Tuesday, September 17, 2019

City Notes '19 | The Ultimate Exodus: Confrontation (Freedom & Worship) + Don't Be Afraid

Any counselor will tell you that you will never be free in any area of your life that you aren't willing to confront. ... Bring the darkness into the light. + Danielle Strickland

I love The Ultimate Exodus: Finding Freedom From What Enslaves You by Danielle Strickland. I read Strickland's brief and bold work in two sittings, and I'm excited to see its potential accessibility and application for a broad variety of people unleashed, including myself. Plus, the stories are amazing. Here is a link to a previous post featuring excerpts from Strickland's book and three fantastic stories:

The Ultimate Exodus: Picking Blackberries and Bushes on Fire + What's in Your Hand?

Below is the next excerpt from this work, followed by 10 "Finding Freedom" questions.

Chapter 12 | Confrontation (Freedom & Worship)

God said to Moses, "Go to Pharaoh and tell him, 'GOD's Message: Release my people so they can worship me.'"
+ Exodus 8:1

Confrontation is hard for a lot of people. And yet confrontation is key to freedom. Without a confrontation of oppression, there is no freedom. That's why Martin Luther King Jr. used to go to prison instead of paying a fine. He did not like prison food, and he really didn't have time to be locked up. He also had plenty of nice benefactors willing to pay his fines and bail him out. He refused it. Why? Because he wanted the confrontation to be clear. He wanted to expose the injustice, to call out the oppressor. He needed a confrontation in order to make freedom possible for his people. As he wrote from Birmingham Jail, "Injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured."

Now, imagine Moses marching up to the gates of Pharaoh's palace and commanding Pharaoh to let his people go. It was an exercise in insanity. Nowhere in Scripture does it suggest Moses even made an appointment. This was a staged confrontation with the dominant oppressive power. He was creating a confrontation that would lead to an exposure of the oppression that was keeping his people enslaved. He confronts Pharaoh believing that God intends freedom for people. The confrontation leads to light, and light leads to revelation, and revelation leads to freedom.

Without confrontation, there is no freedom.

There are other oppressions that need confronting. Anxiety, for instance, doesn't have to rule your life. I'm not making the case for some kind of name-it-and-claim-it-faith-healing ... I'm saying that you need to put anxiety in its proper place: under the sovereignty of God.

I have a wonderful friend, an incredibly faith-filled and Spirit-infused leader, who suffers from anxiety. These are things that can go together. She has figured out how to manage her symptoms and her life in such a way that anxiety is no longer the boss of her. To get there she had to confront her anxiety – to expose it for the oppression that it was and then ask God to dethrone it. She had to stop being afraid of being "the person with anxiety." She dragged that monster out into the light. She came out of agreement with it. And she asked God to replace the fear with his kindness, direction, and leadership. She now uses prayer, sacred spaces, personal reflection, and well-scheduled time to help her manage anxiety. But she no longer lives under the fearful oppression that she will never be able to live a full life. She no longer lives with the fear that people might find out she's human and not superhuman. She made a long walk to freedom and it all began when she decided to stop letting anxiety rule her life.

Worship is a way of putting God at the center of our space and time.

There is a perfectly wonderful explanation for what starts and ends the freedom of the Israelites. It's worship. Worship is about recognizing God's authority over all others. You always serve what you worship.

The conversations God has with Moses, Moses has with Pharaoh, and then all the people have with God are all about worship. Moses' journey begins with worship, as he removes his shoes and kneels at the burning bush before the presence of Almighty God. Worship is what Moses confronts Pharaoh with as he conveys God's message: "Let my people go, so that they may worship me" (Exodus 8:1, NIV, emphasis added). Worship happens at the end of the journey out of Egypt, with the shake of tambourine and the bursting out in celebratory song, as Miriam leads the people in dancing and rejoicing because God is who he says he is (Exodus 15:20-21).

I remember someone once saying, during a time of sung worship, that sometimes you sing because you believe and sometimes you sing until you believe – and both are good. That's because worship shifts things. Worship helps us imagine a better world. It allows us to lift our gaze upward and imagine a world from the cosmic view of God, on a throne, filled with kindness, forgiveness, and grace. It enables us to see him ready to bring justice and freedom and hope and release to captives. It instructs us to proclaim good news to the excluded. The longer we worship God, the more we can imagine a better world.

As we imaging a better world, a world where everyone was created to be free, we will really begin to understand oppression.

Years ago I talked to a woman who changed an entire nation's mind about the oppression of sexual exploitation. I've heard people talk about prostitution as the "oldest profession," but she calls it the oldest oppression. And she's right. When she commissioned a study on the realities of prostitution, it became very clear the kind of oppression it was. It was a slave master that kept women – mostly poor, uneducated ethnic minorities – in absolute hell. So she set about changing the nation's mind, educating the nation's children and leaders, and confronting the power of sexual exploitation. She made some amazing progress. Last I checked, her nation had decreased street prostitution by over 60 percent in only ten years. When I asked her how she did it, she gave me two keys:

1) First, she told me, you've got to imagine a better world. 
2) Second, you've got to truly understand the oppression.

Finding Freedom Question

Are you willing to confront the enemy of your freedom? It's time to believe that freedom is truly possible in your life.

