The Key to Freedom from the Comparison Trap

img_0910Have you ever struggled with comparing yourself to other people? Do you see others’ lives and feel that somehow yours is inferior? Ever compared your children to someone else’s children? Or your appearance to another’s? How about your house or car? Do you often doubt your worth when looking at others? If we are honest, we would all answer these questions with an emphatic, “Yes!” It seems to be a part of our human nature to compare ourselves with other people. It can be our appearance (weight, height, looks, perceived flaws, etc.); or our social status (wealth or lack of it, career, education, friendships, material things, etc.). Or maybe it is our family (spouses, children, pets, etc.). It could even be our spirituality (our experiences, knowledge, ministry, etc.). The list could go on and on.

If you’re like me and have battled this common malady, how has that been working for you? For many years I was miserable no matter what I accomplished, what compliments or affirmation I received, or any satisfaction I may have felt occasionally; nothing was ever good enough. I always managed to find someone that seemed better than me. Many others struggle with this as well. Why do we do this? What is it that drives us to constantly compare ourselves to our fellow humans? In a nutshell, it is insecurity. It is a lack of knowing our true identity as unique, gifted, beloved, accepted, and significant sons and daughters of God. How can we possibly compare ourselves to another when our Creator has made us to be totally unique? That is like comparing an apple to an orange. They are totally different except that they are both fruits. Likewise, we are all humans, and may be similar in many ways, but we are also totally different in terms of our identity.

The comparison trap is a futile, fruitless, and destructive pit that we too easily fall into. It results in basically one of two things: we look at others and think we are somehow better, resulting in pride, or, we consider that they are better, leading to self-deprecation and false humility which is also pride. In other words, either way, measuring ourselves against others leads to self-absorption, which is pride and idolatry. Paul wrote, “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (2 Cor. 10:12) The only One we are required to compare ourselves to is Jesus. When we focus on Him, we are all equally in need of His mercy, love, and grace.

The key to getting free from the comparison trap is to meditate on who God says we are as stated in His Word, allowing His truth to renew our minds, our ways of seeing and thinking about ourselves and others. As we spend time in His presence and His Word, we will begin to see ourselves as He sees us. Then we can learn to love ourselves as He loves us. This is the first step to loving our neighbors as ourselves. Comparison provokes envy, jealousy, and dissatisfaction. Security in our identity enables us to love as He does while expecting nothing in return.

The majority of the world and even the Church is caught in this deadly comparison trap. When we seek God and receive freedom, He will then use us to set many others free – free to be the special, unique, son or daughter He has created and called them to be. Not only does that bring Him untold pleasure, but it will also bring Him the glory and honor He alone deserves.

The Two Battles We Face in Life

saint-georgeLast week, I wrote about the basic truths, or keys, of spiritual warfare. If you didn’t see it, you can read it here. Today I want to expand upon these truths so that we can learn not only how to get free, but also, how to stay free. These are the two battles we must deal with throughout our lives – getting free from bondage, and staying free. Then we can walk in victory and the abundant life Jesus died to give us. Both battles require several things: 1) we must first recognize our need, 2) we must be willing to get help from trusted friends and/or leaders, 3) we must realize that we have to do things differently than we did before, and 4) we must be determined to persevere and not give up. Getting and staying free requires work, but if we are willing to do our part, God will always be faithful to help us in our weakness.

In my twenty plus years of ministering to people in bondage, I have often seen those who come for ministry expecting a quick fix. Our human nature, or flesh, wants to get out of pain as quickly and easily as possible. Unfortunately, God didn’t set it up to work that way. He works through process, and we must learn what that process looks like and how to cooperate with Him in it. The whole point of the process is to conform us into the image of Christ. That is always His will for everyone. This is why it’s impossible to by pass or cut short the process; He simply won’t allow it. He is fully committed to completing the good work He began in us. Therefore, it would be to our benefit to learn to cooperate with Him.

