Saturday, May 11, 2013

How Can We Be a Free People and Not Be Free?

Fifteen years ago, Erwin McManus began putting together the material to write his book "Uprising".  How amazing it is that there are so many people who live in a free world but who are not free.  Their decisions in life have bound them and they have kept them from living the life that they dreamed of living.  These decisions have also kept them from living life to the fullest as God desires for all of us.

"Uprising" is not about people rising up in a traditional sense.  It's about an internal uprising.  Jesus was born a slave to the Roman empire and He grew up walking among a people who knew nothing except bondage because of their generational history.  We seem to forget that Jesus was not born into a world of freedom.  When Jesus begin to work and speak of freedom, His disciples heard His words in the context of a group who had never known freedom.  Jesus would offer them words like, "He who the Son sets free is free indeed."

Many knew about the coming Messiah and many thought that Jesus would show up, rally the people and and lead an army to free them from slavery.  They yearned for this to happen.  They wanted a practical revolution.  They wanted Him to declare with a clarion call a revolt against an evil empire and to bring an end to Caesar's rule and all of his gods.  They didn't realized that the only blood Jesus intended to shed was His own!!

Psalm 119:32 says, "For I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free."

Some words are just not supposed to live together such as "jumbo shrimp",  "government efficiency" or "Lakers and playoffs" (jokes Erwin).  Two words in the passage above that do not mix are "command and freedom".  We know the meanings of both of these words.  We run away from "commands" right?  Why would we "run in the path of His commands"?  We have long thought of God as the eternal killjoy of our freedom.  We often think He is trying to control and contain us.  But what He wants is to give us a freedom we cannot imagine.  Jesus knows something about freedom that we often don't realize.

True freedom is an internal experience, not an external one.

Have you ever felt you were a prisoner in your own world?  So many people live in a world of unimaginable bondage because of their choices.  Only when it's too late do they realize bad choices steal from us our freedom.  Ironically, the choices we make IN our freedom are exactly the choices which COST us our freedom!  Have you ever wondered why you are where you are?  Someone recently said to Erwin, "I never thought I would be that guy!"  How did this happen to me?  How did I get here?  Erwin can tell all of us without uncertainty that our life is the reflection of our character.  So often we try to achieve greatness through our talents.  But talent is so often elusive.  In a room full of highly talented people, we become just average, right?

That innate talent you have is a gift to you, not a gift from you.  Those high cheek bones, that dimpled chin and those swimming blue eyes are from your parents!  The future that may be elusive to you; the life that your soul longs for is not built on your talent, your intelligence or your looks.  It's built on your character.  You have control over the person you choose to become.  "Over the next three months, we are going to talk about how to build your future based on your character."  Erwin is going to teach how to make the choices to set our hearts free!

Jesus gives us a path and an outline, but it is not an easy one.  What we are talking about is a move from a self-centered life to a Christ-centered life; from a self indulgence life to a life where we choose honor and nobility. But this journey comes at a cost and a sacrifice.  If we choose this journey, we will discover what it means to live.  Jesus models this for us, as is referenced in Philippians 2:3,4;

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of others.

This is a revolution of the soul where we turn all the values we've come to know upside down.  Treat others of greater value.  Have the same mindset of Christ Jesus.  He made Himself nothing by making Himself obedient to death, even to death on a cross!  This is a revolution that began 2000 years ago and was started by the most amazing person ever to live.  If Jesus chose to serve, who among us is greater than He, sent from heaven, who chose to wash our feet?

In 6th grade, Erwin loved mythology.  One particular story he was drawn to was that of Narcissus, who was  a hunter and the most beautiful creature ever to live.  Because of his inherent sense of loveliness, no one could match his beauty.  Jealous of anyone more attractive than she, the god Nemesis' retaliated against Narcissus by taking him out to a pond and showed him his own reflection.  When Narcissus saw his own reflection, he fell in love.  Never had he seen such beauty and he was drawn so intensely to it that he dove into the water and drowned.  There is another version to the ending that describes how he stared at himself for so long that he turned into a flower out of pity from the gods.

How many mirrors do we have in our homes?  Have you ever been to a gym and seen all the mirrors there?  Ho many times do you see a mirror and feel an obligation to stop and pause?   There is a little bit of narcissism in all of us.  But when we move to a life of service, it moves us away from ourselves and moves us to the model-life of Jesus and it is there where we find freedom.

