God gives us freedom

Category : God, different, hope

The last few weeks my church has been going on a Free Journey.  We’ve been exploring the fact that God’s desire for our lives is to set us free.  Contrast that to pretty much everything else in the world.  Political groups try to control what you eat, where you live, how you spend your time.  We’re told by our employers that we must show up at this time, and must take breaks at that time.  The TV tells us how we should look and what clothes we should wear.

Everything is about control.

Except God.

He’s about our freedom.

Could there be any more striking contrast?  Yet we stand around complaining about all of God’s rules.  I know because I’ve done it before.  For most of my life I’ve equated freedom as no rules.  It wasn’t until I was responsible for guiding a small child through life that I realized what rules are really for.  Rules give us freedom.  They set boundaries.  They allow us to know where to push so we can be free.

When your mom says “don’t touch the stove it’s hot.”  This isn’t some secret code for “the stove tastes like chocolate.”  She means the stove is flippin’ hot!

God is the same.  He knows that if you have sex with people you aren’t married to it’s going to cause problems.  He knows that when we don’t love our enemies we get caught up in a cycle of hate.  He knows that when we ignore him, we will find our lives being controlled, not set free.

Yet we rebel.  We seem to be happier having everything in the world control us, then trusting God, and following some pretty straight forward rules.  Humans are strange creatures.

God gives us freedom

Category : God, Jesus, different, taking action

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Football coaches are known for their paranoia.  They fear that the slightest bit of information might give an advantage to their opponent.  Now in a game that can be decided by fractions of a second or just a few inches of height that seems understandable.  How many games have been decided by a ball that just flew over the outstretched fingers of a defender?  It seems like the last couple of Super Bowls have played out that way.

But sometimes coaches get caught up in their paranoia.  It takes on a larger role than just a precaution, it begins to determine their actions.

One such example comes from a former University of Pittsburgh coach.  During the middle of practice the head coach began to suspect his team was being spied upon.  So he called down to two police officers and told them to check out the “suspicious” guy who was leaning against a telephone poll a few hundred yards away.

The police, doing what they were hired for, jumped in their car and sped toward the man.

A few minutes later they returned.

“Well?” asked the coach.

“He’s waiting for the bus.” they replied.

The problem with freedom isn’t that we can’t have it – it’s that we don’t know how to get it.  We’ve fallen for the lie that to get something we have to “power up.”  That if we aren’t fighting for what’s “ours” we aren’t going to get anything.  Then, when we do get something, we need to be so controlling that we start hoarding it.

That’s what the University of Pittsburgh coach thought.  He was so set on protecting his winning record that he saw a spy behind every telephone pole.  Fortunately not all of us make the news when we’re paranoid or controlling.  But we all have areas where we struggle.

You might call these areas “strongholds.”

We start out thinking these strongholds are going to keep us safe.  If you’ve ever been hurt by a loved one, you can understand this.  We build walls so high around our heart that no one can ever enter.  But eventually we learn these aren’t to protect us, they are to imprison us!

What was once a way to protect our broken heart has become the very thing that makes us so lonely.

Freedom does not come from strongholds.  It doesn’t come from being on the attack.  Or defending what’s ours.  It comes from God.

Freedom is being who God designed you to be.

The reality is, every stronghold you have prevents you from experiencing that freedom.  Those walls keep you a prisoner.

So how do we break free?  Simple: by enabling other people to become free.

That sounds pretty radical.  But then does pretty much everything Jesus said.  Do you think the Pittsburgh football coach was free assuming that everyone was out to spy on him?  Do you think you are truly free when you hold onto your anger and pain over being wronged?  Of course not.  But those are the natural results of what happens when we try to do it “our way.”

Jesus recognized that as long as we try and hold onto our resentment and bitterness we would never be free.  It’s only be releasing our claim on people who have wronged us, that we can become free.  That’s why it is God’s place to judge.  That’s why Jesus said we should love our enemies.  It’s why Peter told Jews (who were slaves to the Romans) to be subject to their masters.

Holding onto anger, resentment, pain puts us into bondage.  It steals are freedom.  It is no way to live a life of faith

Only by giving up control can we set others free.  And only after we set others free, can we ourselves be set free.

Adam and Eve and original sin

Category : Genesis, God, different, failure, faith, sin

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And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2: 16-17)

Adam and Eve had one rule: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

That’s it.

And although that was the only rule, they just couldn’t help themselves.  They went ahead and did it anyway.  Sometimes I wonder how quickly it took before they made it to the fruit.  Part of me thinks it happened right away.  I know that when I’m told I can’t do something, that’s the one thing I want to do.  Is that an attitude I inherited from Adam?  Or has it just always been part of who we are as a species?  I don’t know.  But I know that urge is strong.  So maybe they got dropped off in the garden and then started eating forbidden fruit right away.

On the other hand, Adam had a lot of work to do.  There were a lot of animals to be named.  Adam of course did a good job with that.  Well, maybe with the exception of “platypus.”  So perhaps he was just too busy to go off eating forbidden fruit.

Eventually though, Adam and Eve turned toward that tree.  The one thing they weren’t allowed to touch they went after.  Satan knew exactly how to attack them.  He convinced them that God was holding out on them.  So they ate that fruit, and we’ve been paying for it ever since.

