Saturday, January 18, 2020

CoDeWo Nightmare #1: Jesus in His Hometown

Let’s go in deeper into Jesus’ life and see how He handled people. Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you where you could be handling someone differently not based on what you think is right, but looking at how Jesus would do it.  Yes:  this is a WWJD? moment. 

It may sound cliché, but waiting on the Holy Spirit to give you the “how” means you won’t be jumping into a situation without thinking.  Taking a moment to to evaluate what is being asked of us is good for us.  It gives us a chance to breathe and wait on Him—listening for His voice and peace.

For our first CoDeWo Nightmare, we are going to look at Luke 4:14-30.  I want to set the stage first.  Jesus has been baptized by John and was then led by the Holy Spirit into the desert to undergo an ordeal authored by Satan.  Satan, sneering at Jesus’ new found power, wants Him to compromise it and use it for personal glory, not for the Kingdom of His Father.  Once that ordeal is over, Jesus returns to Galilee, “filled with the Holy Spirit’s power.” (Luke 4:14)

In the Jordan River, God had ordained and affirmed His beautiful Son; in the desert, Satan mocked that affirmation and sought to undermine Jesus’ ministry before it began, but to no avail.  No Jesus is on His way.  

Jesus goes all over the Galilee region, and teaches in each town’s local synagogue, and He receives “praise by everyone.” (verse 15).  His ministry starts out well.

Then He goes to His hometown, Nazareth.  Everyone He grew up with lives there.  His family still resides there.  He is that local Boy making good.  He goes to the synagogue on a particular Sabbath.  Why?  The reading of the Scriptures in synagogues then and in synagogues today are cyclic.  Each portion is read at a certain time during the year, so by the year’s end, the Scriptures have been read.  Jesus comes into His hometown synagogue on the day where a specific portion of Isaiah will be read. 

Jesus is handed the scroll containing Isaiah.  He unrolls the scroll to the day's reading, and proceeds to read:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…(Is. 61:1-2)

He rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and sits down.  It is the custom for the reader to comment on what has been read.  Everyone is looking at Jesus intently.  Why?  They know Him.  They watched Him grow up.  They know His laughter, His moods and His ways.  They walked past his father's shop, and saw Him at work.  They saw Him pack up and walk with His father to other towns to complete jobs.  They knew Him.  Or so they thought.

Jesus proceeds to say, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (verse 21)
The congregants are pleased:  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’” they asked. (verse 22)

They all knew the Scriptures.  They knew what followed Jesus’ reading: 

…and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.
For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed. (Is. 61:2-9)

To those sitting in that synagogue that day, Jesus’ words are refreshing to their souls.  They are  fervent Jews, well aware of God’s restoration of Israel after the devastation wrought by the Babylonians and the captivity that lasted seventy years.  These Jews have no trouble equating their current woeful oppression under the Romans to the words read and unread ones that follow.  

They sit beaming with the knowledge that the Messiah will restore them to their former glory:  the Chosen People of God, with their own kingdom of priests, prophets and kings.

But Jesus knows what they are thinking beyond the obvious parallel to their situation.  He knows that they want miracles—spectacles, entertainment—to distract them from their dreary day to day existence.  But Jesus will not yield to their demands.  Isn’t that what the desert was all about?  There are no shortcuts to winning hearts and minds. 

Jesus now cuts to the heart of the matter:

Jesus said to them, ‘Surely you will quote this proverb to me: “Physician, heal yourself!” And you will tell me, “Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.”
‘Truly I tell you,” he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.’ (verses 25-27)

OK.  Big deal.  Jesus gives commentary on these verses—something that is expected by the congregants. But wait a minute!  They erupt in fury.  They mob Him out of the synagogue.  They force Him to the edge of a hill with the rather unfriendly idea of pushing Him off, so they can stone Him.  Blasphemy—the dishonoring of God—demands no less, and this crowd is happy to oblige, for Jesus dishonored God with His words. 

As CoDeWo’s, this scene sets our teeth on edge.  Controversy.  Anger.  Raging conflict.  Really upset people.  Blame.  Shame.  Finger pointing.  Approval to disapproval so fast that even a falling star could not keep up.

What happened? 

As Jesus read the comforting words to the people in Isaiah, they applied the promises to now. God would restore them.  The Romans would receive the vengeance of the Lord, and His Chosen would reign in peace. They hunger for a miracle!  Jesus, with His track record, seems to be a likely candidate for a miracle of nation-changing proportions.  But Jesus has no intention of miraculously bringing about a Roman-free Israel.

