Friday, June 25

How Free Are We Really?

Jesus was a promiser of freedom.
To the Jews who had believed him, 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)

So, what does this really mean? If you become a Christian are you truly free? If you believe in God is your life full of freedom? What does freedom look like, feel like, sound like?

"Well, I am free to be who I am"..some would say. "I am free to go where I want to go, buy what I want to buy, love who I want to love"...and the list would go on. But is that freedom? Does a person who has the world at their fingertips have freedom? Take Bill Gates for example...He is free to have anything he wants at any time because the power of financial freedom lies in his hands. Does that mean he is free? Dave Ramsey promises freedom to those who become debt free. Oprah and other daytime hosts tell their viewers that freedom is within reach if only they would walk through rehab and counseling and choose strength over their weaknesses.

Not that counseling or rehab or anything like that is's actually really good. But my question is many people have gone through a program...and followed some rules...and have willed themselves into submission...only to find themselves bound up again and worse off than when they began? How many are crying out in despair as their eyes open to a new morning?

Not one of us can say that our life is perfect. Not one of us can say that we have not been affected by sin or have been a partaker in it. Sin keeps us from freedom.

Do you see it? Anger. Judgment. Hatred. Lust for more. Lust for what does not belong to you. Jealousy. Pride. Destroying others with our words. Selfishness. Greed. Unforgiveness. Unfaithfulness. Misuse of people. Dishonesty. The list goes on...

Everything that is the opposite of these:
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.

The church leaders Jesus talked to didn't see their sin. They told Jesus there was no reason for Him to set them free. They were angry that anyone would tell them they were in sin.

How many of us think that we are okay? How many of us would be indignant if someone told us that we needed to be set free? How many of us blame others for taking our freedoms away?

We are all for saying, "God is love". Why shouldn't God accept us as we are? Why shouldn't He love us despite our brokenness? And He does.

But He wants to go a step further. He wants us to be free (at peace, full of joy, loving others, content).

Has fear gripped you in the middle of the night, in the middle of a storm, in the middle of a relationship that was falling apart?
Have you been drawn to a substance or activity for comfort, only to find that now it will not let you go?
Has your anger pushed everything you love away?
Are you too ashamed to tell the truth?
Are you too proud to repair what has been broken?
Are you so afraid that if you let go everyone and everything else will fall apart?
Have you denied your need for God, by taking things into your own hands?
Then you are not free.

Many of our mainstream churches have a way of lulling its members into a comfort zone. And the more I see, the more I am convinced that things are not as they should be. There are good churches out there, please don't get me wrong. People with good hearts, loving their communities. But the people come in broken. And they leave broken. Questions unanswered. Lives still falling apart. Hoping that God will someday come through. Watching their loved ones walk away. Watching their children spiral downward. Weighed down by depression, addiction, anger. Afraid that at any moment life will spin out of control and they will lose everything that is precious...not realizing that their grip of control is squeezing the life out of everything precious. There has to be more...Jesus came to bring life...not survival tips.

In the early church days, before people even entered church life there was a beautiful process that took place. They came to acknowledge Christ as the one they would choose to follow. Then, they prayed prayers to be freed from every sin and stronghold from their past (these were prayers of deliverance if you will). After their acknowledgment and freedom through prayer they would enter the water for baptism. As they entered the waters they believed that they were being washed of every sin and evil spirit that they had been tied to before and when they came up they were filled with the new Holy Spirit of God. I heard this the other opened my eyes to the beauty of baptism in a way I hadn't seen before. I wonder how many Christians even know that there is a true freedom for them in Christ.

God's will was to heal people. God's will was to set people free. That's what Jesus did...he healed and he delivered. He was doing His father's will..that's what he said.

And yet people continually say that healing and deliverance and the gifts of the Holy Spirit were only for the apostles in the early church. Ugh.

That's what my grandfather believed as a young Christian, as a seminary student, as a Baptist preacher with a good sized church. Until he was bedridden for a year and couldn't even write his own name because of all the tranquilizers he was on. My grandmother was watching a television preacher one day who talked about healing...and wondered if that could be helpful to my grandpa who was so mentally and physically ill. My grandfather told her she shouldn't be watching that kind of was heresy! Not too long after that...he heard this preacher was in town. He went forward and asked for prayer at the service. He was anointed with oil. And he was healed.

The story gets better. Grandpa was a Baptist and Baptists did not believe in healing. But he was healed. So, he decided that if he was wrong about healing he might also be wrong about the Holy Spirit. He began to study the scriptures once again. And as he studied he felt God speak to his heart and tell him that the root of the sickness he had had was still in him. Through some connections and conversations in the months after that, he met with a couple who believed that God still delivers people of demonic spirits. Of course, Grandpa said, "I'm a Baptist preacher! How could I have anything like that in me?" But he did. And when that couple prayed for him, several spirits of darkness left his body.

I know this sounds weird. I know it sounds off the wall. It's so weird and off the wall that Grandpa lost his whole congregation and was put on trial by them! But from that day forward, my grandfather was a new man. He filled his prescription bottles with anointing oil and began to pray for the sick. Several of his family members were healed from cancer. Grandma says that thousands of people in the area were healed, delivered, and brought into relationship with God over the span of his lifetime.

I have another friend who did not grow up believing in healing and deliverance either. She was from a very strong denomination as well. When she had finished seminary and started working in a local church, however, things began to change. She saw so many broken people. They would pray and pray and pray. But addictions would not go away, divorces were still occurring, and at one point because someone was so tired of waiting for healing to come they committed suicide. This was the turning point for the staff at this church. They decided that there must be more. They began to study what healing and deliverance ministry was all about. And once they knew...there was no looking back. People began to be set free.

