Lay Down Your Independence


We’ve spent a lot of time in past entries addressing our feelings toward those who’ve opposed and hurt us. Therefore we’re going start this week, and this section, by widening our net ever-so-slightly to include one more enemy—you.

All of us have been God’s enemies, and I’m not just talking in a positional, “before we were born again” sense. I’m talking experientially. Like earlier today. Like maybe even right now.

We habitually assert our “in-dependence from” God. Every time we take matters into our own hands, we very deliberately—and however unwittingly—separate ourselves from God and set up our own little kingdoms. For all practical purposes, we’re declaring ourselves his enemies in those matters. Our very actions declare, “God, I just don’t trust you.” We might well come slinking back in repentance later, with spiritual hat in hand . . . but that’s later. I don’t say this with the intention of beating anyone up; nonetheless, we operate in this manner a whole lot more than we’re willing to admit.

And yet Jesus continues to love us even when we oppose him, directly or indirectly. This is why he can so authoritatively command us, “Love your enemies, and pray for them who persecute you.” He not only lived this out during his time on earth, but has been confronting our opposition since the garden of Eden—and since his resurrection as well.

Think about how you feel when a loved one is hurt or threatened. Jesus feels that way about each of us, especially those within his church. And he’s just as offended, if not more so, when those who seek to hurt his people are those within the church.

Our offenses might not be as egregious as the ones committed by those people—you know, the ones you just thought of instead of yourself—but we’re not innocent here either. We too oppose Jesus far too often. We assert our own identity apart from him because, well again, we just don’t trust him. And by the same token, we withhold love from others because we don’t trust them either—because we believe our offerings will be rejected or discarded.

Jesus says: That’s not the point. The point is: Do you trust me enough to lay down your independence and follow me—and therefore, obey me?

We need to love the enemy known as us, just as Jesus does. After all, who needs love more than someone who clearly doesn’t have any love?

One more thing: Laying down our independence isn’t only about letting Jesus in, but about letting others in—to run the risk of incurring enemies, to run the risk of even good people opposing your good plans. And then, love them anyway. The people in front of Jesus weren’t obstacles in his path—they were his path. We’re called to follow that path.

You were never in this alone. You never will be, no matter how much you choose to live as if you were. So lay down your independence, let go of your own little kingdom, and become the person Jesus calls you to be.

Lay It Down Today

Who are your “enemies” right now? Broaden your definition as far as you need to—or, point the finger back at yourself. Don’t only focus on those who’ve hurt you—hopefully, you’ve already dealt with a lot of that—or those who obviously oppose the gospel. Who’s “in your way” right now? Who’s standing between you and what you want? How is Jesus calling you to respond to them in love, instead of responding to how they’re opposing you?

Confess your insistence on your own way—the way you’ve treated God like an enemy—and ask him to help you release it. Ask to receive his love and for the ability to extend it to others, particularly those you’ve just named. Then, take the steps you need to express that love tangibly—again, possibly to yourself as well. And trust God to be there when you do.

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Truth Matters: Knowing God and Yourself


Honestly, I enjoyed working on this one quite a bit. It breaks down the basics of the Christian faith, even as it draws from the deeper well of church tradition. In short, it’s simple but rich….

Truth MattersAndrew Petiprin. Truth Matters: Knowing God and Yourself. 160p., $17.99, New Growth Press.

 In a world that’s increasingly relative, author Andrew Petiprin helps readers discover unchanging truth based on God’s Word . . .  [and] helps readers flourish in their faith by discovering the true answers to age-old questions like, “Who is God?” and “Who am I?”

Walking readers through many important doctrines of the Christian faith, Truth Matters supports those doctrines with Scripture and shows how they were developed carefully over the centuries by those who studied the Bible. As he engages with great thinkers of Christian tradition, including C. S. Lewis, T. S. Eliot, and others, Petiprin guides readers to put on the mind of Christ, leaning in to challenging questions. . . .

Truth Matters helps readers better understand truths about themselves by understanding the truth about God and his desire for a relationship with us. As readers learn more about how doctrine was debated and decided, they will also see that Truth never changes, and that the purpose of doctrine is to make Truth clearer than before . . . as a way to discover not just the truth about God, but to find God himself.

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Lay Down Your Baggage: a small-group session


For this session, you’ll need….

  • a large suitcaseoverstuffed-suitcase1
  • a variety of items—at least one per person. Include a Bible, as well as several of the following:
    • work-related items, such as a stapler or even a laptop computer
    • family-related items, such as a photo album
    • items representing personal interests, such as a football, book, backpack, musical instrument or baking pan. The heavier the item, the better—but make sure it fits in your suitcase.

