Monday, June 29, 2009

Somebody, Please, Smack Me Upside the Head

In my last three posts I shared with you what God revealed to me about my sin of failing to submit to spiritual authority. I shared some of the consequences of rejecting those in authority over me and how freeing it is to submit and how important it is to heed the instruction of those God has placed over you. Today I want to share some of the things in my life that brought me to the point that I recognized my sin and was finally able to do something about it. I want to share because I think it will highlight the way God works in our lives, through His Church, the Body of Christ, His Word, and through circumstances.

It is hard to know exactly where to start, but I will start at the point that I realized that I was in a spiritual desert. You can read more about that here and/or here. I heard a message (Jim Mindling of Open Door Christian Church in Elyria, OH) one day that opened my eyes to the fact that I was in a dry place spiritually and that I was in that desert place for a reason. Up until that point, I just felt like a failure in my Christian walk because I was so stuck and felt useless in the Kingdom. Here is one of the first places that God started using people in my life to bring me up out of the desert.

My friend Debbie, who was the person who originally shared the gospel with me, told me one day in early summer of 2007 that she had heard a message and that message was for me. She felt it would speak into my life and help me with the place I was in spiritually. She had no idea how life changing hearing that message would be, so I chalk it up to the providence of God.

At the same time I heard that message and was pondering it, our church began a summer series in our SaLT groups that explored how small groups should look and what their purpose within our churches should be. That study impacted me because it forced me to see how I was not transparent with the people in my group. Small groups within our churches should promote and foster deep meaningful relationships amongst believers and if I am not sharing about where I am spiritually, how are the people I surround myself supposed to know how to pray for me, or how to help me?

I really took that study seriously and it also made me consider another message I had heard earlier in 2007 about "doing life together". I started thinking about how I had been in the same SaLT group for years, but didn't feel intimately connected with anyone in it. I wasn't sharing life with anybody, I was meeting with them weekly studying God's Word, but not living it out. I was not experiencing any type of spiritual connection and thus was missing the point of "Sharing and Learning Truth" or "Serving and Learning Together" or "Sharing and Learning Together" or whatever SaLT stands for! I became acutely aware that as Christians we do need to be intentional about reaching out to our brothers and sisters in Christ, carrying one another's burdens, praying with one another, confessing our sins to one another and learning to love God together. We weren't meant to do it on our own. So, one day in a SummerSaLT gathering I confessed I was in a spiritual desert and that it was sad that people in my group may have had no idea.

I am introverted and so for me to reach out to people takes some extra effort on my part and requires me to really step out of my comfort zone. I made a conscious decision to go to a woman in my group that I felt would be good mentor because of her spiritual maturity and also for the fact that she seemed to be affected by the study of what a small group should be as well. It seemed we both were desiring to experience "doing life together". What is interesting to note here is that for years my friend Katie felt that Karen would be a good match for me in that sense and so through Katie's urging, I went to Karen. We both prayed about it and a connection was formed. We began to meet for prayer, study and fellowship consistently every couple of weeks and have been doing so ever since. It has enriched my life tremendously!

Many months later, in January of 2008, God placed another person in my life. Again, armed with my readiness to step out of my comfort zone of introvertedness and "do life together" I went out on a limb and contacted a person whom I had only had limited "conversation" with online. When we met we immediately hit it off and a year and a half later we are close friends. What has been so special to me about the relationship with my friend Ellen, is that there is a comfortableness in sharing. Also, because she was just getting to know me and came to my life with an unpredjudiced view of who I am, she was able to see things in it that I never had before. She helped me to see things that needed some attention and encouraged me to see things with a different perspective. She was very patient with me as I have stumbled through this past year! LOL

Last May I took my first steps out of the spiritual desert I was stranded in for so long. For the first time in years I was experiencing a newness with God again. I was feeling His Presence in my life. I could pray again! With a renewed sensitivity to the Spirit of the Living God, I was about to go through some spiritual struggles that would eventually lead me into a place of revelation, confession, repentance and growth.

