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Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Does it matter–our genealogy? our heritage? our family line? In scripture, it’s recorded in many ways as quite significant, from the “begats” in Matthew to the repetitive list of kings and their fathers and their fathers. Am I a child of the promise, a child of the free woman?

Galatians 4:31
Therefore, brothers [and sisters], we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

Paul goes into a longish discussion of the “figurative” nature of Hagar (the slave woman) and Sarah (the free), who bore children, one “naturally” and the other as the result of a God-promise and power of the Spirit (a supernatural birth). The slave child (and subsequent generations) is born to a time and place in history, while the implication is that the child (and following generations) is of a “new Jerusalem,” a place out of time.

Despite the fact that Sarah and Abraham are usually considered the “father and mother” of the Jews (who we know followed the law), now the focus is on the next step when the Abrahamic children come into their true inheritance. The long-awaited Messiah was part of the promise, the miracle of Isaac. Christ too was born supernaturally. (Isaac was born from an old woman’s barren womb and Jesus from a very young woman’s virginal womb.)

And just so, because I have accepted that same long-promised Messiah as my Messiah too, I become a child of the free woman, the metaphysical, the kingdom of God. I now have a different genealogy than I did before. This is a truer meaning of “new creation.”

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” [II Corinthians 5:17]

I’m not living in this freedom really. It’s positional only, not internalized. It’s head knowledge, not heart knowledge.

It’s like I’m so close to really understanding the enormity of this truth but not quite. It’s a thought butterfly flitting around my head. I can’t quite grab hold of it. But someday I will. And when I do, I will be changed.

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Back in the day, freedom in Christ for a gentile meant “no circumcision required.” That was huge. But what about today? Unlike the first century, most of us are gentile believers. Are we demanding that new believers conform to a standard of our own devising?

Galatians 2:4
This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.

Jesus had made it pretty plain during his three year ministry that his primary focus was the Jews. Those who followed him initially understood that the long-awaited Messiah was turning their laws, their norms, and their world upside down. He was transforming their structures.

But the gentiles who accepted Christ were different. They weren’t really transforming what they believed before, they were walking away from it. Following Christ was making something new.

I have a friend who has been a Christian all of her life. Every time the doors were open, she would say, her family would be at church. They were committed, active, and devoted to Jesus and the work of the church. Most, if not all, of her friends were in the church. She understood evangelism as primarily the work of bringing others to faith in Christ and therefore into the body life a church. They had committees, choirs, youth groups, singles groups, fellowship suppers, and holiday traditions. The church folks were loving and friendly. Come into our life, follow us as we follow Christ.

There is nothing particularly wrong with this picture until someone doesn’t quite fit into the mold. Or when someone asks, “is this all there is?”

Was Jesus different on the days he went to the Temple from the days he spent with prostitutes and tax collectors? Did he say, don’t forget to go to Temple on Saturday so you can start following all the laws and rules?

When Paul taught the Galatians, the Corinthians, and all the others throughout Asia, the message was simple: Christ crucified for the sake of all sin and resurrected in power of the Holy Spirit. We are all covered by his act of sacrifice if we accept the Truth of who He is. We are free to be new, to be in relationship with God, to follow a new way, to witness to others about the power of this transformation.

The key to growth as a Christian is fellowship. There’s no doubt about that. But, is the institutional church still that venue? Is passing the peace or saying hello to one another during the obligatory greeting time fellowship? It’s pretty easy to attend a mega-church and greet ten to twenty people, but really, unless I make a leap and start attending a smaller venue, I could be home watching a tele-preacher.

There is nothing more wonderful than to share in the worship and faith of God with people you know. Isn’t that why we have celebrations at home and invite our families and friends? It’s more fun, it’s more meaningful.

Am I getting off the subject of freedom in Christ? Not really. In Paul’s day, the freedom included the breaking of the long-held tradition of circumcision. Perhaps the new freedom in today’s world is to transform what it means to participate in the Body of Christ.

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Who wants to be held captive? Just the idea of it makes me want to run the other way. Like most people of our culture, this sounds like the opposite of freedom. Ah, it’s another paradox of the faith: captivity is freedom in the realm of Christ.

