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Showing posts with label July 4th. Show all posts
Showing posts with label July 4th. Show all posts

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Truth Shall Set You Free


John 8:31-37
31 Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
33 “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?”
34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. 35 A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever.36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. 37 Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message.

Are You Really Free?
In this passage, Jesus had a conversation with some Jews living in Judea who were descendants of the Israelites who were led out of slavery in Egypt in Exodus.  The Israelites were proud to be descendants of Abraham and the story of how Moses lead them through the Red Sea and out of slavery in Egypt was an essential part of the nation, ethnic, and religious identity.  They were proud to be a “free” people.  And even though the Roman Empire was the real authority in the Judea, the Romans had allowed the Judea to remain autonomous in deference to their national pride as a free people (so long as the Judeans promised to remain loyal to Rome and not cause trouble).  But Jesus explains that true freedom is more than national or ethnic identity or a political matter.  True freedom is a spiritual matter.

I have always known we are blessed to live in this country—the land of the free and the home of the brave.  I came to appreciate those blessings in a new way the first time I traveled to Guatemala in 2006.  For one thing, the poverty I saw in Guatemala reminded how fortunate we are to enjoy so many comforts in the United States.  Everyone in Guatemala looked up to us—literally… 

I will never forget returning to the United States after a week in Guatemala.  Now, I love Guatemala.  It is a beautiful country filled with amazing people (and we could learn a lot of things from the people there), but I was so glad to come back to my homeland and I was so proud to be an American. 

I will never forget arriving at the airport in Atlanta and going through customs.  There was a line of people a mile long waiting to go through customs and “enter” the United States.  My mission team was tired and homesick and ready to see our families and the thought of waiting in another long line was a bleak prospect.  Just then, a customs agent came walking down the line asking, “Are you a US citizen?  Are you a US Citizen?”  And all who answered yes were ushered to the front of a much shorter line.  I could see the weariness on the faces of all the non-citizens waiting in that long line as we walked passed them and I thought, “I am truly blessed to be a citizen on the United States of America.”  We enjoy so many privileges we take for granted.
Just a few days ago, we celebrated Independence Day on July the Fourth.  Independence Day is a holiday commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—declaring our independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.  In it, our forefathers proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  It was the belief of our nation’s founders that Freedom was a God-given right that should never be violated. 

If ever there was a national ideal that came straight from the pages of the Bible, it is this—humanity was created by God to be free.  “In the beginning,” (Genesis 1), “God created the Heavens and the Earth.”  And God created humanity to be free—free to think, free to make choices, free to love.  God did not create us as animals chained to follow our basic instincts. God created us to be free!

Yet today, the vast majority of humanity is not free.  Even here in this great Nation where freedom is the hallmark of our national identity, the vast majority are not free.  People are enslaved to a cruel master, Sin. 

You might have a hard time thinking of yourself—an American citizen—as a slave.  We live in the land of the free, but that doesn’t automatically make you free, not any more than standing inside a gym automatically makes you fit and muscular.  You are not truly free unless the Son of God sets you free.

Sin keeps us from being free.
Romans 6:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  And Romans 6:23 says, “The wages [or consequences] of sin is death…”  So we all have a big problem.  We are all guilty of sin—which is turning away from God and doing things our own way—and we will all reap the penalty of sin—which is death. 

But the death Romans talks about is far worse than just passing away into oblivion and ceasing to exist.  The death we face because of sin is a spiritual death.  Sin separates us from God.  Our spirits suffocate in the absence of God’s presence.  In Luke 16, Jesus described the eternal destiny of sinners as a place of fiery torment.  The 20th chapter of the book Revelation describes the place as a lake of fire.  I don’t know for sure what that place is like, but I know it is something worse than death.  It is spiritual death.  (If God is like the air we breathe, you could imagine hell like suffocating without air for eternity.)

Jesus came to set us free from the spiritual death that sin brings into our life.  The great Christian evangelist of the first century—St. Paul—epitomizes to me a man who is truly free.  Death held no power over his freedom.  He boldly traveled wherever the Lord led him to spread the Gospel unhindered by persecution, hardship, or even the fear of death.  He was beaten, imprisoned, stoned, shipwrecked, and eventually executed.  Yet he was not afraid.  Paul said in Philippians 1:21, For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.  And he penned those famous words that have comforted so many at funerals, O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?(1 Corinthians 15:55)

When the Son of God sets you free, you no longer have to fear death.  I tell people (and myself), “What is there to be afraid of?  The worst thing that can happen is death.  And to die means to go home to glory—no more suffering or pain or sickness or grief.  It’s like the ultimate retirement!”  And to live with no fear of death out on the edge with God holding your hand—now that’s freedom!

It’s not just a fear of death that enslaves people.  Because of Sin, some people are bound by chains of guilt.  Ironically, the church is often a place where people feel the most guilt. I have known people who avoid church altogether because it makes them feel so guilty.  They walk into a beautiful sanctuary like this and instead of inspiring them it just reminds them how far short they have fallen from God’s glory.  They see everyone dressed up for church and smiling like they don’t have any problems and the preacher is standing up on stage peering down over the pulpit at them.  And all these things remind them of how unworthy they feel.  They don’t like that feeling so they just stay away. 

