We’ve all heard the story of the Golden Calf, haven’t we? Exodus 32, Moses goes up the mountain, the people begin to doubt he’ll return and in their wicked need for a tangible representation of God, melt down all their personal “bling” to form a golden calf. They sing and dance around it… Moses comes down and loses it, and the Levites slaughtered 3,000 of the offenders that day. God alters the game plan – no longer will He lead the nation, but an angel will be taking lead because if God were to go with them personally, He might have to kill them for their stubbornness.He’d set them free from 400 years of slavery under the wicked rule of idol worshippers. You’d think they’d have had enough of that, not to mention a little more practical devotion to the God who parted the Red Sea for them… But, when we’re used to living as a slave, it’s very possible to be “set free, but not living free.”
Idols enslave. That’s what they do. Sin is sticky and familiar. Sometimes, it’s hard to shake and easy to shift back into even when you’re liberated from it. So, what’s stuck to you right now? And, how do you get it off and keep it off?
God didn’t give the nation of Israel the 10 Commandments until after He’d already set them free – His rules were established after their relationship was established. The famous maxim – “rules without relationship lead to rebellion” is typified here. But, Moses somehow sees the big picture here. Thank God.
“If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth? (Ex. 33:15-16)”
Moses understood God wasn’t on some power-tripping mission to make the Israelites follow a bunch of baseless rules and play Simon Says: Desert Edition at His beck and call. Moses had a relationship with God. Moses understood early in the game that the only reason God would have them as His people, further ever have a people – Israel, the Church, etc. – is for distinguishing Himself and His holy name. Holy people reflect a holy God more clearly. For this reason it seems Moses refuses the angelic point man and returns to first principles: if it’s not You, Lord, in the lead – anyone in our path will miss Your point. Moses pleads for more of God.
If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation… If the Son sets you free you will be free indeed… In Christ, we’re no longer obligated to answer to our inner teenager who wants what they want, when they want it, the way they want it. But, don’t we all have a “pet sin” that stirs up godly sorrow every time we commit it? Aren’t there seasons of your sanctification you wish you could fast forward beyond? Feeling… stuck? Feeling… like the Israelites a bit? But, you’re free!!! Shouldn’t this be easy? As Moses understood – it’s simple, but not easy.
Had Enough? How about More?
If you’ve had enough of slavery to sin or a sin in particular, you don’t need “wisdom and discernment” (#1 prayer request of the decade). You need deliverance. You need to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. So, let me ask you: when is the last time you found yourself on your face before the throne with that kind of attitude? Refusing to move forward without His presence? Your greatest need isn’t wisdom or even courage – you know what you’re doing is offensive to God, you’ve just pushed God away thinking He can’t or won’t see what you’re doing in “secret”. I’ve been there, too. If there’s a sin or groups of sin in your life that you keep finding yourself stuck to, even though you are set free, perhaps it’s not an end to the sin you seek. Perhaps it’s just more of the presence of God. How about a little “on-your-Facetime” with God this week? Got a half hour you can carve out in your schedule to just lay prostrate, call out to God, and listen for His reply… wait on His presence?
Hope it’s the best 30 minutes you’ve spent all week…
Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it.For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.
Get Free, Stay Free SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen Shawshank, I’m about to tell you things that will “spoil” some of the surprises in the plot.
Okay, let’s talk “The Shawshank Redemption”. Smart script, brilliant plot, bad theology (e.g., “it’s okay to steal money from a thief and take the law into your own hands”?), coarse language. You don’t need to see it.
Their Story, Much Like Yours “Not Guilty?” Main character, – “Andy Dufresne” (Tim Robbins), convicted on circumstantial evidence of a murder he didn’t commit. Sent to Shawshank prison where he falls in with a bunch of “not so bad” guys including “Red” (Morgan Freeman) and an old timer named “Brooks” (James Whitmore), who’s been in prison for about 50 years. Every one of these men, much like you and I “didn’t do it”, right? “Innocent men.” At least, that’s their story. What’s yours?
