Never free?

Saruman says of Grima, “He will never be free.”[1]

He is so right.

He is so right because Grima believes him.

It’s a wretched, awful day for Saruman and Grima.  Their orcs have died in the torrent of water the Ents set loose.  The steel-like, impregnable-looking tower has lost its appeal now that it is sitting in water and guarded by an Ent.  The wicked Sauron who they swore allegiance to is no where to be found to help them (of course).  And conjuring Saruman and minion Grima are left to die whichever way they choose.

Saruman is in a determined craze to either get Gandalf to worship him (not happening) or bring as many down in his death with him as he can.

Grima, on the other hand, is totally terrified of what has happened.  He has the sense to realize Saruman has gone totally nuts in megalomania craziness.  He also has the sense to realize he has not one hope of escaping death.

Trapped on the top of a formidable tower with no way down, Saruman and Grima are confronted by Gandalf and King Theoden.

Gandalf offers Saruman a chance for life, and he has no desire for it.  To top off the impending doom, Saruman’s staff–his last realm of power–is snapped in half by Gandalf, who was once subordinate to him but now has greater skills.

Grima has been silently waiting his own death as Saruman raves madness down to Gandalf.  But then something happens that Grima does not expect.

King Theoden offers for Grima to come down.

“Grima, you need not follow him.  You were not always as you are now.  You were once a man of Rohan.  Come down.” [1]

Grima can hardly believe what he is hearing.  For a moment, he begins to consider what King Theoden has said, as Saruman continues his stupid ranting.

“Grima, come down.  Be free of him,” King Theoden says. [1]

To which Saruman says, “Free?  He’ll never be free.”

Have you ever felt like Grima?  Have you ever felt like your alliance with darkness has caused you to be on the top of an impregnable tower that you wish you’d never entered?  Does your sin ever make you feel as though there is no going back, that God wouldn’t take you in no matter what you did, no matter how hard you begged?

Rather than come down, Grima tries to free himself of the wickedness he’s become captured by, and the result is he dies.  Only after he stabs Saruman repeatedly does he realize it was not Saruman who destroyed him, but himself.  Grima destroyed himself–and he dies knowing that.  Had he but come down, he could have been free.  Even if he had not made it down, even if Saruman had killed him after only one step, he would have died having been set free by King Theoden’s words.  He would have died a man of Rohan.

There is no way that you can defeat your own sin.  There is no way that you can slay what has been haunting you.  In the end, all you can destroy is yourself.

It seems too simple an offer to simply come down, and yet King Theoden has every authority to offer this.  Grima is his subject.  He has rebelled and was owned by Saruman, but Theoden’s alliance has conquered Saruman, and Grima is once again Theoden’s subject.  Grima has a single choice to make.  It is the only decision which can change the course of his life.  He can either be free, or he can die Saruman’s subject.

Grima dies Saruman’s subject, and yet he came so close to not doing so.  But coming close isn’t enough.  He doesn’t take the freedom, and it turns out to be his last chance.  He is forever bound as Saruman’s subject–his treacherous subject–but his subject nonetheless.

Why didn’t he come down?

If you feel hemmed in by your sin, I could ask you the same question.  Why don’t you come down?  I could ask myself the same question, because I went for years feeling frightened and further and further in debt to a God I knew I could never pay.

God is like King Theoden in this story, because He offers us the chance to come down.  We were once His subjects, and He wants us to be His subjects again.

In the Lord of the Rings series, Grima is directly responsible for the murder of Theodred, King Theoden’s son.  Yet King Theoden chooses to extend his scepter of forgiveness towards Grima in an act of unmerited love.

Did you know that J.R.R. Tolkien didn’t come up with this idea?  Our God, the Great I AM, sent His Son, Jesus, to earth, and we killed Him.  Even though you and I were not there at that time in history, by the evil in our hearts we would have done the same as the people who crucified Him.

But this is where the story takes a sharp turn from Tolkien’s.  Theodred certainly did not choose to die for Grima, nor would Theoden have ever sent his son to die for Grima.  But did you know that God the Father chose to send His Son to us, because it was more bearable to the Father and Jesus for them to suffer the agony of Jesus’ death than for you and I to be lost forever? 

Just think about that!  Just think about that!

Jesus willingly went to His death for us, knowing exactly what He was doing.  He even knew that many of us wouldn’t turn to Him as soon as we hear about His death for us, but we would continue sinning for a long time before turning to Him!  Have you known about the cross of Jesus for a long time?  Do you think you’ve known about Him for too long for Him to forgive you now?  That is simply not true!  Like King Theoden extended grace to Grima even after he razed most of Rohan with his sin and killed even the weak, elderly, and children by his actions, God is still willing to extend His grace to you.  Will you accept it?

The price God paid to bring us back is the death of His Son.  Think of how heavy this price really was.  No one can imagine paying it!  But ask yourself this, very seriously: If the only way the price of my sin could be paid was by God sending His Son to die for me, then what will happen if I am faced with paying for my sin myself?

