Thursday, March 11, 2010

Never Again

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5.1)

Captivated by Captivity

Giving due respect to other ministers in my past, present, and future, the one who nurtured my faith for 10 years in L.A. will always be my pastor. Beyond his erudite mastery of the Word, Bishop Charles Blake has a rare genius for distilling Biblical principles into concise phrases that remain with you forever. For example, his sermon on the Annunciation is as fresh and vivid today as when I heard it nearly 30 years ago. His text came after the fact, when Elizabeth hails Mary: “Blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.” (Luke 1.45) After leading us through a detailed recap of Mary’s story and drawing parallels to our own lives, he anchored our confidence in God’s faithfulness with one unimpeachable sentence: We serve a God Who performs. I’ve never forgot—or doubted—it since.

A new nugget surfaced during the webcast of last Sunday’s service. Preaching from Psalm 25.15 (“Mine eyes are ever toward the LORD; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.”), Bishop Blake noted it’s easy to become captivated by captivity. We allow dilemmas that ensnare us to define us, making them our life’s work. “We fix our eyes on the net, when they should be turned toward God,” he said. When I heard “captivated by captivity,” I knew exactly what it meant. Too frequently I’ve fought with nets I could have escaped much sooner had I stopped looking at everyone and everything else (including me) and set my sights exclusively on God. Then my thoughts turned to countless people I know who are desperate to break free of homophobic and sexist religiosity, childhood trauma, damaged relationships, addictions, and numerous other nets. Bishop Blake’s message reminded me how hard it can be to let go of issues that won’t let go of us. At the same time, though, when we become captivated by captivity, we're voluntary prisoners of our problems.


I'm convinced the severity of our problems is directly linked to our propensity to turn them into unfriendly fascinations. We can’t resist thinking about them, why they were sent our way, and how we could have avoided them. We seek out friends, literature, and groups that might possibly explain our problems. Now we’re caught in a web of opinions and advice that pull our attention further from God’s power to save. While it all makes sense, nothing provides a definitive solution to our dilemma. We become slaves to the questions. They own us and define us, and our reliance on them steadily seduces us into believing there is no real answer. Our lives become endless choruses of “If Only”. I could be at peace if only… I would be healthier if only… I would be a better [fill in the blank] if only… By this point, we’re not merely captives of our woes, we’re captivated by them. We’ve embraced them as our raison d’être. Every thought and action, longing and limitation is colored by the problem that enthralls us. It’s all in the net.

Some of us find net-life pleasing. But it doesn’t please our Maker. Nor does it fulfill Christ’s purpose. In John 10.9-10, He says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture… I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Come in and go out. Find pasture. Have life to the full. These are not qualities found in net-life. But they’re why Christ came. Our freedom from fear, guilt, doubt, pain, and every other unfriendly fascination is inextricably wound into His life, teaching, sacrifice, and resurrection. In Luke 4.18, Jesus emphatically announces He was sent “to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.” Isn’t it interesting how He wedges “recovery of sight” between “freedom” and “release”? Escaping net-life to enjoy new life occurs when we stop focusing on the net and start looking to God.

Staying Free

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” Jesus says in John 8.36. After we fix our eyes on Him and He releases us from our nets, staying free is up to us. That’s what Paul means in Galatians 5.1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” We claim our liberty from net-life by declaring, “Never again!” We need to brace ourselves, however, because our pledge will be constantly tested. Living net-free doesn’t remove the net—it defies our fascination with it. And any time newness of free life presents uncertainties—which are inevitable—we’ll grope for the net. It’s what we know best. We’ve invented all sorts of labels for this weakness: codependency, battered wife syndrome, victim mentality, low self-esteem, etc. (Bishop Blake describes it as "going back to Egypt.") Call it what you will, it’s relapsed captivation with captivity.

Christ gave His life to set us free. We commit ours to staying free. Never again means never again. We may have been tangled in hurts and resentments due to hatred and rejection. Never again. We may have been hopelessly bound by extreme cruelty and abuse. Never again. We may have been trapped by self-doubt and impossible questions. Never again. We stand firm, resisting every urge to relapse. Because Christ set us free, freedom is now our reason to live. There's nothing in the nets we want or need. There’s not one good reason to glance their way. Our eyes are ever toward the Lord.

Unless we stand firm, we'll relapse into fascination with net-life and forget freedom in Christ is why we live.

Postscript: Amazing Grace/My Chains Are Gone

Turning our eyes to God overwhelms us with grace. Captivity loses all fascination and power to capture our minds. A medley of “Amazing Grace” and “My Chains Are Gone” by Chris Tomlin.


