Thursday, January 6, 2011

dare to hope

""We call Abraham 'father' not because he got God's attention living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. ...Abraham was first named father - and then became a father, because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing." (Romans 17-18, The Message)

It's a new year. And with that comes a lot of resolutions, a lot of promises, a lot of determined grimaces to do something different, to be something different, and to make more out of ourselves. Funny, when you read that verse and realize: we are powerless. The only One who can make any changes in us is the Father, and He had those changes in mind long before we even came to be. He knows what's best - and He is the only one who will equip us to become something we're not. Something we resolved to be ten, fifteen, twenty years ago... and still haven't gotten right.

Over the holidays i took my six year-old daughter to see "Tangled". I was skeptical at first because lately, it seems most movies made for kids are, well, not. They're irreverent and chock-full of sexual innuendoes that I'll be crossing my fingers she doesn't repeat in, say, the checkout line at Target. So we pretty much avoid them. But we weren't able to get in to see "Secretariat" one day, and "Tangled" happened to be showing across the hall... so.... there we sat. I prepared myself for an overly "girl-powered" princess and a metrosexual prince who cared more about his perfectly preened coif than doing anything with integrity. What I got was something entirely different. Though we all know the story well, the depiction had a depth and a dimension to it that I'd never seen before. Rapunzel is a girl whose entire heritage has been kept from her, and whose "mother" - ultimately the deciever - has a deep, codependent need for Rapunzel to be kept in the dark. As long as Rapunzel believes she's the child of this awful woman, she sticks around and allows that woman to use her long, long hair as a tool for procuring eternal youth. And even though that woman is cruel, manipulative, degrading, and controlling, the fact that Rapunzel believes she's her mother keeps Rapunzel trapped. Then, entering onto the scene is Flynn Rider. Dashing, brave, noble... no. A thief who's running from the law - but who can see as plain as day that Rapunzel is a little off her rocker. After the two work out a 'deal' in which she will leave her captive tower for a day with him as her guide (and he will in turn get back the royal jewels he's just stolen), we get to watch Rapunzel experience freedom for the first time in her life. She runs through the meadows, she splashes in creek beds, she chases birds and lets the summer breeze send her hair flying. She's overjoyed. And then, she's not. She's wrecked with guilt. It feels so good to be free - but then again, it's awful.... if being free means rebellion and disobedience. And in her mind, she's called to be loyal to this 'mother' who's raised her all these years.

As I sat next to my daughter and watched, it struck me that I was catching a glimpse of myself. I've often - mostly - allowed a great deceiver to convince me that my inheritance is exactly what I'm looking at. My circumstances. What I can see, what I can get out of my life today. And strangely, I forget - forgive me for the extraordinary cliche about to hit here - that I'm actually royalty. That my inheritance was bought and paid at an extremely high price, and now, I'm a daughter of the King. My captor isn't a human being, but rather a way of living: following the rules, doing the right thing... "living like a saint". Maybe, just maybe, if I stick to that plan, I'll finally experience what i so long for: freedom.

What Rapunzel didn't understand, and what I so often seem to miss, is that the heart of deception is captivity. Her deceiver never meant to free her... and neither will mine. But Someone has. Someone did a long, long time ago. And it's up to me to walk in that freedom. There is no tower in my life. There are no chains. They're figments of my human sense of guilt - or shame, or confusion, or religious insecurity. Galatians 5:1 says this: "Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you!" (The Message). Rapunzel believed she belonged to the woman in the tower, and therefore what she believed kept her a slave. So often, what we believe about our circumstances or ourselves or God is the very notion that keeps us from living freely.

What I love about that passage regarding Abraham is that the opposite of living like a saint isn't living like a criminal; instead, it's letting God make a saint out of you. Paul, in that letter to the Galatians, goes on to say that freedom doesn't mean taking your life by the reins and turning it into something worth noticing... no, he says this: "Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit" (1:16-17). interesting. What's at odds with freedom? Selfishness. Thinking we can do it on our own because dadgummit, we're strong... we're independent... we're dedicated, determined, disciplined. The moment we convince ourselves our agenda will work is the moment the chains start creeping back around our ankles.
Only God can make us anything... anything. Not something better. But something in the first place.

God had told Abraham he'd be a father to many. Abraham was one hundred years old. His wife was as infertile as the day is long. Children were a laughable matter in their household (and laugh, she did, when she heard God's promise). But Abraham didn't; he "dared to trust". He "plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what He had said" (Romans 4:20-23, The Message). Not only did God promise Abraham that He would do something remarkable with his entirely unremarkable life (and trust me: without Him, we're all unremarkable) - God promised Abraham He would do something Abraham wanted Him to do, something he "dared" to hope for. How incredible is that? Not only is God interested in making something out of you - He's interested in making something out of your hopes. Your dreams. Your resolutions.

And just by believing God, by trusting Him, by daring to hope - Abraham was called righteous. Done. Sealed. Quit working, quit straining, quit striving, quit punching the air - you're good. Jesus offers us the same promise: if you will believe me, you will be saved. You'll be free. Not for a moment, not for a lifetime, but for eternity. Your first job is this: believe. God's first work for you involves one simple task: believe in Jesus (John 6:29). Start there.

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