12 March 2005

"He's just institutionalized..."

I’m home alone this week. My wife and kids are visiting family and I am reliving a very short period in my life called bachelorhood. This will happen once or twice a year. I usually have big plans for these times - plans to read or “get a lot of work done.” Typically the week goes by and what remains are only good intentions and the realization that, left to myself, I am hopeless.
This week is a tremendous opportunity for intimacy with God and yet I find it so difficult to be still; vacant before God. In the heights of addiction, I couldn’t make it a day before filling the void with my “drug of choice” (my idols). Today, though I am still at risk of returning to the addiction, God has touched my heart with the profound truth that all things are just a bowl of porridge compared to the satisfying Glory of Jesus Christ (see “One Year's Road”). By His grace this passage has gotten through the well guarded citadel of my hard heart.

Hebrew 12:15 “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly* of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

But I am not fixed. My struggle lies now in navigating the silence. So this week I will typically “waste” a couple of evenings watching some of my favorite films – searching for the transcendent moment that God did use in my life and that caused me to run out and “own it.”

God has much to say to me, more than my heart has room – but something in me is afraid of it. Instead of a balanced meal of pursuing God, studying the Scriptures, wrestling in prayer or reading a great book, I settle for the fast food. Call it “vegging” if you like, it is more like “Big Mac’ing.”

So tonight I sat down to re-visit “The Shawshank Redemption.” Which was the second film to touch my soul and stir something “beyond” me – something called hope. But I sat down with a burden and the embarrassing question that most pastors wrestle with at some time in their life; “What do you do when the Gospel doesn’t work?”

A close friend of mine was struggling with some pretty profound sin (as if one sin was more profound than another). A sin that was moving beyond the walls of her own life and beginning to deeply hurt those she loved. What became very difficult for me as a friend and as a pastor, was that there was little left for her to learn about her sin, her need for grace and story of the Gospel. Intellectually, she had all the answers. But that didn’t change anything.

Let’s be honest. It is at this point that serious questions arise about the efficacy of the Gospel message. Actually, I don’t need to look beyond my own office door to be confronted with that reality. I mean here I am tonight, time on hand, an infinitely satisfying God dwelling in my heart and an ocean of great truth in the bible quietly packed away in my bag and I am silent and passive with a remote in my hand. Do I really believe the promise of the Gospel?

2 Corinthians 3:17-18 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

And then Red speaks a word about what it means to be human.

“He [Brooks his friend who has just been paroled] is just institutionalized…

These walls are funny
first you hate em’
then you get used to them
enough time passes, you get so you depend on them
that’s institutionalized
they send you here for life, that is exactly what they take, the part that counts anyway.”

The walls of our sin that limit our life have become comfortable to us. We are institutionalized, every one of us – it is what it means to be human. Our institutions are all different. Yours could be drugs, someone else’s pornography and someone else’s could be self-righteous effort. But we are getting used to them more and more everyday.

Maybe my old addiction has lost its power (and if you are in Christ it has), maybe the door to freedom and life is open, but first I must admit I am afraid of the freedom, afraid of the openness that lies outside. I am free but part of me is institutionalized.

So there I sit inside the walls of Shawshank prison the front gate is wide open and I feel an awful lot like Brooks. Simply stated I am afraid of the Christian life. Christ ends our sentence, frees us from our penalty and opens the front gate to a life vast with hope and meaning and His glory. But it is one thing to be freed and a totally another to leave the prison.

Each of us needs to be honest with God and with ourselves about this. We are more comfortable with the walls, more satisfied with a bowl of porridge. This is repentance for the Christian and a baby step out the door.

1John 1:3-10 “…indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 4 And we are writing these things so that [your] joy may be complete.
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

The “one that Jesus loved” is telling us how to walk out the door and complete our joy. Repent. Confess the obvious. Remove the righteous mask. Be naked before God and let His righteousness be your clothing. You are afraid of the Christian life, o.k. let’s deal with it. Our life is filled with fears that, unless overcome, block real joy. The top of the roller coaster is always a little terrifying and the ride is nearly always worth it. I often find myself afraid to communicate my faith with “convinced atheists” and totally exhilarated when I do. Couples often struggle with the vulnerability of sexual intimacy and yet only experience sex as it was intended when they become completely vulnerable.
We need to stop posing and acting as if this new life was easy – it is not. It is a walk across a stormy sea and we need Christ’s hand.

And, in so doing, we bring a mustard seed of faith to the table. A mustard seed that says “I believe, however tentatively, I believe that the outside is better than the institution. I believe but I am afraid. Jesus help me.”

Mark 9:17-29 And someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. 18 And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.” 19 And he answered them, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.” 20 And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. 21 And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out* and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 25 And when Jesus saw that a crowd came running together, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 And after crying out and convulsing him terribly, it came out, and the boy was like a corpse, so that most of them said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose. 28 And when he had entered the house, his disciples asked him privately, “Why could we not cast it out?” 29 And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”*

Matt. 17:14-20 And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and, kneeling before him, 15 said,“Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly. For often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. 16 And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” 17 And Jesus answered, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to me.” 18 And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was healed instantly.* 19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

So what do we do when the Gospel doesn’t seem to work? Here is a hint: don’t start with imputing the glorious Gospel that opens the walls of your institution. Repent. Repent and bring your mustard seed. You are afraid of the freedom. The city of the living God is intimidating and unfamiliar. O.K. Ask for Christ’s hand and walk out the door into the life you were meant to have.

John 10:10 “…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

“Get busy living or get busy dying.” The choice is ours. The gospel does work – to Christ’s glory. But it begins everyday with repentance and a choice to hope outside the walls. “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing never dies.”

Head to Zihuatanejo – it is your birthright.

1 comment:

  1. Ooooo...that was tasty post...I'm going to think and live on that one all day. I understand everyone of your reflections from the deepest part of my soul. Thanks for being vulnerable with your journey!