Alone in Christ, True Freedom

To our natural selves, it seems to make a lot of good sense to pursue pleasure and the desires of the senses. Even our own bodies reward this pursuit. Eating good food, playing video games, having sex, and engaging in other pleasurable experiences have been shown to cause increases in the reward chemicals in our bodies.

A lot of people also think of pursuing pleasure as the pathway to freedom. That would seem to make some sense too. After all, isn’t the very definition of freedom that I can do whatever I want?

Unfortunately, what many people fail to do is take the long view. Pursuing pleasure tends to be an “immediate gratification” sort of thing. So, thoughts of where all this might eventually lead tend to be banished because of the overwhelming nature of the reward in the short term.

This is why we need God. Because what often occurs is that the pursuit of pleasure winds up leaving us in slavery to that pursuit, whatever it might be. What began as a journey toward perceived freedom ends up to be nothing more than a mirage and a lie — and a very dangerous, self-destructive mirage at that.

Talk to someone who has been caught up in an addiction and you’ll find they relate well to the terms “foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved.”

But take note. Paul tells Titus that God loves us even while we’re enslaved by pleasure. In fact, he wants to deliver us from our slavery, and that’s the very reason he sent Jesus for us. He even points out that we don’t have to do anything good to earn or win this deliverance. Deliverance doesn’t come about because we’re such good people. It comes about because God is such a merciful God.

The beauty is that with the Holy Spirit living in our hearts through faith, we learn not to take created pleasures and turn them into ultimate things. When Jesus remains on the throne of our hearts, we begin to enjoy earthly pleasures without needing them for peace, fulfillment or identity. Because Jesus is our peace, fulfillment and identity, we can enjoy games, food, sex and other pleasures within God-pleasing boundaries. And that allows us to enjoy them without being enslaved by them.

What has got you trapped and enslaved right now? God has delivered you already. I know, it’s impossible for you to believe that. But it’s true. Jesus died for you. Jesus rose for you. The price of your freedom has been paid in full. Through baptism, you are released and set free from foolishness, disobedience, deception and slavery.

With the Spirit’s help, believe this. And walk out into your true freedom!

“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7, NIV).

Lord, thank you for your deliverance, your forgiveness and your kindness. By your mercy, you sent me a Savior from sin. Please forgive me for allowing myself to be enslaved by life’s pleasures and desires. Give me the faith, the courage and the strength to step into the freedom you have already won for me in Christ.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 28, is Lamentations 1:1 – 2:6, Titus 3:1-15 and Psalm 119:113-120.

Header image based on "Freedom Alone" by Martin Burns, CC By 2.0

Handling Anger

Laurence J. Peter is best known for the formulation of the Peter Principle: “In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.” But he is also well known for helping identify the noblest of all dogs: “The noblest of all dogs is the hot-dog; it feeds the hand that bites it.”

Peter also had something important (and humorous) to say about anger, and you probably haven’t heard this one: “Speak when you are angry — and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret.”

Anger is a volatile emotion, and it has to be handled very carefully. Really, for those of us who are Christ-followers, it has to be handled by Jesus. So what does it look like when Jesus lives inside of an angry person? How do we handle anger when Jesus guides our hearts and minds?

Paul describes that for us in Ephesians, chapter 4:

  • Anger is handled with truth.
  • Anger itself, while not a sin, is handled as a potential trap door easily leading to sin.
  • Anger is handled in a timely fashion. If at all possible, it is resolved daily, so that grudges don’t build.
  • Anger is handled without acts of revenge, like stealing to get back at someone.
  • Anger is handled with speech intended to build up, not rip apart or tear down.
  • Anger is handled by recalling that that the devil is the real enemy.
  • Anger is handled by recalling that the Holy Spirit has identified us as his own.
  • Anger is handled by deleting options like bitterness, rage, brawling, slander and malice.
  • Anger is handled with kindness and compassion.
  • Anger is handled with forgiveness.

