Can we really be free (part 2)

From BobHamp.com

Often the greatest obstacle to a life of true freedom is our own misunderstanding of what freedom is.  

We see our lives from behind the bars–the habit, the heaviness, the fear, the thoughts that won’t go away–all the things that hold us prisoner.  In some ways we blame others; if only they would stop, or change, or agree, we convince ourselves this would set us free.  When we look past the role these people play, we see our own obstacles.  This is where the trap lies… surely if we remove the obstacles we will be free, right?  This is important: if we have it wrong, we may invest a lot of time (maybe a lifetime) in pursuit of our picture of freedom. 

Because my habits, thoughts or circumstances seem to be the obstacle to freedom, we believe whole-heartedly, the removal of these obstacles will surely set us free.

Answer this question: is it possible to be disease-free, and still not be healthy?  Of course it is. In the same way, it is possible to remove all the obstacles and still not be free.

Imagine for a moment that you were created a certain way with a certain destiny.  Imagine further, you stop drinking, overcome the anxiety, get your marriage where you want it to be, but you are still living a life other than the one you were created for.  You are still trying to be someone other than who you were made to be.  No more “obstacles”, but still not free.

Now picture this.  Your circumstances, however frustrating remain exactly the same.  You, however, begin to lay ahold of something that no one else can take away; the blueprint for your soul, connected to the Creator.  In the face of the worst the world has to throw at you, you begin to become the person you were made to be.  And no one, nothing can stop you.  The terrible things done to you, begin to lose their power over you.  People and their actions no longer bend your heart towards anger.  Your own possessions no longer possess you.  

Instead of pursuing the removal of obstacles we surrender to the pursuit of the One who made us and loves us, with an everlasting love.   

“In this world, you will have trouble” Jesus said, “but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  Let Him overcome you.fr

Can we really be free?

From BobHamp.com

“I have just learned that this is something I will have to deal with the rest of my life… the good news is, I am learning how to cope with it.”

I have heard this statement, and variations of it for years.  I always have a visceral reaction to this thought.  On one hand, the person usually speaks with a certain amount of relief.  At least  the monster has been named, and they are learning how to tame it.  At the same time I hear the disappointment, the surrender, as they finally give in to “inevitable fate”.  This, they have resolved, is my cross to bear.  It is easier to give up, than to fight and be disappointed one more time.  The struggle comes to an end, but it ends by putting hope to death.

Is it fair for me to try to inject hope back into this “relief”? With hope the struggle returns, but without it, what is left?

For years we have received the Message of Christianity as tasks and stances we must achieve and maintain.  Be good, try hard, restrain your urges, and believe.  As if “believe” is something we must manufacture against all odds.  Real faith doesn’t come from us, it comes from hearing Him.  Stop and listen.  It is so sad, that somehow out of Jesus’ words and life, we have once again shouldered the very yoke He came to remove.

A disease, a habit, a mindset, or any other struggle, these are the chains He came to remove.  He, Immanuel, God, The God, continually in the midst of us, reaches out to change something we perceive as unchangeable.  We look back and with our best understanding we say, “I have learned that this is something I will have to live with the rest of my life, the good new is, I am learning to cope with it.”

Jesus forgives, but forgiveness is just the entrance.  It is the open door that allows us to interact freely with the Divine Nature.  Through that open door, He now hands us the key, He makes us new.  He may or may not change our circumstances immediately, but in the worst of outward experiences, He renews our inward self.  This is revolutionary.  It means that no outward circumstance can hold us in bondage, because we can be free to connect and respond to the inward reality of the Ultimate Creator in us!

Desparately wanting to respect the real struggle of the human race, and the courage and nobility with which men and women face their foes, I still want to stand and declare:  Do Not Cope with what you can Be Free From.  Hope Again.  Jesus changed the game when introduced the power of God again into the human realm.  He may not interven the way you expect, or when you would like, but He spent His whole Life so you could be free!! Not relieved; Free.  Look again, ask Him to help you Think Differently.

