The Joy of a Multi-Denominational Church Experience

When we view different denominations of the Christian Church as separate from whatever denomination we attend, we do ourselves, our fellow Christians, and Christianity a disservice. We also rob ourselves of the joy of interacting with fellow believers with different perspectives than our own. A different denomination is not a different tree, it is simply a different branch of the same tree. We all have our roots in Christ, and we are each grafted into the tree bringing our own types of fruit.

In fact, one of the biggest things I treasure about the multi-denomination experiences I have had is that they have pushed me to step beyond my own limited mindset and have allowed me to see and appreciate the Church as a whole. 

I have left churches, transitioned through churches, spent extend periods at churches, and visited many other people’s churches. As a result, I’ve come to have a wide range of church experiences. I know what it’s like to listen to a mega church pastor and what it’s like to listen to a small town preacher. I know what it’s like to sit in a church that passes the offering plate versus one that leaves it by the back door. I know what it’s like to recite scripture with the church versus having the pastor simply read it aloud. I’ve sung with instruments and without. I’ve received communion in my pew and by going forward. I’ve been greeted when I’ve walked in a church’s doors, and I’ve been ignored. I’ve attended churches where only hymns were sung, and I’ve attended churches where only praise music was sung. I’ve been in churches with a pastor, and churches that had only preaching elders. I’ve worn jeans to one church and a dress to another. I’ve gone to churches in the U.S. and outside the U.S. I’ve attended everything from a Catholic church service to a Cowboy church service. Such experiences are definitely at times stretching and can have their awkward moments, but I take joy in having had the experiences because it has expanded my understanding of the Christian world.

To me the concept of Church has been made broad by my experiences. The Church is not my specific church denomination or my specific style of worship. The Church is the greater community of believers that I have encountered in so many different forms. I may not fellowship with a certain church on an ongoing bases, but I can appreciate how they fellowship and are fellow Christians who love and worship God. Their convictions are perhaps quite different from my own, but my encounter with their convictions helps me better understand my own and how to respect them in theirs. Knowing the greater Church and experiencing so many different mindsets and perspectives has rounded off the sharpness of my own positions and helped me become a more gracious member of the Church as a whole. 

When we get stuck in one mindset, different mindsets can become a point of division, but where we have experienced by choice or circumstances  other people’s mindsets, it can open the doors to a more true unity within the Church community. 

In the midst of our own uncertainties, we need to remember that we are not here to promote our own church but rather to promote God’s Church.  And the thing about God is that He can handle more than one mindset. He loves and enjoys the people who love hymns and the people who love praise music. He enjoys and loves the pastors who wax eloquently and those that just say it as it is. He created each of us the way we are for a reason, and when we take joy in learning from our differences rather than letting them drive us apart, we learn how to truly love each other and to truly seek God and His righteousness.

I sincerely wish we had more multi-denominational church events, because I think we have a lot to learn from each other. In fact, I think if we could find better ways to get along within the Family of Christ, we would probably also be far more effective speaking His grace to the world.

Challenge: If you have never before attended a church service of a different denomination, I would encourage you to do so. Note the differences, but spend your time looking for the similarities. We are after all family. Uncle Jo might not pray the same way as you are use to and Cousin Tom might feel a little liturgical, but there are things to learn from each of them. 

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A Good Reason to Leave a Church

A lot of people talk about the reasons you shouldn’t leave a church. And I wish there was never a good reason to leave a church, but sometimes there is. 

Sometimes the most God honoring thing to do is to walk out those doors. Because to continue to support, represent, and/or endorse a group or leader who is functioning in ongoing opposition to the nature and will of God is to yourself stand in opposition to God.

All the same reasons we should not leave the Church are actually all the same reason why there are times we should in fact leave a church. When we call ourselves Christians, we are saying we represent God and that our churches exemplify Him, and when this ceases to be the case in a church it’s time to get out.

