Conviction


At times on the recovery journey things happen or days occur when our hearts are heavy, things seem out of sorts, or circumstances lead to difficult steps. How we choose to handle those times makes a big difference in where we go and how we move forward in the bigger picture. They may seem like small things but they do affect the bigger picture of where we are trying to go.

One thing I have been learning about is perception. Someone who is in the midst of the last stages of marriage expressed deep sorrow to me when they shared their spouse has a perception of injustices that were done in the past that they can not move past. This person has set their mind on a certain belief and even though others don’t agree with it they continue to stand firm in their convictions. Due to that the other spouse has found there is no further room for communication, compromise, reconciliation, or restoration.

If you have experienced relational struggle, abuse, injustice, rejection, or abandonment then what is your perception? Do you believe the others were completely in the wrong? Have you taken responsibility for your part? Are you willing to accept that your perceptions may in some ways be incorrect? Can you see ways others are holding incorrect perceptions? Could the perceptions you have be the cause of the problems in the first place? How do you respond when others have incorrect perceptions about you?

The elders and pastor of my last church hold a perception of me that is incorrect. I have tried to correct it but they continue to believe that I desire to hurt the pastor and the church. It actually is the exact opposite of my heart. I have protected them and spoken highly of them so many times. I love the pastor very, very deeply. They are Christians who are part of the family of God and as such there is no need for division, hostility, brokenness, or separation, and I do not have any intention or heart to divide or disunify God’s family. I keep trying to see the situation through their eyes, through their perception, but so far I can’t find that point. I want to take responsibility for my parts, to repent of all sin, and to rectify things. Recently I was told that the elders still are open to see my repentance and to reconciliation but the pastor will no longer be involved in any communication with me. There are perceptions held on both sides that keep us from finding common ground. I wish it was different. I wish our hearts were not hardened against God’s ways, and that we could choose love, forgiveness, grace, healing, and unity. I miss my friends and “family” that I am separated from at that church, and I am really concerned about the future impacts of this brokenness on the Christian community in Portland. May God continue to redeem this and bring repentance, truth, and life where other things exist.

I was reading today’s post on People of the Second Chance’s website and they brought up the issue of how people respond when they are faced with their own failure, sin, and issues. How do we respond when we are caught in the act, even if being caught is only recognizing the issue in our own mind?

Do we accept our failures, take responsibility, try to change, and actively move toward different outcomes, or as their website stated do we respond with the 3 D’s: deny, dismiss, and downplay.

Being faced with our own shortcomings, problems, failures, or even just others negative opinions of us is often very hard to accept. The delivery of how we learn about it can make it even more difficult. I think if we are honest we all admit that everyone has areas that need improvement, we are after all sinners in need of a savior. Facing those areas and knowing how to respond is the issue.

There are three main things I have been learning about this:

  1. Our response shows the condition of our heart. Again, this depends on the delivery, but if someone is allowed to come to terms with the reality of the issues in a place where they feel cared for, safe, and are able to process through and grasp the issues (e.g. they are not distracted or stressed by others things) then the response of their heart will show the starting point and if the person is ready to embrace the issues and change.
  2. Honesty and admitting the failure brings a great deal of freedom. Personally I lived in fear and frustration for several years after the abuse I experienced but when things fell apart at my church last spring and I was dismissed I wrote a farewell note to the church admitting my failure, the sin in my life, my heart to change, and the abuse I had been through. That act alone led to significant changes in my life over the coming weeks. Honesty does not have to be that public, but it means that the person stops hiding and comes clean about the issues, maybe they share just with one person but in deep honesty. I now live as if anything I say or do could be made known to the world at any time, it forces integrity into all I say and do but also brings great freedom because I have nothing to hide.
  3. Taking responsibility can be hard, but ultimately it leads toward life, hope, joy, and peace. When we deny, dismiss, downplay, or blameshift to others we are not accepting the reality of the situation and even if we are only doing it for an hour or a day we are living a lie. Those decisions move us away from the place of really dealing with things. Ultimately if we deny, dismiss, and downplay we are not only hurting ourselves, but we are likely hurting others in some way even if it is just due to the fact that we are not being as healthy and responsive as we could be. Our decisions have consequences, and we need to accept them instead of making them worse. For the last eight months I have been trying hard to take responsibility for the ways I have failed. I have been willing to work with others, to look hard at the issues in my life, to have other critically assess certain things in my life, and to accept some very hard to swallow words from others. It has hurt tremendously, but today I am a better person, my life has much greater integrity, and I am learning to walk in completely new ways. I am standing by and watching some others right now in life that are choosing different responses and their are some consequences coming that could have been avoided if they had taken responsibility up front.

How do we respond when we are caught in the act? My advice is to hold your tongue (James 3), be quick to listen (James 1:19), submit to others so you can learn (Ephesians 5;21), confess our sins (1 John 1:9) and walk in the light, and devote yourself to the Lord and to others in community relationships (Acts 2:42).

