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Living in Freedom

Inri crucifix at daytime

Why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?  If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?  So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”   1 Corinthians 10:29-31

The term “spiritual abuse” has been coined by counselors for what religious legalism does to people.  Spiritual abuse makes people wear their sins like a scarlet letter, as if shame were a deterrent to future sinning and as though the punishment Jesus endured for sinners wasn’t enough.  Spiritual abuse is one guilt trip after another, designed to coerce people to give or volunteer or whatever a dogmatic leader insists on.  Religious cults are almost inevitably characterized by spiritual abuse.  The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel is a series of lectures delivered by C.F.W. Walther from 1884 to 1885, because spiritual abuse has always been a threat to conservative churches.  (The lectures in book form are available from Concordia Publishing House.)

Spiritual abuse isn’t just something that religious leaders impose on others.  Each of us can be a little legalist, demanding of others what we can’t live up to ourselves in an attitude of self-righteous superiority.  Harsh and demanding parents may use God and the church to compel their children’s behavior, not realizing that they are driving a wedge between not only themselves and their kids, but between God and their kids.  Each of us can be a little legalist, drowning in guilt because our repeated sinning has kept us from taking to heart God’s forgiving love, or beating ourselves up with guilt and shame on the assumption that this will keep us from repeating the sin.  People joke about “Lutheran guilt,” what should be an oxymoron in a church that emphasizes the Gospel.  Lutheran guilt is the religious obligation that won’t allow you to say no when someone from the church asks you to volunteer.  It’s the sense that your life is so much better than you deserve that something bad is bound to happen to you.  It’s the somber “church face” returning from the Lord’s Supper that suggests you received Christ’s blood with vinegar rather than wine.  Lutheran guilt is a subtle form of legalism in which people believe the Gospel but live under the law.

Jesus has freed us from the legalism that defines our faith with religious rules and regrets rather than with our Father’s unconditional love and our Savior’s perfect atonement.  No more guilt trips.  No more “I suppose I have to” approach to worship and service.  St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.”  The Gospel has set us free to follow Jesus because we want to, not because religion told us we have to.  Every facet of our life becomes a way to thank and glorify our gracious God.  Live free.  (That’s an invitation, not a command.)

PRAYER:  I’m tired, Lord, of dragging around my sins and the guilt they impose on me.  Free me for Jesus’ sake and restore the joy of my salvation.  I’m tired, Lord, of trying to live up to the demands of others and my own perfectionist tendencies.  Help me to rejoice in the identity you have given me as your dear child; and let your love for me inspire a corresponding love for others and for life.  I’m tired, Lord, of the anger and hurt that characterize the culture around me.  Let me bring healing love to those I meet, for Jesus’ sake.   Amen.


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Timing is Everything

clear hour glass with brown frame
 
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14 (ESV)

Timing is everything.  As we heard in our last devotion, it was at just the right time that the heavenly Father sent His Son to save us from sin and death.  God’s timing is perfect.  I get that.  But for some reason I don’t always believe that.  At least there are times that I live as if I don’t believe that.

Are you like me?.  When you prayed, were there times that you told God how to answer your prayer?  Have you told Him when to answer your prayer?  If I were honest with myself (and with the Lord) I would probably pray, My will be done…NOW! 

Timing is everything…even with God.  He has perfect timing.  He answers prayer with perfect timing.  There are those times He answers our prayer, saying, Wait. 

People with urgent prayers don’t really want to hear, Wait!  Why does God so often cause us to wait?  Like a loving parent He has His reasons.  When we wait, it causes us to rely more deeply on the Lord.  In waiting, He causes us to see how dependent we are on His love, mercy and wisdom.   When we wait, we are moved to continue our prayer, practicing the persistence of prayer that Jesus encourages.  When we wait, we are more appreciative of God’s grace when He answers prayer.

Waiting is a good thing.  Just wait…you’ll see.

Lord Jesus, thank You for always hearing my prayers.  Thank You for always answering according to Your will, not mine.  Continue to remind me that Your will is for my best interest.  Bless me with joy and patience in my moments of waiting.  I ask this in Your name and to Your glory.  Amen.  

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Responsible Freedom

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“’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive.  No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.  Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’”   1 Corinthians 10:23-26

In 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul provides several principles to follow in what theologians label adiaphora – what God has neither commanded nor forbidden. 

Principle #1: Christians have the right and freedom to do what God hasn’t forbidden.  Don’t let others tell you that you can’t when they don’t have Scripture to back it up.

Principle #2: Don’t go looking for something wrong in what the Creator has so generously provided us.  God intends his people to enjoy life within the realm of Christian love and moral right.

Principle #3: Don’t let the sensitive conscience of another person impose restrictions on your freedom in Christ.  Just because another Christian doesn’t like something does not mean you can’t do it to honor God, when this is not something God’s Word calls sin.

Principle #4: Although something may be permissible, it may not be beneficial or constructive.  For example, it may be within the realm of Christian freedom for a mature believer to watch a movie that glorifies sin, but it may not be healthy to put so much stress on your discernment filter.  There are things we are free to do in our worship that might, however, be confusing or disruptive to others. So First Immanuel won’t likely spring liturgical dance on the congregation.