Brooks isn’t the main thrust of the movie, but he provides insight into a problem you and I face on a daily basis, and a problem that’s been weighing on a guy I’m discipling right now, whom I’ll call “Hank”. Brooks spends 50 years entrenched in prison culture before he’s paroled as an old man. Hank’s a lot like Brooks. He’s been imprisoned by his past – shameful things he’s said and done – and now in Christ his term is over and he’s out on parole so to speak. (Note: theologically, Hank’s in a different situation because he’s really been pardoned, not paroled, but in the eyes of the law, he’s a free man. Tracking?)
Brooks realizes in a sharp hurry that 50 years of being told when to eat, when to go to the bathroom, when to sleep, etc. that making his own decisions and “walking in freedom” is utterly foreign to him. He becomes overwhelmed by “life on the outside” because he’s so used to “life on the inside”. In desperation, Brooks carves a note on the rafter in the room he’s rented and hangs himself.
When his final letter reaches the old inmate buddies back at Shawshank, Red explains to Andy the concept known as “institutional syndrome”:
“individuals in institutions may be deprived (unintentionally) of independence and of responsibility, to the point that once they return to “outside life” they are often unable to manage many of its demands” – Wikipedia, “Institutional Syndrome”
or, as Red explains the effects of being behind prison walls to Andy:
“These walls are funny. First you hate them, then you get used to them. After long enough, you get so you depend on them. That’s “institutionalized.””
Are You “Hanking It”? I’m sitting down with Hank last month and he seems stuck in neutral. He’s bitter and puzzled about it. “You sound like you feel… ‘stuck’. What’s got you stuck?” He lands on some things he can’t forgive someone for and the things he can’t ask forgiveness for. He’s got a bad habit – pride. Huh? Let me explain. I asked him what causes him to not ask forgiveness and he nails it after only a three second pause. “Pride.” But, pride is a habit, a prison wall we build ourselves…
“Hank, do you realize she’s [the person who offended him repeatedly] has been forgiven by Jesus what that means?” He squints and thinks… “Essentially, you’re looking at her and saying ‘Jesus forgives you, but I have a little bit higher standard for you than He does…”
Pride… Pretty ugly, right?
So, what does this have to do with you and I?
Leave the Walls Behind Ephesians tells us to put off the old self… and put on the new self… Scripture tells us we are “new creations”. But, Brooks didn’t feel free even when he stepped out of the prison walls. He was so used to the old flesh, the old habits, the old walls that he reverted back to prison mentality even when set free. Hank is so used to forgiveness being about his standards, that now as a believer in Christ’s substitutionary atonement, he’s having a hard time walking in freedom without imprisoning others with him… Ouch.
Andy Dufresne stands in the rain outside Shawshank prison for the first time as a “free man”. You and I are washed clean by the blood of Christ. We have an even greater hope.
Red called it. Are you depending on the prison walls from your old self? Are you putting your confidence in the flesh? A friend wrote on his Facebook wall last week something to this effect: “Christianity is freedom. But prison is often so hard to leave…” Andy Dufresne knew what he’d do with his freedom – he had hope in something greater. He hadn’t put so much faith in the prison, fear, and shame that he’d forgotten what freedom could look like.
So, today, will you walk in freedom? Will you consider your ways and the freedom that is available from the lies of shame and guilt? Leave the walls behind. You’re free. Walk free.
Me, too. Or, should I say “I was living that way, too.” Until God broke the dam and gave me some great relief. Many of you have been following these strange posts on my Facebook page about “inbox = empty” and wondering either “who cares?”, “is it Christian to hate him?”, or “how can anyone get their inbox to empty so often and why is Aarron Pina taunting me?!”
Let me explain.
About 6 ot 7 years ago I read David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” and implemented a good portion of it, experienced great success for a time, but eventually fell off the wagon enough times that I think I broke (and subsequently, lost) my spine. About 2-1/2 months ago, after reading over our family mission statement which includes part of Romans 12:2 (“…be transformed by the renewing of [our] minds”), I started listening to David Allen’s podcasts and re-implementing the GTD system.
