tangled & unraveling

I didn’t have a video game system as a young kid or a computer, so when kids came over to the house and we wanted to play an indoor game, we often played board games.  Whenever I had friends over, we would pick one of my games to play over and over and over.  They never got boring to me.  (I played Candyland way, way, way past the suggested age.  What can I say? Candyland rocks.)

One of the game we played (with a higher suggested age limit) was a spaghetti game.  I don’t remember the name of it, and I don’t know why I don’t have it anymore.  Maybe it’s hidden in my garage somewhere or maybe it wound up in a garage sale.  The basic idea of the game was to get your “spaghetti” all wound up on your fork.

The “pizza” gameboard had lots of deep holes.  There were “topping” pegs (pegs with stickers on the top with a pizza topping image) you placed in the holes.  The topping pegs were pretty strong (I’ll tell you how I know in a minute).  There were forks attached to “spaghetti” (colored yarn), and the other end the yarn was attached to a plate.  The forks would pop into the plate so you could wind the yarn up.

The catch—literally—was that you were supposed to let the forks with the yarn “fall” over the topping pieces, looping around some of them.

Of course, that was not the way we played it.

We were kids.

We wound the yarn around as many topping pieces as we possibly could.  We would wind them multiple times around the same topping piece (which actually made it easier, but I guess we didn’t realize it then).  But we would get the yarn in ginormous messes.  Since it was a 4-player game, there was red, blue, yellow, and green yarn in absolute mess across the board.

We would have that yarn wound so tight, looking back I have to give the manufacturing company a lot of credit.  Almost always, the pegs would stay in place.  One might pop up if we yanked really, really hard and if it had a ridiculous amount of yarn wrapped around it.

In the game, players took turns rolling a die with different topping pictures on each side.  If you got a mushroom, for example, you could pull up any mushroom peg.  You would always try to pull up one that would help you—but since we wound the yarn so much, it would very often help at least one other person, too.  Then you’d wind up the yarn as fast as you could.  Again, the manufacturers must have known they were making this game for kids, because the durability was great.

. . . . . I was remembering that game today, thinking about my life.  Sometimes, my life seems like a big old mess of yarn all tangled around pegs.  I roll the die desperately to try to untangle some part, but then I end up enabling some enemy like bitterness or frustration to roll up part of their yarn, too.

I feel like I’m the one who’s got the most yarn still tangled on the field, while feelings like bitterness and frustration have reeled most of their yarn in.

Not only do I have to deal with the competition of my sin nature and the sins of others around me—all vying to win, too—but, as if that isn’t enough, lately I feel like every time I get a peg loose, Satan is finding another peg to wind and twist the yarn around.

What’s the point? I hear myself asking, and it is not a part of myself I like.  Why try?  What difference will it make?  What difference do you think you can make anyway?  You’ll only tangle things up worse if you try.

Well, with these “eager words of encouragement”, it’s kinda hard to feel motivated.  I want to just throw in the towel and say, “Okay, Satan, you won with me”—and stand back and wait for God to do all the work.  I want to lay down on the sidelines of the race and cheer for the Christian who is able to run faster or smarter or longer than me.

Giving up doesn’t do any good—and just about the whole world will tell you that.

But what most of the world won’t tell you is that trying your best won’t do you any good either.

I am convinced that there is no way I can ever untangle the mess in my life.  And, in case I ever forget that, all I have to do is pick the least tangled peg and try to uproot it to remember how useless and worthless my own efforts really are.

I am convinced that there is no way God is going to be pleased if I just throw my hands up and give up.  Jesus told a parable of a servant who hid his master’s money in the ground instead of earning more money with it, or even just depositing it in the bank (see Matthew 25:14-20).  In the parable, the master wasn’t pleased or even marginally tolerant of the servant’s laziness when he got back.  Instead he cast the servant out—forever.

What on earth is the solution?  I can’t “earn” the right to remove obstacles from my life, and even when I try, I can’t succeed.  But I am held responsible for the way my life is when I die.  I find myself empathizing with Paul when he says:

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:24, NLT)

Fortunately, he doesn’t stop there.

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:25, NLT)

There are a lot of tangles in my life.  And there’s not a one of them I can undo.  But Christ can unwind every mess.  Christ doesn’t call me to passively sit back and watch, however.  He calls me to follow Him by faith, through grace, to clarity, peace, and the unraveling of sin.

In Him, I find the truth of who I can be through Him—and I can’t believe who He sees.  But through His untangling of my sin in His payment on the cross,  I can not only be forgiven forever—as if that is not astonishing enough—but restored, whole, walking on the straight-and-narrow.

It’s the glorious untangling that only Christ can offer through His payment for all our tangles.

I want to be untangled, Lord.

I’m ready.

Please unravel my sin through Your goodness you gave as payment on the cross.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who lives in sin is a slave to sin. A slave does not stay with a family forever, but a son belongs to the family forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be truly free.” (John 8:34b-36, NCV)


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A princess stolen at birth by an evil woman . . . used by her . . . abused by her . . . trapped in a tall tower with no door out . . . without even knowing she is trapped . . . a king and queen who signal her by a night of lanterns . . . a yearning the lost princess can never quench or seem to justify . . . and a night of mysterious lights, on one night only, always one night only . . . her birthday.

