Living with the Rug Pulled Out from under my Feet

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My eyes watched the city skyline until it faded from the rearview window. I’m learning to pull on traveling like a necessary coat. It’s my lifeline. I need the detachment. I need the rug of my own head pulled out from under my feet. I need to be drawn into the very alive, very breathing present. Traveling helps me fill my space unapologetically, helps me throw my weight around a little, kind of like a boxer. I’m slowly becoming a little more confident, decisive, known. And when I’m wandering around a new city with no agenda other than to take it all in, I know exactly who I am. I appreciate without comparison, I smile without suspicion, I am without hesitation.

I need the adventure to pull me out of my head and into my body. I need the mental health break. We throw around the words “self-care” a lot these days. For me, self-care is looking a lot like boundaries, like giving both my introversion and extroversion the gift of acceptance, like finding little ways to be brave. Finding little ways to have faith. Finding little ways to reach deep down inside and bring to the surface whatever is there, pretty or not.

I took a trip to Philadelphia last week and I spent every day walking as far as my feet would carry me. I joined a protest. I got lost. I breathed deep. I had aching feet. That trip brought me home with a heck of a lot less anxiety than what I had left at home.

I think we should do that more. I think we should throw ourselves into the things that scare us. American culture has taught us all to be safe, to not take risks. Especially when it comes to our faith. We’re so quick to deny anything that makes us uncomfortable, anything that rebels against the teachings we were taught when we were little. I think sometimes the church itself can become a barrier keeping us from Jesus. I think about my own church upbringing and realize the freedom I have desperately needed, as a twenty-three year old, as a woman, as a wife, has stayed just outside of fingertip reach because of institutions placed around my wandering curiosity. But God loves the person more than the institution. And he isn’t intimidated by our questions.

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I’m disheartened by the American church. We’ve failed each other, other races, women. I grew up in a church where women were not pastors, were not worship leaders, were not teachers. And it’s tired. I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know that the answer is very clear. But I do know this conversation needs to start showing up in big and loud ways.

What I do know is that women’s voices have been hushed for generations. I know Jesus went out of his way to empower women. I know when women were unreliable witnesses in court, he entrusted the proof of his resurrection to a woman. I know in a society where women couldn’t speak to men, he sought one out at a well. I know when a woman chose to sit at his feet and not in the kitchen, she chose the right thing.

I think sometimes we’re afraid to lift our voices too loudly, because somewhere in history we’ve been painted as hysterical, women with uncontrollable emotions. We’ve been painted as witches. We’ve started wars over golden apples. We’ve been the temptress. But freedom demands that we throw those things off. And maybe it’s uncomfortable, maybe even scary. But I think we need the escape, the detachment, the rug of legalism pulled out from under our feet. We need the freedom to fill our space well, wherever that may be, and to box a little with the things that scare us, take a little risk. And I think it’ll feel a lot like traveling. With lots of rest and little anxiety.

“Of course if no one had ever been exposed to dangerous ideas from scandalous women, Christianity itself would not have had its unique beginning nor its glorious history, but whatever.” – Nadia Bolz-Weber

// Words & Photos By Jess Meko
Republished from jessicameko.com

Farewell, Fear.

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Fear. It’s like a forest hiding our hearts from the light of Love with all its branches and leaves that make up tall trees. It feels safe, secure but what it doesn’t show is all the lies keeping us captive in a false sense of protection and confidence. Lies that say, “We aren’t good enough; so why bother trying?” Lies that say, “We are better off alone and in our own little cave within that forest.” And it hurts, the deceiving words that convince us to believe “We will always be alone because we aren’t special enough to be loved”, or  “We are too broken to mend.

It’s like a powerful wind howling in our hearts. It has the power to keep us to a halt, and from moving forward as it pushes us down to the ground. It has the power to keep us enslaved to all its lies because the truth may be too much to bare or maybe it seems too far-fetched to even be true. It has the power to keep us from our future as it sweeps away all hope. It has the power to keep us from reaching our dreams as it washes away possibility with a rainfall of impossibility. It has the power to determine how meaningful our short life on earth will be or the lack of meaning it will have as it holds us captive. It has as much power over us as we allow it to, and that’s the thing about fear, it convinces us with one lie that “We are powerless under its power.” And it’s right. On our own, we are powerless, but what fear forgets is that we are not alone.

Love is with us.

