Friday, June 29, 2012


He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives . . . (Luke 4:18).

Several weeks ago when we started our series of daily reflections on “Breaking Free” I expected a particular challenge with regard to the theme of freedom. I thought it would be hard to say something compelling about the gift of freedom to people who already assumed they were free.

My assumption was that a compelling message about freedom would first require a compelling exploration of our lack of freedom, the peculiar nature of our bondage.

As we conclude this series, I’ve come to think my assumption was wrong.

Most people, even in ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave,’ know the places in their life that are shackled and stuck. We acknowledge the horrific realities of slavery and human trafficking in our world. And we know all too well the more subtle forms of bondage like addictions and debt and chronic depression.

The chains that leave our souls raw and bruised are not that hard to see. The real challenge with regard to freedom is in knowing with certainty that freedom can be had right now, today.

In our modern day captivity the widely used mantra of hope is “someday.” Someday things will change. Someday things will settle down. Someday we’ll find the right job or the spouse we’ve been waiting for. Someday the market will bounce back. Someday something will happen to make us truly free. We will shed what burdens us and slip free of what holds us in its grip. Someday we’ll find freedom.

When Jesus launched his ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth he did so by reading from the prophet Isaiah. He read a passage of scripture in which God spoke through the prophet about setting captives free, releasing the oppressed and restoring sight to the blind.

After the reading Jesus sat down and began his teaching on the text with these words: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Today. Jesus announced to the Nazareth congregation that the freedom God wanted to bring about was not merely a promise. It was a present reality and it was happening in Jesus’ works and words.

And what Jesus did then he does now. Jesus makes us free. He does this by the power of the Spirit. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” wrote Isaiah. Jesus grants to us the gift of that Spirit and “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17).

So we end with a simple invitation with regard to your freedom. Don’t look to someday. Don’t look to something. Look to someone. God’s gift of freedom is yours in the life and death of his Son and that gift can be yours. Today.

We know the chains that bind us, O God. We bring them to you and we ask you to change these things; we ask you to change our world. And we ask you set us free by changing us. Make us messengers of freedom as we live each day in the power of your Spirit, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

More Yielding . . . Less Wielding

This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer (Mark 9:29).

He had had enough. For years he had stood helplessly, watching his child suffer.

He could barely remember the sound of his son’s voice. A spirit had long ago rendered the boy mute. And as if that were not enough, it would from time to time seize him in such a way as to cause convulsions, foaming at the mouth, sometimes attempting to burn him or drown him.

This was not something a father could fix. And it was not something a father could bear. He took his son to Jesus.

In Jesus’ absence, the disciples attempted to cast out the spirit. They couldn’t do it. We don’t know what they did, but whatever it was, whatever they tried, it was ineffective. Frustrated, they ended up arguing with some scribes who had been spectators to their failure. When Jesus finally arrived he found a scene of utter powerlessness: humiliated disciples, desperate father, afflicted boy.

So Jesus did what no one else could do. He drove out the spirit. He restored the boy to his father, whole and well.

Later, in private, the disciples got up the nerve to ask, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

As many times as I’ve read this story I’m continually perplexed by the final line. “This kind comes out only by prayer.”

I’m perplexed because I’ve asked the same question the disciples asked. “Why couldn’t I do it?” Why couldn’t I make the situation right, why couldn’t I get through to that person, why couldn’t I get the win, why couldn’t I save the day?

And I’m perplexed by Jesus’ answer because I’ve prayed. I’ve sought his help. I’ve asked for his grace. Maybe you’ve prayed too. You’ve prayed for your child, you’ve prayed for your marriage, you’ve prayed for a job, you’ve prayed to get well. And ‘this kind’ – whatever that is – simply will not budge.

I’d like to be able to explain Jesus’ peculiar answer to his disciples. I don’t have a good explanation. What I have is more of a hunch. Earlier this week we called prayer a weapon. But prayer is more than that. Sometimes prayer is a window. We can’t just wield prayers, use them like clubs and set them aside. Sometimes we need to open a window to God’s power and grace, like letting air and light flood a room.

We won’t do anything against ‘this kind’ by simply saying prayers. We need prayer – the kind of prayer that opens our lives to a power that comes from beyond us. This kind of prayer calls for more yielding and less wielding.

How will you yield to God’s power today? Where in your life do you need to open a window?