We cannot escape our sin by remorse, acts of penitence, good works, or even killing ourselves.  None of this will pay for our sin.  Only the Son of God, who is eternal and has the ability to take infinite suffering on Himself in a finite amount of time, could pay for our sin.  Do you want to take the penalty for your sin on yourself?  Can you bear it!?!?

Remember, God the Father chose to send His Son to us, because it was more bearable to the Father and Jesus for them to suffer the agony of Jesus’ death than for you and I to be lost forever!!!

I know, I fully know, I cannot bear the penalty of my own sin.  I cannot even bear the thought!  It is enough to drive us mad to think of paying for what we cannot pay.  Just as Grima, trapped on that tower, had no ability to replant crops or rebuild houses, we cannot make up for our sin.  But the worst of all is, Grima could not bring back the dead, and that is what he would really have to do to pay for his sin.  He would have to raise the people back from the dead whose lives he cost.  And he knew he could not do it.

You may say, But I have never killed anyone.  But you say this because you don’t understand the consequences of sin.  Sin always brings about death.  Your sin and my sin causes destruction on this world that we are not even capable of understanding the full ramifications of.  To get a better understanding, just look at Adam’s sin of disobeying God once.  That doesn’t seem so serious, right?  But Adam’s one sin brought about all the havoc we see in the world today, like illness, injury, natural disasters, wars, murders, terrorism, and death of every kind.  Adam’s sin had a domino effect on the world.  And that was just one sin.

Do you think you have sinned, even once?  The Bible teaches that if you disobey God even once you have sinned and are guilty before Him.  We all know in our heart we have done this–many times.  I know there is no way I can make up for my sin.  I, like Grima, have done things I cannot pay for.  Even if I could imagine in my head that I could somehow plant new crops and build new houses, I could never raise the dead.  We might be able to make restitution on a superficial level, but we can never make up or pay back the depth of what we have caused by our disobedience.

The joy of my life is that I did not choose as Grima chose.  I asked Jesus to forgive me and be the Master of my life.  All my sin is paid in full–from birth to death.  I have been totally pardoned.  Unlike Grima, I chose to come down from the tower.  I am no longer Satan’s property.  I belong once again to the Kingdom of God.

Even though my joy for myself is indescribable, belonging to God means that He gives you a heart of love for others.  I know that I have come down from the tower, but I can’t simply stop at that.  I recognize that there are millions who still stand on top of that tower, totally hopeless and either believing there is no way down or not even realizing that they are trapped.  If you are one of those who has not made it down from the tower yet, I challenge you to receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior.  Satan will fight hard and long against you.  He will try to incite you, as Saruman incited Grima.  Satan will try to incite you against God or against me or against yourself or even against himself (Satan), but what he will try everything in his power to stop you from doing is from coming down from your lofty Hell and accepting the free Gift of Jesus Christ.

Come down, right now.  Come down and be free.  Satan can’t make you stay on that tower.  He can only try to make you think he can.

“I assure you: Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. Therefore, if the Son sets you free, you really will be free.” (Jesus, quoted in John 8:34b-36, HCSB)

[1] Lord of the Rings: return of the king, extended edition script, New Line Cinema.  Screenplay by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s book, Lord of the Rings: The return of the king.

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Old Testament Law

I’ve always looked at Old Testament laws as harsh–but at the core, the heartbeat of the law was love, and love towards the most vulnerable: widows, orphans, foreigners, the poor, the one on trial, and the neighbor.

“The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Matthew 12:29b-31, NLT)

Autofill

Have you ever used the “autofill” feature on your computer to enter data?  Sometimes, my computer saves data for those internet forms I fill out.  There are even programs that can “hold” your information for you, so instead of saving the information on the internet or your hard drive?. . they save it . . in an encrypted site, maybe?  To be honest, I don’t totally get how it works, so I can’t sound totally intelligent about it, but I think I’m on the right track.  😉

You can direct your questions about the process to Ben.  He’s my IT person, except that he tells me when I need help with something on my computer that that’s not what he does.  I would tell you what he does, but then I’d have to tell you about the whole conversation where he spent many long minutes trying to explain, and we talked about how electricity gets to computers from the sun, and how a machine can follow instructions when it isn’t actually thinking about what it’s doing, and how Ben kept getting this certain tone in his voice when he is heavy with laughter but holding back.

Anyway, here is something valuable I know about autofill without consulting Ben.  That is, if you type in something wrong, and the autofill form picks it up, it keeps remembering it wrong.  Whenever you start typing in the first letter or so of the entry, it will offer to fill in the wrong information.

For example, suppose that I forget my name is Teej (well, my nickname I go by) and I accidentally type in Tarantula instead.  If the autofill picks it up, then the next time I go to the site to type in my name, as soon as I hit the T it will offer Tarantula.