Jesus has the gall to apply Isaiah’s words not to Israel alone, but to the Gentiles.  Can’t you just hear them…

  • Yuck.  Those people?  Those disgusting, fornicating, murdering, arrogant Romans and all others who are not the chosen of God like we are!  He's applying the words to them and us!
  • He is saying we are not the only ones upon whom God’s favor will rest!
  • Zion is us, and all the best God has to give belongs to us!  Never the Gentiles!  They never follow God’s law and we do!
  • Who is this guy?  He has calloused hands and is a villager, just like us.  Who does He think He is?
  • Yeah, He’s citing the Scriptures accurately, but so what?  We are chosen and we have plenty of verses to prove it! 

So, Jesus, at the start of His ministry is almost killed by his hometown team.  Just the yelling and mobbing would had me back-peddling faster than a clown on speed.  Yet Jesus says nothing more.  He walks through the crowd and out of town.  No apologies, hand wringing or wanting their approval.  He walks silently away.  

There is a lesson here for us CoDeWo’s.  What is it?  We will explore that in the next installment. 

Forgive me for the long times in between posts.  We just bought a new house and life just got real crazy!  I will try my best to blog more frequently.  Thank you for your understanding and for reading my blog!

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Why Do We Try to Out-Jesus Jesus?

Interesting question.  If we have accepted Jesus as Savior and Lord, and then desire to follow Him with all of our heart, why, over time, do we lose our joy and wonder if we are either really Christians or if we really know how to follow Him?

Co-dependence is not just behavior.  It is a way to see the world.  If people need me, then every problem in every person I meet is my problem.  I have actually dreaded phone calls in the past; I was certain it was yet another person needing me and depending on me to fix a problem. 

Maybe a good comparison is a firefighter.  You sit at home or you are at work, and the phone rings, a text or email comes through and off you go to fight a fire.  You might even arrive and see the person throwing gasoline on it, but you will still hunker down and help the person, because that’s what following Jesus is all about.  Right?


Let’s open this up with a key scripture about what makes a follower and what does not:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matt. 25:31-46)

These verses are our inspiration for serving Jesus for as we serve others, we serve Him.  That is very straightforward.  The “least of these” is a clarion call to us.  Look at the categories:
·         Hungry
·         Thirsty
·         Stranger
·         Needing clothes
·         Sick
·         Prisoner

In all the years I was assisting others, none of them fell into these categories.  Perhaps a sister in law who needed money for my nieces because my brother was spending it all on drugs, but that’s as close as I got.

Look at these for a moment.  These are people who are lacking the bare necessities: food, drink and clothing.  They are helpless for they are sick.  They are the ones who have wandered in, and need a community connection.  They are isolated from the community, for they are prisoners. James will later comment:

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear?

Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law... There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you. (James 2:1-9 & 13 NLT)

Makes sense, huh?  We like to associate with people who look and sound like us.  Or, we enjoy hanging out with those we admire: ones with money, status, celebrity.  The poor?  Not so much.  But James reminds us in the words of Jesus to love others as we love ourselves.  Because in the face of others is Jesus Himself.  So, in loving the lowest of the low, we are loving Him. 

The rich do not need the bare necessities of life.  When they are sick or accused of wrong, they have enough money to remedy their situation.  The poor?  No.  Mercy and love are the hallmark of those who follow Jesus.  Otherwise, if we favor the rich and disdain the poor, we are no different in our behavior than the rest of the world.

James goes on to talk about faith without works.  Again, he is being very biblical—you can’t earn salvation but you can certainly demonstrate it by what you do in Jesus’ name:

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2:14-18)

As CoDeWo’s, we are always eager to show our faith.  Yes, some spiritual pride gets laced into what we do, and we believe if we don’t help that person, that person will never change. 

Here’s my question after pondering these verses:  Was I helping those who were lacking the bare necessities—food, drink, clothes?  Was I helping those who were sick and needed me to be by their side? Did I make someone new in my church or community feel welcomed?  Did I help by visiting someone who was in prison? 

My answer is mixed.  I saw need and I tried to meet it, but mostly I helped those who could have helped themselves.  I simply took over, making me feel good about all the good deeds I was doing.  Those I helped were appreciative, yes, but they also started acting entitled to my help.  So, I was caught up in feeling needed and yet seeing no way to stop what I was doing. 

In other words, I was trying to out-Jesus Jesus.  I was doing more than He asked for; more than He told me to do; I was on auto-pilot and felt I didn’t need to check in with Him.  I was doing His will!  Following His teaching! 


No.  I never asked Him, “Is this Your will?”  I just assumed it was, for helping others is always His will.


Is it? 

This is where my co-dependence slid over my faith, and melted my faith into unhealthy behavior.  In the oceans, the gigantic plates the continents sit on slide under one another in what are called, “subduction zones.”  The plate sliding under its neighbor gets pushed further and further into the earth, and it goes from hard rock to melted molten rock. 

This is what I think of when I consider my faith back then.  It was pushed under others’ needs and melted into what I thought I needed to be.  I lost myself in those years, and didn’t have the rock-hard faith to say, “No,” or “I will get back to you.”  My guilt and wanting to serve Jesus motivated me to serve unhealthy people in unhealthy ways.  I lost who I was.  I didn’t stay in touch with Jesus but rolled out every morning on a mission.

