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Freedom (20210707)

us a flag on wooden fence
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:36 

This week began with American Independence Day.  And over last weekend we saw displays of patriotism on shirts, banners, at parades and parties.  We Americans use the word “freedom” a lot.  You and I as Christians know that America does not have a corner on the market of that word.  In fact, it has been used for a long time to describe our condition because of Jesus Christ.

One of the mantras that often accompanies talk of freedom in our nation is the reminder that freedom is not free.  As an Air Force chaplain for 22 years, I can attest to this.  One of the things that chaplains often have to do is preside over ceremonies honoring those who have died for this country.  You can be certain that family members and friends of those who lost their lives defending our nation are extremely aware that freedom is not free.  And so, when we celebrate things like our independence, the more astute among us will at least nod and remember that there has been a high price to pay for freedom over the last couple of centuries.

When Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” he was talking about how our bondage to sin ends and our destiny of eternal life begins.  The freedom we enjoy as Christians is a freedom to serve God instead of self, to serve others because we want to, and the freedom of knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we will live forever. 

his too, as we know, came at a price.  Freedom is certainly not free, especially when we look at the cross and how our Savior gave his life so that you and I would know the freedom of forgiveness, service, and hope.  You and I are the most free people in the world.  Yes, because we are Americans.  But even more, because we know Jesus Christ.

Prayer: O Lord Jesus, we thank you that through your life and death, you have given us freedom.  Amen.


Sacrifice (20210702)

brown cross on brown surface
I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. [Psalm 116:17-18]
Worship costs something. Whether it’s giving up time, energy, other activities, money: worship costs something. Every decision we make requires us to give up other things, and when we commit to worship, we pay for it. 
Here’s an example. Your favorite sports team plays a game tonight, but your neighbor also invited you over for dinner. Also, your church has a servant event…. What do you choose? You are going to have to give up something. 
When it comes to worship, we demonstrate our willingness to sacrifice for God’s will. It might be giving thanks, even though you’d rather complain. It might be donating money to the mission, even though you’d rather buy some new clothes. It might be giving up your time, although you have a hundred other things to do. 
But that’s the heart of our Savior. Jesus could have done anything he wanted, but instead he chose to give his life for us. To serve us. He sacrificed himself, so that we might be able to call on the name of the Lord, so that we could be in the presence of God and his people. 
So we make the sacrifice of thanksgiving, too. We orient our lives around worship, choosing the proper sacrifice, and living a life that honors God.
Prayer: Dear Lord, help us to live in light of your love. Our lives are not our own- they are yours. May we be a sacrifice of thanksgiving, reflecting the generous love of Jesus every day. In His name we pray, Amen! 


Praise (20210630)

Praise the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness… Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord! [Psalm 150:1-2,6]

Hallelujah! It’s as much a cultural exclamation as a church one. This is the literal phrase from which we get “Praise the Lord.” Ironically, many secular people are giving thanks to God, too! 
As we worship the One True God, one of the most important things we can do is to praise. Praise, at its essence, is a shout or a loud outburst of joy and energy. Just saying the word “Hallelujah” forces you to do exactly what it means- shouting out in praise to the Lord. 
How are you praising God these days? Do you sit quietly and thank Him? Do you write in a journal? Do you go to your front porch and shout out loud, “Praise God!!”? 
Get vocal. Get verbal. You can’t keep in what God is working out. You can’t keep quiet with God’s exultant love. Praise God for the wonderful things God has done. Praise Jesus for his wisdom and guidance and love and sacrifice. Praise the Holy Spirit for filling your lungs with breath and your heart with joy. 
Worship God today. Let everything that has breath- you, me, this whole world- shout out loud, “HALLELUJAH!”
Prayer: Dear Lord, we praise Your name! We praise You for your love and kindness. We praise You for providing for us. We praise You for the hard times and the restful times, for the work and relationships in our lives. We praise You for Your plan to rescue all of us. We praise You boldly in the name of Jesus. AMEN!