And since God has every right to be angry with us because of our sins, the most important thing to remember is that we are sorely in need of forgiveness too. It is much easier to forgive and handle anger positively when we recall that we have hurt and angered God many times, and he has always forgiven us. And he always will forgive us.

Because forgiven people forgive others.

“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for forgiving me for all my sins. You have every reason to be angry with me. I have sinned against you in my thoughts, my words and my actions. And yet, you have forgiven me time and time again. Please help me to handle my anger with grace and mercy, and to show the same forgiveness and love to others who have hurt and angered me. Live in me so that you can handle my anger for me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 26, is Isaiah 63:1 – 65:16, Ephesians 4:17 – 5:7 and Psalm 112:1-10.

Header image based on "Gazed and confused" by jazbeck, CC By 2.0

Christian Gladiator Race

He created you in the first place. Then, after you were sold into slavery to sin, he bought you back at the cost of his own life. Finally, he personally summoned you by name to be his own.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit collaborated as one (because they are One!) to make you a child of God, bought with the blood of Jesus Christ.

He is your Savior and Redeemer. Now you can be fully confident that you are God’s child. You belong to him. And he will afford you his full protection.

It’s a good thing because life is a lot like one of those “gladiator races” you see on TV.

Life is full of obstacles. Problems and heartaches may threaten to flood you. And you may even get “wet” from those floods.

And life is full of challenges. Adversity and opposition may lick at you like flames of fire. And you might get “hot” from those flames.

Nevertheless, you and I can run that race confident that we are his.

“But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:1-3, NIV).

Lord, I know that life is full of obstacles and challenges. Problems and adversity are just part of the deal. Help me to run my race confidently, knowing that I am yours, and that you have promised me your divine, supernatural protection.

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 18, is Isaiah 43:1 – 44:23, Galatians 3:26 – 4:20 and Psalm 108:1-5.

Header image based on "130504-A-FH790-007" by Fort Carson, CC By 2.0

A Passing Breeze

God gives us a brief time here on planet earth. Because our life is so short, he calls us “a passing breeze.”

But this little span of time we call a lifetime, though it’s only a blip in the eyes of the eternal God, is a supremely valuable gift from him. That’s because it’s our “time of grace,” the time God has given us so that the Holy Spirit has opportunities to call us to faith in Jesus, enlighten our hearts with the gospel, and gather us into the church.

And for God, there is no more highly valued goal than to see us in heaven, enjoying eternity in his presence.

This earthly life is the time we’ve been given to experience God’s mercy and forgiveness in Christ. It’s amazing — but God does not immediately destroy us for our sins. He does not get anywhere close to as angry as he could.

All of us have experienced this. It’s like the time when I put a big dent in the back of my Mom’s car. Of course, I thought she would be furious. But instead, she wasn’t very upset at all. Just the opposite! She was understanding and patient with me.

But far more importantly, all of us have experienced this with God, too. It’s just as the Psalmist Asaph wrote:

“Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return” (Psalm 78:38-39, NIV).

Lord, thank you for the mercy and grace you show me every day. Remind me that I am but a “passing breeze” and to wisely use every day to draw close to your word, so that your Holy Spirit will draw me close to Jesus.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, June 28, is 1 Kings 20:1 – 21:29, Acts 18:9 – 19:13 and Psalm 78:32-39.

Header image based on "Catch the Breeze" by Duncan Harris, CC By 2.0

Your Will Be Done

David’s own son, Absalom, was rebelling against him. It didn’t look good for David, with his own flesh and blood conspiring to take his throne from him — and then the report came to David that “the hearts of the people are with Absalom.”

All this after David had just shown Absalom an amazing amount of grace and forgiveness! But this is the account of a man who over a long career as King of Israel had learned to seek the Lord’s will in matters.

A thousand years later, Jesus would teach the apostles to pray, “Your will be done,” when addressing their Heavenly Father. But by faith, David knew this was the correct course of action centuries before that.

