Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Vine and the Branches

So, after all is said and done, how do we live a life that is moving away from codependence? How do we live a life of interdependence on Jesus?

Let’s Visit the Vineyard
Let’s go to another place where fruit grows: the vineyard.

Jesus used the vineyard to teach us some important ideas of what it means to live in Him.

He says in John 15:1-4:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 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. (NIV)

Jesus teaches us that His Father is the one who takes care of the vineyard.  He tends all the vines and makes sure they are all growing healthy fruit. 

The “true vine,” Jesus, is the One who pleases His Father.   He is not just any vine.  His fruit will be the only kind with an eternal quality. 

If a branch doesn’t produce fruit, His Father will cut it off.  Jesus may be warning His listeners that not having a relationship to the True Vine will have eternal consequences.

But those branches that produce fruit will be pruned.  The pruning is not a punishment, but God acting with love to make the branches—you and I—more productive in His Kingdom. 

A branch laying on the ground by itself, or attached to another vine will not bear fruit for the Father.  Fruit comes only from the True Vine.  His vitality, His life, flowing in us produces abundance, for only He can give us what we need to grow and prosper.  We then, just like the Son, will please His Father.   

Lessons From My “Vineyard”
Many years ago, I lived in northern California.  The house we moved into had a vine from an old vineyard that the previous owner’s father had.  The owner had taken a vine and planted it in a box.  He built a pergola for the branches to climb. 

When we moved in, the branches had grown across the pergola.  The leaves and grapes hung down.  It was like a small slice of Italy in our backyard.  The grapes looked a bit sad, and the vine didn’t seem very robust, but I knew nothing about grapevines.

I just let it be. 

One day I noticed, while in the backyard with my children, that some of the branches had made their way up my roof and were almost to the top.

Whoa. How did that happen?  I asked around and someone explained that all the energy of that vine was going into those wayward branches.  They needed to be cut off.  The whole vine needed some serious pruning.

I was an inattentive gardener and my vine was going haywire. 

Up the ladder I went, and brought down several ten foot long branches. 

I would like to say the vine jumped into high gear.  But it was still in a box.  So, its growth was limited because what it could draw from the soil was limited. 

It was sad vine.  We moved many years later.  I hope someone with far greater knowledge than I had knew what to do with that vine with its sad branches and measly grapes. 

It is the same prayer I have for you and for me:  I know I am in the hands of Someone who knows how to love and tend this sad branch. 

He wants abundant fruit in me, so I must accept the pruning shears along with the sunshine.  I must accept the liquid plant food along with the manure. 

I cannot fear the shears.

I cannot disdain the rain.

I cannot run from the sun.

I cannot toil in the soil.

But:  I can wait for His sap, His Spirit, to fill me, flow through me and guide me as I grow in the Vine.

This is the last blog I will be posting.  After ten years, and having being read by many loyal readers, I am going to stop blogging. It has been fun and I do hope this blog has blessed you.  

All of my books are available on  Amazon.  The postings you have been recently reading will become my latest book:  Desert No More--Overcoming Christian Codependency.  It will be available in a few months.

All of my books are listed under "R.L. Thorne Cramer" on Amazon.

Blessings in abundance! 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

The Beauty of God's Orchards

The beauty of God’s orchards—the fruits of His Spirit and how He crafts each fruit in us, means that we can leave our bruised fruit behind. This last chapter is dedicated to redefining the fruits of the Spirit away from a CoDeMo perspective and allowing God’s Word to define what they are.

Jesus said that the truth sets you free. So, if we have these fruits in our lives, guided only by the Word and not defined by our or anyone else’s brokenness, we will have freedom. Jesus said so!

I will give you a few scriptures to reconsider your broken definition with God’s definition.

Love of the Spirit 
1 John 4:7-21 is the best operating definition of love:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (ESV)

Wow. How do we apply these beautiful words to us? We are loved by God so much He sent His Son to die for us and to live in us. We can’t earn God’s love—it is freely given. We are His and He is ours. He came to us in our greatest point of need: to be saved from sin and death and to live an abundant life in Jesus.  If our love is fearful, needy, seeking approval from others and never feeling “good enough,” we need to grab a hold of this fruit and live like our life depends on it. Because it does.

Joy of the Spirit
Here we go:

Then I will rejoice in the Lord.
I will be glad because he rescues me. (Psalm 35:9 NLT)

There I will go to the altar of God,
to God—the source of all my joy.
I will praise you with my harp,
O God, my God! (Psalm 43:4 NLT)

The Lord is my strength and shield.
I trust him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving. (Psalm 28:7 NLT)

I am overwhelmed with joy in the Lord my God!
For he has dressed me with the clothing of salvation
and draped me in a robe of righteousness.
I am like a bridegroom dressed for his wedding
or a bride with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10 NLT)

So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:11 NLT)

Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice! (Philippians 4:4 NLT)

Joy in found in God alone. Serving others comes from having joy in God. If we derive joy from anyone or anything other than God, our joy will flee. Joy isn’t just an emotion; it is knowing how much He cares for us and how much He desires to walk with us.

