Thursday, February 7, 2008

Freedom? Is It Truly Possible? Jan 25, 2007

There's a philosophy blog that has been swimming in my head for awhile, and as usual, you get to witness it's outpouring. Sometimes these thoughts consume me until I get them out, it's like it burns within me or something. I'm a freak, I know. ;)

Anyhow, this one is inspired by a book I recently read (see photo above). It's called "Mercy Moves Mountains" by Nancy Alcorn, and it's a collection of life stories of women who have come thru the "Mercy House" that Nancy Alcorn manages. "Mercy House" is kinda like a maternity home, but has a broader audience. It's for women, ages 14-29 or so, who are in crisis. They come to this home where all their needs are met (for free), and they are immersed in Truth. They're taught the Bible intensively. Almost like a rehab for drug addicts or a counseling boot camp. Anyhow, Nancy simplified the stories into about 5 pages each, and recorded the stories of a dozen women who have come through the home. It's a very uplifting read, a nice note to end your evening on. I would read a story (sometimes 2) a night, and have sweet dreams thinking of the incredible power of God to change people from the inside-out. And that's what I want to talk about...

Of course, most of us (believers in Christ) would agree that God has the power to overcome sin in a person's life. We mentally ascend to this idea, but do we really believe it? I've heard well meaning believers say, "I just don't know if he'll ever be able to stop using drugs." Or, "When you've lived in that lifestyle for that many years, is it possible that there's brain damage done, so that you can't get out?" Usually that's saying that the person in the lifestyle won't turn from it. And I've even heard believers say this: if a person has come to know Christ, experienced freedom from a certain bondage (drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, etc), then returned to their old ways, there's really not much hope for them.

On the one hand, I understand where these ideas are coming from. The idea is not that God lacks the power to change a person, it's that the person won't repent. I have a cousin who took his own life at 25 years old, because he was miserable on drugs. I think what made him the most miserable was that he knew Christ; he had experienced victory over the drug, and when he fell, he didn't think he could get back up. And he felt conviction; he felt God lovingly calling him back...but he didn't know how to get there. So he gave up and hung himself. A tragedy for sure, one that has left lasting scars on my family.

And I remember being in sin at one point, and not really seeing how to get out. Without boring you with the details, God once showed me that I was under the yoke of anorexia. As odd as it sounds, I had no idea at the time. I felt really stupid, because God opened my eyes to how deceiving it really was. But things had changed in me, like the way I viewed food, my body, and even worse: the way I viewed others based on their appearance... and I wasn't sure how to change. Sure, I could eat again, but that didn't mean I was going to like eating. I honestly felt eat again would be to gain back more weight than before because my metabolism was shot. And I just didn't think I could truly change this area of my life.

But then God did something miraculous: He used His Word to heal me. He showed me how the heart of a person matters more than the outward appearance, and how shallow I had been, and how many beautiful people I was missing out on knowing because of my prejudices. He showed me why the disorder started, and helped me forgive a hurt that had triggered it. He also taught me to obey Him, and give up the "high" of pride I'd feel each morning because I had controlled myself thru the night and denied my body the nourishment it needed. And I replaced this bad view of myself with the idea that I had a responsibility to take care of God's Temple, my body, and instead began to eat healthy and exercise. I look back now on pictures of me in those years when I thought I looked fat with such shame, because I see what a huge lie that was! And most importantly, how I should've been more concerned with my character than my outward appearance.

Ok, I've digressed a bit... Anyhow, what about the person whom God changes like that...that then goes back to the sin? Is there any hope for them? What about the drug addict? I have no doubt that cravings for crack are much more intense than anorexia. And that drugs are most definitely a tool of the enemy, enslaving many to his will. It's ironic that people in the throes of drug addiction are so self-centered, yet they don't serve themselves ultimately, they serve the drug. What about alcoholism? Alcohol is often the salve people turn to when life hurts. It numbs the pain; makes life bearable, at least for a little while. Or dare I say it, what about the person who turned from homosexuality, only to fall again into it?

First of all, to that I say, to believers: please don't ever say a person's chances of overcoming are not likely...even if they themselves had said they'll never turn back, or if they've fallen and gotten back up several times. No matter how many years they've been in the sin, or clean from the sin, it's NEVER hopeless. Maybe it sounds like naive optimism, but what has been brought to my attention is this: when we say that, we're not speaking Truth. We're not honoring God with that opinion, which is actually contrary to His Word. What that person most likely hears from us only reinforces the lie that they can't overcome...which is really to say, "God can't save you. God is mad at you, and won't help you out of this. This sin is who you are, and there's just no changing it. You'll always be this way. You're alone in this struggle."

When someone falls, that's our chance to extend the blessed Truth, that God is ready and willing to forgive, and most importantly: HE IS STRONG ENOUGH to change us. He is powerful enough to diagnose the true issues and HEAL them. He didn't come to be with the healthy, He came to save the sick. He doesn't condone the sin in our lives, but He doesn't condemn us when we come to Him, ready and willing to be changed, to be obedient, to be honest about what we've done.

One thing I've observed is this: the sins that we so readily recognize are usually not the root of the problem. Just like eating again wouldn't have truly cured me of anorexia. It started with being hurt by someone, mixed in with many lies about myself and others that I began to believe. God knew that, and He zeroed in on that, rather than just the outward practice of eating. Only God knows our hearts, and knows what Truth we need to be healed.

And that's why I want to recommend this book... the stories all point to this: it's not really about the outward sin, it's about the inward thoughts and motives of the heart, which God's Word is able to deal with. If we submit to God in obedience, and seek His truth, His Word will show us where we've been wrong, and will replace those lies with the blessed Truth! And then we'll find the healing, and even the victory, that we so desperately need!

There are so many verses that have come to mind as I've written this...Here are a few if you want to think on them, maybe even memorize them, and better still... give them to a person who is struggling to not be controlled by sin.

I know many people's thoughts are on Heath Ledger, and while I didn't know him or his situation, I know that Truth could've healed him... I pray that you and I will be the ones who can be put in the path of people like him, before it's too late, to point them to HOPE, to a faithful God who will not let us go, and has the power to change us...

Psalm 119:11
"Your Word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You."

Ephesians 1:3-6
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will-- to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves."

Philippians 1:6b
"He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Hebrews 4:12-16
"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

Romans 8:1-3
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man..."

Romans 8:29
"For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son..."

Proverbs 24:16
"for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again..."

Galatians 2:20-21</span>
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

Galatians 5:1
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."

Hebrews 12:1-2
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Hebrews 12:9-11
"Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

If you think of any additional verses that also point to hope, please share them (in the comments)...

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