Sunday, May 29, 2005

Squandering freedom

Freedom is one of the blessings we most take for granted in America. Our forefathers and many servicemen have died for it—for us. By not appreciating their sacrifice and doing something valuable with that freedom, we do the unthinkable. We squander it.

In that sense, freedom for us can be a little like old money. It’s been inherited, not earned or sacrificed for, and there is always something less meaningful about things that are just handed to us.

Nevertheless, our freedom is no less valuable or real—just perhaps unrealized or misused. And so it is with our freedom in Christ. We have inherited, not because of anything we’ve done, but by the grace and forgiveness of a just but loving God, a freedom that is to be treasured and used only for exceedingly high purposes in our time here on Earth. But do we always use it for such? Or do we squander it on self-indulgence? Or worse yet, do we hide it away?

It is possible to be free and yet to not understand what it means to be free. I’m sure many slaves who woke up free on January 1, 1863, had no idea what freedom meant on a practical level, or how they were going to use it. They knew the hard life they had been freed from of indignity and suffering. But they had no way of knowing what they were now free to accomplish. That could only come with time as they lived out their freedom.

I imagine that it’s similar with us as slaves of this world set free by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. I doubt that any of us fully realized the scope of what we were freed from when we gained our Christian liberty. I also doubt that any of us fully realized what we were now free to accomplish in the cause of the gospel. The more we realize what we have been freed from, the more we need to act upon what we are now free to do, which is to serve the God who created us in every moment of our lives:

    Galatians 2:1,13,14 - Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. … For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (NKJV)
It’s one thing if we don’t yet know we have liberty. It’s quite another to know it and fail to use it. I assume there were slaves that were intentionally kept in the dark about the emancipation proclamation, and who remained enslaved simply because they didn’t know they had been freed. But when we are simply afraid to use our newfound liberty in service to God and man, we are essentially taking a blessing from God and burying it, just like the man in the parable of the talents buried his sum of money. It was supposed to have been used and multiplied. Instead it was wasted. It returned no value to the master whatsoever. Is that how we treat our Christian liberty?

We’ve been given a gift. Jesus Christ signed our own personal emancipation proclamation with his own blood. How dare we take this precious freedom, bought and paid for by the suffering of God’s own Son, and hide it in the closet, never to be exercised! God created mankind to long for freedom and to flourish in it, not to put it in a glass case and look at it.

Let’s not squander this awesome gift of God by merely acknowledging it. Don’t let our freedom become like old money, to be squandered and taken for granted. Instead, let’s use it for good and multiply it. We ought to let our minds drift among the endless possibilities of how we have been freed to serve one another. God placed this Christian liberty in our care. Let’s not bury it in our backyard.

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Too good to be true

Are you skeptical of those who talk about Christian liberty? To many of us, freedom in Christ seems too good to be true. It just doesn't seem possible that the same God who struck down Uzzah, Nadab, and Abihu for breaking rules and regulations under the Old Law could shake heaven and earth with a new covenant not involving such outward rules and regulations. After all, the God of the Bible is the same yesterday, today, and forever, right?

Ah, but does the unchanging nature of God negate the fact that His relationship with His creation has indeed changed dramatically? For those of us who are parents, take note of the fact that our relationship with our children changes as they mature. It should not be surprising, then, that God's relationship with us, his children, has changed. The Old Law, in fact, was merely a schoolmaster to train an immature mankind until the time its rules, regulations, and holy days would be nailed to the cross. And nailed to the cross they are:

    Colossians 2:14 - ...having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (NIV)

    Romans 7:6 - But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (NIV)

Under Christ, with His law written in our hearts, we have true liberty, brothers. Don't doubt it. It is the real thing, not just a mirage to look at with hardened heart and skeptical eyes. Our liberty is not to be used for fulfilling sinful desires, of course, but that makes it no less real. I, for one, think we ought to be creative--innovative, in fact--with our liberty to use it in service to our risen savior. Let's take the shackles off our previous thinking, and use our sincere love for God to serve Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and life. Every fiber of our being should reflect our love and passion for serving the God of heaven.

Liberty is such a powerful craving of the human soul given to us by God. America's founding fathers recognized this and set out to infuse our fledgling society with liberty as one of its core values. This God-given longing also draws us to want to be free from rules and regulations. Those who are not living after the Spirit express their desire for freedom by rebelling against the goodness of God. Those who set out to live a life in accordance with the Spirit express it by embracing the goodness of God, which is a powerful motivator in leading men to repentance.