Renewing your mind and changing your thoughts

I was having lunch the other day with a friend of mine who has recently been struggling through some issues with his oldest child. The teenager had become quite rebellious, even to the point of having run-ins with the law.

I asked my friend what he’s been doing to try to get his son back on track. He said something that has been stuck in my head for days now. He said, “It’s not about just changing behavior, although that can help. And, it’s not about changing the environment, which can also help. Rather, it’s about changing the heart. Changing behavior and environment may last for a season, but a heart change is what he needs.”

The next morning in my quiet time, I started to dissect this concept a bit more. I’ve been struggling through some personal issues in my own life that have plagued me for years. These patterns of behavior have been so hard to break. So, my friend’s words hit me pretty hard. I’ve spent most of my Christian life fighting, wrestling and struggling to change certain behaviors, but with only slight improvement. I’m weary of the cyclic reemergence of these destructive patterns. It’s been terribly frustrating.

As I was thinking through this, I started to dig a bit deeper into the heart. I know that as we come to know Christ, we are given a new heart with new desires and new motivations.

    “I will give you a new heart with new and right desires, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony heart of sin and give you a new, obedient heart” (Ezekiel 36:26).
    “What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As I was talking to God about this, he started to clarify this more:

Son, your heart has been changed. If it hadn’t, you wouldn’t be able to hear me so clearly. So, know that your heart is right. Your heart is good.

It’s your flesh and mind that need renewing. You’ve settled into your old routines, and the way your flesh is wired is that it’s an easy escape. It’s not your heart. If it was your heart, son, you wouldn’t care. But, you do.

Ahh, now that makes sense. My heart was changed when I received Christ. My desires and motivations are towards God. If my heart had not been changed, I wouldn’t care about doing right and fixing some of these issues in my life. But, I do care. I do want this. Then, I remembered a couple scriptures:

“Since you have heard all about him and have learned the truth that is in Jesus, throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes. You must display a new nature because you are a new person, created in God’s likeness–righteous, holy, and true.” Ephesians 4:21-24.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” Romans 12:2.

This last one from Romans 12:2 really hit me. It gave very specific instructions on how to be transformed. Did you catch it? It’s not hard. You simply “Let God…”

That’s it. That’s all the work you need to do. Just let God. It’s not your responsibility to change the way you think and behave. That can be hard for those caught into the grasp of addictions. Your part of the deal is to simply let God transform the way you think.

What are some behaviors you’d like to change:

  • I want to stop smoking.
  • I want to lose weight.
  • I want to be a better father/mother/husband/wife.
  • I want to stop drinking or drugs.
  • I want to exercise more.
  • I want to read my Bible more.
  • I want to spend more time with God.
  • I want to go back to school.

How hard have you tried to change your behavior? How successful have you been with that? If you’re anything like me, it’s been quite a failed experience.

My prayers this week have simply been this, “Lord, I let you into my heart and into my mind. I let you into my thoughts, my patterns of thinking, my mind and let you have full access to transform my mind, and to renew my thinking. I let you in to change me, to transform me.”

Tuning into the voice of God

My wife and I attend Gateway Church here in the Dallas area, and we love our church. One of the ministries they have is called Freedom Ministry headed up by Pastor Bob Hamp. What an amazing ministry!

My wife and I were listening to one of his four core messages on Freedom Ministry called “The Kingdom of God” taught by Pastor Bob. In it, he shares a modern-day parable that I wanted to share with you.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a radio station. Around us are thousands of radio signals that carry messages. Yet, we can’t hear those radio signals with our ears. The radio waves are transmitting right this very moment through our body, our brains, our being. Yet, you cannot see them, hear them, feel them–unless we have a receiver.

The receiver is a special electronic device that tunes into a specific frequency, and then converts those indiscernible radio waves into a different form that we can hear with our ears. But, without a receiver, there’s nothing to hear.

