“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” Ephesians 1:3,4
I’ll never forget something a waitress in Sedona, Arizona once said when I commented on the beautiful landscape and how wonderful it must be to live there. “You still have the same problems, honey,” she replied drily, “just with a prettier background.” Haven’t we all daydreamed about running away to a desert island or secluded mountain when our problems got to be a little too much? But in our hearts, if we’re honest, we know the problems would only follow us. Why? Because problems on the outside often come from problems on the inside.
One of the first scriptures that really grabbed hold of me was Galatians 2:20. Paul’s declaration, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life that I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” I read it over and over and over while I was a student at Christ for the Nations. I couldn’t quite grasp the whole of it, but I knew it spoke to the problem of me. I desperately needed to become someone else if my life was ever going to be different. To me, this scripture sparked the possibility I actually could.
Years later, not too many years ago, different scriptures spoke the same theme to me even more clearly. This time it was an Old Testament story, which Paul said was written for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11). It goes like this….
God picked a man named Abram and gave him a new name, Abraham, and a new life in a strange land, Canaan. Abraham lived out his life in Canaan with his wife and children and grandchildren. God told Abraham his offspring would be as numerous as the sand and the stars. He told him all the land as far as he could see had been given to him, a gift from God. Abraham went to his grave with that promise in his heart without seeing it come to be. (Hebrews 11:8-10)
A long time went by and Abraham’s grandson Jacob had a baby boy he favored named Joseph. Joseph’s jealous brothers sold him to a traveling troop who took Joseph to Egypt. Little did any of them know the day would come when Joseph would rise to prominence in Egypt, and the entire family would follow him there to live for hundreds of years, until they became as numerous as sand and stars.
Only one problem: by then Joseph’s high rank was long forgotten and the whole kit and caboodle of them were slaves. Slavery does something to a person. It’s degrading and demeaning on the most primal level. You might ask, “What do you know about slavery, Lisa?” Well, quite a bit, actually. So do you. Slavery is the common boat in which we humans find ourselves. Just about everything in the world is more powerful than we are, starting with the elements: cold and heat, winds and rain. If you don’t believe that, Google Hurricane Katrina or Super Storm Sandy. Think we wouldn’t have put a stop to that if we could have?
Outside threats are bad enough, but the worst slavery is internal: thoughts, behaviors, emotions, patterns, habits. On and on they go, coming from places deep inside us we can’t see and don’t understand. These taskmasters give rise to counseling and psychology and psychiatry and mood controlling drugs and mental institutions. Think we wouldn’t put a stop to that if we could?
So, yes, I found myself to be a slave. Like Paul, I could not do the things I wished to do. I could not be the person I wished to be, wretched creature that I am. (Romans 7:18-25) Like Abraham’s promised progeny, I could not control my everyday existence, let alone my destiny.
Lucky for me, that isn’t the end of the story. God sent that poor oppressed people a savior named Moses. Moses had a message for Pharaoh, “Let My people go!” Pharaoh probably thought, “Huh? Newsflash: These are my people, not your people.” Think again Pharaoh. What we have here is a clear-cut case of mistaken identity. All these folks you been dissing have a hope and a future and Someone who loves them. (Jeremiah 29:11) Someone pretty important, by the way, so back off and show some respect!
What do I have in common with these sons and daughters of Abraham? The same way they were born into Egypt, I was born into this world in this flesh, under bondage. Then, like the children of Israel, I learned Someone had prepared a different plan for me. They learned it from Moses. I learned it from Jesus, my Savior. The same way their true identity predated their slavery, so did my identity in Him. I was chosen in Him before God uttered one word of creation.
The Israelites began their journey from Egypt a disorganized, fearful, whining band of misfits. By the time they took Jericho they were unrecognizable. How did they make the transformation? The same way I will, putting one foot in front of the other by faith. Like Paul, I cannot find myself in my past. My true identity lies somewhere in Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith. I catch a glimpse here and there, shadowy and shifting, as if I were looking through a cloudy glass or into a dusty mirror. I press on, spurred by the changes that have occurred since I first believed. Like Peter, I have nowhere else to go other than forward, following the Lord. Nowhere else looks as good.
I went up to the mountain
Because You asked me to
Up over the clouds
To where the sky is blue
I could see all around me
I could see all around me
Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly!
© Melissa Kay Simonds