So, if we follow Jesus, do we know His life intimately enough to really model Him in what we do? 

So, let’s look at Jesus’ life in how He interacted with others.  I will recount His dealings with others per the Word, and then reframe the incident in how I would have done it.  No, comparing my response and Jesus’ response will illuminate where I was.  Remember:  “The Word is a lamp onto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Ps. 119:105) 

I need illumination in how I behaved then and how I can truly follow Him now. I was so in the dark back then.  But His Word will give me the alternative to a co-dependent way of seeing life. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Spiritually Healthy Produce Section

We see the fruits of the Spirit from Galatians 5 on mugs, t-shirts and posters.  Sadly, we see them less often in the lives of those who call themselves Christians.  Most often, we don’t see them in our lives, or the fruits are tiny little green things.  Even if we desire to have these fruits, that is not enough.  We need the Holy Spirit working in and through us in order to have these fruits come about. 

A grapevine in a vineyard cannot simply produce fruit.  It must draw nutrients from the soil; energy from the sun; pollination from bees and birds and a stable environment from which to do all these things.  Jesus made it abundantly clear that the life He gives is the only way Christians produce fruit:
"Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me." (John 15:4)

Why are we to produce fruit? Jesus says, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." (John 15:5-8)

Our fruit, the greatest one being love, glorifies God and shows that His Spirit is indeed working in us.

So, you are no different from a grapevine. You must draw “nutrients” from His Word; energy from the Son; “pollination” (fellowship) from other believers and a stable environment from which to do all these things.

Being in a codependent relationship is very destabilizing, for you never know what the other person is going to demand of you.  You may yearn for the Spirit’s fruits, but you have roots in a ground that is constantly shifting, for unhealthy people are always in some kind of chaos and are living compromised lives.  They may love Jesus, but their decisions, attitude and lifestyle undermine what they say.  Their soil washes into yours and next thing you know, you are drawing sustenance from toxic soil.  Let’s go and inspect each fruit from the perspective of a CoDeWo.  Be open.  Listen to His Spirit.  You are not condemned if you are falling short.  Christ wants these fruits in us.  Why?  To glorify His Father.  These fruits give us a satisfying life, even when challenges arise. 

Love: As CoDeWo’s, we think we are loving as we reach out to broken people.  We view everyone as victims; any time we consider taking a step back and looking objectively at someone, we feel we are being unsympathetic, unloving and unchristian.  We long for others to love us, approve of us and make us feel as if we have a purpose in this world.  We are looking for love in all the wrong places. 
For those we rescue, they see love as a never-ending shopping list of needs they hand off to us.  These people, with their inner brokenness, will not be satisfied with what we do for them, because what we do will not fix their longings.  Broken people want love like everyone else, but they want it conditionally:  we must be there all the time for them, always loyal and always sympathetic.  We must be willing to listen to them over and over again.  We must reinforce their victimhood by agreeing with their view of the world and themselves. 

Joy: CoDeWo’s find joy when we bask under the warmth of someone’s approval.  We are joyful in thinking we are really making a difference in someone’s life.  Whenever we see the people we are rescuing actually do something positive, we rejoice.  But joy as a CoDeWo is always short-lived: There is always the next crisis around the corner.  Broken people identify with their brokenness.  The see themselves as either doing fine and everyone one else is at fault, or they are victims with no choice in their lives.  Joy is completely elusive to them.  If they have any joy, it is because they have created a circle of rescuers who validate their situation.

Peace: We know that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but peace for us quickly disappears when our phone rings.  Our peace of mind evaporates when we then must ponder all the ways we can improve the person’s situation.  Their lack of peace become ours.  I had a friend whose only peace came when she was out of cell phone range.  Otherwise, her phone rang day and night, and sadly, she would always answer it.  One time, she ran off at 3 o’clock in the morning to help someone whose parole officer had shown up.  The parole officer found this this person in violation of his parole; she felt she had to run and comfort him, despite his poor decision. Broken people’s lives will be anything but peaceful.  They are in situations where chaos is normal.  They are waiting for the crisis, and so are you.

Longsuffering: Our CoDeWo’s lives are certainly longsuffering, but, not in a biblical way.  I was co-dependent for my whole life.  I was always suffering on someone’s account.  All of my "rescuees," despite the hours and hours I spent with them, went their own way, with disastrous results.  So, the longsuffering we experience is not only watching people make the same mistakes over and over, but watching the consequences play out over the years.  Maybe we feel more spiritual than others for our suffering mimics Jesus’—but codependent suffering is not why Jesus suffered. Broken people cannot imagine life any other way.  Life is a vale of tears; their brokenness means that suffering, chaos and frustration is woven into everyday life and they see no way out of it.  The only thing they can do is draw you in and include you in their suffering.  Misery truly does love company.  

