Sunday, August 25, 2019

How Do You Find Freedom, Real Freedom From What Holds You Captive? Here's How

I just heard.  They’re going to start movie number 4.  Most of the old gang is back, Keanu Reeves, Carrie Ann Moss, even one of the Wachowski’s twins, the two siblings who created the first one.  And nothing holds a candle to that first one.   Twenty years later, I still love that movie, that movie that introduced us to the Matrix.   I love it so much that I've even included a clip of one of my favorite scenes below.  It's the scene with the red pill and the blue pill?  Do you remember that?  It's where the truth begins to come out.  

Does anyone remember that movie?  The story goes like this.  These evil supercomputers have taken over the world.  They have put human beings into this virtual reality world.  That way, they can use our bodies as batteries to keep up their evil computer ways, while we don’t have a clue.   So basically, human beings have become horribly enslaved, but get this.  They don’t know it.

But forget the plot.  The Wachowski twins, who made this film, wanted to make a deeper point.  They put all sorts of allusions to Christianity and Buddhism in the movie.  Why?   They were floating a terrifying idea.   Maybe, this crazy story isn’t so crazy.   Maybe it’s already happening right now.   Maybe we are enslaved, and we don’t even know it.

I get that, because the Wachowski’s were right.  Something has enslaved people.  And for the most part, they, by which I mean you and I too, don’t even realize it.  It’s not some supercomputer enslaving us, okay, well maybe a bit (as I check my smartphone for the hundredth time today) but that’s not what I’m talking about.    No, our smartphone addiction is only a symptom of the slavery.  The slavery goes deeper than that.   But everyone has a path to freedom.   And what is it that sets you free?  In these words, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

Does it make any sense?   Here you are sitting probably somewhere reading this, but if you wanted to, you could just walk right out of wherever you are, and do pretty much anything else.  You could go see a movie.  You could catch a flight to almost anywhere in the world.   You could grab a bite to eat somewhere or just head home.    So how could you be a slave?   That doesn’t make any sense does it?

Have you ever heard of the HBO show, Succession?    The second season started a few weeks ago.   It tells the story of this super rich family, who own this massive entertainment comglomerate, Waystar.   At the heart of the show, you find the man who made the company, Logan Roy, their dad.   As the second season opens, the daughter is honeymooning on a yacht with her new husband.   The oldest son has gone to rehab again.  But then, Daddy calls. He’s not dying or anything.  He just wants to see them.    And get this.  They all go, immediately.  The daughter and her new hubby leave their honeymoon.  The son leaves rehab.   Everyone of them drops everything to go see Daddy.   Now, if you’d ask these super rich kids if they were slaves, they’d laugh.   They can do whatever they want, buy whatever they want, right?   But when daddy calls, they come running.  And trust me, they come more out of fear than love.   And if that isn’t slavery, what is?   And don’t think, the old man, Logan isn’t a slave either.   They come running because he is deciding who will run his massive company.   But here’s the kicker.  Logan can’t let it go.  Even when a stroke almost kills him, he still can’t let it go.   Logan Roy doesn’t own the company.  The company owns him.   

Here’s the painful truth.   You don’t have to know you’re a slave to be one.   That’s exactly why the missionary Paul is writing this letter to these Christians in Galatia.   Years before he had come to them and shared the Good News about Jesus.   Now, like the Roy family in that HBO show, these Galatians didn’t realize they were slaves, at least, until they tasted a bit of what real freedom was like.   But in this news about Jesus, that is what they tasted, they tasted freedom.   And so, they came to believe.  And as they did, they become free.  How does this news about Jesus free them?  How does it free anyone?  We’re going to get there, but not yet.

First, we need to understand how these Galatians were becoming slaves again.   You see.  A group of so-called Christians had come to visit them.  And they had said to them.   It’s great that you have Jesus, but you need something more.   Jesus needs you to abide by these rules, to do these rituals (that’s why Paul is talking about the whole circumcision thing – it’s a religious ritual).  Then and only then with these rules and rituals will you be free.   But what they are saying, it’s a damned lie.   And I’m using that damn word in the right way.    That lie won’t free them, it will condemn them.  It will make them slaves.   It will take away from the only thing that will free them, that will free you.   