Find an area where you can spread out all your items (and your group members, once this activity starts). Put out all your items before your group arrives.

 Laying Down Your Day (20 minutes)

Have group members get into subgroups of three or four.

Take a few minutes to talk about your “Lay It Down Today” assignments (see previous entries). Which did you find most useful or interesting? Which ones were more difficult or hard to connect with? In each case, why? Talk about it, and we’ll come back together in about five minutes.

After five minutes, bring everyone back together. Take them to the area where you’ve placed all the items from your supply list.

The items here are meant to represent different interests and priorities each of you have—God, work, family, hobbies. So let’s take turns here. Grab an item that represents an interest or priority of yours, and place it inside the suitcase.

Let everyone take a turn loading items into the suitcase. If you have more than one item per person, let everyone have another turn. Load your suitcase up, but be sure you can close it. Once your suitcase is fully packed, say something like, Let’s see how easy it is to carry all this stuff from our lives around.

Take about 10 seconds to pick up and hold your suitcase, and then pass it on to the next person to hold. Let everyone have a turn—and don’t let your suitcase hit the floor until everyone’s had a turn. Afterward, sit back down and discuss these questions:

  1. We’ve spent a lot of time looking at our need to “lay down our baggage.” Even though we loaded it with mostly good things, how is our suitcase like the baggage you’re carrying in your life right now?
  2. How relieved were you to hand your baggage to someone else? What does that tell you about the need to let go—and the importance of helping others to let go?
  3. What does it also tell you about the dangers of putting all our baggage on others?

We all have our “stuff.” Some of it—like the items in our suitcase—isn’t all bad, but has taken too much priority in our lives. But as we’ve read this week, we still carry around a lot of baggage from our past, and while we may have moved on from it we’ve never really let go of it. We still carry it around, and it still holds us back from fully becoming who we were meant to be in Christ. So let’s dig deeper into this. 

Laying Down the Word (25 minutes)

Have someone read the following excerpt from “Lay Down What’s Done.” Then, discuss the question that follows.

“Our experiences, to a large degree, have made us who we are. But we are more than our experiences, let alone our negative ones. There’s a life in Christ waiting for us that goes beyond what we would limit ourselves to. ‘Laying down what’s done’ doesn’t mean we forget the things in our past. And it certainly doesn’t mean we stop feeling anything when they come to mind, although hopefully we learn to move on more quickly. It does mean that we no longer allow ourselves to own those things, and that we no longer allow them to own us.”

  1. In what ways do you still find yourself defined by the negative experiences in your past? What positive things have nonetheless come out of those experiences?

Ask for another volunteer to read the following excerpt from Day 3. Then, discuss the questions that follow.

“When we refuse to forgive, we keep others in bondage. Jesus says it: ‘Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven’ (Matthew 18:18). Forgiveness, or the lack thereof, has that kind of power. By believing that we need—deserve—to be repaid for the wrongs done to us, we become, in a very real sense, spiritual slave owners. We accuse others of evil—then, instead of freeing them from it, leave them trapped in it. Are those the kind of people we want to be?…

“In short: You don’t get to hold onto your hurt. You don’t get to allow it to fester into bitterness. You don’t get to hold it over their heads. Let me handle it. You, lay it down.”

5. How does our unforgiveness reveal a lack of trust in God?

6. How does giving your hurts and bitterness over to God release both you and those who’ve wronged you from the bondage of unforgiveness? Share a personal example, if you can.

Have a volunteer read the following excerpt from “Lay Down Your Addiction,” and then have another volunteer read Hebrews 2:14–15, 18. Discuss the questions that follow.

“[A]ll of our addictions—all of our sin, really—is a response to the gnawing sense we have, deep down, that God doesn’t really want what best for us. That God’s will comes at his whim, and at our expense. That we, the created ones, somehow don’t owe everything we have to the Creator in the first place.”

7. Whether it’s unforgiveness, caving into an addiction, or any other baggage we carry—what power do you think sin gives you, at the time you’re indulging it? Share as much as you’re comfortable.

8. How does (or should) the fact that Jesus has “been there” help free us from those sins—and to release others as well?

 Laying Down Your Life (15 minutes)

Discuss:

9. What idols did you identify in your life, as you read “Lay Down Your Idols“? (Review now, if necessary.) How do they connect with the other baggage you’ve identified this week? In other words, how do your past hurts and your current idols feed one another?

Have a volunteer read John 5:2–15, then discuss:

10. What are some reasons that we choose not to get well? How would (or did) Jesus respond to those excuses?

11. Where are you not allowing Jesus to heal you right now—or where do you wish he would but instead you just feel stuck? In what ways might you still be resisting his healing?

