Free means Free

Sustain us in the struggle Lord, and raise us to Your life. Amen.

Galatians 5:1-15
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

Let’s read that last bit again:

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

When we hear the word freedom, we probably have several different images pop into our mind. Mel Gibson pops in first as William Wallace, face painted blue, war worn, tied to a table and suffering his last. It is a gasping final breath, a cry for something that mattered most, that was worth dying for, a cause that was meant to bring hope to others.

Then I think of people like Harriet Tubman & Sojourner Truth, people who worked and struggled and did things both stealthy and public to draw attention to the plight of their people, desiring freedom from oppression & slavery. They didn’t care what man’s opinion was on the matter, they did what was right. Dr. King echoed their hearts on the other side of the Emancipation Proclamation, while men and women still struggled for equality because of the color of their skin, and many still echo their cause today, and rightfully so.

I think of Moses standing in the court of Pharaoh, staff in hand, and Charlton Heston’s beard hanging down on his chest demanding that Pharaoh let God’s people go. A power struggle between two men, one who thought himself a god, and another who was on a mission from God. Moses stood representing a people who were oppressed, taken advantage of, beaten down and suffering. Freedom seemed like a pipe dream to them, suffering was their companion.

But God has different plans.

All of these examples of freedom that pop into my head center around people who were willing to stand up to that others might have freedom, and I think that’s only right. People who fight for their own freedom, but neglect the needs of others around them do not understand the true nature of freedom. And this thought is found in this passage from Galatians 5 today. We have been granted a great freedom in Christ, yes. But we cannot, not even for a moment, keep that freedom to ourselves. It is counter-intuitive, truly free people want non-free people to truly be free, and they will point the goals of their life toward that work.

Freedom isn’t an idea. It’s not a rough concept or construct that we work under. Freedom is a state of being, and it shapes everything we have license to do. Paul was pointing this out, too, when he reminded the church in Galatia that their freedom was given so that they might serve others. It isn’t a freedom for self, but a freedom to serve. That’s what freedom is for, freedom is for freeing, and people who are free, and understand their freedom, having engaged with it, will seek freedom for others. They will ‘go’ as Jesus called them to go, bringing freedom to the captives.

Luke 4:16-21
16 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

If this was Jesus’ mission, then it belongs to us, too.
Freedom if for everyone. Free means free.
Go set someone free today.

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Pray like Jesus

the-lords-prayer

Cyprian wrote, “The Lord has given us a pattern of prayer, instructing us on how we are to pray. He has made it easy for us to be heard as we pray to the Father in the words taught us by the Son. What prayer could be more a prayer in the truth than the one spoken by the lips of the Son, who is truth Himself? To ask the Father in the words His Son has given us, to let Him hear the prayer of Christ ringing in His ears, is to make our prayer one of friendship, a family prayer. Let the Father recognize the words of His Son.”

Matthew 6:7-15
“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors/trespassers/those who sin against us.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from evil.

14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

This prayer come from my heart and passes through my lips at least three times a day. I enjoy praying it on Sundays with my church family. It is a reminder, a comfort, something we can do in complete unity and in submission to God. In some places it is called “The Lord’s Prayer” in others “The Model Prayer” and in still others the “Our Father.” All of those titles are fine and good. What matters most is the heart that speaks the prayer, and the intent behind it all.

I do believe that a regular reminder of the heart and intent of Christ is important for us all experience. An undistorted view of His example to us, meant to draw our hearts in reverent worship, honor, thanksgiving and supplication to God is immensely valuable as we struggle against sin and the difficulties of life in a broken world.

And so we return to the words of Christ. We know that if we have nothing else to say, we can at least say this. If we cannot find the words, we can always come back here. This is a way station for our heart, a place to gain confidence and to listen to the words of our Savior over and over again. When we gather as a church body, we can pray this simple prayer together to center our hearts and minds together, to draw from a piece of common ground, a familiar setting.