Peace of the Spirit
May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace. (Numbers 6:24-26 NLT)

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen. (Jude 24-25 NLT)

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27 NLT)

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 KJV)

God’s peace is one that the world cannot take away, try as it may. It is a bedrock, that while the storms rage, we know our house will not fall. It is because it is a peace found only in Him. That is why the world cannot experience true peace; without Jesus Christ, true peace is impossible. Equally true, we cannot give someone that kind of peace, no matter how hard we try. The person must call on Jesus for it. Peace comes from knowing how God is carrying us through our life. Then, at the end of our life, He will bring us into His “glorious presence” without any fault. How is that so? Because we are robed in Jesus’ righteousness. God sees is His Son in us.  Don’t allow others to steal this precious fruit out of your life’s basket.

Think of the word, “patience” when you consider this fruit.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 KJV)

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; (Eph. 4:2 KJV)

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? (Rom. 2:4 KJV)

But as it is written, ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.’ (1 Corinthians 2:9 KJV)

God is ever so patient with us. He waits for us to come to Him, to accept His offer of salvation in His Son and to walk in His power. But we must wait, too. Many people we love and want better for may take a very long time to around.  Longsuffering or patience doesn’t mean indulgence; it means waiting on God and waiting for God to do what He plans to do.

Gentleness of the Spirit
Being gentle to those who are error is important, for anger and arguments will not bring anyone to Christ. But being gentle is not being a doormat. Jesus was very gentle to those He encountered who were in sin, but He did not allow anyone to walk over Him.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. (Phil. 4:5 NIV)

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Col. 4:5-6 NIV)

Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:17-18 NIV)

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:10 NIV)

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:11 NIV)

We can express Jesus’ love and gentleness with how we respond to others, especially those who would use us and abuse us. But remember: Jesus allowed the rich young ruler to walk away from Him (Mark 10:13-31). Jesus did not talk to Herod (who was curious but insincere about who Jesus was) but He talked to Pilate (who wanted to know about Jesus but didn’t want the whole truth).  The Holy Spirit must guide what we say and who we say it to. He must also guide us when to fall silent and when we need to walk away.

Goodness of the Spirit
Goodness comes only as we step more and more out of the way, and allow the Holy Spirit to work His will in the world through us.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Eph. 4:32 NIV)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom. 12:21)

The Lord is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him. (Nahum 1:7 NIV)

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7 NIV)

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Cor. 9:8 NIV) 

Our goodness must come from God dwelling is us. Otherwise, we will operate from our own definition, which may hurt us or someone else. I love how Peter takes Christian qualities and blends them with other equally important qualities.  Faith blended with goodness means we take what God is doing on the inside and carry to those on the outside. But goodness needs knowledge, so we don’t end up giving our pearls to those who would trample them in the mud.

Faith of the Spirit
Faith itself is a gift. All that we do, including the power to even believe, is a gift from God.

That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love. (Eph. 3:16-17 KJV)

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

For we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7 KJV)

Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost. (Romans 15:13 KJV)

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Heb. 11:6 KJV)

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph. 2:8-9 NIV)

Faith is not some kind of magical substance that we conjure up enough of to make God work. It is not about our faith and how much we have. It is about Jesus and our faith in His resurrection power that lives in us. Thus, we are able to go out in the world with His words and His ways.

Meekness of the Spirit
Meekness is not weakness. Jesus was meek, but He was never weak.

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matt. 11:29 ESV)

He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way. (Psalm 25:9 ESV)

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13 ESV)

Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21 ESV)

The greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matt. 23:11 ESV)

Vine’s Dictionary puts this fruit of the Spirit beautifully:  “It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting… In Galatians 5:23 it is associated with… ‘self-control…’ describes a condition of mind and heart, and as ‘gentleness’ is appropriate… to actions…It must be clearly understood, therefore, that the meekness manifested by the Lord and commended to the believer is the fruit of power. The common assumption is that when a man is meek it is because he cannot help himself; but the Lord was ‘meek’ because He had the infinite resources of God at His command…it is not occupied with self at all.” (401)

Isn’t that powerful? We have God’s resources when we ask Him in faith to receive them. We don’t have to focus on what we can or cannot do; He has what we need. We need to ask. We then go out, believing that He will empower His servants for the task ahead.

Temperance of the Spirit
Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world… (Titus 2:12 KJV) 

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour… (1 Peter 5:8 KJV)

This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. (Galatians 5:16 KJV)

The word that is translated today for “temperance” is “self-control.” (Vine’s 620)  I find that interesting, because it isn’t enough to know God and His love or have this fruit. We must ask Him to grow the fruits in us and then give us this fruit to exercise them. Both come from Him: the fruits and the power to put this fruit into operation.  We still inhabit our fleshly bodies, so self-control applies to not allowing the sins of the flesh to take over as well. It’s a matter of asking yourself, “Do I want the Holy Spirit’s fruits in me, or do I hold back some area of my life, allowing me to be in control?”