I never thought I’d be someone who had to tell people, “I don’t currently attend a church.” I never expected to cringe at the line, “Pastor’s reference required.” I never anticipated having to tell so many people, “What you are seeing and experiencing in church, that is not who God is.”

There is always a place for forgiveness and grace, but when there is no acknowledgement of wrong and no intention to repent from that wrong, then forgiveness and grace is an open door that you maintain toward that group or person as you walk away. An open door that they can freely enter if they too choose to walk away. 

Forgiveness and grace is something we give to the sinner not to the sin. And since I have seen this abused in so many sickening ways, let me be very clear. . . 

Forgiveness and grace is not ever supposed to be about the acceptance and allowance of evil. Any church that preaches this is preaching heresy.

Any leader who tells you that forgiveness means keeping your mouth shut and allowing evil to continue, is a leader who is serving Satan not God.

Isa 5:20-24 “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil . . . as the fire devours the stubble, and the flame consumes the chaff, so their root will be as rottenness, and their blossom will ascend like dust; because they have rejected the law of the LORD of hosts, and despised the word of the Holy One of Israel.”

Let me say this again . . . 

Forgiveness is not accepting or allowing evil. Forgiveness is allowing the cost of someone’s wrong to not be required of them.

Forgiveness is not about staying silent in face of evil. Forgiveness is about speaking up to say, “I am willing to lay aside my right to require that you pay the price of the evil you have done toward me.”

There may be times where we are in situations where God does asks us to keep our mouths shut and allow evil to continue for a time, but this is called forbearance and is never done to accept or support evil but rather to allow God to deal with it in His timing.

Also, let me be very clear.

Forgiveness is not about removing the earthly consequences someone faces because of the evil/wrong they have done.

God forgives us our sins, thereby removing the eternal punishment, but He does not remove all the earthly consequences we face because of our sin. He often allows us to experience those consequences as a means of motivating and teaching us to truly repent and change. Consequences are about loving the person enough to say,  I want what is best for you therefore I stand in your way. I forgive you so that you are free of the punishment that I could require of you, and I do not remove the consequences of your choices so that you hopefully learn from them. Love should always be a seeker of good not tolerance.

If you have been hurt by a church, found yourself struggling to find your footing after leaving a church, or trying to decide if you should leave a church, etc., and could use someone to talk to, please feel free to reach out to me at givenhoffman@gmail.com.

A book I found really helpful when I was walking through some of my church experiences is The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse: Recognizing and Escaping Spiritual Manipulation and False Spiritual Authority Within the Church

See also: What if an Apology plus Forgiveness Shouldn’t Equal Trust

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Focus This Year on God and His Gifts

What if this next year, instead of focusing on what we can accomplish for God, we focused on what God wants to give us?

At New Years we are often found paying attention to all the areas in our life in which we want to accomplish change. However, when we are focused on ourselves accomplishing change, we lack the power to make those changes and we lack having anything to replace that thing we want to change. Therefore the likelihood is then that in our self-effort we will default right back to our old habit.

Instead if we focus this year on received who He is, what He has accomplished, and what He wants to give us, change would happen naturally. By receiving what He had given us the accomplishment comes from Him not us and therefore is established not by our flawed self-effort but rather by His perfect strength. 

We can focused on being less selfish. But even if we can accomplish this, what does it make us? It simply makes us less selfish. Instead, what if we prayed to receive what God wants to give us?

Gal 5:22 “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control….”

When we focus on receiving the gifts God gives us through His Spirit, we receive gifts like gentleness and kindness and because of these gifts we naturally become less grouchy and less mean. When we receive, focus on, and live out what God has for us, we through Him become less of all the things we wish to change and more like the character of God.

Mat 7:11 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”

Challenge: Mat 6:33 “…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” this coming New Year and watch what He is able to do in you through His gifts. Focus on Him!

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Two Responses to Immanuel

Isa 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Mat 1:23 “‘Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us.’”

Many of us celebrate Christmas — Christ’s birth, but there are those who fear God being with us. Why? Because people fear what a King showing up means in their life. It means they must give up the power and control they think they have.