Gentleness:  This word in the Greek includes the meaning of “Usefulness, i.e. morally, excellence (in character or demeanor).”  It is hard for us to be gentle if we are partnering with people who are sinning to survive their broken lives.  Do we stand by while they lie?  Manipulate?  Snub us if we aren’t 100% loyal?  Do we give their pride full rein because we fear telling them the truth and knowing that they will treat us badly as a result? Or do we see this fruit as a kind of doormat, allowing others to walk on us all the time?  Broken people will survive any way they can.  They will compromise, tell lies and twist the truth in order to maintain their status as a victim.  Moral excellence is not compatible with survival mode living.

Goodness: We CoDeWo’s are good people.  We populate a lot of churches, with a sincere desire to ease suffering in others.  We are thus easily manipulated into situations by people who are on the look out for people like us.  Perhaps we started out as friends on a healthy level, but over time we saw red flags, indicating something was not quite right.  But we assumed that because we love Jesus and the person we are helping loves Jesus, we are both good people.  Maybe so, but survival mode makes people do things that are for their benefit alone.  Your goodness puts you right in their crossfire. 
Broken people find it hard to maintain goodness.  They use people for help them get by.  They tell others how they have been so wronged by the world.  They fail to tell the whole truth, for that would show they have contributed to their woe.  They may have good qualities.  But in order to survive, they tap into their pride to cover their fear and insecurity.  Pride is poisonous to goodness.

Faith:  Faith is God’s gift to us and we respond back with the very gift He gave us. The only thing God asks of us is to ask Him.   But CoDeWo’s add personal striving to their faith.  In other words, our faith becomes slowly tainted with works.  I may have faith that God will work in me but when I don’t see Him moving quickly enough, we saddle up and ride out to save someone.  We have faith but we add our own effort to the spiritual mix.  Faith is a stand alone fruit; Christ’s death on the cross saw to that: we can add nothing to the gift of faith.  But in the moment, we add our unhealthy selves to our faith and out the door we go.  Broken people want fixing and they want it now.  They are not prepared to wait as you wait upon the Lord for guidance, and they have lost faith that God will act in their lives, so they turn to you.  They have faith in you and that feeds your need for approval.  Broken people have a view of God that is layered with their own broken relationship.  Abusive father, abusive God.  Abandoned by loved ones, abandoned by God.  Uncaring God didn’t stop the sexual abuse; uncaring God will not stop this current issue either.  Our trauma affects how we think and respond; a broken person will respond in a way that requires you to assist.  Faith in a loving God is elusive to such a person; you by stepping in will become the object of that person faith and dysfunctional thinking. 

Meekness:  A meek person is one who is gentle and humble.  But without the strength, guidance and guidance that comes from waiting on Jesus and hearing His voice on how to respond, we CoDeWo’s are targeted and then manipulated by broken people.  They see meekness as weakness.  Jesus was meek but He was never weak. Gentleness and humility is not synonymous with being a victim.  People who are weak, helpless and unable to help themselves are operating from a kind of learned helplessness; they know that good Christian people will step up and step in.  Trust me, however:  if you fail to meet their needs, they will discard you and find someone else. 

Temperance:  Here’s great definition:  “Self-control (the virtue of one who masters his desires and passions, esp. his sensual appetites).”  OK:  Let’s consider that enabling someone with a lack of self-control or an addiction (or both) will never help them to overcome this challenge.  A CoDeWo helps this someone in the name of keeping the domestic peace or showing the love of Jesus (or both) and as a result, totally allows the person to carry on and not change.  Why would this broken person change?  Like a baby, the enabled person’s needs are met with little or no personal responsibility.  We, as CoDeWo’s, like to feel needed, and we will ignore any red flags that tell us that we are not helping the person but enabling them.  What is the difference?  When we enable broken people, we do things for them that they could do for themselves.  We think we are compassionately helping them, but we are really reinforcing their sense of being helpless victims.  Their view of the world is it is always against them; they cannot crawl out of the pit because they’ll just get pushed back in; they need you to help them because they are overwhelmed by their lot in life.  Thus, any thing that goes wrong will reinforce their learned helplessness, make you work harder and draw you deeper in feeling responsible for their lives.  They feel they need you; you feel needed, so the bonds draw tighter.  All the while you have a niggling question:  why, despite all the things you do and suggest, nothing ever changes in these people’s lives?  The same chaos year after year prevails, and why is there never any change?  You must exercise self-control, not as a fruitful quality, where the truth prevails, but in keeping these broken people happy.  Broken people do not wan the truth; they want to continue as victims. It is so much easier than taking personal responsibility for their lives.      