Anonymous said...

I am "captivated by captivity" I still struggle everyday in trying to live with my partner; make a life with her and still have happiness and peace. Yet be a 'Christian' Serve God, be in fellowship with other believers, attend church. I have not come to the point of just letting go and saying "to heck with it'" and 'just be' .. How I long to be able to do that.

claire said...

A fabulous post on Captivated by Captivity, Tim...
A woman named Carolyn Myss wrote some years back something about 'woundology,' how some of us define ourselves by our wounds, and thus, your words, are captivated by captivity.
What a great concept and a great post to set us free :-)
Thank you.

Tim said...

Anon, welcome to Straight-Friendly! The dilemma you describe is very common, trying to balance our most valued relationships with our relationship to God. It's particularly difficult if our partners are not as faith-centered as we, which may be your case.

Exercising our freedom in Christ requires faith--not only in God, but in ourselves and those around us. That's were the courage factor comes into play. But we should remember that stepping into that freedom can be a gradual process.

My partner was reared in a faith that treated him terribly. When we met and fell in love, returning to God was nowhere on his radar. And for years, I allowed his captivity to captivate me, until my longing to reactivate my faith life became impossible to ignore. I realized I was becoming less and less of who am I. And he realized it too.

One day, I took the first step and without any fanfare or discussion, went to church on my own. He wasn't delighted, but seeing how quickly my joy of living resurged made him happy. For quite some time, it was "my thing." Then, as my renewed fervor began to change me in indubitably positive ways, he became interested in my freedom. He also became curious about what was happening while I was at church, who was there, etc. He had never experienced a healthy faith life and this was the first time he'd seen its benefits.

One Saturday he asked, "Would it be OK if I went with you tomorrow? Would you mind?" I wanted to jump for joy, but I downplayed it. "Sure," is all I said. There's a lot about it he still doesn't "get"--and he still thinks people like me are a little crazy. But he's coming along...

A key part of this is because of a decision I made up front, though. I wasn't interested in returning to the faith community I was raised in, knowing it wouldn't accept me or him. I found a new home in an accepting congregation. This was extremely crucial, as it allowed me to grow without dodging bullets and hiding my true identity. But more than that, it allowed him to walk into a holy place that respected his dignity as a gay man.

You are in my prayers, Anon. I understand your conflicts and I pray God grants you the strength to move away from your nets and walk in His freedom. It is a step-by-step process, not always easy, but it grows more rewarding with each one.

Thank you so much for your comment. It spoke to me in a very real way, and I believe others will find themselves in it. I invite you to comment any time you feel impressed to do so. We're all here to help one another in our faith.

Blessings always,

Tim said...

Claire, I like "woundology" very much. It gets to the nub of the issue. Nursing our wounds is a major component of captivation with captivity. We become addicted to being hurt and rely on our pain to make us feel "alive." (And many of us also exploit it to gain the empathy and attention of others.) But it is bondage--not the life we were created to live.

Your comment reminds me of a friend who has his own spin on "never again." When anyone or thing attempts to snare him, he tells himself, "I wasn't made for this," and walks away. We're not made for nets, and when we allow them to cling to us we're doing what Bishop Blake calls "living beneath our inheritance."

Nothing is worth sacrificing our freedom.

Remain free and joyful, my dear sister,

kkryno said...

So wonderfully said, Tim. I love coming here because you always have a way of clearing up some things on my mind. Amazing, indeed!

So true that we ALL have the power to be free. All that needs to happen is to just reach for it, and He will pass it along.

Happy Spring to you, also. :)

Tim said...

And I say "back atcha, Vikki"--"Just reach for it, and He will pass it along." Beautifully said. The first thing we forget when we submit to the net is freedom is all around us. We only need to reach for it and stand in it. When we do that, our perspective radically shifts. We see the net for what it really is.

I'm always grateful to hear something that's said or done here is useful to others. Your kind words give me great joy and encouragement. Thank you!

Blessings always,

genevieve said...

I love brother Blake's analogies. When I came out, I was completed.
I was also liberated from what society and others think about me. It's the same way with salvation.

I encourage and share with the struggling that God loves them as they are.

Tim said...

Genevieve, you touch on a great point--"coming out" is an act of faith on every level and the rewards are very similar. Indeed, I think we're forever coming out--leaving closets of shame and nets of defeat, always looking to God to raise us to higher places in Him.

Thanks for this; I'd never really put the parallels together.

Peace and joy,