It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1-12
Freedom is the state of being free, from among other things, restraint, necessity, and constraint. The meaning of freedom also includes the ability to open and outspoken.
Slavery, on the other hand, and quite simply put, is the exact opposite of freedom. Traditionally, when we hear the word slavery, we think of one person who is a chattel, or property, of another. There’s another meaning of slavery, and it’s one that we don’t always think of, which is the state of being under a dominating influence or belief.
If you were asked to name a couple of the freedoms that were gained for us when Jesus died on the cross, you’d probably include freedom from sin and freedom from eternal damnation, just like I did. But would you think about including freedom from slavery on that list? After all, slave conditions existed for years after Jesus’ death. As a matter of fact, some forms of slavery still exist, not only in our world, but in our country!
Before I continue, I feel compelled to mention something…
Religious freedom is a topic that I’ve mentioned many times on these pages, and I’m quite sure that I’ve devoted at least one entire post on this subject. While I don’t like being repetitive, this topic is one that holds a huge place in my heart because the lack of religious freedom prevents so many of us from having full and complete relationship with God.
For the first fifty-six years of my life, I was one of the untold thousands, make that millions, of people who went to church every Sunday because I had been taught to, because I felt obligated to do so, and because I was afraid of the consequences of not going. I didn’t know that going to church, and worshipping God, and having a relationship with Him could be FUN. No, your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you; I said fun.
The slavery to which Paul was referring is “legalized religion,” which is for the most part, rules written by men for men. Did you know that when Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians the benchmark for measuring a man’s Godliness was based on whether or not he was circumcised, and what he ate?
As soon as you’re finished processing that last question, chew on this one for a moment…
Do you realize that even today, many judge a Christian’s worthiness based on his religious denomination? It’s true. Many Baptists are of the firm belief that the only way is through the Baptist Church. Of course, the same can be said for many Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and so on.
The sad truth is that greater emphasis is placed on what makes Christians different than on the one single and most important thing that they have in common: Jesus. It is Jesus who sets Christians apart from Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and every other non-Christian denomination.
Why do Christians lose sight of this? Why are the peripherals, such as traditional ceremonial religious rites, what we eat, what we drink, and dancing more important than Jesus, his life, his death, and the redeeming grace that we received by his death? How can rules made by men for men possibly be of more importance than the fact that God sent His son so that we may know the depth of His love for us, that we may know His mind, and that we may receive His Spirit?
If what you want are rules to live by (the real rules of religion), check out the Ten Commandments. If you feel that they’re not strict enough, try living each one of them to the letter every day of your life! If you’re seeking God’s wishes for the way we should live our lives, treat others, love others, and love Him, read the Bible. It’s His Word, and it’s alive.
How and where do you begin the process?
· Start with prayer. Ask God to reveal something to you about Him that you’ve never known. Ask Him to open your eyes, mind, and heart to see Him and feel Him in a way that you never done before.
There’s a worship song recorded by Mercy Me that includes the lyrics:
Open the eyes of my heart Lord,
open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see you,
I want to see you.
Do you want to see and feel God in a different way, to have a more meaningful and deeper relationship with Him that you have now? Do you want to experience the God that you’ve heard other people talking about? Then ask Him!
· If you’re not running to church with a smile on your face and anticipation in your heart, you might consider trying a different church. It doesn’t have to be a different denomination than the one that you’re accustomed to and most comfortable with. Just try a different church.
If that doesn’t work, then you might want to consider trying a different denomination. Yes, I know that what I’m suggesting is a big step. We’re most comfortable with what we know best, and when it comes to churches, we’re most comfortable in the one we grew up in. I know that for many, the mere notion of attending a different church is sacrilegious, because for fifty-something years I shared the same sentiment. I would rather have not gone to church at all than enter a different church!
· Take the first step, which is to look for God; not in a particular building, in a particular location, with a particular name on it. Contrary to popular belief, God doesn’t live in a building. We’re called together to worship God as a family of believers, but that’s not where He lives. He lives in our hearts and minds. You want to find Him? Take a look inside. I promise you that He’ll be there.
Take advantage of the freedom that Christ gained for you on the cross. Love God, worship Him, and seek Him in the manner that draws you closer to Him and fills you with His love. Then you can cast aside the yoke of slavery, and you will experience the sweet taste of freedom that Jesus died for!
Webster defines a freak as “one that is markedly unusual or abnormal.”
I have to tell you that for the past three years I’ve considered myself to be a freak. Drawing on the values and guidelines for normalcy that had been instilled in me when I was growing up, there’s just not been much about me that I’ve considered to be normal.
Normal men don’t walk around wearing their hearts on their sleeves. Normal men aren’t as transparent as a window pane. Normal men don’t open their hearts, and all the junk that’s in them, to the world for everyone to see. Normal men don’t cry in the presence of strangers. Normal men don’t look for opportunities to share past mistakes, previous addictions, broken relationships, failures, and unmet life expectations with others. Normal men won’t stand on any street corner and openly profess their love for Jesus. Normal men wouldn’t give up a chance at a career with a global corporation because of a burning desire to share their faith in a business arena. Normal men aren’t totally blinded by their love for the Lord, putting everything else on the back burner to focus on Him.