I’ve had people tell me that it feels very ‘Catholic’ to pray the Lord’s Prayer out loud every week. I can’t argue with their feeling, but what I can do is point them to the words of Christ who said, “Pray then like this…” Corporate prayer does not belong to any singular denomination or group within Christendom. Comments like that show a misunderstanding of the life of the church together, and of prayer. If you pray the prayer every week, and you don’t mean what you pray, then yes, it will feel hollow and repetitious. But if you address God from your heart, thinking through what you are saying, what those words mean, if you are expressing thoughts and ideas from your own heart as you repeat the words of Christ, then yes, it will have meaning and it will be a point of comfort and it will be an encouragement to both you and to those around you.

If this is one of the very few things that Jesus specifically gave us to do together, because, remember, when He was speaking these words as an example to us for the very first time, it was in a group teaching scenario: The Sermon on the Mount. It wasn’t in a one-on-one teaching time. He never instructed us to keep this one to ourselves. This was meant to be shared in together, and returned to on our own. It is a reminder of community when we pray it on our own, and it is a reinforcement for later use when we pray it together.

And when we want to pray, and speak to God in a free form fashion, we return to this example of prayer from Christ Himself and we can build our prayers on His example: Worship, Confession/Repentance & Requesting.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

It is the heart that matters, the intent behind the prayer. Praying to be heard by men “that they may be seen” is hollow and ultimately empty. Hollow prayers also come from unengaged hearts, from people who are just going through the motions. Praying together with other people is a joining together in unity, and encouragement of the presence of God among you. Praying alongside people that you share life with is a deepening of that bond you share in Christ.

So, pray like Jesus, whether corporately or in your private prayer closet, think about your words, mean what you say and engage your heart with the heart of Christ.

Acts 20:1-12 // Time Well Spent

“1 After the uproar was over, Paul sent for the disciples, encouraged them, and after saying good-bye, departed to go to Macedonia. 2 And when he had passed through those areas and exhorted them at length, he came to Greece 3 and stayed three months. When he was about to set sail for Syria, a plot was devised against him by the Jews, so a decision was made to go back through Macedonia. 4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. 5 These men went on ahead and waited for us in Troas, 6 but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread. In five days we reached them at Troas, where we spent seven days.

7 On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread. Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he extended his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were assembled, 9 and a young man named Eutychus was sitting on a window sill and sank into a deep sleep as Paul kept on speaking. When he was overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, embraced him, and said, “Don’t be alarmed, for his life is in him!” 11 After going upstairs, breaking the bread, and eating, Paul conversed a considerable time until dawn. Then he left. 12 They brought the boy home alive and were greatly comforted.”

Acts 20:1-12

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Our Western culture is very time conscious. We want things to begin and end on time when we say they’re supposed to and to 3-5 minutes beyond that begins to encroach into personal territory. I have heard preachers apologize for the length of a church service because people were making decisions and getting baptized. I have seen people rush out the moment the invitation hymn started. I grew up at a mega-church and there were days where the number of people leaving at invitation became such a distraction (because they wanted to get out of the busy parking lot and off to lunch early) that the Senior Minister had to take time to explain to people why it was rude and inappropriate to leave right as someone was being given the opportunity to have their eternal desitination changed. Wouldn’t that be worth sticking around for? Wouldn’t that be worth celebrating? The population of Hell has just been decreased, let’s praise God together for that, right?! But people still hold their own schedule and time as more valuable. There is still an issue with ‘timing’ at church services. “Let me have my hour and then let me go.” It’s a self-centered focus that has nothing to do with the Gospel message and everything to do with honoring self. 

