This morning, In my online morning men’s group, a friend of mine said these words; “having knowledge about something is of little value if we don’t have the wisdom of how to apply that knowledge in our lives.” I definitely agree, this truth has been playing over and over in my mind a lot lately. I also believe however they there is another great factor that plays into the equation of Gods’ will, and that factor is love.
Wisdom Needs Love
Over the past year or so I have been blown away by how many new things I have learned about God, the Bible, and history, but then I ask myself, what use is it if it doesn’t help me to love God or love others better than I already have? There are simple folk who are great soul winners. They aren’t full of deep Bible knowledge, nor can they tell you all sorts of things about the history of the church, but they can tell you how it feels to watch a sinner break free from addiction, and what it’s like to watch blind eyes open. It’s my belief that God cares very little about what we know unless what we know will help us to love him and others better than what we already have. Even when it comes to obeying him; when you love, you desire to obey.
Love Holds The Power
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” This is why we need to let our hearts love, and when we do, we will soon find ourselves directly in the will of God.
A great friend of mine, who lead pastors in Rockford, Illinois recently decided to share his testimony in our online men’s group. It moved us all. His willingness to be honest with both himself, and with us, was amazing. He showed a level of transparency that not many of us are willing to share. I can say that I’ve met too few pastors who are willing to expose their struggles to the level that John was. He didn’t show weakness, he was real in his struggles, and he didn’t complain, he confessed. By the end, he testified of how God’s amazing mercy kept him from drowning in the trials. His testimony is POWERFUL, and I believe it will bless you if you read it. So here it is…
Does being transparent mean you are teachable?
I remember a time in my life when I was praying for a teachable spirit. One of my worries as an aspiring minister was that I would become proud and arrogant. I strove to keep my nose low, and my heart open to whatever God wanted to do in my life. As I continued to pray this way, my family and I entered one of the toughest financial times of our lives. Our once very secure, double income, 2 car, mortgage, vacations, and 401k lifestyle was stripped away! All the security known to man was gone. All we had left was each other and our health. Not long after this, my wife’s health also started to deteriorate. It seemed as though all of the “blessings” in my life were falling through my fingertips and there was nothing I could do about it. The image of security that I once held was replaced with one of humility and what may have appeared to others as poor stewardship. Soon we were driving much older vehicles, and at one time I had been given a broken down vehicle to drive. Of course it needed much work before I could even use it, but none the less, it was a payment free vehicle.
After much prayer, pleading, and fasting, our situation did not improve. If I got a job, my wife would be laid off, and when she got a job, I would get laid off. We took 1 step forward and 2 steps back. Still my prayerful seeking and listening continued. I can honestly say that I complained my fair share. I started to fall into the comparison trap. You know when everyone else that spends their money foolishly gets all of the breaks while you faithfully pay your tithe and give, and yet you find yourself continuously broke? That is where I was headed. Into despair. Many people tried to encourage me. Until finally my brother had heard enough complaining.
One day while on a trip home from a very nice vacation (my loving mom paid my way), my brother Jeff looked at me and said, “What are you so angry about?” I then unloaded all of the frustration and misunderstanding in about 10 minutes. He patiently listened and answered, “You think nobody else struggles? Do you really think no one else can relate to what you are going through? Where is your faith?!” He started preaching a much needed sermon to me, and I just listened. Then I started to weep. And I listened some more, I let the word of God sink into my heart and I felt terrible. It was as if I could feel God removing thorns from my inner most being. His word was cultivating me. I was very quiet the rest of the way home as I chewed on the meat that was just fed to me.
Days past and my mindset started to change. I started to think about all of the people I knew that had suffered through things that I thought were not fair. I started to compare myself in a different way. I started to become thankful. Not for what I lost, but for all of the blessings I didn’t lose. I thanked God for my family, for my job, for my car, for my rented home, for anything and everything I could think of. From that point on, I determined in my heart to be thankful if it was sunny outside or if it was pouring down rain. Nothing was ever going to steal my thankfulness again.
