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Monday, September 10, 2012

to set free those who are oppressed

Wednesday night my parents and I happened to catch the movie "Mississippi Burning" just as it was coming on TV. As we watched, there were points at which I felt deeply troubled by what I was seeing. Even more than the horrific way the whites treated the black community, I was disturbed by the oppression I saw as evidenced by the black community's refusal to speak up about the injustices being committed. It reminded me of what I saw in "The Help," which also deeply troubled me.

A couple of days later I was looking at a worksheet my brother recently created that's intended to help people identify different aspects of God's design for them as individuals. One question on the worksheet asked, "What makes you mad?" I immediately thought of oppression. It's not just the historical racial oppression I see portrayed in movies that angers me, it's also the spiritual oppression I see in the lives of people I know personally. I had already been thinking about this a few weeks ago. I become extremely troubled when I see people I care about, brothers and sisters in Christ, missing out on the full life God intends for them because they're being oppressed by lies that have been fed to them by he who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. The worst of it for me is to see people who have given up fighting. It is not in my nature to give up, and I feel like my spirit is suffocating when I see that someone I care about has resigned him- or herself to the way things are, no longer seeking change because change has been thwarted so many times in the past.

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As I've found freedom in God's grace and living for His Kingdom over the past few months, I've also experienced a deep desire to see others find that same freedom. Jesus said He was sent "to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and to set free those who are oppressed." We as believers are to carry on the work He began on earth. And lately it seems as though God has been shaping me with a particular draw to the part about setting free those who are oppressed.

Saturday morning I was praying about this and I thought again of "The Help" (the book version of which landed in my hands less than 24 hours after I watched "Mississippi Burning" and really started thinking about how much I hate oppression...coincidence?). I thought about how writing was the tool Skeeter used to fight the oppression she saw in her community. I've always considered myself a writer (though a slow one) and I suddenly wondered whether writing might be a tool through which God is leading me to fight spiritual oppression. I don't have any big ambition in this regard, I just think perhaps through this blog and through various personal communications part of God's design for me might be to fight spiritual oppression through my writing.

I've been re-watching season 4 of Chuck, and yesterday I was watching an episode in which Chuck has been captured during a time when he does not have the intersect, leaving him defenseless against his enemies. Sarah is bound and determined to find him and heads to the roughest part of Thailand when she gets word that's where he's being held. Once she arrives she agrees to fight someone in order to gain information about his specific whereabouts. (Meanwhile Chuck's mind is being poisoned with a substance that is designed to erase his memory.) This is not the only time we see Sarah kicking some tail on this show, but I couldn't help but notice the passion with which she fights in this scene.

{screen shot from the fight scene}
Sarah's passion resonated with me, because I feel passionate about helping to free people (especially people I already care about) whose minds are being poisoned by satan's lies, whose memories of God's truth and faithfulness are being stripped away, and whose hearts are becoming overwhelmed with such hopelessness and despair that they've stopped fighting for freedom. I wish a few powerful punches and a couple of roundhouse kicks would be effective in my situation (and that I knew how to deliver such to begin with, haha!), because it sure would feel good to release some of the frustration I feel when I witness oppression in people's lives! But as it is, it seems the weapons God has given me to use are those of prayer and pen (or keyboard, as it were). So my hope is that I can pray and write with all the fervor and determination I see in Sarah Walker as she fights physically to set Chuck free.

Last weekend I downloaded Josh Garrels' album "Love and War and the Sea In Between" (which, side note, just might be THE most fantastic album I've ever owned), and one of his songs really reflects my heart in all of this. I'll close with the lyrics, and if you'd like to hear the song you can listen at the bottom of the page.


I hung my head for the last time in surrender and despair
Before I'm dead, I'll take the last climb up the mountain, face my fears
The time has come to make a choice, use my voice for the love of every man
My mind's made up, never again, never again will I turn 'round

Though they may surround me like lions and crush me on all sides
I may fall, but I will rise
Not by my might or my power or by the strength of swords,
Only through Your love, oh Lord
All that's lost will be restored

Take courage sons, for we must go under the heart of darkness to set them free
But don't lose heart when you see the numbers -- there's no measure for the faith we bring
And it's given us to overcome if we run where the Spirit calls us on
The greatest things are yet to come; with the dawn we will rise

Though they may surround me like lions and crush me on all sides
I may fall, but I will rise
Not by my might or my power or by the strength of swords,
Only through Your love, oh Lord
All that's lost will be restored

Jesus, make me an agent of the restoration that comes only through Your love.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Kingdom-Minded: Living for Something Bigger Than Me

{photo source}
As I've really begun to understand God's grace and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God over the past few months, I've discovered, probably more than anything else, a sense of FREEDOM that I never had before. I don't know if I can adequately explain the previous disconnect in my thinking or how exactly the shift in my thinking has so drastically changed my perspective, but it has a lot to do with recognizing that as Christians, as we are being transformed to look more like Christ, we are not so much being made into something completely new and foreign as we are being RESTORED to God's original design for us. I guess you could say I've come to believe the Christian life is less about striving to overcome my identity and more about learning to fulfill it as God intended, and that makes transformation seem a lot less overwhelming to me and a lot more exciting!