These verses in Galatians end with how we inspect our fruit: "Against such things there is no law. Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other."(Gal. 5:24-26)

Either we are operating in the Spirit or in the flesh.  Sadly, as CoDeWo’s, we operate in the flesh.  It hurts to say this, but it is true.  This is why, despite loving Jesus and walking in Him for so many years, my Christian life is filled with one co-dependent failure after another.  Only recently, have I seen that co-dependent behavior is not in harmony with Jesus.  It is a kind of identity crisis; it is not easy to recalibrate my life at almost 60, but I see that it is essential if I am to walk in the Spirit.

Monday, December 9, 2019

"Fleshy" Fruit Inspection

We all love the list of the fruits of the Spirit that is listed in Galatians, chapter 5.  But we breeze over the preceding verses where Paul lists the “fruits” of the flesh.  Let’s go over this list first:

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

Now, we will apply the list to CoDeWo’s (Codependent Women).  But wait!  I can hear you saying: Wow, Rhonda, this is a harsh list to apply to someone who is just trying to help someone else.

Perhaps, but unhealthy people’s fear begets our fear.  If we operate from a fearful self, Satan can step in, and wreck havoc in our lives.  Fear is an open door to Satan influencing our lives.  He gladly walks in and starts harassing our fearful heart. 

I will break the list down.  I will generalize the list.  Not all of these applied to me, nor to you, but each one can be a trap camouflaged under the guise of rescuing someone. 

The flesh, the sinful nature, is operating in both you and the unhealthy people you are trying to rescue.  You love the Lord, and perhaps so do the other people, but the flesh is dominating these co-dependent relationships.  These fleshy “fruits” apply to both parties. 

How does the Spirit talk to us about our lives, shining light into the darkest corners?  It is part of the armor of God we wear every day.  Paul outlines this armor in Ephesians 6.  In verse 17, he says, 

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

How does the Spirit of God use the Word of God?

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. (Heb. 4:12)

Allow the Spirit to speak to you about these fleshly fruits.  But remember:  The Spirit wants to illuminate our sin to free us, not to condemn us:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:14)

Jesus has set us free.  But until we face and are healed of our brokenness that demands we act in a co-dependent way with others, we are in bondage to our past.  Our salvation is secure in Christ, if we have asked Him into our heart and confessed Him as Lord, but we can still operate from a driving fear.  We love the Lord, but our hearts don’t understand what His freedom truly means.
We are new in Christ, to be sure:

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! (2 Cor. 5:17 NLT)

Our old nature, however, tries to reassert itself time and time again.  This is why we move from an awareness of our sins to our sin nature itself and how it needs to be crucified with Christ: 

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

Let’s look at these “fruits”:  
Sexual immorality:  How many affairs started when someone sought to help someone else?  A woman or man in a teetering marriage confides in you, and soon affections between the both of you develop.  You may not feel affection but perhaps the other person feels it for you.  This can lead to…

Impurity & lustful pleasures:  An affair doesn’t have to involve the act of sex.  It can be an emotional affair where you seek out the other person over talking to your spouse.  Texts, emails, social media may all contribute to an involvement that is not of God as you and the other person are enjoying this distant and “safe” involvement with another. Or, you are acting as a friend, but you sense this person is seeking more than just help, and has romantic feelings for you.  You feel you should break the relationship off, but you don’t want to offend or hurt the other person.  So you continue the friendship, even though you feel uneasy about it.  A part of you, deep inside, is flattered by this attention.

Idolatry:  Your need to rescue others begins to take precedence over your love for God.  Why?  You receive immediate gratification when you are in others’ lives and you have lots to do to make their pain go away.  You worry, contemplate, stress over and in general spend so much time worrying about this person that your walk with God gets sidelined.  To keep your guilt at bay, you tell God, “But I am helping them in Your Name!” Or, the people you are rescuing may view you as a substitute for God.  They don’t have to pray, read their Bible or spend time listening to Him.  They have you. 

Sorcery:  Let’s call this “spiritual warfare.”  Some people have sadly given Satan a stronghold in their lives by their addictions, pride, hatred, compromised mental health or brokenness.  If Satan is a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour, (1 Peter 5:8) then sin gives him access.  You enter in with good intentions to rescue others and you run into a darkness, a kind of spiritual force that stymies your efforts.  You are not sure why, but you sense something is deeply wrong with these people, yet you keep on rescuing, not knowing what to do.  Or, as you attempt to rescue others, you continue to enable their sin.  Not intentionally, of course, but because you do not want to offend them, you do not speak truth into their lives.  You continue to step in, willing to clean up the consequences of their actions.  The worst part of this is by rescuing them all the time, you feed their pride.  They don’t feel the need to change for to them, all is well, and they are never at fault.  Pride is the ultimate stronghold of Satan in our lives.  In your effort to rescue such people, you are helping to deepen their pride, which deepens Satan’s stronghold.  They are still the responsible party for this, but we are not to contribute to pride, whether in ourselves or in others.