Twenty years ago today, Erwin became the pastor of his church.  Interestingly, he never intended to become a pastor.  He was volunteering in a church in East L.A. and the church's pastor approached him and suggested he pursue becoming that church's pastor.  Erwin turned it down, but the question kept coming back again and again.  At one point, he asked his wife about it and she said "No!"  Erwin was confused.  Finally, after endless conversations for a year or so, 150 people unanimously voted Erwin to take the position.  The ministry is a unique way of moving from a self-centered life to a service-centered life because it is so tangible.  It is a deliberate move and there is an obligation involved.  But we can all make clear and deliberate choices to be in active service of others.

Soon later Erwin accepted the pastoral position, a group from his church went whitewater rafting on some 3 and 4 rated whitewater.  Many people bonded and went through the experience together.  They all jumped in the raft and, although it started out very peaceful, the roaring of the river soon came upon them.  All of the sudden, the river was moving violently and aggressively.  "Row, row, row!" the guide was shouting.  Although they had been given instructions, they were all just frantically flailing their oars.  The raft ahead of them hit a gigantic boulder and flipped everyone out.  Then the second raft ahead of them hit the same boulder and it flipped too!  Erwin's raft then seemed to accelerate towards this same boulder.  Just before they hit, a gigantic guy in their raft screamed that he couldn't swim.  Erwin grabbed the ropes as tight as he could to brace himself.  The raft hit the rock and the giant guy landed on Erwin, squashing him.  Erwin sunk deep into the river and when he came up for air, found himself lost in the violent rapids.  Desperate, he was able to cling to some rocks and claw his way back to dry ground.  As he looked around, he then realized that only the men had been thrown from the raft!  All the ladies were still floating down inside.  It was only after his harrowing ordeal that Erwin began listening to the guide's instructions about the safety guidelines (which had previously been explained when Erwin wasn't listening).  Fortunately, Erwin did hear enough to know to lift his legs in front of him which allowed him to float safely down river.

We cannot go on the quest for a life like Jesus' until we expressly want to truly live.  If we surrender to the ordinary, mundane, common life, we might as well keep our heads down and wait until we die.  But if there is a thread within us; a tiny desire that suggests we were NEVER CREATED TO ACCEPT AN AVERAGE AND ORDINARY LIFE, THEN THIS QUEST IS THE JOURNEY FOR US!!!  Jesus promised us a life of abundance but we must choose to pursue it with Him.  We were not meant to conform or to be the backdrop of someone else's story . We all want to be heroes, don't we?  "I want to live!"

"I choose freedom!" declares Erwin.  Within our freedom, we can make freedom-taking choices. Galations 5:13 says "you...were called to be free."   Your soul longs to be free.  "Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, rather serve one another humbly in love."

There is a freedom only Jesus can bring us through service.  There is freedom when we empty ourselves and allow God free reign over us.  Jesus tells us about true power in Him.  He tells the Jewish people that when a roman soldier comes and smacks them, looking for justification to kill them, turn the other cheek.  When the roman soldier comes in the cold of the night and demands their coat while mocking them, give the soldier a coat AND a shirt.  Let them know that their greed can never over power our generosity.  When the soldiers show up at the place of work and turns them into "their donkey or their horse" to carry a horse's pack to carry for a mile (this was the maximum legal distance a soldier could demand someone carry a pack), Jesus told them to "carry it for two".  Don't ever let a human being turn you into a slave.  Hate is never more powerful than love.

Erwin used to be a lumberjack.  "I used to be a lot of things...It's the gift of not being able to do anything well."  He and his friends were going into the mountains in Virginia because the state had set aside some acreage that they needed to be cleared.  The friends went up to earn some money.  They took the three hour drive there and worked from sunrise to sunset cutting and loading trees, thinking they would make a killing.  They felt they were going to be rich.  For some reason, though, none of the other lumberjacks even showed up.  But, as the boys were leaving, they couldn't get the trucks out of the mud.  Their tires sunk in the ground because it had rained recently and the ground had grown soft.  Ohhhhh, "so that's why the other lumberjacks didn't show!"  The other lumberjacks knew not to go after a rain.  Erwin and his friends learned the hard way.  It took them forever to completely unload the timber.  And, it was only then that they could move their trucks.  Essentially, at the end of the day, they had nothing to show for all their work.

Jesus humbled Himself so that, in His emptiness, God would raise Him to be the name above all names.  This is miraculously what He longs to do in us.  We have to unload all of the timber of our lives, so that we can get out of being stuck in the mud.  We have to unpack all that we have packed into our soul.  All of this stuff that's been replacing biblical truth has gotten us stuck in our lives!  You've got to be willing to unload it all and leave it all behind.  Otherwise, we will remain in the same place.  If you have been wondering on a faith journey and you seem to keep coming back to the same place, IT IS TIME TO BREAK THE CHAINS AND BE FREE.  It is serious, intense and deliberate!

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