With our prayer today, O God, we want to open a window to the light of your presence and the power of your grace. We bring our lives to you now, especially those things that we cannot fix and cannot bear on our own. You know ‘this kind’ of thing in every life, and we look to you for help and strength today, through Jesus our lord. Amen.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reframe the Fight

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12)

Doug Dworak is the Executive Director of Tiny Hands International, an organization “committed to finding the greatest injustices in the world and working toward bringing relief to those living under its oppression--especially orphans, street children, and the victims of sex trafficking.”

Founded in 2004, Tiny Hands began modest efforts in 2007 to patrol the border between Nepal and India. Each year in Nepal, approximately 10,000 girls are taken across the border and sold to brothels in India. The average age of these girls is 15. Some are as young as 7.

Tiny Hands began with one border monitoring station and in their first year they intercepted 64 girls. In a recent interview at Texas A&M University, Dworak said, “if we had only intercepted one girl that would have been enough. If it was my daughter . . . that would have been enough.”

On the heels of this initial success, the leadership team at Tiny Hands began asking what it would take to have more of an impact on this overwhelming issue. As they pondered this, a conviction settled upon them, deep rooted and urgent. They realized their real enemy in this matter was not a corrupt government or systemic poverty or ruthless criminals. Their real enemy was “The Enemy.”

What they had engaged was not merely a social plight, but a spiritual battle: a fight not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual forces of evil. This conviction led to a weekly time of prayer and fasting focused on this fight.

Since that time Tiny Hands has opened 15 border monitoring stations. Whereas in 2007-2009 they intercepted around 100 girls, since 2009 they have intercepted 4500 girls.

Sometimes you have to reframe the fight in order to fight well.

This is true not only with regard to widespread and obvious evil like slavery and human trafficking. It is true with regard to most of the challenges and struggles you’ll face in the course of this day.

Jesus said that our enemy comes to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10). Peter wrote that our adversary actively seeks someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Your real enemy is not your spouse or your neighbor or your boss. They cannot truly steal your joy. But your soul has an adversary, and this adversary will gladly use your spouse or your neighbor or your boss or anything else to draw you into discouragement.

Try to reframe the fight. And remember this: you have a weapon and that weapon is prayer.

What ‘fight’ are you up against today? How will you preserve your joy in the midst of that struggle? Don’t try to engage the challenge without prayer. Reach for your weapon. It is close at hand, powerful and effective.

Keep us faithful in prayer, O God. Remind us daily that our fight is not against flesh and blood. Make us confident in the power and effectiveness of our prayers. We lift our struggles to you today and look to your strength and power as walk by faith, ever joyful in the fight through Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Monday, June 25, 2012

We Do Not Lose Heart

We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen . . . (2 Corinthians 4:18).

The International Justice Mission reports that there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world today.

Some slavery today takes the form of relentless, meaningless labor. Some of it takes the form of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Whatever form it takes, we can barely get our minds around that number. Twenty-seven million people enslaved. We don’t know what to do or where to begin. We are prone to ignore it, or if we choose to face it head on as we should, we are tempted to lose heart.

In his classic Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis explains the Christian virtue of ‘hope’ with these words:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking . . . It does not mean we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next . . . The English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven, and you’ll get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you’ll get neither. (p. 119) 

In his second letter to the church in Corinth Paul wrote, “We do not lose heart.” A close reading of the letter reveals that he had good reason to lose heart; his present was marked by affliction and suffering. But against the backdrop of eternity, these afflictions were seen as “slight” and “momentary.” Paul lived with a profound awareness of things unseen and because of that he was able to say “we do not lose heart.” Lewis helps us understand that this is not escapism.

Slavery is a real issue today. But it is not the most real thing. Paul and C. S. Lewis remind us that what we see impacts our influence in this world far more than what we feel. Losing heart is not resisted by pumping up our emotions. We fight against losing heart by getting a vision for a world we cannot see. When it comes to slavery or poverty or hunger or homelessness, remember: a mind occupied with heaven will leave a mark on earth.

What is the most “real” thing in your life today? What reality most occupies your mind?

Gracious God, we are constantly urged to give attention to what we feel. We ask today that you would make us equally aware of what we see. We ask you to give us a vision for your presence in afflictions and troubles that surround us. Open our eyes to things unseen that we might live for your glory in this world. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Free from Regret

Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father (Genesis 37:22)

As far as Reuben was concerned, he had failed.

