Freedom


No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.

John 15: 15

 

Let me simply state where I am going in this. The life that I am called to live in following Christ is not one of compulsion; rather, it is a journey of faith in which God takes me into His presence and provides a form of counsel and guidance that I willingly surrender myself to follow. Now, in truth, the level, degree, and consistency of that following are highly variable. None of that inconsistency has anything to do with God’s involvement in my life or with His remaining true to His desire to see me be a willing follower. It is also not so much a result of some form of rebellion on my part as it is caused by my stubborn refusal to give up aspects of my life that are contrary to God’s righteousness and loving truth. Even when I am off course, the Lord tends to bring me back into my redeemed reality by way of gentle yet direct reminders and prompting.

 

It is through the presence of Christ in my life, the Spirit within me, that I gain deep and thorough knowledge of the nature and character of God and that I come to understand the underlying reason and rationale for how the Lord thinks and what He feels. This is a significant part of what distinguishes followers of Christ from the rest of the people in our world. We possess this knowledge and comprehension of God that allows us to apply His foundational truth to making all of the choices and decisions that we need to make throughout the day. Unlike most people in positions of authority, God takes us into His reason and reveals His heart to us. He has given His Word to us, and the Spirit brings that word to life and provides us with an unending narrative regarding intent, interpretation, and application.

 

So, Christ treats me and every other person who follows Him as true and enduring friends. He reveals His pain and His joy, and He entrusts us with doing the redemptive work in this world that is the Father’s greatest calling for Him and for us. In fact, we are taken out of a form of bondage that sin and the powers of evil in our world have surrounded and captivated us with from birth, and He brings us out of its darkness into the full-sun brightness of God’s love, grace, and renewal. Christ releases us from a form of slavery that leads to death, and He sets us free to live life in the fullest expression of the way that God designed and created us to live. In Christ there is joy to be known that has nothing to do with circumstances, and there is peace to be experienced that comes from the security and the certainty of the Father’s unceasing love for us. Jesus truly holds each of us who know Him as deep and intimate friends, and He desires to be able to call everyone friend as well.

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Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.

John 5: 24

 

When does life begin? This is a question that has been debated for a very long time, and it continues to be a point a real contention to this day. Some people argue that life commences at conception, others say that it is at birth, and still others hold that it doesn’t begin until an individual draws independent breath. I am proposing a fourth alternative. This is that life truly begins for each of us when we accept God’s offer of His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior and Lord. The rest of what we might consider to be life is a weak shadow in comparison to being fully alive in Christ, and this new state of being alive is ours from the moment that we surrender ourselves to Christ as this is when His Spirit comes to dwell within us and God’s sentence of judgment upon us as sinners is placed upon Jesus as our personal redeemer.

 

Thus, from that moment forward our lives take on a new meaning and a redeemed purpose. In accepting Christ we have also entered into the will of the Father for relationship with Him. Jesus is the mediator who brings people into the holy presence of the Father with our sins removed and the judgment that we so rightly deserved taken on by Him on the cross. As we are right with God, we can live righteously throughout our days in this world. This is an important aspect of the calling that God has for us as His children and that Christ places before us as His redeemed. Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross has an eternal purpose and it also has one that is for this moment in time.

 

The life that w have been granted as a gift from God through the loving sacrifice of Jesus is to be used to bring the character and nature of the Father and the Son into direct contact with this world. As we who know Christ go about our lives and engage in the activities of our days, we can touch others with love, grace, mercy, and the truth that comes from God’s Word. We can have a redemptive effect upon the brokenness of this place where we live in the manner that we conduct ourselves as we follow the example of Christ and the leading of His Spirit. In Christ we are set free to live without fear of judgment, and we are also granted the freedom to proclaim the redemptive love of Christ to a world where death rules. So, this is the primary purpose of this new life that we receive in Christ. We can demonstrate and speak of life as something that we possess and offer that same life to anyone who accepts God’s offer of it through Christ.

And Nehemiah, who was governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the LORD your God, do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.

Nehemiah 8:9

 

The concept of separation of our religious practice from our system and processes of governance is an invention of recent times in history. This was certainly not the way that God designed for it to be. In the establishment of His nation of Israel and among God’s chosen people, the Lord set it up so that there was a direct and inseparable connection between the people who were the governmental leaders such as kings, princes, and governors and the church as represented by priests and teachers of God’s Law. Even in these ancient times this was not the way that most of the world operated. Most countries were governed by rulers who used the services of their religious practitioners when it was convenient to consult them and listened only to those ideas and direction that suited their desires and pre-set wishes.

 

This is a picture of the world where Jesus lived, and by His days, even the leadership of Israel had changed so much that Nehemiah and Ezra would not have recognized the secularly oriented institution that was the temple, their church. These changes were not the result of positive evolution as they were caused by humanity’s on-going drive to separate itself from God and to establish our own concepts, ordinances, and practices as supreme on earth. Much of our modern concept of separation of church from state is the result of a contra movement away from the dominance of the secular over the religious in which the church and its leaders were simply substituted for kings and governors while continuing to operate the nation as an unholy and sub-righteous entity wherein the end goal was still personal power and gain. Therefore, people who were being oppressed by these ungodly religious leaders established laws and rules of governance that built up barriers between the influence of church and of state upon each other.

