Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Call to Real Freedom

Jesus went about teaching the Kingdom of God. The main message and theme of John, the Baptist was the Kingdom of God. Paul towards the end of his life in Rome where he had spent 2 years, preached about the Kingdom of God and the King Jesus Christ. Jesus whenever he spoke to His disciples and to the crowd talked about the Kingdom of God.
 In the Old Testament, the Hebrews who were slaves in Egypt talked about the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, the dream land. Before they could enter this land Moses had to free them from the power of the Egyptian King. Egypt represented another Kingdom where slavery was the lifestyle-oppression, violence, exploitation, hard work, injustice and slave drivers dictating how the slaves should live. People were helpless and had no voice against the mighty power of evil. All they could do was to cry out to the God about whom they had heard- the God of their fathers. They had no personal experience of this God, just a memory and a promise. 400 years is a long time to be disconnected and to take up the evil lifestyle of the alien country even though their souls longed for something called freedom. It is difficult to know what freedom is if one has never experienced it and is born into slavery. The only life they can desire is the life of the slave masters. From being oppressed to becoming oppressors.  Moses had the hard job convincing these slaves about the Real God Jehovah and undermining the powers of the Egyptian Gods. Ultimately through the death of the first born, the Egyptians and their King Pharaoh, the Exodus began. It also meant the sacrifice of the lambs by the Hebrews representing their own death, the price they also had to pay to come out of Egypt- a sign of mercy- God substituting the human life with the life of a lamb. In fact all the Hebrews too died on that day to the life of slavery. Freedom also required that they take part in the life of the lamb by eating it and covering their homes with its blood. The blood was a sign to both the angel of death and to the Hebrews that freedom required a price, the death of an innocent animal on their behalf. The unleavened bread showed that they need to put on an uncorrupt lifestyle and bitter herbs represented that of the bitterness of slavery. So the death of the lamb started the beginning of their walk to freedom.
            . Their identity as the liberated people became a reality as they crossed the Red Sea where they experienced the death of the evening of their own freedom. Their walk through the Red Sea became the sign of them being chosen once again to be a different people group. Till now Moses had not spelled out the new laws of the Promised Land nor the life style they needed to embrace. The initial exuberance of joy soon began to fade as they faced the difficulties of the life ahead and slaves take a long time to experience true freedom. They continued to experience the goodness of God and His provisions but soon the delay in reaching the Promised Land and the inconveniences of the way brought out the old habit patterns of the inner soul. They began their grumbling and complaining and longed for the old life style. In the end most of them perished before entering the promised land- a sad end to a good beginning. This story repeated itself throughout history. Most of the liberated people in the midst of trials choose to go back to the old life style. Very few longed to enter the Promised Land. External freedom does not guarantee internal transformation. God too experiences this agony and promises another event where “His very own life will be implanted in the Human soul.”
            Jesus came to inaugurate this event. He talked about the Kingdom of God as a present day reality with a future fulfillment. He shared about the life in this Kingdom, its values, life styles, above all the language of love that is the hallmark of the kingdom. His initial step was to free us from the spiritual power of the Evil slave master. Jesus recognized the Devil as the one who controlled and blinded the minds and hearts of the people all over. The Devil controls and manipulates them through his agents and keeps humans in fear and under the spell of superstition. He encourages them to have religion and shifts their focus to materialism and power games. He gives them a sense of freedom but it is glorified slavery. So Jesus had to reclaim humanity from the power of the evil one. He became an exchange. He bought us back from the evil by offering himself as the price. Our initial freedom cost him, his very own life. God’s love for us was so great. He gave the second person of the Trinity whom he called His son to be the ransom to the Evil master to redeem us. This took place in the supernatural realm but was represented in history on a mountain called Golgotha on a cross.
            At the same time our death was incorporated in that glorious death. Just like the Hebrews slaughtered the lamb on their behalf and accepted the death of the lamb by taking part in the eating of the flesh and anointing their homes with the blood, representing their death to the life of slavery and penalty of their sinful life paid by the lamb. God put the sin of the whole world upon Jesus as our sin bearer on the cross. We can only take part in this event through faith. To believe that Jesus took my sins and freed me from eternal death is my salvation.
            These two events were accomplished by God without our help or initiative. Its God’s plan of freedom from slavery. (trust you are still with me!) Now we enter the Red Sea called baptism saying goodbye to the past recognizing that the death of Jesus meant our death and the resurrection of Jesus is our resurrection to new life. We are still in the same world run by the defeated evil one. He is still the ruler even though we are bought at a price. He continues to convince people that he is in charge. If there is no faith in Jesus then we’ll continue to live in slavery even though we are freed. Our lifestyle shows whether we believe in Jesus and what he accomplished. Just like the Hebrews who had so much ‘egypt’ in them even after they crossed the Red Sea. Inspite of all their experiences of miracles and God’s visible power and presence, their hearts had not changed. Their enthusiasm and joy lasted only for a short time.