This is the opening for the movie Tangled, inspired by one of Grimm’s Rapunzel.

Confined to the tower, Rapunzel knows only what her ‘mother’ indoctrinates in her:

You are my daughter.  I alone love you.  You can’t survive outside this tower.  Anyone who lives outside this tower will enslave you.

Rapunzel believes all the lies her ‘mother’ tells her . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

but not totally.

A tiny bit holds out for the one wild hope in her life:

The lanterns.


Satan has kidnapped us, taken us captive, locked us inside his sin, and indoctrinated in us:

You were mine to begin with.  I alone love you.  You can’t survive outside of sin.  And the King who lives without sin will enslave you.

And we believe Satan’s lies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

But not totally.

Because we, too, see a mysterious Light.

That Light is Jesus Christ.

But unlike Rapunzel, we don’t have to journey outside our cage to find the light.  Rather, the Light finds us.  And illuminates our way out of the tower.  And the Light itself is the way.

“I am the Way,” replied Jesus, “and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, Weymouth New Testament)

“I am the Resurrection and the Life,” said Jesus; “he who believes in me, even if he has died, he shall live; and every one who is living and is a believer in me shall never, never die. Do you believe this?”  (John 11:25, Weymouth New Testament)


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Knowing Best

In Tangled, Rapunzel has lived her life in an isolated tower, having social contact with only one person, a woman who claims to be her mother, going by Mother Gothel.  In actuality, Mother Gothel is a wicked, vain women who stole Rapunzel from her parents so she could use her hair to vicariously live.

In other word, Mother Gothel leeches off Rapunzel’s hair.

Rapunzel is unaware of this, though, and she genuinely believes that her ‘mother’ loves her, and that she loves her ‘mother’.  She’s usually very obedient to her ‘mother’.  Her ‘mother’ assures her of all the tragedies she’s saving her from, all the dangers she’s protecting her from, keeping her inside the tower.

What her ‘mother’ doesn’t explain is that the one tragedy she’s not guarding her from is the worst tragedy of all: the tragedy of eternal separation from everything true.

What her ‘mother’ doesn’t explain is that the one danger she’s not hiding her from is the worst danger of all: death.  In a tower.  With no love.

Satan is very much like Mother Gothel.  He would like you to believe that he has your best interest in mind . . . he wants only what is good for you . . . he is rescuing you from the tragedies and dangers of life by locking you away with him for all eternity.  Don’t be fooled.  You’re trapped inside a tower without a door by the very one who is the greatest threat to your soul.  His only cause for you is to leech the life from your bones and cause you to suffer greatly.

While he may be nice to you in this life, he will never be nice to you in the life after.

Let us not be fooled and believe that Satan knows best.

And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.  Their end will be what their actions deserve.  (2 Corinthians 11:14-15, NIV)


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Only Once a Year

He was the source of life, and that life was the light for humanity. (John 1:4, GOD’S WORD Translation)

There is not one human being on the face of the earth who has never wondered why God hasn’t answered him or her.  And when I say no human being, I do not exclude Christ.  For as He is dying on the cross, He asks God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (see Mark 15:34)

When we ask questions of God, we can’t present them as Christ did.  For Christ had genuine reason to wonder.  We don’t have genuine reason.  Cut off from God by our own choices, we dig a ditch between us and God, and then when the rains of this earth—tragedy, unfairness, and our own wrongdoing—flood down, and that ditch becomes a moat, we complain to God that there is no way to get to Him.

In the movie Tangled, Rapunzel might have wondered . . . must have wondered . . . why the strange lights she saw only came on one night of the year.

As she looks out from the tower where she’s spent her entire life, on only one night does she see lights lifting into the sky.  Every year, on one night, she tracks these mysterious and wonderful lights.  These lights represent the one hope she has: that there’s something outside her tower worth traveling to.  She’s lived her life in fear of what lives outside the tower, and what might get her.  But those lights call to her.  And out of 365 nights of the year, she only sees those lights . . . 1 night.

1 night only.


Is it because the king and queen, who send up those floating lanterns in search of their lost princess, are cruel, or that they forget about her for the other 364 days?  Of course not.

There’s a very justifiable reason why the lights only light up the sky one night out of the year.

Because that is the night of Rapunzel’s birthday.

If the king and queen lit the lanterns every night, first of all, Rapunzel would not notice anything unusual, and second of all, she would never connect those lights with herself.

In our lives, God doesn’t always answer when we want Him to.  In fact, many times in my own life, He doesn’t.  Many times I search from my tower for a sign of fireworks to let me know which path I should take, and I do not see it.

But what we often forget is that the times God doesn’t reveal Himself, He has very good reason not to do so.

And it always connects back to His wanting to reveal Himself to us.

As the lightless nights in Rapunzel’s tower are connected to the annual night of lights . . . in a much greater way are the times God hides Himself connected to the times He reveals Himself.