God is good, my friends. A good father, as Jesus said, gives good gifts to his children. And the gift of liberty, granted when we were freed from our sins by Jesus' death on the cross, is one of the greatest gifts we could have. It is enabling, inspiring, and joyous, not binding, confusing, or discouraging.

So is Christian liberty too good to be true? Not according to the scriptures. Granted, it is far better than we deserve. But what should we expect from our Creator who is the ultimate example of goodness?

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Denominational echo chambers

Some media elites have trouble relating to middle America. The only people they know come from a humanist, left-leaning worldview. They wine and dine only with people in that crowd, they seek to curry favor with them for career and social advancement, and they bestow awards only to them. To these people, the heartland of America is an enigma, because frankly, they know nothing about the heartland of America.

I wonder if we have similar things happening in organized religion, where people in one faction are simply a mystery to the advocates of another. When we become cheerleaders for our own denominations and factions, we place ourselves in a similar echo chamber where our opinions sound so right and so self-evident because they are the only ones we hear.

This has to contribute to the provincialism we see among people who desire to follow the same God of Heaven through His Son Jesus Christ, but who have instead pledged allegiance to some earthly faction. That’s not to say that the teachings of all the present factions are fine and dandy. They clearly are not. If they were fine and dandy, they would not be factions at all.

But if we acknowledge no faction or denomination as having authority over our faith in the King of Kings, I think we can jar open the doors of this echo chamber a little. Maybe then we’ll actually hear each other when we speak rather than just hearing the overconfident echo of our own rarified voices.

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Being a better spouse

Have you ever noticed the abundance of pop psychology books and self-help tomes on marriage that all seem to focus on getting what you want from marriage rather than supplying what your spouse wants and needs? Does it never occur to these people that the human soul is most satisfied when it is serving others, not manipulating them for its own purpose? But I guess a self-centric view of marriage is to be expected in this “it’s all about me” society.

My personal experience has been, and scripture confirms its truth, that marriage is about selflessly giving, not selfishly getting. This makes sense when you think about the fact that the church is spoken of as Christ’s bride. He selflessly gave his life as the leader of his family (the called out, or ekklesia) in order to provoke us to love him in return.

Our love for Christ translates to selfless service, just as our love for our spouses should do the same. But it is willing service, not service by compulsion or the result of conniving or prowess. Never once did Jesus coerce or manipulate his disciples to follow Him. Neither should spouses coerce or manipulate each other. The Son of God, our model character study for our time here on Earth, acted humbly with the intent of creating a desire on our part to follow Him. Shouldn’t it be that way with our marriages?

As we make our character more like what He wants (think about the fruits of the Spirit), it’s self-evident that we become more pleasing to Him. But it’s not a one-way street where we are the ones carrying the burden of the relationship. We certainly don’t have the right to feel resentful for our service toward Him, and neither should we feel that way toward our spouse. We serve both because we have their interests at heart, not our own.

Jesus Christ has the right to say “Come on here, I went through all that on the cross, and this is what I get in return?” And yet He doesn’t. He is longsuffering, not willing that any of his disciples should perish. He keeps adding meaning to the relationship, even when we don’t deserve it--as if we ever did!

As we become more like the Master, we ought to become more and more in awe of our relationship with the Son of God. How could He love us that much? Why is He so patient with our faults? And so the relationship takes on newer and deeper meaning over the years, bringing to life the words of the old song “Sweeter As the Years Go By.” Shouldn’t it be that way with our marriages?

This is why I think marriage was intended by God to be a little slice of Heaven. The apostle John emphasizes repeatedly that God is love. God created and blessed marriage between men and women whether they acknowledge Him in their lives or not. Of course, the more they acknowledge Him, the more blessed the marriage will be. But men and women who learn in some measure to selflessly love their spouses have learned by that same measure something about the God that created them with that awesome capacity for love.

And don’t think that love won’t be returned in far greater measure.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Moving, moving, moving...

I have to offer my apologies for being offline for several weeks. I've had a lot of thoughts incubating in the back of my mind while trying to manage the relocation of my family from Orange County, California to South Idaho. (Shhhh, don't tell my neighbors there are more Californians moving in.)

Now that both escrows seem to be lined up properly, I should be able to get more writing time in. Thanks for your patience, and thanks for all the prayers and encouragement from friends and family!