            Jesus spelled out the lifestyle of the Kingdom of God for those who believe. It is radically different from the current worldly system. He shocks us with his almost impossible lifestyle, attitude and values. But the big difference is what he promises. His indwelling in us is to empower and enable us to live His Kingdom life in the evil world. It is tough but possible. This brings both extremes of joy and pain. Pain is a result of the enemy’s perseverance and also a result of experiencing death to self and the old life style.
            Jesus reminded us that we are made for better things. We are to be eagles living as the king of the sky enjoying the freedom of space and pure air. We are made to think high and live at a different level, in another dimension.
            Life in this world is not the end. There is another world waiting for us. Everything pure is only there. But we are here to learn a new way of living and speaking. We are in a school of learning. Imagine a foetus in a mother’s womb for 9 months. Most of his or her organs have no use inside this dark world called the womb. There is no light, no sound, nothing to smell, no beauty around. Just an uninteresting world. Yet, slowly the foetus is developing organs in the silence of the darkness. Everything the baby is developing is preparing for a life outside the womb where every organ has a purpose and fulfillment. There is beauty to behold, music to be heard, flavour to be tasted, land to walk on, things to be touched, thoughts to be made and food to be eaten. If the baby decides to come out earlier than expected, then life becomes hard. He becomes a misfit and feels awkward and needs a lot of help from others. Freedom is restricted and dependency becomes the norm.
            If I want to go and live in another country, the first thing I ought to learn is the language and accepted behavior pattern of that country. If I don’t then I will feel awkward, miserable, misunderstood and basically will feel lost.
            Now Jesus tells us about another land far away where God reigns. But it can be experienced and tasted even now. The language and the lifestyle of that land are so different but one can learn some of it here so we will not feel misfits or embarrassed once we reach there. This language of love is spelled out by Jesus through many stories and discourses and above all through his life. The more we look at his life and practice the language of love it will be easier of us to taste the life waiting for us. We can transform our little world and make it the Kingdom of God. As Jesus promises to live in us through faith and through his spirit, we are given power and reason to embrace this new lifestyle. The Kingdom of God is a community living to express the life in the Kingdom. Jesus is the King and we are His subjects. The Devil is no more our ruler and we have the power to say ‘no’ to him. We can unlearn our old slave lifestyle and take on the new lifestyle of Jesus. It will take time. No one graduates from school in one day or in a year but definite progress is made. We can check this by evaluating ourselves against our master’s words. We can develop friendship with others who are in the Kingdom and continue to learn the language of love and become a body of light and salt. As we live in this world we are constantly bombarded with thoughts and ideas from the evil one who controls the system of this world. He has enough support from the majority of people who still give their allegiance to the evil one as the unseen master through ignorance. Many of his suggestions find a chord in our old lifestyles and it is easy to become victims of this manipulation again. So we need to keep vigil and in times of pressure not to conform to the patterns of this world system. We can use the power of prayer that will release God’s goodness and give us strength to overcome these evil schemes. We are already given much wisdom through the words of Jesus and when we face temptations prayer is the means by which God unleashes his power. God wants us to use our power and privileges as His children to stand against the evil one and his worldly system. Fellow kingdom subjects can join in this war of prayer. We need to constantly remind ourselves and each other who we are, who owns us and what we are here for. We can affect heaven and change can be set in motion in people’s lives. We need to be aware of the cosmic war for our souls. Every scheme of this world takes place to draw our hearts and minds towards destruction. It is camouflaged but deep down it promotes hatred, selfishness and death. Staying with Jesus in the Kingdom lifestyle alone promises abundant life and inexpressible joy. So let us prepare ourselves for this higher life where we will find our true freedom. Jesus personified the kingdom of God and if we want to know how the kingdom of God looks like we can look at Jesus. We who have experienced the joy of being redeemed and forgiven and have tasted the life in this Kingdom ought to take active steps in making the message attractive and real.

            What are the benefits of living in the Kingdom?

We have peace with God and with one another and with oneself.
There is no guilt or shame of the past as we experience forgiveness of all our sins, wrongdoings and feelings.
We experience victory over habits that are damaging and have the power to say ‘no’ to the evil ideas and plans.
We have a sense of freedom to love God and a desire to be in His presence and a greater desire to do His will.
We enter into a relationship with God as our Father and begin to understand his ways and be able to communicate with him.
We have a sense of identity and security in God, we are loved by God and accepted by him as his beloved children.
Jesus not only becomes our savior and our Lord but our friend and teacher.
The Spirit of God becomes our guide and counselor.
 We are promised a life of joy have the privilege to suffer for God’s sake.