So I went on in my journey with my family right by my side. Our financial situation changed. I started to have needs that were seriously too big to pay on my own. Even though my employment was steady now, some 10 years later, I never quite gained my financial independence back that I once had. It was constantly escaping my grasp. So when a big bill came up, I was forced to let people know about it. I did not like asking for help. None of us do. And it is because of the oldest sin in the Book. Pride. But if I didn’t ask, or at least become transparent by not hiding my need, there was a chance that I might never receive the blessing God intended for me. Then it happened. Someone walked up to me and put $100 in my hand. I didn’t know what they were doing and was too afraid to look at it till I got home. I couldn’t believe it, and I thought, why would you have someone do this Lord? Really, I didn’t think it was right. I always thought that I had to work for every single thing in my life. What I didn’t understand was that you can’t earn God’s blessings. They are gifts. They are meant to encourage us to remain faithful. And there is not one person on the face of the earth that deserves them. Especially not me!
Again and again, needs would arise, and people would privately and anonymously bless us. It was overwhelming at times. I could not believe God’s love and patience for us. Then it hit me. After many years of pruning and removing thorns, and cultivating in my heart, I realized that God was helping me to be humble, transparent, and teachable. He was answering my prayers! At times I thought God was mad at me or punishing me for complaining because I really didn’t understand his grace. But even through this, God was showing me what love, grace, mercy, and compassion were all about. He wasn’t mad, and he wasn’t punishing me. He was teaching me. He was allowing me to share in the fellowship of his suffering. I do know that this fellowship of suffering is mainly in the ministering of the gospel, but I also believe that God’s word reaches us in the physical, prepares us in the spiritual, and teaches us to believe in the supernatural. It fully encompasses our spiritual and physical being. Jesus often met the physical need and then the spiritual. He truly cares for us. This is why he tells us to cast all of our cares on him. He wants to take us to the places of struggle. Not so we feel punished, but rather so that we can truly know him and become more like him. What a joy this is! What a blessing it is to learn of God in such a personal way!
Are you ready to become more transparent in your life? Let God teach you how. You may lose your personal security, and you may not even look the same when you are done, but can I give you this one promise? He will be with you all the way! God loves you and it is his deep desire to show you and to bless you.
Right now, I find myself in a state of struggle. Even though I look at my life and see so many blessings, I still see me and all of my weaknesses. It’s a struggle, because on one hand I’m thankful that I’m not in denial, I’m acknowledging that my struggles are real, but on the other, they rob my peace. Like many of you, I too allow my weaknesses to define my day, my mood, and ultimately my future. I find myself thinking things like, “all of what you think God is doing in you is a joke because you’re just not good enough.”
How This Hinders Us
Once I allow this way of thinking to really set in, I’m a mess of disbelief and uneasiness. But then, God sends me reminders. He allows me to see that I’m not alone in the struggle. I talk to friends, log onto Facebook, I read your encouraging words and I see that many of you are going through it too. God is working in all of us, trying to help us see ourselves the way he does… humans who are struggling because of the sin in this world, but yet Christians who are willing to continue to put him back on top in spite of it all. “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Romans 8:37
I’m sure you’ve noticed for yourself that children are young one day and then teenagers the next. This was my experience with my first three kids. Honestly, it’s because I wasn’t very checked in with them, their lives, and their personal development. My life had far too many distractions for me to notice the daily details of my children’s development. If I’m being honest here, there are times I really beat myself up over this. I will say however, it’s really made me stop and take time for my three year old. I see her as Jacob saw Joseph, “the child of my old age”. She’s my special gift, and because of that, I don’t want to miss the daily details.
The reality is, when something isn’t a special gift to us we tend to miss the details. This in turn makes time fly right by us without any real meaning. We will catch the details of our hobbies, video games, movies and TV, the gym and our body, or even our own work place, and all the while the true gifts in our lives are left unopened. This was my life for about 40 years, but not anymore. God used pain and regret to open my eyes and wake me up. Pain can be a strong teacher, and unfortunately most of the time pain is what it takes to wake us up to the reality that life is passing us by. We move through life in a daze, unaware, and even irritated by, the very best gifts we could ever be given.
