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!

… For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.

Daniel 9:18b-19

Lord God, our King and our Redeemer, today I come before Your throne in humility and in repentance. Once again, I have allowed fear to eclipse my faith in You. Once again, I’ve given way to anxiety instead of clinging to Your promises. Again, my mind has strayed from contemplation of Your faithfulness to mull over my own failures.

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…

2 Corinthians 10:5

Forgive me, Lord, and help me to truly take every thought captive to obey Christ! Let me not fall prey to despair when my family seems to be far from You, but help me instead to rejoice in You no matter what.

Forgive me for being silent in the face of those who resist discussing Your goodness. Instead, Lord, let my mouth be full of praise to You and my heart filled to the overflow of my love for You. Remind me that even when it seems I walk alone, I am never alone. You are with me.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

Despite my frailty, despite my weakness and my ineptitude, Lord, You are still King. You are still on Your throne. Help me to be mindful of this fact, trusting that You can reach the hearts of my family and awaken in them a knowledge of the true depths of Your grace – even if I have failed in every way to present You to them.

For though You are gracious to use me, You do not need me to do Your work, Lord. Like a loving Father, You allow me to participate in Your work. But You are the Craftsman. You are the Master – the One who reshapes my blunders and does the work I cannot do.

But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

Isaiah 64:*

I look to You to bring all of my family into right relationship with my Lord Yeshua Messiah. I look to Your Spirit to move in their hearts, shattering idols, quickening true passion for the things of God, slaying pride, and stirring up a keen desire for righteousness and holiness.

I cannot do this work, Lord, nor can my worry over it accomplish anything more than exposing the weakness of my faith. Return my mind once more to a contemplation of the glory of my King, and keep my eyes fixed forever on the light of Your goodness and grace.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Colossians 3:2-3

May my heart be so filled with Your Spirit that the natural overflow of my lips is praise to You. Let my vocal and constant worship of You point others ceaselessly to Your glory.

And Lord, do a mighty work within my family, please. For Your Name’s sake, do not delay but act. Change our hearts so that we seek first Your Kingdom and Your righteousness in unity, together walking in Your light through this dark world. May our family truly be one who can say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord;” Amen!

Gotta Have Goals

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Galatians 5:14-15

Cross country running is no joke. This is particularly true here in Tennessee where summer has dug in her heels, refusing to give way to autumn. Because of this, I have tremendous admiration for my youngest daughter and her friends (many of whom I’ve unofficially adopted) on our school’s cross country team.

I’ll admit today is a breezy 88 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s small comfort when even the trees are calling it quits and dropping their leaves under the relentless sun.

But my cross country kids don’t quit. They persevere.

At the last race, I darted from place to place yelling my atta-boys to the kids as they pushed through temperatures in excess of 96 degrees Fahrenheit/35 degrees Celsius.

Several of the kids have their own health conditions to deal with, making running harder, but they ran it anyway. Occasionally, there’s vomiting along the way, but the kids keep going. Some are faster, others not so fast, yet we scream just as loudly no matter where our runners fall in the pack.

Those who are finished or waiting to run stand alongside the parents, yelling encouragement or handing out water in the chute after the finish line.

These kids are fighters. They stick to it even when it’s tough and they take care of each other. They’ll run beside a struggling teammate. Sometimes, they sacrifice their own race time to stick by the side of a friend in distress.

Suddenly, it hit me why I love these kids so fiercely. They are a microcosm of Christian community done well.

Brothers and sisters, we who are in Christ are not in opposition to one another. We are a team.

We’re running this race together, and we’re running it for the glory of our King. Not for our own prestige. For Christ’s.

When one of our brothers or sisters stumble, we ought to lend our presence and support. When their strength falters, we can run alongside them, offering encouragement.

No matter where they are in the race – way ahead or far behind – we should be there on the sidelines, cheering as madly as if they were in first place.

After all, sometimes just the running is grueling. Even if our runner finishes dead last, at least he ran. At least she finished.

When our own run is a battle through difficult circumstances, we run anyway. We press on to the finish.

We should know each other well enough to know the secret battles we fight, the burdens others carry that make even putting one foot in front of the other a struggle. We ought to shout our support all the louder for it.

In fact, as long as our fellows are running towards the finish line and not away from it, we should be their most fervent supporters!

And if they become disoriented and turn the wrong way, we need to have the guts to step in and point them in the right direction, running right by their side to show them the way.

Did I say we’re a team? It’s more. We are a family. Different parts of one Body.

Our job isn’t to critique each other’s form or ability. Instead, we ought to be sharing in the effort it takes to pursue holiness in a broken and sick world. In broken and sick bodies.