Close by praying for your group—or, if you’re familiar enough with one another, pair off. Spend some time praying about your answers to question 11 (and 9 as well, if you have time). Ask God to overwhelm your lack of trust with his love, and to give you a heart that’s willing to lay down your baggage, so you’re willing to receive whatever God wants to give you in return.

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Are You Jesus?


Are you revealing Jesus to those you meet? Every day, we’re given that opportunity. . . .

Are-You-Jesus-2b-approved-194x300Joshua McClure. Are You Jesus? 184p., $14.99, Deep River Books.

We all need to ask ourselves this and answer in a personal way. In a world where people need to see Jesus, so often the only Jesus they will see is through those of us who walk with him. Since Jesus calls us to follow after him, his character and actions should become our character and actions.

In Are You Jesus?, award-winning author Joshua A. McClure presents an insightful, powerful portrayal of the effect of Jesus’ life upon those who respond to his call to be “set apart” to him. He demonstrates not only why, but how we should merit to be recipients of his commendation in Matthew 25:40, “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”

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Lay Down Your Idols


Today we finish our section on the past, and begin moving into the present. But there are still some things in our way we need to push aside. Let’s spend today identifying and dealing with them.

We have been created for worship. Therefore, we will ultimately worship something, and very often it’s something less than God. Peter Kreeft, in Christianity for Modern Pagans, aptly points out, “The alternative to theism is not atheism but idolatry.” Even as Christians, the temptation to worship something in God’s creation—or of our own “creation,” for that matter—remains, and we often fall victim to it without even realizing.

If we’re willing to look closer, what we worship—read: what we place above us—is the person or thing we believe will give us the most pleasure or benefit. We may subjugate ourselves to it, but ultimately it’s still about us. So let’s frame the question this way: What do you let serve you, other than God? That’s your idol, or at least your potential idol.

Let me make this even easier, albeit in ascending order of emotional difficulty. By the time we’re done, this may feel more like a pile-on than simply moving from one category to the next, but that only means we’ve uncovered a big idol. So let’s. . . .

Follow the money. Well, where does it go? For that matter, how much of your “essential” spending is essential? As you observe where your money goes, think about the feelings you have in relation to those “purchases.” What are you really trying to buy? Security, pleasure, reputation?

Follow your time. Same idea. Where’s your time going? And again, yes, some blocks of time are immovable or at least difficult to change. But where does your “down time” go? And do you need to spend that much time at work, or is it a choice? Either way, what’s motivating those choices?

Follow your tongue. Now it gets harder—first of all, because you actually have to listen to what comes out of your mouth. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:34, KJV). So, what does your abundance look like? Or to put it more bluntly: What are you full of? And why?

Follow your fear. What causes you anxiety? What makes you defensive? What do you find yourself unnaturally worried about? Don’t stop and justify it with, “Well, I have to, because….” Just answer the question. Then answer this one: What’s that fear telling you about what you truly value? What idol is lurking behind that fear, pulling the strings?

Follow this sentence to its ultimate conclusion: “My life is wasted unless I . . . .As you do this, take special note of that last little word. Because ultimately, all of this idol talk is about the I. We turn to our I-dols because we don’t believe that what God has for I is good enough. And yet, our own efforts leave us feeling even emptier—as if our lives have been wasted.

Here’s the thing: God doesn’t feel your life is a waste. Ever. You don’t have to fix it. Anything in your life that does need fixing is God’s responsibility—but we have to let him do the fixing, and cooperate with him as he does.

What’s more—and we’ll delve more into this in future weeks: Your life is a small speck in the face of eternity. Any “waste” that’s happened, or is happening now, is not only redeemable but nothing in the face of God’s glory. As you lay down the idols you’ve identified, God will take that “waste” and transform it into something that reflects his glory.

As we close this section on laying down your past, there’s probably no better way to do so than with Romans 8:1–2: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” The past is as done as you want it to be. God will use it as he sees fit—not to condemn you, but to transform you back into his image. So let’s lay down the things we worship aside from God, and let’s move into the present.

Lay It Down Today

Where did all that “following” lead you today? Now’s the time to lay those things down—literally, if possible.

For every idol you identified, try to find a physical item that represents it. Is it a home or car? Get out your keys. Money? Get out your wallet or purse. Reputation? Find an award or some other item.

Then, get on your knees before God. No, seriously, do it. Lay down each of these items before him. Confess how, and why, they’ve become idols in your life. Ask God to help you trust him, and to use these items for his glory instead of yours. Thank God that he is the one who’s truly worthy of your worship, and begin living into that reality.