Unfortunately I don’t have a soft and easy answer for this, other than it’s selfishness alive and well within us all. It’s the reason why I put ministry over my family. I tried to convince myself that God was in the midst of it all, but if you were to ask my kids, I’m sure their answer would be much different. It even cost me my marriage. I guarantee my wife at the time wasn’t thanking God that I was gone again, “doing the Lords work”. This all happened while I was pastoring by the way.
Us humans are so quick to justify our selfish behavior and then force those around us to pay the price for it. I still do it! I’m better about it, but my God, I am selfish. I see it in the small things I do and say. The call I promised to make and then didn’t because I wanted to do something else. Of course then I use the excuse, “I was really busy!” But it’s really just a selfish lie to get the person to not make me feel bad about the promise I’ve broken.
If you’re honest with yourself you’ll see the same traits within you. It could be that you too have lost something that was valuable to you because of it. The real question is, “what are you going to do about it?” The best gifts in your life are most likely still unopened. The best prayer time you’ve ever had still waits for you. The deepest secret you have to learn from the Bible is still there waiting to be discovered. The hug that warms your heart to the deepest parts is still waiting to be received. The, “I love you so much” from the one you want to hear it most is still waiting to be said to you.
You can have all of this, but it will require one thing, you have to stop being so selfish. Or, you can continue on with regret constantly nagging at your mind as life passes you by. Jealousy will be your friend as you see others around you having those prayer times, finding those secrets, receiving those hugs, and hearing the I love you’s. You’ll hate your life as you hold on to it, but you can learn to love it as you let go.
Jesus said in Matthew 10:39, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”
To be honest, I’m amazed that God is a God of second chances. When he created everything and decided how it would all work, it truly amazes me that he made room for mercy. Any master craftsmen would most likely discard any material he works with that is marred and ugly. But not God, he continues to put love and mercy on display. This amazes me! It would be easy to say, “well, when God created humans he already knew the future so he knew we would need forgiveness”, but I’d say, “because he already knew the future before creating us failing humans, he could have scrapped the idea of us all together, but he didn’t, he went with us + mercy instead.” Again, amazing! He could have avoided so much pain by not creating us, but then he wouldn’t have gotten what he wanted most, and that is free will love. He longs for it! So much so that he created mercy so he could have it from us. For the third time I say, amazing! The creator God of the universe decided to die for his failing creation so he could share his love with us. Wow, now that is an amazing Easter story!
I too have dealt with the power of addictions, and like you, have found that there is no easy way out. If there were, we wouldn’t have so many facilities to go to, or programs to try. This shouldn’t discourage us though, because with God all things are possible. I want to share my experience of how I overcame the addictions in my life, and how you can too. The process is easy to understand but will be difficult to apply if you choose to make it so. Some well intentioned people will tell you that recovery is going to be a long dark path, and that it may take years to overcome. They also my say things like, “once an addict always an addict”. But this just isn’t true. The Bible assures us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” You can be made new, but the choice is up to you.
Here’s how I overcame addictions.
The first step I had to take was the one of honesty. I had to be willing to admit that I was selfish and that I needed help to stop hurting both myself and those around me with my selfishness. This is called repentance. Repentance isn’t about paying for your sins, or begging God to give you a second chance. It’s about recognizing that you can’t do it on your own, and that you need God’s help to save you from your selfish ways. I went to God and said, “Lord, I’m so sorry I’ve let my life become such a mess, but I can’t fix this on my own, so whatever you have to do to free me from these additions, please do it.” And the process began! It was less than 3 months and I was free.