II Corinthians 10:5
[Inasmuch as we] refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) . . . [Amplified]

I remember visiting a church once and being totally turned off. The message was about the “mind” and all its evils. The mind was the whole problem, he said. The mind caused every sin and every mistake. The mind was to blame. Both Mike and I walked out of there to never return. At that time, we equated the mind with intelligence, creativity, and logic, not evil.

But now, I think I have a clearer understanding of the mind’s role in my faith. The mind is the initiator of all things: both good and bad. The spark of an idea comes from the mind. Christ dwells in the mind as well, but without a whip. The mind must be tamed with love.

To bring the mind into captivity is to harness the thoughts that may initiate the wrong direction, a poorly conceived plan and unintended consequences.

The mind is where resentments can grow unfettered. The mind is where “Pete and Repeat” live: they go over and over the words someone said to me or what I should have said back or worse, reminding me of what I did or said that hurt others. Pete and Repeat live in a cesspool of words and feelings.

There are two possible solutions. One is to use the Jesus duct and to allow that cesspool to drain periodically. If not, it gets so full, eventually, one way or another, that stuff starts building a home in the heart and coming out of the mouth. The second solution is to put those thoughts and words and feelings into captivity first, before they get too powerful, too sullen, too belligerent, too stubborn to remain corralled.

My picture of such a thing is a corral with little delinquents running around, hurting each other with name calling, punching and the like. And there is Jesus walking among them, laying a hand here or there, touching a head, or blowing away the hurt like a mom does for her little baby who fell down. He sits in the middle of the muck and slowly, their curiosity gets the better of them and they come closer and closer, to listen, to touch, to be healed, and to be renewed.

This captivity is a place where broken things are made whole again.

I yield.

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There must be a trick: how do I look at something intently that I cannot see? It must be the reverse then. In other words, it’s not so much that I am to fix my eyes on the unseen as much as I am NOT to fix my eyes on the seen. It’s a little like the old mantra, “it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.”

II Corinthians 4:18
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

This is not an easy task. The “seen” is all around me. Everyday life is constantly presenting itself to me in one form or another Circumstances are doing their best to surround me.

Tasks, responsibilities, jobs, lists, chores, and duties assail me every day. And what about the people: children, significant others, parents, grandparents, extended family, neighbors, co-workers, supervisors, subordinates, church friends, non-church friends, enemies, club friends, organization friends, acquaintances, and strangers. They all require my attention. They are all part of my “seen” world. Oh, and what about the state of world: the wars, the tragedies, the killings, the weather, corporate crime, drug lords, benevolent dictators, not so benevolent dictators, congress, criminals, statesmen, presidents and their wives and their children, and on and on and on. Should I mention the inanimate objects? I don’t think I can bear it.

And yet, the message is clear: these things are temporary. Jobs will change, people will die, governments will collapse, technology will fail. Like the seed that must die to bear a fruit, all of these things will die to produce the next generation . . . whether it’s people, ideas, or gizmos.

My eyes need to look elsewhere. My “eyes” need to look within. More often than not, this actually requires me to close my eyes. This is why we usually pray for eyes closed, to block out the “seen” and to give ourselves a chance to glimpse the unseen. I must choose.

The seen world is the one that causes anxiety and fear. The unseen world of the Holy Spirit is a world of peace and order and love. Forgiveness happens in the unseen world. Freedom too.

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This is a freedom I don’t practice as much as I should. It’s so easy to get caught up in tracking all the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” in our lives. What is it we fear so much? Why have we lost our confidence in grace?