God’s voice is a lot like those radio waves. He’s “broadcasting” his love, his compassion and his faithfulness into our hearts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, all the time. But, are our hearts tuned in? Or, have we “hardened our hearts” from receiving God’s love? Or, has the enemy gotten us off-tune so that we can’t hear the message of God’s love?

spectrum.jpgOne of my electrical engineering classes at college was the study of radio waves. We had this device called a spectrum analyzer. With it, we could sweep the frequency spectrum looking for broadcast signals. They were obvious from the spike. But, when no signal was present, you could see this thing called the “noise floor”.

There’s no such thing as zero noise–there’s always something there called radio noise. It’s a phenomenon where random, non-broadcasted signals are generated by a variety of naturally occurring sources–sun flares, noisry electronic equipment, cosmic noise, photons, etc. As you would sweep the spectrum on the analyzer, you would move through the noise floor looking for a very clear spike. That spike was the signal broadcast.

God’s voice is a lot like that. We often sweep the “noise floor” of our mind, thinking we’re picking up certain broadcasts, but often we find that it’s just noise. Maybe it’s noise from wounds in our hearts. Maybe it’s noise from the distractions of the day. Maybe it’s noise from the enemy.

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with this issue of spiritual noise in my life. I’ve drifted from hearing God’s voice clearly. I’m not tuned in, and I’ve spent weeks trying to tune back into the Voice. I know it’s there, and I know that tuning into it requires discipline. It also requires that I put aside the distractions.

Lord, let me tune into your Voice!

Is God happy with me? Does he hear my prayers?

Below is an excerpt from an email I sent to a friend of mine to encourage him that in Christ, God is always pleased with us. Always. He’s never discouraged, disappointed, frustrated or mad at us. He loves us unconditionally.

    I used to get real discouraged when I didn’t spend my mornings praying, reading the Bible and talking to God. I felt like God was mad or frustrated or just disappointed with me. I felt like I had failed him or had fallen short of what he was expecting from me. And, that often drove me further away from spending time with him.
    I was getting discouraged in my relationship with God. I felt like he was disappointed with me, for not doing all the things I know I should be doing. Then, I heard this guy sharing about how God is not mad or discouraged with us in anyway, because our performance has nothing to do with God’s love towards us. We cannot do anything to make God love us more or less. His immeasurable love for us through Christ is never-ending, always faithful, and always abundant.
    I’ve also learned that even in our mistakes, God never pulls away from us. It is us who pulls away from God. He is constantly wooing us, loving us, drawing us, speaking to us. He is always pursuing us, and he enjoys it when we come to him and call to him. But, in no way is he ever disappointed with you for not spending time with him. Sure, he wants us to spend time with him, but that’s for our sake, not his. He knows that when we spend time with him, it helps us grow and protects us from harm.
    I think about my loving parents’ attitude towards their children. If children don’t want to spend time with you as a parent, that’s okay. It doesn’t change your love towards them. You still want to protect them, provide for them, teach them and guide them–for their protection. God is a much better father than we can ever be. How much more does he love us?
    I just wanted to encourage you in that. Know that God has not pulled away from you. He never will. So, be encouraged!

This topic reminds me of a scripture from Hebrews 4:14-16,

    “We have a great High Priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God. Let us cling to him and never stop trusting him. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it.”

Because of what Christ has done for us, we can come boldly to the throne of of our gracious God. Did you catch that word, boldly?

How can we come boldly come to God’s throne as a sinner? Because in Christ, we are no longer sinners. We are righteous in Christ. We are holy. We are perfect in God’s eyes. If you don’t feel perfect, understand that it’s not God making you feel that way. It’s the enemy trying to keep you from going boldly to God’s throne in your time of need. The more he can convince you that you are not worthy enough to go to God, the less you will.

So, go boldly.

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