We are held prisoners by our past when we hold onto the bad experiences we’ve had and project those experiences onto our expectations of the future. This leads us to shy away from new things and to lose hope in what we previously dreamed about. This happens to all of us, and after the great message at Skyline this week I wanted to share encouragement and a few things that have helped me or others I know.
First, to identify what is keeping you prisoner, have honest conversations with God and with your good friends. Prayer and insight from a friend are the most helpful ways of identifying what has a hold on you. Often I’ve prayed about why I am not my usual self or I am reluctant to do something that I know would be a good idea, and it becomes clear that something is weighing on my mind and I need to take care of that first. It’s always helpful to ask a trusted friend for advice too—they often keep their opinions to themselves to be polite but if you ask them for advice they will gladly give it. You need to be honest too—if you are trying to hide or overlook something about yourself then it is almost definitely keeping you prisoner!
Sitting on the white break room table across from me is my coworker’s lunch. It’s a masterpiece of arugula, sunflower seeds, bacon, chives, and some kind of homemade dressing. To my left, is my friend’s delicious looking lunch of salmon and sweet potato fries. I poke my daily pasta and Bolognese sauce halfheartedly and set to eating it. “I have to do a better job of packing my lunch in the morning,” I think to myself, “I can barely stand to eat at the same table that my coworkers do with their fancy lunches…”
Does anyone else beside me wish they could swap lunches with their coworkers? I know there must be some of y’all out there. Totally innocent right?
“Oh, what people!” - That’s what my Mom would say after encountering someone difficult.
Many of us have similarly exasperated phrases, the shortest of which is simply shake your head and say “People.”
And no wonder we say such things. Just think of all the people problems everyone has. The hilarious, and sometimes all-too-real, tragic drama of sitcoms and telenovelas wouldn't exist without humans being human and having issues with each other.
To be human is to lead a flawed, imperfect, often burdensome existence. But being human means we also deeply desire to overcome our flaws as we seek meaning and joy.
One of the toughest things to do as an actor is what we call “becoming your character”, or figuring out how to properly portray the essence and emotions of a certain person. How would this character you’re representing say a certain word? What kind of quirks or weird ticks do they do? How would they display their emotions? Everyone expresses themselves differently, when you’re angry or sad, to express this emotion, you may cry; however, if you’re portraying someone more stoic, they may withdraw themselves and become quiet and straight-faced. You have to perform these actions and see yourself through the lens of a different perspective. For example, when Will Smith took on the role of
Muhammad Ali, he knew one of the main things to bring out the essence of this character is the flattering way he talks about himself, "I am the astronaut of boxing. Joe Louis and Dempsey were just jet pilots. I'm in a world of my own." Or "I'm so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark." Smith had to become prideful and believe that he was the greatest in the world in order to be Muhammad Ali because, that’s what Ali’s perspective was, he was the greatest. When you become your character, and see things the way they would see them, you’re not acting anymore... you’re just living.
The other day I heard a quote that stuck with me, ‘The present is a present that keeps on giving’. I thought about it for a moment and promptly agreed. We’ll always have our present moment, this eternal now, till we don’t. I suppose one of the possible keys in that quote speaks to our awareness of the present moment, and to what we do with it. Or to put it in other words, it’s possible to argue that the quote is about how we live our lives, our present, or gift, unpacked moment after moment in this journey we are all on.
It usually surprises me when all the “messages” I receive – from random songs, from friends, from diverse conversations, from books, from sermons and so on - align. As if all these channels are conspiring to deliver a clear note that I interpret to be from God himself. And more often than not, it’s quite on point; exactly what I need to hear. So, as I had been pondering on that quote, I was somewhat surprised to find out that the Sunday message at church aligned perfectly with the idea of the ‘present (or gift) that keeps on giving’.
When faced off against an army many times the size of his own in 1 Samuel 13, King Saul showed off his many fears, belying his tough-guy reputation. He was supposed to wait for the priest Samuel to arrive to offer a sacrifice before the battle, but was in a hurry to get started (and was worried that his own army might run away if he waited much longer!). Rather than wait for Samuel, Saul gave the offering himself, trying to fill God’s role in bringing about the promised victory. This showed a fear of falling short in front of his men, a fear of losing control as the authority as king, and a fear of being hurt by his enemies. This pattern of fear and Saul’s impulsive responses to make himself look strong and protect himself poisoned Saul’s relationships over his life and ultimately led to his downfall.
Be present. Pay attention. This is a lesson that you learn as soon as you reach first grade, perhaps even kindergarten.
Some of us never learn it. With this age of iPhones, Facebook, commercials, two minute hilarious Youtube videos of cats pretending to be dogs or vice versa, it makes sense that we never give the most important things our undivided attention anymore.
