Cut loose!

So how long ago did you last try to use a pair of those kindergarten scissors? You know, the round-ended safety scissors that only cut paper — or, maybe they’ll cut paper, if you hold your mouth right.  You may remember trying to use them one night your child mysteriously learned that a project for 90% of their course grade was due the next morning, and you enabled their procrastination by helping to bail them out with the poster. In the process, you also discovered, mysteriously, that every decent, adult-sized pair of scissors in the house had slipped away into the black hole of scissor-dom, and all you had to work with was the little ones your fingers barely fit into. Probably spent more time aggravated at the scissors than getting anything cut.

Now imagine a few days later, you urgently need to cut something besides paper. You find your real scissors haven’t reemerged, and though you know they’re inadequate, you pick up the kiddie ones, trying desperately to pinch them just right, turn them  just a little bit more this way, and put a little more force to them.  Nah, they’re really not going to work for that.  But you could keep at it a while longer, if you just especially enjoy the frustration.

So when’s the last time you felt like there was something in your life that needed to be cut loose: a habit or an addiction that was sapping the health and vitality out of you, or a bad choice you just kept coming back to repeatedly though you knew it was damaging relationships, productivity and your overall well-being.   Did trying to get loose from it feel like trying to cut a cable with kindergarten scissors?

Yeah, I’ve been there.  Wrestling with whether a thing was right or wrong, good or bad. Being convinced it was causing me grief one day, and alternately thinking it was not that bad the next.  Not a fun way to live.

This weekend we celebrate the final earthly acts of the Savior of our souls: the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Although much more ado is made about his birth by people in general (which was miraculous and awesome and worthy to be celebrated), the accomplishment which he robed himself in flesh for in the first place was done through Calvary, and the events that followed.  You see, the blood he shed became the only solvent that can burn through the chains that hold us bound from him: from truth, from life, from freedom.

While there is certainly nothing light about what was done for us, the good news is that it works — not “worked” as in past tense, but “works” as in now.  Many people have tried one form or another of religion, and what it has to offer.  Many struggle with being consistent, or even with holding on to faith entirely, as there are still things they’ve not been able to let go of in their lives — past sins, regrets, hidden weights. Unknown effects from past choices layer one on another until relationships and real peace are smothered out, and there’s nothing akin to joy anywhere around.  They exist where they could be living.

The answer isn’t hidden, but it isn’t obvious.  It’s in plain view, though it’s often ignored.  But it’s the only thing strong enough to sever that cable. We have to die.

“Well, you couldn’t offer any more cheery advice than that?” Nothing that would work.  I could flower it up, but flowers fade and dry, and we need life-giving answers.  Dying is taking responsibility for the wrong we’ve done (we’re the ones who forged that cable in the first place, aren’t we?), asking God’s forgiveness for it, and making up our minds that we won’t go that way any more with God’s help. It’s known as repenting in the Bible.

So when something’s dead, what’s the best thing to do with it?  Right. A burial is the best next step.  And, by the way, did you ever see a burial with a few sprinkles of dirt?  All the way under ground.  So, the biblical way to experience that, after repentance, is to be buried in the waters of baptism in the name of Jesus.  If you’ve not caught the pattern by now, the plan is to identify with the steps he took to procure our redemption — our freedom from that chain: his death and his burial.  There is no round about way of doing it. Once you’ve repented, you must be baptized. And when you’re baptized, be sure that the name of the one whose pattern you’re following is called over you, rather than the description of who he is (Father in creation, Son in redemption, Holy Ghost in reconciliation). His name is Jesus.

Easter is the day we celebrate his victory over death. Praise the Lord! He came out of the grave, with new life! That is where the story gets most exciting for us.  The completion of our repenting and being washed clean in his name, is that he comes to live in us.   He said to his disciples “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you” and speaking of the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, he said, “he dwelleth with you, but shall be in you.”

This was played out after Jesus’ ascension, when the Holy Ghost fell on 120 in the Upper Room.  Mary, Jesus’ mother was there, along with the eleven remaining apostles, and many others who had followed him, 120 in all.  The joy of having the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus enter into them that day was so great, that many who looked on as they praised God, speaking  in unknown tongues, thought they were drunk. The Holy Ghost still comes that way, and it is still joy unspeakable and full of glory!

So, there’s hope for you, if there are things to get rid of in your life.  The solution isn’t easy, but it is simple.  The Apostle Peter summed it up this way for those who heard him preach that day the Holy Ghost first fell, realized they were wrong (had a cable to cut) and asked “Men and brethren, what shall we do? Peter answered and said unto them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of your sins and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:37-38 KJV). It’s that simple, and it still works today.

So, what are you doing for Easter? Why don’t you find a church that’s preaching what the first witnesses to the Resurrection preached, and get cut loose with those believers?  Your freedom is worth that.