The thing about God being with us is that we finite humans don’t have the power or ability to stop Him. He is unstoppable, which is good because without Him we would cease to exist (Col 1:16). Are you going to attempt to stand in Jesus’s way and challenge His authority over your life? Or are you going to get on your knees and worship Him who has come to give you life?  “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

There are only two choices. Which one are you making this Christmas season? Jesus is King. Will you bow to Him and accept His gift of life and love this Christmas season? Will you do so while He still offers His hand of grace or will you bow later when He sits upon His throne of judgement? 

Two Choices:

John 3:16-18 “…whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Romans 14: 10-11 “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: ‘As I live, says the LORD, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.’” (Isa 45:23)

We have seen two choices being made by humanity bringing about their response to “God with us” particularly since Jesus’s birth.

Mat 2:1 “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.’ When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.

Two Choices: 

Mat 2:16 “Then Herod…sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.”

Mat 2:11 “And when [the wise men] had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Jesus was born King, died as the King, and resurrected and lives as King! He is King of kings and that does not and will not change. What we can change is how we respond to Him. “…the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.” Revelations 17:14

Two Choices:

Mar 15:2, 12-13 Then Pilate asked [Jesus], “Are You the King of the Jews?” He answered and said to him, “It is as you say.” . . . Pilate answered and said to [the crowd] again, “What then do you want me to do with Him whom you call the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, “Crucify Him!

 Luk 23:39-43 “Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed [Jesus], saying, ‘If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.’ But the other [criminal], answering, rebuked [the first criminal], saying, ‘Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.’ Then he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”

Mat 1:20 “…an angel of the Lord appeared to [Joseph] in a dream, saying, ‘ . . . you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.’”

Challenge: If you have not made the choice to seek Jesus as your King, I want to challenge you this Christmas that “God with us” this Christmas is not a choice. Rather your response to Him being here is your choice. (John 3:16-18)

(All Scripture is taken from the NKJV and the emphasis is added)

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Enter His Rest this Christmas Season

Why are the concepts of Sabbath and rest so significant in the Bible? I was recently reading through Hebrews and it struck me for the first time that Sabbath, Rest, and Salvation are all interlinked,.

In Hebrews 3:18, 4:1-10 “And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief. Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but. . . those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience . . . it has been said: ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.’… For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.”

Obedience, in this regard, therefore is about faith to rest from work, knowing God has provided all that is needed. God provided the atonement for all who accept it. 1Jo 4:10 “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

We cannot work to earn Salvation. We must rest in what God has done through His Son. Sabbath was the symbolism of what is necessary for our Salvation and the ongoing reminder to us of our need to place our trust and faith in Jesus not in ourselves.

Have you ever wondered why Sabbath out of so many of the Levitical laws seemed to have so much significance? 

We don’t practice Sabbath today like the Jews practiced it. Why not? Do you know that in Levitical law to ignore Sabbath was an offense punishable by death? Exodus 31:15 “Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.”

John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life . . .

Jesus keeps healing people on the Sabbath. He’s seemingly ignoring something that to the Jews bears so much significance and consequence, but what they aren’t getting is why Sabbath was/is so important.

Jesus says during one such encounter with the Jews “ . . . are you angry with Me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” John 7:23-24

Mar 2:27-28 “And He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.’”

John 5:18 “Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.”

Gen 2:2 “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

Sabbath is 4th in the list of what we refer to as the 10 Commandments. Why? Maybe because it’s more than just a physical day of rest. Exo 20: 1-11
1. “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
2. “You shall not make for yourself a carved image . . . not bow down to them nor serve them.”
3. “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain”
4.  Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”

Exo 31:13-14 “Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.