The greatest challenge in these battles, I have found, both in my own life, and in the lives of those I’ve ministered to, is changing the way we think. If we don’t learn to do this, we will never get free. Jesus’ predominant message when He walked the earth was “Repent!” To repent means, to change the way we think. Most, if not all of our problems, stem from this one issue. We do not think the way that God thinks. (Is. 55:8-9) We are not even close! To truly repent, we must learn to renew our minds.

There are three areas we need to renew our minds in – 1) our thoughts about God, 2) our thoughts about ourselves, and 3) our thoughts about others. This goes along with our ability, (by God’s grace), to fulfill the greatest commandment – to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourself. When we renew our minds to the truth of who God is, we will see ourselves as He sees us, and we will see others as He sees them. This must happen before we can love anyone. To know God is to love Him; to love God, is to love ourselves the way that He does, which then enables us to love others as He does.

Think about how different the Church would be if we all had our minds renewed! This is precisely why the enemy’s greatest weapon against us is deception. For when our thinking is distorted by lies, we are unable to love God, ourselves, or anyone else. Love is our greatest weapon;  without love, as Paul said, we are nothing. (1 Cor. 13:2) Having an unrenewed mind is like looking through a window that is severely cracked. Everything on the outside looks skewed and awry; we cannot see anything clearly. This is our hardest and most important battle, and God won’t do it for us. If we are willing to put forth the effort, He will certainly help us!

One of the most effective ways I’ve found to renew the mind is simple, but it does require time, effort, and patience. First, we must recognize and break agreement with the lies that we have believed, and receive the truth, as God reveals them to us. We must meditate on the truths every day for 30 – 60 days, until they become real in our heart, not just in our head. Head knowledge will never change us; it must be experiential, revelation knowledge that Holy Spirit reveals to our spirit. This comes from daily meditation. Meditation is simply thinking about, pondering, contemplating, “chewing on,” praying over, repeating the truths until they become second nature to us. It is similar to a cow chewing on its cud. The cow eats, regurgitates, and chews its food several times before finally digesting it. We must do this mentally, which requires disciplining and training our minds, literally.

We can do this as part of our quiet time each day, picking a Scripture verse, and journaling our thoughts and what God reveals to us. I won’t go into detail here about how to do that, but if you want to know more, you can read an article I wrote about this here. Learning to renew our minds is one part of the battle to get free. It is also a life-long habit we must practice to win the battle to stay free. It is God’s command to us (Rom. 12:2), and He never commands us to do anything He doesn’t give us the grace to do. We can do all things through His strength!

 

 

 

 

Walking in Truth in an Epidemic of Deception

truth-lies-signIn today’s world, we see deception growing at an alarming rate. It seems more and more people, both believers and the lost, are being duped by fake news sites, false teachers, and duplicitous leaders than ever before. For years, a growing belief that truth is relative has become widespread. Many think that as long as they are sincere in their beliefs, they can decide for themselves what is true or not. But they are sincerely wrong, because truth is not relative, it is absolute. Truth is defined by one person only – the One who IS truth, and His name is Jesus. (John 14:6)

Jesus said the devil is a liar and the father of lies, and there is no truth in him. (John 8:44) So we know that much of the deception we are seeing is a result of people who are believing his lies. But Scripture also tells us we can deceive ourselves. This can happen in several ways: our prideful hearts can deceive us (Obadiah 1:3, Jer. 49:16); sin can deceive us (Rom. 7:11); believing God can be mocked can deceive us (Gal. 6:7); believing God tempts us can deceive us (James 1:13-16); and believing hanging out with the wicked won’t corrupt us, can deceive us (1 Cor. 15:33), to name a few.

