Archive for February, 2011

While this is the title of my least favorite of Dickens’ works (almost turned me off him completely!), that is not the subject of this post.

What I’m referring to is the expectations we have of ourselves.

If you grew up in church, you probably acquired a long list of rules for ‘good Christian behavior’. Even if you met God as an adult, if you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, you picked up the same kind of list.

A good Christian reads the Bible every morning, and prays.”

A good Christian always tithes, and gives offerings, too.”

A good Christian turns the other cheek.”

A good Christian obeys everyone in authority.”

A good Christian …”

I could go on indefinitely. The list I had by the time I was a teenager was about ten pages long, single-spaced, in size 8 font! (Is it any wonder our children abandon the church as soon as they can?)


Father God has been working in my life for a long time to get me to see that my list of expectations was not given to me by Him, but by religion.

In fact, the only list He has ever given me (or indeed any of us) is very short – love Him, love others as we love ourselves.

That’s it!! Just those two rules.

And even those are not something He expects me to do on my own. He knows I cannot. The only way I can do anything is to allow His Spirit to do it in and through me.

Left to myself, I either do what I want to do – which is often not good for me or for others – or I do what I ‘should’ do, from that long list of expectations I’ve got for my personal behavior.


It has taken years for me to break the ‘law’ that I must read my Bible and pray every morning. I’m not saying I had to break the habit of doing it, because I never was able to develop the habit! The expectation – the duty – of obeying that law, kept me from doing it! The more I thought about how much I ought to do it, the less able I was to actually do so. (Is this what Paul meant in Romans 7, where he talked about wanting to do what’s right, but being unable to do it? Hmm.) Once I was free of the ‘law’ – my expectation of my behavior – I was able to spend that time with Him freely, eagerly.

Lots of other ‘spiritual’ (actually, religious) laws have gone by the wayside over the years, and even those expectations I had of myself as a wife, a mother, a citizen, a woman. There are many areas of my life where I failed to live up to my expectations of/for myself, but as I give Him all those expectations, He replaces them with His love, forgiveness and grace.


Recently, I ran into ‘expectations’ yet again!

Yet again, I had to take them to Father God, and see what He has to say about them.

And, yet again, He showed me that He has no expectations of me outside of Himself. Everything He expects from me has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ, so all I have to do (and that not by myself, but thru and in Him) is to be in Him. That’s it!

Paul talks about how difficult it is to live the ‘good Christian life’ in the last few verses of Romans 7, but then he goes on to say in the first four verses of chapter 8, that ‘there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus’ because ‘the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free’!!


Free to live without laws or expectations that I cannot meet.

Free to be and do His will in this life because it is His Spirit living in me!



In Rom. 6:16, Paul talks about how obeying sin makes us servants of it. Yet, trying to obey the law is also a sin. Yep, you heard me! Romans 7:4, and many other verses throughout scripture (Romans and Galatians, especially), say very plainly that we are not in bondage to the law. So, if I try to obey the law – whether it’s the OT one, or those ‘religious laws’ I picked up as a child in church – I become a servant of that law. I deliberately (if unknowingly) put myself into bondage!

Let me say it again – whenever I start trying to obey expectations, whether mine or someone else’s – I have become a slave to that ‘law’. Yet we are born again into liberty!!

Throughout the New Testament, it is clear that we are to live a life of freedom from sin, the law, death, lack, etc. All that freedom is given to us by His sacrifice, and we sadden Him when we refuse to live in His freedom.

Living with great expectations of ourselves (spiritually or any other way) can bring us just as much disappointment and despair as that stupid story by Dickens.

Let’s give up our expectations and just live free. In Him.


May Father God and His Holy Spirit reveal to you the expectations or laws that you are bound to, that are not from Him.

May you allow His truth to set you free of those, and bring you into the life of liberty in Him that Jesus died and rose again to obtain for you.

And may that life be just as abundant and joyous as He promised!

“The branch of the vine does not worry, and toil, and rush here to seek for sunshine, and there to find rain. No; it rests in union and communion with the vine; and at the right time, and in the right way, is the right fruit found on it. Let us so abide in the Lord Jesus.” Hudson Taylor


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Iron Maiden

For those of you not up on ancient torture devices, the iron maiden (which was invented, not in the Dark Ages, but in the more ‘enlightened’ 17th century) was a hinged iron cage in the approximate shape of a human, with spikes along the bars, facing inwards. The torturee was placed inside, the ‘maiden’ was closed and locked, and the spikes began their work – pricking the skin and muscle enough to cause bleeding, but not killing. The torturee could, of course, make it worse by thrashing around, but the fit was usually snug enough that no one could actually kill themselves too soon.

Ugly, huh? And why am I bringing this up here, where I’m supposed to be talking about life in God?

I’m bringing it up because almost every one of us, at some time or another, has lived inside of one of these – spiritually or emotionally or maybe mentally. And ten times out of ten, it’s one we built and locked around us ourselves.


Ah, that makes you stop and think, doesn’t it?

No, I’m not accusing anyone of masochism. I’m talking about those protective defenses we erect around us as life wallops us.

We begin by placing iron bars around the injured part – our heart, for instance – but more hurt comes, so we add more bars, then we put a lock on.

At first, this cage allows us movement, so we feel totally safe. But whenever we get too close to the bars, we get hurt, so we reinforce the cage, trying to stop the pain.

Finally, after years of this, we are living inside a cage that is so constricting we can’t really live!

Oh, we’re not dead, we can still breathe; but that caged part of us, at least, is slowly bleeding to death. The cage we created for protection has become a prison from which we can’t escape. A prison which pricks us every time we move, thereby convincing us that any movement is bad, and draining a bit more life and strength out as well.