Lev 16:29-31 “This shall be a permanent statute for you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall humble your souls and not do any work, whether the native, or the alien who sojourns among you; for it is on this day that atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you; you will be clean from all your sins before the LORD. It is to be a sabbath of solemn rest for you, that you may humble your souls; it is a permanent statute.” (NASB)

Gal 2:16 “knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” 

Challenge: Rest in the Sabbath of the LORD and know that you cannot and do not have to work to enter His rest. Rather He has provided what you to enter into Salvation. Do what is good, but know it is not what you do that saves you, it is the work of the Son of God, Jesus, who gives to you Sabbath rest.

(All Scripture unless otherwise indicated is taken from NKJV, emphasis added)

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The Scandal of Christmas

What is a scandal exactly? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as “an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.”

The thing about a scandal is that it’s all about what people think. Notice in the above definition of scandal the words “regarded as.” The definition of scandal isn’t “an action or event morally or legally wrong.” Rather it’s something that is perceived by people as morally or legally wrong.

Did you know our English word “Scandal” actually comes originally from the Greek word (skandalon) which in Latin is the word (scandalum) and eventually became an Old French word (scandale), which resulted in our English word (scandal).

Did you know that it was foretold years before Jesus’s birth that Jesus’s life would be a scandal?

Rom 9:33 “As it is written: ‘Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense (skandalon), and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’” (This is quoted from Isaiah 28:16 and Isaiah 8:14 where the prophet Isaiah is proclaiming God’s words about the coming Messiah.)

Did you know that even after His death and resurrection Jesus’s life and teachings were still considered a scandal? 1Co 1:22-23 “For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block (skandalon) and to the Greeks foolishness…”

In Jesus’s thirties He was publicly condemned for allegedly blaspheming against God. Having healed people in God’s name, cast out demons in God’s name, and preached with a God-given authority unheard of from the religious leaders, Jesus was accused and convicted of this crime and sentenced to death. Talk about a scandal.

People, who had shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” “Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9), shouted instead,  “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13).

Jesus’s death was a public spectacle and a very public scandal. I can just hear the gossip mill on the streets, “You remember Jesus, that teacher, do you know . . . have you heard?”

But as much as the end of Jesus’s life and His alleged crime, which led to His public execution, was scandalous. Jesus’s birth was no less of a scandal.

Luke 1:26-31  “…the angel Gabriel was sent by God…to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary….Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS.’

Matthew 1:19-21 “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.’”

Sweet, kind, wonderful Mary who was likely the sort of person everyone in Nazareth said, “That’s the kind of girl I want my daughters to grow up to be like.” Now here Mary is unmarried and pregnant. Talk about a scandal.

I can just imagine the gossip mill going in Nazareth, “Have you seen Mary? Can you believe it? And she seemed like such a good girl. And Joseph, I can’t believe he would still marry her.”

Oh, but the story doesn’t stop there, and likely neither did the gossip or scandal, because Jesus is born. 

We always think of Jesus as God’s son and Joseph’s stepson, but by the perception of culture He was an illegitimate child. Talk about a scandal. 

Can you imagine the possible gossip on this one? “You mean the carpenter’s son? Well, you know, He’s not really Joseph’s son, right? No, no one know’s who is father is. His mother clearly wasn’t a Godly girl, obviously, since He was conceived.”

Christmas and all of Jesus’s life, from a human perspective, was a scandal, but here is what Jesus says.  Mat 20:25 “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’”

At the end of Jesus’s life He says words that we might think rather strange, but if we follow them to their source we see the completion of who Jesus Christ the Messiah, born of a virgin and condemned to die on a cross, a scandal from beginning to end, truly was.

Mark 15:34-39 “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is translated, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Read Psalms 22 where these words come from) Because these words — Jesus Christ’s last words before His death and resurrection — brought this response:  “the centurion, who stood opposite Him . . . said, ‘Truly this Man was the Son of God!’”

Challenge: Jesus knows what it’s like to not have a picture-perfect reputation. When you are tempted to worry about what other people might be thinking about you and your life this Christmas season, remember that Jesus can relate and is there for you. Scandal is what people think. Truth is the reality of who you are and who Jesus is.