My friend Katie has also been instrumental throughout my spiritual struggle in the desert and loved me unconditionally through it all. She has always been a source of comfort in that way and has put up with a lot of the consequences of my being there. She dealt with my critical spirit, skeptism, doubt, short-temper, and all other things associated with not being in right relationship with God. She has also adjusted to me as I've been growing in the emergence of a new spiritual place in my life. Believe me, it hasn't been easy.

For years I placed the blame on my lack of spiritual growth on various things like other people, broken things in my house, finances not being where I'd like them, studying too much brainiac stuff at church and not paying attention to heart conditions, but never did I look to myself. The people God put in my life, Katie, Karen, Ellen, as well as many at Northbrook Church, by praying for me and helping me see certain things finally broke through.

Finally I got the smack upside the head I needed and went to counsel with a pastor. (Some of that I shared about in previous posts so I won't go back there with this post. ) When I think back to first being told to listen to a message about being in a spiritual desert and then watching how God orchestrated events, circumstances and people all around me to gently prompt me out of the desert and into His oasis, I'm in awe. It bloggles the mind! He was gentle and merciful through this whole process and to Him belongs the glory!

I've learned so much through this experience, and one main thing I hope to always remember is to listen to the people God has placed in my life. Not everybody is matter of fact and gets to the point right away and some Godly wisdom and insight was shared with me but I was too blind, or stubborn, to see it. I hope that I have learned to be more attentive to the words people speak to me. I am praying that it won't take someone smacking me upside the head to point out my sin, but if it does, I pray that God puts that person, or people, there with the conviction to do it. I sure am thankful that He did this time.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Identify the Enemy and Win (Part II)

In part one of this blog I shared how God spoke to me through creation and how I prayed for Him to show me the truth about my life and bring any lies into the light. He did and still is….

Later that night, He showed me who the real enemy was and how I had been deceived for years. The battle was not between me and others. The "others" were on my side and the enemy was disguised as my advocate. I saw those who loved me as though they were out to destroy me and the one who sought to destroy me as my friend. I had been going through a time of heavy oppression and I didn't even know it! I was deceived into rebellion, isolation, loneliness, and heartbreak. What should have been a place I could run to for rest had become a polluted waste. It was a slow fade that happened without my detection over a long period of time.

This was the great awakening that brought me to the other side of a long and difficult battle for freedom. It brought me to my knees in repentance and I let it all go. I handed it over to the only One who could carry my load…finally. God shined His light in the darkness, helping me to discern the truth from the lies. Now, with His help, I am cleaning up the mess and rebuilding from the ruins. Since that night of revelation, I have learned so much more and I am continuing to learn. That night, the scales fell from my eyes. I was able to identify the true enemy and it brought victory to a long and seemingly hopeless battle.

Since then, there has been a well spring of joy flooding up and out of me! I am able to love those I once saw as my enemies..and see how much they have been loving me. Even better, I have put my dependence on God because I have realized that it is humanly impossible for people to fill me with joy. Circumstances cannot bring me joy. These things can bring moments of happiness but not lasting joy rooted deep within. My joy can only come from the Holy Spirit of God.

Often we blame others and circumstances for the darkness we experience when really, we only need to take a closer look at the pollution we have allowed to seep within our own heart. God opened my eyes and brought His light into the darkness. He has exposed the pollution and cleaned the mess I made. What is even more amazing is that even when my heart was filthy...He did not leave. He sat in the midst of it all and waited for me to meet Him there...just like I left the peninsula at first, but was drawn to go back and seek Him in the midst of it all…and that is where I found Him. He is still changing me, growing me, and purifying me with His righteousness more and more every day. He is creating in me a clean heart and renewing a steadfast spirit within me daily (Psalm 51:10 NIV).

