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.

A Pandemic Invitation

But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, "You are my God,"
My times are in Your hand...
Psalm 31:14-15a

How is everyone holding up through this COVID-19 pandemic?

We are doing well here in my corner of the world. Huddled at home but not in fear, enjoying one another and leaning in to God.

This same God, by the way, has faithfully met our needs thus far. Not all of our wants – we are all being required to let go of those these days, huh? But we do not lack anything we need. We have food, water, clothing, and yes, even toilet paper.

He has also supplied joy, peace, and patience as we are compelled to be together almost constantly under one roof, living a different life in April than we could have guessed at in our wildest imaginings at the beginning of March.

Yes, life is uncertain these days; yes, there are shortages; yes, there is a great deal of misinformation and disinformation circulating; and yes, there is a staggering amount we do not know about what will happen.

But allow me to ask a question: How is this different than any other day? Only in our awareness of it. We feel out of control, reeling with uncertainty about what tomorrow may bring.

The truth its, all that’s really been lost is the illusion of control.

Just because a new virus stalks the world does not change this fact, though it has enhanced it. You and I, we never had control over our lives. We simply were surrounded by so much routine, so much accessibility, and so many things obtainable that we weren’t aware of it.

Yet even a month ago when we could pick up toilet paper any day on our way home from work or school, we had no guarantees of arriving home. On any given day, a vehicle accident could rob us of life. Or our hearts could cease to function. Or we could break our necks tripping over stairs as we bring the toilet paper into the house. Or one of dozens of other “what ifs” could happen.

Over sixteen years ago, my life was altered by a virus. Not COVID-19 but viral meningitis landed me in the hospital and triggered a chronic headache condition accompanied by chronic fatigue. And yet, I still do not fear this new threat.

Why? Because I trust in the One who holds my times in His hands. The illusion of control had already been stripped from me only to be replaced by an experience of חֶסֶד (chesed); of the steadfast and unwavering love of the Lord God.

For over sixteen years, He has continually been showing me how good He is, how He can provide, how He does wonders even in the midst of unrelenting pain, how His strength is truly perfect in my overwhelming mental, physical, and emotional weakness.

I not only believe these things to be true, I have lived their truth. I know them like I know my way around my house.

Friend, if you are anxious or afraid, if you feel trapped in uncertainty or by addiction or sin, you don’t have to be. I invite you today to turn it all over to the One who holds our times in His powerful and unchanging hands.

He isn’t asking you to give up control but telling you He is the one who has control, not you.

He isn’t asking you to give up fun but ready to show you true joy and fun are not found in the sin which promises so much and yet produces only temporary pleasure at best, a permanent prison at worst.

He is here in this pandemic, waiting for You to accept the gift of salvation in the mighty Name of Jesus Christ who died to set you free from sin’s clutches.

In Him alone can you find freedom from fear, joy in His presence, pleasure forevermore.

You are invited, friend, but you have to decide: Cling to your illusions? Or trust in the One who made all things and in Whom all things hold together?

Freedom

So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 4:31-5:1

I’ve probably mentioned before, but this is the busiest season of my life to date. Just keeping up with my teenagers takes up many hours of my week. Thus my erratic posting…

At any rate, a recent read of the Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass coupled with a study of Galatians has me thinking through Christian freedom.

As briefly as I can, I think I’ve spent much of my journey with the Lord grappling with the idea of freedom. It’s taken me some time to come to grips with exactly what it means to be free.

Perhaps this is due to the bizarre misunderstanding of the term, “freedom” my culture embraces. When most of us think of “freedom” in Christ, the mental picture we seem to conjure is more akin to licence than to actual freedom.

Freedom in Christ is not freedom to do whatever one wants. It’s so much better! The freedom Christ died to give is freedom from enslavement to sin. Freedom to choose not to sin, not freedom to engage in it.

The enemy of our soul is a liar whose goal is to steal our freedom and sell us a cheap substitute instead: a free-for-all instead of freedom. Licence instead of liberty.

Interestingly enough, the slavemasters of the 1800s apparently took a lesson from the ancient snake. As Mr. Douglass writes:

Thus, when the slave asks for virtuous freedom, the cunning slaveholder, knowing his ignorance, cheats him with a dose of vicious dissipation, artfully labelled with the name of liberty. The most of us used to drink it down, and the result was just what might be supposed: many of us were led to think that there was little to choose between liberty and slavery. We felt, and very properly too, that we had almost as well be slaves to man as to rum.

Fredrick Douglass

It’s the oldest trick in the Book. What God offers is genuine Joy, actual Liberty, a glimpse at real Life and honest Love, and our own self as we were created to be.

The enemy asks, “Did God really…?” and makes us question the Divine motive.