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The Power of Praising God

Once we’ve accepted the new life Christ has given us, our life of sin is put to death. We have freedom in Christ. How do we live in the power of that position? We praise!

Satan is defeated in our lives of freedom, but he still loves to come and harass us and to slip nasty destructive words into our lives. Satan likes to tell us things like, “If you don’t have big plans for Christmas you should feel sad and frustrated.” “When you work so hard to make the holiday special you have every right to be frustrated if something or someone messes that up.” “You should feel ashamed that you don’t have the money to buy great gifts.” “The kids were going wild and you had every right to yell at them.” Etc. Satan effectively tailors his words to each of our lives to set us on edge and cause us and other’s to do harm to our selves and others with our response. But we have power in Christ to choose to listen and speak something different. We have the power to fight back by praising our God!

Satan is the father of lies (Jhn 8:44). Satan wants us to believe that anger and envy and strive are the only logical responses to make to life’s circumstances, because Satan wants to steal from us our joy and life in Christ. So how do we resist?

Well, the worst thing we can do to Satan is to do exactly what Satan hates. In the moments when we feel despair, anger, envy, etc we can choose to not dwell in those feelings but to instead praise our God and dwell with our King!

The best way we have to fight for freedom, is to use our words to glorify the God who was, is, and is yet to come, the Great I AM. Praise God! Use the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Eph 6:17) to speak the truth of who God is. Everything God is, holy, true, loving, powerful, kind, merciful, etc. speak it, sing it, shout it. Praise God. This is your weapon and it is powerful.

During this holiday season, when the stress of Christmas begins to feels like too much and you feel that frustration, etc. creeping in, pause and seize the freedom you have been given in Christ and declare praise for your KING! 

Sing GOD’s glory! 

Emanuel didn’t just come and go on Christmas. No! GOD WITH US is true every day! And with God with us, we don’t have to listen to Satan’s lies. We have in our lives the Prince of Peace, the Provider, the Comforter, and when we choose to praise God in all of His glory we reckon the power of the position we have in Him ours to embrace and live out in freedom.

Praise shifts our focus from us to God and when we shift our focus to Him, we shift from listening to darkness to living in the light of Christ as children of light and this can change even our feelings. Practice praising Him this Christmas season and watch how it changes your distress to joy, for in His presence there is fullness of Joy. (Psa 16:11) 

Satan tells us we should feel certain ways when we experience certain things, but we don’t have to live in that bondage. We have been given the freedom to live in the power of praising our God.

Psalm 7:17 “I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.”

Psa 42:5 “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance.”

Psa 66:1-3 “Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious. Say to God, ‘How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You.’”

Psa 71:14-16 “But I will hope continually, and will praise You yet more and more. My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness and Your salvation all the day, for I do not know their limits. I will go in the strength of the Lord GOD; I will make mention of Your righteousness, of Yours only.”

Psa 135:3 “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing praises to His name, for it is pleasant.

Psa 150:6 “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!”

Isa 61:3 “…The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…”

Heb 13:15 “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”

Challenge: When you find yourself feeling worn down, raise your voice in praise to God and let Him give you the joy of who He is.

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Live Out Freedom from Sin

Past relationships, particularly abusive relationships, can have a way of still impacting us. Our previous bondage to sin can be the same way. It’s hard for us to remember what it now means for us to continually reckon sin dead in our lives and thus remind ourselves to embrace the true freedom of living out our new identity and life with Christ.

Ephesians 5:8 “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”

When a person lives with someone who is abusive, controlling, and insensitive they are trained to respond a certain way and view themselves a certain way. Christ comes in and saves us from the abuser known as sin. Through Christ’s offer we become dead to our trespasses (sin) and alive in Christ. 

Romans 6:10-12 “For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.”

When living with an abuser everything from the way a situation routinely plays out to whether or not the abuser will allow the person to leave the house is all about the control of the abuser. 

Even if the person manages to leave the relationship alive, the abuser often tracks the person down and harasses and controls them or even kills them.

