January 2015


Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

2 Corinthians 3: 17

 

Freedom is a complex idea. What might seem free to one person can look like restriction to another. The forces of culture that set one of us free may stifle and constrain another. In our world there is little that constitutes true freedom. Everything comes at a price and carries with it the burden of responsibility and obligation. Yet, God has promised freedom to all people, for as John says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

 

True freedom is not defined as a state of being, a location, or the ability to do as one pleases. Freedom as God sees it is ours regardless of physical circumstances, bodily limits or any other form of restraint or restriction. In Christ our souls are set free from the oppression of sin and death. Still, we do desire more, and this desire is also a part of the character and the nature that God has given to us in His design of the human creature. People desire to live in the full experience and expression of our relationships with other people, with our world and with God. Anything that diminishes our ability to live in this manner is troubling to our hearts and to our minds.

 

As people who are free in Christ we are called upon by Him to be concerned about and to work for the freedom of others. First of all, we are to bring the truth of our freedom to the attention of the world around us in actions and words that proclaim Christ and His salvation. Also, as a means of engaging in that proclamation, we are to diligently and continually seek after justice in our world. Oppression is a human characteristic that is the outworking of evil in our midst. Followers of Christ are free in and through Him to speak out against the tyranny of slavery and imprisonment of all sorts, to pray for physical and emotional freedom for captives, and to open opposition to oppressors. In all of this our purpose and intent should be to lift up our Lord and to set both the prisoners and their jailers free.

This is a special prayer request:

This afternoon ( Wednesday, January 21st) Naghmeh Abedini will have the opportunity to meet one on one with President Obama in order to appeal for his and our government’s intervention in seeking the release of her husband Pastor Saeed Abedini from prison in Iran where he is being held because of his faith in Christ. Please pray for favor and for God’s Spirit of freedom to prevail. Thank you.  

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,

who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

“I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,

to revive the spirit of the lowly,

and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Isaiah 57: 15

 

These are days when it seems as if God is very far away. All appearances suggest that this world is filled with the presence of all that is evil. Good people are suffering in such horrible and public ways that it feels like their blood is the fuel that feeds the earth around us. In all of this, nature is broken as tornados, hurricanes, typhoons, and earthquakes destroy, and wars, oppressive violence, and numerous forms of injustice undo human order. In it all, where is God?

 

The Lord does dwell in the high place of heaven. He is above and beyond all of the destructive mess that is our earthly existence. His hands are clean and His heart remains pure. Despite our guilt He does not pour out anger and destruction on us. From this place of separation God sees all with absolute clarity. His view of our situation is complete as He sees yesterday, today and all of the future with total comprehension. All of the history of the earth and its people is included in God’s plan for restoration.

 

Yet, there is more. For God has never just left us to our own devices and said that He would come back later to sort out the pieces of our destructive living. He also dwells with people who turn to Him. The Lord of Creation is the savior of my soul, the encourager of my heart, and the source of wisdom for each of my thoughts and actions. He brings His perfect council to anyone who desires it. His Spirit speaks peace to troubled minds and comfort to weary hearts. For all who desire Him, He is present, and the presence of the Lord is sufficient for all of the troubles of this world.

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.

John 6: 63

 

Try as I may, no matter how much effort I put out, and without regard for my diligence in doing the work, I can’t breath one additional breath of life into my soul. Death is resident in my cellular makeup, and it pervades every corner of my existence; thus, the cold hand of mortality reaches out and chills me to the core. So it is not at all unreasonable to consider that my reaper-owned flesh can do absolutely nothing to move me from the realm of mortality into that of God’s eternity.

 

Still, God, my Creator and Eternal Father, has committed to bringing me close to His side and to keeping me there forever. In my experience, God is always good to His word; so, there must be a bridge from the short lived existence into which I was born and to which we are all condemned and the unending, immutable, and perpetual aliveness that the Lord promises.

 

The connection is made in and through Jesus, the Christ, for He brings life to the soul and assures us of the unending nature of our existence in the loving presence of God. As wondrous as is this prospect, there is much more. The Lord does not leave us waiting and wondering about a distant future, and He wants us to live a life that is infused with the blessing of His gracious love and perfect wisdom. Christ gives us His Spirit to bring true life to our hearts, minds, and souls. For me this reality brings freedom; since, the Spirit does in me and for me what I am completely incapable of accomplishing myself, So, I am free to live everyday in the joyous certainty of eternity.

 

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Acts 4: 13

 

There was something that was much bigger than the words or than the actions that Peter and John had demonstrated. They had a form of confidence that comes from a place deep within. They also exhibited a depth of compassion that exceeded all that the world around them would have considered to be reasonable or even rational. These rather rustic men who would have been much more comfortable in a discussion about handling commercial fishing gear and about the winds on the lake than they were in conversing about theological matters were carrying on a powerful dialogue about God with the primary keepers of all national religious practice. What was truly striking in this situation was that they were winning the audience.

 

Peter and John were remarkable for their ordinariness. There was nothing except perhaps the still faint aroma of the fish that would have distinguished them from other less educated working-class people of their world. Yet, they were having a miraculous effect on people. They were healing people. Certainly there were instances where the physical ailments that had disabled lives were cured, and this was a powerful work that Peter and John attributed to Christ. However, there were far more people who witnessed the profound truth that came from their mouths and the absolute love that they poured out on all, and these audiences were drawn to the inescapable fact that they were encountering God. These simple men had the confidence of their faith and the boldness that was required to take the truth of the Christ into the presence of His most strident adversaries. Still, when facing the animosity of Hell they spoke with the love of the Father.

