Freedom


Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?

1 Peter 3: 13

 

In Peter’s day, the answer to this question was, “Many people”; these included the Emperor, the District Governor, the local authorities in many cities and towns, and numerous ordinary citizens. Christ followers had a way about them whereby they had the ability to stir up trouble. They tended to stick their noses into the affairs of those in power and into the lively hoods of the general population, too. Because of the essential nature of following Christ, they possessed a special talent for causing the wrath and the anger of religious leaders to boil over at them. The world where Peter lived was especially dangerous for him and for the others who openly proclaimed Christ. Our culture and the society where most of us reside is more genteel and less prone to violent opposition than was his. Yet, there is real danger out here in our streets, and the opposition that we will face for our faith is truly present.

 

There are places on earth where confessing Christ and sharing His Gospel with others is quite literally dangerous to do, but most of us do not live in those places. Our governments may even speak to being Christian in some manner, and the practice of our faith in Christ is not constrained or legislated against. However, different gods and a separate gospel do exist, and their adherents are often quite aggressive in their defense of those beliefs and of the system of power, authority, and rule of law that has grown out of this ungodly foundation. In much of our world nationalism, wealth and power, military might, and selfish ambition form the tenants of this modern ethos and frame in the definition of its exclusive membership. Christ is invited in as a silent partner and as a nominally expressed adornment to be hung upon the wall but not granted a real voice or followed into points of conflict with the way that life is being conducted.

 

To follow Christ today will lead to that conflict with many of our modern systems and power structures. This has not changed significantly from Peter’s days, and just as it was for him, we will also encounter disagreement and opposition from individuals over matters of what is right, just, and in conformity with God’s Word. Yet, Christ assures us that doing what is good, in every sense that He sets forth as being His desire for all of Creation to experience, will not lead us to the sort of harm that actually matters when we face our Lord in judgement for the lives that we have lived. Seeking righteousness and calling out that which is not the true Gospel of Christ in the world around us will not be popular, and these actions will lead to conflict and to disagreements with others. Some of these disagreements will be with people who name Christ as Lord and even with people who fellowship with us in our home church. These harsh realities cannot stop or deter us from speaking forth what is righteous, just, loving, and in alignment with God’s Word, that is, speaking what is good. For, when the full goodness of Christ is proclaimed, life is breathed into the world around that place.

 

 

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O LORD, you are my God;

I will exalt you; I will praise your name,

for you have done wonderful things,

plans formed of old, faithful and true.

Isaiah 25: 1

 

There are days when the prophet’s idea gets lost in all of the noise and the confusion of life. I admit that I do forget, if only for a few heartbeats, that I serve the true King, who is fully engaged and absolutely in charge of the world where I dwell. There is nothing that is beneath my Lord’s dignity to touch, and no aspect of my life is so insignificant that God does not care about it and for me through it. This is the nature of God. He loves His creation in ways that make the love of the best of fathers seem distant and neglectful. The Lord not only says that He would die for us, He literally suffered awfully and took on death in its fullest expression so that we would not need to endure its ultimate end. This is the sort of God that I do know, and this is the God who is Lord over my life in all ways and at all times.

 

One of the most remarkable things to me about this relationship with God is the fact that it was not of my devising or creation just as it was not the creation of any other person. God planned to remain close to people, and He devised the means for that to happen. He did all of this from the beginning of the existence of this world, and He did it with nothing except love as His motive. God loves this world that is the creative work of His hands with such passion and devotion that He gave Himself, in the form of the Son, over to all that is evil in this world and then He defeated evil and took its power over life and death away from it forever. In so doing, we were set free from the living prison that is sin, and we were sent into life with the capability and the capacity to engage our days with that same love as our motivation and with the wisdom of eternity as our guidance for the journey.

 

This is the nature of the plan that the Lord formed for the benefit of His people and for the salvation of His creation. His plan is truth embodied, and the Lord’s expressed will to carry it out is founded upon His faithful desire to reconcile all that is distanced or separated, all that is broken, in creation. This deep and unshakeable love, a love that the Lord pours out on me continually, is something that I should never stop remembering and recognizing in my mind and in my heart. It is the true song of my heart, and God’s love for me is the solid ground that my feet can count upon even when all else seems to be crumbling away and failing to support me. This is a love that demands righteousness of me when I would rather take an easier path through my day, for Christ does grant to me the freedom to be holy and set apart from the ways of this world in order for me to live in the full expression of God’s truth, grace, and mercy. So Lord, I desire to praise You with my words and to lift You up for all of the world to see in the way that I live my life today!

Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting rock.

Isaiah 26: 4

 

Trust can be hard thing to do; yet, we all do it continually throughout every day. We trust the floor to hold us up when we get out of bed in the morning, we trust the water that we drink to not poison us, and we place trust in numerous human relationships that we engage in during the day. It is the ability to trust that often defines just how we negotiate our way through life. It is the capacity to trust that greatly impacts our ability to enjoy the deeply felt freedom that God wants us to know. Where we place our trust defines us and it refines us.