Paul knew his time in Troas was short, he was leaving in the morning, so he wanted to invest in this church family as much as he could before he left them. This meant a marathon session of unpacking the Word and filling their hearts with the things of God. And so Paul began speaking. It became dark, so they lit a few lamps. It got darker, so they lit a few more. They grabbed every lamp they could, so that everyone could see and be seen, and they invested themselves in the exposition of the Word and the Gospel message. It was time well spent. They were disciples of Jesus, after all, and so what better use of their time than to see what their Master desired of them, to learn more of what it meant to walk like Him? And so, no one was trying to leave, rather, they were settling in for the night to hear what mattered most. They wanted to hear from God. 

We devote so much time to so many things, but how much of our time is truly well spent? How much time do we spend that is truly devoted to God each week? Are we tithing our lives like we tithe our income? Are we serving, worshipping, reading the Word, all in equal measure, so that we grow closer and closer to Christ every day? Is our time well spent? Or is much of it wasted? How much is spent in front of screens, time we call ‘me time,’ that should be spent in other, more God-honoring ways? Is there work that needs to be done? A neighbor that needs to be reached? Can we find a few more minutes to crack open our Bibles and listen for the voice of God? 

This isn’t to make us feel guilty, thinking about these things. It is to help us remember what our priorities should be, and what it means to have time that is truly well spent. Because we spend our time in ways that we would never spend our money, or any of our other resources for that matter. The one thing we often claim is most important is often the one thing most poorly used. 

We have been commissioned to GoLove people in Jesus’ Name. That is our primary responsibility as His disciples, to share His Gospel. But how much of our time is devoted to that task? How much of our lives do we actually give to see others come to Him, to make sure they hear about Him, to speak into their hearts of the infinite grace of God poured out for us through Immanuel’s veins? Is our time well spent? 

I pray that God is merciful. I also pray that our eyes are opened & that we all become better stewards of the time He allows us to use & occupy. 

Mark 14:12-16 // Jesus is prepared to meet with you

“12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrifice the Passover lamb, His disciples asked Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare the Passover so You may eat it?”

13 So He sent two of His disciples and told them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a water jug will meet you. Follow him. 14 Wherever he enters, tell the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher says, ‘Where is the guest room for Me to eat the Passover with My disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.’ 16 So the disciples went out, entered the city, and found it just as He had told them, and they prepared the Passover.”

Mark 14:12-16

— 

This preparation, in addition to the colt for the Triumphal Entry, reveal to us that Jesus has already made all the preparations necessary for us to come and meet with Him. There is still work for us to do, but He has prepared and provided before we even think to begin. Just like the disciples simply had to acknowledge their desire to prepare the Passover meal, we need to come straight to Jesus and acknowledge our desire to be near Him. 

We like to make this overly complicated or make excuses why we don’t have time, but Jesus stands before us, time and place already secured, opportunity for communion close at hand. We have to make the effort to go there, and we should prepare for that meeting, but there should be no question over whether or or we do this. 

As a Christian, our first desire should be for Christ. We should desire to grow with Him, to grow in Him and to seek out maturity. He should be our passion, our longing. Jesus Christ should be the cry of our hearts! 

If we are ‘too busy’ for Jesus, we should pray that the Father disciplines us, prunes us, so that our hearts and attitudes are corrected. I cannot imagine Jesus telling me that He was too busy to meet with me, that He just had too much on His plate. What a sad state of affairs that would be for all of us. But Christ showed His love for us in this, that while we were still sinners, He took the time to die for us. He created the hill He would walk up, the will of the Father spawned the tree that would hold His body, the cow from whose hide the leather flagellum would be made and the stone and iron whipping post where His back would be laid open. If God took the time to prepare the sacrifice, His Son, surely we can carve out time to meet with Him daily. 

As we GoLove others in His Name, people should see the place of priority that Christ holds in our life. Not because we are acting pious and obvious to draw attention to ourselves, but because our days and nights contain so much of the reality of Christ’s presence that we cannot deny Him these daily, sacred moments. Our dedication speaks to His dedication, our devotion to His, of course His example far overshadows our own.