This isn't much different than when God's people in Ezra turned from God and intermarried with those who would pollute their lives and turn them from God. It isn't much different than when Eve was deceived in the Garden of Eden. The same enemy who lived then still roams the earth seeking whom He will devour (I Peter 5:8). But when God's people humble themselves and pray and seek His face and turn from their wicked ways, He will hear from Heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chron. 7:14). He is a God of new beginnings, of forgiveness and of love. He alone is the source of pure joy everlasting. I once again have placed my hope in God and God alone. He has made me clean. Now I can grow.

Identify the Enemy and Win (Part I)

Ezra 9:10-11
"But now, O our God, what can we say after this? For we have disregarded the commands you gave through your servants and prophets when you said: 'The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. by their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other.'"

Who would ever think that I might actually receive revelation from the book of Ezra? This just goes to show that God's Word is truly alive and we have fellowship with Him when we study His Truth and are obedient to what we learn.

A good friend and colleague said something to me recently that changed my life. It was in regards to the spiritual battle I have been fighting. He told me, "The battle is fought in prayer". Jesus didn't win the battle on the cross, the battle was already won by then. He won the battle in the garden when He prayed. This was a defining moment for me. I went home that night and surrendered to pray fervently until I reached the promised land of peace.

My prayers began turning up the heat and the battle was becoming almost unbearable. Finally, one day, I took a day trip with Sue to go back to Pickwick, a place where we once found peace and joy in God's presence. My heart was broken and I felt like I was about to go under. God seemed so far away. Looking back, I do believe God brought us there that day.

I fought the idea of going on this trip. I was too depressed. But, she talked me into it. In previous visits to this place, I had experienced so much joy and growth. But, this time, unknown to me, it was not going to be what I expected. My heart was heavy on this particular day. I felt as if life had beaten me to a pulp and I was running out of strength to go on. I needed strength that only God could give.

We arrived at our favorite place on the peninsula to great disappointment. We began to make our way to the very end where many years ago, we would relax and enjoy the beauty of God's creation. As we made our way there, we began no notice a stench in the air. As we continued to walk, we found the source of the stench. First we observed a few feathers, then more and more as we continued on further (hoping things would improve). Sue commented that it looked like there was some kind of bird fight. It wasn't long before we had to turn around and go back. The area had been saturated with carcasses of dead animals, fish, and pollution. Our favorite spot had been severely neglected.

From a distance it still looked beautiful. But as we took a deeper look, we began to see the filth and it was truly disgusting. We moved to a different area where it was nicer but I was drawn to go back and see if God was trying to tell me something in all of it.

I walked along the shore to avoid the worst, made my way to the very end of the peninsula, sat on a rock and watched the waves roll in. I spent a very long time contemplating and praying about the things I was struggling with. My surroundings began to paint a picture of my life. I had no idea how God was about to move. He always speaks to me through His creation and I knew He had a message for me. So, I began to pray and ask Him what He wanted me to learn from this experience.

He began with calling my attention again to the fact that once this place was once a beautiful place to find rest and peace. But neglect and carelessness transformed it into a polluted mess. Beneath all of that waste, however, there was still a beautiful place. It only needed some tender, loving care and attention to restore it to what it was before. It was then that I began to take a deeper look at a polluted mess within...the place in my heart where once I would run to and meet with God. I had let so many things in life pollute that place. I unknowingly carried baggage that was so old and it "smelled" as bad as the peninsula. I had let co-dependency, pride, selfishness, envy, and insecurity, create a mess not much unlike that which I was observing around me. This was the reason for my darkness...not people or circumstances. I had let circumstances determine my peace. I had been looking to people for joy, thinking that because God wasn't flesh, that He could not fill that need. When in reality, it's because he is not flesh that he can! I spent hours with God and very little time with Sue that day at the river. I prayed. I cried. I cried hard. I asked for wisdom. Eventually, I asked Him to show me the truth and bring darkness to light, no matter how painful it might be. This was the beginning of victory and the path that would lead me to joy.