Ever pray to God for a breakthrough and hearno response only to find out He was silent now because He’d already clearly told you something several times before? God had given me an answer, freely and without reproach, but this time He made me uncover it when I was so fed up with my own mess that I moved Heaven and earth to find His answer:
1. Track your commitments. (Wait, something fell through the cracks?!)
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)”
Every one of us has (at the 10,000 foot level) between 30 and 100 “projects” at any given time. (A project is any multiple step activity that when all the steps related to it are checked off, it can be considered “done” – closed-ended.) These commitments need to be tracked or they will “fall through the cracks”. Every one of us has (at the 20,000 foot level) between 10 and 15 categories of commitments, called “Areas of Responsibility” or “Areas of Focus” that cannot be completed because they are ongoing and open ended. Ex. “market research”, “bills”, “customer service”, “health”, “strategic planning”. These, too, must be tracked. Some people call this “getting organized”, but what I’m suggesting is a larger, richer, system of workflow management that includes “organize” as a component without being limited to just getting there.
2. Run the Prison, Don’t Let the Prisoners Run You
God is a god of order and He designed our minds to be like “steel traps”, capturing thoughts and storing them. But, most of us are very sloppy in the way we run the penitentiary of steel traps in our head. I was taught a long time ago that when it comes to lust, there’s no excuse for sloppy thinking. However, the verse above isn’t just limited to lustful thoughts. Yes, we need to get unruly, unwelcome visitors like lust out of the lobby, but we need to make sure the rest of the prison stays in control.
The “to make it obedient to Christ” part means, from a practical standpoint, identifying a thought as either godly or wicked. Here’s a simple question I’d been blowing off hundreds of times a day, resulting in towers of clutter on my desk: “What is this?” Every email, every memo, every assignment, every “note to self” can either be acted on or not. That’s helpful information. It’s either a prisoner, a prison worker, or a visitor. Unfinished business is like an extra inmate with no place to go – accumulate enough of them and the guards… the prison… will be overrun and out of control.
Identifying each thought (email, commitment, inspiration, project) is vital information to me now, because I know there are only four possible places something can go once identified:
A. Do – if it’s something that I, and only I, can do and it’s less than two minutes (I have a sand timer on my desk called the “2-minute Nazi” to hold me to this) I’ll knock it out, immediately. If it’s something that requires other input from other people or that takes longer than two minutes it gets “Dated”.
B. Date – I’m funny like this: if it’s on my calendar, it’s pretty likely to get done on the day it’s listed on my calendar. If the answer to “What is it?” is “something that cannot or should not be done right now, it goes into my “tickler” file (see below for definition) on the appropriate day or gets scheduled on my calendar in a “free” block, so it doesn’t fall through the cracks so easily. No stray prisoners allowed in the hallways!
C. Delegate – If this is something that should be done or worked on until done but just doesn’t fit into my job description (Disciple – Grow – Promote), it must be delegated. This is like transferring a prisoner to another facility into someone else’s care until their sentence is served.
D. Dump – Can I tell you about two of my newly favorite tools in my office? The trash can and the shredder. Love ’em. Now, I even know how to use them so well, they get emptied sometimes twice a week! How awesome is that? Talk about freedom. Get them out of the prison if they don’t belong there and you keep the prison clean!
3. Roll Call – the Glue that Keeps It Running
Every week, I now have a sacred hour or two on my calendar called “Weekly Review”. Read Getting Things Done and you’ll get a better feel for what it looks like or email me about our upcoming “Getting Things Done God’s Way: Restoring Order to Your Mind, Work, and Life” workshop in January and I’ll get you more detail. Essentially, this is a time for me to clean out all of my inboxes (virtual and physical) update all of my “next actions” lists, get clean and clear on what commitments are still waiting for other peoples’ inputs, etc., and check off items that may have moved so fast I couldn’t track them in the moment – “Mom called, she’ll be coming for dinner on Sunday, at 5:30” – great, I don’t have to call Mom about that.
