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.

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