Love. It’s like the calm after the storm. After fear is done raging, God’s gentle voice that has been whispering to us in our hearts all along is heard loud and clear. Its truth starts to soothe our soul as its light enters in revealing what is real, what is honest, pure, and true, that He loves us. Those three words break fear apart revealing what it truly is, a lie. His love for us is more powerful than any fear in us. Our God frightens away fear with His love. Yes, fear has its own fears.

There is no fear in love;
but perfect love casts out fear.

1 John 4:18

Love will make all the storms of life with their lightning and thunder and howling winds seem less frightening. It’ll give you the strength and confidence you need to face it all, and remind you that in the end there’s no need to worry, everything is going to be okay— even more than okay. It’ll reveal to you the greater purpose within it all leaving no room for fear because your trust, your faith, your confidence is in the One who is in control of all. Within this confidence is the ability to live life to the fullest. Within this confidence is the strength to shut down the noise of the world and of our own selves, the lies we allow to be fed with and in turn feed ourselves with, and to turn up the voice of our Father telling us that we do fit in, with him, and that we are created in His image, we are more than good enough, but most importantly that we are loved, by Him.

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The only thing between who we know we can be, who we are supposed to be, is ourselves. God has given us the power to tear down those walls that fear has built around our heart and soul with His mighty Word. Word by word, praise by praise, prayer by prayer, with His love the walls can and will be torn down. The question is “Are we willing to uproot the foundation of those walls?” What caused them to be put up in the first place. I don’t think that fear is what we are really afraid of, but the lack of it; we are afraid to be vulnerable. So, we mask the fear we think is keeping us from being vulnerable and protecting us with a false sense of confidence, but fear is not protecting our vulnerability, Love is, God is and He always will. He won’t use our vulnerability to tear us down but to help those who, like we once were, are trapped by fear and to tear down their walls. Love and fear are not the same. Fear likes to make us believe it is, but it’s not. Fear can’t give us the freedom that Love does. The freedom that Love is.

Run past the trees and out of the darkness.

Follow the light, run towards the arms of Love, dance in its freedom, and bid fear a forever farewell because there’s no room for it in your heart.

Love has taken over.

Written by Maali Padro // Photos by Olivia Douglas

A Gift of Love

Written by Maali Padro // Photos by Arianna Taralson

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It’s like a bouquet of flowers, a beautiful array of colors and textures arranged to complement one another. A sweet fragrance that calms the soul when nurtured with love and whose thorns fall off with each kind word. It’s an art, a masterpiece that takes time to perfect, creativity to resolve conflicts, and sometimes just a clean canvas. It is something to be admired and passed on through the ages. It’s like rain, a giver of hope when dry seasons come.

It can be like a bouquet of dried flowers, with time the colors may fade becoming one in the same. The sweet fragrance it once emitted turns bitter and sour causing thorns to sprout up once again. It can be an art piece gone wrong, a disaster that no matter how much time is allotted cannot be perfected, with creativity that is nowhere to be found, and no matter how many redos it just doesn’t quite come together. Something that dies as time flies. It can be like thunder and lightning, as it tries to cover up the hope within the storm. Like the day after it rains, it can leave the air muggy and sticky making it hard to breathe. It can be like summer coming to an end, slowly the sun is covered with clouds and the air becomes cold, filled with tears and sadness from what it once had, but it can also be much more than flowers, art, rain, thunder, lightning, and summer or the end of it. Friendship in its purest form is a gift — a gift from above given to us by the greatest Friend anyone can ever have. How does one obtain such a gift?

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights…” James 1:17

Friendship is more than the desire and want of companionship inhibited in the human heart. It’s a need rooted in the essence of who we are. To live within our humanity, to our fullest potential, we need each other. The only time when God described His creation as not good was when He realized Adam was alone.

We all need a friend.

Even God Himself wasn’t alone before He spoke the beautiful universe we live in into existence.

In the beginning, was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” John 1:1

Jesus walked among the waters with God. Together, they thought about us and smiled as they sketched a mental image of what we would each look like. They laughed at the humor that some of us would possess and were in awe of the beauty we would hold within our artistry. God, Himself, needs companionship and although Jesus might be His best friend alongside the Holy Spirit, His greatest desire is to have a relationship with His creation as more than Creator and creation. He wants you to know Him like He knows you.

He wants to be your Best Friend.