I was raised in a mainline denominational church. There are many things I love about the churches I attended growing up (we moved every few years so I went to several that I remember), but there are few things that I did not learn about in that denomination: the Gospel, making a personal commitment to Christ, putting off the old self and putting on the new, and sin.

I remember in late high school or college I struggled at times to even see sin in my life because I wasn’t doing things like drinking, drugs, lying, cheating, stealing, sexual misconduct, or even dishonoring my parents. I was a “good girl”, in fact I was often ridiculed because of that. Occasionally something would come up that I would struggle with, but usually I dealt with it quickly and moved on.

Over the last couple of years I have learned a lot about sin and where it exists in my life. It isn’t in my actions, but in my underlying beliefs which then affects my actions, especially in relationships. Again, it isn’t that I am blatantly doing those top recognized sins or living in ways that oppose my Christian beliefs, but instead I doubt, fear, struggle with my beliefs, and believe things that give me a wrong starting point so every step I take from there is incorrect. It is like the bird who accidentally flies into a room through an open window and keeps banging on the closed window on the other side because it can see out, but the bird has the wrong belief that this closed window will let it free, it only needs to turn around to see the truly open window behind it.

Sin is anything that separates, divides, or leads us from God. It truly starts with our deep, underlying beliefs. It starts with our heart. I recently heard someone say that all sin starts with the first and second commandments: you shall have no other gods before me, you shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything. If we have made something else an idol or a god in our life, even if that is a belief we hold in our heart then we are walking in sin. If we think lowly of ourselves, lowly of God, or do not trust his Word then we are living in sin. If we know a truth in the Bible and are not living by it then we are living in sin.

Honestly, life was easier when I couldn’t recognize sin in my life. I could move forward and not think much about what I am doing and what the condition of my heart was. Now, I am daily seeing how far I have to go and how wrong I am. It is humbling. I am not depressed or upset about it because I know it is bringing me closer to the Lord, but it is hard. I wish repenting of the sin was as easy as just saying I wanted it to end and that I choose to turn from it. Unfortunately many of the beliefs and actions are so engrained that it takes a very long time and a lot of work to change. I can get upset at myself because I know my heart wants to change, but my flesh is so weak. My heart is heavy at times because I have such sorrow over the sin I see in my life and how much I want it to be completely and permanently gone. I take heart in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 because it gives me hope that my sorrow and struggle have an outcome ahead that I can not see yet.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. See what this godly sorrow has produced in you: what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern, what readiness to see justice done.”

What is sin? Sin is what I do, think, and believe that doesn’t represent Christ, show him and his truth to the world, and bring redemption, hope, and promise. Sin is how I have lived and what I want to move away from. Sin is what separates me not only from God, but from you, from others, and even from myself. Today I am overwhelmed by seeing and knowing about the sin in my life and I pray that my heart does change, that my life is repentant, and that my life is transformed by the power of the Gospel of Christ.

Growing up my brother had a gorgeous cast metal chess set with the characters in the shape of great Italian sculptures. For example David was the king. I admired it regularly, but I never played it. The family I grew up in was pretty careful about the “chess game” they played. By that I am referring not to the actual game of chess, but to the way we walked relational conflict out.

I have recently been thinking about how relational conflict is like a game of chess. One person makes a move and the other person makes a counter move. The moves they make are directly in opposition to the other person because the goal is to win, to overtake, to take captive. Often when something goes wrong in a relationship we start playing chess. One person does something and the other person reacts instead of acts. They respond to what just happened as they are feeling confronted, defensive, frustrated, etc. What gets lost is where this all started. Somewhere in the past someone choose to pick up that first piece and start the game. Unfortunately it is a game with no winners!

I want to stop playing chess. I want to learn how to not react out of my emotions even when things are tense or difficult. I want to learn to look at the other person with a tender and loving heart and recognize they are a child of God (whether they are a believer or not they were still created by God and he would embrace them if they came to him). I want to learn to put down my weapons, my defenses, my pain…. to be vulnerable and open even if it means I am putting myself at jeopardy of further hurt. Ultimately what I am saying boils down to the condition of our hearts. If my heart is set on playing a game of chess and making counter moves toward my opponent instead of embracing my family in Christ and living in unity then all that will happen is destruction of myself, them, and Christ’s work. Oh how deeply I pray my heart can change.

2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26″In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  (Eph 4:2-3, 17-18, 22-32)

I have been especially stuck in the above passage by verse 29. It says we are not to speak unwholesome talk. How we define that probably comes from our definition of what is unwholesome, but Paul continued on to describe that it includes speaking only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs. In other words, we have to be focused, alert, and aware of what their needs are before we even speak! Wow do I have a lot to learn!

Have any of you learned things that have helped you change your heart and perspectives in this way? It is a paradigm shift but one that is well worth the price!

I have had several occasions lately where someone has asked me to share my testimony of how I have found healing and what has led to change on my road to recovery and restoration. Being asked to share it both scary and also exciting. Most exciting to me is the realization that I have changed and my life is different and far better today. I know that the root of that change is due to Christ and that is what I want to testify about.