A Little Something I've Learned About Spiritual Authority (Part III)

For years the message I was getting from leadership that warned me about a possible co-dependency issue was always there in the back of my brain no matter how I tried to dismiss it. I don't want to give the impression that they were hounding me or constantly "holding me accountable" or anything like that. Quite the contrary; they said it and I rejected it. I rejected their belief that I was in bondage to a co-dependent relationship, and basically that was it. They just kept on loving me, edifying me, encouraging me and helping me when I needed help. They are spiritually minded enough to understand that I simply wasn't ready to receive their instruction and were willing to wait until I was.

Over the years I had been growing more discontent with the state of my life and a lot of it had to deal with my idea of what "dying to self" meant. This is where my co-dependency issue and spiritual immaturity collided and led to my sin of rebellion and failure to submit to authority.

Followers of the Sisters' Weblog know that since 2001 I have been sharing a home with Katie and her two children. It takes a lot of sacrifice and work to be successful in any family and/or framily (the term we coined to describe the bringing together of friends + family), and for that matter any relationship, and I got this idea in my head that I was dying to self in all of it. I sacrificed a lot of time, energy and finances. I began to be torn about it because I believe Christians are called to die to self and we are always to put others' before ourselves but to what end? I really began to struggle because I started to wonder if I had overstepped my boundaries? Had a given until it hurts? And beyond? I started to beat myself up over all of these questions and more. This was very detrimental to my spiritual life and it was all so very confusing.

Here is where the problem was with me; I basically took over and controlled everything in the framily when it came to day to day stuff, finances and "fixing things" to the point where it became such a bondage. I got tired of "having to do everything", but that's just it, I didn't have to do everything! I wanted to do everything and wouldn't let others do anything. Like a control freak! I began to carry burdens that were not mine. I carried them until they weighed me down to the point I was crushed and became useless.

I didn't conscientiously make the decision to do this, but it is what gradually started to happen to the point where I was getting so frustrated and worn out, even became resentful. Please understand that I am not placing any blame on any other party, this is totally on me and my issue with needing to help other people to the point it becomes destructive to me, and to them.

Another aspect is that I want to make others' happy. I will constantly do things so other people benefit, even if it is to my detriment. People don't even have to ask me for help, I just offer it and do it. This can become a problem because I will allow myself to be put in situations that I always feel a “need" to yield to another person's wants or needs. After awhile this starts to get to me because I start thinking "Hey! What about me?" and then I struggle because I should not have thoughts like that when I should be dying to self. This is so difficult for me to explain, but the main point is, I have an unhealthy need to make others happy and justify it by saying "I'm dying to self". The problem is then amplified because I am "dying to self" outside of the will of God. Anything I do outside of God's will is my will, and there is no dying to self in that at all. This would include not being obedient to spiritual authority.

My spiritual leaders saw this destructive behavior, as well as some other things that were destructive to me spiritually, and lovingly over the years tried to help me see it. They had insight into that which I could not see.

When things got to the point where I just couldn't handle it anymore, I had a friend who said to me one day "If you had obeyed years ago ... it may not have gotten this bad." Those words really struck a chord in me. It's not that I didn't know it, but she forced me to admit it to myself. She encouraged me to trust my pastor and other leaders and trust that God can give them insight into my life spiritually. I took a step of faith and as a result I have learned to trust them in order for them to speak truth to me, help me to see areas of weakness and help me to overcome any bondages associated with them.

My pastor lovingly pointed out to me when I finally was willing to submit to spiritual authority, wouldn't have yielding to leadership have been dying to self? It was easier to do what you wanted to do than to do what we were trying to help you see needed done. BAM! That was a true moment of enlightenment to me about dying to self. He was right. All along I was doing what I wanted to do and the end result was very destructive.