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There’s a lot of give and take when it comes to friendships. We could even say compromises that a lot of times grow into sacrifices. For example, Jesus dying for all of us. Relationships aren’t easy. I have learned that it takes one person to love but two or more to have a relationship. It’s a multi-way street, a dance of sorts full of stepped on toes when wrong steps are taken, a fall here and there, and with time it becomes a waltz danced by two people in tune with each other’s beats and can grow into something like the Macarena – a party celebrating life. I would say one of the biggest struggles with friendships, in general, is finding the patience to reach that perfect balance. It’s hard to grow a relationship. It involves putting oneself out there, being vulnerable and honest, being selfless, and being intentional to mention a few. To love is hard, but that in itself is the key to maintaining any relationship.

A relationship with Love will flow into every area of your life. It will place your focus on the Giver so that in turn you can see what He sees and give from within yourself. It will replenish your soul with a joy rooted in gratitude that will overflow into the hearts of every person you encounter. It will cover you with peace, and regardless of the conflicts that may arise, you’ll have the clarity of mind to make proper decisions. It will give you the courage you need to take the steps that may need to be taken, and sometimes that means saying “hello” first. It will give you a sensitive Spirit that will keep you in tune with the needs of others and more importantly your own needs. It will create in you a selfless heart — a heart after God’s own heart.

To love someone, one must first love themselves. To befriend someone, one must first befriend themselves.

Out of every struggle faced in a relationship, I believe accepting the flaws first within oneself and then within others is the biggest struggle. Within community and relationships, our flaws — jealousy, pride, selfishness, a judgemental attitude, low self-esteem, etc. — are exposed. Becoming aware of the flaws we have can be daunting and hard to come to terms with. If not in the right mindstate or state of heart, it can overwhelm a person; which is why I also believe that it’s within community and relationship that as we are pruned, we grow the most. Within relationships, we find strength through to face anything. Time and time again, friendships are a reminder that we are not alone in this life. They are a glimpse into the heart of God towards us and a constant reminder that He will never leave us. He finds every way to make Himself known to us; how sweet that He uses the human race as a way. Even when our friends do fail us or we fail them, God is there to catch us as we fall. As He picks up pieces of our broken heart, He begins to craft something new. He gives our brokenness purpose. He restores what we deem as over.

Friendships may not last forever, people change, and life gets hectic; but God and His love are eternal and He is so in love with you. For some, it may feel like you are going through life alone, and, if this is you, I want to encourage you to be the friend you need and to accept the friendship of the one who died (He literally did) to be your friend. Physically you may be alone, but spiritually you are never alone (He rose back to life).

We are only as alone as we want to be.

Sometimes, we need to be the ones to make the first move — say the first “hello” and give the first smile. Other times, we need to step outside our friend group and extend a hand of hope to the person next to us. Friendship boils down to one word, love, and in this is the key ­— to accept love from Love and to live like Love — to obtaining such a good and perfect gift.

Receiving a Restful Burden

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A few months ago, I left my job. I stepped down from all positions of ministry leadership I’d once held. As someone with a high value for productivity, purposeful work, and efficiency, it was an extremely counterintuitive step to take. I had been on staff with a campus ministry for about 5 years and felt that I’d invested all I possibly had to give into the students, the ministry, and the work that God invited me into on campus. Why should I leave now? I’ve already invested all that I have into this ministry, to start over elsewhere would be foolish.

Initially God’s invitation to enter into vocational ministry begun as a life-giving pursuit of partnering with Him to expand His Kingdom on campus. However, as the natural ups and downs of ministry (and let’s be real, life in general) came into play, I found it difficult to experience the same joy and renewed vision He had given me from the start. By year five, I found myself burnt out, jaded by the concept of ministry leadership, and barely able to get out of bed each morning to face what felt like an impossible day ahead. It felt as if I’d lost my purpose in life, as my soul’s tiredness created a barrier in being able to grasp God’s vision for His work on campus. As I’d lost vision, I lost the necessary passion for the day-to-day. As I lost passion, I began losing hope that Jesus was in it with my students and I at all. Before I knew it, my personal sense of value and worth had plummeted as I’d entered into a never-ending downward spiral of exhaustion and feeling that all I had to give was simply not enough.

In Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV) Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I’ve heard this scripture quoted time and time again, and in theory love the concept: follow Jesus, let Him take care of you (cue, Jesus Take the Wheel). However, more often than not, I found myself in a regular state of stress and anxiety…Yes, I know that I’m socially exhausted and need space to recharge…but if I could just fit in a couple more coffee meet-ups, perhaps newcomers in our ministry will feel more welcomed. Yes, I know that my schedule is so packed that I’m skipping meals here and there, but if I don’t get tasks A-Z done then everything will fall apart.…the list of self-created obligation goes on and on.