Principle #5: When a non-Christian lets you know that what is Christian freedom for you looks like hypocrisy to him, forego your freedom rather than provide an excuse for that person to reject the Gospel.  So, while the use of alcohol is not prohibited by Scripture, bar-hopping may say to your agnostic friend that your faith is superficial.  Be sensitive to how your actions are perceived, not merely how they are intended.

Principles #6: When someone whose faith is not as mature as yours may be led to doubt by what you know you are free to do, yield your freedom for that more sensitive Christian brother or sister.  So long as sensitive souls are struggling with their conscience rather than imposing that conscience on others, love will avoid what may be damaging to another person’s faith.

It is in the nature of the Christian life to apply principles of truth and love rather than to impose rules of religious obligation.  It is in the nature of the Christian life to freely obey our Lord rather than be driven by guilt or obligation.  The Gospel sets us free to truly serve.

PRAYER: Grow my faith, dear Lord, so that I know and avoid what is sin, and that I appreciate the freedom you give me to enjoy life with you.  Increase my love for others, so that I am sensitive to their concerns and willing to give up my rights in order to serve them.  Amen.


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Peace with Myself

woman sitting on sand
 
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27
 
Stop and consider for a moment the many gifts that God gives to us every day. Now be specific; with a grateful heart reflect on the blessings that He has poured out on you. That you are reading this devotion today means that He has given you another day of life to live for Him and others. Everything you have and need is His gift of love to you.
 
Among the many gifts that God gives to you, did you consider the gift of peace? In this case consider the peace in your soul, the peace that only He can give and that is beyond our understanding. This is a peace, as Jesus tells us, which is far different from what the world offers. Any peace in this world can be superficial, but God’s peace is true and enduring. Because of His peace we have no need to fear, no need to be troubled by whatever is happening around us.
 
You might be thinking now that this is easier said than done. There is so much trouble all around us, how can we have peace in our souls. Like so much in life, we need to look not within ourselves for the answer, but instead look to cross. On the cross Jesus did everything necessary to reconcile us with the Father so that we might have true peace, peace with God, peace with others, and peace with ourselves.
 
Today, may “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
 
Precious Jesus, I am in awe of Your love and mercy today. You give me all that I need in this life and for the life to come. Thank You especially for the gift of peace. When my heart is troubled, grant me the peace that comes only from You. In Your name I pray, amen.

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Freedom

landscape shot of white cross during daytime
 
“Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.’  If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. . .Why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience?  If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?”  1 Corinthians 10:25-27 and 29-30

The villains in the four Gospels are clearly the Pharisees.  Jesus calls them hypocrites.  He condemns their superficial spirituality, their self-righteous pride, and their loveless disregard for the hurting.  The Pharisees degraded the Sabbath into 39 classes of prohibited labor, from swatting a fly to combing your hair.  They paraded their tithing and their praying, thinking God’s people and even God himself would be impressed.  Pharisees are the poster child for legalism.  Legalism is making religious rules where God hasn’t.  Legalism is viewing God and others through the demands of the law rather than the love of the Gospel, condemning where there should be forgiving and commanding where God’s way is inviting.  Legalism seeks to manipulate religious behavior with guilt and obligation, while God transforms behavior with grace-induced gratitude.  Legalism is, as a friend described it, “shoulding on people.”

In the first century the legalism that troubled the church was the insistence that Old Testament requirements, laws given by God to focus people on their need for forgiveness and the promised Savior who would deliver that forgiveness, were a necessary addition to faith in Jesus.  From circumcision to Sabbath ritual, legalists insisted that God’s grace was not enough. In Corinth there was a more subtle form of legalism, making it a sin to eat meat that might have been offered at a pagan temple before crossing the counter of a local butcher shop.  Too easily one person’s sensitive conscience became a moral law binding the conscience of others.  St. Paul asserts Christian freedom to enjoy God’s gifts, such as a good steak, without feeling guilty.

A couple of generations back, legalism in the church meant prohibiting movies, dancing, alcohol, card playing and life insurance.  Though the Bible didn’t exactly forbid such things, serious people believed that religious rules were a way to keep people from temptations and questionable associations.  I wonder what legalistic tendencies later generations may see in us, principles pushed too far or tests of orthodoxy beyond Scripture.

Maybe the greater danger, especially in a time where God’s moral law is violated and ignored blatantly, is that we make religion about what people do rather than what God has done.  Maybe we are inclined to think that our above-average moral lives make us better than other sinners and more acceptable to God.  The greatest danger of legalism is pushing Jesus into the background, in our own hearts and in our witness to those outside the church, who will never be brought to faith by the guilt trips imposed by Christians.

PRAYER: Thank you, Lord, for confronting me with my sin and then assuring me that it has been paid for by Jesus.  Keep me from dwelling on guilt, mine and others’.  Accept my thanks for the many gifts and blessings you provide, and encourage me to enjoy them in the freedom of the Gospel.  Let those who view the church negatively see in Jesus a reason to join us.  Amen.

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