Confessions of a Reformed Toadie (or, The Great Toad Massacre of 1975)

Mr Toad

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe. – Proverbs 29:25 (ESV)

My brother and I were blessed to be raised in the country, in a little brick house with a huge yard, surrounded by woods and our grandpa’s cow pasture.  We had a red wagon and, on hot summer days, would go out in the backyard and catch toads.

“Why?” you ask.  Because we were boys.  And boys do things like catch toads.

And put them in a wagon.

A red, metal wagon.

In the summer.

In the sun.

I have never actually placed a frog in a pot of cold water and gradually turned up the heat until said amphibian cooked through without jumping from the boiling cauldron.  However, I can tell you a bunch of toads accidentally left in a red wagon in the hot, blazing sun produces the same outcome, only via a different cooking method.

And it was an accident.  We didn’t intend to harm these toads, let alone sauté them.  Like I said, we were boys.  Our attention span was evidently shorter than the time it takes to fry toads in a red wagon.

I share this story not to ruin anyone’s appetite but to illustrate a point.  When we live to please people instead of God, we end up like a toad in a little red wagon.

We find ourselves compromising what we know to be true to gain favor with others.  We base our decisions on how others might feel.  This is not to say we should ignore other’s feelings – far from it.  Rather, we cannot let the opinions of others lead our lives.  Only God should do that.

Proverbs calls the fear of man a snare – a wire loop trap designed to catch small animals by tightening around them when they step in it.  If it tightens around the throat (or too tightly around the torso), it can kill its victim.  In fact, snares are so dangerous that they are heavily regulated in much of the U.S., and banned outright throughout Europe.

Fearing man over God is a dangerous place to be.  That fear keeps us from moving forward in life, from growing as the Lord would have us grow, doing boldly what He wants us to do boldly.  Our decisions need to be based on God and His Word and seeking Him first and foremost, above all else.

In its extreme form, people pleasing leads to being a mindless “yes man”, a sycophant.  There is a name for people like this: toadies.

Simply pleasing people in order to gain their approval or favor is a mistake.  You just end up sweating in a little red wagon, slowly frying, unable – even unwilling – to jump out to the safety of the cool grass below.

Trust me, I know.  I am a reformed toadie.  It has taken a lot of years but I see that living to seek the approval of other people is a dead end.  A trap.

A snare.

For me, being a toadie took the form of wanting everybody around me to like me, to accept me, to love me.  The thought of disappointing someone else was agonizing.  It was all rooted in a poor sense of self, in considering myself to be beneath everyone I looked up to.

I could hear the sizzle.  I could smell the burn.  I just didn’t realize I was smelling myself in a hot wagon.

Then, one day, it finally dawned on me.  Where did all this attempted people pleasing get me?  Absolutely nowhere.  Love cannot be earned.  It is given freely.  And not everyone is going to love you.

But God will.  And does.  God loves me – and you – despite our foibles or mistakes. He always has.  He always will. 

5  Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. 6  The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? 7  The Lord is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me. 8  It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. – Psalms 118:5-8 (ESV)

So… ask yourself this: are you more afraid of what someone else thinks or says about what you do, say or believe than you are of what God thinks?  Why are you doing what you do?  Who do you live to please?  Is it worse to disappoint a person or the Lord?  Who is the ultimate authority in your life?  And why does it matter what other people think?  Whose expectations are you trying to meet?

Generally speaking, you will never please another person who expects you to cow-tow to them.  You cannot fulfill another human beings whims so completely that they – or you – will ever find any freedom.  The toadie is a slave to people pleasing.  And the person expecting such behavior from others is a slave to ego.

Be free in Christ.  Seek God and His will first.  Is it good to seek wise counsel from others?  Of course.  Is it good to seek their approval?  No.

Do not fear the opinions of others.  Do not live to seek the approval of others.  Live a life that is pleasing to the Lord and don’t let the opinions of others be a noose.  Snare that inner toadie.  Live in Christ!  Be salt and light.