I’ve heard more than a few times that our generation (i.e., millennials) have an ever-increasing likelihood in experiencing mental illness – particularly in the forms of depression and anxiety. I myself have had my own battle with the two over the years, and only recently began seeing a therapist to gain clarity in how to acknowledge and address it.

In John Koessler’s Radical Pursuit of Rest, he claims that anxiety is not a result of misaligned priorities, but misaligned confidence. When we place confidence in ourselves and our ability to manage or control our lives rather than trusting our Creator to lead us through life, we curate anxiety due to the fact that we will never be able to control the outcome of our circumstances.

I’m not trying to make any claims about clinically diagnosed mental illness, and I acknowledge that appropriately addressing mental illness is not as simple as changing one’s spirituality or mindset.  God calls some of us to become therapists, psychiatrists, and counselors for good reason – there are certain situations in which seeking professional help truly is the most appropriate next step.

I am however, wanting to highlight the paradox I find myself in quite often…

If Jesus calls us to trust in Him because His yoke is “easy”, why does life (and even ministry) still feel so draining and impossible? How do we address the disparity between the rest Jesus promises, and the seemingly endless burnout so many of us find ourselves in?

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I’ll find myself reading article after article on social media about the latest local or national tragedy, natural disaster, or current political issue. At the same time, I can’t scroll through my feed without seeing at least half a dozen recommendations regarding the latest “self-care” tip, new experience to try out, or eatery to taste. In the very media I consume, the call to action and engagement is in tension with the rest and pleasure to be had. The concept of balancing “work” and “rest” is confusing, to say the least. It seems that in order to work, one sacrifices rest. In order to rest, one has to set aside work.

But I believe the rest that Jesus refers to in Matthew 11 gives a paradigm to realign our soul such that responsible rest and purposeful work are integrated, going hand-in-hand with one another. That we should not “labor in vain” but take on the yoke of Jesus and partner with him in His good work; all while being in a position to receive His grace.

The rest that Jesus invites us into consists of more than an isolated activity, specific meditation, or even physical sleep. He offers rest that shifts one’s entire soul to orient toward His purposes, His way of pursuing those purposes, and His power fueling that pursuit. When our soul is oriented toward Jesus and His way of life; our mind, body, and heart are able to experience full rest. It is when we pursue purpose without the guidance and empowerment of God’s spirit that we spiral into never-ending discontent and eventual burnout.

I’ve had my own struggle embracing Jesus’ restful yoke, as my meritocracy-based spirituality has led me to burnout time and time again. When I decided to follow Jesus wholeheartedly mid-college, I immediately jumped into every opportunity I could find to “serve” Him. Well-intentioned enough, right? What I didn’t realize was that in the process of doing so, I subconsciously replaced Jesus’ gift of partnership with Him in His work, with my own means to “earning” His love.  I really took to heart the whole “faith without works is dead” concept. In retrospect, I don’t believe that devoting my life to serving Jesus was misaligned. I do however, see how in attempt to serve Jesus primarily through action, I disabled myself from letting Him align my soul in a way that both purposeful work, and responsible rest were integrated.

A meritocracy-based spiritual mindset speaks discontent and discouragement. It perpetuates the need to always be doing. You’re not enough. You need to do more. You need to do better. A spiritual mindset that embraces Jesus’ yoke speaks life. You are enough simply because you are created by God. He is already in control of orchestrating all that needs to be done. You are invited to partner with Him in what He’s already doing to better the world around you.

So where does this leave us? What do we do to position ourselves to give Christ our burdens, and receive His easy yoke?

Perhaps the issue at hand is less about answering this particular question, and more about the belief that there’s something we can do to experience the restful life that Jesus promises. Our culture praises the doers of our society, and it’s no surprise that it has inadvertently become ingrained into our understanding of faith and life with Jesus.