Jesus said that knowing the truth will set us free (John 8:32), so seeking after, loving, and embracing truth should be one of our greatest desires and pursuits. We have been given God’s Spirit; He is also called the Spirit of Truth, who will lead us into all truth, according to Jesus. (John 16:13) He also acknowledged that God’s word is truth. (John 17:17) It is through speaking the truth in love that we grow into maturity. (Eph. 4:15) The belt of truth, in Eph. 6:14, is symbolic of truth being the piece of our protective armor that holds all the other pieces in place. Walking in truth is indeed great protection, guarding us from the enemy’s attacks. The Father seeks worshippers who worship Him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24)

Truth is vital to our spiritual growth and maturity. We must not settle for mere head knowledge of it, however; we must daily apply it to our lives. Deception is the enemy’s greatest weapon because the nature of it is that you don’t know when you are being deceived. To get free from deception requires one to humbly submit to someone they trust more than they trust themselves. Believing lies will always lead to deception – always. We must know the truth for ourselves, believe it, receive it, and walk in it, no matter the cost. To not do so is spiritual suicide.

One of the scariest passages in Scripture is Romans 1:18-32, describing the downward spiral God allows in the lives of those who know, but suppress, the truth. This word, “suppress” literally means “to detain, hold back, hinder, or restrain the course or progress of.” These people knew God, but didn’t glorify or give Him thanks. They exchanged His glory for His creation, worshipping and serving His creatures rather than Him. And they exchanged His truth for lies, and did not believe knowing Him was worthwhile. They even knew that doing these things is wrong, but continued to do them, and approved of others who do likewise. We can see this happening all around us even now.

Obviously, God sent His Son to show us and teach us the truth so we can be free to know Him as He truly is, and to know ourselves as well. He has given us His Word and His Spirit to help us. It is up to us to take advantage of what He has made available, to ask Him to, “Show me Your ways, Lord, teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God, my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long.” (Ps. 25:4-5)

Raising Mature Sons and Daughters

fullsizeoutput_75dWhen God created humanity, He created family. His desire for a family, I believe, came from the relationship within Himself, the Trinity. Though we think of and refer to God as being male, Scripture tells us that He created both men and women in His likeness. Without going into a lot of detail, I believe the Holy Spirit displays the feminine side of God. I wrote an article on this some time ago, if you haven’t read it, you can do so here. So family, humanly speaking, is an extension and overflow of the family that exists within the Trinity.

We are God’s sons and daughters. We are capable of producing sons and daughters, both biologically and spiritually. Everything in the natural is a picture of a far greater spiritual reality. (1 Cor. 15:46) As biological, or natural, parents, we are responsible to help guide and teach our children, disciplining them as we see fit, until they reach maturity. The same is true of spiritual parents. Parenting is not about controlling our children. When children are raised by controlling parents, they become controlling parents, as the sins of the father and mother are passed down the family line. It matters not if they are our biological or spiritual children. (I’m not ignoring adopted children here, the same applies to them as well).

In order for children, natural or spiritual, to reach maturity, they must be given the freedom and opportunity to make choices for themselves. This is of critical importance, even when those choices are poor ones. Failing to do so will create victims, people who refuse to take responsibility for their choices, who blame shift when they make mistakes. Our society is full of victims now, we certainly don’t need anymore. I’m not saying we should let them do things that are illegal, obviously; if they are doing something to hurt themselves or others, we should intervene whenever possible.

People, including children, learn best by making mistakes and then dealing with the consequences of those mistakes. If we continually correct them, chastise them when they fail, or bail them out when they get in trouble, we are robbing them of their chance to develop wisdom. Yes, it is hard to watch our children suffer, but we must if they are going to become mature. Parents who must control their children’s choices and behavior do so out of their own insecurity and fear of their children reflecting negatively upon them. This, in essence, is putting your own needs and desires above those of your children. In addition, it is helping to foster a fear of failure that is difficult to get free from.

Children need lots of encouragement and affirmation. I’ve heard it said that it takes twenty positive statements to counter one negative one. As parents, we should be our children’s biggest fans and greatest cheerleaders. They sure won’t get that from the world, and if they don’t get it from us, they will live life always looking for it in their relationships, accomplishments, career, etc., none of which can substitute or satisfy that need. Scripture says that if God is for us, who can be against us? He is for us even in our weakness, brokenness, and sinfulness. When we have the assurance of our parent’s love and acceptance, we will have confidence to face the critics that are out there.