 

These fishermen could have been farmers or store workers. They could have been engineers, secretaries, writers, or lawyers. The knowledge and the understanding of God that they possessed on their own were minimal and incomplete. Yet, the words that they needed for the debate were always there. The ideas that the situation required were granted to them. In Christ, they never failed to have the wisdom to engage the need that was before them. When all that was logical in their minds tried to tell them that they were not good enough or knowledgeable enough to enter into the conversation, Christ provided them with the courage and the strength to do it regardless. As we follow the model of these fishermen and humble ourselves before Christ, boldness becomes simple obedience and people will see Jesus alive and engaged in our world.

It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Philippians 2: 13

 

When I was a youth, there was a summer where growth and change took over my body; I grew three inches taller and actually lost a considerable amount of weight in just a few weeks. From my viewpoint, I knew that things were changing, but my sense of the change was less than that of people who saw me after it had happened. I did experience pain, for my joints ached; and I had some really awkward moments; since, my hands and my feet did not know where they were in relation to the rest of the world. God does some remarkably similar things in us. I doubt that He will make you much taller, but He will give you the confidence to hold your head a lot higher. He won’t necessarily cause you to lose weight, but He will carry the load of life for you. Just like in my growth spurt, you may not notice the dramatic ways that you are changing, but others will see a new person emerging.

 

In Christ, we are new persons; people who now have our identity in Christ. We have been made right and righteous, and our relationship to God has been restored. Whether we are four, forty, or at any other age, and throughout all of life, we grow and mature as the Spirit of Christ does the amazing and loving transformational work that He has planned for each of us. You see, every personal trainer, mentor, guru, yogi, pastor, and coach who has ever worked with people possesses nothing more than a mere shadow of life=changing ability of God. He knows us from the heart out, and He plans for our greatest good in ways that are beyond the capability of any human.

 

The growth pains and awkward moments that do come as we are on this life-long path of transformation are simply minor bumps in the road. They are reminders of how far we had to go and of how very far we have come in the journey of being transformed into the living image of Christ. This change that is afoot in our bodies, minds, and spirits is there because God loved each of us totally and willed that it would be possible. The change occurs and continues as we accept this love and yield ourselves in order to allow Christ the opportunity to bring about further transformative change.

 

For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Corinthians 4: 18

 

 

My eyes spend a lot of their day looking at things that only frustrate and confuse me. My mind sees the images of decay and death that fill this world and it cries out for relief. My heart is crushed by the suffering that surrounds me in its daily travels and almost wants to stop beating in order to find relief. In the end, my greatest hope is that some form of justice and humanity would come between what I am experiencing and the forces that are causing all of this brokenness. My heart cries out for humanity to reign. However, it is exactly that, humanity, which is the cause agent of all that is so hurtful in this world.

 

What I am missing as I focus on what is occurring in my world is that there is another dimension to it all. It is too easy to seek out the ready target of external appearances so that the experiential aspects of my life are framed by these temporary hardships and pains that are the product of the sin-induced brokenness of this world. What I am missing due to this short-sighted focus is the great, majestic, and wonderful presence of Christ in this world today. Christ did enter into it, and His Spirit is with us now. It is the desire of God that we would live in the continual experience of His reality. God wants us to see the world around us as His beautiful creation and to take on the responsibility, through Christ, of restoring it to His intended glory.

 

The hope and the beauty of this world are not found in and through humanity as it is in its sin-fractured and earth-bound state; rather, they are found in the promise of renewal and transformation that is made real in Christ. In order to hear God’s voice and to see with His eyes, my heart needs to be still and my eyes must be turned from the images of destruction that envelop me. God’s Word speaks to my mind and my heart. His Spirit opens my eyes to see His hands of healing and strength as they bind up and cure the wounds that sin has inflicted. Christ performs His restorative work in my spirit, and He provides me with a clear image of how my life can be used to bring Him glory and to join Him in the work of making visible that which is eternal.

 

It is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 7: 8

 

When I think about the Hebrew people during their time of captivity in Egypt, my mind brings out images that are straight out of film or that are the drawings in an old pictorial guide to the times of the Bible. What these images have in common is that they are totally disconnected from my reality. Frankly, I can’t remember a time when my friends or I pretended to be either Egyptians or Hebrews during neighborhood play. We did enact epic battles between cowboys and Indians and ones that involved knights or Robin Hood’s band, but we never set our games in ancient Egypt. Still, Moses’ words strike me as being spoken about my life and this world.

 

Slavery is too common. Everyone is faced with it and with dealing with its oppression. Unfortunately what I have found out personally is that a very large portion of the time that is spent under the harmful control of something or someone is the direct result of my own decisions. Things have not changed all that much in all of these thousands of years, or so it would seem. The Hebrews allowed themselves to be subjected to Pharaoh’s rule. They went to Egypt to gain security and comfort. They placed themselves under the authority of a person and trusted in his goodness and mercy. In the end Pharaoh proved to be exactly what they should have been able to anticipate, for he followed the leading of the god that he worshiped and distrusted these people who worshiped the true God.

 

There is one place that all people can go to be assured of security and mercy. There is one source for safety and for salvation from the slavery that oppresses our souls. God promised all of us that He would save us. He has fulfilled that promise completely. Christ answers all of our needs. He strikes the blow that shatters the chains that hold our hearts in bondage. His word is clear and His Spirit is present. Christ leads each of His people out of the darkness that we have allowed to surround our minds. His glory will penetrate the blindness that fear, despair, and confusion create. The journey into freedom is not usually easy. It requires trust and courage to leave the false comfort of captivity, but Christ does keep His promise, and He joins us in the journey. In the end, it is glorious to breathe the fresh air of freedom in the presence of God.

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