Ironically, I have found that sometimes the people in church with the biggest smiles are the ones with the most heartache and guilt. 

Jesus Sets Us Free
Maybe you feel that way, but Jesus doesn’t want church to be a place that overwhelms us with guilt.  Jesus came to set us free from sin.  He said, God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).  And 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.”  Because of Jesus Christ, those who confess there sins and believe in Jesus Christ can trust Psalm 103:12 which says, “[God] has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.”  When we come to church (or wherever we are), God does not looking down on us as He looks down on us.  He looks at us and smiles the way a loving father smiles at their children.

And so we are free to live!  We are not bound by a guilt that causes us to hide from God in shame or try to impress Him or somehow try to work our way back into His favor.  We don’t have to bow our heads in shame.  We don’t have to carry a load of constant apologies.  As Ephesians 3:12 says, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence.”  Now that is truly free!

But the freedom we have in Christ goes even further.  We are also free from the power of sin.  This is the glorious Good News of Christ’s message that—frankly—doesn’t get preached enough.  The salvation we have in Christ is not just forgiveness; it is also healing.  We are on the road to recovery.  Gradually, with God’s help, we are getting over this sinful nature that plagues us. So we don’t have to dread a life of constant mistakes and sinful living while we throw our hands up in the air and say, “I can’t help it.  I’m a sinner by nature.”  Romans 6:6 says, “We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.”  And Romans 6:22 says, “Now you are free from the power of sin…  So, we don’t have to go through life thinking we are bound to sin.  If we slip up, we can be forgiven.  But we don’t have to sin.  We are free!   Because God loves us so much, we are now empowered to love others!  We are free to share the love of Christ with everyone!

Closing
Jesus said, “The truth shall set your free.” He said that to the Israelites and they had a hard time seeing that they were enslaved.  Can you sense their national pride when they said, “We are descendants of Abraham.  We have never been slaves to anyone.”  I wonder how many of us here today have a similar notion.  We think, “I live in the United States of America.  I am not a slave.  I am free.” 

Jesus would say the same thing to you today that he said 2,000 years ago.  “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin.”  When we humble ourselves and recognize we are enslaved, Jesus is there to set us free.  But if our pride makes us hang on to the false notion that simply being an American makes us free, we will remain enslaved.  Exercising freedom takes wisdom and courage and determination.  It takes the Son to set you free and keep you free.

As we give thanks for the independence of our great nation, what better way to honor freedom than to truly live out our freedom.  I hope today you will humble yourself and ask Jesus to help you.  And then I pray you will go out of this place and live the free life you were created to live!


Monday, July 4, 2016

One Nation Under God



Happy Independence Day!  This Fourth of July, I challenge you to consider what is most important in your life--where is your greatest allegiance.

Acts 5:12-32
12 Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on cots and mats, in order that Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he came by. 16 A great number of people would also gather from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.
17 Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, 18 arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” 21 When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.
When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. 25 Then someone arrived and announced, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Introduction
The key verse for this blog is Acts 5:29 – “But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.””
The Christian must always remember these words.  Christians in America must be especially vigilant to guard their hearts according to this principle.  For America is a proud, proud land and we are a patriotic people. Our hearts swell with love for our country every time we see the flag waving in the wind and when we hear our national anthem. The flag represents our homeland, our way of life, all that we love about our nation, and all the precious memories we’ve made here. We have enjoyed so many blessings in Amercia:  freedom, safety, prosperity, good health, religious liberty…
And yet we must always remember, we are “one nation under God” as we say in our pledge of allegiance. For the Christian, our highest allegiance must always be to God, or else, we are not really Christian.  God will never take second place in our hearts, in our lives, in our actions, or in our country.  And any country that denies God’s ultimate authority cannot long enjoy the blessings of God. My purpose today is to challenge you to reflect on your own truest and highest allegiance.

The Pledge of Allegiance
If I were to ask you to recite the pledge of allegiance, few in America would have any difficulty doing so.  We have memorized it through thousands repetition throughout or lives.  (This stands in stark contrast to the pledge of allegiance to the Christian flag which hardly anyone knows.)
The pledge was introduced in the late 1800s. Interestingly, the pledge was created by Francis Bellamy, who was a socialist (a dirty word in American politics today). Bellamy wanted the pledge to be quick and easy to recite (taking as little as 15 seconds). The pledge was not adopted until 1942; at that time the pledge did
not include the phrase, “one Nation under God”.  Instead, it read:  I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. It was not until 1954 that the phrase “under God” was added to the pledge.
Why were the words "under God" added to the pledge? Well, when the pledge was first conceived in the 1800s, everyone assumed Amercia was a country founded upon Judeo-Christian principles. If you were to tell people in the 1800s that God did not exist or that America was not beholden to the Creator, they would have thought you a fool. The notion was generally accepted. Yet by the middle of the 1900s, Christian values were under attack from so many directions, it was felt people needed to be reminded that America was on nation under God. Therefore, a campaign sprang up to add the words to the pledge. Here we are in 2016; more than ever, Americans need to remember that we are one nation under God.