Freedom Found? Be Encouraged.
For me, staying on the GTD wagon for 9 weeks, the payoff wasn’t just increased productivity. I’ve never felt like I literally “found” two extra hours of time in a week before, but that wasn’t the payoff, either. It was an even cooler reward than I had imagined. Have you ever emptied out your sofa or even the back seat of an old car and found $20? A five? Okay, enough change to buy a #4 breakfast at the drive thru? It’s like all this STUFF was in the way covering a buried treasure.
My treasure was more than cash. It was an unexpected gift from God: once I had uncluttered my inbox, my “to do” list, and my “current commitments” pile, it was clear I had been making dozens of choices based on either fear of rejection or the approval of men. Idolatry no matter how I looked at it. That was a set of commitments I knew just what to do with: I wrote them on paper “fear of rejection” and “approval of man”, said a little prayer “Lord, you have set me free from these. Let me stay free, indeed”, rolled my chair to the shredder, and listened blissfully as is churned away.
Ever Feel Threatened? There’s a guy in my life who’s avoiding a conversation with me right now because he thinks I’m expecting something for nothing. Actually, I owe him something, but it’s something I can’t give him until it first comes back to me. Long story short, he’s already written me off as lawless and fears I only want to talk my way out of it. Big communication shutdown. I’m in the wrong and need to make amends. But, when I’ve asked for mercy (“…press your plea with your neighbor… (Prov. 6:3b)), only suspicion has been returned.
What he doesn’t know is that as a believer in Christ, I’m not only subject to the law (Romans 13:1), but I’m also subject to the law giver. Anyone who’s ever paid a speeding ticket knows that it’s no fun to be on the wrong side of the law. But, imagine coming face to face with the God who created the universe and hearing Him request an accounting of everything you did while on His planet in the time He gave you… Does that sound a bit more intimidating than traffic court?
For me, it does.
Renewed by the Word Yet, the great news that God popped off the page is this – while there are men and women out there who would love to entice us into argument, character assassination, word wars, and even litigation, God is sovereign even over them. As I’m reading Proverbs, Chapter 1, “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent. (Prov. 1:10)”
Am I calling this guy a sinner? No, categorically, not. I don’t have access to God’s Facebook friends list and I won’t be so arrogant as to sit in judgment over the guy from my mere human vantage point. Furthermore, I’m the guy in the wrong on this one, right? So, let’s focus on the point here and experience the freedom we have in God, shall we?
Our freedom in Christ seems oxymoronic. To be free to say “no” seems a bit of a dichotomy. Yet, you and I, as Christ followers are compelled by Christ (see 2 Cor 5:14) to only one option – “do not be enticed into doing wrong”. Yes, the example given in this proverb is about being invited to join people who want to go inflict evil upon others, but it also extends to the broader category of “wrongdoing”.
Be Encouraged Sometimes, freedom is saying “no” when you have all the room in the world to say “yes”. Could I engage this guy in a verbal war? Could I bite back with character assassination of my own? Sure could. I might even be right at the end of the argument. But, I’d be wrong in Christ and would be abusing my freedom and would miss out on one of the greatest fruits of the Spirit: self control. My freedom actually constrains [Greek: ‘sunexei‘ to control or hold together with constraint] me to one option: love someone who is acting as if I’m any enemy and pray for him while he’s persecuting me. While it sounds painful now, I’d rather do that than lose both the fruit of the Spirit and eternal reward. How about you?
Until Christ returns, there will always be those who want to wrangle with words and accusations, stir up dissension, even cause us physical or legal harm – they may also try to entice us into sinning against God with them. But, we serve the God who will, in the end, see their knee bowed to Him just as our knee will bend; they, too will be called to account for their actions. May our hope not be in our words or our temporal vindication, rather in the God who searches hearts and minds and will repay us all according to our deeds. (Rev 2:23)