What It Takes To Walk in Freedom
It took me coming to a point where I was willing to vow that these things would never have a place in my life again. But first, it took a step of courage and faith that my week and selfish flesh didn’t want to take. It took a willingness to overcome the fear of who I would be without the addictions. I took the leap, made the vows, and have never looked back. Remember, it didn’t start with the vows, it started with the prayer. After that it became about the willingness on my part to change, and then God brought me to the place of the vows. He can and will do the same for you if you’re willing to ask, and then be willing to change.
The changes begin when we admit, ask for help, and than be willing to do what we are shown. Many addicts remain addicts because when the answer of chance is revealed to them they say no. They try and convince themselves that the change isn’t necessary for their freedom. They try and convince themselves that the two are unrelated. Let’s just call this what it is, laziness. But remember, laziness is just another form of selfishness, and if you are unwilling to let go of selfishness then you will never be set free. God will start with bite size choices that you can make, but still have to be willing to. Making good choices will start the process of proving to yourself that you can get personal victories in your life, and once you get the taste of victory, you’ll want more. I promise!!
Will You Relapse?
Only if your vows didn’t mean that much to you when you made them. Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 is very clear on how God feels about your vows, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.” Remember, selfishness is what you have been giving into this whole time, not the actual addictions themselves. So the real question you need to ask yourself is, “am I allowed to be selfish again?” The answer is “No!” If you love yourself and the people you have been hurting, NO, you don’t get to relapse! This is why it’s so important that you realize you are a new person, the old one is now dead. If it’s dead than you’ll have to go back to the graveyard with a shovel and dig that nasty thing back up again. The Bible teaches that it’s “as a dog returns to its vomit.” Seriously, I can not understand the reason people would teach that you may relapse from time to time. So it’s ok to put love on hold then? To go back to your vomit, and lick it back up again? Your loved ones are supposed to be understanding of this when it happens from time to time? You’re ok with this being “part of the process”? Read carefully the words of Jesus “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” John 8:36. The answer is easy, admit you need help, ask God for it, and then when he shows you the path, get on it, tough choices and all. Then, make your vows and NEVER look back! “But what if I relapse, is there no hope then?” Of course there’s still hope, there always is. But don’t expect your loved ones to stick around and keep forgiving you for licking your vomit back up and coming home smelling like the dead body you dug back up. Selfishness ALWAYS has a price tag, you already know that. So don’t make an excuse to go back to it.
I’m going to pray for you right now so that you too can find the strength to pray your own prayer.
“Jesus, you see the soul who is reading this right now. You see the pain, the shame, and the guilt that they live with everyday. You have heard all the prayers that they have already prayed, and it’s because of these prayers that they are stilling here right now reading this. You are here in this moment with us, reminding us that the promise of freedom is for all, not just for some. In your amazing plan for freedom you will not only help us to become free from addictions, but you will also give us the strength to confront the people we have hurt with our addictions. Help us not to forget that you are here now, and you will continue to be here as freedom from addictions begins. You Lord, will never leave us or forsake us, no not to the ends of the earth. David said, “if I make my bed in hell you are there” and this is where you find me right here and now. Thank you for the help you have already given me and for the help are willing to give as I go forward. I know the path to freedom is only one step away. Lord, Psalms 65:3 promises, “Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all.” It’s this promise we claim, and it’s in your name Jesus that we put these addictions in your hands. Amen.”
Getting caught up in desiring to be righteous can be a very tricky thing. What I mean is, wanting to do what is right simply because it’s righteous isn’t going to get us very far. Believe it or not that’s exactly what the religious leaders of Jesus’s day were doing. If we are going to have genuine and pure righteousness we must first understand what Godly love is, and once we learn to apply this love, then righteousness will flow freely from us.
As crazy as this may sound, many people try to belittle themselves into being righteous, but obtaining righteousness this way will be short lived and never enjoyed. Negative never produces positive. First, you must KNOW that God loves you both deeply, and immeasurably. Then, learn to let that love flow from you to others. Once we can make these two steps a part of our daily routine, we no longer beg God to make us righteous because it will be an automatic byproduct of our peace, and not something we are trying to beat ourselves into.