Abusive relationships create a lot of fear and feed off the insecurities that the ongoing interactions create.

When in an abusive relationship, the lie that no one cares is sung loudly. The lie that we aren’t worth it is told over and over. The lie that the abuser is the only ones who is willing to put up with us or even somewhat want us are propagated daily. Because this is the control of bondage. Sin tells us we are only fit for sin. Sin tells us sin is all we can do, and that no one else could possibly love us or care about us.

Christ comes and shows us we are wanted, loved, treasured, and more valuable to Him than even His own life, and He freely offers us freedom from the bondage of our old relationship with sin. But that freedom will only make a difference in our lives if we accept it and live it out. 

When we accept Christ into our lives, He legally pays the price to free us from our sin. He then offers us a new life through death and being born again. By His gift we get to die to sin. Legally we no longer exist as that past person or in that past relationship, but are reborn as someone else. Our binding relationship with sin is broken and over and gone. We are born again with a new identity and freedom to live out our new life Christ has given us though abiding in Him who is righteous. 

Here’s the thing, though, as I said in the beginning, it’s often hard for us to not still be impacted by old relationships. God has given us a new life and identity, which means we don’t have to answer to sin anymore. But that doesn’t mean sin is silenced. It can still have an impact if we let it. So the question is are we living out our freedom or are we letting something that is dead still speak into our life and control us?

We don’t have to fear sin any more. We don’t have to listen to sin any more. We are free. 

We have to reckon that freedom ours and live in the new relationship of what we have in Christ. We don’t have to let what sin told us influence us any more. When we hear the past words sin has spoken in our life, words like, “You can’t be anything better.” “You don’t matter to anyone else.” We need to claim the identity of the One who has claimed us His own, who has loved us and made us His children, children of light. And we need to remind ourselves that sin is dead and done in our lives. Sin doesn’t have the right to control us or keep us in bondage any more. We are free to be in Christ and we need to embrace the freedom of our relationship with Christ. 

We are made new so that we don’t have to live in sin. We can live in the light of Christ as children of light if only we accept it and reckon it ours. 

Challenge: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.”Galatians 5:1

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The Reality of Freedom from Sin

Last week we talked about everyone’s need to be freed from sin, and this week we’re going to look at the reality of this freedom from sin. This subject has proven confusing to many people because there are sets of verses in the Bible that, if read without the full context, come across as seemingly contradictory messages about sin in our lives. 

So let’s walk through these passages and see why and how the bigger picture clears up this confusion.

Like we looked at last week, we need to acknowledge our bondage to sin and our need for Jesus to rescue us from that slavery. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. ” 1 John 1:8

We have to know that we are, apart from God, sinners and in bondage to sin. For most of us, if our hearts are right before God, this is fairly straightforward for us to acknowledge. We know how messed up and sinful we are. We are sinners. However, we cannot neglect to comprehend and acknowledge the flip of this verse, which is what follows in 1 John 1:8. (Note: We should always remember when reading Scripture that the original writers of the Bible didn’t put in the chapters and verses. Their intention was for us to understand the teachings of Scripture via the whole reality of what they were saying.) 

So let’s look at 1Jo 1:8-9 “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Once we read this continuation we see there is much more to the situation of sin and righteousness. In the same way there is a whole lot more to the seemingly contradictory verse 1 John 3:6 “Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

If all we read was these two verses, there could be a great deal of confusion. However, thankfully there is a context and greater understanding to be had which clarifies how both of these statements can in fact be true. So let’s read a bit more of the context surrounding the above verse.

1 John 3:5-9  “And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides (menō) in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness (poieō dikaiosynē) is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins (poieō hamartia) is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does (poieō) not sin, for [God’s] seed (vital force or life giving power)(Christ) remains (menō) in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.” (Emphasis and portions in parenthesis all added)

Okay, so how does this whole “does not sin” and “cannot sin” make sense? Aren’t these contradictions to our earlier passage? Clearly we can sin. So how does this work where we are a lier “if we say that we have no sin”?