The next time you or I wonder why God doesn’t answer us, why He doesn’t give us a sign . . . we shouldn’t forget this truth: God is in pursuit of those who will come to Him.  He is in wise pursuit of them.  And He is drawing His people closer to Him in even in the deepest silence.

Unlike the story of Rapunzel, however, God never leaves those who look to Him from their tower windows with no light to follow.  Although God doesn’t always send fireworks, He always leaves the Lantern of His Word for those who would seek to escape their tower.  And that Lantern is Jesus Christ.

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.” (John 8:12, NASB)


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Why Do I Need a Perfect Sacrifice? Part 2

The more a character is portrayed as good or innocent, the stronger the emotional impact is associated with the sacrifice.  This shows that we intuitively know that goodness and innocence (in their complete form, perfection) do matter.

I admire Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities for giving his life for Carton, but I don’t feel too badly for him, since he had squandered his life living selfishly.

I feel a deeper commitment to Rider in Tangled, because he had a tough upbringing and he turned around his life before the moment he chose to sacrifice himself for Rapunzel.  He learned to place her before wealth, for example, and tried to give her the birthday night she’d longed for so many years to have.

I feel an even stronger affection for Piggy in Lord of the Flies, because he’s killed for trying to live in peace in a ‘society’ acting with less compassion than animals have for one another.  Piggy is not always right or kind, but from the very beginning he shows qualities of integrity and loyalty that vanish from most of the other boys.

But my strongest love of all is for characters like Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Aslan is perfectly good and Aslan is truly innocent, but he is put to death for crimes that a selfish, spoiled, ruthless boy commits.  Aslan’s murder is far, far more painful than the death of Darnay, Rider, or Piggy because Aslan has done nothing wrong–not just in that situation, but ever.  This is the ultimate unfair: good dying for evil.

The redemption stories with the highest emotional impact, which stay the longest with me, and most cling to my spirit are those in which the character who dies is portrayed as perfectly good and/or truly innocent.

We intuitively know that the more the person making the sacrifice has qualities of goodness and innocence, the more valuable and precious the sacrifice will be.  But we haven’t looked at why we must have a perfect sacrifice–that is, complete goodness and innocence–for sin.

That’s what we will investigate in part three, if the Lord is willing.

He [God] has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:12-14, HCSB)


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Why Do I Need a Perfect Sacrifice? Part 1

Nearly all the characters in books and movies who give their lives to redeem or save someone are imperfect, and yet their sacrifice still seems to work.

[Note: the following example stories contain spoilers for those who have not watched the movies/read the book/read the entire book series or watched the entire movie series.  If there is one you are not familiar with or haven’t had a chance to read/watch yet, you may want to skip over it.  This will continue through part four of this blog.]

In Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi, Luke Skywalker sacrifices himself for the sake of his father and sister, and ends up changing his father’s heart.

In Tangled, Flynn Rider sacrifices his life in a very clever way for Rapunzel by cutting off the hair that keeps her in bondage to her evil pseudo-mother.

In Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Bella is willing to sacrifice her life for her unborn child, knowing she may not survive childbirth.

In The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf sacrifices his life at the Bridge of Khazad-Dûm so that the demon won’t pass over it and destroy Gandalf’s companions.

In The Lord of the Flies, Piggy sacrifices his life trying to bring peace into a gone-wild, brutal gang of boys.

In The Giver, Jonas is willing to sacrifice his life for baby Gabriel as they make their escape, in a bold effort to save him from his upcoming ritualized murder in their viciously repressive society.

In Great Expectations, escaped convict Magwitch sacrifices his life to build wealth for the young boy who showed him kindness.

In all these stories, the character who sacrifices is less than perfect, but the sacrifice is still powerful and beautiful.

If Christ had to be perfect to atone (pay) for our sins, why should we enjoy stories about less-than-perfect characters who redeem others, and why should their redemptions work?

First, though these redemptions save someone from what?

Can an imperfect person sacrifice himself or herself and save someone from a temporal problem?  Absolutely.

But can an imperfect person sacrifice himself or herself and save someone from an eternal problem?  Absolutely not.

In Tangled, for example, Flynn Rider saves Rapunzel from a life of slavery in one instance, but he doesn’t and can’t ensure she will always be safe.  He isn’t paying for her mistakes by sacrificing himself for her freedom.  His love is beautiful, romantic, and praiseworthy, but it doesn’t take care of Rapunzel for forever.  He is only able to help her in the moment.  It is a wonderful sacrifice, but it is not universal or eternal in nature.

So we see that, while the characters who offer redemption in these stories are full of love and courage, they do not change the ultimate ‘fate’ or outcome of a person; instead, they try to change one event in the other person’s world.

But what happens when the character who redeems is perfect and innocent?

In Part Two, we’ll take a look, if God is willing.

And if his offering be of the flocks, namely, of the sheep, or of the goats, for a burnt sacrifice; he shall bring it a male without blemish.  (Leviticus 1:10, AKJV)

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29, NLT)


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