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Israel, the Church, and the Middle East


So, what should the Christian’s attitudes toward Israel be—historically, politically, and especially spiritually?

Darrell L. Bock & Mitch Glaser. Israel, the Church, and the Middle East: A Biblical Response to the Current Conflict. 304p., $24.99, Kregel Academic.

The relationship between the church and Israel has been the source of passionate debate among Christians throughout much of church history. In recent years the traditional pro-Israel stance of evangelicals has come under fire by those who support the Palestinian cause, calling for a new perspective and more nuanced approach by Christians who believe that the land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people by virtue of God’s covenants and promises. . . .

The book is directed toward pastors, global Christian leaders, theological students, and well-read lay Christians who are actively seeking guidance and resources regarding the Middle East conflict. The contributors represent a broad evangelical spectrum.

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Lay Down Your Addiction


Now that we’ve addressed the need to lay down the things we hold against others, let’s spend the rest of this week addressing the other side of our baggage—namely, the logs in our own eyes. Let’s begin today with the things we know we struggle with, and then drill down deeper tomorrow.

For today, I’m going to use a word we’ve come to compartmentalize—addiction—and show how pervasive this mindset really is in our lives. Let’s define addiction here as anything you need to get through the day that isn’t God. All of our addictions—all of our sin, really—is a response to the gnawing sense we have, deep down, that God doesn’t really want what’s best for us. That God’s will comes at his whim, and at our expense. That we, the created ones, somehow don’t owe everything we have to the Creator in the first place. There’s a reason that the acknowledgment of a higher power is part of any good recovery program, after all.

There’s another old-fashioned and equally overcompartmentalized word for what we’re talking about: lust. It doesn’t have to be the sexual kind (although it might well be). What lust in any form means, is: We want what we want and we want it now. And we keep on wanting it—because it wants us, too. That’s the power of lust, or addiction. We believe it will satisfy a need God can’t, or won’t.

But here’s the thing we forget: If God won’t satisfy it, it’s not really a need. We’re the ones who have elevated our desires to that status.

“God’s been duping you; God’s been duping you.” Satan has been using this trick from the very beginning, and it’s still probably his most effective. When we cease to trust God, we welcome the lusts of our own hearts. Yet, once we’ve regained our senses afterward, there’s a sense of heaviness, sadness, not totally unlike the feeling of a Sunday-morning hangover after a particularly long Saturday night. (And for some of you, it might be exactly like that.) Our overindulgence—our giving way to our compulsions—always has consequences, both physical and spiritual.

Jesus didn’t fall for Satan’s trick. He not only endured temptation, but he overcame temptations we were too weak to have Satan even bother to throw at us. Jesus knows the way out, because he’s been there.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery…. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:14–15, 18)

Because Jesus went through temptation for us, came out the other side, and then paid the price for our own failure anyway, he is able to deliver us. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

It may not seem that way at first glance, but one of the most practical responses we can make to our addiction is to engage in spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, solitude, and worship. Here’s why: Instead of letting ourselves be carried away by every impulse that strikes us, such practices help us say to God, “I’m staying right here. I’m focusing on you. Help me to follow what you want.” To be clear, the disciplines aren’t a catch-all solution. In fact, they can become an addiction in themselves if we make them only about how holy we are or become anxious over “doing our duty.” Nonetheless, they are a declaration of intent, with the actions to back it up. They’re opportunities to take our misguided passions and guide them somewhere more useful.

As our focus becomes more and more about God, our compulsions melt away. Not that we’re never tempted again—or for that matter, might not stumble again—but we have a practical way to get up and dust ourselves off. Don’t overlook the importance of that. With that, let’s get to today’s assignment.

Lay It Down Today

We’re going to practice one spiritual discipline right now: Silence. Pulling ourselves away from the world helps us to hear God more clearly. It’s a way to remove ourselves from the constant compulsive flow of the world that draws us so easily into temptation and addiction. And, it’s a way of telling God (silently, of course) that he takes priority.

Psalm 46:10a is a pretty popular phrase we throw around for this: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (I’ve always liked rephrasing it, “Shut up—I’m God.”) I want you to start your time of silence by reading all of Psalm 46—because it’s all about trust, and the fact that God is worthy of our trust. Afterward, take at least ten minutes to close your eyes and be totally silent before God. Your mind will probably keep buzzing for at least the first few minutes. That’s OK. Give the buzzing time to die down. Let God speak, and quiet yourself down enough so that you can hear him. When you’re done, write down your thoughts.

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