On Law, Grace, Bondage, and Dog Collars


This weekend has been a yard work weekend. After ten weeks of volleyball’s regular season, I took two days to clean up my sorely neglected yard. Fences needed to be cleared, bushes trimmed, grass mowed, beds weeded. There was a LOT of work to do.

trimming bush

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For a bit of background for this story, you need to know that, for months now, my puppies, Scout and Atticus, have been on a wireless fence system to keep them from wandering into the road or the neighbor’s yard. The appearance of their being able to roam free is an excellent home security system. The down side to the system is that, in order to limit their access to the neighbor’s yard, they do not have free reign of my entire yard. Rectangle shaped property and circle shaped wireless fences don’t work well together. So Scout and Atticus have experienced several months of being unable to get to the back half of my yard.

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(Meet Scout and Atticus. They like each other.)

Cue this weekend. It was a stinky week, personally, spiritually, and professionally, but it was a glorious weekend, which meant I needed to be outside. Badly. And the puppies followed me all around the yard; until I moved toward the back of the yard. At that point, the puppies quit hanging out with me. When they got to the border of the wireless fence, their collars would beep and they would back up and lie down, getting as close to me as their collars would allow, but never going beyond that limit.

I decided this afternoon that I would let them wander the whole yard since I was going to be out there, so I took off their red fence collars and put Atticus’ regular collar on him. I couldn’t get Scout to sit still long enough to put hers on, so she went collarless. This is the point at which the teachable moment began.

As I walked to the back of the yard, they both followed me to the point that their red collars would have beeped if they had them on, and they stopped and laid down. It didn’t matter how much I called for them, they weren’t coming. They had spent enough time on those red collars that they knew not to go any further or there would be a consequence.

In an attempt to coax them to the back of the yard so that they could run and play, I walked to Atticus, gently held his collar with two fingers, and led him beside me toward the back yard. He was very tentative– until he got several feet past the “shock zone” that he knew should be there. When he got past that part and I was still with him and nothing bad had happened, he wandered around, smelled things, and generally chilled out.

Scout, on the other hand, stayed in the wireless zone, barking endlessly for us to come back to her. Since she didn’t have a collar on, there was nothing for me to hold on to in order to lead her back therewith us, and she would have none of the idea of simply following me out there.

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As I watched this scene unfold, the picture of how the Law, Grace, and bondage to sin work in our lives unfolded in my mind as well.

These are the Law:

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They tell the dogs just how far they can go, and they punish them if they attempt to overstep their boundaries. But the Law is meant to protect them; before the collars, I once chased Atticus across South Moore Road and about two blocks down the street. Barefoot. In my PJs. With Crazy Hair. At 5:30 am. It was special. The Law, in this case, is good. It taught Scout and Atticus right from wrong.

Then one day, the Law was removed. The punishment was no longer a threat. I’d taken that threat and put it on the table on the back porch. Yet the puppies still respected the boundaries the Law had set in their lives. They were free, but still living by the Law. They knew that boundary was there for a reason, and they kept it.

Until I put a new collar on Atticus and led him away. It reminded me of the opening statements of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia:

Galatians 1:6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

All I had to do was put a different collar on him, and he followed me right past the boundaries set for him and into an unprotected and dangerous world. This new collar represents bondage in the life of a believer. Atticus could have roamed free within the set boundaries, collarless and without fear, but by taking up a new collar, a new form of bondage, he left the boundaries he knew and didn’t quite know what to do with himself. But take note of the bondage that led him astray, for they are what spoke volumes to my own heart:

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One tag is his name. Oh, can’t our name, our reputation, become an idol and a bondage?

One is his rabies tag. Look, he’s a good dog. He’s done all the right things to be considered good. Maybe for us that’s giving time or money to good causes, or going on mission trips, or attending the right church or small group. He’s checked off his legalistic list of things to look good.

The middle one is his microchip tag. He’s even a “member” of a home. Sometimes church can become an idol of bondage. Do you belong to the “right” church? Listen to the “right” super pastors or worship groups? Ascribe to the “right” doctrine of the the day?

None of the tags on his new collar of bondage are bad things. In fact, in the right circumstances, they are very good things. But in this case, they were use to lead him away, and often, it’s the good things in our lives, done for the wrong reasons, that get us into trouble.