And what is that?  What is the only thing that will free them, that will free you?  In these words of Paul’s, God tells you.   What frees you is faith working through love.    To put it a little less poetically, what frees you is believing the love.   That’s the good news of Jesus.  We said it about about 15 minutes ago, and we’ll say it again next week, and the week after that.   Why?  Those words free you.   What were the words? God loves you no matter what.    That’s the news Paul shared with the Galatians.  That’s the news that freed them. 

Now how do those words, God loves you no matter what, free you.  It’s because that’s what you are always looking for in your life.  You are always looking for the love.  You are yearning for a love that will fill you with a worth and value that nothing can ever take away. 

But here’s the problem.   If you are not getting this love in God, you are trying to find it in something else.   But whatever that something is, it can’t give you the love you seek.    You might tell yourself it can, but it can’t.   And because it can’t, it will enslave you.  

Look at that Roy family in the HBO show.   Let’s say that what these kids of the great Logan Roy are yearning for is his approval, the validation of their kinda scary Dad.   But let’s say. They got it.  Logan Roy said to them all.  Hey kids I love you.  You are totally awesome just as you are.   I’m selling the company.  I’m giving you a nice billion or two.   Now, go be free.   Would they be free?
No.   Whatever their dad said, however much money he gave them, it wouldn’t be enough.   They’d need more.   Their desire for that love, your desire for that love, my desire for that love, it has no end.   And nothing on this earth can ever fill it. 

Think about it.   You might have great health, great kids, a great family, a great spouse, a great job, great friends, financial security but is it enough, really?   In your most honest moments, maybe when you are alone with yourself, don’t you still feel a deep yearning for something more?   Do you ever think?  Why isn’t this enough?  Or maybe you are still shooting for those things, thinking when I have all of that, it will be enough.  Trust me, it won’t be. 

It’s not enough because as much as you want it to be, you can’t count on it.  You know.  It won’t always be there.  You may have an amazing spouse who loves you, but that doesn’t mean that love can’t go away.    If nothing else, at some point, death will take it away.  And that’s scary.  Everything on this planet you turn to for ultimate worth or value can’t give it to you.  You name it.  Success, Health, Fame, Wealth, Relationships, Pleasure, the list goes on. None of them will give you ultimate value.  Why?    They’re not ultimate.   And because they’re not ultimate, you will fear, like nothing else, that awful day when whatever you look to for the love, for the worth, for the validation goes away or fails you.   And, that fear, that fear enslaves you.     

But if you believe in the love, if you trust that the infinite source of all life loves you without end, without condition.   If you believe that this divine love even became a human being, even died for you to show you that love, that frees you.   Why?   You now have the ultimate love.  You have a love that does give you ultimate worth, that does give you ultimate value, that nothing, not even death takes away. 

You see, that’s what at stake with these Galatians.   These so-called Christians are leading them to doubt that love.  Now the Galatians are thinking.  God’s love can be taken away.  If I don’t abide by these rules, if I don’t do these rituals, then the love goes.   And so, their fear has returned.   And with the fear comes the slavery.   For when you fear that the love can go, that it’s limited, you do whatever you can to keep it, even if it means as Paul puts it, “devouring one another.”    That’s why religious wars are usually the worst.              

But when you know the love has no limit, when you know the love has no end, when you know that nothing, not even death, takes the love away from you.  It frees you.  It frees you from the fear.  It frees you to love.  It frees you to love God.  It frees you to love everyone like never before.   After all, you don’t need to hoard the love or keep it to yourself.   God has an infinite supply, and God has given you the key to receive as much as you want!  How awesome is that!

And in that infinite, unconditional love, you become free, really free.  As Paul puts it, the law can no longer subject you.  Now Paul is talking here about a particular type of law.  But trust me, if you don’t know the love of God, you have a law subjecting you right now.   Here’s a few….
If my friends or family or spouse think I’m not worthy or valued, then I’m not. 

If I don’t have success in my career or financial security, if my marriage fails or my children mess up, then what worth or value do I have? 

Those are just a couple.  You can find yours.  Just ask yourself, where is your fear?   What do you fear losing the most or not ever getting?  Where do you think?   If I lose this, I’ve lost everything?  If I don’t have this, then nothing else matters.  That’s your law.   Whatever your law is, it will subject you, count on that.  And the one thing, it will never do?  It will never give you the love, the value, the worth you ultimately need.  It will tell you it can, but it can’t.