When asked to share there are several things we should be asking and working through:

1) How can I share my story in healthy ways? Is it okay to share names of individuals and organizations? If so, how can that be done without defaming and slandering others? Are there times to call out those who are walking in sinful and hurtful ways?

2) Why am I sharing my story? Am I doing it for others or for me? Am I hoping to help others, if so will my story on its own help them or do I need to provide advice about how I recovered and changed?Are there times/places to share my story for my recovery and other times/places to share to help others?

3) Is my story about me and what I have accomplished, or is it about Christ? If it is about Christ am I really testifying about him and what he has done, or about me and how I have changed? If the story is about me then I need to go back to question 2 and determine why I are sharing the story and if I am shaping it correctly for the given time/place.

I have been thinking more and more about my story, my past, and why I have talked about it. Recently as I was sharing with someone it became clear to me that I was sharing out of my pain, my past, and my brokenness. I still had areas that needed to heal and where I needed to let go of pain. I was not sharing out of the joy and hope I felt but instead I was sharing about what I had experienced that was so impactful. God is changing my heart, leading me to understand what it means to testify about him and for him, and leading me to a place where I think my testimony can truly benefit, encourage, and give hope to others. I want to help the broken, discouraged, disillusioned, and searching find their way to God. That won’t happen if I am testifying about the pain and brokenness I experienced. Instead I am choosing to learn how to change my testimony so that it is about Christ, a life with God, and the life-changing restoration, healing, and redemption that has occurred in my life. That is what I want to share with others. That is what will change and affect lives.

Have you ever witnessed a parent pushing a child to apologize for something when you can clearly tell they do not feel sorry? Confession needs to come from our heart or it really isn’t confession, at least it is a seriously flawed confession. Every day we sin and break the relationship with have with God and often with others. We need to confess, and truly repent of our sin so we can have restored fellowship with God. This quote from Whiter than Snow by Paul David Tripp brings that point to life.

“I admitted what I said was wrong, and that’s a good thing, but there are two potential flaws in this confession. The first is it could be that the only reason I admitted to this wrong was that I was caught red-handed. I may not have been grieved at all by what I’d said. I may have confessed simply because I was in trouble. The second flaw could be that the confession was only a confession of the behavior (and that’s a good thing as far as it goes) but not the confession from a heart that’s behind the behavior. Here’s the point. It’s only when I’m grieved by my sin and acknowledge that this sin is heart-deep that my confession will be followed by the turning of repentance. You see, I speak unkindly to my wife not because my schedule is busy or because she’s less than perfect, but because there are things that I want (such as success, control, approval) and when she gets in the way of these things, I’m immediately irritated.”

“What results when you confess because you’re deeply grieved by what you’ve done? What happens when you acknowledge that your physical sin is caused by a heart that’s run amok? The result is that you turn, really turn. What do I mean? I mean that you don’t just turn away from the physical sin pattern, but your heart turns to God in new and deeper ways. What does this mean? It means that rather than being driven by the craving of the delivery of your little kingdom desires by the people in circumstances around you, your heart begins to be motivated by big kingdom purposes. True confession always results in living for something bigger.”

I have been reflecting on salvation and how we can know if someone is saved or not. It doesn’t seem like there a widespread accepted way to know with certainty. Some say you just have to pray a prayer, others believe it is much more complex and the way is so narrow that few will enter it. Why isn’t this something that is clear at least to other believers?

About six weeks ago I was introduced to the concepts of theologies and learned that there are at least three main theologies: Free Grace, Lordship Salvation, and Arminianism. I wonder how many people really know what their church leaders believe and teach, and what percentage of American believers fall into each group. My guess is that most American’s do not know about Lordship Salvation, and that many churches are a mixed mess of different theologies and beliefs. If that is true, then how can we know truth, how can we stand firm in what is truth, and how can we be assured that what we believe about salvation is correct? If we are teaching incorrect things we are sinning and damaging God’s kingdom…a scary thought!

According to this site there are evidences that can be used to prove or disprove ones salvation:

  • Here are the seven evidences that can not be used to prove or disprove ones salvation (because they can be counterfeited by a false believer) : Visible Morality, Intellectual Knowledge, Religious Involvement, Active Ministry, Conviction of Sin, Assurance, and Time of Decision.
  • Here are the nine evidences that are the fruit of true salvation: Love for God, Repentance from Sin, Genuine Humility, Devotion to God’s Glory, Continual Prayer, Selfless Love, Separation from the World, Spiritual Growth and Obedient Living.

I know that I come from a background with a mixed mess of theologies and I want to know with absolute certainty that I am saved. I feel certain I am saved and have been for 25 years, but others (including my pastor) have recently doubted that and said that I can speak the language and talk the talk but they don’t see a changed heart and do not believe I am a believer (I believe that is because I was deeply confused by a stronghold of sin which clouded my mind and by lack of proper Bible teaching). It makes me wonder how we can be certain and how we can know anyone is truly saved or not.

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