When a child knows his parents love him unconditionally – no matter what – they are free to grow into their mature identity as a much loved child. When they know they will not be rejected in the face of failure, they will feel the freedom to take risks which are so important to walking by faith. All good parents want their children to exceed what they have accomplished in life, and will do all that is in their power to help them do that. If you want to raise mature biological or spiritual sons and daughters, you will make whatever sacrifices are necessary. We must remember they really belong to God and are given to us as gifts we must steward wisely.

 

 

Characteristics of Great Leaders

12107733Being a leader isn’t easy. In fact, it’s probably one of the hardest challenges we face as flawed and frail human beings. Perhaps that is one reason we have lacked good leaders in the recent past. It is all but guaranteed when leaders fail, most everyone knows about it. But true leaders carry an integrity and character about them that they do not fear failing. They are confident in their abilities, for the most part, and willing to take responsibility for their mistakes. They walk in truth and have nothing to hide. They do not seek to blame shift nor discredit those they lead, even when they may have a right to. Great leaders seek to build up those they lead. Through their honesty and integrity, they inspire others to want to be great.

It has been said that great leaders do not create followers, they create leaders. As a leader, you will lead by example, whether that example is good or bad. The Apostle Paul said, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” Those that influence you will also influence those you lead. This is the law of reproduction – you will reproduce who you are, not who you say you are. Good leaders don’t fear or become jealous if those they lead excel them, in fact, they encourage them to do so! They want their ceiling to be the floor for those around them. Leaders want to see their people succeed in their calling and destiny. They get excited to see others grow and develop in their gifts and skills, and give them real opportunities to do so.

It is important that leaders create a culture of freedom, where those they lead are free to be themselves, warts and all. They should not try to force conformity to a certain style, behavior, or message. Instead, they seek to draw out the diversity that will encourage authenticity, and the unique giftings each person possesses. They are unafraid to be vulnerable in front of their people. By sharing their own struggles, they give permission for others to do the same. This facilitates a place of safety, love, and nurturing that draws others in and brings healing and freedom.

If you are a leader, it’s important to remember it’s not about you. Jesus, the greatest leader of all time, said He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He is always our model for all of life. Leaders should be the best servants. They do not ask their people to do what they are unwilling to do themselves. They are the first to do, the first to give, the first to lay down their lives for the ones coming behind them.

Jesus never sought the limelight. He lived a life of humility, the likes of which have never been seen before or since. He never sought a platform. Yet others were drawn to Him and sensed the unprecedented authority He walked in. His authority was rooted in His intimacy with the Father. The same is true for all leaders. We have no authority except that which has been given to us by God. The deeper our intimacy with the Father, the greater our authority will be because He can trust us to use it wisely.

All leaders make mistakes; they are human after all. But there are some characteristics and signs you want to pay attention to that may determine if a leader is worthy of following. Here are just a few to consider:

• Insecure and jealous of those more gifted than them.

• Seek to be served and act as if they are better than those around them.

• Controlling, want to be in charge of everything, and do not give others opportunites to    grow, develop, and use their giftings and skills.

• Refuse to do things they ask their people to do, especially menial tasks.

• Boastful of how God uses them, prideful, or always talking about themselves.

• Never share their own personal struggles or they attempt to maintain a certain  appearance.

• Blame others for their own failures or mistakes and refuse to take responsibility or make  restitution when needed.

• Insist on doing their own thing and do not make an effort to work with others in the  community.

• Refuse to listen and take heed to others’ complaints, suggestions, ideas, and concerns.

These are just a few examples; hopefully, you get the point. It is important to choose our leaders wisely, but even more important to pray for them regularly. Those who lead carry a greater weight of responsibility and accountability before God. They are deserving and in need of our prayers and support.