So, what gets you?

You’re strong, successful in your sphere of influence, important to people close to you — perhaps even to some you’ll never meet in person.  That didn’t happen by accident.

To accomplish what you have, you’ve chosen carefully the paths you’ve taken, rejecting what wasn’t compatible.  To maintain what you’ve achieved, you’ve guarded your perimeter:  you’ve set and kept boundaries, the realm of safety that only admits the influences you choose.  You continue to protect yourself and those closest to you — the ones you’re responsible for.

But I submit to you that there’s a flaw in your plan, a weak place in the field of well-thought protections with which you’ve surrounded your family, business, and career.  You may somehow realize that is the case, or you may be oblivious to the fact that anything is wrong.

Nature has a parallel

Removing brush that was previously cut but left in place at the edge of my yard a few days ago, I found most of the bushes light from drying and easy to handle. When one branch unexpectedly tugged back as I tried to pull it out of the surrounding growth, I looked more closely to determine why. My examination showed an attachment that had formed to the bush well before it had been cut. Something the size of a few strands of human hair had wrapped slowly and quietly around that branch while it was in the process of growing to its present size.  A thorny vine, which eventually made my handling of the brush a bit more uncomfortable, had proceeded to make itself at home in an otherwise healthy, strong plant.

I thought how quickly, subtly, and painlessly the direction we have chosen can be affected by something we hardly notice until its effects have forever changed the outcome of our plans, goals, and dreams.

The danger of safety

The great story of Samson (the closest thing I find in the Bible to our modern concept of a super-hero), is that of a man whose incredible strength came from his separation to God. Before Samson was even conceived, an angel of the Lord had directed his parents in how to raise him as dedicated to the service of the Lord – what to do, and what not to do.

Samson was not, in himself, a strong man, but the Spirit of the Lord came upon him when it was needful to do so, and by that strength, he took out thousands of enemy warriors in a day, single-handed, with the jawbone of a donkey for a weapon. He once pulled up entire set of city gates and carried them on his shoulders, and he continued to outsmart his enemies, while taunting them with his strength.

But over time, Samson took for granted this power (there is no recorded time when he prayed, built an altar, or worshiped God as his forefathers had done).  A woman he loved, Delilah, was approached by the enemies Samson was to deliver his people from, and offered wealth to sell him out. There is no record that she even argued with the people who asked her to betray him.  The woman he loved repeatedly prevailed on Samson to tell her the source of his strength, and though each time he offered her only some ruse in reply, she immediately acted on whatever he had said would work to quell his power, even inviting the enemy to apprehend him once she rendered him powerless.

Somehow, in the midst of this obvious effort to do him in, Samson managed to hold tight to his sense of security, and as Delilah pressed him over and over with her “if you really loved me, you’d…” ploys, he finally broke and “told her all his heart”.  He gave away the secret of the one thing that God had given him as the source of his strength, knowing it was something that she could easily take away from him.

Did he remember that everything he’d told her so far, she had tried? What did he do after disclosing to her the real truth of how to disable him?  Run?  That would have been a sensible plan, but no, he didn’t.  Did he at least ask her to promise not to use the information against him?  No record of that.  What did he do?  He put his head in her lap and went to sleep.  In the place where he was in the most grave danger he’d ever faced, he behaved as one who felt perfectly safe.  If you’re not familiar with how the story turns out, I encourage you  to read it for yourself, (Judges 13-16), but suffice it to say that, after that night, he was never able to feel safe again.

The chink in your armor?

Your flaw may very well be simply feeling you are safe in your own strength and ability.  You’ve done all you can to help your family be financially stable, functional in society, and happy with one another.  Those things are all good. Who gets the credit?

The Apostle Paul, one of the greatest figures in history, leader of the early church, and author of  at least half of the New Testament, summed up his abilities this way: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing…” (Romans 7:18).  Was that some notable false humility from a super-spiritual leader? If you read the context of that chapter, he acknowledged the struggles (really failing to get it right sometimes) that he faced with doing the right thing, then asked, “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”  He answered his own question with, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Paul couldn’t do it, but he knew who could.

In the “Never let ’em see you sweat!” society in which we live, confessing that we are not the ones to bring and to hold our own personal world together seems like the weakness that would get one eaten alive.  But that is just what we must do to have real security: trust in the one who made us, and who came to live among us and to redeem us.

Hey, last week even the government recognized that it isn’t totally in control of things that matter, as evidenced by NASA’s advice  to Congress on the best course of action, should a large asteroid be found hurtling toward Earth: “Pray”!

Calling out to the One who alone can add the extra layer of security we could never attain, is the only true way to have security. Jesus is the only one who is powerful enough to safely hold you and your personal world. He’s also the one who holds all the world (and that includes all the asteroids) in his hand.