The race is hard. Some days are worse than others. We need each other. We need to take care of each other. The world surely won’t.

So what do you say? Let’s make it our goal to finish strong and not grow weary; to enter the chute on both feet. And let’s help our brothers and sisters any way we can, every step of the way. Even if it costs us personally.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:1-2

Tuesday Prayer: Save

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:2-5

Blessed Savior, I am thankful for all You have done for me! When I was blind, held captive by sin and shame, alone in the darkness and without hope, You called to me. You opened my eyes to see my sin and my caused heart to long for the way back to You.

Though my crimes were against my Creator and deserving of death, You traded Your life for mine. By laying down Your life, You paid my debt. By taking up Your life once again, You gave me a hope and a future, a new life free from bondage to sin.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Romans 6:8-11

Today, my Deliverer, my heart is heavy for the many who are yet enslaved, captives to fear or circumstance, to addiction, to despair. There are many lost, still blinded by the god of this world and imprisoned in deepest darkness. Some of these, I know. Some, I love.

Lord God, save! I plead for them before the Throne of Grace – have mercy! Open their eyes that they may see; soften their hearts that they may believe. Bless them with a Godly grief leading to repentance and salvation without regret and lead them in the Way everlasting!

Their names You know, Lord, for often I cry out to You on their behalf. Many of them live without any hope beyond the few years we are granted on earth. These groan beneath the weight of their chains. Please grant them freedom in Christ!

Others do not even know they are in captivity, having been lured into a cozy prison by the appearance of comfort or pleasure. Of those, some now grope in growing darkness, trying to remember the way out, not realizing what once brought enjoyment has become their prison.

For all of them – for all of us – You have provided salvation through Yeshua Messiah, Jesus the Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Call to them, Lord, and draw them all to Him. Let them see by His light and lead them through that narrow gate which leads to life.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

Psalm 103:13-14

Please, heal what is wounded in their hearts and restore those who are broken in spirit. Remember that they are dust, Lord, and in compassion, have mercy on them as You did on me. Rescue them, my mighty God, and deliver them from death to life.

How I long to praise You for their salvation! I know that You are merciful and gracious, and I eagerly look for the redemption of those whose names I continually lift up to You. Break down their resistance, Lord, and save them even from themselves, amen.

O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations… For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act.

Daniel 9:18-19a

The Heartbeat of Worship

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ

Ephesians 4:11-12

My apologies for being out of touch once again. When it comes to running places, this is the most hectic season of my life to date. My older daughter is on the homecoming court for her school, and this is HOCO week. Such events are brand-new to this recovering introvert who never so much as attended a high school dance.

And let me tell you, when you live 30 minutes from the school and 30 minutes in the opposite direction from a collection of stores with the appropriate semi-formal gear, it is no joke getting this craziness wrapped up. Especially when one of your kiddos is so small that only 1 in 100 dresses fit her, and only about a third of those meet dress code…

But you’re not here to read about the crazy. Let’s talk about the Word, shall we?

Our pastor once made mention of the weekly worship services as a sort of pulse of Christianity, and the idea has resonated with me since. It’s a beautiful picture, really – the gathering together of believers to worship and encourage one another followed by the sending out into the various arteries of the world until we are once more drawn together again and the cycle repeats.

It all came together in a profound way for me this past Sunday as the pastor spoke about our identity in Christ (an excellent message, by the way, for anyone who’s struggling with identity issues of any kind. You can access it here.)

Just as there’s a purpose to our physical heartbeat, there’s a Divine purpose for this rhythmic flux of gathering in and sending out.

The gathering of the Church is meant as a time of worship; of refreshment, equipping, burden sharing, repentance – you name it. All that “churchy” stuff is supposed to go on during our meetings.

But primarily, the worship services are for just that – worship.

It’s where the Body of Christ comes together to worship the Lord who set them free. We sing. We serve each other. We hear the Word and exposition on the Word and we internalize it. We share one another’s burdens. We confess our sin to each other and pray for each other. Or that’s how it should look, anyway.

All of these things – song, teaching, confessing, praying – serve a purpose. This is where we are equipped to do the work God sends us out into the world to do. We learn and grow in Him. We cast our burdens on him.

We leave behind our junk – confessed sin, burdens for others, sorrow, shame. We pick up a fresh insight from the Word of God, a new sense of purpose or direction, or some encouragement to strengthen us. This we take out into the world around us to share.

It’s the pulse of Christianity. The heartbeat of the Body of Christ.

We are the blood in those vessels, surging outward to bring the message of hope and grace, the insight and encouragement we’ve received from our gathering to a world starving for the Bread of Life.