 

 

Finding Freedom from the Fear of Man

imagesProverbs 29:25 says, Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.”  The word “fear” literally means, fear; extreme anxiety; anxious care; quaking or trembling. The fear of man is also known as the fear of what people think. When we fear man, we fear what others think, say or believe about us. We fear their judgment and rejection. We fear upsetting or offending them. The fear of man is basically a spirit of control that we empower by believing its lies.

The above verse confirms this by saying this fear “will prove to be a snare.” The word “snare” means a noose or snare used for trapping animals; a hook for the nose; a trap. When we give place to the fear of man, we become ensnared, trapped and in bondage to this controlling spirit. It manifests itself through insecurity, intimidation, manipulation, cowardice, rejection, and potentially paralyzing fear when dealing with others. We give other people the power to control what we say, do, feel, think and believe. When we fear people, we become people pleasers. But we cannot please people and God at the same time. Paul made this clear in Galations 1:10, Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” 

The good news is, that like every other form of bondage, God has made it possible to get free from people pleasing and the fear of man. It isn’t by rebuking these spirits or doing deliverance, though those may be of some benefit. Freedom will come when we receive the revelation of our true identity in Christ. When we become confident and secure in His love and affirmation, we no longer look to people to meet those needs. The truth of God’s love and passion for us as His beloved sons and daughters will set us free from the enemy’s lies. As Solomon so wisely put it, our trust in the Lord will keep us safe from the fear of man.

Our trust, or faith, in His goodness and grace toward us will give us the assurance we need, and cause us to rejoice in what He says is true of us. His word, His love, His desire, and His many promises, instill the confidence in our hearts that we all need and long for. Truthfully, no matter what we do, or don’t do, say, or don’t say, people are going to believe what they want, whether it is true or not. We cannot control that, nor should we let them control us by giving them power over us. God, who is Truth, knows the ultimate, perfect truth about us. He has seen us at our very worst, and still, He chose us anyway! Unlike people who are fickle and may love us one minute and hate us the next, His opinion of us never changes. He is always with us and for us and really, in light of that, nothing else matters!

 

The Liberating Power of Truth

truthbreakchainsIn a society where almost anything goes, truth is becoming increasingly offensive. Only the truth seekers are willing to embrace truth, even when it hurts, as it often does. Paul foretold of this time in Romans 1:18-32. In this sobering passage, he states that suppression of the truth leads to utter depravity and wickedness of every kind. In other words, ignoring or refusing to accept truth leads to demonic bondage and ultimately, destruction.

In stark contrast, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32) The teaching He referred to was His word. He is the word made flesh. He is the way, the truth and the life. Truth is not a set of rules or a standard of morality, it is a Person. This should help those of us who are truth seekers to better understand why the rejection of truth has become an epidemic. Jesus and His disciples were also rejected, and He told us the world hated Him and would therefore hate us as well. 

Already we are seeing increased hostility directed against those who are bold enough to speak the truth, especially in a public forum. I believe this animosity will become greater and even more violent in the coming days. As believers and truth seekers, we must prepare our hearts, our spirits and souls, for the troubles many will face. We must know what, and who we believe, and why. We must know God’s word and His truth, for He is the Rock upon which we stand through the storms. We cannot look to our pastors, spouses, friends or leaders to be there to help us. We have the greatest Helper – Holy Spirit. He has promised to never leave us and to give us the words to say when we are confronted by opposition.

Holy Spirit can remind us of the things Jesus said, but He cannot renew our minds, or read and meditate upon Scripture for us. That is our part and only we can do it. Jesus forewarned His disciples of His impending death and resurrection. He did this, not to frighten them, but to inform them so they could prepare, as much as they knew how, to face those challenges. May the Scriptures I’ve mentioned here, along with many others, do the same for us. May God give us the grace to seek to know, live, and speak the truth every day of our lives. He will be faithful to His promise that those who seek, will indeed find what they are looking for.  As we choose to love the truth, we will have nothing to fear.