I also repented to him and told him I realize that I had not submitted to his spiritual authority over my life. I didn't get an "I told you so", what I got instead was a life affirming "I love this!"

A Little Something I've Learned About Spiritual Authority (Part II)

I mentioned in the last post that there were people around me, including some leaders in my church, who on occasion "hinted" to me that I may have an issue with co-dependency. I never really took that warning seriously and in fact was able to shrug it off without much effort, even to the point where I denied a problem and would say "they don't know what they are talking about", "I am responsible for my own life"or "they don't know my life, how can they know anything?".

Hindsight is 20/20 and as I look back over the years I can actually start to see why I ended up in a spiritual depression. Even as I was in it, I was blaming my presence there on various things including discontentment with my life and job, and studying so much theology that my brain was packed and my heart was empty. But, now I see exactly what it was! It was the thing that separates us from the love of God. It was sin.

My sin was rebellion. I rebelled against the spiritual authority in my life. I absolutely refused to submit to them. Much of this was done out of ignorance, but ignorance is never a defense, and it was also out of a lack of trust not only in my leaders, but obviously in my lack of trust in God. I didn't trust His anointed. That is never good!

Hebrews 13:17 tells me to obey my spiritual leaders. I Timothy 5:17-18 reminds me that elders are to be honored. I Peter 5:2-3 tells elders they are to guide the local church by setting its vision and direction, and in that to lead the members individually and collectively into productivity. A spiritual leader called by God is obviously entrusted by God with an awesome responsibility that He divinely equips them to do. Who am I to say that they don't know what they are talking about?

God put me into a body of believers and in that body are leaders that God has anointed. These people have been given a responsibility to watch over my spiritual well being and when I resist that, I am not allowing them to speak truth into my life. I am not allowing God to speak truth into my life! When you don't allow God to speak into your life --- you end up in a dry, dark and lonely desert wondering why you don't hear from God. No wonder!

None of this revelation was made known to me in an instant. It took months of working through it in prayer and with the help of intervention from other believers. I guess I'm going into a Part III which will delve a bit into the process of how all this was revealed to me, what all I have learned, and how it has affected me.

A Little Something I've Learned About Spiritual Authority

For those of you who faithfully follow the Sisters' Weblog, I feel I must apologize for the lack of posting for the better part of a year now. There are reasons for the lack of posting, but most of them revolve around the fact that for the past year and a half to two years, I have been enduring a spiritual growth spurt. A lot of the learning I have acquired has required me to think and contemplate, meditate, pray, and maybe not announce everything I have experienced to the entire world through the blog. Also, during this season of growth I have thought things and I have said and done things that were less than pleasing to the Lord. I must tell the reader as well that I want what I share to edify and not tear down. It has been a difficult season to be sure, but as God would have it, He has and is using it for His purpose and to grow me more into the likeness of His Son.

A little over a year ago I emerged from a spiritual desert and with somewhat new eyes I have been more aware of His Presence in my life and how He is working in it. With a renewed sense of purpose and understanding I stepped out of the darkness of the desert and into the Light which exposed some things that I never saw before in myself. It exposed weaknesses and sin.

While there are multiple things I learned about myself in my Christian walk over the course of this past year or so, I have narrowed this post down to the one major breakthrough and that is what I learned about yielding to spiritual authority.
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17)
For many years I have had those in authority over me telling me, or rather inferring to me, that I have a co-dependent relationship.

I balked at that. For years. But, what I didn't realize is that my pastor and leaders in my church had insight spiritually that I did not have.

So, what was my sin in all this? My sins were many, but the biggest was that I didn't recognize my leaders as spiritual authority over me, therefore I rebelled and didn't submit them. I was spiritually blind.

This post is starting to get rather long and I do want to get into how exactly the revelation of these things came to be understood, so I will consider this Part I, next to come in Part II is some of how I began to see that when I am spiritually blinded, others' may have insight into my life that I just can't see.