The inconsolable grief of his aging father was his fault. Most nights, before sleep came, Reuben saw again the sight of the empty cistern. He heard the echo of laughter as his brothers counted the shekels and explained that Joseph had been sold and was on his way to Egypt.

The original plan was to murder Joseph. Lacking the stomach for murder, but possessing the guts to speak up, Reuben offered an alternative plan. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern.” Rueben didn’t disclose his real plan. He would come back later for Joseph, get him out of the pit and take him home to Jacob.

Reuben left the others for a while, thinking his plan was in place. When he returned he was told that Joseph had been sold to some Midianite merchants.

And Reuben was left with his regrets. If only he had stayed close by. If only he had been there when the merchants came. If only he had come back sooner.

Most of us have said this kind of thing to ourselves about something. We’ve relived the moments that we think we could have changed if only we’d done better or done more. We’ve rehearsed our failure over and over again. We’ve given ear to the low murmurings of our regrets.

If only we had been there. If only we had known. If only we had said something sooner.

We can easily imagine that Reuben lived long with his regrets, that he rehearsed them often. But what looked and felt like failure to Reuben wasn’t failure at all. God wanted to get Joseph to Egypt. God’s plan trumped Reuben’s plan, but this is hard for us to see.

The divine hand is often hidden behind what goes wrong.

One of the most practical ways we experience God’s gift of freedom is in knowing that God’s grace covers all of our regrets. What we would do all over again if we could is guided by the will and ways of God who does all things well from the start, every time.

What would you do over again if you could? How will you place your regrets in the hands of a sovereign God?

Gracious God, I’ve replayed my mistakes enough. I’ve rehearsed my regrets and know them well. Today I give them to you, trusting your unseen hand to work something good, something redemptive, from every part of my life. Help me to trust you with all of my life, and grant your peace, I pray. Amen.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Embrace a 'Holy Must'

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things . . . (Mark 8:31).

We call it the ‘terrible twos.’ The phrase is descriptive, but not accurate.

What we see at age two was there at birth. Turning three won’t get rid of it. That first sin, the catastrophic ‘fall,’ left a deep bruise. We feel the ache of it across a life time and in so many different ways. One of the most common is the reaction of our fallen hearts to authority. We don’t like it. We are inclined to push back.

Fred Craddock sees a particular expression of this in what he calls our “resistance to ‘must’.” He observes that so many of us work hard to keep our options open. We don’t like being saddled with burdens and obligations, commitments and covenants. In fact, some regard a life dominated by ‘must’ or ‘have to’ as unhealthy. Craddock doesn’t mince words. He names our resistance to ‘must’ a copout – a rejection of responsibility.

To live a life in which we continually squirm out from under the weight of necessity is to live a life that will make little difference in this world. Craddock explains

As long as we spend our energies protecting all our alternatives, keeping them alive and well, we will achieve very little. Do you recall meeting now and then a really significant person? Someone who impressed you as really making a difference? Then I’m sure you noticed one thing about her. She possessed a sense of having something she had to do. To others she may look burdened, perhaps obsessed . . . The really burdened person is the one who gets up in the morning, goes to bed in the evening, struggles with great issues such as what should we eat, what should we drink, what should we wear? Gets up in the morning, goes to bed in the evening, grows old, and dies, without a burden. (The Collected Sermons, p. 92)

And so Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem. He had to go there. He repeatedly told his closest friends that the “Son of Man must suffer many things.” Jeremiah knew this ‘must’ as “a fire in his bones.” Preachers of old spoke of unction. Nehemiah spoke of a “great work” from which he would not be distracted.

Mark Buchanan calls it a ‘Holy Must.’ It is a burden, a weight laid upon the heart and mind. And those who are so burdened know what it is to live free.

There is a beautiful clarity to life that comes with a holy must. The clarity brings freedom, liberation from every distraction that seems to promise us joy. Strange isn’t it? A light burden, resisting ‘must,’ is actually cumbersome. The heavy burden is a joy.

What is the one thing you must do - your ‘Holy Must’? How will you embrace that freedom today?

Grant to us, O God, the gift of a Holy Must. Lay upon our souls the weight of a great necessity, a free life defined clearly by what you have called us to do in this world. Subdue our resistance, and keep us faithful to the ‘must’ you give, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.