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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Not opinion but testimony

So we're living under the tyranny of personal opinion. But the follow up irony to that fact is that there is nothing greater today than the power of personal testimony. If you can say, "God changed my life in this way ..." everyone within earshot is paying attention.

The absolute tyranny of individual opinion leaves each of us standing alone. But we yearn for transformation and transcendence. Deep down we recognize that we are alone in our individualism and bound by our self-centeredness. We long for that which unites us to another. We dream of something that will take us beyond ourselves. So the power of a person's story is tremendous. Look at reality (sic) television -- the concept is that we get to listen in on the lives of individuals who struggle through challenges of all kinds. In their struggles we hope to gain perspective on our own struggles. Extreme Home Makeover or The Biggest Loser or The Amazing Race -- all these shows have tried to connect us to stories of real people who get set free in some way. Along with many others, I've enjoyed listening to Dave Ramsey's call-in talk show. The highlight, of course, is when an individual calls and tells the agonizing story of their financial bondage and their road to freedom. They call their husbands, kids, grandparents, and pets to the phone and together scream over the airwaves, "WE'RE DEBT FREE!" It's great fun.

When my wife and I went to the Philippines in 2005, I spoke to church leaders there about an issue that was dear to my heart -- I spoke about congregations that were living in bondage and the kind of church leaders it would take to take them to freedom. We explored this theme with the Filipino church leaders by digging into the Bible's great story of freedom, the story of the Exodus. One of the pastors I worked with on that trip made the comment near the end of the week that these same ideas could be applied to the life of an individual who is being set free by God's Spirit. That idea stuck under my skin like a sliver and over the next two years I pondered it. I began to see that God works frequently in the same kind of patterns, whether with a nation, a church, or an individual. The story of God's powerful work to set the Israelite slaves free from Egypt in the book of Exodus is in some ways like a template for the ways God sets you and me free. He defeats the powers that hold us captive, leads us through our own whining and rebellion, lays out a covenant to help us know how to live in relationship with him, and gives us time to grow into all he has planned for us. Step by step he leads us toward all he has promised. Finally in November 2007, I wrote some of these thoughts down, and eventually Augsburg Fortress Publishers took the project on and it became the book advertised on this page.

The feedback I have received from people has been universally rooted in the fact that this is a personal book -- that it tells some of my own story and that it engages the reader at a personal level. We long for something that takes us beyond ourselves and helps us to make real change. Spend too much time on Facebook and you'll begin to think that all there is, is your opinion and my opinion and the opinion of everyone else. Ad nauseum. We are all trapped in our own self-centered bubbles. But we yearn for freedom.

The trouble with much of the watered-down religion that passes for Christianity today is that it has no power to set people free. It is what Paul described in 2 Timothy 3:5 -- a faith that has "the form of godliness but denies its power." Whether it is the politically correct social agenda of the left or the rigid moralism of the right, this kind of "be-good-and-do-what's-right" religion has no power to change. We need a savior, not an agenda.

That's why I've been so enjoying the stories I've heard lately of God reaching into people's lives, shaking them loose from what has held them, and leading them from bondage toward freedom. Jesus saves, not as an abstract spiritual truth that allows me to go to heaven when I die, but as a gritty change in real life that affects every second, every decision, and yes, even every opinion in my life. This is reality. This is connection. This is both transcendence and transformation rooted in a Person.

If you're looking for a great story complete with conflict, humor, and touching personal transformation, I invite you to join me in John 9 -- the passage that kicked off these ponderings this morning.

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