But believing in this love, that God loves you no matter what, that will.   That love will free you.   It will free you to love.  It will free you to be loved.   Why?  Only this love is ultimate.  Only this love is without end.   And it will free you into a wondrous, amazing, daunting adventure with God that will open you to become everything you yearn to be, that God created you to be.    So, believe in the love.   Trust in the love.  Let this love free you.   Let this love set you free.          

Sunday, August 4, 2019

In a World of Terrifying Uncertainty, What Can You Count On No Matter What?

Do you know the story about the tree?  You know the one in the Bible, Adam and Eve, all of that?   They eat the fruit from the tree. Everything goes bad, that story?  Do you realize?  That story has nothing to do with the tree.  It has to do with the lie.  That’s the problem, the lie, not the tree.  What do I mean?   In these words, written thousands of years later, God points the way.  Let’s hear what God has to say.

It all went bad in the beginning, that’s what the Adam and Eve and tree story tells you.  But why did it go bad?  It went bad because two people ate a piece of fruit?  That’s ridiculous.   The story has nothing to do with that.  God could have said.  Don’t pick the marigold or move that rock. It went bad because of the lie. 

You see.  In the story, God puts this tree in the garden.  He tells Adam and Eve not to eat from it.  Why?   It’s a question of trust.   Do they really trust God? Do they trust that God loves them, that God wants the best for them?   So, God says to them.   Trust me. Trust me about thus tree.   Then this snake comes along and tells them a lie.   The snake says.  You can’t trust God.  God doesn’t love you.  God doesn’t want the best for you.  God is holding out on you.   Don’t trust God about this tree.  And they don’t.  Instead, Adam and Eve believe the lie.   And ever since the lie has infected the world.   And believe it or not, it infects you.

You see.  When you trust that God loves you, that God loves you no matter what, it frees you.  It gives you security.  It gives you worth nothing can take away. You know.  No matter what happens in your life, you are ok.   A love like that, frees you from fear.  It frees you like nothing else. 

But when you don’t trust in that love, it becomes hard to trust in anything really.  You have to find something to give you security, to give you worth, to give you purpose.    And whatever that thing is can be taken away, it also gives you insecurity and fear.  You fear the loss of that thing, whatever it is.   So, you do anything to keep it.  Because if you lose it, it will crush you.

This past week, I read another story about that rich people cheating scandal.  You know the one.  The rich and famous paid to bribe their kids’ way into top schools.   These people had everything.  Even their kids were doing alright.   But it wasn’t enough.  Their kids had to get into their dream school.   Why?  Their kids’ success had become their parents’ source of security.  If their kids weren’t successful, they weren’t successful.  So, out of fear, they did all they could to make that success real, even if it meant cheating.  They became slaves to that drive.

That’s the slavery that Paul is talking about here.   That’s what he means when he tells these people in Galatia, not to submit to slavery again.  Before Paul came along and told them the truth, that God loved them, that God had died to show that love, they had been slaves to something.   It might have been success or wealth or their family or others’ approval.   It might have been a pleasure that became an addiction or some esoteric religion or whatever.  The list goes on.   But when Paul told them of God’s love, of the certainty of that love, they became free. 

But now they are becoming slaves again.   Why?  The lie has come again.  It has come through people who claim to be Christians.  These people say.  It’s not enough to know that God loves you.  You have to do things to keep God happy, to keep God’s love.  And so now, filled again with insecurity and fear, they are believing that lie.  

But in Paul’s words, God is telling them and you.  Don’t believe the lie.   Nothing you do changes God’s love, not even religion.  That’s what that whole circumcision part means.  Circumcision is a religious ritual.  If you become super-good or religious, thinking that leads God to love you, God is saying.  You are believing the lie.  If you believe that God doesn’t care or doesn’t exist, so you can do whatever you want, you are believing the lie too.  Because trust me, you think you’re free, but you’re not. 

The great writer David Foster Wallace said it well.  He said.

In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.  And the compelling reason for choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship…is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.

If you worship money and things if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough…worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly.  And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you…Worship power, you will up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear.  Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out.  But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is…. they’re unconscious.  They are default settings. 

They are the lie operating in your life.  Only the truth frees you.  Only the truth gives you security and worth.   And what is that truth?  It is to believe in the love, the certainty of the love.  God doesn’t love you more because you did this.  And God doesn’t love you less because you screwed up here.  God loves you period.  God loves you no matter what.   

And when you know that love, when you believe that love. When you trust that love believes in you, it changes everything.  It changes you.   It changes the world.   God didn’t come and die for you, to make you nice.   God came and died for you to make you new; to change you with a love, with a truth about yourself and God that frees you. 