And how about us, two thousand years after Jesus? Have we learned to pray by faith, “Your will be done,” in the crucible of our own life, when times are tough, when injustice seems to rule, when grace seems to have been wasted?

Do we have the confidence in God that David did? Confidence to say, “If God wants me to make a comeback from this, then I will make a comeback.” Or what about the meekness and humility to say, “If God is not pleased with me, then I am ready. Whatever he thinks is best, that’s what he should do to me.”

Those are words of awesome faith. Those are thoughts that only the Holy Spirit can teach us to think. Hearts like these and courage like this — only Jesus can give that to us.

And that’s the heart I pray to Jesus for you to have — and me to have! It’s the courageous heart to pray daily, “Lord, your will, not mine, be done!”

“Then the king (David) said to Zadok, ‘Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the LORD’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him’” (2 Samuel 15:25-26, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, June 10, is 2 Samuel 15:13 – 16:14, Acts 6:1 – 7:19 and Psalm 71:19-24.

Dear God, grant me the heart and the mind of David. When I am in trouble, treated unjustly, receiving all too little grace in my life, help me to pray with confidence in you, and meekness in regard to myself. Help me always to pray, “Your will be done!”

Header image based on "absalom, absalom" by John Lodder, CC By 2.0

A Bad Day

David was not having a good day. First he got fired from his job. Then he returned to find his home — in fact, not just his home, but his entire hometown — burned down. His family had been kidnapped.

And this wasn’t just David’s hometown and family, but that of everyone who worked for him. And when they returned and found everything destroyed and everyone gone, these men were not happy, to say the least.

David caught wind of the talk. His soldiers were talking about getting rid of him. And I don’t mean just firing him as their leader.

They were ready to put him to death.

We all have bad days, but most of us have never experienced a bad day like this.

In one day… no more job, a major crime committed against you, and everyone is blaming you and saying the death penalty is the only answer.

Not to mention, you’re also physically exhausted from the responsibility of all the people under your care, the travel you’ve just finished, the deep grief of the loss you’ve experienced, and the loneliness of no one coming to your support.

Where will you find the strength to go on in circumstances like this?

Everything and everyone else was against him. David could think of only one person who could give him that kind of strength.

And I hope you will find your strength in the exact same person — especially when you’re going through those lonely bad days and painful crisis times in your own life.

“David was greatly distressed because the men were talking of stoning him; each one was bitter in spirit because of his sons and daughters. But David found strength in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6, NIV).

Jesus, you are my Lord and my God. You are my Savior from sin, my eternal hope, and my strength for this life. I praise you for all the grace you show me day after day. Help me to always seek you for strength, especially on my bad days.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, May 31 is 1 Samuel 29:1 – 31:13, John 19:28 – 20:9 and Psalm 68:28-35.

Header image based on "House of Leaves" by LearningLark, CC By 2.0

Heavy Things

Life is filled with heavy things. Sadness. Grudges. Responsibility. Depression. Debt. Guilt. Fear.

That’s the short list. Many, many other heavy things constantly weigh us down and exhaust us.

And way too frequently, people live under the impression that they have to lift and carry all those heavy things on their own.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Our God is a Savior. He loves to help us. He loves to carry those heavy things for us.

And he does it every day.

David knew this. He trusted God to protect him from Saul when Saul wanted him dead. He looked to God to comfort him when he grieved the death of Samuel the prophet. He waited for God to bring about justice when Nabal, his Israelite brother, foolishly failed to assist him in a time of need.

David looked to God to carry the heavy things in his life. God always came through. And David sang songs of peace and joy.

Life is a lot lighter when we don’t have to carry all those burdens on our own.

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens” (Psalm 68:19, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, May 29, is 1 Samuel 24:1 – 25:44, John 18:25-40 and Psalm 68:15-20.

Lord, life is so heavy at times. I’m not capable of carrying my burdens on my own. You are my Savior. I need you. Thank you for hearing my prayers. Thank you for carrying my burdens for me every day.

Header image based on "these packs are heavy" by Jon Rawlinson, CC By 2.0