Now, back to Scout. Let’s look at the picture again with the imaginary fence line drawn in:

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Scout is sitting, barking her fool head off at Atticus, begging him to come back. But she refuses to cross the line to come get him, and there is no bondage around her neck for me to lead her astray. She is free. Free enough to roam within the boundaries given to her while still knowing her limits, even without the threat of punishment.

That is the freedom we have in Christ! He said Himself that He came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. Scout is a picture of a believer free of bondage, trusting the one who knows and loves her. I removed the collar of the Law, yet she continued to trust that those boundaries were still what were best for her. And because she did not allow herself to be put into any other bondage, she could not be led astray. She was even in the position to call for her little brother to please get back in line and come back to the right side of the boundary. Which is exactly what he did.

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For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

Be free, friends.

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How Do We Establish Healthy Boundaries in Relationships?


Boundaries define who you are and who you are not.

Boundaries often provide unhealthy individuals guidelines for change.

So how do we evaluate progress in setting boundaries?

Here are 17 questions you can ask yourself. In some of these areas you may find you are strong, and in some areas you may need to work toward developing and strengthening for protecting your physical, emotional and spiritual health.

  1. Am I able to say no to an unhealthy request?
  2. Am I able to understand that my happiness does not depend on other people?
  3. Do I find myself continually involved with people who end up hurting me?
  4. Can I choose individuals whom I can trust?
  5. Do I consider my opinion to be as important as others?
  6. Do people take or use things of mine without my permission?
  7. Can I ask other people for what I want or need, or do I fear making these request?
  8. Do I go along with other individuals, rather than voicing my desires?
  9. Do I feel proud of being an individual with unique qualities?
  10. Do I really believe I was created in God’s image?
  11. Have I found the balance between helping others and meeting my own needs?
  12. Am I able to determine what I think and what I believe?
  13. Am I able to make effective decisions?
  14. Am I able to get out of a relationship that continues to hurt me?
  15. Am I able to stay out of other people’s problems?
  16. Can I separate my own feelings and thoughts from others?
  17. Do I grasp that I am not responsible for other people’s behaviors and feelings?

Developing healthy boundaries may be a new venture for you and is likely to be a challenge. The checklist we just covered hopefully will help you become aware of some areas in your life in which you need to establish or strengthen boundaries that are needed in your life.

Don’t become discouraged–you can develop skills that will help you honor and protect what belongs to God. Developing these skills will have a huge impact on your physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

So I say to each of you, God bless you as you continue toward improving your physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Scripture offers safety –you are safe in the cleft of the rock which is God.

The Psalmist uses the imagery of protection in the word rock, in fact it is referred to 24 times.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliver: My God is my rock, in whom I take refuge—He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Psalm 18:2, MSG

References

Cloud, H. &  Townsend, J. (1995). Safe People: How to find relationship that are good for you
    and avoid those that aren’t. Michigan: Zondervan.
Hawkins, D.,(2007). Dealing with the crazy makers in your life; Setting boundaries on unhealthy relationships. Oregon:  Harvest House Publishers.
Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman Bible Publisher, 2004. Print
The Message. Colorado: NavPress, 2006. Print

Why Establish Healthy Boundaries in Relationships?


Why do we need healthy boundaries?

You cannot break free from unhealthy individuals while standing in their presence. You will need healthy boundaries, because without healthy boundaries it will almost be impossible to maintain your physical, emotional and spiritual health. It is very important to stay alert, to develop a heightened sense of awareness, similar to Homeland Security. Your homeland is your body, your mind, and your spiritual health. The number one tactic of the enemy, using unhealthy people, is to catch you off guard– to catch you unaware.

If you become fascinated or intrigued by the unhealthy aggressive and manipulative behavior, you are vulnerable.  Breaking free from these attractions will require you to become more observant, to listen, not just hearing, but listening to what the unhealthy are saying. It will require discernment, prayer, educating yourself through God’s word and accountability to an individual who is spiritually grounded in the Word.

Paul has much to say about mind control and the devastation that occurs when we live according to the desires of the flesh. He must have known something about unhealthy and unsafe people.

But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It is rotten through and through. Get rid of it!  And then take on an entirely new way of life—–a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduced His character in you. What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretenses. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we are connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you are lying to yourself. Ephesians 4: 20-25, MSG

Believe it or not, you can set boundaries and still be a loving individual. In fact, setting boundaries is a loving act. Imagine what it would be like if we had no boundaries.

What if we said yes to every request that came along?