There’s a story Jesus tells in Matthew chapter 13 about four types of hearts. He tells us this story to show us what type of heart is on display within our own lives.
The first is the heart like a path. This heart is so trampled down by life’s struggles that it can’t receive anything good, and as a result, Satan comes quickly and steals all the good that’s been placed there.
The second is the heart that’s like rocky ground. This heart receives the good for only a moment, but when tough times come, the good dies out quickly.
The third heart is the thorny ground. At first, these also chose to do good for God, but concern for riches, and their worries about life caused the good to fade out and eventually die.
The Good Ground
The fourth is the good ground. These grow into a strong faith and remain dedicated to Christ, no matter difficult times that come their way. They remain faithful, true, and loving, even when others don’t love them in return. They forgive, and then let go of the offense. They give and expect nothing in return. These are the good soil.
Notice all the distractions that make for a bad heart? These distractions represent our choices, and when the heartaches of life comes our way, the choices we make shape us. When temptation arise and we want recognition, our actions define us.
We are the ones who choose to be the man or woman God as called us to be, not God, not Satan. And when we make the choice to serve God, we are not only choosing it for ourselves, but we are also choosing it for our loved ones, our co-workers, our friends, and yes even neighbors. We will either choose right living, or we will justify why it’s, “too hard to be Christlike” or, “not convenient at this time”. The fact is, we never justify any lack of love or kindness that someone else should show to us in our lives, so why do we justify holding ourselves to a lesser standard than that of what love is asking us to do?
Remember, you decide what type of soil is in your heart, and that choice, it’s what you’re living with right now.
Our faith is directly tied to our love for one another. The simple truth is this, If we don’t love others, we can not say that we have a deep rooted faith in Christ. Paul, in 1Cor 13:2 reminds us, “Even if I have the faith to move mountains but I don’t have love, I am nothing!” So as I ask God to increase my faith, he asks me to increase my love for others. By “others” I mean, those who are different than you, not just those in your religious circles or neighborhood.
Some Believe They Are Saved Simply By Keeping Religious Laws
As tough as this may be to come to grips with, of those who kept religious laws in order to be saved, Jesus asked these questions; “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Luke 6:32-36.
Perverting The Message Of Love
Some believe that loving others means, “to accept their lifestyle”, no matter if the Bible declares it a sin or not. This is simply not true love. Godly love is intended to turn us from a life of sin, not accept it and then call it Godly. Paul, in Romans 2:4 said this, “Can’t you see that Gods kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” To love a sinner is to help save them from their sin, not cover it up with justifications. This outrageous sin has crept into the church and perverted the message of Love. There are those among us, as good intentioned as they may seem, that have slowly perverted the message of love by accepting sin and calling a Godly lifestyle. Again I say, this is not Love! Jesus refers to them as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” Matthew 7:15. The true message of love is this… “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14. Don’t let yourself believe that you are helping someone by justifying their sin, or they will only continue to stay isolated from freedom. However, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32
Love Leads To Faith
So faith is the result of love! And why is that? 1 John 4:19 sums it up by saying this; “We love each other because he loved us first.”
In Luke 14:28 we are told that before we set out on a journey it’s always a good idea to, “count the cost”. However, at some point we should move beyond “counting the cost” and start allowing the relationship to driven by love, trust, and respect.
If in marriage of 20 years either the husband or the wife are still counting the cost and asking themselves questions like, “am I still willing to be in this marriage?” Or, “am I willing to no longer be with someone else?” Or, “am I ready to start trusting my spouse?” There’s a problem! Love and trust don’t ask these questions, inexperience does.
If you’re still at the place where you’re counting the cost, it’s time for a love and faith adjustment. We need to let go of trying to see what we can get out of this relationship with Christ and start truly giving back to him. Healthy relationships trust. Do you trust God? Healthy relationships respect. Do you respect God?
Stop counting the cost and start enjoying the relationship.