Hostility:  You, your family and those who advise you may tell you these people are more damaged than you know, and that helping them will be way over your head.  You insist only you understand them and thus are able to help them.  You have conflict with those who really do care for you.  You side with the very people who will use you and really don’t care deeply for you. Or, you face this anger from the very ones you are trying to help, and in your need for approval, you continue to help them, allowing them to continue with this sinful emotion.  They have you to blame for their choices and they know you will not argue with them on this. 

Quarreling:  As you rescue others, and you bask in their friendship and kind words, you will run into healthy people who disagree with your method of rescue.  You will argue with them, and avoid them after awhile.  You are confused:  why can’t everyone understand the people you help like you do?  You are then isolated with the people you are rescuing.  Objectivity will go out the window, and all you are left with is their skewed view of the world. Or, the people you are rescuing will quarrel with any and all suggestions that would actually help their situation.  Why?  These people identify with their victimhood.  They are not really seeking a solution; they want to be the center of your attention.

Jealousy:  The people that you are rescuing insinuate that you have it all; because your life is so good, they trigger your guilt and you want to spread your blessings around.  It has nothing to do with your wise choices and their poor choices; they are jealous of you and they can’t resist making comments.  You pour a balm over their hurting hearts with your resources, time and money.   Sadly, your “enough” is never enough for them.  

Outbursts of anger:  You have to ignore your healthy emotions in order to rescue others.  You see the consequences of their actions, their pride and their unwillingness to change even the smallest part of their lives.  They constantly lament their woe.  You can’t hold it in all the time, and sadly, you tend to take your frustration on those closest to you. Or, you are downrange of these people’s anger, and you personalize it.  You then work all the harder to rescue them.  They end up controlling you with their negative emotions.

Selfish ambition:  We CoDeWo’s would never admit to our spiritual pride.  We dig having the world upon our shoulders, for it means we are special.   We are head and shoulders above the average Christian, for we sacrifice time, effort and money to help anyone who asks.  Although the burden of carrying everyone’s problems is overwhelming, our one consolation is how much we suffer for God.
Or, simply put, we enable others’ selfish ambition by doing everything for them that they could do for themselves.  We feed their need to control others.  If we question or go against their demands, we are discarded.  Because, in the end, it is all about them and their lives.  We are not special to them; we are disposable, for there is always another CoDeMo (Codependent Mode) to tap into and control.

Dissension & division:  When you enable others, by excusing their sinful behavior and arguing with healthy people that you are not wrong about these people, you can divide families, friendships and churches.  You try to minimize these people’s behavior and excuse the consequences with all kinds of reasons.  While all of this is going on, the unhealthy people sit like a king or queen upon a throne, watching their little kingdom carry on about them.  They don’t have to even think about changing while all this chaos swirls about them.  They are never responsible for anything that goes on and will never admit to being the cause of the chaos.  They have you to clean up the mess.  So guess what?  The messes never stop coming.

Envy:  You envy those who can say, without guilt, “No, I will not help that person.  They have a so-and-so problem, and until they admit that and seek professional help, I will not be a part of their problem.”  You envy their freedom and the boundaries they set on others.  Your guilt will not allow you to do the same thing and you feel powerless.  Or, unhealthy people envy healthy people.  Deep down inside, they want what healthy people have, but they will not plan wisely, put off instant gratification and manage their resources well.  If they do not know how to do this, they do not seek professional help.  Instead, they latch onto you, telling you that they should be like you, but life has dealt them a terrible blow.  They revel in their special circumstances, but cast an envious eye towards your status.  They either manipulate to get a piece of your pie or scorn you for having a pie. Either way, your CoDeMo is triggered and off you go to rescue them.

Drunkenness:  Let’s broaden this to all addictions.  Porn, food, drugs, video games, gambling—anything that puts people in bondage is detrimental to the human soul.  You are rescuing those who want you to lessen the consequences of their actions.  They do not want to really get help from someone who is trained to help deeply broken people. Unhealthy people would rather just sit around and talk to you about how bad their life is and how no one understands them but you.  You may not understand the magnitude of their addiction; addicts are very good at hiding their true selves.  They project the kind of person that they’d like to be, and it’s easy to believe that what you see is really them.  But when no one is looking, they engage in their addiction.  This will undermine any help you may be giving them.  Because you are not a trained professional, you will not see their deception.

Or, you get involved with people who are involved with addicts.  Addicts need enablers to assist them.  You may be rescuing the spouse, who is in turn enabling her addicted husband.  He comes to her and she comes to you.  You become a surrogate spouse; you do all the things he should be doing, but he is too immersed in himself and his addiction to really take care of his spouse and family.  Despite your good intentions, you are enabling this dysfunctional relationship between them to continue.  Why should he change?  You take care of the everyday life of his family; he can continue to live his way of life without a crisis forcing him to seek change.   

