A Thorny Problem

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field.
(Genesis 3:17-18)

Let’s face it, Church. As a body, we have become far too flippant about the horrors of sin.

Oh, we see the evil of the world out there and shake our heads. We scan headlines filled with riots and shootings and stabbings and mutter clichés about hell and handbaskets. We think of the Mansons and the Dahmers and keep that odd character in our peripherals while we shop. It’s no trouble for us to recognize the myriad ways our society is sliding faster than every on its downward spiral.

What does seem to trouble us is recognizing our participation in the descent.

The longer I’ve walked with the Lord, the more I’ve realized how great the gulf between His holiness and my depravity truly is. Early in my walk, I came to Him fully armed with a compliment of justification for my crimes:

  • This isn’t gossip; it’s venting. Or a prayer request. Or concern for the subject of the discussion.
  • What I think about doesn’t really matter, only what I act on.
  • My actions aren’t holy because it’s impossible to act holy all the time. After all, I’m only human.
  • My words don’t honor God because the pain wrenched something odd out of me, or I was startled, or I was careless…

But the truth is, all this and more is mere flimsy fakery.

  • Gossip is gossip, no matter how much you try to fancy it up.
  • My thoughts are a reflection of me, and every action has roots in the thought life.
  • With man, it is impossible to act holy all of the time, but all things are possible with God – and I have been set apart by Him and for Him.
  • My words are a reflection of my heart. Circumstances don’t cause, they reveal.

Et cetera.

Once my eyes were open, a flood of realization threatened to drown me. My crimes against my Creator infested every facet of life. The evil in the world made sense as I realized how much evil each one of us harbors inside.

How much evil I harbor inside.

For my iniquities have gone over my head; like a heavy burden, they are too heavy for me...

I confess my iniquity; I am sorry for my sin.

Psalm 38:4, 18

Too much for me, but not too much for my God. Though I cannot even stand up beneath the weight of my own crimes, my Lord and King bore not only mine but everyone’s on His death march to the cross.

And He did it all crowned with the first symbol of the curse humans unleashed upon the earth when they chose to strike out on their own rather than living in accord with their Designer and the way they’d been designed.

And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.

John 19:2-3

I’ll never look at a thistle the same way.

Lord, so great is Your magnificence that even in the emblems of our rebellion, You crafted things of strange beauty. Please forgive us our crimes and our cruel and selfish hearts. Change us so we can appreciate Your grace and mercy and fully recognize our own sorry state. Please open our eyes to see how very far we are from what You created us to be. Thank You for sending Your Son to offer us a way back to You! I pray that each one who reads this and all the names I’ve lifted to You before this moment will submit to Your Way, love Your Son, repent, and follow Your Spirit as He leads into eternal life, amen.

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Freedom: You Keep Using That Word…

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

(Galatians 5:1)

Let freedom ring. Right?

Like nearly every word in this information-glutted world, it’s helpful to know what it is the speaker or writer is celebrating freedom from. Not all freedoms are created equal.

I am very thankful to live in a country which holds (for now, at least) to some degree of political freedom. Of course, as history tells us, power always seems to centralize among the powerful. Though technically a democratic republic, the actual choice is between two groups of wealthy and influential people. I am free to choose which of the two will come close to representing my values in government, or I am free to choose among the varied parties certain to lose.

Even yet, remains a sort of freedom, if one continually reminding me that I am a sojourner here.

For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

(1Peter 2:15-17)

But what disturbs me far more than the escalating atrophy of economic, political, and social freedoms in America is the way many of my fellow followers of Jesus seem to confuse these with the sort of freedom the Lord gave up His life to provide.

This is becoming especially evident as those sorts of freedoms become especially more fragile. In this climate, so many well-meaning brethren charge ahead into all sorts of secular activism while waving the banner of the Kingdom of God with zeal. They don’t even seem to realize the irony. Many early devotees of Jesus believed He came as a political King as well.

But what Christ died to set us free from was not political tyranny.

My friends, we may have been sold the fantasy of utopia on earth and been raised in the context of the American Dream, but if we are in Christ, we need to keep an eye on what true freedom is really all about. I’ll give you a hint – it isn’t about guns or masks or toilet paper.

So let’s step take a break from not treading on one another and look at the One we have all trod upon.

Who could be more free than the Author of life? Yet He, the Almighty Creator – this Messiah laid aside His Divine freedom and became a part of His own creation. The Infinite confined Himself to finite boundaries; submitting Himself to being human with all the awful turmoil it brings; to die at the hands of people created through Him, nailed to a tree by iron spikes, both of which were also made through Him.

And He did it to set us free – not from ideologies we feel oppressed by nor from rules that hurt our feelings – but from sin.

The real truth is, we do not take our crimes against God anywhere near seriously enough to comprehend what a gift this is. But that’s a broader topic and I’m already stuffing in too many words for the average modern mind’s patience.

Don’t miss this fact, though: Jesus accomplished our freedom by submitting Himself to death at the hands of Rome – a tyrannical foreign government which occupied Israel at the time. Let that one sink in.

Instead of setting us free to make our own choices, Christ set us free from slavery to the corruption-laced idiocy of our natural bents.

For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.

(2Pe 2:18-19)

He did not set us free to pursue our own gratification in any form. Rather, He set us free from the slavish need to gratify the insatiable self.

His Spirit enables us to actually reach for righteousness – something we are fully incapable of while chained in slavery to our own destructive desires. Heck, on our own, we don’t even glance at righteousness, much less reach for it.

That’s the true freedom Jesus offers – the freedom to cover the shriveled sickness of our fallen appetites and our obsessive fixation with self and dress instead in respectability. He offers as a garment His own noble nature; a nature always and forever righteous and free from wrongdoing.

To live forever with Him, forever free from the guilt, sorrow, and shame with which sin stains even our most virtuous and selfless moments.

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

(John 8:34-36)

A freedom worth fighting for.

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