 

When the stresses of living are resulting in that form of tension that seems to grip every fiber of the body, and it seems that it is impossible to find a clear and reasoned thought in your mind, you may be experiencing a trust-deprived time in your relationship with God. It is our all too human tendency to want and to need to own all of the answers to each of the situations that we encounter in life. After all, we were designed and equipped by God, Himself, to navigate our way through this world. However, the problem with this thinking is that it leaves out the most important part of the Lord’s plan for us. In God’s design for living and in His plan for life, we are also intended to be actively involved in a relationship of trust with Him, and this is where true and lasting freedom is found.

 

The sort of trust that allows us to face into the hard issues and the difficult uncertainties of life is founded on an understanding of who God is and of how much He cares for each of us. The Lord is that rock solid foundation under me that will not fail and that can not be knocked out from under my feet by any forces or pressures. He is the rock that will crush all of Satan’s attempts to attack my spirit. The Lord is the grinding stone of truth that will polish my mind so that the lies that creep into it are turned into dust to be blown away by the refreshing breeze of wisdom and understanding that comes from Christ’s Spirit. God is my Lord; He is the rock solid fortress where I can dwell always in complete safety and from which I can boldly live out my freedom.

 

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,

whose trust is the LORD.

He is like a tree planted by water,

that sends out its roots by the stream,

and does not fear when heat comes,

for its leaves remain green,

and is not anxious in the year of drought,

for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Jeremiah 17: 7, 8

 

The setting of these verses would suggest that the person described here by Jeremiah was something of the odd duck, the outlier, in his day. The nation, itself, had taken a turn away from God. It was operating out of the wisdom of man, and the people were choosing to follow the counsel of profane and worldly rulers. The Lord was clearly upset with His people, and He was troubled by the impact that His nation, Israel, was having on the world. There was no longer a national witness for justice, peace-making, righteous living, and outreach to all who were world-weary and oppressed. This was God’s calling for Israel and for that nation’s people, and it remains a significant part of God’s calling for people who know and follow Him today. We are to be the voices for compassion, love, acceptance, and peace in our world. We are to stay true to truth as it is presented to us in God’s Word; so, we are to follow the example of this outlier, this odd duck in Jeremiah’s narrative.

 

The prophet is not speaking about a place; for, it is neither a nation nor is it a religion that will set God’s people in the right situation and location to be fed deeply by God’s truth. He seems to be suggesting that it is an attitude of heart and mind that creates the setting for this sort of nourishing of the soul and body, and the only physical local that matters in all of this is the one that comes about as we seek after the Lord with all of our heart, mind, and body. God works in and through people who are different and even more so through those who choose to be on the outside of the cultural norms in our times. Since humanity turned away from close communion with God, we have developed and promoted a law of moral and ethical conduct that has shifted by degrees away from the pure and wise guidance of God’s Word. This reality of our world makes it inevitable that Godly thinking and acting will be differentiated from the way that the majority of our societies engage in the same processes.

 

So, from God’s perspective, there is nothing at all wrong with drinking from that rare stream called Absolute Truth when those around us are gathering to satisfy their thirst at the river of The Worldly Way with its abundant supply and somewhat murky lack of real clarity. It is worthwhile to be left off of the invitation lists for society’s gatherings in order to spend that time in contemplation, prayer, and listening for the God’s voice of wisdom, insight, and direction. There is a time and a place for engagement with the world and with its activities, but these are not the places where our roots sink down into the life-giving source of the counsel and the nourishment that will sustain us through the harder days that will inevitably come. Finally, there will be days when God’s people will stand out from the crowd by virtue of our vibrant and healthy peace, calm, and assurance that stand in stark contrast to the distress that droughts of various causes and types have brought upon the world at large. These are days when the true fruit of God’s love, grace, mercy, and redemption will draw people toward their Savior. These are the days when all of that time spent living as one who is different, that odd duck, will be counted for the glory of the Lord.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.

John 16: 33

 

Jesus must be kidding, right! He can not possibly mean that He has overcome all that runs about wildly causing havoc and bringing grief and pain in its wake. This place is far too engaged in destructive thoughts and actions to be considered subdued or tamed, and I sadly admit that my own thinking is too frequently caught up in the same sorts of processes to be contemplated as under control. I am capable of doing more harm than good on almost any day that comes along. When He said this, Jesus was facing into the reality of His imminent arrest, trial, torture, and execution, and He knew it. He was not left in the dark by the Father. Jesus was the sacrifice that gave Himself up for slaughter, and He was very rational and well-thought out in doing this. So, where exactly does it seem that He had overcome much of anything in this world?

 

The fact is that Jesus’ death is the singular event that turns around the direction of history. Once Jesus had satisfied God’s need for there to be a sacrifice on the part of Creation that would respond to our rebellion and ensuing state of sin-driven separation from God, all of Creation, especially humanity, was freed from the awful estrangement from God that had overtaken our existence in this life and beyond into eternity. Satan’s lies and deception had drawn us away from our commitment to our Creator, but Jesus poured out God’s healing oil of peace and truth upon that wounded relationship by allowing His own blood to be shed despite His absolute innocence. So, in Jesus, we are each granted the opportunity and the right to return to the loving presence of God in our lives as Christ’s Spirit comes to dwell within us.