It’s an important question. What we do and how we grow is our choice. What we allow and what we resist is also our choice. The Holy Spirit wants us to be in God’s beautiful orchards, living life abundantly and going about the Father’s business.

But if we choose otherwise, and let our brokenness define us, then our orchards will yield only bruised fruit.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Good Samaritan or Good Codependarian?

We DoDeWo’s are not the only ones who struggle with who we should help and how best to do so.  

Don’t all Christians struggle with who to help and who to ignore?

Do we give money to the guy on the corner with the sign?

Do we give food to our next-door neighbor who is a single mom?

Do we tithe and write checks to charities?

It’s hard to know when to help.  We don’t want to be callous, but we also don’t want to hurt the person in the long run. 

A Powerful Parable

Jesus has an interesting exchange with a guy who seems to know best. He knows the Jewish law and what it teaches about  God and others.  Let’s take a peek:

One day an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus by asking him this question: ‘Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?’
Jesus replied, ‘What does the law of Moses say? How do you read it?’
The man answered, ‘”You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.”  And, ‘’Love your neighbor as yourself.”’
‘Right!’ Jesus told him. ‘Do this and you will live!’ (Luke 10:25-28 NLT)

In modern parlance, Jesus would have said, “Dude!  You nailed it!”  But Luke gives us an interesting insight to this man: 

The man wanted to justify his actions, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ (Luke 10:29)
Hmmm.  Interesting.  “Justify his actions”—what does that mean?  Is he trying to impress Jesus with his knowledge?  Is he trying to impress the crowd listening in?  Is he rather stingy, and helps his neighbor only when he feels like it?  Does he help his Jewish neighbors but treats all others with contempt?

This man wants to know exactly who his neighbor is.  So, in other words, is he really asking,

What’s the minimum I gotta do to keep the Law as I help others?   

Funny, isn’t it?  How often do we look for doing just the minimum required to be obedient, so we can say we are doing right?  But, deep in our hearts, we are holding back love.  We view our obedience as just one more item we check off our “I am being good” list. 

Even we CoDeWo’s do this—we look like we are doing right but our love is limited or gone, washed away by years of rescuing.  We are exhausted inside.     

Jesus doesn’t answer the man directly, but tells a parable.  This story has a lovely truth tucked inside of it.  Jesus begins:    

‘A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
‘By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.  A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
‘Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, “Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here.”
‘Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?’  Jesus asked.
The man replied, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’
Then Jesus said, ‘Yes, now go and do the same.’  (Luke 10:30-37 NLT)

You’re Kidding, Right Jesus?  

Everyone in the Jewish community despises Samaritans.  They are considered half-breeds, having intermarried with pagans earlier in their history. 

Jewish people avoid Samaritans whenever they can. So, Jesus putting a Samaritan center stage is rather shocking to His listeners. 

This despised Samaritan is unwilling to pass by the Jewish man, the way his fellow Jews had done.  Perhaps his fellow Jews felt the man in the ditch got what he deserved, for no one travels alone.  The roads then are full of thieves and murderers.  This man, by travelling alone, put himself at risk.    
The Jewish men, who scorn and walk past the injured man, are religious leaders. They know the Law.  The irony here is Samaritans only have the first five books of Moses for their Old Testament, whereas the Jews have a much larger body of God’s Word.  Those first five books are considered “The Law” by the Jews. 

This despised Samaritan understands far better who his neighbor is than the religious guys with the whole shooting match.   

Jesus is answering a question from a religious leader.  Hmmm.  Is Jesus saying that it’s way too easy to judge someone and move on than to see yourself in the faces of others?  That our actions speak louder than words?  That the Law says, “Love your neighbor as yourself?” Would you want to be left in a ditch and have your fellow Jews walk right past you with no regard?   

Compassion drives our Samaritan to help this injured man.  He takes care of the man’s wounds.  This injured Jewish man, who in earlier days, may have ignored or scorned a Samaritan, now finds in him a savior. The Samaritan puts him on his donkey.  The Samaritan walks.  They arrive at an inn, and there he makes provision for the injured man.  The Samaritan takes care of him for the night, and then he leaves the man in the care of the innkeeper.  He pays him to cover expenses; if the expenses exceed what he gave, he will bring more. 

Jesus then wraps the story up with a question:  Who is the real neighbor to the injured man?  The answer is very disturbing to His Jewish audience: a despised Samaritan.  The religious man who originally asked the question does not even use the word, “Samaritan” in his response to Jesus.  He just says it’s “the one who showed him mercy” that is the true neighbor. 
Jesus then boils it down: Go out and show mercy, for everyone is your neighbor, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I know what you are thinking dear CoDeWo: See!  The man helped the other guy!  That’s what I try to do!

Yes, I get it.  But let’s recast this story in full CoDeMo and see that it’s not us helping others that is the problem.  It’s when we do things for them that they can do for themselves.  It’s when we lessen the consequences of their poor decisions.  It’s when we help them wade deeper into to sin.  All of this “help” becomes the problem. 