Numbers 17 // Complaining about position

“1 The Lord instructed Moses: 2 ‘Speak to the Israelites and take one staff from them for each ancestral house, 12 staffs from all the leaders of their ancestral houses. Write each mans name on his staff. 3 Write Aaron’s name on Levi’s staff, because there must be one staff for the head of each ancestral house. 4 Then place them in the tent of meeting in front of the testimony where I meet with you. 5 The staff of the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid Myself of the Israelites complaints that they have been making about you.’
6 So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and each of their leaders gave him a staff, one for each of the leaders of their ancestral houses, 12 staffs in all. Aaron’s staff was among them. 7 Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the testimony.”

None of this was about Aaron. It wasn’t about Moses either. But the people of Israel were so concerned about perception and position that there had been a constant issue with who was in charge, who made decisions, who was ‘holiest’ and so on. The people of Israel were so used to the way the Egyptians did things, they had so enmeshed their understanding of ‘power’ and authority with other heathen ideals that they didn’t understand the reality or nature of the service that Moses, Aaron or the Levites undertook. They forgot that God set them apart at the incident with the golden calf, they forgot that God went so far as to have the whole nation commission them offering them as a sacrifice rather than their own firstborn for His service. They now see it as some kind of power grab, and their jealousy seems interminable.

When God calls an individual to full time ministry, both that person and anyone else who may be served by them for the sake of God must know and understand that at no point is anything about them, pointing toward them, or a tool to lift up that person instead of simply glorifying God. The Israelites saw the Levitical priesthood and rather than seeing servants, they saw overlords. Rather than seeing ministers & priests, they saw rulers, which only goes to show how little they had been paying attention, and how corrupted their understanding had become from living in Egyptian culture.

No minister of the Gospel of Christ should ever seek a name for himself so that he would be recognized, lifted up and praised. No minister should seek fame, wealth or privilege because of the position that God has called them to serve within. Every minster serves so that God’s Name is praised, His Word is lifted up and His grace is spread and shared. It is never about fortune, book tours or video series. It isn’t about having your name as the headliner for a conference, or to have people flocking to hear you lead a workshop. Every ounce of effort, every motivation of their heart should be for Christ, that all hearts and eyes would be drawn to Him, and that His fame would be spread so that the nation’s would be drawn to Him and the salvation He affords.

Moses and Aaron were simply servants, alongside the rest of their tribe, before God. And it took several signs, judgments and warnings for the Israelite people to begin to see that it wasn’t just some scam, but rather a God-ordained authority that had been conferred.

Jesus said it best when He said ‘No servant is above his master.’ And that stands just as true with Moses and Aaron as it did with the disciples as it does with us today. As we GoLove others for the sake of Christ, He remains as the object of our affection, the recipient of all our efforts and the One to whom all glory is due. It’s not about us, it’s all about Him, and anyone who thinks otherwise lacks understanding.

Numbers 17:8-13
“The next day Moses entered the tent of the testimony and saw that Aaron’s staff, representing the house of Levi, had sprouted, formed buds, blossomed, and produced almonds! 9 Moses then brought out all the staffs from the Lord’s presence to all the Israelites. They saw them, and each man took his own staff. 10 The Lord told Moses, ‘Put Aarons staff back in front of the testimony to be kept as a sign for the rebels, so that you may put an end to their complaints before Me, or else they will die.’ 11 So Moses did as the Lord commanded him.
12 Then the Israelites declared to Moses, ‘Look, were perishing! Were lost; were all lost! 13 Anyone who comes near the Lords tabernacle will die. Will we all perish?'”