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. – Galatians 1:10 (ESV)

 

Off the Fence

Here it is, blunt and simple.

I hate anxiety.

I hate depression.

I hate worry and doubt and the low feeling of having no worth.

There are a lot of causes for all these maladies.  Sometimes the ole brain just doesn’t pump out the serotonin as it ought (and shame on every Christian who ever immediately jumped to the conclusion that your feelings are merely the result of some sin you have committed without stopping to consider physiological and psychological factors).

The truth is, no matter the root of your anxiety or depression, God forgives your sin.  You just have to confess your sin.

But, here’s the problem… So often it isn’t others who hold us back, who remind us of our pasts, who trigger fear or anxiety or doubt within us.

As Walt Kelly’s cartoon character Pogo once famously said, “We have seen the enemy, and it is us.”

Ok… I’m a little out of context here.  Kelly was commenting on the environment.  And the Bible tells us we war not against flesh and blood for ours is a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:12).

All the same, how often are we our own worst enemy?  We allow ourselves to entertain the thoughts that worry us instead of embracing the Truth of God’s Word.  We weigh the what if scenarios as if they carry any real mass.  We fear so much that we face when all we can see is the past, and the here and now, not the future.  And, even what we can see we perceive incompletely, inaccurately, out of focus.

I wrote the other day about the fence of legalism, a barrier that keeps us trapped in unforgiveness, unable to truly live and embrace the freedom that Christ died to give us.  But, the more I think about it, how much time do we spend sitting on that fence?

And I’m not referring to how we treat others.  We can forgive and love in the name of Jesus.  But we can’t accept that same forgiveness or ourselves.  We have difficulty embracing God’s love on our own lives.  

If that’s you, straddling that legalistic fence, constantly convicting yourself of the things the Lord has forgiven you, it’s time.

Today.

Now.

Right now.

Jump down from that fence.

Come down onto the side of grace.

Accept once and for all that you are forgiven, you are loved, you are worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Not because of anything you have done, but because God truly, honestly, really and fully loves you.  You are His child.

Today is the day to accept that fact.  Today, quit listening to what / who the world says you are.  Stop listening to the self condemning voice telling you your worth is diminished.

God Himself came down here and died for you.  Yes, you.  It is that personal.  It is that real.

And Jesus was no fence rider.  He spoke in absolutes.  

And He spoke against legalism.

And legalism is bad whether it comes from others, or from ourselves.

Today, take God at His Word.  Today, get off the fence and bask in the joyous glory of freedom in Christ.

Go.

Do.

Believe.

Embrace.

Love.

The Fence of Legalism

I have some bad news.

And I have some good news.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first.  You can do nothing – absolutely nothing – to earn salvation, forgiveness or God’s love.  Your fate is entirely in the hands of God Almighty.

Now… here is the good news.  You can do nothing – absolutely nothing – to earn salvation, forgiveness or God’s love.  Your fate is entirely in the hands of God Almighty.

Yes, they are one and the same thing.  How can the exact same circumstance be both bad and good?  It’s all according to which side of the fence you are on.

When Jesus Christ walked on this earth, there were two groups of religious leaders He stood up against: the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Both were legalistic sects of Judaism.  The Sadducees were the rich rulers of Jerusalem.  They believed in strict adherence to the Pentateuch. But they did not believe in an afterlife (or any other sort of spiritual life for that matter – which is what made the Sadducees sad, you see…)

The Pharisees were not quite wealthy, and accepted life after death and spiritual matters with no qualms.  However, they too fully equated their own rules and laws with those of God.  Both sides were quite full of themselves, sure that they were the ones who had a lock on God – that they were the only ones who not only were right, but had the right to say who and what was right.

The Pharisees believed salvation came through strict adherence to the law, as they saw it (including the additions they made, which were originally intended to make one holier).  The problem was that, in the end, the legalism led them (and their followers) away from the truth about God.