A New Version:  “Sam I Am”

     One day, businessman Joe decides to go to Jericho.  He has some business to do and he can’t wait for his partner to join him.  Joe knows it is dangerous to travel alone, but he wants to get going.  He throws caution to the wind, and heads out.  He figures God will watch over him. 
      Hey!  I am a good person!  I love God!  I know we are not to test God, but I trust He will watch over me on the road.  Yes, I know, I need to go with Bill, but Bill boring to talk to and I need to get going.
      So away he goes.  The first few hours are exhilarating.  He sees no bandits.  He has plenty of water and the weather is fine.  But after awhile, the sun grows hot and he grows tired.  Joe is no longer very alert.  He doesn’t notice the three nasty-looking dudes dogging him.  All he is thinking is, 
      Man, it’s hot.  I just wish I was at Jericho.  They’ve got a great taco place in town. 
      Then POW!  Joe wakes up a few hours later, bleeding, woozy and in a ditch.  All of his belongings are gone, including his money bag.  He just lies there. 
     Then a priest comes by.  The priest can’t be bothered to help Joe.  He can’t get on down the road fast enough. Ditto for the deacon. Both are gone faster than you could say, “Idiot.”  
     Then Sam happens by.  Sam is the kind of guy who loves everyone, and looks with compassion upon anyone who is hurting.
     He immediately runs over to Joe.
     “Are you OK?” Sam asks.
     “Do I look OK?” the man replies.
     “What happened?”
     “I got run over by a taco truck?  Heck if I know.”
     “Oh.  Let me help you.”
     Sam goes over to his donkey, and grabs some olive oil and linen strips. 
     “You’re gonna have to stay still, Mister.”
     “Easy for you to say.  But I’ll try.”
     Sam gets the man bandaged up, and helps him to his donkey.  Sam hoists him up.  Mercy, Sam’s donkey, looks at him with a funny look.  But she starts walking.  
     “Would you like some water?” Sam.  “I don’t have much.  We will need to share.”
     “Thanks.” The man gulps it all.
     Sam doesn’t realize that until about 20 minutes later when he is parched.  Thankfully, the Jericho Desert Inn is just ahead.  They both stop in and Sam refills his water bag.  He buys a bag of chips and some salsa.  He buys the man an umbrella to keep him out of the sun. Sam has no money left over for himself, so he grabs some jerky out of his pocket and gnaws on that for awhile. They still have several miles to go to get to Sam’s house.  He is feeling happy, for he just loves helping people.  Sam still doesn’t know the man’s name, but Sam is glad the man is happily devouring all the chips and salsa.  
      The man is doing quite despite being beat up.  I am glad I came along. 
      But Sam is growing hungrier and thirstier.  He feels guilty asking the man for some of the chips and salsa.  But he doesn’t ask.
      I wasn’t the one beat up and left for dead, remember?   
      Sam is relieved when his house comes into view.  Oh, the joy in Sam’s heart when he walks into his front door!  He sits down for a second.  He jumps right back up.  He must help the man get off Mercy.  Sam is tired, hungry and footsore, but the man needs help. Sam feels so selfish.  Sam runs to Mercy, and sees that the man is asleep.  Sam gently helps him off and leads the man through the front door and into his bedroom, where a comfy bed awaits.  Sam lays the man down. The man is snoring in no time.  Sam sleeps on his rather lumpy couch. 
      But hey!  I wasn’t the one who got beat up!  I can handle this!
      The man slowly recovers.  Sam notices the man has taken off the bandages, and everything looks fine, but the man keeps complaining about how much pain he’s in.  Even after a month, Sam is still racing to the man’s bedside, bringing him food and drink and trying to get that old TV to work. 
Sam is exhausted.  The man sleeps irregular hours, watches that TV day and night, and never seems to care if Sam is asleep. The man demands Sam’s attention all the time. 
Sam questions this but his guilt silences his anger. 
      I didn’t get beat up, remember?
      Another month goes by.  Every time Sam thinks of asking the man to leave, he feels selfish and guilty.  The same old line runs through his head:
      After all, it wasn’t me who got beat u and left for dead.
      Finally, one day at the Jericho Market, Sam runs into Fred, the innkeeper. 
     “Wow.  For a single guy, you sure do buy a lot!” comments Fred with a big grin on his face.
     “Oh.  It’s not all for me.  That guy who got beat up is staying with me.”
     “What!  He got injured, yes, but by now he must be fine.  You need to help him on his way.  He’s taking advantage of you.”
     Sam feels very resentful at Fred’s remark.
     “But he needs me.  He still hurts.  I am showing him God’s love.”
     “He needs to get up and get going.  Laying around isn’t helping him.  Yeah, at first, he needed to recuperate in bed and have your help.  But now, he needs to be up and about.”
     “Yeah.  I know.  What do I do?”
     “Tell him by Friday he needs to go.  He can stay at my inn on his way home.”
     “But what if he gets mad at me?  What if he won’t leave?  Man, I could sure use the sleep.”
     “Sam:  You have a good heart.  He knows this.  You are feeling needed and have purpose in your life with this guy.  But you aren’t helping him anymore.  You are allowing him to take advantage of you and your limited resources.  You enabling him to stay lazy and unproductive.  How does that honor God?”
     “Whoa.  But what will my neighbors think?  I get compliments all the time from them on how caring I am.  They think I really show the love of God in my life.”
     “You do.  Are your neighbors coming over with food?  Are they offering to take him into their homes?”
     Sam looks sad. 
     “I want to honor God in all I do.”
     “Then turn him loose, Sam, and trust God to work in his life.  You are not the only person in the world who can help this man. He needs to move on in his life.  You helped him get on his feet, but that doesn’t mean you walk for him. Even if he finds someone else to take advantage of and doesn’t move on, that is his choice.  You have done your best.  The freedom you are giving him now just feeds his fleshly desire to do nothing. That’s sin, Sam.”
     Sam pays for his groceries and they both walk out to the donkey lot.  He is still angry inside with how Fred doesn’t see the man the way Sam does, but he still thanks him. 
Sam, deep inside his heart, knows that Fred has a point.   
     It was only many years later, walking in the hot sun, did Sam admit that this episode had not turned out the way he thought it would.  He had pictured a grateful man, patting him on the back and walking down the road with a skip in his step.  Instead, what he got was the man begging him to give him Mercy, because his elbow still hurt.  Sam was so tired, so resentful and so glad the man was leaving, that he gave him Mercy. He watched the two of them disappear down the road. 
     Boy, do I need Mercy now!
     Sam stopped, lowered his head and prayed,
     Dear Lord,
     Teach me to give mercy the way You do.  Your Word says to love my neighbor as myself.  I would have wanted mercy had I been in that ditch, but giving the man Mercy was way more than You required of me.  Let my mercy reflect You and do for others only what they cannot do for themselves. 
Once they can, however, or refuse to do so, let me be a good neighbor and set them free. Don’t let my kind of mercy get in the way of Yours. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Am I Really Helping Someone to Sin?