Fortunately, I have never had that problem, but I have accidentally mistyped a credit card number or password.  Then the site remembers the wrong information, and every time you go back, it tries to “help” with incorrect stuff.

Today, I was dealing with this very issue.  And, actually, that incorrect autofill is a lot like what goes on inside our heads every day, and we don’t usually even know it!

The Bible teaches that, because of sin, we all have wrong ideas in our head.  Our autofill is incorrect.  Every time we try to think about any given topic, the wrong things we think we know keep popping up.  It is so prevalent that, if we’re on “autopilot”, the wrong information will steer all of our thoughts, words, and behaviors.

Only God has the power and clarity to change the incorrect “autofills” in our heads.

When we read God’s Word with a willing heart and submission to His ideas, the incorrect notions we have come to light.  Sometimes, though, we bring incorrect autofills with us to God’s Word and we don’t even know it.  That’s why it’s important to be a part of a community of believers, to discuss God’s Word with them or read or listen to what they have to say.

Listening to older, wiser believers, discussing ideas in small groups, and paying attention to pastors and church teachers are all ways God erases our wrong autofills and gives us the wisdom we need to live alive and experience Life (Jesus Christ).

It’s critical to know, though, that the Bible is the ultimate test of authority.  Anyone who tries to teach something that is against what the Bible teaches should not be trusted or listened to, no matter who they are.

Have you ever noticed that you can’t get very far on bad information?

Today, when I was trying to use my debit card, the form wouldn’t accept my payment because the autofill remembered the wrong number.

No matter how many times I tried that number, or how persuasively I talked to my computer, or how much money I offered my HP Pavilion to let the transaction go through, it just wouldn’t have done it.  The number was incorrect information, and the computer has been programmed (by smart people like Ben) not to accept information that doesn’t check out with the banks.

In a bit of the same way, we can’t get very far in this life with bad information.  Without God, everything inside us will fail to work.  The phrase inside us is very important.

On the outside, we can be so rich we carry a little dog around in our purse and stores don’t say anything about our pet when we come in to shop.  We can be so famous we have look-alikes impersonating (and making fun of) us on late night TV shows.  We can be so successful we win Olympic medals and Emmys and Oscars and NFL rings and most handsome/beautiful/interesting/nicest-tie/cutest-hair-bow person-of-the-year awards.

But on the inside, nothing will have taken place but failed and frustrating transactions.  Everything becomes as “meaningless” as Ecclesiastes talks about.  Only God can give us the information we need to change our in-the-rut no-purpose lives set on death and destruction.  That’s why Solomon talks about “everything done under the sun” as being worthless–only God from above in the Heavens can give us the information we need that will bring purpose to our lives[1].

So I came to hate life because everything done under the sun seemed wrong to me. Everything was pointless. [It was like] trying to catch the wind. (Ecclesiastes 2:17, GW)

It is impossible for us to override incorrect autofill forms by using the same incorrect information (our sin nature) over and over.  We need the new information that only Jesus can give us.

Jesus, who is God-in-human-body, died to pay for every failure of holiness we’ve ever had–every time we submitted a thought, word, or action with incorrect information (and, without God, that’s every time–so Jesus forgives us of everything we’ve ever done before we knew Him).  But His death is only good for those who receive it.

Look at it this way.  If I keep typing in the wrong information over and over, I’m never going to get the result I want.  But suppose I know the correct information, but I don’t change what I’m typing.  It didn’t help me any, did it?

Of infinitely greater importance, Jesus’ death only helps someone who admits their sin to Him and accepts His payment for all the damage their lack of holiness (the correct way to live) has caused.

If we do admit our lives have been all wrong without God and that we need Jesus to forgive us, we can begin again as though we’d never committed a single sin!  And because Jesus teaches us how to correct the bad autofills in our lives through His Word, His people, and His Spirit in our lives, we can experience a new life altogether–a life where the inside of us begins to work!

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Ephesians 3:16-20, NLT)

It’s important to realize the phrase inside us is still very important.  God teaching us how to rewrite our old, sinful ways of death for new, holy ways of life doesn’t mean things on the outside of us will start going well.

It doesn’t mean our spouses, children, in-laws, friends, bosses, and so on will change.  They have to call on God to correct their autofills, too.

And it also doesn’t mean that our bank account will be full or our shell (body) will be well.  But it does mean that the inside of you will begin to work right.  You will begin to understand love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control.  (See Galatians 5:22-23)

As God rewrites the autofills in your life, you can expect everything bad about who you are to change (but you will not reach perfection until He gives you a new body free of the sin nature and you are face to face with Him at last).

Now you will begin to experience the joy of success of the inner self, success made possible through Jesus Christ.

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love — the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. Be thankful. Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.(Colossians 3:12-17, HCSB)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit. We must not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Galatians 5:22-26, HCSB)

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[1] Idea from Ravi Zacharias