“Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name.” – Psalm 142:7a
You know what “institutionalized” means, right? It has different applications, but it’s nearly always heard in the context of prisoners, people serving time who, ironically, end up feeling more comfortable in the confines of a cell then out in the real world. Here’s an overview of the condition from a paper by Craig Haney of University of California, Santa Cruz:
“The adaptation to imprisonment is almost always difficult and, at times, creates habits of thinking and acting that can be dysfunctional in periods of post-prison adjustment.
…few people are completely unchanged or unscathed by the experience.
…in extreme cases, profoundly institutionalized persons may become extremely uncomfortable when and if their previous freedom and autonomy is returned.”
You may have seen this phenomenon dramatized in movies like Shawshank Redemption, where prisoners become fearful of their impending return to the real world.
It seems crazy, right? But at times, aren’t we institutionalized by sin? Yes, sin makes our world tiny, dark, scary, and yes, dangerous. But it’s familiar and, therefore, comfortable. Sometimes we have known a sin so long, we can’t even imagine our lives without it, much less actually live out that reality:
“21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” – Romans 7:21-24
Then there’s the other half of the equation: the freedom Jesus offers (Romans 14). Freedom from sin. Freedom to be the person you were made to be, not someone homogenized by your slavery to disobedience. But freedom is scary. It’s the open ocean. It’s the blank page. On good days it’s exhilarating, but on all days it’s overwhelming (if we’re being honest) because to embrace freedom is to declare, “I am accountable for my choices.”
But here’s the good news: we’re not alone out there on the ocean. We have a Captain. We have a Compass. We’re not alone holding a pen over the blank sheet of paper. We have an Artist guiding and inspiring us:
“24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” – Romans 7:24-25
In short, after you choose to walk through the prison door – you know, the one with the busted lock, the one that’s swinging wide open – you won’t be alone. You will have an invitation to a real, original, non-metaphorical adventure. The alternative is to remain institutionalized, to eke out a flavorless, colorless existence on the meager margin of all that is possible. Because make no mistake, if you live in a prison, you’ll eventually die there, too.
Update From The Mission Field
As you all may know, Intervarsity at Rollins was derecognized in the fall after asking a student in a same-sex relationship to step down as an apprentice small group leader. Our national policy (which IV at Rollins endorses) is one of welcome but not affirmation. We are glad to have anyone from any background participate as members of the fellowship but believe the Bible outlines specific requirements for leadership.
After this derecognition there was a lot of name-calling, confusion, outrage, and bitterness. Some of our students were invited to participate in a “Diversity Dialogue” under the auspices of clearing the air and telling our side of the story. We were afforded some chance to do the latter but the environment was overwhelmingly hostile. After this event, a junior named Ari approached our chapter president Zach and said she really appreciated the way he explained our position, and Zach asked if she would like to continue to dialogue. She agreed and they began meeting and occasionally reading scripture together.
At the end of each school year Intervarsity gathers students for a week of training, spiritual retreat, and relaxation. Some students aren’t able to pay the registration fee and we often seek ministry partners to provide scholarships, and Numinous has always been there in that regard (in addition to supporting my personal budget!). Ari expressed an interest in attending Focus Week – as we call it – but told Zach she didn’t have the money. I put out an all call and one of the first responses I got was from Chris Kutcher. Numinous gave us a full scholarship and Ari was able to attend.
During the week she was inquisitive and engaged, even skipping out on volleyball or the pool during free time to go reflect on the material she was learning during her track times. At worship one evening I looked over and saw Ari’s hands raised above her head in surrender as she sung the words. I looked at Zach expectantly, but he just shrugged. (He later explained that she was “close” but hadn’t made any decisions yet). On the last night students were gathered for a party of sorts with music and a bonfire, and I saw Zach in the crowd. He ran over to me and exclaimed that Ari had decided to follow Jesus! We laughed at the irony: our best outreach event of the year was a 90 minute meeting where we were called a hate-group and people applauded our expulsion from campus! God showed up in a major way, and now Ari is following Jesus. Thank you, Numinous for your generous support both now and for the past several years.
What are you most passionate about? What do you put first in your life
before anything else? What do you always make time for? What do you
desire to do when you’re not doing it? What is most important to you?