From them, we acquire burdens and sorrows and are drawn back into a gathering once more, ready to share these burdens and lay them at the feet of our mighty God. Once more, we take our nourishment – the Living Water, the Bread of Life – and we are again sent outwards to those who wouldn’t hear the Gospel otherwise.

This is the rhythm of Christian life as it ought to be. The great pulse of Hope and Love. It’s the purpose of meeting together and growing and loving, working through difficulty and learning together. Our corporate heartbeat.

Let’s not neglect it, brothers and sisters. The world outside the heart of Christ needs to hear the message of hope and forgiveness in Him. Let’s be diligent to bring it to them…

Wisdom Seeker: Day 31

Proverbs 31

Well, we’ve reached the end of Proverbs and the final day of my semi-sensical ramblings. I’ve enjoyed this exercise and it’s definitely helped me think through the wisdom found in Proverbs as well as practice writing whether I love what I have to say or not… So thank you for putting up with me!

Now, on to today’s thought:

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Proverbs 31:30

The final proverb has good advice for young men and for young women both. Definitely read it all. What I want to focus on today, however, is the second to last verse.

I am 45 years old. As I write these words (a day early due to an extremely early cross country race on Saturday), my youngest – my baby – is 15 years old.

Fifteen years ago, I gave birth via C-section to my last child, a young lady who attempted to come into the world feet first and so defied my plans of natural child birth. She’s been her own person ever since, and I love her tons. She is a rare and unique delight – as are all three of my children.

Thinking back, fifteen years ago, I was still young. My body looked completely different. My face bore less wrinkles, my head boasted more hair (and none of it gray), and my energy still kept up with the the daylight hours.

Now, youth is fading – fast! I don’t struggle with weight like some women my age do, but I still struggle with the arrangement of the weight I have being entirely different from 20 years ago. The scale reads the same but the clothing from then does not fit the same.

TMI for you fellas here, but I seem to be nearing the finish line as far as the capacity for childbearing goes. I am not young anymore.

But I am more joyful than ever before in my life. Finally, I have a stronger grasp of the extent of God’s grace. Finally, I feel the burden of having to be and do to be lifted. All I have to do is follow Him. That’s it.

It’s not that I feel I’m above the laws and commandments – far from it! The longer I’ve walked with Yeshua, the more I’ve loved Him. The more pain I’ve suffered, the more I’ve appreciate the pain He chose to suffer for me – on purpose.

And the more I love and appreciate Him, the more I find that to obey Him IS joy.

Charm? Not sure I ever had much of that. Beauty? If I had it, it’s definitely fleeting – and I see it fleeing faster and faster these days!

I do fear the Lord, though I prefer all the praises to go to Him. He is worthy!!

Wisdom Seeker: Day 30

Proverbs 30

Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:8-9

Have you ever thanked God for affliction and trouble?

It’s a sincere question. Think about verses 8-9 of today’s reading. The author asks God to keep him in a state of in-between. He asks for neither enough wealth that he has no worries nor poverty where he has nothing but worries.

Not many of us in America fall into the second category. Oh, we may have our share of bills and not quite enough to pay them, true. But few of us have ever been tempted to steal just to fill our empty bellies.

To get to that point of need you’ll have no electric bill nor water bill to trouble your mind. No cell phone or internet service to speak of, so if you’re reading this, you’re not that poor. To face starvation, it’s doubtful you’ll have rent or a mortgage. If you have any of those things, you have something you can trade in or sell that would purchase a few decent meals at least.

It may seem counter-intuitive to actually thank God for hardship, though. After all, would you rather thank Him from a position of unshakable financial security?

I’m sure. Yet for one thing, there is no such thing as unshakable financial security. Not to mention I know of no soul so pious that it isn’t prone to relying more on it’s bank account than on God.

But that, my friends, is a dangerous place.

It’s best if we have enough difficulty in life to remind us of our need for God. The problem with wealth is that, too often, it begins to own us. Like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22, we feel so secure in our stuff that we hesitate to leave it behind for the lasting riches found in Christ.

When I think of this thing in terms of eternity – of the fleeting nature of health and wealth in my present state, of the rapidity with which all my earthly security can come crashing down due to an accident, diagnosis, or natural disaster – then yes, I can thank God for adversity.

For me, chronic pain has taught me more about His goodness and mercy than life as a healthy billionaire ever could. And I am thankful.

Lord, thank You for loving us enough to keep us dependent on You. No matter what life may bring, keep our eyes turned to You and our hearts inclined to loving obedience to You, amen.