In the Bible, hope doesn’t mean uncertainly.   Hope means the opposite.  Hope means something you expect to happen no matter what.  When Paul says we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness, of right relationship with God, he means, this love is real.  It’s certain.   And this unshakable love changes everything.   If you want to know that love, if you want to see how it changes you, if it hasn’t already, then begin with just believing in it.  Believe that God did give everything to show you the love, to destroy the lie forever.  See how that love changes you, changes everything, even death.       

Sunday, July 28, 2019

What Assures You More than Anything Else that You Matter? This Does

Do you like the opening theme of Star Wars?   I really do.  At least I used to.  But now, I gotta admit.  It’s wearing a little thin.   My son Patrick has discovered all the Star Wars themes, and he loves them.  He loves them so much that he wants me to play them every day on the way to summer camp.  Not only that, he has his favorites.  He is constantly making requests of which theme he wants.  Daddy let’s do the Last Jedi or Return of the Jedi or Flying with Chewie.   And sometimes I can do that, and sometimes I can’t.   After all, I am driving. 

This past week, he asked me for a song I just couldn’t get to.   I said.  Patrick, I can’t do that right now.   And he said, “Well, let’s just turn it off.”   And so, I did.  Once I did, I decided. I didn’t want to turn it back on.  That morning, I had heard quite enough of Star Wars thank you very much.  Patrick could tell.  I was a little irritated.  Then, he became concerned.   Are you going to turn it back on Daddy again or is the music gone forever and ever?   I gotta admit. That was a tempting thought.  But then he said.  “You’re still my buddy aren’t you?”     “Of course,” I replied, “I’m always your buddy.”   But it hit me.   It hit me hard.  Even at 5 years old, Patrick needed that reassurance.   He needed to know that I was his buddy, that I would always be his buddy.   But is anyone in the world any different? 

As I thought about my conversation with Patrick, I remembered a very famous Oscar moment.   Sally Field had just won her second acting Oscar.  And as she finished her acceptance speech, this is what she said:

But get this.  Sally Field had already won one Oscar.  Now she was winning her second only five years later.  Beyond that, she was rich, famous, beloved even.  Yet, even so, she was still looking for reassurance.  She was yearning to feel that her colleagues liked her, really liked her. 
But who doesn’t want to feel assurance like that? Who doesn’t want to feel they matter, that they are loved, that people like them, really like them?  Heck, that’s why Facebook makes billions.   It’s why when somebody puts a like button up, I get a little endorphin shot.  It assures me just that little bit.   But how can you live with that sense of assurance every day?  How can you know and feel deeply and regularly that you are loved, that you matter, that you really matter?   In these words God shows you the way.  Let’s hear what God has to say.      

Every day, people need to know that they matter, that they matter to the people around them, that they matter in the world.    They need that sense of assurance, that feeling deep within of their own significance.   But why is that?  It’s because in so many ways, the world tells you that you don’t matter, not really.   Heck, even you can tell yourself that, and not even realize it.

Do you know this day over 8,000 children will die from hunger? That’s 3.1 million children a year!   And you know what?  That is a God damned shame.  Now let me ask you.  Be honest.   Which rattled you more that I just used a curse word in this blog post or that 16,000 children will die from hunger today.  When I first heard a preacher named Tony Campolo play that trick on me, I admit.  I was more rattled by the curse word.  

I get that.  8,000 kids, how can you wrap your head around that number, much less 3 million.   Yet every one of those children has parents, friends, probably sisters and brothers.   They matter to them.  But when the numbers get so big, the people behind them get so much smaller.    

Do you remember the serial killer, Ted Bundy?  When they arrested him, the whole thing kind of puzzled him.   He thought.  There are so many people in the world, what’s the big deal if I killed ten or twenty?   To quote him exactly.   Bundy put it this way.  “What’s one less person on the face of the earth, anyway?”   But you don’t have to go to a serial killer to feel that way, do you? 

Life has so many ways to tell you that you don’t matter.   An attendant at the store ignores you.  You try to get a problem solved with some company, but when you call, nobody seems to care.  Or sometimes it’s a preschooler that tells you. 

When I first arrived as a pastor at the church I serve, I encountered a wonderful surprise.  Because of my chapel leadership in our Learning Centers, I had become a rock star among preschoolers.  If they saw me walking by the playground, they came hurtling over, vying for high fives from the very cool, Pastor Kennedy.  It felt awesome.  