I had my codependent socks blown off one day when I realized that all my codependent efforts were helping people to keep on sinning….WHAT?

But I was helping them! I was easing their pain! I wasn’t helping them to rob banks or print counterfeit money! I wasn’t telling them to go out and have an affair! I wasn’t telling them that smoking lawn-clippings was OK!

Was I really helping them to sin? Then I had to face that I was sinning as well.  My attitudes and pride had led me down a road of self-deception…WHAT? 

But I am a nice person!  Yeah, I battle with pride and think the Holy Spirit should follow my lead, but hey, I am not as sinful as those I help!   

Am I Really Doing THAT? 

Let’s break this down. How did I sin in helping others?

Lying is a sin—we would all agree on this.  I lied or embellished about the people I was helping to others.  I was ashamed that those I helped were not improving.  They were actually going deeper into sin and deception.  I didn’t want others to think ill of me or the people I was rescuing.  Or have that “I told you so!” moment at my expense.    

Blaming other people for our failures is based on pride.  Pride is not a Christian virtue.  I would blame other people for not supporting the person I was helping as I did.  My pride said I was right, what I was doing was right, and other people need to get on board and help me.  I would seethe with resentment at others, especially at church.  I hid the anger behind a smile.

I resented the freedom other believers had, because they were not available 24/7 to help broken people.  I saw other believers as less spiritual, less like Jesus.  I judged them and condemned them.  Yet I smiled at them.  I was a hypocrite.  We all know how Jesus felt about hypocrisy.  

I took on people’s failures as my own, as if I could change their will and make them want to get better.  I thought I could do what I judged the Holy Spirit was not doing.  My pride was at stake.  I then plunged deeper into helping them.  Where was Jesus in all of this?  Good question.  But I never waited for the answer. 

I made helping others an idol.  I loved how I was so helpful and available to broken people.  I got a kind of high from it.  I also equated church with God and made it an idol.  So, if someone in church asked me to do something or needed me in some way, it must be God’s will.  My love for God was tangled up with helping out. I lost sight of how we are to love God alone. Helping others is not a substitute for loving God or serving Him.    

How Am I Helping Others to Sin?

 This is a painful but essential question I had to ask myself.  If I help other people to:

·         Lie about their lives, not face reality and join them in their deceived world;  
·         Pretend that all is well, even though it is I who was trying to lessen the consequences;
·         Manipulate me into doing things for them—using guilt, my love for God, or allowing them to emotionally abuse me into compliance;
·         Rage at me or others;
·         Gossip and condemn others;
·         Dismiss my life and its struggles because they want all the attention;  
·         Express their feelings and opinions but are not receptive to mine;
·         Engage in sin and I then make excuses for that behavior;
·         Engage in sin and then allow them to blame me for their behavior;
·         Stay focused on themselves and never bring up Jesus or the Word;
·         Use others—including me--to get their endless list of needs met;
·         Monopolize my time and effort without expecting them to reciprocate;
·         Use me as a stand-in for God…
…How am I honoring God and the “new and living way” He brings us in Jesus? 