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In Matthew 11 Jesus invites His followers to take His easy yoke, and light burden. This means that though there is certainly work to be done, Jesus invites us to put our confidence in His wisdom, and His power to complete what needs to be accomplished. It means letting go of our ego and self-made yoke of obligation to earthly things, in exchange for the vision and direction that Jesus will regularly renew in us. It’s something we must to choose to do daily and even hourly. It means that rather than starting the day with “Okay Marky, here’s the list of all that you need to get done today,” we begin our day asking, “Okay Jesus, how do you want my soul to focus its attention today?”  We must position ourselves to listen and humble ourselves to respond appropriately. Sometimes response will require action. Sometimes it will require refocusing our thinking. Other times, He may ask us to simply “be still, and know that I am God.”

When God’s spirit stopped me in my tracks halfway through year 5 of campus ministry and encouraged me to leave all positions of ministry leadership I’d held, I was shocked. Why would God ever ask me to stop serving Him? What is faith without works to validate it? I couldn’t fathom a life with Jesus in which He would ask me to stop doing all that I could to “do His kingdom work.” But as I heard His call to step away from “work”, I knew I needed to respond in obedience regardless of how little it made sense to me.

Responding to Jesus may not always be the most productive way of life. It may not be the most efficient. But Jesus prioritizes people over productivity. Unlike the culture around us, He would rather cultivate healthy souls than produce a large volume of church-goers (though I’m sure if the church were consisted of mostly healthy souls, the volume of church-goers would also significantly increase).

In repositioning our purpose to simply being with and responding to God’s spirit, we can experience the rest that Jesus’ yoke is meant to bring. Our value and worth are no longer in what we do or create, but in who we are as the created. As our sense of value and worth shifts, our priorities shift. As our priorities shift, our soul aligns with Jesus and His vision for our lives. As we align more deeply with Jesus’s vision, we experience the integration of purposeful work in Jesus’ yoke and responsible rest for our souls.

In the months following the decision to leave my job, Jesus began doing an incredible work in me as He restored my sense of self-worth, and what it meant to cultivate a healthy spiritual life with Him. Though I wasn’t doing or creating anything that the world might deem as purposeful and productive, He began helping me see the value I had for simply existing as one created by Him. He equipped me with a stronger sense of inherent belovedness, and spiritual disciplines that will be necessary to remain focused and rested, even when life’s busyness inevitably kicks in. As I enter into a season of doing, creating, and producing again, I’m sure that I’ll continue to struggle with prioritizing Jesus’ restful yoke above my self-created one. However, I’m grateful to serve and know the gracious God that I do, and I’m humbled that He will forever value who I am more than what I think I can produce. I trust that despite my own tendency to attempt to “earn” His love through works, He will always bring me back to the easy yoke He has for me to carry.

Words by Mariko Sandico
Photos by Sarah Mohan

Hope in the Waiting

Written by Tara Sanders // Photos by Emily Howard

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On Sunday morning, July 8th, it felt like the whole world was holding its breath as 12 members of a Thai soccer team and their assistant coach were being rescued from a flooded cave after being trapped inside for several weeks.

I had heard murmurings about the situation during this time, but the severity of it didn’t hit me until I read about the details.

Twelve young boys, ages 11-16, and their 25-year-old coach became trapped while exploring the caves during rainy season. The caves quickly filled with water and the boys sought higher ground as the water levels began to rise. Stuck in there with nothing more than a bike ride’s worth of supplies, the boys went without food for days and drank water that was dripping off of the limestone rocks.

The threat of death was very real, and logistically it was possible that they may not all make it out alive.

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Thankfully, that deep breath taken around the world was released with a rush as news broke forth on July 10th that all of the boys and their coach made it out alive. Eight of the boys were rescued by a team of Thai and international divers on Sunday and Monday. On Tuesday, the last four boys and their coach were led out of the cave. I can imagine the joy and relief that came from groups of friends and family watching on TV and the warm welcome the boys received when they made it back up to the surface.

According to an article written by the Washington Post, journalists began to flood the area as news of the story brought intrigue and watchful eyes from all over the world. It seemed that for a few short weeks the world was united by the hope that these young men would make it out of the cave alive.

While writing this, I’m realizing that there have been so many times when I have felt exactly like those boys-totally stuck. Mind you, I have never been stuck in a cave (though I have been spelunking), but I have been stuck in life in some very difficult circumstances where the chances of coming out of it seemed slim and my hope was waning. It seemed like there was no way out, no way of escape, and nothing to do but pray, hope, and wait.

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There are times when we feel like the water is rising up all around us. We are closed in on every side and unable to make it on our own. Those moments become an opportunity for God to show us how faithful He truly is.

But how do we hold on to hope in the waiting?