Chapter 13 | Don't Be Afraid

Moses spoke to the people: "Don't be afraid. Stand firm and watch God do his work of salvation for you today."
+ Exodus 14:13 
Story 1 | Testimony Time

I remember the day it happened. I had been clean and sober and out of jail for a while, but I was bored. I felt like nothing mattered. I was so tired and weary, and I felt isolated and alone. I walked the familiar streets of a Toronto neighborhood, in the general direction of where I could score. I really just wanted the feeling of uselessness to leave. On my way I noticed the open door of a little Salvation Army church on the corner. There were people inside. It was a Sunday night in the middle of service. I slipped into the back row thinking I'd delay the inevitable.

What happened next was stunning. I had walked into the middle of a "testimony time," the time in a service where anyone can just stand up and tell of something God had done that week. As soon as I sat down, an old blind lady stood up to testify. She shared that a young girl for whom she had been praying for many years had recently come into relationship with God. She asked everyone in that meeting place that night to continue to pray for her as she tried to turn her life around. And then she said, "Her name is Danielle. Will you join me?"

I was amazed. I was awed. I was filled with a holy kind of fear – the kind of respect that makes you remember just how big God is, how much bigger his plans ... I realized on the spot that I wasn't alone. I would never be alone. God was with me. And he had people everywhere.

Is it any wonder that whenever God encounters his people, he leads with, "Don't be afraid"? He says this 365 times in the Bible – like we need to be reminded every day.

Our world is saturated with fear. We are told to fear people we don't know. We look suspiciously at anyone who doesn't belong. We are so afraid. And our fear leads to oppression. So what do we do? This is where God's remedy is so beautiful.

Story 2 | Jesus Is Bigger Than Your Pimp

Years ago I was journeying with a friend of mine. She was getting untangled from a life of oppression. She had been exploited by a terrible bully, a pimp who had done horrible things to her, oppressing her in almost every way a person can be oppressed. She was still terrified when she thought of him. Even though she was now in a safe place, she still had nightmares and times when he would come into her mind and bully her still. One time we were praying together, and the bully showed up in her prayers. She shut down; she said she didn't want to keep praying. The bully was tormenting her, reminding her of all that he would do to her when she returned. We stopped for a bit to take a break. And then I got mad. I got mad at the bully. I got mad at the injustice of it all. This tyrant had already taken too much of my friend's life. So I proposed to my friend that we go back to that moment in prayer where he showed up. We weren't going to ignore it or evade it or pretend it didn't happen. We certainly were not going to agree with him, and we weren't going to give him our prayer time. We would confront the bully. But not by ourselves. Oppressors are too big for us. I suggested that we invite Jesus to come right into the place where the bully was. 

Rather than us confront the bully in our weakness and fear, we invited Jesus to reveal where he was in the midst of the confrontation.

My friend agreed to do it because she is strong and was choosing not to let fear dominate her life. So we prayed again, and we invited Jesus to show his presence. She began to laugh. I remember being confused. "What's going on?" I asked. She looked up at me with this big goofy grin and said, "Well, he showed up!" I sighed a breath of relief. 

Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that Jesus is real. 

I asked her where he was, and that's when she explained what was so funny. Jesus had shown up right where I had hoped he would – between her and the bully. But that wasn't what was so funny. Jesus, she said, had shown up so huge that she had to hug his left calf to withstand his presence. "He was bigger than I expected," she said with a huge grin. "Way bigger than he expected as well!" She described with joy and freedom what it felt like to watch this bully, this oppressor, literally run away from Jesus in her prayer.

The key to fighting fear is not avoiding it or stopping the confrontation. It is not to pretend you are stronger than you are. It's not thinking your way or shaming your way out of fear. I meet so many people who think that if they pretend they aren't afraid, they won't be. Or they are so ashamed to admit they are afraid that they cover it up with false bravery. That will never work. The only thing that can drive out fear, the Bible tells us, is perfect love (1 John 4:18). In the Exodus story, that perfect love comes with the presence of God. It is God who drives out fear.   

When Moses asks God how he's going to lead the people of God to freedom, God responds, "I'll be with you" (Exodus 3:12). And he means it. God's presence starts to erode fear. As Moses rediscovers the character and presence of God, fear begins to loosen its grip, and faith begins to grow.

Finding Freedom Questions

What are you afraid of? (Example: What other people think? Insignificance? Failure? Weakness? Risk?) Why don't you try going to those places, in your prayers or your thoughts or in real life, and inviting God's presence into those spaces? Let Him show up right where your fear is. Let perfect love drive fear out. You will encounter the sign of God's presence and power as you invite Him in. Trust me: He'll be much bigger than you were expecting. 

10 Ultimate Exodus "Find Freedom" Questions for Prayer:

+ What are some of things – the expressions of goodness and beauty and life – that take your breath away? 
+ How might God be trying to get your attention?
+ What scares you about the prospect of greater freedom in your life? 
+ What do you need to do to move toward the pain in your journey toward freedom?
+ What can help you to embrace an emptying process so that God can do something new in and through you? 
+ Can you think of some ways you resist the emptying process of the desert in your own life? (Example: Who do you need to forgive to be free?)    
+ Is there a whisper you should be listening for? 
+ What are you afraid of? (Example: What other people think? Insignificance? Failure? Weakness? Risk?) Why don't you try going to those places, in your prayers or your thoughts or in real life, and inviting God's presence into those spaces? Let Him show up right where your fear is. Let perfect love drive fear out. You will encounter the sign of God's presence and power as you invite Him in. Trust me: He'll be much bigger than you were expecting. 
+ What disciplines can you incorporate into your life to stay active in your pursuit of freedom? 
+ What is keeping you from Sabbath rest?

Next post: City Notes '19 | The Ultimate Exodus: Tiny Little Spider Bites + Staying Free

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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