My grandmother recently told me that for 40 years she never once heard my grandfather tell her that he loved her. I couldn't believe it. But it was true she said. She told me that it had had a lot to do with pain he had carried from his relationship with his mom when he was young. So for 40 years Grandma knew Grandpa loved her but she never heard it. Until one day when Grandpa went to a Bible study where they were praying for inner healing. That day the group prayed for him to be healed from the hurts of his childhood. And from that day forward he couldn't stop telling Gram how much he loved her. Gram says it was the most beautiful, joyful thing...he would just go on and on about his love for her. He had just needed healing.

If there is anything that these past few years has taught me it is this...that there is a broken world in need of Jesus...and that I want to be a part of what Jesus is doing. I wish I had words right now to explain my own brokenness and my frustration at my inability to change anything. I know I am not the only one who has lost something, or failed. I am so dependent on God.

I haven't forgotten that Jesus heals and delivers. I just haven't set my face towards Him. I've been so busy defending that I haven't taken the time to walk in it. And that's was part of the process of getting me here I think.

I'm still praying for freedom. For me. For the ones I hold so closely to my heart.

It's fear that keeps us from trusting the One who would free us. That's all it is....fear. If only we would come. If only we would set our face upon Him and run towards Him and fall at His feet. If only we would whisper..."Jesus come". He would heal everything...He would set things right.

What is it that seems to be taking your joy and your peace today? What is it that holds you back from loving well? What is trying your patience? What battle is raging and pulling you out of control? Perhaps this is where your healing must begin. Perhaps this is the place where God's spirit must enter.

Tuesday, June 8

Two Simple Words

It happens to us all I think. We start with great aspirations for making life better. It could be going after our dream job. It could be taking the step of marriage and starting a family. It could be taking a class on photography. It could be organizing the garage. Or starting to go to church again. Or volunteering somewhere in the community. Or changing your hair color. It could be going to that country you have always dreamed of seeing. But the follow through...well, it is either non-existent or it is a long time coming.

Not that patience doesn't have its work mind you. Sometimes waiting is good. But often, we continue to say...

"One of these days..."

"When [__], then I will [___]"

Those beautiful dreams and very exciting, even attainable goals become a part of our every day conversation. It's what we tell people when we are networking and making connections. It's what we write down in online profiles. It's what we tell ourselves as we sit at the computer screen and dream of what could be. Eventually, we become defined by what we want to do, and not by what we are actually doing in the moment.

Not everyone is like this mind you. There are those who are following their dreams. Those who are actually making good on their words. They know what they want and they are taking steps to get there. My guess is, that you and I have met a few of these types of people. They are most likely the happiest, most peaceful people you will ever meet. Is their life easy? Probably not. My guess is that they have to work hard too. My guess is that setbacks have also come their way. The difference between us and them? Choice.

I have realized that in my own life I have been leaving my choices up to others. Sigh. Whatever is comfortable for everyone. Whatever keeps the peace. Whatever keeps me out of hot water. Whatever makes people happy. And I thought that that was what I wanted! I want to love everyone. I want everyone to love me! I hate the thought of disappointing someone...especially someone I love. I've been saying "someday", and waiting around as if someday will magically appear. I've been allowing others to make the decisions. No decisions have been made. My world has been full of "somedays".

Until my little world unraveled, I didn't see any other way. Somehow, I had lost who I was in the midst of seeing who everyone else wanted to be.

Sure, there is a time to sacrifice and give up who we are for the sake of Christ. But there is also a time, to express the greatness of who God created us to be. That beauty should never be hidden away, forgotten, or belittled.

What if.... began to pay attention to your words?
...a pattern began to emerge? began to see what you really wanted?
...that's what you were supposed to do all along? stopped blaming others for holding you back? did it?

We can only blame someone else for so long. It's not really their fault. We can only talk to the talk for a little while. Eventually, it becomes time to "Go big or go home" they like to say in certain parts of the country. Eventually, you have to start walking, start following through. No one else is going to make your decisions well. They might try...but as much as they love you, they will never know you well enough...not like God does. There is an imprint on our hearts, that only He can breathe life into. PS- Thank Him for the friends and family who do realize this and love you and support you for who you are. They're the keepers.

Donald Miller states that characters in a story don't want to change. They have to be forced. They need what he calls an "inciting incident". For a story to go from great...there must be a force for change.

Life becomes LIFE when we begin to say that thing deep inside...that voice that calls us out and reminds us of who we are. When we begin to say no to the chains of the past, the fears of the future, the expectations of the present. When we create inciting incidents for ourselves so that we cannot go back on our word. When we begin to say, "YES", to our hearts true desires....we are beginning to say yes to God. The voice way down deep inside is the mark of the One who created the whole universe, who created us. He knows who we are. He longs to give us LIFE and life abundantly. Because He is life and He wants us to know Him as much as He knows us.

Saying "YES" could be the most freeing word we ever speak. (Aside from saying yes to things that would hurt us or cause significant detriment to another. Saying "NO" at the right time could be the second most freeing word.) I have a friend who says that "yes" is her new answer to every invitation (with respect to above disclaimer). Joy begins to creep back in. And because life becomes more tangible and less idealistic, peace has this way of surpassing the troubles that come along the way. God's voice becomes clearer, more recognizable. We know who we are and that in turn will allow us to help others become who they are. Our freedom will bring others freedom. Want to get others to live a God filled life? Go get one for yourself...and then see what a witness true freedom really brings.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
Hebrews 12:1-3

Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. Matthew 5:37