We come to know the vanity of life here and the meaninglessness of materialism, so we hold on to eternal life and the hope that is waiting for us. The Kingdom life is a life of contentment and a life of sharing and receiving and a life of accepting the mysteries of life along with its paradoxes, yet having the assurance of God’s intimate presence as a gift.
The Kingdom life is a life of grace, a thankful heart for all the wonders of life in the universe. It sees the design and beauty and complexity and purpose in everything.
In Kingdom life one experiences the generosity and the greatness of God and also his utter humility and openness towards creation.
In Kingdom life we become partners with God to reclaim the lost both in nature and in humanity from the defeated Devil. We feel responsible to shine in dark places and bring flavour to life through our own lifestyle.
Kingdom life is a life of rest. All my longings continue to find its rightful place and its fulfillment in God and his promises.
 In Kingdom life I am challenged to be a servant who serves others. It’s a life of kindness and patience towards my fellows. It is a life of compassion and understanding where we see people through Jesus’ eyes and do what He will do in any situation. It is non-judgmental yet desires the best for others.
Kingdom life is a life of true passion. This passion is kindled by God’s love and also by hatred towards sin and evil. It is awakened whenever one encounters the image of God being distorted and devalued. This anger directed towards evil becomes a motivating force to do something to redeem the situation.
The Kingdom of darkness competes for all the good in the Kingdom of light by producing counterfeits. Spirituality is replaced by religion. Love is replaced by selfishness. God is replaced by money. Permanent values are replaced by temporary convenient glamour. Servant hood is replaced by manipulative power.
The Kingdom life is the great reversal and Jesus of Nazareth came to inaugurate this through His life, death and resurrection showing that this is the business of heaven.
As we are in the war zone we will face all kinds of trials and difficulties. We are not immune from the effect of war. Our minds will be affected and go under a blanket of depression, doubts and anxieties. Our bodies will be affected with sickness which may have no treatment. Our pain may not have any relief. We may experience the agony of broken relationships. The world may hate us and the Devil may tempt us. Inspite of all these, our faith in the living God and His presence will be enough to take us to the shore. Many casualties of this war can disappoint us. We are called to behold The Man and trust in His keeping power. Through it all we learn the language of love, “Jesus’ language” and are prepared for the ultimate life with the triune God of love in eternity. This hope does not disappoint us. We become more than conquerors and shall be called the over-comers.
Those who live in darkness find it difficult to imagine light and the effect of light. Slaves find the concept of freedom rather frightening. Religious people find spirituality disturbing. So in his exposition of the message and the reality of the Kingdom of God Jesus used familiar human stories and the wonders of nature to give some insight into the heavenly realities. His parables are meant to communicate one or two main truths. Too much reading and interpretation will distort the core message. Some of the parables Jesus explained to the disciples. He also challenged the crowd to see and hear in the right way. The Kingdom of God has a small beginning but it has the power to spread and grow. It has a built in power to expand.
The Kingdom of God is a priceless pearl, a wedding feast. Missed opportunities, underserved grace, full of surprises and shocks, mercy and judgment both in its perfection will be revealed on the final day. The Kingdom of God is already here with the coming of Jesus. Where two or three are gathered, it has the power of light and salt, and leaven and fishing net and a mustard seed. It can dispel darkness, give flavour to life, prevent decay and influence society and provided shelter to many and be fruitful. It also reveals the ugliness of life around, the corruption in society, the hatred and violence. It has the power to attract seekers and the oppressed and the wise. It also evokes violence from those who oppose truth. As Kingdom people worship in truth and in spirit they influence the decisions in heaven. This frees God to act on behalf of his people. They have the privilege to shake the very foundations of hell and paralyze the enemy. Unity in the Kingdom is crucial. Again when two people agree, prayer power will be unleashed in the spiritual realm. We are not called to make a United Kingdom of both God and the Devil but many try to bring these two opposing ideas and realities and work out a middle way. Jesus said it is impossible. So why waste our time? It’s futile.
 There is a day of reckoning on the final day of history. Sheep and goats, wheat and chaff, good and bad, all will be separated and God’s justice will prevail. Till then all will be mixed. We do not have the authority to judge and categorize people. It is not our job.
 There is nothing common between light and darkness, life and death, hope and despair, heaven and hell, God and Devil. We have the freedom to make choices and live with its consequences. Love makes sense only if the possibility of not loving is present within the framework of genuine freedom. God alone is unfree in this character. Created beings need to become unfree through choices to embody the eternal truth and values. So ultimately they have the potential to be like God in his perfection.
The Kingdom of God is a call to believe and make choices that will have eternal repercussions. Jesus stands at the temple, in our hearts, in the streets and cries out, “If anyone is thirsty for this Kingdom let him come”. What a call from slavery to freedom. What will be our response?

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