One of my favorite scripture verses of all time is Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plan I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

It may seem a tad trite to quote that verse right now, but I have held onto these words so many times through so many trials because it’s not simply about God prospering you, it’s about God being aware of our situation and working in the midst of our waiting. Something that tends to get lost when this verse is shared is that this word from the Lord came to the Israelites when they were still in captivity. They hadn’t been freed yet and it wasn’t clear how they would get out. But the Lord said he had an idea, thoughts if you will, and that the plan was a good one.

As those boys sat in that dark cave, not even sure if anyone knew they were there, I’m sure many thoughts and fears arose from the possibility of never getting back out. All the while, there were teams of people on the outside working on their behalf and thousands of people who didn’t even know these boys pitching in to help.

Isn’t that how it is with God sometimes?

A friend once told me that “what we see isn’t really what’s going on.” What she meant was that we see the situation in front of us, but God sees the whole picture.

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This past Sunday, the 12 boys learned that one of the divers, a Navy Seal, Saman Gunan, didn’t make it out of the cave alive during the rescue efforts, when his oxygen supply ran out during his dive. In photos released by the Thai Public Health Ministry, the boys can be seen bowing their heads in prayer and some of them crying as they paid their respects to him.

He took a risk to save a group of boys he didn’t even know. Him, and so many others, selflessly gave of their time and resources to ensure the boys stayed alive, safe, and would eventually make it out of the cave.

Jesus laid down his life for us. He sacrificed it all so that we could have eternal hope. Not a hope that wains with life’s ups and downs, but a sturdy foundation that we can always lean and depend on no matter what our circumstances may be.

Isaiah 43:1-2 says:

But now thus says the Lord,

he who created you, O Jacob,

    he who formed you, O Israel:

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;

    I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;

    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;

when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,

    and the flame shall not consume you.”

We have no guarantee that we will not face high waters or even fire, and those things can come in many forms-sickness, grief, shame, worry, anxiety, and troubles of every kind. We are, however, assured that God is aware and cares deeply about our suffering and that He always walks with us.

It Is For Freedom. . .

Written by Amber Crafton // Photos by Ancy Samy

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Freedom. It is the heartbeat of our nation, a heartbeat that began centuries ago and has been maturing and weaving itself into the fabric of modern society ever since. On this day we celebrate the bold and historic declaration by a handful of audacious men and the colonies they represented, the declaration of the self-evident truths that God created all people to be equal and that God created all people to be free. They declared that day that no person or government had the right or authority to oppress equality or freedom, and we have spent the last 242 years fighting, at home and abroad, however imperfectly, to defend that declaration and prove that freedom really can work in this fallen and broken world.

IMG_0755Our founding fathers were not the first to proclaim that self-evident freedom, yet it was no less revolutionary for them than it was at Mount Sinai when God laid the framework for an Israel that was essentially self-governing, or in 1215 when the Magna Carta was signed, or even still today in warring and developing nations around the world, as well as here at home. But if we were created to be free, why is it so revolutionary to declare and defend our freedom? My guess is that it’s simply easier to choose the Lie—a counterfeit freedom—than to choose Truth. You see, the Lie offers us something in exchange for our fealty; it teases us with promises to satisfy that deep-down longing we sense but cannot identify, that longing that tears at our happiness and tells us we are incomplete and not enough. The Lie tells us we will be happy and, by extension, free when we are Number One and have it all. Becoming Number One, however, requires oppression because, by definition, Number One cannot be shared. So we must either trample on others in order to be and have it all or find ourselves trampled upon, damned to being and having nothing at all. According to the Lie, that is.

And it is a lie. Because being and having it all is nothing but a prison, a self-imposed slavery to dissatisfaction, insatiable striving, and isolation. Because there is no Number One, not among humankind, anyway.

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However, that is the Lie we believed all those eons ago, in a garden, by a tree, conversing for a moment with a Deceiver, and it is Truth who has come to us every moment since then and gently but boldly revealed the Lie to us, identifying our chains and naming our longing to be free, not just in body but in spirit. The Old Testament is full of promises from God to send a Messiah, a Liberator who would make His people free indeed, and in Luke 4:18–19 Jesus stood up in the synagogue and declared Himself to be that Liberator as He read from the prophetic text of Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is on Me,
because the Lord has anointed Me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me
to proclaim freedom to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

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Jesus announced that he was the Messiah, the One they had been waiting for who would come to free them. They expected that freedom would be physical and political, so when it didn’t take that obvious form, the Jewish leaders balked. What they didn’t understand, though, is that physical and political freedom find their roots in freedom of the heart. As Jesus teaches them in Matthew 12:33–35, the fruit we bear in this life is an overflow of what is in our hearts, so that “a good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil.” Jesus came to liberate our hearts first and foremost, freeing us to join Him in His ongoing liberating work on this earth. He knew that as hearts became free, they would eventually overflow with the fruit of freedom—minds, mouths, and bodies free to devise, proclaim, and build, little by little, until one day our own founding fathers would join that work, declaring that it should be the sole aim of Government to protect and defend the equality and freedom we were created for.