But we need to take it back a step. Like way back. Let’s kick it old school.
Let’s go back to the Bible-specifically, to the story of the good Samaritan that Jesus tells, in Luke 10:25-37:
“A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road…”
Although I didn’t pay attention the first time, if you listen to the buffer song for this sermon series on Sunday you’ll notice it has very on-point lyrics:
“Don't you know how busy and important I am?
I got so much to do
Ask me out to dinner on Friday night
I can't go, I got too much to do
Maybe I'm just trying to distract myself from my mortality
Oh, I'm too busy to finish this song
I'm too busy to dance
Too busy to cry
Too busy to die
Too busy to see my chance…”
‘Oh, hell no!’ That was my first thought when I heard that this week’s sermon was about hell. Hell, the very word conjures up images of fire and brimstone, weeping, tormented souls, and a devil with a pitchfork hellbent (pun intended) on making every second there as unbearable as possible. Could there be a more uncomfortable topic to discuss on? I think not.
But what is it that makes the topic of hell so uncomfortable? Perhaps it’s the thought that someone you love is headed there?
I think for me, it’s the fact that my view of a patient, loving God just doesn’t seem to gel with the fire and fury that hell represents. How can a God who is love (1 John 4: 16) also be the god who allows some of His creation be sent to a place of undiluted suffering (Matthew 13: 41-42)? How can the God who is good to all ever assign anyone to an eternity of agony? Shouldn’t the two natures of love and judgement, repel each other? The truth is that God is as much a God of love as He is the God of judgement. You can’t have one without the other.
Just like as a parent, even though I love my kids unconditionally, there are times when I need to discipline them. What kind of a parent would I be if I let my kids get away with everything without correcting them under the guise that I ‘love’ them? It would make me a bad parent and my kids would end up as spoilt, entitled brats. I’d be raising hell (for others) rather than raising kids! The kind of love that seeks only to appease and not confront when necessary isn’t real love.
Conversely, I would be hell to live with if I was the kind of parent who punished every little mistake my kids made. They would grow up with low self-esteem, fearful, anxious, and insecure. Good parenting involves walking the sometimes-thin line between love and correction. Kids need discipline and boundaries. They also need to know that they will be loved unconditionally when they do fail. Along with the kisses and the cuddles must come the chores and the timeouts. Both are equally important if you want your kids to grow up to be responsible adults with empathy and respect for others.
Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if God was only a God of love and not a God of justice? Evil acts would abound, and men would act with no fear of punishment or consequence whatsoever. It would be hell on earth indeed. On the other hand, if God was only concerned with dispensing judgement, we wouldn’t stand much of a chance either. Every time we make a mistake, we would be nervously looking over our shoulders to see if lightening was on its way down from heaven to strike us.
As you can see, too much of either isn’t good.
If God is truly the God of love, then He must be the God of justice and judgement too. They are both two sides of the same coin. True love seeks out justice. In the words of Martin Luther King, “Justice is really love in calculation. Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.” Or as Mother Theresa puts it, “Justice without love is not justice. Love without justice is not love.”
The bottom line is that the God of judgement demands that our sins are punished. And since every single one of us has sinned, we were ALL destined to spend eternity in hell attempting to pay for our sins. That is when the God of love stepped in. God’s judgement met God’s love at the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus became the payment for our sins and we were released from our inevitable destiny of eternal doom.
Where once we had no choice of where we spent eternity because of our sinful human nature, we now do. Choose to take up God’s offer of forgiveness and grace, and divert from the highway to hell or reject his offer and continue on the same downward path. Either way, you will spend eternity with the God you choose to worship.
I sometimes think it would be simpler if God forced us to make the right choice. That way, no one would be without Jesus and everyone would go to heaven. Seems like the perfect solution to all that ails the world. But, that’s not how things work or at least, it’s not the way God wants it to work. True love only exists where true freedom exists. God desires true love from us, so he gives us the freedom to choose. Even if it means that some of us will choose to reject Him.
There’s no skirting around this issue. Heaven and hell are real and where we end up in eternity is entirely up to us. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “There are only two kinds of people - those who say, ‘Thy will be done’ to God or those to whom God in the end says, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in hell choose it.”
So, choose wisely. Choose to spend eternity with a God who loves you so much that He took on your punishment and not with the guy with the pitchfork who looks at you and says, ‘Hell if I care.’
Choose to say, ‘Hell no!’ to hell.
Betsy Sony is a stay-at-home mom who has the full-time job of looking after 4 beautiful girls. She came to the United States from India along with her husband Sony about 4 years ago and loves all things Skyline, reading, being outdoors, and experiencing new cultures and cuisines.
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.