 

My proposition is that none of this is right. The Lord is still sovereign over the entire world, over our nations, and in our practice of faith and of governance. His Word is the final authority for all of the decisions that people need to make in order to operate our nations and to live as citizens of this world. To me this means that any and all national allegiances are subordinate to our loyalty to God and that the primary identity of a follower of Christ is that of disciple of the Living God rather than the one that is framed in by national citizenship. With this in mind, there is a very real and important place for the voices of God’s people in the halls of governance of our nations. The truth of God’s Word and the illuminating presence of His Spirit are essential in these places as decisions that impact the lives of people for good and for evil are made there on a daily basis. As people who know Christ and who follow Him through life, we are to be open and outspoken to our governmental leaders, we are also to be present in our halls of governance through prayer, views and opinions expressed, our votes, and by seeking out election to office. As the gathering on that day in ancient Israel suggests, governance is at its best when followers of Christ and secular leaders are gathered as one in order to lead the people along God’s path of righteousness and faith.

But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

John 3: 21

 

Black and white form a stark contrast when they are placed next to each other, for they are strikingly different and obviously so. Patterns painted in these two colors are easy to identify and relatively easy to paint as the black will always cover over the white. Yet, outside of paint schemes and Harlequin makeup, most of the world where we live is not so easily discerned. Black bleeds into white and grey is formed, and some greys are light and wispy like soft clouds, and some are dark and ominous like a rain storm that is ready to let loose.

 

Jesus is telling us that it isn’t so much the color that we are painted that matters; rather, it is the way that we choose to go that counts. There is true light and dark in our world, but this can be challenging since we people, by nature, are big on defining and determining right and wrong based upon our own needs, wants, and desires; thus, we often start to try to paint over our world with our cans of black and white paint. We spray the things that we want to be good and acceptable with our can of white, and we coat the things that we view as bad, wrong, or inconvenient with the black. Unfortunately, we often cover people with our spayed on values. When we are in the midst of tagging our world, we aren’t following Christ’s way of grace that creates movement toward reconciliation.

 

God gives us the true light in a darkened world. He provided us with its perfect living source in Jesus, and He continues to bring light to us through the presence of His Spirit. When we hear the safety briefing on an airplane, we are always told about the string of lights that are set into the center aisle to lead us to safety if something really bad happens. I can tell you with all sincerity that I have no desire to ever use those lights. In a world that is suffocating in confusion and deception, Christ provides an illuminated pathway to safety that is much clearer and more certain than the plane’s ribbon of lights. He gives us the eternally bright truth of His Word, the brilliance of His people, and the leading of His Spirit to direct our steps to safety and to strength. Move toward and into the light and the glory of God will surround you; live in truth and the brilliance of the Lord will radiate from you.

 

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Galatians 3: 27-29

 

There is one and only one point of convergence for all that truly matters in this world. No one and nothing other than Jesus Christ brings us together in ways that are valid and lasting. Yet people who claim Christ are not unified. We argue and disagree, and sadly, we too frequently do so over trivia, minutiae, and about third-rate issues of our understanding of Scripture and faith practice. Yet, there are other issues that are not unimportant and that should work to bring those of us who know Christ closer together rather than drive a wedge into our unity. Paul is identifying a major set of division creators from his days, and these would appear to be rather universal in that even after these two thousand years they and related issues continue to break apart people who claim faith in Christ.

 

Too many of these divisions are based upon worldly issues such as nationalism, protection of human institutions, the acquisition of wealth and power, care for the powerless, inclusion of the oppressed, and gender or racial equality and right treatment. The resolution of these long-standing issues should be found in our Lord’s presence and through the safety of spirit that comes in knowing Him to the degree that God is trusted to provide all. In the light of this eternal truth, we can all be people who give up our sense of protection and self-defense, and we can become people and therefore nations of people who operate out of a first-fruits giving state of heart that fears for nothing and that embraces all others without regard to their differences from us. Unfortunately for many of us this is not a quiet and passive sort of sit back and watch for the Lord to work form of commission from Christ.

 

When we move toward Christ, we also step ever more fully toward His cross. We step into the painful encounters and the hard decisions that He was forced to make in order to right the effects of the world’s sinful brokenness. Christ’s church has always been gathered together on that hill of suffering and pain where the cross is planted; yet, as we so gather we are also entering into our Lord’s victory over every power and all of the evil that operates in this world. In our days with their violence, oppression, and divisive currents of arrogant speech and legislation, we need to stand as the church of Christ in open and fearless opposition to all that is ungodly in our midst. Even the thought or the suggestion that racial superiority exists is wrong, the concept of protecting one’s nation at the cost of the lives of the oppressed is anti-God, failing to care for the poor and the weak regardless of the cost fails to recognize the Lord as our true provider, and the list goes on. We can choose to step out of our fears and our selfish concerns and journey together through our days as the church of Jesus Christ united in His Spirit and pouring out His grace, love, and mercy upon this desperate world. Or we can remain separated and apart.