Then a few years passed.  I was in the grocery store.  The parents of one of our preschool graduates saw me.   They exclaimed to their son.   “Look, it’s Pastor Kennedy from the preschool.  You remember him!”  But he didn’t.  He looked at me puzzled.  He had no clue who I was.   I discovered.  Preschoolers have very short memory spans.  In fact, before the age of four, most people hardly remember anything.    And that kid sure didn’t remember me.  That day, my significance as a preschool rock star came down quite a few notches

But sometimes it’s more painful than that.  It’s not a preschooler for whom you have little significance.  It’s someone you thought cared about you deeply.  My sister Becky’s husband, Randy, is dying of ALS.   And Becky had a friend who came over each Sunday night to watch shows with her on Showtime.   One Sunday night, soon after the doctors diagnosed Randy, she asked Becky.  “How is Randy? What did the doctors say?”  So, Becky told her.   “He has ALS.”   And the friend said, “Oh ok, what are we watching tonight?”    And she never reached out to my sister again.   I guess for her it was more about the shows than about my sister.

But for all those moments that the world tells you that you don’t matter, people still want to feel they do.   People deeply want to feel.  I am significant.  I do matter.  They do whatever they can to get those feelings.  They try to get it from success or people or their kids or drugs or sex or whatever. The list goes on.   But it doesn’t really work, not for any length of time.

But when people yearn to feel significance, they are right. They are picking up on a profound truth.  You are significant.  You are more significant than you could ever dream.   And in these words, God tells you why.   More crucially, God shows you how you can feel that significance every day.  How?   You accept your adoption, and you let God show you its reality every day.  

In these words of Paul, God tells you something amazing, God has adopted you.  Now, sometimes people say that everyone is a child of God.  And that’s a nice sentiment.  But it’s not exactly what God tells you in the Bible.  God tells you instead this.  God created everyone in the image of God.   In many ways that’s more amazing.  That means.  When you look at anyone, you are seeing a reflection of God.   And that holds true for everyone.  Even the worst person in some way carries, no matter how distorted it might be, a reflection of God inside them.

So why doesn’t God make you God’s child too?  It’s pretty simple really.  God wants to give you a choice.  God doesn’t say.   I’m going to make you a member of my family, whether you like it or not.   God says, instead, I want to adopt you into my family. Will you accept?  God wants you to have a choice.

But when you say yes to that offer, you get it all.  When Paul talks about adoption here, he is pointing to a Roman practice everyone knew.   When the head of a family adopted you in Roman society, you received all the wealth, all the privileges, all the status of that father (in those days it was always a father), of that father’s family.  And the same thing happens when you say yes to God’s adoption.  You get it all.  You don’t become just a child of God in name.  You become it for real.   What God has you have.   Infinite love.  Got it.  Life forever.  Got it.   A relationship unshakeable.  Got it.   But God goes further.  God doesn’t just give you that relationship in fact.  God gives it you in feeling.  What do I mean?

This past week, I read about how Winston Churchill, the legendary prime minister of Britain, used to write his mother constantly just begging her to respond, to show some care towards him.    Now Churchill’s mother was his mother in fact.  But for whatever tragic reason, she never chose to become a mother in feeling.   
But here God says, I send my spirit to live in you. So, you will not only know that you are my child, you will feel it deep within.  You’ll feel my assurance.  You’ll feel my love.   God even says.  My spirit will give you the courage to cry out Daddy to me. 

Sometimes, my son calls. I don’t come immediately.  I’m washing dishes, doing some other task.  But when he cries Daddy.   When I sense he’s in trouble, I run.  That’s what parents do.   And God is saying.  That’s me.  When you cry out, I will run to you.  In my life, I’ve felt God do that.  My only problem is I don’t ask him enough.  I don’t realize what I have.   But when I do, it changes everything. 

For when God made you God’s child, when God adopted you, God gave up everything to make that happen.  He gave his life to make it happen.   In Jesus, God even literally ripped himself apart to make that happen.  Why?  God loved you that much.  God wants you in God’s family that much.    Do you see how utterly significant you are?  Do you how see profoundly you matter to God.   That cross shows you how much you matter.   And when you know that, you know not only your significance, you know more deeply everyone else’s.    For in God’s family, no distinction matters but God’s love, not your color, not your class, not your gender, not who God calls you to love.  In that love everyone belongs, even those who don’t know it yet.   In that love, you see everyone’s value, everyone’s beauty.  In that love, you realize.  You and everyone you know has more significance than they could ever imagine or comprehend.   Know that love.   Feel it.  In the name of the God who loved you first, in the name of the God who died for you, and in the name of God who has adopted you forever.  Amen.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

If Religion Binds You Up, then What Truly Frees You? This Does.