How do we get out of one of these self-inflicted torture devices?

Actually, how do we come to the point where we understand that it is a torture device and not a protection device? For that’s the first step – realizing that the thing created to save is harmful. Then we have to figure out how to get out of it without further harm.


I don’t know how people out there do it, but when you belong to God, He will not let you, His beloved child, continue to live in constriction and pain.

So He takes the lock off that cage, and He begins to show us who He is, to reveal His truth – about us, His love, His grace, etc, until we know Him enough to trust Him.

Then, He carefully opens the door, and He invites us out into freedom and the protection of His love.

And most of us grab the door and slam it shut again!

And He repeats the revealing of Himself to us, showing us in ways we can handle, how much He can be trusted to love and care for us. And He opens the door again.

Few of us walk out the instant the door is opened the first time, or even the second or third. And for some of us, He has to take the hinges off, so the door can never again be shut. (That’s really frightening! It’s trust Him or die! We think.)

Yet always, He is proving to us how much He can be trusted! Always He is protecting us with His own body – hung on a tree to scare off the tormenter. Always the infinite, omnipotent Creator of the universe is loving and unconditionally accepting us.


Thank God!!!


May you see His truth in ways that break the locks of the cages you’ve lived in until now.

May His love and acceptance become so real and true for you that no lie can stand against Him.

And may you live the abundant, victorious life Jesus bought for us on Calvary!

“Salvation is God’s way of making us real people.” Augustine

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You might be a heretic if you believe that:

… people who recant their beliefs because of persecution can never be restored to fellowship with the church. (Novatianism – 3rd century)

… a pastor who sins can never be forgiven, or allowed to serve in that capacity again, because he is not pure enough to give people communion or baptism. (Donatism – 4th century)

… physical matter is evil, spirit is good. (Gnosticism – all centuries)

… Melchisedech was an incarnation of the Holy Spirit. (Melchisedechians – 4th century)

… Christ exists as two persons, the man Jesus and the divine Son of God, or Logos, rather than as two natures (True God and True Man) of one divine person. (Nestorianism – 5th century)  (huh?)

… Jesus Christ had two natures but only one will. (Monothelitism – 7th century) (double huh!?!)

… the Bible is the sole rule of faith, not the directions of the man at the head of the church; that you should personally study the Bible for yourself; and that all may preach. (Waldensians – 12th century)

… among other things,  you can communicate with God directly, without the necessity of the church’s intercession. (Free Spirit – 14th century)

… salvation is only by grace, not by works of repentance or repetitive prayers or anything humans can do; that only God is worthy of worship, not angels or departed saints; that the Bible is the ultimate authority for Christian life; and that Christ is the head of His church, not any man. (Protestantism – 16th century)

… since faith itself alone is sufficient to attain salvation, adherence to religious law is not necessary. (Antinomianism – 16, 17th centuries)

* * *

An interesting mix, huh?

This is, of course, a (partial) list of heresies from the viewpoint of the Catholic church. Doubtless other churches and denominations have their own lists. (Heresy is the rejection of one or more established beliefs of a particular religious body, and most of those bodies have serious penalties for heretics.)

The interesting thing, to me, is that we have somehow, sometime, decided that we have the right, the responsibility to decide what God has said in Scripture, and what He is saying now; to decide what is a ‘right’ belief and what is a wrong one.

Yet, in reading the Bible, I find few places where we are told to kick people out of fellowship because they don’t believe exactly the way we do about something. Sure, there are passages discussing how to handle church discipline issues; what to do with someone who is blatantly living in sin; and guidelines for choosing overseers for the flock. But where does it say, ‘if someone does not believe all 14 tenets of the Apostle’s Creed, throw them out!’?

When the subject of ‘Gentile’ believers came up in Acts 15, the original disciples, who had all personally known Jesus, decided there were only a few rules these new believers needed to heed. And none of them are doctrinal!

In fact, Romans 14 talks about living in peace with those who have the same faith, but a different understanding of it.

* * *

In John 17:3, Jesus said that eternal life is knowing God and Jesus Christ. Knowing Him as a Person, not knowing a list of beliefs about Him, is what this new life is about. In other words, eternal life is relationship with God and Jesus.

And is my relationship with Him the same as yours? Probably not, as we are different people. If you look around, you will see that every relationship is different – take three friends, of any sort, and the relationship between two of them will be different than the relationship between either one of those and the third friend.

So why do we think every Christian will have the exact same relationship with God as every other Christian?

Do we think God is so small that He can’t handle it if one thinks He speaks to us today in ‘a still small voice’, while another thinks He only speaks through Scripture?

And who cares what people believe about Melchisedech? Is that worth throwing them out of church for?

* * *

The history of the church follows the pattern of human growth – infancy, childhood, teen years, adulthood. As He begins, in this new millennium, to prepare His bride for the wedding, it would seem that she should be mature enough to allow each individual member to be unique, to have a unique relationship with Him. There should be room in His body for all His children, no matter what they believe about Him. It’s the relationship that counts, not the rules.

So, if you find ‘you might be a heretic’, because you agree with something from that list above, don’t sweat it. You’re in good company on some of them, and anyway, He is big enough to remain Himself, no matter what you think.

* * *

May you grow ever deeper in knowledge of Him who loves us, and sent His Son to save us.

May your understanding broaden, and your ability to accept difference in others expand as your knowledge of Him does.

And may you allow Holy Spirit to be the one to tell people whether their doctrines are right or wrong.

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. John 13:34

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