Okay, so you may be thinking that the man I just described is normal in every way, and I totally respect your thoughts. The problem for me is that I don’t share the same sentiment, so whether looking at my reflection in the mirror, or reflecting on the state of my life, what I saw was a freak.
I didn’t mind being a freak. If I had, I could’ve chosen to live my life in a different way, but obviously I chose not to. I did question, from time to time, why God decided to “wire” me this way, and wondered if I’d ever meet another man like me. I was sure that I wasn’t the only one!
A few weeks ago a good friend of mine forwarded a message to me titled Stepping into Your Truest Identity that had been given by a gentleman named Graham Cooke. You can find a snippet of Mr. Cooke’s message on YouTube if you so desire.
I’ve taken Mr. Cooke’s message, which focused on personalities, personas, the way we look at ourselves, the way that others see us, and the way that God sees us. I’ve dissected his message, examined it from every angle, and “fleshed it out” in my mind. What I offer you today are my own thoughts from Graham’s offering, and the insights that I’ve gained along the way.
The first thing I’d like to share my thoughts with you on is in regards to our personalities.
Some definitions of personality include:
a: the quality or state of being of a person
b: the complex of characteristics that distinguishes an individual
c: distinction or excellence of personal and social traits
Our personalities are quite often in direct relation to what we think of ourselves, what others think of us, what we see when we look in the mirror, what we’ve brought forward from childhood in regards to learned behavior, and those invisible impressions that others have left on our lives.
Curiously enough, the negative behaviors and impressions seem to have the upper hand over the good ones. These include limitations and doubts of worthiness that have been planted in our minds not only by us, but by others as well. I’ll remind you that when we’re born we don’t know fear, anger, depression, doubt, prejudice, envy, shame, or any other emotion or mindset that is not of the Lord.
I believe that our personalities determine our walk in life. They set the table for who we are, what we are, what we do, and how we do it. Our personalities impact our relationships with others, with our own selves, and with God. Our personalities have a direct effect on our careers, on the choices we make, and believe it or not, on our destinies.
A persona is defined as “a personality that a person (as an actor) projects in public,” which is something that I can certainly identify with. For years, in my personal life, and in our business, the smile on my face hid the constant war that was raging within. As the front desk person in the salon that my wife Jackie and I owned and operated, I learned to be an actor. In my personal relationships I would never reveal what was in my heart, not even with my closest friends. Every once in a while I’d give Jackie a glimpse of what was going on inside, but I wouldn’t let her look for too long. I didn’t want her know how little I thought of myself.
Oh yeah. I can tell you all about that persona thing. I can tell you what was like to live a double life, wearing a smile on the outside while I was dying on the inside. I can tell you that living a lie every day only made matters worse, for me, for Jackie, for our family, and for those around me. I can tell you that my view of myself was so distorted that I could never imagine God’s view of me, that I am His child, that He loves me unconditionally, and that “…I am wonderfully and fearfully made.” Psalm 139:14
When we can see ourselves as God sees us, everything changes.
The gist of Graham Cooke’s message is that what’s most important isn’t the way we see ourselves, or the way that others see us, but the way God sees us and why He put us here.
Even as I was listening to his sermon, my mental wheels were spinning, and I was bombarding myself with questions!
What does God see in me? What do the heavens see me, Sam Maniscalco, as being on this earth? Why am I here? In a society consumed by a purpose-driven life, what is my purpose in life? Why am I this way? When God looks at me, what does He see?
The answers to my questions came immediately, and because I’m willing and open enough to share all of my thoughts with you, I’m going to do exactly that.
God sees me as a modern-day Paul the Apostle. Before you get in a huff, I’ll emphasize that I didn’t say that I am Paul reincarnate, but that God sees me as a modern-day Paul. I’m Sam Maniscalco, and I come equipped with my own visions, my own dreams, and my own set of baggage.
Unlike Paul, I never persecuted Christians, wasn’t knocked off a horse and blinded, haven’t been stoned, imprisoned, drug through the streets, or been involved in a shipwreck. (All for which I’m very grateful!) I’m not one of the great sources of the spreading of Christianity, and I’m quite sure that my humble offerings would never be included in The Bible, Part II!
But I do believe that God sees me as a modern-day Paul, and you know what? I see me that way too. And if nothing else, my belief explains everything.
It explains why I love to write and speak about God. It explains why enough is never enough. It explains why my life is an open book for all to see, and why I’ll share even my darkest secrets if doing so will help others. It explains why my love for God and for Jesus has blinded me to everything else. It explains why I don’t really care what others think of me, or the consequences of being so bold about my faith.
It explains why I’m a freak, and for the first time, I’m really okay with that. You see, for the first time in my life, what I’m wearing on the outside is exactly what I’m feeling on the inside, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
So, when God looks at you, what does He see?