How am I pointing them to the Savior who died to take away our sin, not making it easier to sin?

Ponder this:

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a [a]sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Heb. 10:19-25 NASB)

Boom!  My enabling is wrong if it helps me to sin or helps others to sin. 

My enabling is wrong if we both sin trying to create a better life without being fully committed to Jesus.

My enabling is wrong if it puts me in between that person and God. 

A lady at a woman’s event put it so well when I asked her if she is helping her estranged son.  Her response:  “Why would I get in between God and my son?”

A few years ago, I would have run outside, looking for a few stones and then pelted her in the parking lot for being so insensitive.  

My response now?  I said inside, “Amen, sister.  Amen.”

Is there hope for me?

You betcha.

For you?


Why? Jesus is your Hope.

Jesus is my Hope.

Press on, dear friend.   My life verse is a perfect way to help us know we are not alone and we have hope!     

My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20 NLT)

Monday, April 13, 2020

What Did I Learn at "ICU"?

I have been enrolled at Intense Codependent University for decades.  I didn’t want this blog to focus on my stories.  I wanted to emphasize the hope and healing I have in Jesus.  I am not an expert on codependence; I have just lived it, in one version or another.  

CoDeWo’s are loving, kind and deeply concerned about other people’s welfare.  We are uncomfortable about boundaries and saying no; we derive spiritual pride from being always available with good advice for people and we want others to be happy.  Our good heart is mixed with broken beliefs about ourselves and others.  We may not seem as broken as the broken person we are trying to help; we may justify our own supposed healthiness by saying,

Hey!  That person came to me!  She must see I am strong and have good things to say!

But in losing our identity to others’ approval, by never having boundaries that allow people in and out of our lives at their will and never probing too deeply as to what is really going on, we engage in our own kind of broken behavior.

We need Jesus and His healing.  The person we are trying to rescue needs Jesus and His healing as well.  Both parties need time. 

Don’t you ever resent being used?  You won’t admit it, but wouldn’t you like to scream,

Fix it yourself!  You got into this mess!  Get yourself out of it!

We may never say such a thing.  Even thinking it puts us smack-dab into the hurricane winds of guilt.  Result?  We run out the door on a rescue mission.  But... The rescuer and the rescuee both need a deeper walk in Christ.    

Why do people use us?  We let them.  We see no other way to be in a relationship.  But if we step away for a moment, and look at them with compassion, aren’t they just in survival mode?  They never had their needs met, and now if we become the way for them to do so, why wouldn’t they take advantage of us?  They are manipulating us because they want to keep on with their lives, and if we provide an easier way to do so, they will use us.

Think of an angler fish.  It’s in the deep dark of the ocean and has a lighted bulb at the end of a long skinny protrusion on its head.  A little fish comes swimming by and sees this light.  It’s attracted to it and swims closer.  The angler fish’s mouth is open wide and once the fish, who cannot see anything but the light, draws too near…  Gulp!  There is now one less fish in the world.  Is that cruel?  Isn’t the angler fish deceiving the little fish, by exploiting its innate attraction to light?  Yes.  But why?  The angler fish wants to survive and meals in the deep dark are hard to come by.  It is in survival mode as it waves that deadly light.

Broken People
The saying, “Hurt people hurt people” is as true as it can be.  All of the people I sought to rescue were, at their deepest core, broken.  Sexual abuse, broken families, time in Viet Nam, mental instability, mental illness, overwhelming pride hiding terrible insecurity, deep anxiety and mind-numbing fear caused the people I tried to help to always be in survival mode.  They did whatever they could to get through their lives. If that included using me, then so be it. They weren’t being deceptive in a malicious way; they saw me as making their lives easier.  I opened the door and in they walked.   

All of my codependent relationships ended badly.  These relationships lasted years and despite endless amounts of time helping, listening, loaning money and praying, I never saw any change.  That doesn’t mean they haven’t changed since our time together; just during the period I knew them, I saw the same attitudes and behaviors over and over again.  The relationships ended badly because broken people have a hard time sustaining relationships.  That is true on both sides.  I had a hard time being with centered people who didn’t need me.  I gravitated only to those whom I perceived needed me.  

Now, at 60 years old, I seek out centered people, but deep inside, I still feel a bit ill at ease. I am still undergoing His healing. I try to no longer beat myself up when I slip.  I accepted Christ at 14, and He has guided me from that time on.  I have still drunk deeply from the well of codependence, but without Him, I sincerely shiver at what my life would have been like. 

What have I learned at ICU? 