Did you noticed how I pointed out the Greek word (poieō) that is translated as “practices” in the above passage? This word poieō is in both statements (He who practices righteousness, and he who sins), even though it is not actually translated as practice in both statements.

Did you notice as well in this passage the word “abides” (menō) in Him and for His seed “remains” (menō).

When we go to “practice” something there is a choice we make. That choice is pursing or going after something.

How about “abide” (menō) and “remain” (menō), what does this word menō mean? Some people like to put it this way: to dwell with. Here are some other definition from the BLB Greek translations: to remain as one, not to become another or different from, to continue to be, to last, endure, to tarry, not to depart.

When we actively go after sin (going in a direction contrary to God)(when we violating God’s laws)(when we do the opposite of God’s ways), then we are decidedly not abiding in God (to remain as one with Him)(to continue to be with Him)(to not depart from Him).

In this state, this practicing of sin 1. we are not confessing our sins for the cleansing that God offers to us and 2. we are not abiding in God’s sinlessness.  1 John 3:5  “…He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin.”

However, when we are practicing righteousness 1. we are confessing our sin and being purified by Christ, and 2. we are abiding in Him. 

Outside of God, without God, sin is our identity, but . . . 

When we abide in God (who is sinless and who purifies us of our sin) our identity is His identity, righteousness.

Yet how does this answer the question of “does not sin” and “cannot sin”? When abiding in God (when our identity is one with His rather than one with our sin, when maturing and learning to live within who He is rather than who we are) we are continuing with Him and not departing from who He is and what He has given us through the covering of His blood and the power of His life.

Sinning is going in the opposite direction from God. Therefore it is impossible to go in the opposite direction from God when we are in fact abiding with God.

Does this mean then that we don’t ever sin? No, what it means is when we’re abiding with God sin cannot take us (have control over us), become us (be our identity), or live within us (grow in power). When we’re abiding with God (living out the truth of us being dead to sin and alive in Christ’s righteousness), sin can show up in our lives, but it has no ground or place to grow within us, and therefore it dies. Abiding in Christ, we cannot sin (are not able to grow sin or be of sin).

You see, sin lived well in our old lives, but when we abide with God, He kills that old life of ours where sin grew and gives us a new life where sin cannot grow.  2 Co 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.”  1Pe 1:23 “…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever…”

Rom 6:5-11 “For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There is therefore no contradiction.

“Sinner” is the truth of who we are separate from Christ.
&
“Cannot sin” is the truth of who we are in Christ.

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We All Need to be Freed from the Bondage of Sin

Last week we talked about how there is no neutral ground here on earth. Either we are darkness (sin and death) or we are of the light (God, His Righteousness, and life) 

What’s interesting about this is that this same question of sides is something Jesus dealt with when dealing with the Jews, who felt like because they had a certain family connection this automatically put them on the right side, but what Jesus reminds them of is that they cannot get to His side without Him. He points out that they are in a bondage of which they cannot get themselves out. Just as the Hebrew slaves could not free themselves from Egypt neither can humanity free themselves from the slavery of sin.

John 8:31 “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.’” (See also John 14:6)

Once we have committed sin, no matter how big or how small, we are a slave to sin. Therefore because of our sin, and the sin nature which is passed on to us, we are not inherently free, but rather inherently slaves to sin. (Rom 5:12 “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned—…death reigned” )

We are therefore in need of saving. As Jesus says above, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” We are offered a way to be freed from the bondage we have fallen under because of sin.

Rom 5:18 “Therefore, as through one man’s offense judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.”

But if we can’t or won’t acknowledge that we are in bondage to sin, it is impossible for us to be freed from it.

John 1:11 “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

Those who seek the freedom from sin that Jesus offers will indeed be freed from it. But you can’t stay in the darkness and claim you want to be freed from it. You have to come to the light, for the Light is He who will make you free indeed. John 8:12 “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’ 

Challenge: Acknowledge your need, run to the Light, and receive Him who is able to save you.

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