Every week, I do it.   I try to create a catchy title on Facebook for my Sunday message.  I think.  Maybe, it’ll move somebody to click.   And I’ve come up with some doosies.  Like how about this one?   Why You Need to Get Naked More Than You Ever Realized.   What was that about?   Check the church’s Facebook post, March 24th. You’ll find out.   But the title I picked for last Sunday; it’s been hanging in my mind all week.  I asked a simple question.  How do you free yourself from yourself?   How do you do that?  How do you?

I’ve been reading this biography of Frederick Douglass.   Do you remember that name? Historians consider him one of the greatest Americans our nation ever produced.    He escaped from slavery in the 1840s.  Then, in his writings and speeches, he became one of the most famous people in the world.  In fact, during his lifetime, Douglass became the most photographed American in the entire world.  Abraham Lincoln had 126 photos.  But Douglass, he had 160!  Here are a few of them. 

But as famous and successful as Douglass became, he wrestled with the wounds of his past.   He could be super sensitive to criticism.  He often became deeply insecure.  He struggled with anxiety and depression.   In the midst of incredible accomplishments, he wrestled with those demons again and again.  

Hopefully you haven’t dealt with years in slavery or vicious racial attacks like Douglas did, but who doesn’t face struggles with themselves.  Who doesn’t wrestle with faults and insecurities?  Who doesn’t have to face fears and failings?   Years ago, the cartoonist Walt Kelley, had his character, Pogo, put it well.  We have met the enemy and he is us.   How do you fight that enemy?   How do you fight an enemy who lives in your head?   How do you win?  How do you free yourself from yourself?  How do you free yourself to become everything God created you to be, that you yearn to be.   In these words, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say. 

How do you fight the enemy that is you?  More crucially, how do you win?  How do you free yourself from yourself?  Here, God tells you.   God says.  Freedom comes only as you trust in the relationship instead of relying on the rules.   The rules never free you.  Only the relationship does.  What do I mean?

Look at what Paul tells these folks in Galatia.  They have made a classic mistake.   Paul has told them that because of Jesus, God has forgiven them.   Because of Jesus, God has even changed the view.  When God looks at them, God only sees the goodness.  God only see the the rightness.   God only sees the beauty.  

That doesn’t mean the ugly doesn’t exist.  God just doesn’t see it.  But that ugly still trips you up.  That ugly still makes you miserable.  That ugly still keeps your life from being what it could be.  So, how do you change that?  How do you turn God’s view into your reality?  

To solve that problem, the Galatians have turned to rules.  They have turned to, for lack of a better word, being religious.  But God is telling them.  Being religious will never work.  So, what will?   What will work?  What works is when you believe in the view.  What works is when you trust that God’s view tells you the truth.   What does that mean?

Let’s look at this story, Paul brings up.  Look at the story of Abraham.  Abraham’s story begins with a promise.   For Abraham and his wife Sarah, the one thing they most wanted, they didn’t have.  They didn’t have a child. 

So, one day, Abraham has this strange encounter with God. God tells him.   Abraham, if you leave your home and trust me. I will give you a new land.  And most crucially, I will give you and Sarah a child.   I promise to even make your descendants so many they will be a nation all on their own.
So, Abraham goes.   He and Sarah trust God to take them someplace good, to give them the child they yearn for.  But then, nothing happens.   No kid comes.  One night, Abraham talks to God and basically says.   Come on God!  I’ve done my part.  When are you going to do yours?  When will you keep your promise?   What does God do?   God repeats the promise.   God says.  Look up, Abraham.  See the stars.   Try to count them.  That’s how many descendants I will give you.   And Abraham believes God.    And God does what Paul tells you here.   God accounts Abraham’s belief as righteousness.  In other words, God defines Abraham’s trust as what defines a right relationship with God.    Now, why does Paul tell you that story?

