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.