Wild parties:  When you are not around, what are the people you are trying to rescue doing?  Who are their friends?  How are they spending their money, time and effort?  You may walk away thinking you had a good talk, with wonderful ideas on how these people can move ahead and improve their lives.  You may have no idea how they really live.  Despite all of your good talks, ideas and loving assistance, these people never seem to climb out of their holes.  Why?  They like their holes.  They are also very deceptive about their holes.

Paul finishes up this list by saying, “and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”  Why? Because people who seek out this kind of life without any desire to relinquish control and surrender to Christ really don’t know Him.  A life without Christ is a life lived in the dark.  Your small candle of co-dependence will not truly reach into their soul and help them to desire freedom from bondage. 

So, what’s a CoDeWo to do?   

Let’s go over the more comforting verses in Galatians 5 and see them as describing a healthy approach to others and their problems.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Fear Makes Us Grasshoppers

Unhealthy people who are in survival mode will say and do anything to draw you in and keep you in their version of the world.  With their fears, bottomless needs and chaotic lives, your fear will be triggered. 

Your reaction will be to step in and rescue them. 

This is co-dependence in nutshell.

We have no idea about why the spies told the lies they did to Moses and the people.  My guess is they were in survival mode. Can’t you just hear them thinking: 

We are slaves, here, not warriors.  All we got is a bunch of people who knew nothing but taking orders and building monuments.  No one took a class on warfare.  We should just go back to Egypt.  There at least we knew who the problem was, and if we kept our heads down and made those bricks, he would leave us alone.  We are not warriors!  We are going to get slaughtered! 

At any point did Moses, speaking for God, say that conquering the land would be done in their own strength?  God promised to go before the children and drive the people out:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. (Deut. 7:1-2)

God upholds His people because of the covenant He made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob:

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. (Deut. 7:7-9)

Here is God’s promise to His people: 

You may say to yourselves, “These nations are stronger than we are. How can we drive them out?” But do not be afraid of them; remember well what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt. You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out. The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear. Moreover, the Lord your God will send the hornet among them until even the survivors who hide from you have perished. Do not be terrified by them, for the Lord your God, who is among you, is a great and awesome God. The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you. But the Lord your God will deliver them over to you, throwing them into great confusion until they are destroyed. He will give their kings into your hand, and you will wipe out their names from under heaven. No one will be able to stand up against you; you will destroy them. (Deut. 7:17-24)

Why did the spies lie?  Fear, pure and simple. Fear will scour your brain, and you forget every single promise God makes to you.  Look what happened when the spies’ fear permeated the camp:

That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness!  Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Num. 14:1-4)

Fear has gripped the people to the point of irrationality. They need rescuing, right?  That’s why we go into CoDeMo!  We hate to see others suffer.  We want to fix their problems so they will be happy.  Once we sense all is well, we can go back to that uneasy peace that ALL co-dependents all have.  We know another chaotic moment is in the near future, but we gladly take the calm before the storm. 
Somewhere, long ago, we took it upon ourselves to make others happy.  We basked in their approval when things were going well and grew anxious when things started to deteriorate.  We wanted to stop the person’s suffering now, ignoring any contribution the person had made to their own woe.  We may not have connected the dysfunctional dots at first; we see such people as victims of circumstance.  

Right now, that’s exactly how the children of Israel see themselves:  victims.  Victims of what?  Can’t you just hear the whining in their voices? Here we go:

·         It’s Moses’ and Aaron’s fault we are in this mess!
·         Those nasty people in the Promised Land are so terrifying that we would have rather died than have to face what’s coming!
·         It’s God’s fault!  We gonna die by all those nasty warriors and all because God brought us here!
·         Our wives and kids….oh shudder!  Thinking about what will happen to them is awful! !
·         Can we make a right-turn?  Gather our stuff and our families and hoof it back to Egypt?  Yeah, we were slaves, beaten, abused and our boy babies met a watery end, but that’s a whole lot better than facing amped-up warriors with a thirst for blood! Our blood!
·         Who pick Moses and Aaron anyway?  We didn’t!  It’s about time we stood up and got ourselves a kind of leader we like!  One that takes danger seriously!
·         God said this land is ours!  Why are there people in it?

Let’s look at the people’s response to the spies’ lies, and see how this applies to those people who trigger our desire to step in and rescue them:    
It’s all about them:  The people with Moses and Aaron are focusing only on themselves.  Their woe, their pain, their victimhood is the only topic of conversation.  They shut out anything that may remove them from the center of the situation.  They want to take control away from Moses, despite his excellent leadership in God’s power so far.
Unhealthy people will want your life, friends, family, and God shunted to the side so they will occupy center stage.  They want to be in control, no matter what, and you better get on board.  They want your eyes to be only on them.  They want their focus to be your focus.  They present their pain and suffering as being so overwhelming that you will step in and help.  And help.  And help.  And help.    