·         I would have been more pro-active with broken people by being more willing to speak the truth in love with them. 
·         I would have let certain relationships go sooner when I realized how much I was being lied to and manipulated. 
·         I would given a second chance out of grace and compassion as opposed to 4,321 second chances I gave the person.
·         I would have prioritize my immediate family with more urgency and closed the door on those who would or could not respect that.
·         I would have tried to work things out, knowing that I could not control how the person would respond.  I can only control what I say and do.  If the person did not want to work things out, I would have left sooner.
·         I would have realized that relationships with mentally ill people and mentally unstable people will be one-sided; these people do not have the capacity to reciprocate friendship or get better with non-professional help such as mine.
·         I would have done a lot more face to face conversations, relying on Jesus to give me the words and the wisdom on how to proceed.
·         I would have listened to family members, and gotten their perspective, instead of instantly seeing the person as a victim of everyone, especially family.
·         I would have realized that even people who love Jesus can use people.
·         I would have seen pastors as people; they too can be terribly broken and hide behind their ministry so no one will see how broken they are.   I would have stayed a bit more distant and not looked up to them for everything.  Only Jesus is perfect.
·         I would have stayed more focused on God as my father-figure; human beings are fragile and will hurt even the ones they love. 
·         I would have put on the brakes way sooner on those people who I sensed were relying way too heavily on me and not the Lord.  I would have reminded them and myself of the One we follow and how we should go to His Word for answers.  
·         Hurt families hurt families.  If you don’t prioritize you family from those who would monopolize your life (even extended family!) no one else will. 
·         Sometimes it is very hard to walk away from a relationship.  But I would have put up firmer boundaries and ignored the guilt.  Fences have gates: I would have been better at choosing who to let in, who not let in, and who to slowly close the gate on, limiting access.  Again, I would need Jesus to help me do this.   
·         I would not have given my power away in order to appease people.  I associated anger with violence; I worked hard to keep people happy.  I now know anger and discontentment is inevitable in some relationships, and I won’t get beat up when it happens. Respect on both sides maintains a balance of power; each person listens respectfully and responds respectfully to one another.  Relationships must have balance. If a friendship is constantly unbalanced, I must reevaluate it.
·         I would not have been desperate for friends, and thus ignored the red flags.
·         People cannot meet my needs; only Jesus can.
·         Jesus is my Healer; church, friendships, pastors, and family can all give me gems of wisdom but only Jesus can touch my deepest wounds.

My experiences over the years drove me deeper in enabling others.  You would think it would have had the opposite effect and made me question how I interacted with others.  It didn’t.  Each failure made me want to try even harder the next time.  There was always a next time.  Then one day, I hit a wall.  I was just too tired to rescue anymore.

A New Way of Life
I have had to relearn how to approach others.  My daughter, who is a wonderful social worker, had a lot to do with enlightening me.  She made me see another perspective, one that did not involve doing everything for everybody.  At first I thought she was mean and cruel to others, for she was unwilling to enable the people in her life, and she advised me to do the same. 

How could I?

But each time I realized my resentment and depression were telling me that I needed a new way of dealing with people, I tried little ways of pulling back.  It was tough.

Is it still hard?  Yes, I am still learning how to love others without being co-dependent.  But just as that little caterpillar goes through an awful lot to become a butterfly, so too must I.  But I not alone.  My newer friendships now are nice and calm.  My family stands by me.  Jesus is with my every step of the way.

I will close with a story.  When I was little, I found a caterpillar struggling to get out of a cocoon that had fallen on the ground.  I thought I was being helpful as I peel away the layers of the cocoon in my effort to release the new butterfly within.  To my horror, I was also pulling away its wings.  The wings were wrapped up in the layers and part of its struggle was to strengthen its wing muscles and let the wings separate and dry out.  I, in my hurt for this little creature, killed it.

It is painful but true.  But if we step in and try to “help” people who need to go through God’s process (not ours) for them, we may tear off their wings.

Monday, April 6, 2020

The Way Out

Change is not as hard when you partner with Jesus.  I have used the Word, counselors, and medication for my severe depression.  I have attended lots of Bible studies to help me navigate my way clear of always feeling under the codependent gun.

Earlier, we explored 1 Corinthians 10:13: 
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (NIV) [temptation and tempted can also be translated testing and tested] (NIV Study notes)

You will be tempted or tested to just dive in and rescue someone who has triggered that loving response in you.  The problem is the way you will go about it is unhealthy for you and unhealthy for the person you want to help.  So, this verse gives us some excellent guidelines.

God is Faithful
First, your response is not unique.  There are many of us who just react to others’ pain and want to take it away quickly.  So, I am not alone in this, nor are you.  But God is working to grow you.  These tests do just that, for we must decide then and there who we are going to draw upon: our own resources or on God? 

God is faithful.  You do not enter a time of testing alone.  If you choose to rely on God, He won’t allow you to be overwhelmed.  

Paul put it very well when he said,  
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

Paul endured a tremendous amount of pain and persecution for the sake of the Gospel.  But he knew the mightiness of the One he served:
For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.  We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.  This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. (2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NLT)

He also knew that there is nothing in the universe that can separate us from God’s love: 
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?... And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 38-39 NLT)

So, dear one, even if you are overwhelmed by the needs you see in others, and feel you are being tested to the breaking point in how to handle the situation in a new and healthy way, let’s return to our key verse.  

Remember how we looked at the phrase, “a way out” or “a way of escape”?  The word in Greek means “exit.”  So, I have learned that God will make a way for me to walk out of a situation that needs to end.  Is it easy?  No.  You will still be afraid and anxious as you follow the Lord out of a situation that for you seems impossible. You will probably be guilt-ridden for a while afterwards; that’s OK, for it is never easy to hand over people you care about to God. 

