Saturday was a full day -- we are attending a prayer ministry class at Redeemer Lutheran in Fridley, and then in the evening we held our Alpha healing night at Central. So that was a pretty intense day. Then Sunday worship at Central was busy and joyful and a little chaotic and great (as I've come to expect) -- then we spent an afternoon together setting up the Christmas tree, among other things.
The prayer ministry class is something I first got introduced to when Julie took it last year. It's through a ministry called Elijah House. The concepts and principles taught in this class are not complicated, but they are a little different from the way we are normally taught to think about things. My consistent experience, both when Julie was taking the class and now when I'm taking it for myself, has been that these ways of praying open up the Bible -- and allow change in real life -- in an amazing way. We each experienced a lot of transformation in our own lives and in our family as we worked through some of these things. Bottom line, the idea is that we take God's word seriously when the Bible tells us how the universe is designed to function. When we live in ways that contradict this word, we hurt ourselves and put ourselves in bondage. When we bring that bondage to the cross of Jesus, he sets us free and helps us experience the fullness of life God wants for us.
Think for a minute about some of the directions our society is drifting. Pick the moral or spiritual or social issue of your choice. In any arena, when we choose to act against God's word, we harm ourselves and the people around us, and we eventually find ourselves in bondage to unintended consequences of our actions. Take a simple one -- the Bible says "honor your father and your mother." God attaches all kinds of promises to that command, and what we see is that where we obey it, we do well; where we dishonor our parents, we are bound either to repeat their mistakes or live our lives trapped in bitterness about their shortcomings. For example, have you ever said, "I'll NEVER be like Mom / Dad ..." and then found yourself doing exactly what you hated in them? Or have you ever tried to get past some of your parents' faults and failures? Counselors and psychologists by the thousand deal with these issues every day as adults try to work through their childhoods, recognize parental strengths and weaknesses, forgive and release and get free from all that baggage. Not to mention the fact that as adults, we in turn dump all this baggage on our own children!
But what about the fact that no matter how much they deserved it, in childhood I also judged my parents and condemned them? The question is not were my parents wrong. Of course they were at times, and at other times they were right but I disliked their actions. The question I have to ask is, was I wrong to condemn them -- and the answer, according to the Bible, is yes. So if I dishonor my parents, I reap the consequences. When I said, "I will never be so stoic and emotionless as my Dad" I bound myself to that vow. When I became an adult, I had two choices: First, I could become exactly who I promised I would never be, because I was now in bondage to my vow. Or, I could live by my vow and be bound to always fighting to show my emotions and wear my heart on my sleeve. More than likely, I would end up in a messy combination of the two. But what I never experienced was the freedom to express emotion in an appropriate way, the way God had created me. Stoic or sloppy, I lived in bondage to my vow. By recognizing that I dishonored my father in condemning him for his stoicism, asking God to forgive me for what may seem like a trivial sin, and inviting God to grow me into who he created me to be, I can begin to experience freedom from that emotional bondage.
The reality is that each of us lives in bondage in many, many ways. This business of honoring / dishonoring parents is one example, though it is a huge one. Christians (especially in America) have focused for generations on issues of salvation, by which we have meant "who gets into heaven and who doesn't." But the New Testament talks about salvation as something that is BOTH a change that happens instantaneously AND something we grow into as we are transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We've done a great job in American Christianity of talking about the instantaneous change, but a lousy job with the "being transformed" and growing into the image of Jesus. (Traditional theological terms for these two sides of the coin are "justification" and "sanctification" though these words get one into trouble sometimes as well, since everyone wants to tweak the definitions to their own perspective.) This prayer ministry class focuses on helping believers open their lives more and more to God's work so that different areas of their lives can be lined up with God's word and they can experience the power of God to set them free and in turn, they can help others begin to experience that same freedom.
Though I did not know about Elijah House at the time I wrote it, these same concerns are at the root of my book on the Exodus. The question at the root of that book is, How does God set people free? It seems so clear to me that God desires a freedom for us that we so often miss. My hope in writing that book was to get a sense for the freedom God desires for us, and the ways he leads us toward that freedom. In some ways my book is an introduction to topics and ideas that Elijah House deals with in much greater depth. This Wednesday morning I get to meet with a group of guys at Sportech in Elk River who get together each week for conversation and study. Right now they're working through my book, and I'm excited to have a chance to hear their thoughts as they read through it.