Their belief system is very skewed:  The people with Moses and Aaron are emphasizing their victimhood, with all of its pain and suffering.   
If you offer unhealthy people a balanced view of their situation, with the good and the bad, they will hand-select only what appeals to their self-centered attitude and will reject everything else.  You will feel thwarted by their refusal to see the situation in a balanced way; but you will go along with it, because you want to help them.  If that means ignoring your own evaluation of the situation, so be it.

Their emotional reaction is extreme: These people with Moses and Aaron are going off the rails and want everyone to join them, even to the point of wanting new leaders who will agree with them.
Unhealthy people are always in some form of chaos, and want everyone around them to be as well.  If you are calm and offering rational responses to their irrational fears, you will feel their wrath, because you are being disloyal to their view of their lives.  So you ignore your own emotions and focus only on theirs.

The situation must be fixed right now:  Notice the people offer all sorts of ideas and regrets and are unwilling to contemplate a solution.  They want to fix the problem now! 
For unhealthy people, the emphasis is on right now, and if you are not forthcoming with a solution, then you are deemed useless by them. Because their approval matters to you, you jump in and buy the idea of Now! Now! Now!  Even if all that means is Talk! Talk! Talk!  At least, you are showing these people you care, even if nothing changes in their lives.

Whew.  People like this, whether with Moses and Aaron or with us, are exhausting.  Look how Moses and Aaron respond:

Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” (Num. 14:5-9)

Joshua put the focus back on the Lord, where our focus needs to be.  People that trigger our CoDeMo derail our focus on God and direct it to them and their problems.  They will listen to you for a short time, waiting for you to take a breath so they can continue talking only about their problems. 
With us, fear is rampant on both sides:  the people that you are talking to are immersed in it, and you, with your desire to rescue them, are driven by it.  But is fear a gift of God?  A funny question, and a question that everyone in church would give a holy “No way!”  But, in our quiet moments, our fear speaks to us. 

As CoDeWo’s, fear says:

·         Unhealthy, hurting people are your responsibility—get on this
·         You are not doing enough—you must help the hurting sheep
·         These people are still struggling—it is your responsibility to change them
·         These people think in a way that is confused, deluded or misguided—you must go along with them and try to work in their world to help them
·         You see red flags in these people’s lives—in order to help them, you must suppress any misgivings you may have about what they say or do
·         You know the Bible wants you to speak the truth in love, but you don’t want to make these people angry and risk their disapproval
·         These people are not changing nor are their circumstances—work harder!  
·         Jesus doesn’t like it when we are not helping people

Others’ fear begets our fear.  What does God’s Word say?  Quite the opposite!  2 Timothy 1:7 says:

·         [F]or God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (ESV)
·         “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.”  (HCSB)
·         “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (NIV)

The context here is Paul reminding a young pastor, Timothy, of his spiritual heritage and how he is to go forth in boldness, without fear and relying on God for guidance:

I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. (2 Tim. 1:5-7)

Let’s apply these loving words to us.  Our faith is precious to God.  We are precious to God.   God has bestowed spiritual gifts on each one of His children, to equip them to serve His people and the lost.  God wants us to be bold in Him, serving with His power, steeped in His love, and having the spiritual fruit of self-control.

Look at the fruits of the Holy Spirit:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Gal. 5:22-23)

Why would God want us to have the fruit of self-control?  Because what we bring to serve Him—our brokenness, our sinful nature and our willful desire--will contradict the ways of the Holy Spirit:

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. (Gal. 5:16-18)

I can hear you saying, “Under the Law of Moses?  How does that apply to me?”  CoDeMo is a kind of law in our lives.  However we were primed to be co-dependent, it is a kind of law that drives our thoughts and our actions.  I can remember thinking that I could do life no other way; every need in others required my attention.  Every broken person needed my help and I did it all in the name of Jesus.  Or so I thought. I wasn’t doing evil.  But my sinful nature trumped the self-control that the Spirit was trying to create in me.  So, I was following my sinful nature.  How so?  I was in bondage all those years, because in trying to save others, I was trying to save myself: 

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. (Gal. 5:13-15 NLT)

“Wait a minute!  But you loved others as you loved yourself!  How could that be wrong?”  Hold on.  I didn’t love myself.  I hated myself.  I felt like everyone’s endless parade of needs required my attention, and when people did not change, I tried even harder to help them, because I was responsible to do so. I gave of my time, my resources, and my heart.  I refused to listen to my husband when he warned me that these people were manipulating me.  I grew angry if I couldn’t just run off and help someone, even if it meant leaving my kids and husband to carry on.  I was emotionally a wreck from all the rescuing I was doing.  I couldn’t give my best to my kids and family. I wish I had really sat down and studied His Word.  But I was driven to help others, make excuses for them and take on their lives, because I listened only to my own fear.

Next up, we are going to look at the verses that describe people who are walking according to the flesh and those who are walking after the Spirit.  This will help us evaluate unhealthy people before we just jump in and assume they are victims.    

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