There are legitimate boundaries. Legitimate boundaries are those we have for protection. We have the responsibility to protect our emotions, for controlling our behavior, our attitudes and our Christian beliefs.

Individuals who are relentless and persistent, those unhealthy individuals who have a hard time understanding the word “no,” will often be upset with our boundaries. Boundaries protect your time, your love, your energy, your emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Remember there is only so much of you to go around, and you alone are responsible for how you disperse each of these areas of your time, your love and your energy.

I love what John Bradshaw said in his book titled, Homecoming. It is never too late to have a healthy childhood. By that he means that, through new healthier boundaries, we can care for the child within us—raising him or her in healthier ways, to mature into the man or woman God created us to be. Boundaries help us learn and maintain our identity in Christ and keep us from placing others in the position of idols in our lives.

So how do we maintain our own identity in Christ and still serve and love one another well? We will look at some hard questions to ask ourselves in our last post.

Identifying Goats, Part Two


Here are four more characteristics of identifying the “Goats” in our lives.

4. Unhealthy and Unsafe people have no problem with lying versus telling the truth.

Have you met someone who you thought “you knew,” only to find out that person was not even close to the person you thought they were? Deception is a strong tool Satan uses to manipulate and to destroy us. Deception can destroy and weakened us spiritually and emotionally.  These individuals are selfish and self-centered. They use lying as a deceptive strategy to cling to and manage lives and relationships for their own personal gain. If one person in a relationship is a liar, the relationship will not grow or prosper.

But no one who traffics in lies gets a job with me; I have no patience with liars.” Psalm 101:7, MSG

5. Unhealthy and Unsafe people will demand your trust instead of earning your trust.

“Goats” feel they are entitled to your trust.

You will often hear statements like these:

“You just do not trust me.”

“Why are you questioning me about where I was or who I was with?”

“You do not believe me.”

“I really don’t need this, this is your problem not mine.”

And the more you try to put the pieces of the puzzle together, the more defensive the individual gets. They have a superiority of being above any question or explanation you ask. If you really want to upset them, ask them to prove their trustworthiness.

The only Being in the universe we can wholeheartedly trust is God Himself. People can earn trust in our lives by proving themselves to be trustworthy and Christ-seeking.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart, don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He is the one who will keep you on track.” Proverbs 3:5-6, The MSG
6. Unhealthy and Unsafe people are self-righteousness instead of humble.

They are charming and delightful– as long as things are going their way.

Unsafe people rarely identify with fellow sinners and their struggles. Why? Because they see themselves as somehow above all of that, almost to the point they project  an “I am better than you” attitude. It will be very difficult for you to be on even ground with these individuals.  Sadly, some individuals who proclaim their Christianity have this type of mentality about sin in general.  They talk about other people “in the world” as if they are somehow not able to identify with them and their struggle with sin.

7. Unhealthy and Unsafe individuals will not be consistent in their behavior; they may appear stable for short periods of time, but they have longer periods of instability.

How does it make you feel when you try to help someone, only to find that all your efforts have been in vain?

What happens when what you do is never enough? Regardless of how many solutions you offer, none quite fits their needs. No solutions will lift them out of their misery. Look in the mirror and realize, “You cannot heal this person. Only God can heal and only individuals can choose to change.” Do not feel guilty about his or her dysfunction.
Important Note: There are legitimate burdens, overwhelming circumstances in which people genuinely need help.  Who we are and how we act are very closely related.  There are unhealthy characteristics in all of us that may be hidden for a period of time, but not for a life time. They will eventually leak out of each of us.

We should all be open to a little character audit, especially from the people we care about. Accountability is needed for personal spiritual, mental and physical health. It improves who we are and creates healthier relationships.  

Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.  Let the Word of Christ – the Message- have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room  in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing; sing your hearts out to God! Let every detail in your lives, words, actions, whatever, be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way. Colossians 3:15-17, MSG

Identifying Goats, Part One


So what does a Goat look like?

Here are three of the characteristics Paul gives in 2 Timothy 3.

1. Individuals who think “they have it all together.”

These individuals will never admit any weakness. We know that relationships and friendships are built on confessing our weakness and vulnerabilities. Individuals who think they have it all together often will leave you feeling disconnected, weak, giving you the feeling you are beneath them.

There is often an implied superiority in the one who seems to have no need for other individuals. There is an imbalance in the relationship, and you often take the weaker role because this person will not allow you to be strong. You become dependent on the “strong one” because the weaker individual is attracted to the stronger one.

