Monday, April 25, 2011

Finding Freedom [Augusta Chronicle, Apr 23, 2011]

In today’s world we are quick to say, “I am in charge of my life! That is what makes me free.”  Christians, however, still say, “God is in charge of my life!  That is what makes me free.” Who is right? 

It may not be immediately obvious how submission to God brings freedom, but it helps if we understand that from which we humans need to be freed.  Scripture suggests that we need freedom from three things: the World, the Flesh and the Devil. 

The World is this place where God has planted us, but it is often harsh, hard and unforgiving.  From the world we seek love, peace and joy.  Often we find just the opposite because of other people’s sins and dysfunctions.   We need freedom from this worldly onslaught.

The Flesh represents our own wrong choices, weaknesses, negative emotions, bad behaviors, sinful cravings and propensity to capitulate to temptation; in short, we need freedom from the frail, fallen and unredeemed part of our human nature.

The Devil represents the spiritual forces of darkness bent on preventing us from finding the love, joy, peace and the relationship with God for which we were created.  We find a very real devil in this very real world.  We moderns often feel that we are… well, too modern to believe in Satan and his minions.  Of course, Satan would love for us to think he does not exist nor exerts control over our lives, but Scriptures warns, “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.(1 Peter 5:8).  We are not just flesh, we are spirit, and we need freedom from the negative spiritual influences that bind us.

So, back to the original question… where do we find freedom?  It should be immediately obvious that finding freedom through our individual power and direction from this unholy triad of world, flesh and devil is problematic.  The problem is that we have no real control over these things, not even our own fleshly desires.  This means we need help in our struggle to gain mastery over our lives.  That is why the Psalmist writes, Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me. (Psalm 40:13) and St. Paul is always writing about his having found freedom in Christ.  A fundamental dynamic of the Christian Pilgrimage is calling on God to save us from those things from which we cannot save ourselves, for as St. Paul puts it, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground…” (Ephesians 6:12-13) 

The Rev. Rob Hartley

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spiritual Blindness: A reflection on John 9:1-41

“One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

This is a story of Jesus and a man born blind.  It is also a story of the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees. The blind man was seeing Jesus pretty clearly; the Pharisees were totally blinded to who Jesus is.  Who is really the more significantly blind in this story?

What causes spiritual blindness?  Let me give you a description, albeit extreme, of a life lived in darkness and spiritual blindness:
It is of an angry person; bitter at life’s mishandling of him; crusted over and walled off from others, with all meaningful relationships either tattered or shattered.   No peace… the joy of life gone.  He does not see that he is largely living the consequences of significantly bad decisions at crucial junctures in his life, and thus lashes out at others, often in subtle but hurtful ways, never seeing that the people around him are also broken, hurting and struggling.  He demonstrates little compassion and concern for others, only feeding his own self-absorption and growing narcissism.  Although a life-long churchman, he remains blind to the goodness and love of God.  His religion is an outward badge not an interior means of transformation, not a reservoir of answers to life.  In spite of being surrounded by a loving church family, he is like a pauper in a goldmine.  He does not respond in love, but remains emotionally detached and uninvolved in other people’s lives. 

Although this description of spiritual blindness seems extreme, the truth is that we all live our lives somewhere on a continuum between this sort of darkness and a life illumined by the Light of Christ.  The Christian pilgrimage is thus a journey of sight improvement.   Through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, our eyes are progressively opened to new and grand vistas of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  How is your eyesight?

Where are you on this continuum between darkness and light, blindness and sight?

Are you stuck in some significant way in a dark place in your world?

Are you seeking to be illumined by the Light of Christ?

In what way were you once blind and now see?