Jesus knew what those religious leaders refused to acknowledge: that over time, those who are called by His Name, who have been taught to obey all that He has commanded, would become a liberating people, who out of the overflow of the freedom in their hearts would be the vessels through which freedom could work its way out to physical incarnation in the world:

To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
. . . to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him.
(Isaiah 58:6-7)

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The work of Jesus—and the example He set for us—teaches us that freedom is not a monument. We cannot put it on our shelves like a trophy to remind us of how awesome and special we must be (the Lie). It is a reality we enjoy, certainly, but more than that, it is a movement to be cultivated (Truth). There are still people in this world who are not free; whether in spirit or in body or both, they are not free. And there is no justification in heaven or on earth for hoarding our freedom; we are created to spread freedom, and to be truly free, therefore, we must also be getting our hands dirty in the work of protecting, defending, and spreading freedom for others.

IMG_0774The Lie tells us that sharing our freedom will diminish it, that there is somehow not enough to go around. But Truth proves to us that the experience of freedom is multiplied as we exercise it on behalf of those still enslaved and imprisoned. Consider how much more freedom we enjoy now that slavery has been abolished, all men and women may freely exercise their right to vote, and civil rights continue to advance for those historically, systematically, and illegally oppressed. There is still much work to be done in this country, and around the world, but it is clear, historically and biblically, that we were created to be free together. It is the hoarding of freedom that diminishes it, keeping us enslaved to that insatiable striving and the dissatisfaction and isolation it breeds. The Lie of Number One is the wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing, and if we are not careful, it will destroy us, from the inside out, causing us to devour each other until none are left.

And herein lies the difficulty that comes with choosing Truth over the Lie: Truth requires something from us. The truth of freedom is that it exists in Christ alone. It is a reality He invites us into, to dwell in and enjoy safely and completely with Him, but He then calls us to partner with Him as He continues to cultivate it in the world. And God is clear that if we who have been set free indeed insist on hoarding our freedom, setting it on the shelf like a trophy to our greatness, then we are not actually free, but still enslaved to the Lie of Number One, and we should repent quickly and fervently and start getting our hands dirty in the fields.

Sara Groves sings in her arrangement of the folk song and Civil Rights anthem “Eyes on the Prize,”

IMG_0750The way is slow and we’ve so far to go
Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

When you see a man walk free,
It makes you think of Jubilee.

When you see a child walk free,
It makes you think of Jubilee.

When you see a family free,
It makes you think of Jubilee.

Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.

True freedom is a stunning and powerful prize to strive toward and behold, and our experience of it on this earth pales in comparison to what is promised us when Christ returns. Our freedom here is merely a foretaste of what is to come, and make no mistake: when that day comes we will celebrate an eternal Jubilee like nothing we could possibly imagine. But the work of freedom begins here and now, and it continues until that day comes. As the liberating people of a Liberating God, our hand is on the plow, whether we like it or not, and we must not turn back. For some this work will look like supporting or partnering with governments and organizations that go throughout the world to promote and defend justice, obliterate poverty, and end physical slavery and exploitation; for others it may mean using our own freedom to stand up for those in our own countries who are still being oppressed, whether systematically (policies that negatively affect entire groups of people) or individually (in stores, on the streets, in social groups, etc.).

We must keep our eyes on the prize. We must not grow tired and weary.

As we celebrate our freedom today, let us not take it for granted. The blood of Christ was shed to win us our spiritual Freedom, and the blood of our brothers and sisters past and present has been shed to defend and protect our physical and political freedom on this earth. Let us, then, renew our commitment to the gospel work of cultivating freedom—heart, mind, and body—among those still oppressed and enslaved, both at home and abroad, providing a foretaste of the world to come until Freedom’s work is finally finished and we are living in Jubilee forevermore.