It’s because that story gets to the heart of what keeps you bound up, and what frees you.  In that story, God is showing you. Every mistake you make.  Every moral failing you face comes down to one basic problem.   You don’t believe God like Abraham does.  You don’t trust that God loves you.  You don’t believe that God already views you as utterly approved, utterly right.

A week or so ago, my wife asked me about a piece of paper with some contact information on it.  She mentioned I was the last person to use it.  And I freaked.  I got all defensive.  I said.  I didn’t use it last.  How should I know where it is?  Why are you asking me?   Now my freak out moment passed fairly quickly.   I did find the paper. All was well. 

But why did I get so defensive?   I got defensive because I wanted to be right.  I didn’t want to be the guy who lost the paper.  I didn’t want to be that guy. Because, if I’m the guy who lost the paper, what does that say about me? It says.  I’m the guy who loses the paper.  I’m the guy who can’t keep it together.  I’m the guy who my wife, my family can’t rely on.   So, I got defensive.   I didn’t want to be that guy. 

But here’s the truth.    Sometimes I am that guy.  I do get forgetful.  I do lose things.   And when I do, I feel terrible.   I feel terrible because I believe my performance defines my value, my rightness.   I feel terrible because I don’t believe God.  I don’t trust that in God’s eyes, I am already utterly and completely valued.    And when I don’t believe that, when I believe instead my performance determines my value, it messes everything up.  I get all bound up in performance anxieties, insecurities, self-judgments. 

And that false belief leads me to lie, to hide my faults, to blame others.   It leads me not only out of a right relationship with God, but with right relationships with everyone, even myself. 
And behind every moral failing, you find this same lack of trust.   You overwork and neglect your family.  Why?  You believe works gives you your value, not God.   You cheat on your spouse.  Why?   You cheat because you don’t trust how utterly valued, even desired you are by God.  So, you look to feel that value and desire somewhere else.  The great Catholic writer, G.K. Chesterton put it well.  “Every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”  

You see, before you do anything wrong, it begins in your head.  It all begins with false beliefs or some false vision of what gives you your value, your worth.  And all those lies bind you up.   But the more you know, the more you know that in Jesus you already have infinite worth.  The more you know the truth, that in  God you already have infinite value, the more God can free you from those false beliefs, those false visions.   The more God can free you from yourself.

But the Galatians don’t get that.   They think.   I gotta abide by the rules.  I’ve gotta do these rituals.   Then, I’ll have that right relationship with God.   Then, I’ll be right inside and out.  But God is saying to them.  Don’t you get it?   All you are doing is buying into another false belief.   Paul even says that their reliance on religion isn’t a blessing, it’s a curse.  Why?  The rules don’t make you right.  The religious stuff doesn’t make you right.  

In Paul’s words, God is reminding you.  I make you right.   In Jesus, I did that.  All you need to do is believe it.  The more you believe that, the more you trust in that, the more you become free.  The more you will become free to become the very person God created you to be.

Do you see what truly works?  What works is when you believe in the view, the view God already has of you.   The more you believe that view tells you the truth, the more you become free.  The more you become free of every false vision that lead you to the wrong place.  The more you become free of every insecurity, every fear that leads you to a bad decision.    You become free the more you realize that the value, the worth you are looking for, you already have.  

After Abraham believes God, God gave him a dream.   And in the dream, Abraham sees these animals cut up on the ground.   And then he sees, God, in the form of a flame, going between the animals.    In Abraham’s day, the Hittite empire had come up with a way of sealing promises, a way Abraham knew well. You cut up these animals and go between them.   And in doing that, you are saying.   If I break this promise, cut me up like these animals.  I seal this promise with my life.   And so, God seals his words to Abraham like that, with God’s very life.  

And in Jesus, God didn’t do that just symbolically.  God did it for real.  God went that far to show you.   You can trust me.  You can trust. I love you.   I have made you right.   And only that trust in that truth will set you free. 

That trust by the way did free Fredrick Douglass.   It freed Douglass to wrestle his demons and most days win.   As a slave even, Douglass came to know God’s love.  He came to know that God had made him worthy and valued no matter what his master said or did.  He had come to know that God had made him free, no matter what the law said.    And that knowledge, that truth did free him to write words that changed the course of a nation.  

And that same truth will free you.   It will free you from yourself.  It will free you to become everything God created you to be.  Believe it.  Trust it.  When temptation comes, when fear strikes, trust who you already are in Jesus, beloved, valued, worthy.  For when you know that truth, when you trust that truth, that truth, and that truth alone will set you free.