James 5:16 says, ”Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed (HCSB).” There is to be an equality in Christ-centered friendships that allows us room for give and take as we bear one another burdens and work together through the daily joys and sorrows of life. When one person dominates a relationship, that is a warning sign that there is an unhealthy imbalance in the relationship.
2. Individuals who are religious instead of spiritual.

Religious individuals are dedicated to God, Biblical knowledge, appearing strong and having it all together.

The question is: do they really know God?

Do they allow themselves to open up about their struggles, their sinfulness and imperfections?

Are they truly relational individuals?

There is a difference between people who are religious and people who are spiritual. Spiritually healthy individuals draw us closer to being the people God intended us to be. These individuals demonstrate character traits that are good enough that their very presence on our lives is positive.  These individuals are accepting and honest and are very much present in our lives. They help us bear good fruit in our lives.

We are intended to be in relationships, healthy relationships. God designed us first to be in a relationship with Him. Proverbs 13:20: ”Become wise by walking with the wise, hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces (MSG).”

Proverbs 14:7: “Escape quickly from the company of fools, they are a waste of your time, a waste of your words.”

Proverbs 14:12-13: “There is a way of life that looks harmless enough, look again- it leads straight to hell. Sure these people appear to be having a good time but all the laughter will end in heartbreak.

Galatians 5: 25-26: “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implication in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original.

Goats often push those around them to become more religious, to follow more rules or to become more like them.

Sheep walk with us, mutually encouraging one another to become more like Christ.

3. Individuals who have no problem saying “I am sorry” but never change their behavior

These individuals avoid working on their problems. Instead of dealing with the issues in their life, they shut off any awareness of their own problems and of the God who has the power to transform.

You will often notice:

  • Statements like, “I don’t have a problem, I can change.”
  • These individuals often avoid complete submission to God or His will
  • They refuse to own their imperfections
  • A refusal to forgive others
  • A lack of a hunger and thirst for righteousness
  • A lack empathy
  • They blame others

True confession and repentance involves simply accepting responsibility and then committing to a change in behavior. Those who apologize but always explain or justify their behavior are not interested in glorifying God, but glorifying themselves.

Goats talk a good talk, but don’t change.

Sheep continually allow the Holy Spirit to make them more like Jesus by admitting shortcomings and allowing them to be strengthened in Christ.

Do You Have Goats in Your Life?


Have you ever asked yourself these questions:

  • Why do I keep being attracted to the same friends?
  • Why do I choose people who let me down?
  • Why is my boss so critical, what have I done?
  • Why do I attract irresponsible people?
  • Why am I drawn to the wrong types of people, what is it about me that attracts them, what do I have written across my forehead?  Why? Why?

Some of the reasons may be:

  • Fear. We act on the need to reach out for a relationship; we are afraid to say “no,” afraid to set boundaries from fear of rejection.
  • We are stressed, need companionship, someone to listen to our problems– and even our joys and successes.
  • We see an individual who appears to have wisdom, understanding, and empathy, and they often appear to offer guidance and soft place to fall.
  • We lack the ability to say “no” to our destructive impulses.
  • We do not like to hear other people tell us no, even if it is in our best interest.
  • We seek instant gratification.
  • We are “fixers.” We can make them better. “They need me,” we tell ourselves.
  • We are easily manipulated and controlled.
  • We want intimacy and closeness, and do not consider the cost failing of to ask ourselves, “Whose needs are being met?”
  • We fear of abandonment.
  • We do not like confrontation and we lack the skills for resolving conflict.
  • We choose to be a victim, consciously or subconsciously, instead of choosing a purposely, passionate, Christlikeness that exercises self-control.
  • We battle addictions and compulsiveness ourselves.
  • Our life is disorganized with a lack of commitment to God.

Proverbs 14:15 says, ”The gullible believe anything they are told. The prudent lift and weigh every word.”
Proverbs 14:30 says, ”A sound mind makes for a robust body, but runaway emotions corrode the bones.

Often our desire for companionship, or our own unhealthy past experiences, cloud our judgment and prevent us from making godly choices in relationships. But by studying God’s Word concerning people and relationships, we can learn to be wise, sound minded, and in control of our emotions as we build godly relationships.

So what does a Goat look like? From 1Timothy we identified 19 characteristics of unhealthy individuals. In the coming days we will look at 10 of those characteristics.