It can be easy to believe God wants us to be perfect.  But I’m not sure that’s his goal.  Perfection would mean we were God ourselves (because God is perfect).  And I don’t think that’s what God is going for.  God’s commands to Adam and Eve weren’t about perfection, they were about freedom.  They were about doing whatever they wanted – with one exception.

In fact, God’s first words to Adam were “you are free”.

Yet Adam and Eve still committed sin.  The original sin.  And we’ve never stopped sinning.  If Adam and Eve only had one thing they couldn’t do, what chance do you and I have to not sin?  The answer is “none.”  We will sin no matter how hard we try not to.

There’s part of me that is bothered by that realization.  I want to be perfect and not sin.  But that’s missing the point.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, perfection isn’t an issue.  We are perfect through him.  God isn’t expecting us to be more perfect.  He’s created a way to experience perfection while still making mistakes.

That’s just one of the many amazing and clever things God has done in his relationship with humanity.

Ultimately God is more interested in us growing closer to him than striving for perfection.  He knows that over time we will naturally sin less simply because we are connected with him.  This fact lives in tension with our culture.  We, as a society, believe in  the importance of “manning up.”  But that’s not what God wants.  He doesn’t want us to try harder.

The only thing that will do is cause us to fall down.

Sin may always be part of your life, but it doesn’t have to rule it.

knowledge of good and evil

2

Category : Genesis, God, living a life of faith, sin

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It seems that we are in a constant search for freedom.  We want to be free; we long to be free.  Yet we always seem to end up in bondage.  This weekend Steve McNair (who always seemed to have a knack of beating my beloved Steelers) was murdered.  The police aren’t saying exactly what happened, but from early reports it looks like it is a murder suicide (or possibly a double murder).  It also appears that McNair was having an affair with a young woman.

Now if this is all true (and it appears to be) my question is simple.  Why?  Why did McNair feel the need to be with someone other than his wife?  Was it because he felt trapped?  Was it because he wanted the freedom of sexuality?  Because it sure looks like what he got wasn’t freedom, but pain and suffering.

When God created Adam and Eve he gave them one command, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2: 16-17)

Adam and Eve had complete freedom.  They could have any fruit but one.  Yet they couldn’t resist that tree.  And they exchanged their freedom for suffering.

They thought God was holding out on them.  They thought that rule was silly, and just God being insecure and maybe even a jerk.  They thought they knew better than the person who created them.  They thought they could violate the one rule God set forth.

Have you noticed how we didn’t get knowledge of good, we just got knowledge of evil?

Adam and Eve already had complete freedom.  They already had a perfect relationship with God.  They were even soul mates.  They lived in comfort.  They were provided for.  They lived without fear and guilt.  What they got wasn’t knowledge of good – they already knew that just by looking around.  What they got was knowledge of what it means to suffer.

Steve McNair is no different than any of us.  We all sacrifice our freedom for temptations.  For some of us we give up freedom of heatlh to feed an eating disorder or drug addiction.  Some of us give up freedom of love to experience the bondage of lust and pornograhpy.  Whatever it is – we are all exactly like Steve McNair – vulnerable to temptation, because we think God is holding out on us.

As you go about your week, remember this story.  Don’t sacrifice your freedom for bondage.

living a life of freedom

Category : 2 Corinthians, God, Jesus, choice, different, revolutionary

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Have you ever stopped and thought about your freedom?  Not your freedom in the political sense.  But your freedom in the spiritual sense.  The more I think about these issues, the more I realize just how quickly we give up our freedom.  We give up our freedom for the promise of security, for power, for control, and even for what we think is love.

But it seems that the last thing we should do is to want to give up our freedom.  As Paul told the church in Corinth:

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3: 12-18)

Think about that for a minute.  Wherever Jesus is, there is freedom.  Do we live our lives like that?  Do we act as if we have freedom?  Or do we continually give up that freedom to fit in?  To be safe?  Or to not make waves?

Paul is saying that we should be bold because we have Jesus in our lives.  But are we?

I don’t want to live my life in bondage.  I don’t want to give up the freedoms God gives me.  I am not interested in ritual if it doesn’t draw me closer to God.  I am not interested in answers that sound nice, but have no substance.  I want the radical, revolutionary, different nature that is God – not the watered down things that make me feel better.

I want the God that brings freedom – not bondage.

living a life of freedom

Category : Acts, Luke, Paul

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I posted this on the website Longing for a Holiday at Sea.  But frankly I liked it so much I thought it should be said again:

This week’s message at church was on freedom.  So I’ve been thinking about the story of Acts 16.  In this story, Paul and Silas are thrown into jail.  After being beaten and while they are in chains, they start signing songs.  While in jail.

I can’t even wrap my mind around that.

That night there is such a violent earthquake that the doors fly open and their chains fall off.  The guard, who’s life is on the line if the prisoners escape, fears the worst and is about to kill himself.  But Paul says, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

What kind of freedom did Paul and Silas live with that allows them be so calm after being beaten and thrown in jail?

We often forget that in Jesus’ first deceleration of his mission and identity, he said, “[God] has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed” (Luke 4:18).  God’s goal isn’t moralizing or giving us more stuff.  God’s goal isn’t a bigger house, a nicer car or prayers said in Latin.  It’s to set us free!

I’m not free yet.  Not like Paul and Silas anyway.  But I want to be.  And that’s what I am working towards, with Jesus’ help.