Remember how I talked about that burning building and how our Firefighter comes to lead us out?  We think of those we are helping in the burning building.  We rushed in to save them, not allowing the Firefighter to do His work. 

When He leads us out, we will want to run back in and save them.  But they have the same Firefighter as we do, and He wants to take their hand as well.  If they refuse and stay in the building, that is their choice.

Paul and The Corinthian Church
Paul was faced with a terrible burning building.  In the first letter to the Corinthians, he was aghast that a man was sleeping with his stepmother. (1 Corinthians 5) 

He was adamant that this man should be removed from the church there, because he claimed to be a believer yet was behaving in an atrocious way.  Talk about needing to speak truth into the situation!  Paul did just that and wrote in this first letter to the church at Corinth to deal with this man in no uncertain terms. 

Now, in his second letter to this church, he says,    
I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.
Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. My purpose, then, was not to write about who did the wrong or who was wronged. I wrote to you so that in the sight of God you could see for yourselves how loyal you are to us. We have been greatly encouraged by this. (2 Corinthians 7:8-13 NLT)

Do you see what happened?  Paul was “severe,” yes, but he did it in love for the church and for this sinful brother. 

God wants us to repent of our sin.  Paul, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,  wanted the church to step up and let this man know he needed to repent.  It is interesting that “sorrow” in God’s hands can lead a person out of sin and into forgiveness and restoration. Just making people feel bad is not what Paul is advocating here.  The Holy Spirit must move deeply in the heart of the one who is sinning as well as in the hearts of those who seek the restoration of this person.  “Godly sorrow” leads to freedom and Paul is so glad that the church acted on Spirit-led directions.

Did the man repent?  Paul says earlier in this letter:
I wrote that letter in great anguish, with a troubled heart and many tears. I didn’t want to grieve you, but I wanted to let you know how much love I have for you.  I am not overstating it when I say that the man who caused all the trouble hurt all of you more than he hurt me. Most of you opposed him, and that was punishment enough. Now, however, it is time to forgive and comfort him. Otherwise he may be overcome by discouragement. So I urge you now to reaffirm your love for him.  I wrote to you as I did to test you and see if you would fully comply with my instructions. When you forgive this man, I forgive him, too. And when I forgive whatever needs to be forgiven, I do so with Christ’s authority for your benefit, so that Satan will not outsmart us. For we are familiar with his evil schemes. (2 Corinthians 2:4-11)

Paul didn’t enjoy confronting the church over this issue.  But the church was at sake, and this man was at sake.  What if Paul had downplayed the seriousness of the matter?  Paul compares sin to yeast in dough, and how only a little can affect so much.  In fact, when Paul first confronts this issue about the man, he is appalled that the church is “boasting” about it. (1 Corinthians 5:6-7).  The people at Corinth saw nothing wrong with this man’s behavior.  Perhaps they thought they all had such freedom in Christ that if this man wanted to hook up with his father’s wife, who were they to judge?

The very people who may need for you to speak the truth to may have a whole group siding with them, and your voice may seem small in comparison.  A little sin goes a long way and adversely affects a lot of people beyond the original person.  So, you may be called by God to say such words as “sin,” “repentance” and “forgiveness” to these people.  It will not be easy.  Paul found it hard but the Holy Spirit gave him the strength to advise, guide and warn. 

Prayer is the Greatest Gift of All
Perhaps the Holy Spirit will call you to pray.  Praying for someone is the greatest gift you can give.  As CoDeWo’s, we feel better when we are doing something. But consider prayer doing something BIG:
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (James 5:16 NLT)
This is one of my favorite verses, and I could have written this book with just this one verse in it:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16 ESV)

That says it all.  You may be called by God to pray this person through a situation; you may be called to speak truth into this person’s life, or you may be called to assist in a limited way to ease some of the suffering. 

Prayer is the key.  What am I to do, Lord? is the motto of a recovering CoDeWo. The “What to do” is found in prayer.  It will take time for God to answer.  But time waiting on Him is never wasted.
Just like Jesus, we do nothing more or nothing less—only do what you know you are called to do. 

But what if I do not know what to pray? 

The Word’s got you covered:
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. (Romans 8:26 KJV)

But why would God listen to me?  

The Word’s got you covered:
All who follow the leading of God’s Spirit are God’s own sons. Nor are you meant to relapse into the old slavish attitude of fear—you have been adopted into the very family circle of God and you can say with a full heart, ‘Father, my Father.’ The Spirit himself endorses our inward conviction that we really are the children of God. Think what that means. If we are his children we share his treasures, and all that Christ claims as his will belong to all of us as well! Yes, if we share in his suffering we shall certainly share in his glory. (Romans 8:15 Phillips)

But what do I say?  What kind of comfort do I give?  
The Word has an answer for that as well:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Cor. 1:3-4)

You are never alone in this journey. 

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