True Allegiance
If you are to be a Christian—a real Christian, not just someone who calls themselves Christian in name, but one who actually follows Christ wholeheartedly, putting all your hope and trust in Him, and going wherever He leads and obeying His commands—then your first and greatest allegiance must be to God.
A person’s allegiances are reveals by their sacrifices. Everyone wants to enjoy the blessings of American citizenship.  That is no sacrifice; it is a great benefit to be an American. The citizen who volunteers in their community--who votes, who works tirelessly to make their community better--shows their allegiance to their country. The public servant, who works for our country—often with little or no compensation, who makes decision they believe are right even when they are unpopular—shows their allegiance to America. Perhaps the greatest example is the soldier who goes off to war and lays down his or her life for this country; they have proven their allegiance in the ultimate way.  They were willing to die for their country.
What of our allegiance to God?  How is it revealed? In Acts 5, Peter and the Apostles showed their allegiance.  They spent their time working for God’s Kingdom and teaching people about Jesus. They poured out their resources for this endeavor. Even when the “authorities” arrested them and threw them in prison, Peter and the Apostles were not deterred.  When the angel of the Lord released them from prison, they did not run off and hide.  No.  They courageously obeyed the Lord and boldly returned to publicly preach about Jesus again.  They said, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (Acts 5:29)
What about us today?  Around three quarters of Americans claim they are Christians.  That’s not surprising.  It is the default “religion” of our land.  If you live here, you most likely were born into a Christian family.  And there are benefits in America to claiming allegiance to Christ.
There is social acceptance for people claiming to be Christians. (This is rapidly changing as Christian receive more and more scorn for their beliefs each year--especially when those beliefs are held very devoutly; yet for the most part it is still true that Christians--especially Christians who aren't too zealous in their beliefs--are more socially acceptable to other Americans.) Though America is becoming more diverse and tolerant, you are more likely to get funny looks if you are a Muslim or Hindu than if you are a Christian. If you are a Christian, you are more likely to fit in as you practice the same religious traditions, holidays, etc. as most other Americans. People are more likely to understand you. So there is this benefit if you are a Christian in Americaa--even if you are a nominal Christian.
Another benefit is a sense of belonging. If you belong to a church--even loosely--you will feel as though you have a wider community of faith to which you belong. You may even have people check on you or assist you if you are sick or facing trouble. This is another benefit for American Christians.
American Christians also have the benefit of a certain assurance that you are a good person, that you will go to heaven, that God will take care of you, etc.  I don't say that these are biblically or theologically sound ideas, but these are the generally held beliefs of the average American--if you are a Christian, you are good and if you are good, you will go to heaven. So there is this soothing feeling in being a nominal Christian in America; even though it is a false hope, it provides some relief in this world to those who subscribe to the myth.
All these things and more are benefits, not sacrifices. They require little or nothing from the so called Christian. They prove nothing as far as allegiances go. It is in the interest of most American's to claim Christianity as their religion.
Yet what allegiances do these “Christians” really have? What do their sacrifices reveal? Are they working for God?  Are they willing to uphold the principles of God even when it is unpopular?  Even when social pressure to conform is overwhelming?  Even if to do so would make them social outcasts in their community? Are they willing to face persecution for Jesus sake?  Are they willing to be chased from their homes and lose their jobs because of the way they live for Jesus?  Are they willing to pour themselves out teaching about Jesus like the Apostles in the New Testament?  Are they willing to be thrown in jail for their message?  If somehow they are miraculously released, are they willing to go back and preach the Gospel of Christ again?  Are we willing even to be seen as “unpatriotic” or “unAmerican” for the sake of Jesus Christ?  Are we willing even to speak out against the injustices of our beloved nation (when necessary)? Are we willing to (in extreme cases) disobey the laws of our land (if those laws are clearly in opposition to God’s Word)?
These are troubling questions.

Closing
I challenge you to reflect on your allegiances.  You may be tempted to answer too quickly.  Sure.  We all want to believe God comes first in our lives—especially if we are church-goers.  But reflect deeper on your life, your attitudes, and your actions.  Consider how you spend most of your time and money.  What are you most passionate about?  Where do you pour out most of your energy?  For what are you willing to sacrifice?  For what would you suffer?  For what would you lay down your life?  In these revealing terms, where is your first and greatest allegiance?
This is important. It is crucial. For if your allegiance to America is greater than your allegiance to God, America is in deep trouble. Even more important, if your allegiance to America is greater than your allegiance to God, you eternal salvation is in jeopardy. God will not accept second place in your life. God will not accept second place in our nation.
            Remember what God has done for you.  He has given everything for you.  John 3:16 - "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life."  God gave Jesus to save you from your sins--not because you deserved it, but because you needed it.  In return, God deserves nothing less than your complete and full allegiance.  He deserves your heart, your devotion, your love.
            Perhaps it is time to repent and pledge your full allegiance to God throught Jesus Christ.