What is your passion in life?
Jesus wants our answer to all of those questions to be Him.
So, what if it isn’t our answer? What if we have sports teams we’re
more fanatic about, or hobbies, or TV shows, or work, or family, or
insert anything else that we put ahead of Jesus.
Ask God for more passion for Him and He will give it to you. Make that
your prayer…ask God for more of the Holy Spirit into your life and
be confident that He will answer that prayer.
1 John 5:14 And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for
anything that pleases him. 15 And since we know he hears us when we
make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for.
Matthew 7:7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks
receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door
will be opened.
Matthew 22:22 “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”
James 4:3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives
are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
Luke 11:13 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit
to those who ask him.”
Hey Numinous, greetings from your English friend.
Some of you may know that I have been working as an Abolitionist with Love146 for some time now. You meet all kinds of people in this work, much like you do in church world, some who are great, some who’s personalities are larger than life, some who are 100% committed to what they are seeing an doing and this is very noble.
A few weeks back a friend of mine who could be best described as a feminist got quite up my nose. Usually I value people who stick their neck out for what they believe and say it like they mean it, but I think there had been a culmination of meetings with feminists where I felt I was walking on egg shells. On this occasion they were more than a little snappy and ‘bitey’. It wasn’t that I disagreed with what was being said, its that the wrapper was so angry and over assertive.
Sadly some people coming from a place of brokenness tend to confuse angry over assertion with confidence and empowerment, but just speak to any kids who’s parents thought that was a good way to communicate.
It’s the worrying thing about people who have ‘ist’ at the end of the banner they are living under, whether it is feminist, abolitionist, evangelist or just plain old activist. My concern is that in their desire to be an ‘ist’ they simply become an
‘itis’ and ive had a few of those, they are really unpleasant, like gastro enterITIS, where something has become inflamed and angry, isn’t functioning as it should and you can really really feel it.
I remembered reading that an interviewer once asked Gandhi if anyone had ever tried to evangelize him. He replied ‘Yes, once, a gentleman told me about this person called Jesus and the things that he did’ and what did you think? – Gandhi replied ‘ I thought it was really interesting, but I could not really hear about this person of Jesus, because of the person he was, the person in front of me, the bearer of the message and the unpleasant way the message was carried’.
Its important that what we carry, what we are giving ourselves to does not become disconnected from our humanity, otherwise we are simply a resounding gong, our life, our passion, and for me working to end child slavery and exploitation, we cant afford to mess it up – period! People are counting on us the carry our passion and conviction in ways that can be heard and responded to.
A wise person once told me that if the message is that important, then so is the What the How and the When of the message.
What is it that you are carrying that needs to be said and How are you going to convey this message? Believe me you can say all of the right things and do so in a totally inappropriate way, and the message is lost. Get those two right, and charge in at a Time that someone is not best able to hear the message, and yet another epic fail. Steer clear of people who say things because they feel the message is right, but have a total disregard for how it is said and when is it is most likely to be heard, also – don’t be that person.
I think this is the difference between an ‘ist’ and an ‘itis’. The ‘ists’ usually have something incredibly important to say which is frequently born out in their actions, it stacks up, it has credibility. The ‘itis’ feel that is it so important that their message or statement is made, that it frequently disregards the how.
If we want to be heard…. Especially if your message is meant to produce change, don’t be an ‘itis’, confusing aggression, your over confidence that you are in the right and that the primary issue is just to say it, Why, because youll miss it, and importantly, so will they.
Peace Kindness, Truth In Love and Abolition
Rider or Owner?
True story: guy takes his motorcycle to a shop for an oil change. After chatting with the man, the mechanic looks at the bike, its pristine condition, and its low mileage and says to the man, “Oh, you’re not a motorcycle rider, you’re a motorcycle owner.”
Now, when it comes to takeaways from this un-fable, I think you can roll your own, but this is what I get…
Our time— our life — is like money: no value in and of itself, only in what we exchange it for. But many folks (me included) too often slide their cash across the counter for the bubblewrapped package labeled “Safety.” And this has got to be one of the worst fake bargains ever, much like the department store item with a grossly inflated MSRP so that it can then be marked “80% OFF!”. On this topic, but I subscribe to the Helen Keller school of thought:
“Security is mostly a superstition… It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.”