I Corinthians 10:23-24
Looking at it one way, you could say, “Anything goes. Because of God’s immense generosity and grace, we don’t have to dissect and scrutinize every action to see if it will pass muster.” But the point is not to just get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well. [The Message Bible]

My daughter was working with some dear counselor friends of mine the other day and in the course of their time together, she said she was planning to get a tattoo. Now, I am not a fan of tattoos at all. Five or six years ago, I told my three teens, “If any one of you goes out and gets a tattoo, I will cut it out with a spoon.” Yah, I’d say I had a bit of an attitude. But, over the years, it’s become evident that cultural acceptability of this practice is going to outweigh my threats and I can either fight it and watch them sneak into a tattoo parlor some weekend in Ocean City or I can speak lovingly, reasonably and simply abd ask them to plan it: plan it well, and to be sure it’s what they want. So far, no one has added one yet.

But that’s not really my point. Those friends ended up pulling out scriptures and telling her that getting a tattoo is a sin (I assume this is based on Leviticus 19:28, “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves…” and other similar Old Testament passages). But, aren’t we missing the phrase, “for the dead” in this passage. The cuttings and tattoos referenced here are cultural and clearly ritualistic. Most kids and young people are not participating in a satanic ritual any more than they are by going from house to house on Halloween saying, “trick or treat.”

This reminds me of other “do nots” that have been conveyed to me in the name of sin, such as practicing yoga or visualization. Can these things be abused? Of course, but then, so can practices in the name of Christ, such as “miracles” of gold dust floating off the hands of a “healer.”

What is essential here then? Motive and intent. Christ brought freedom and that freedom “completed” the law [Romans 8:1-2].

Needless to say, we must remember, if participating in an activity gives pain and anxiety to those around us, it’s probably best not to do it, for their sakes and out of our love for them, the other (the sacred other). We can’t always know that, though, and we can’t go through our lives second guessing these things. But when we do know, when a child chooses NOT to act in a particular way out of respect and love for parents, that is a good thing. And I’m sure there are other examples of these choices.

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What is allowed: much more than I used to believe. My faith in God has grown exponentially and with that expansion, so has the umbrella of God’s grace grown in like manner.

Romans 14:22a, 23b
Your personal convictions [on such matters]–exercise [them] as in God’s presence. . . For whatever does not originate and proceed from faith is sin [whatever is done without a conviction of its approval by God is sinful].
[Amplified]

This passage is full of personal freedom as long as faith is the foundation. Too many Christians have browbeaten one another into believing in a very small and narrow God who is watching and waiting for the followers to step out of line. I don’t think so anymore.

In my last Bible Study class, one of the participants said her family calls these rules the “makey-uppies” and I agree with her 100 percent. Like the Pharisees of old, many start making up additional interpretations of the law to keep the road as narrow as possible. Perhaps the scriptures about the way being narrow [Matthew 7:13-14] have caused believers to create a tiny, tiny door for faith. And as they squeeze through, they pat themselves on the back for being so narrow.

Here’s a better picture: the narrow way is more like the Tardis from the stories of Doctor Who. On the outside, his vehicle looks quite small, only as big as a British style phone booth, but once inside, it’s expansive and full of rooms and possibilities. This is the way of Jesus.

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It’s ironic, when Paul the Apostle declared Christ as the Way, it was a testament of freedom to anyone who chose to believe, whether Jew or Gentile, slave or foreigner. Anyone could enter this new relationship with God. But today, the Christ message is treated as limiting, exclusive, or prescribed.

Romans 10:4
Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness [right relationship with God] for everyone who believes.

Several chapters of Romans are dedicated to the logic Paul lays out for the Jews of that time, the reasons and proof texts to support the reasons a Messiah came. He wants to convince them that the way was now open to God for anyone to believe. The season of the heart had come. “For with the heart a person believes (adheres to, trusts in, and relies on Christ) and so is justified (declared righteous, acceptable to God), . . . ” [Amplified, Romans 10:10a].

Many are guilty of limiting the Christ message, perhaps Christians most of all. We have codified the process and made rules of engagement. We have created denominations that have additional requirements such as specific types of baptism, communion practices, sins by degree, and methods of confession.

Today, we would need another Paul to set the Christians from their own chains of law.

The Christ message is one of freedom. That freedom invites us to participate in an intimate relationship with God that has never been possible before. For Christians, we must return to the simplicity of belief and confession. For non-believers, we must focus on the open door of Christ. All are welcome.

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