The snake makes love look like it’s withholding some mysterious and desirable thing. But in truth, he wants to bind us up in chains of addiction, sorrow, guilt, despair, anxiety, fear – all the nasty things we struggle under.

And that old serpent is so good at the game by now that he manages to convince us that our chains are freedom; that God wants to take something from us rather than turn us loose to live without fear and crippled by the shackles of our own cravings run amok.

The enemy glories in taking our liberty and sells us addiction, imprisonment, servitude. It especially feeds his miserable, vengeful core if he can sell us our bondage and make us think we need it to be happy. But he knows, friends, the greater the bondage, the less happiness we receive from it.

Oh how he loves to watch us squirm.

But Christ does offer freedom. Real, honest freedom.

Freedom to not need drink to have fun. Freedom to not need a hit or the next fix – of whatever.

Freedom to face death without fear, to let our kids go out into the world without anxiety, to meet the worst possible circumstance with a smile and confidence that whatever may happen to us here, our future is secure in Christ.

Freedom to live and die in victory, knowing that for those who are in Christ, death is really only the final freeing of our self from the temporary shelter of our mortal bodies, so that what is mortal can be swallowed up by Life.

Let freedom ring!

Wisdom Seeker: Day 29

Proverbs 29

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.

Proverbs 29:25

Today, I’m in a bit of awe over the mercy of my God. It’s difficult to explain, but suffice to say that the last 2 days saw me in the middle of a migraine. And joy. Crazy, inexplicable joy.

I could only feel thankful that my Lord suffered pain on purpose to pay the penalty for my sin. I, however, deserve worse than pain yet I have the end of pain to look forward to for all eternity. I think I could write a book about the joy and still not fully explain it.

To bring it to today: Verse 25 of this proverb is true – fear of man certainly lays a snare. I spent much of my adult life captive to it. Fear of man – fear of displeasing others which led me into either codependency or a weird sort of rebellion against that tendency that only led me to reject possibly decent people in favor of people I had no genuine concern for.

Even as a new believer, I felt more concerned with pleasing other Christians than I did pleasing God.

In truth, it took pain before I could listen. God provided me with a gift – pain that shackled me, limited what I could do. Then, finally, I learned to look to Him alone. I learned to ask, “No matter what anyone else thinks, Lord, what is it You want me to do?”

It’s been the most liberating change of my entire life except for the moment when I was liberated from my sin by putting my trust in the sacrifice of Yeshua Messiah – Jesus Christ.

Sometimes my obedience to God displeases other people. But as long as He is pleased, I no longer mind. I feel compassion for the others and I pray for them, knowing that God desires them, too, to feel the same freedom.

And even better, I find it’s harder for others to displease me. When they do, I remind myself that I’m not the one they need to fear, anyway. That, too, is freeing.

There’s a bit of it, but there’s such a gratitude in me that I really can’t express it all. I need to give a bit of time to my current writing project, then prepare to celebrate the youngest’s 15th birthday tomorrow.

Wishing you joy and peace in Christ today!

Tuesday Prayer: Idols

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
(Isaiah 44:6)

Most High, as You spoke through the prophet centuries ago, You are the first and the last and apart from You there is no God. You are the sole and supreme Authority, the One who existed before all else and in whom all things are held together. Everything is part of Your creation, made to serve Your purposes and subject to Your plans. Teach us to magnify Your name as it should be done and to serve no other God.

Lord, as we spend more time in Your word, the more we are forced to confront those areas in our lives which fall short of bringing You honor and glory. As we examine our hearts, our lives, and our loyalties through the light of Your truth, we find we are not so far removed from the faithless children of Israel as we would like to think. Like them, when You appear before us in glory we fall to our faces in awe, but also like them, when an obstacle appears or when Your promises seem delayed, we quickly fall prey to fear or turn our hearts to yearn after some other thing.

And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it…
(Exodus 32:7-8a)

Forgive us for our idolatry, subtle though it may be! Whether what we serve is our careers, our families, our pleasures, entertainments, or any other created thing, we pray that You will reveal all of them no matter how painful. And Lord, we invite You to tear down the idols, asking only that You will give us the faith and trust to work with You in removing whatever we have erected in the place of worship within our hearts.

As we submit to this process, we look forward to the freedom we will experience by walking fully and humbly in Your will. We long to see You exalted in our lives and ask for You to fill our hearts more and more with love for You.

Let us be genuine Kingdom seekers first and foremost, not serving you out of one side of our mouths and serving ourselves out of the other. Instead, Lord, make us fully Yours; a people of undivided minds and hearts loving You and serving You wholeheartedly. As we walk out our trust, use the light of Your freedom shining through our lives to set others free. May Your word speed ahead and be honored in us, in our families, and in every place we go with You, amen.