As such, your ‘money’ is best spent on something else. Something like experience. But experience is a tricky thing, yes? Some is good, some bad. Some experiences are fun while others are horrific. And some experiences, often a cocktail of several of the adjectives above, alter the very shape of your life. This idea is wonderfully expressed in Fight Club (the very non-linear novel, not the feature film):
“I just don’t want to die without a few scars, I say. It’s nothing anymore to have a beautiful stock body. You see those cars that are completely stock cherry, right out of a dealer’s showroom in 1955, I always think, what a waste.”
“What a waste.” This reminds me of a gift I received when I was but a wee lad, let’s say late elementary school age — an electric rock tumbler. Oh, the possibilities! Load in the rough stones, add in some water and silicon carbide, and some time later, BOOM, smooth, beautiful marvels of modern lapidary technology. In the time I had that rock tumbler, I must have made, oh, about zero polished stones. Zero. None. Because I didn’t like the gift? No, just the opposite. I liked it too much, was too careful with it. Because what happened when I ran out of rocks? What then? What if I did it wrong and messed them up? Looking back, it’s easy to say this was absolutely ridiculous because, frankly, it was. But are there elements of your life that you’re currently keeping in a similarly perfect (and perfectly useless) mint condition? Do you have any talents or goals that are rotting away, just as that rock tumbler is in my parents’ dusty attic?
I challenge you with these questions because these questions challenge me. Always have – likely always will. Let me leave you with one more thought, a benediction if you like, a quote attributed to Mr. Jack London as his “Credo”:
I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out
in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom
of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.
Rider or owner?
Ashes or dust?
What’s it going to be?
Matthew 22:36-40 NLT
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
Jesus replied, “‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart,
all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest
commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as
yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are
based on these two commandments.”
Everything comes down to love. It seems so simple! There are over
1,000 “commands” in the New Testament of “do this” and “do that” and
“don’t do this or that”…but it all comes down to love.
The closer I’ve grown to Jesus, the more I understand why there are
over 1,000 commands in the NT. We aren’t supposed to follow the
commands because it will save us, for we know that only faith in
Christ can save us. And we aren’t supposed to follow those commands as
a means to check off a list so that we can show how good we are, as
the Pharisees did.
The closer my relationship to Jesus, the more I understand that those
commands all boil down to love. They are there because God loves us.
They are there for guidelines on how we are to love others. They are
there for our benefit. We don’t follow them because it’s something we
have to do, but we know that those commands bring us closer to God and
closer to realizing His love for us.
We won’t be perfect at it and we’ll fail often, but God loves us so
much and forgives us through Christ. Following Jesus is all about
love; it’s about God’s love for us and it’s about our love for others.
So, what does it mean to “come away” from a place where you physically are going to stay in?
I don’t have it all, but as I read Rev 18 this morning, one thing that jumped out at me was actually in v. 14:
“The fancy things you loved so much are gone,” they cry. “All your luxuries and splendor are gone forever, never to be yours again.”
Now, if I think that such is described as something bad, something that those in the city ultimately mourn….and I know God has called us to a life of simplicity….then at least part of the answer to my question is that I should begin NOW to separate myself from any “love” of “the fancy things” or “luxuries and splendor.”
As we have said previously, throughout the years, that does not mean (I believe) we can’t have ANY thing that might be considered a luxury, say a smart phone or even a newer car. We can. And at times, God gives us those things (Ex 12:35-36, for instance). We can rejoice for that and be happy.
HOWEVER, being happy about it, even purposefully saving to have something that could be considered a luxury (say, a vacation or a new item for your home), is NOT the same as loving “the fancy things.”
So, it gets back to Matthew 6:19-24….where is your heart, where is my heart? “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will be also.” And as Mark reminds us, (8:34-38), “If you try to hang onto your life, you will lose it….what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?”
So, “come away,” be “in the world but NOT of it,” break the bonds of heart so that your treasure is ONLY focused on God. Thus, you have no ties to luxuries or splendor of this current Babylon….and when it falls (it if falls in our lifetimes), you will already have obeyed.
Come away from her my people. Do not partake in her sins or you will be punished.