 

By entering into the world’s violence and rejection on the cross, Jesus has overcome all of the malintent that came into being when those first people said yes to that which God had expressly forbidden thus turning away from life and stepping out toward a death that was painful beyond measure. Jesus took upon Himself that pain that we had earned, and in so doing, He took the sham dominion that Satan had claimed over this world away from him and granted renewal, healing, peace, and life to each of us who turn from the world to Jesus. The peace that we own in that hour of redemption and onward from there is the one that bridges the separation that sin has caused between ourselves and God. This is a peace that resides in the individual spirit and that speaks victory over all that is broken, painful, and life-threatening in this world. This peace is Christ within, and in its presence with us, Jesus has truly overcome the world.

Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!

Then your peace would have been like a river,

and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48: 18

 

Only if? This is one of the great regret questions that people ask of themselves. Only if I had responded differently, or my attention had been given more of the time. Things would have been so different, and the outcomes would have been so much more enjoyable. Yet, what is done, is indeed done. Things said already resonate off of the hills as our actions have already brought about pain, grief, and separation. At this moment, each of us has cast a shadow of the past upon the future, and that shadow is now a tangible part of the landscape that we will need to navigate during the coming aspects of life’s journey. Yet, God has always wanted each of us to understand that this situation does not mean that life is hopelessly diminished or that joy is beyond redemption during our days.

 

Christ offers the true hope of redemption to anyone who will enter in to His life-giving sacrifice and so allow grace to bathe a weary soul in His healing blood of rebirth. This does not eliminate the relational and the life pain that our actions and words have caused, but it does grant to us a form of forgiveness that brings freedom to the soul and that frees the body to take the steps of repentance and restoration that the situation requires. We may not be able to repair all of the harm that we have done during our days, but Christ walks with us in the attempt to do so, and He empowers and equips us to enter into the effort. With Christ we are baptized in the rushing current of God’s river of peace, and we can ride the waves of His righteousness as they break down barriers that sin has built around people’s hearts.

 

We might like for God’s peace to be a calm and a soothing place for us to dwell, but it isn’t. Righteousness is not smooth and placid, either. The peace that Christ gives to His followers is active, powerful, and compelling. His righteousness is challenging, disruptive, and forceful as it assails the defensive barriers that sin has constructed in our world and within our relationships. When we enter into Christ’s peace and engage in a life that is compelled forward by His righteousness, we are swimming in an unstoppable current that is intent on pulling all who will yield to its Lord and Master into its redemptive flow. The power of this river is found in the love and the grace that Christ grants to everyone who enters into Him and engages in a life that is now defined by God’s Word of truth. God’s peace is active, engaged, and often leads us to venture into turbulent waters, but at the same time, it allows us to do all of this while experiencing a calm, a joy, and the sure knowledge of salvation that come directly from Christ.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 2: 24

 

Jesus carried a great weight on His back and in His spirit when He was placed upon that cross of torture and death. When I consider the event itself, I am hit squarely in the face with the extraordinary harshness and brutality of what happened, but the human and physical aspects of that day are light and minor in comparison with the spiritual and emotional aspects of what transpired. In that moment, Jesus took with Him all of my sin, my disobedience to God, and all of the sin of every person who would ever walk upon this earth. Every simple unloving act, angry thought, deceit, violent action and contemplation, and all of the rest of the harsh and troubling history of existence that is outside of God’s perfect will and way was heaped upon Him and was there to torture Jesus in those final hours of life on this earth.

 

What is even more remarkable to me is that Christ did all of this knowing how brutally painful the specific act of sacrifice would be and also with knowledge of just how unworthy each of us, myself certainly included, would be. I do not deserve to receive the sacrificial love that Jesus pours out over me, but He loves me still. I have done nothing to earn my place at God’s table of grace; yet, Christ has granted me a seat there. My life has been lived out in a manner that is far short of God’s standard of righteousness, and still, Christ calls me into service to His name and in His Kingdom. None of this makes sense when it is considered in light of worldly and human standards of earned privilege and responsibility that is granted based upon merit. However, God does not desire to make sense in human terms or to operate by worldly standards. His view of life and of human worth come from outside of all that we know and experience here, and His concept of grace and of forgiveness transcend this world’s standards of worthiness as they overcome their limitations.

 

In this world, we are held back and constrained by our status in many ways, and worth is often granted based upon external factors and conditions. To God we are all extraordinarily beautiful and our worth is measured in terms of Christ’s presence within us, for in Christ, we are healed from all of the brokenness and the loss that sin has brought to dwell within our hearts, minds, and bodies. This is a form of healing that takes place on the inside of our beings and that influences and effects all that we are. Christ’s beautiful and blameless blood, which was poured out as the essential sacrifice for my sins and for yours, is the agent of healing for our souls. So, as we surrender to Christ, we are made spiritually alive, granted a home in God’s eternal kingdom, and given place and purpose in Christ’s here and now kingdom come on earth. Christ takes the weight of sin from us, and He sets us free to serve Him by loving the world as God does, for the eternal righteousness that we now possess is founded on love and is carried out in acts of grace, mercy, and justice.

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