Several years ago there seemed to be a rash of blogs, sermons, devotionals and articles appearing just about everywhere in relation to the seemingly harmless things we enjoy that can easily become idols in our hearts. This was a good thing because most of us tend to overlook such things – at least in ourselves. After all, we’re not hurting anyone are we? Maybe not, but we are undermining our relationship with God.
Something else, equally as serious as idols in our hearts, has come to my attention many times recently in various settings. This is the story of the most severe of these encounters from just last month.
I have a friend (I’ll call her Ann) who has so many problems that have literally overcome her, to the point she no longer functions normally. I knew about Ann’s problems but until I gave in to her crying and begging me to come across the three states between us and travelled the 900 miles to see her after eighteen years, I didn’t realize how bad it really was. She truly has been overcome by the adversary, contrary to what 1 John 4:4 tells us should be our status as Christians. “You, children, are from God and have overcome the false prophets, because he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (CJB)
Her oldest son is in his thirties but is severely retarded with a mental capacity of a five-year-old and is living in a group home not far from her. Ann is supposed to have court ordered weekly visitation with him but the group home has custody and is not allowing it. She hired a lawyer to help with that situation but nothing has been done. She has a daughter living in Hawaii who is doing well for herself, aside from the fact that she is an atheist. To the daughter’s credit, she tries to encourage her mom to exercise tough love with her younger brother who is a 28 year old heroin addict with the usual problems drug addicts have – can’t keep a job, over a hundred police reports on him, lives with his mother, sporadically, has stolen money and her belongings to pawn them in spite of the fact she lives solely on her Social Security, food pantries, and other charity, etc. Consequently, she dwells on all of these “unfair” things that happen and has become, without a doubt, the most miserable person I have ever met.
As far as not functioning normally, well, she lays on the couch covered up to her closed eyes with a fleece blanket when she is at home. All of her waking hours are spent downtown at a “Christian” coffee shop drinking lattes and eating from the very limited overpriced menu. She lays there after the coffee shop closes and she must go home, until the middle of the night or the wee hours of the morning when she gets up and takes her fleece blanket into her bedroom and lays down on her bed with the dog. The bed has no sheets on it and dirty clothes line the perimeter of the room three feet deep in some places. She doesn’t shower because she is afraid to get in the shower. She doesn’t wash clothes because she is afraid to go down the basement. She brushed her teeth three times in the week and a half I stayed with her and combed her hair twice. I could go on but you get the idea. I was shocked, to put it mildly, and since coming home have been consumed with the question, “Why?”
Ann will profess her Christianity to anyone and everyone so as she laid on the couch one evening after we got back from the coffee shop, I felt led to bring up 1 John 4:4. I gently reminded her of the message John gives here. In response she quietly whined, “I know.” Then I ventured a little further and kindly brought up the sheet-less bed, no clean towels, and offered to dig in and clean the mold off the windows and do a desperately needed general housecleaning. A weak “ya” was all that escaped from under the fleece blanket. I even started to do it the next morning while she took her son to a rehab facility (which he left before the day was over) but it still wasn’t incentive enough for her to pitch in and tackle it with me.
The day before I left to come home Ann said that she wished her friend would become a Christian and wished she could witness to her. Maybe there could exist an argument for keeping my mouth shut…but I didn’t. I was careful to be kind and gentle though, when I reminded her that our lives are supposed to be a reflection of our Savior, attracting the unsaved like Jesus did when he walked this earth – crowds would not leave Him alone. And to be so overcome by one’s circumstances does not entice anyone to want the same thing for themselves.
To digress for a moment, who was “the disciple whom Jesus loved"? None other than John. We know that John and Jesus had an exceptionally close relationship, which, in my mind, makes John very well-learned on Jesus’ teachings. John’s gospel is where we find the very well-known statement made by Jesus himself, “If you love me, you will keep my commands;” (John 14:15 CJB).
Later in the epistles John wrote, he repeats several times what Jesus had said:
1 John 1:6 (CJB)
6 If we claim to have fellowship with him while we are walking in the darkness, we are lying and not living out the truth.
1 John 2:3-6 (CJB)
3 The way we can be sure we know him is if we are obeying his commands. 4 Anyone who says, “I know him,” but isn’t obeying his commands is a liar — the truth is not in him. 5 But if someone keeps doing what he says, then truly love for God has been brought to its goal in him. This is how we are sure that we are united with him. 6 A person who claims to be continuing in union with him ought to conduct his life the way he did.
1 John 3:3-4 (CJB) 3 And everyone who has this hope in him continues purifying himself, since God is pure. 4 Everyone who keeps sinning is violating Torah — indeed, sin is violation of Torah.
1 John 5:3 (CJB)
3 For loving God means obeying his commands. Moreover, his commands are not burdensome
2 John 6 (CJB) Moreover, love is this: that we should live according to his commands. This is the command, as you people have heard from the beginning; live by it!
Now, back to my all-consuming question, “why?” Most believers are familiar with Jesus’ statement in John 14:15. “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (NASB). It is easily seen that Jesus is telling us that if we love Him we will be compelled to keep His commandments – we won’t be able to resist – it will become our nature. And John thought it was important enough to repeat it in four of the five chapters of his first epistle and again in his second epistle. It is a vital key to our Christian walk. If we are not compelled, what does that tell us about ourselves?
When we moved to Tennessee in 1985 I first heard people in church say, “God won’t bless over sin.” I had never heard that before and thought it was an interesting concept. I understood the point but did not dwell on it until recently. Of course everyone sins. We know this. Bluntly put, the point is that if you are sinning, don’t expect to be blessed. Unfortunately, clichés sometimes lose their punch with overuse and it becomes easy to overlook things we shouldn’t.
As for Ann, her story sounds so pitiful. Surely someone would help her, right? Fact: many people have tried to help her but if she won’t accept the help or try to help herself, that is a non-starter. So I asked her my question of “why?” She mumbled something about me being strong and she just isn’t as strong as I am. I gathered that was her excuse and let the conversation die.
My question then became, “What excuse is good enough for a Christian to exempt himself or herself from obedience to our Messiah’s own words to us and still expect Him to bless us with the good things, the abundant life, His Word promises?”
Ann, and multitudes like her as I was once, refuse to see how the disregarding of their responsibility to keep Jesus’ commandments sabotages their lives. Simple example: Ann has all of these major problems. She allows her drug addicted son and his girlfriend to live together in her home. This ongoing sin of fornication is just one thing of several standing in the way of God doing what He would love to do to help her. “For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” 2 Chronicles 16:9 (NASB)
Result: Relationship with God undermined.