 

This is a choice that we get to make. I believe that Christ does call upon His people to make it. These are defining days for each of us who know Christ as we make decisions about the way that we will conduct our lives. If we remain silent on the issues that are confronting our world today, we are saying that we accept the rhetoric, the actions, and the course that those in power at this moment dictate. This is not an acceptable course for Christ’s people or for His church. We should not fear the outcome of our actions when they are dictated by the truth of God’s Word, and we cannot continue to hold onto thoughts and concepts that stand in opposition to that same Word. We, Christ’s people and His church, must repent of our sinful acceptance of the world’s standards and views, turn to the Holy Scriptures and the Spirit for guidance, and step onto the common ground of the cross from which we will work under Christ’s direction and in His power to bring redemption and healing to this world.

And he was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Revelation 21: 5

 

It can be hard to be optimistic these days. There is so much wrong in our world, and the pain that all of this brokenness is causing is hard to handle. It doesn’t even need to be personal hurt, loss, and suffering for it to have a strong impact upon us. Then, when the sting of life’s sorrows does come to us in a personal manner, our already tender and raw hearts can be overwhelmed by it all. This is a challenging time in a tough place to live; yet, we are not even close to being alone in this place or in our journey through it. From that moment when it all went sideways, God has been involved in this world and with us as He seeks out all that are lost and has set His plan for full redemption into motion.

 

The plan is present as God articulated it in those first dark hours of creation’s rebellion, and its resolution is a promise that God has made to that same creation and that He specifically gave to the people of this world. We were to be saved out of our sin-devised death by Christ, and He has come and He does save us through faith and by His unfathomable grace. Although I and others who live today may not see that day of final renewal during our current lives on earth, we can be certain of God’s promise that this day of restoration for creation will come. For me there is a hopefulness to be found in this knowledge, for my own efforts on behalf of God’s kingdom are neither wasted nor are they of minor importance to my Lord. He calls me to do what it is that I engage in, and He empowers that effort as He directs it.

 

This reality provides me with true freedom. It expresses the hope that underlies life in this world. For as there is pain, loss, and suffering afoot everywhere today, the presence of God is also here with me, and that presence pours out the glory of my Creator and Lord onto all that I encounter. In moments of loss, He is there to comfort and to fill up with His infinite love. During the hours of pain, Christ shares in it and provides a form of grace that soothes the sting of my raw and tortured nerves. It does seem to me that even over the harsh and raucous noise of our world today that the voices of the angelic choir that surrounds the throne of God can be heard singing out their unceasing praises to the Lord. They speak of God’s promise of total renewal, and they lead me to join in with them in singing praises to Christ who has redeemed me and is working every day to perfect His renewal in me and in all who follow Him.

For we are slaves; yet in our bondage, our God has not forsaken us, but has extended lovingkindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem.

Ezra 9: 9

 

In at least one sense, Ezra is speaking truthfully about our lives today; for, we are slaves. It seems to me that living in this world and the effects of being surrounded by what often seems to be a relentless assault by evil can cause us to feel as if we are just as enslaved as were the Israelites during the times of foreign captivity. It often feels like our thoughts are being held captive by our culture. We perceive that it is unsafe to express what we really believe in public. We live with concerns that all forms of entertainment are likely to be infused with dangerous lies or with harmful images. It is easy for followers of Christ to come to the conclusion that there is no righteousness to be found in our world.

 

Yet, Ezra’s calling to stand firm and to shout out the truth of the Lord’s calling to His people in a very oppressive public environment is also our calling. The Lord does not want us to remain enslaved, trapped, and made ineffectual by the forces of evil that try to take away our freedom. God is not silent in these times; for, He speaks continually to the hearts and into the minds of anyone who will seek Him out and who will listen. God wants us to proclaim our freedom in Christ. In so doing He also wants us to bring restoration to the world around us.

 

We can stand up with courage before the rulers of this world, and we need to stand firmly for the freedom that Christ has given to us. We do this most effectively by refusing to buy into the lies and the deception that evil uses to divert us from our true calling and to frighten us into submission to its mission of destruction. Truth is spoken very clearly in God’s Word, and we are called by Christ to proclaim that truth without reservation, hesitation, or compromise. Our Lord also calls us to love all others with the same passion that He holds for relationship with all people. As we do this we become agents for restoration by bringing the love of Christ and His grace into the lives of people who are caught in the trap of bondage to this world. So, as we rebuild the walls of faith and righteousness in our hearts and in our communities, we can reclaim important parcels of territory for the Kingdom of God.

 

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