And Coming...

"She-Bear in the Beautiful Garden" is an allegory for children of all ages, written and illustrated by Ellen Gillette. Order from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at

Monday, July 27, 2009

July 27, 2009 Dependence on God vs. Codependence with People

There is something within us that fights to maintain control, and it isn’t completely due to the sin nature with which we are born. God bestows on each person a free will, as sovereign as the law of gravity and about as likely to be divinely overruled. It’s an amazing thing, really—the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who must restrain his own power so a simple “hello” doesn’t blow me to smithereens, bows to my will and waits patiently for me to submit. He never manipulates, pulls on heartstrings, pushes, prods, or deceives in order to get me to come around to his way of doing it.

For that very reason, Paul urged us to offer ourselves to God:

"Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness" (Romans 6:13

If we don’t come freely, there’s no point in coming at all. That’s the problem with coercing, forcing, or manipulating people to church “for their own good.” On the other hand, the problem with living sacrifices is that we keep crawling down off the altar! We want to live for God. Then we don’t. Then we do. Then we don’t, mirroring Paul’s quandary in Romans 7.

Controlling people isn’t in a Christian’s job description, but we try to do it nevertheless. Many people, to a certain extent, fall into what Carmen Renee Berry calls the “Messiah Trap” in her book When Helping You Is Hurting Me. We want something done, it depends on us to get it done, and therefore it doesn’t matter whose strings we have to pull in order to make it happen.

Churches are a natural draw for people who, whether consciously or not, seek positions of control. Think about our vocabulary: lord, serve, worship, submit, obey, commandments. For those with a weakness in this area, it is easy to lose sight of whom we are to obey—“God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29b).

As a teenager, I submitted to the spiritual authority of a man who had achieved master manipulator status. Blinded to all but his charisma, charm, and ability to convince me of just about anything, you can well imagine the trouble that resulted from this equation: carnal man with power + impressionable young woman = deception, sin, devastation, guilt, anger.

Perhaps because of that, my antennae are usually very sensitive to manipulation. If I get a whiff of someone trying to pull my strings, I invariably start backing away. But if I’m in a state of spiritual weakness…if my emotional tank is dry…if I’m looking to others to meet my needs rather than to my heavenly Father…I’m still in danger.

But I would have stood anyone down who said I was, in fact, codependent—that psychospeak, vague term that we bandy about when talking about, for the most part, addictions. An alcoholic husband has his own problems, but the wife can easily become another when she lies to cover his lies, makes excuses, hides his abuse of her. That kind of weakness did not…absolutely did not…resemble me.

Sure, I let people use me…aren’t we called to serve? No, I didn’t always regard my own needs as valid…wouldn’t that be selfish?

And then I “just happened” to pick up a copy of Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie, and begin reading. Just the preface convicted me! I saw, like the proverbial light bulb going off over my head, that I had allowed the problems of others—that minister’s lust and control issues, a friend’s anger, a family member’s addiction to pain medications—to control my behavior and responses. My codependency actually fueled the fire. With the family member especially, my attempts to “help” were doing anything but.

Slowly, I’m learning to detach myself from things that are not mine to control, allowing others to fail at times so that they learn to depend to God and not Ellen, realizing that if I’ve sincerely asked someone to forgive me for wrongdoing it isn’t my problem if they choose to withhold forgiveness, feeling free to say “no” whether it hurts someone’s feelings or not. A natural people-pleaser, I’m learning to instead focus on pleasing God—and one thing that pleases him is for me to control my own life under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and neither hold others responsible for my happiness, nor withhold accountability from them when they are hurtful.

We are to offer ourselves to God, not to every person or need or request that comes our way.

Friday, July 10, 2009

July 10, 2009 Lovers or Prostitutes?

The following is an excerpt from an article written by Dr. David Ryser:
A number of years ago, I had the privilege of teaching at a school of ministry. My students were hungry for God, and I was constantly searching for ways to challenge them to fall more in love with Jesus and to become voices for revival in the Church. I came across a quote attributed most often to Rev. Sam Pascoe. It is a short version of the history of Christianity, and it goes like this: Christianity started in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece and became a philosophy; it moved to Italy and became an institution; it moved to Europe and became a culture; it came to America and became an enterprise. Some of the students were only 18 or 19 years old…and I wanted them to understand and appreciate the import of the last line, so I clarified it by adding, "An enterprise. That's a business." After a few moments Martha, the youngest student in the class, raised her hand. I could not imagine what her question might be. I thought the little vignette was self-explanatory, and that I had performed it brilliantly. Nevertheless, I acknowledged Martha's raised hand, "Yes, Martha." She asked such a simple question, "A business? But isn't it supposed to be a body?" I could not envision where this line of questioning was going, and the only response I could think of was, "Yes." She continued, "But when a body becomes a business, isn't that a prostitute?"

Ryser goes on to say that the class was stunned into silence by the concept Martha introduced because ultimately, the answer to her question is “yes.” Ryser continued to mull it over in the coming weeks and began thinking about the differences in lovers and prostitutes. “Both do many of the same things, but a lover does what she does because she loves. A prostitute pretends to love, but only as long as you pay. Then I asked the question, ‘What would happen if God stopped paying me?”

What if?…not that God’s promises are not sure, not that he does not bless us completely and continually because of his awesome love…but let’s be painfully honest with ourselves. Why do we serve him? Do we receive his blessings as from a loving Father for his children, or do we, at some level, perceive them as wages for our service and obedience? Do we really love God, as he commanded, with our whole hearts, souls, minds, and strengths or do we place conditions? Do we feel we deserve this or that because of what we’ve done for him? If you answer this prayer…if you come through for me…if you’ll just forgive me…

Are you ever disappointed with God? I am. He doesn’t always do what I want! If that disappointment and anger affects my relationship with him, however, I’m the one in trouble. In a marriage, a loving couple can handle disappointment and anger and move beyond it—can we move beyond it where God is concerned or do we curl up within ourselves pouting like small children, refusing to worship or relate to his people or serve because we didn’t get our way? When (not if) this happens, we are behaving not as the lovers of God we are called to be, but as common prostitutes. No money, no action.

Ryser points out that “there are no prostitutes in heaven, or in the Kingdom of God, for that matter, but there are plenty of former prostitutes in both places. Take it from a recovering prostitute when I say there is no substitute for unconditional, intimate relationship with God.”

The Church, perhaps particularly in the United States, is in grave danger of turning the Body of Christ into a business. As individuals we need to stay very soft toward the Holy Spirit, listening for his leading and correction, learning to love wholeheartedly and with abandonment regardless of what we see around us. Corporately, we need to be cautious of trendiness, of taking the truth of the Gospel and trying to make it more marketable to the masses. We can be enterprising (i.e. productive, industrious, doing all things for his glory and in excellence) without turning Christianity into an enterprise.

For the entire article by Ryser, go to and search for Dr. David Ryser or “The Question that Changed My Life.”