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Breaking Free


Romans 8 : 12-17


A friend asked me recently “How are you doing with all that is going on these days?”  I thought for a moment and then said—“OK under the circumstances.”  Back came the retort—“What are you doing under there?”  Though it seems a bit trite and simplistic, I got it, I was being challenged to not let my circumstances define me or my sense of empowerment. 

A young man who dives for exotic fish for aquariums, says that one of the most popular aquarium fish is the shark. He explained that if you catch a small shark and confine it, it will stay at a size proportionate to the aquarium. Sharks can be six inches long yet fully matured. But if you turn them loose in the ocean, they grow to their normal length of eight feet.  

Nature is amazing. How does the shark know that it could outgrow its surroundings, I wonder, and by what mechanism does it quit growing?

Years ago an interesting experiment that was conducted with wall-eyed pike, a fish commonly found in the northern U.S and Canada. A pike was placed in a fish-tank with minnows (a food which wall-eyed pike dearly love). A pane of glass was inserted across the middle of the tank between the minnows and the pike. At first, the pike would bang into the glass time and time again trying to reach the minnows. Finally it gave up.

Here is what is interesting, however. When the glass was completely removed, the wall-eye pike still did not chase after the minnows.  In fact, the minnows could swim around the pike, even bumping him on the mouth, and the pike would not try to eat them. What the researchers discovered was that, once conditioned, wall-eyed pike will starve to death without ever bothering to try to catch one of those minnows. You see, in its mind it has been taught it cannot get to them! (2)    It’s a theme that you see time after time in nature.

A writer named Clarence Harvey tells about an experience he had as a boy.  One summer he was packing to spend three months with relatives at a lake which was up north from where they lived.  His dad said for him to take his pet goldfish with him. His father said he didn’t want to take care of a fish all summer.

So, one day after they got up to the lake, young Clarence decided to become a liberator. He went down to the dock with his fish bowl and gave his fish a little talk. “I’m going to throw you in this lake,” he said. “You will be free. You can eat well here and grow up to be a big fish.”

However, when Clarence put the goldfish in the water at the end of the dock, it stayed right there.  He backed off, thinking, perhaps, that the fish was attached to his shadow. But when he moved back to be sure it was gone, it was still right there.  He even threw a stone into the water to scare it away, but that gold fish just swam around the stone.

When he came back after lunch, the goldfish was still there, swimming in the same spot. Clarence sat down and thought, “That fish should be free. It’s got the whole lake to swim in.” Suddenly he saw in the water a huge ripple. Whop! A big bass swallowed his little goldfish.

Later in life someone told him that a gold-fish, “once it has lived in a circumference of a certain size, has been conditioned to think small. It will stay there until it dies swimming around in that small circle.”  

That’s fascinating to me. Psychological conditioning can be powerful stuff, even when speaking of sharks, wall-eyed pike and goldfish.

Now what does Paul’s letter to the Romans have to do with these creatures of the sea? Just this: St. Paul is writing to believers to tell them that they do not have to give in to the fear-induced limitations of their old lives any longer. They no longer need to be enslaved by petty thoughts and meaningless dreams. Christ has come so that they can be free. The Holy Spirit has come to take off the chains from their hearts and their minds that they may soar as they have never soared before.  This is the Father’s will for us,  Paul declares to them, that we shall live in faith, not fear.

Listen to his words:  13- 17 “ ….because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons (children)  of God.  For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit or sonship (adoption).  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The spirit himself  testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” 

Do you hear what St. Paul is saying to us? He’s saying we are new people—sons and daughters of God in the spirit—and yet some of us are letting our circumstances and not our faith dictate how we see life. We are letting our fears and our doubts enslave us.  God’s purpose is that we may not give in to our circumstances but that we might overcome them.  That we might break loose from the bonds that keep us from being all God created us to be.  I hope each of you are doing well under the current circumstances—but I also hope that you do not allow perceived limitations and fear to stifle your God shaped identity.

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