When one is filled with legalism, faith becomes difficult, as does any sense of forgiveness or mercy or kindness or love.  This is why I have such a problem with legalistic Christianity.  I believe a lot of people suffer from depression, anxiety, etc… because they have no real mechanism for processing God’s forgiveness, and love.  They have no means of honest identity with Jesus Christ.

In John 15 (ESV), Jesus tells us what it means to be a Christian, and who we are in Him:

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.”

Notice that Jesus is referring to “mou patēr” – my literal, personal Father.  God is not merely some abstract, legalistic deity. The Lord is so personal that, in Romans 8:15, we read, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”  “Abba” is an endearing, loving, personal word for Father, perhaps better translated as “Daddy”.

2  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

The later example of Sadducees illustrates this point clearly.  Jesus was crucified around 33AD.  Less than forty years later, the Jewish Temple was destroyed by the Romans.  The Jews scattered, thus beginning the Diaspora.  The Pharisees continued, but the Sadducee sect of Judaism disappeared with the temple.  Taken away.

3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.

This statement flies right in the face of legalism.  Your good works cannot save you.  Only God can do that!

4  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

The Pharisees and Sadducees dwelt in the Temple.  But, Jesus is pointing out that we – the believers in Christ – are the true temple.  He abides in us, and we in Him!  Remember, the Holy Spirit lives within you.  (Okay… technically that didn’t happen until Pentecost, but you know what I mean…)

8  By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Legalism brings God no glory.  All it does is impose rules and regs on people.  Faith cannot be forced.  True faith is rooted in love, and trust, and hope.  Legalism destroys all of those things.

9  As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10  If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

I point all of this out for one reason: don’t let legalism get ahold of you.  Understand that, if you asked the Lord to forgive you, He has forgiven you.  It’s done.  You are clean not because of what you’ve done (or not done), but because of Jesus Christ.

Abide in the love of Jesus Christ.  Stop beating yourself up.  Believe you are forgiven, because you are.  Believe you are loved, because you are.  Believe the Lord is with you always – within you always – because He is.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. – Romans 8:9-11 (ESV)

The results are not your responsibility.  Nor are we called to figure it all out.  Just trust.  Just believe in Him.  Take Christ at His Word: undiluted, unpolluted.

Have you asked God to forgive your sin?  Have you truly accepted that Jesus as your Savior?  The understand this: the old you is gone.  Dead.  Who you were is no longer who you are.  You are now under new management.  You are no longer a slave to sin but a friend to the Lord.  You have hope.  You have no worries.  You have a new focus on loving others through Jesus Christ.

You are a new you.  Free.  Beloved.  Saved.

Revel in that.

Abide in God’s love.

Be salt and light.

Be who God created you to be.

 

 

 

In Stillness…

048

10  “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” 11  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Psalms 46:10-11 (ESV)

Tension.  That’s the first feeling we have when anxiety strikes.  We feel the stiff grip of tension throughout our bodies.

And our minds begin racing.  Not with any real destination in mind.  Just ’round and ’round, taking the turns at breakneck speed up on two wheels, careening out of control.

Think Indy 500 on steroids.

When anxiety strikes, the ability for rational thought is, at best, hindered (if not somewhat incapacitated).  Our peace is shattered.  Our focus is skewed.  Our hearts and minds are racing.

Look out for the third turn.

When God instructs us to “be still”, He is telling us – very pointedly – to chill out.  The root of the Hebrew word for “still” (rāpâ) means “to slacken” (Strong’s H7503).  Loosen up your grip.  Calm your mind.  Relax your body.  Release the tension.

How?  “Know that I am God,” He said.  Know that He is in control.  Know that He is all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present.  Know that He is immovable, and He is your fortress.