Along these same lines, I've realized that the Bible is not filled with arbitrary commands for Christian living but rather glimpses of how we can represent God's King-dom (that is to say very simply, His governing rule) in our lives. This frees us from the misconception that we need to know every individual instruction directed at believers, because the point is not to memorize every single principle but to live in a way that shows God, not SELF, is on the throne in our lives. Old Testament Law and New Testament principles are not an end in themselves but are a means to an end. The goal is to reflect God's Kingdom to the world around us. 

Clearly, this shift in perspective doesn't change the fact that transformation is a lifelong process that comes with challenges and trials.  But understanding God's original design for humanity and that our transformation is actually a restoration of that design, and understanding as well what it means to represent His Kingdom here on earth, come together give us a bigger picture for the Christian life that makes it not only less overwhelming but also more meaningful and exciting.

As these shifts in my thinking have been taking root and I've been finding more freedom in my understanding of the Gospel, I've oddly found myself feeling weighed down by a lot of what I hear in messages from Christian leaders. This can come in the form of sermons, Facebook posts, books, blogs, magazine articles, etc. For a while I couldn't put my finger on a reason, but I am finally realizing that I feel weighed down because many of these messages, while they convey Kingdom principles and challenge the listener to live by them, don't really acknowledge the Kingdom. More often than not it seems the greatest motivator we are given for Christian living is along the lines of it making us more like Christ, building our character, etc. And that's all well and good and true, and granted that in and of itself brings glory to God, but it seems as though that kind of thinking essentially puts ME back at the center of the story, and it's become abundantly clear to me that that's not where I belong. 

{photo source}
It's also become clear to me that I quickly lose heart when I imagine myself at the center of the story. I need something bigger than myself to live for. When Christian living becomes challenging and I find myself struggling, I quickly lose motivation if the greatest aim I'm aware of is my own personal development, because at best that feels anti-climatic and at worst it feels rather hopeless. But when I begin to realize that Christian living is more about representing God's Kingdom to the world around me, then it becomes invigorating, even with all its challenges, because it's serving something much more epic than my own personal story. This doesn't make Christian living less challenging, but it does make it feel a lot less burdensome and a lot more meaningful, and that gives me a lot more motivation to press on when things get difficult. 

I just think our purpose as the Church is a lot more significant than many of us recognize, and I think if we really understood the Gospel of the Kingdom we would be living lives of greater freedom and purpose, and the messages we relay as Christians would be less about what Christian living is intended to do for our own personal lives and more about what it is intended to do for the sake of the Kingdom of God!

I actually composed the above thoughts a few days ago, but sometimes it's such a labor to articulate my thoughts, I have to take some time away from something I've written and come back to it later with a clearer mind to see if it even makes sense. In the meantime I came across the following paragraph in Chuck Colson's book How Now Shall We Live, which succinctly described almost exactly what I was trying to say in my first paragraph...
Christ's resurrection is only the beginning of the story of redemption. At Pentecost, the risen Christ sent forth the Holy Spirit into the lives of believers, to work out his purposes in their lives. Today as well, all believers receive the power to become children of God, to be transformed and restored to our true nature, people created in the image of God. And we live as the community of hope, in eschatological expectation, knowing that Christ will return and establish his rule over all. God's redemption, then, does not change us into something different so much as it restores us to the way we were originally created. 
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Yes. You may have already read my final thoughts on Facebook, but here they are nonetheless:

The more I read the New Testament, the less I believe Christ's provision of salvation is intended primarily to draw me to a personal, individualized, private holiness, and the more I believe it is intended to draw me into right, restored relationships in ALL aspects of life ~ with God, people, creation, possessions, etc. The restoration of those relationships to God's original design is only possible when I'm submitted to God as the ruler of my life instead of trying to rule my own life, which is exactly where salvation ought to lead me. Thus, salvation should have effects that extend FAR beyond self.