of thinking God is on our side and not with other people whom we may disagree with.  If we remain humble and bless friends and enemies as the Lord instructs, we will be pleasantly surprised as we leave the judgement, and vengeance up to the Lord.  He is the keeper of those powerful swords anyway.

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Your Family’s Black Sheep

I wonder if every family has a black sheep.  Definitions can clarify things so I looked up Black Sheep in the Urban Dictionary and found, “term used to describe someone who feels left out in a family. Basically, the outcast of the family because they choose to do other things than live up to their parents’ standards.”  I think this is a start to defining what a black sheep is, but when you have one in your family, that definition doesn’t even scratch the surface of all the memories you carry inside of you.

Again, I wonder if every family has one. I look across the landscape of people I know and more families have one than not. My best friend has a heroin addicted brother, my other friend’s sister is an alcoholic/career exotic dancer, and I also know of a mom who struggles with her practicing homosexual teenager. The stories are numerous and the devastation rages on.

My black sheep is my older brother.  Ah, Jeremy. What can I say about him? Jeremy and I used to interact as children, and sometimes even laugh together.  He is five years my senior so we weren’t exactly toddler buddies.  I have some sparse good time memories of him but as far as I can remember he was always rebellious.  From shoving lit cigarettes in the mouth of my Cabbage Patch Dolls, to a drawer full of porn magazines, to spitting on the carpet when the parents weren’t home, my brother would many times be the one to expose me to evil.

Jeremy seemed to give up in the earlier stages of his life by running to vices such as drinking alcohol and smoking meth.  He is now a man in his early forties and it is by God’s divine intervention he is alive today. Jeremy has been living on the streets of Las Vegas Nevada and in and out of homelessness for the better part of twenty years. But I don’t care. I love him and have chosen to forgive the things he has done to me.

unnamed (1)I snapped this picture of Jeremy and I last Christmas because I never know when he will walk into eternity. He has already overdosed, been stabbed in the lung, involved in many fights, and God only knows what else. Through these twenty years I haven’t ignored my brother. My family would sometimes visit him in the tunnel he frequented to bring him food, contacts, and just the assurance that he is still loved despite his behavior.

This has been going on for so long with my black sheep that this lifestyle has become his normal. But sometimes, I do cry out to God. I ask him to spare Jeremy’s life a little longer. I plead with the Holy Spirit to change him and crown him with salvation and righteousness.  I have to admit it can feel so hopeless. But in a series of two dreams the Lord made me aware that he was hearing my prayers! In the first dream I was facing my brother and holding his two hands.  I was trying to look in his eyes and I was telling him it was time to come out of this lifestyle and that God loved him.  At first my brother would not look in my eyes and I literally felt Satan’s presence overtaking his body and mind.  Then all of a sudden my brother Jeremy looked me directly in the eye and he was full of shame and despair. He spoke and said, “I have lived my life like this for too long now. I can’t come out of it, God can’t do anything with me.”  When I woke it was clear that Satan had him bound up in condemnation, telling him that God could not do anything with him anymore. It was too late.

In the second dream my brother was back in high school. The dream took me through all the rejection he experienced from his peers and others in his life.  I woke up in tears and realized that not only had he believed he was condemned, he also believed his human existence has always been entirely rejected.

Condemnation and rejection are faulty beliefs in peoples lives that will keep them on a path of destruction.  But what is the solution? What do we do with the black sheep in our families? Discernment, prayer, and trust.

Discernment – Discernment is our interactions with our black sheep being led by the Holy Spirit and not us. It can only be obtained by time in our prayer closets with the Word of God open before us.  Discernment will let us know when our efforts to help in the life of our black sheep is crossing over into enabling behavior on our part.  Discernment will show us healthy boundaries when the destructive behavior comes our way.  It will teach us how to truly love our black sheep with gentle words and acts of tender mercies.  When our interactions with them become spirit-led we can be confident that we are doing all we can for their good.

Prayer- Prayer is where we connect with our source of all that is. How do we expect to have any peace in our lives as a loved one is walking toward death and destruction? We shouldn’t expect any peace unless we can take our pain and requests to the very throne room of the one who created our black sheep. While we pour out our requests it is imperative that we leave our worries and worst case scenarios in our prayer closets. Prayer is our outlet where we can take our anger, fears, and multitude of tears.  If we take these emotions outside of prayer we allow these damaging things to spill out onto our relationships with others.  This will allow the behavior of our black sheep to infect more lives than it needs to. Let God carry the emotional load.  He is big enough.

Trust- Trusting God allows God to truly be God and places us in a place of humility as created beings.  Releasing our black sheep to God in certain situations could be misinterpreted by some, or even ourselves as indifference because we aren’t always doing something. But it’s really submission to what is more powerful than us.  If we do not trust God we could ignore the Holy Spirit discernment that we obtain in our prayer closets. We could control, we could enable, but worst of all we could believe that we know better than God.

I do not know the final outcome in the life of my brother. Outcomes are not up to me.  I do not know what Jeremy’s purpose on this earth is.  His purpose is not to be controlled by me.  But I do know God is purposeful in all he does. God can be trusted regardless of the outcome.  I do not have the vantage point of past, present, and future like the creator does in the lives of others. But I do believe I now have a grasp on my responsibilities and my boundaries in the life of my beloved black sheep.

Glory to God alone.