Numbers 8 // The Sacrifice of Self in Worship

“5 The Lord spoke to Moses: 6 Take the Levites from among the Israelites and ceremonially cleanse them. 7 This is what you must do to them for their purification: Sprinkle them with the purification water. Have them shave their entire bodies and wash their clothes, and so purify themselves.
8 They are to take a young bull and its grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, and you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering. 9 Bring the Levites before the tent of meeting and assemble the entire Israelite community. 10 Then present the Levites before the Lord, and have the Israelites lay their hands on them. 11 Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a presentation offering from the Israelites, so that they may perform the Lords work. 12 Next the Levites are to lay their hands on the heads of the bulls. Sacrifice one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering to the Lord, to make atonement for the Levites.”

Numbers 8:5-12

This ceremony wasn’t just for show. It wasn’t just a kick-off for the opening of the tabernacle. This was a true sacrifice. In place of the firstborn of all Israel being given over to God for the service required in the tabernacle, the Israelite nation was giving up a whole tribe, sacrificing their own family as it were, in order to fulfill this need. The Levites will still be a part of Israel, but they are removed from the rest of the community in different ways. They have been lifted up, elevated and set to work for God so that the other families and tribes could keep their firstborn. The Levites are now solely identified as belonging to God, and their destiny is sealed in Him.

The ceremony itself is just like any other sacrifice you might find in the Law. There is a laying on of hands by the one doing the sacrifice, a giving over to God and a purification that takes place. And this is no small thing to have done. Imagine the millions of Israelites surrounding this one tribe, this one band of their own, praying over them, laying hands on them as Moses and Aaron lead them through, and what a unique situation this must have been. Millions of Israelites encircled around these fewer thousands, freshly bathed, completely shaved and starting something new and wonderful for the glory of God. What a celebration and a mixture of emotions must have taken place here. Somber yet excited, reverent but rejoicing, the Israelites took from their own, and gave them fully over to the work of God. The ordination here of the Levites is very similar to the ordination ceremonies we perform today when someone gives their life over for the ministry, encircled by the church leaders, hands placed on shoulders, prayed over and released to the service of God, these today sacrifice their lives for God, just as the Levites did all those years ago.

But it’s not just the Levites and ordained ministers that are to offer their lives and bodies as living sacrifces. In Romans 12, Paul, the Holy Spirit speaking through him, indicates that this is required of all who would follow Jesus Christ. Romans 12:1 “Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship.” We are all dedicated to the work of God, separated out from the world as His and s et aside to serve Him daily. It is not a task that belongs to a select few, or something we can place on so,wine else’s shoulders and say, “Thanks and good luck.” But rather it is our own commissioning, given by Jesus to GoLove the world in His Name. Our work before God is the same, and we cannot lay hands on someone and pass the responsibility off to them. It is for each of us to do, to sacrifice self and live a life of worship to God.

Numbers 6 // Blessed in God

“22 The Lord spoke to Moses: 23 Tell Aaron and his sons how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24 May Yahweh bless you and protect you;
25 may Yahweh make His face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
26 may Yahweh look with favor on you
and give you peace.
27 In this way they will pronounce My name over the Israelites, and I will bless them.”
Numbers 6:22-27

This is a favorite prayer of mine from Scripture. I have used with the gathering of the church, the joining of man & wife & spoken it to believers on their death beds.

It is no small thing to invoke the Name of God. It is a sacred moment when His Name is spoken. And when it is spoken, we do not say it and speak of Him in a way that implies that we have any control over Him, that we can make Him do anything. But instead, we are acknowledging Him, intentionally inviting Him into that moment with us and seeking out His leading.
When we pray for God’s blessing, we are acknowledging that we can do nothing to bless our own lives, to change our situation for the better. When we invite Him into our lives, we are acknowledging that only He can make something beautiful out of our messes and that only He can work for our good on the midst of us.

We need His blessing.
We need His protection.
We need His presence.
We need His grace.
We need His favor.
We need His peace.

We are lost without Him and we cannot GoLove others unless we do it -in- His Name. Anything else is merely human effort, tainted by sin and directed by the flesh. And so we seek His blessing by inviting Him in to lead, direct and move in us.

It’s the only sensible thing to do.