In other words, have faith.  Understand that we can trust God and His Word far more than we can trust our own personal notions.  This is especially true when we are in an emotional spiral.  In moments of anxiety, rational thought tends to fly right out the window.

But we always have the Lord and His promises.  Despite what we see, He will never leave or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5).  He is our shield of protection (Psalm 3:3 and 28:7).  He is our place of safety (Psalm 91).  God is love (1 John 4:8) and nothing – nothing – will ever separate us from His love (Romans 8:35-39).

You see, the reality of our loving God means we can set aside all that worries us, all that we fear.  Peter put it this way:

6  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7  casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

1 Peter 5:6-9 (ESV)

Do you want to get rid of the anxiety that plagues you?  It requires a change of heart and mind, a firm decision to be led by faith and not sight.

  1. Humble yourself under God.  You are not the one in control.  That is way above our pay grade.  Not only that, our enemy is in no more control than we.  He “prowls around” as if he were “a roaring lion”.  He is a defeated foe.  His reign has an expiration date, unlike God’s eternal kingdom. It requires humility on our part to realize that God’s Word is real and true, even when it stands in opposition to what we see and perceive with our physical senses.
  2. Cast all your anxieties on God.  Peter was a fisherman.  He understood all too well the importance of a good cast.  When you cast a net – or, in more modern fishing terms, a fishing line – you aim at your target and you throw.  You have to trust that your line will go where you aimed it.  Take all of your worries, fear and doubts, humbly trusting the Lord and taking Him at His Word, and cast them off, sending them straight to God.  And leave them there.
  3. Be sober minded and vigilant.  Don’t fall for the temptation to reel those cares back in.  It may seem that the Lord isn’t working fast enough.  Maybe you doubt that He heard you at all.  Don’t go there.  Have faith.  Seek the Lord.  Be mindful that the enemy is going to try to tempt you back into anxious thoughts.
  4. Resist the enemy.  All he can do is tempt you. Be aware: he can sound very reasonable and sensible.  He can twist any fears we have and make them seem right.  But remember: He is not in control.  God is. Rest in that knowledge.
  5. You are not alone.  Never think that you are facing something unique.  God is always with you. You are not facing life alone.  One of the wonderful things about our Lord is that, not only does He guide us in the way to go, He makes the way for us.  He strengthens us.  He leads us.  He enables us to do His will.

Let today be the day.  No more anxiety.  No more worry.  Stay in God’s Word and connected in prayer.  When the opportunity for anxiety strikes again (and it will), be ready.  Stand firm on promises of God, on the firm foundation He has given you.

Be humble under God.

Be confident in His strength and love.

Be firm in your faith.

He is with you.  Always.

 

Changing Tenses

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

Why do we as human beings resist change so much?  We get comfortable.  We get used to the status quo.  We get cozy in our rut.

Change is inevitable.  It is an integral part of life.  You see, God created life to be active – ever changing, ever growing.  He Himself never changes (which is a good thing since He is perfect and He is, after all, God).  

Change is good.  Even painful changes are good changes because every change, at a bare minimum, offers the opportunity to grow, to mature, to learn, to reach out and help others on their journey of life.

The greatest changes are the ones that draw us closer to the Lord.  We are imperfect.  We are sinful.  We are human.

But, take a look at the passage above from 1 Corinthians.  Verses 9 and 10 stand as a warning.  But notice verse 11.  The tense changes.  No longer are we defined by what we did or who we were.  That junk is in the past.

Gone.

Done.

Dealt with.

Buried.

Forgiven. 

Cleansed.

Changed.

You are changed.

The minute you said with your heart, “Yes Jesus.  I will follow you.  Please forgive my sins and change me”, your sins were forgiven – your record expunged – and God began the process of changing you.

So today, if you find yourself struggling with your past or some sin or anything at all, embrace the Lord.  Seek Him first.  Follow His will and His Word.  Embrace the changes the Lord places before you, knowing He is with you, growing you, loving you.