Prayer (20210628)

man holding his hands on open book
I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased. Psalm 138:2-3

Worship. It’s definitely a church word. We use it all the time to describe what we do together on Sunday mornings. But do people outside the church know what it means? Do we inside the church know what it means? 

Everyone worships something. Worship at its most basic is to adore, admire, and aspire. It means to bow down and look up. For some, it’s money, or success, or nice things. For some, it’s experiences, substances, or sex. For us Christians, it is the One True God, Lord over all. We worship the Highest, Ultimate Giver of Life. 

The first element of worship is posture and prayer. How you orient your body matters when you worship. We are bodies and souls knit together, and as one part does, so does the other. When we prostrate ourselves, or kneel, or bring ourselves low, we physically demonstrate God’s bigness. We don’t even need to say it to pray it. We just do it. When we stand and lift our hands in prayer, we are demonstrating the fullness of our prayer, the expectancy and hope we have. How do you pray? Do you sit with your hands folded? Try different postures of prayer. Think of what your body language is communicating to God. 

Then think of what your actual language is communicating to God. Give thanks in prayer for the many good things God has given- especially the faithful love God made evident through Jesus and continues to shower on us day by day. Lift up God’s name and God’s Word, because they are the most powerful and meaningful words we have. And be certain that the Lord will answer you and strengthen you. After all, God promised! Today, worship God, our highest good. Today, pray to God, adoring, admiring, and aspiring to worship with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Prayer: Lord God, we pray to You. We give thanks to You. We look to You, and we trust You with our lives. Embolden us to pray continually, always calling upon Your name and speaking Your Word. We pray all this in the name of Jesus, who loves us and gave his life for us; amen.


A Friend of Jesus’ Soliloquy (Part 3)

Jesus Christ on cross painting

There comes a time when a man has to take up the fight, even if it looks hopeless.  The Romans had stolen our freedom, killed innocent men and women, robbed us blind, and desecrated our temple with their show of force.  We were terrorists, I guess, flashing swords and shedding blood before retreating into a crowd anonymously.  We killed Roman soldiers and Jewish collaborators, sending a message that the people of God deserved to live free.  We saw ourselves as the heirs of King David, restoring the kingdom that David built.  We were freedom fighters like the Maccabees, who drove out the pagan Greek oppressors two centuries earlier.

I thought he was the Messiah who would lead us against the Romans, the one who would restore the kingdom of Israel.  But the more I listened to him, the more I realized that he was about something much bigger.  He asked me to follow him, and like the other eleven I saw how he healed the sick, loved outcasts, even raised the dead.  I was still an angry man; the hate didn’t simply disappear.  It just slowly dissipated as Jesus talked his way into my heart.  Patiently he taught us about the Father’s love, about forgiveness for enemies, about a kingdom so much bigger than a place in the middle east.

We didn’t get it for a time, that he would have to suffer and die to complete God’s plan of salvation.  It seemed all wrong that night in the garden, when armed men came to arrest him.  Peter brought a sword; it should have been me.  I would have prevented his capture, or died trying.  I’ll never forget what Jesus said: “All who draw the sword will die by the sword.  Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)  Jesus suffered and died because that’s what God knew was necessary, what the Old Testament explained as the only way to rescue us for real freedom – freedom from the curse and consequence of sin.

Swords or guns won’t achieve what people really need. There isn’t a political solution to a spiritual problem.  Getting angry about what’s wrong with your country only creates bitterness and depression.  There’s a bigger picture, an eternal kingdom, a life independent of all that’s wrong with this world.  Jesus accomplished all that, and he gives it freely.

You know me as Simon the Zealot, one of the twelve.  I know you as my brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God that Jesus established.

PRAYER: Thank you, Jesus, for setting me free from feelings and agendas that only create more anger and bitterness.  Thank you for love and forgiveness, for me and for me to share.  Fill me with the peace that only you can give and focus me on the everlasting peace in your presence that is mine because you died and rose again for me.   Amen.