Sunday, June 28, 2009

Modern American Slavery

This week, we as Americans will set aside our political and ideological differences to become one voice celebrating the freedoms granted to us in 1776 by the Declaration of Independence. Speakers nationwide will uplift the founding fathers who established this great nation and give homage to those throughout history who have given their lives to uphold our costly freedoms.

Americans delight in this notion of individual freedom—free to say, think, dream, do, buy, and become what they want. But while most Americans believe they are free, they are far from it. Most Americans are slaves.

No, you may say, the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ensured freedom for all, establishing that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude... shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

Yes, that is true, but at its very foundation, freedom is spiritual, is of one’s soul. And in that sense, most Americans are in slavery, in bondage.

Much like many Americans, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day thought themselves to be free, too, but Jesus said otherwise: “’If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.’ They [Pharisees] answered Him, ‘We are Abraham's descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, 'You will become free'’? Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin’” (John 8:31b-34).

In this passage, Jesus said all men and women are slaves of sin, and the only way to be truly free is to “continue” following Him. Note that Jesus did not say freedom would come with a one-time dash down a church aisle to the altar. Yes, freedom is only found in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross: “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7b). But Jesus also said living this free life requires one to “continue” in obedience to His word.

Even in Jesus’ day, false prophets offered a heretical gospel that claimed once a person is saved, she can then follow her own fleshly desires and sin without fear of God’s judgment. Peter claimed these false prophets were “promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them” (2 Peter 2:19-21). In other words, one cannot be free from the slavery of sin and continue to practice a life of sin.

Paul, too, understood how sin enslaved him: “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:14-15). He also knew that only a life lived in obedience to the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” would “set you free from the law of sin and of death” (Rom. 8:2).

Are you living in obedience to Jesus? Are you truly free? Or are you really enslaved by sin? Immorality? Lust? Anger? Materialism? Self-centeredness? Pride? An addiction? So many Americans’ souls are in bondage, weighed down by these invisible chains. If this is you, make today your spiritual Independence Day from sin and commit to a lifelong journey of practicing righteousness in Jesus.

And if you are already living in obedience to Jesus’ words, this July 4, consider not merely the cost that our forefathers paid for our country’s freedom but rather the ultimate cost the Lord Jesus paid on the cross for our eternal spiritual freedom.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Seven Loves

I know it's not Monday when I usually post my devotional of the week, but this is a little different. Andrea at "The Parson's Wife" has passed along to me this award.

If you don't know Andrea, you are missing out. She is one of the first Christian women I met in the blogging world, and I never miss reading her postings because they show a sharp mind that looks deeply into God's word and a precious, kind spirit living within her. I can't tell you how humbling it is for her to give this to me because I admire her so much.

The rules that go with this award require listing 7 things you love that show your creativity, then link back to the person who gave you the award, and pass it along to 7 other bloggers.

So, here are my 7 loves . . .

1. I love in-depth Bible study. There is nothing that thrills my soul that working through Scripture and seeing a new meaning for the first time. You may be asking, "how does that show her creativity?" It takes a creative mode of thinking to understand the many layers of Scripture--"thinking outside the box" is one way of looking at it because my human way of thinking is so different than God's and boxes me in.

2. I love finding inexpensive ways to show my family I love them--from making homemade cards and creating scrapbooks to making decorative picture frames and taking creative photos of the kids (like when I dressed them up as angels with wings!), anything that says "I love you" more than something they don't need anyway.

3. I love to cook homemade meals (with a little help from jars and cans). There are few things better than the look on my husband's face when he comes home from a long day at work and finds the kitchen full of bubbling dishes emitting fabulous aromas, especially if one of those aromas is homemade basil pesto.

4. I love to bake cakes for any occasion. Cakes are my passion, especially bundt cakes so I can use my pans shaped like roses, wreaths, sandcastles, and pumpkins. Oh, and homemade frosting is a must. The canned stuff just won't do.

5. I love to flower garden. My always-chipped fingernails are proof that one of my passions is having my hands in dirt. There's something about running my hands through the simple earth and watching a seed turn into a beautiful blossoming plant that brings me closer to God.

6. I love to play the piano and sing. I'll never be good enough for a concert, but I know how to make a joyful noise. It's such a release to play both classical music and the hymns (especially when my children "sing" along with me).

7. I love being a creative shopper, making the best use of the money God has blessed me with. Thrift store, Freecycle, Craigslist, garage sales--I take pride in outfitting my family for less, especially when someone says, "Oh! Where did you get Amelia's dress!" or "What a precious pair of shoes Wyatt has!"

Now, I would like to pass the Kreativ Blogger award along to a few more blogs whose creative, God-filled words speak to me on a weekly basis.

Billy at "What I Learned Today"
Jennifer at "
Getting Down With Jesus"
Sarah at "
God's Not Finished With Us Yet"
Lyla at "
A Different Story"
Bette at "
Read, Relax, and Rejoice"

Please take a moment to visit them--you're sure to be inspired as well.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Measure of a Man

Yesterday, many of us thanked God for an earthly example of His Fatherly love. Unlike some, I was blessed to grow up in a home where I never doubted that both my earthly and heavenly fathers loved me completely. My “daddy” and I still spend time together each week; he knows the depth of my love for him, so Father’s Day has never seemed like a big deal. But yesterday seemed different to both me and my husband, perhaps because it’s the first Father’s Day where we can see how much our lives impact our two-year-old son, the first one where we’re acutely aware of setting the right example for our own children.

When searching for characteristics of a godly father, obviously, one would look at God, Himself, as the perfect example. The Old Testament also gives several fatherly examples, but most had serious parenting issues a father today would be wise not to emulate.

Then, there is Joseph, God’s choice to be Jesus’ earthly father. Have you ever asked yourself when God planned to send Jesus to earth as a tiny baby, what qualities He saw in Joseph that made him the perfect earthly father?

Scripture doesn’t say much about Joseph. He was a carpenter, a laborer, a Jew, a lower-class man. Yet, the few verses about him speak volumes about what a father should be. Consider just a few of Joseph’s character qualities that made him a good father:

1. Joseph was immediately obedient to God’s words: When the angel appeared to Joseph, telling him to take Mary as his wife despite the present circumstances surrounding her pregnancy, Scripture says, “And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife” (Matt. 1:24). Later, when an angel warned Joseph to flee to Egypt because Herod was seeking Jesus’ life, “So Joseph got up and took the Child and His mother while it was still night, and left for Egypt” (Matt 2:14). Note that Joseph doesn't question God. He simply and immediately obeyed—even middle of the night. He followed God’s commands at all costs.

2. Joseph did not let personal pride or anger determine his actions: After learning of Mary’s pregnancy and knowing he wasn’t the father, Matthew 1:18 says, “And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to send her away secretly.” Can you imagine a world where pregnancy before marriage was punished by a public stoning? Joseph would have been completely within his rights to make Mary a public example and sign her death sentence.

Imagine his first thoughts before the angel explained the true nature of Mary’s pregnancy—anger, hurt, and humiliation. Accepting her as his wife now that she was pregnant would mean he would be treated differently by the community for the rest of his life, perhaps even ostracized. Thankfully, Joseph believed the angel and put God as well as the baby's and Mary’s well-being before his own personal pride.

3. Joseph put aside a career as well as left home, family, and country for his child’s welfare: Joseph obeyed God’s command to flee to Egypt and live there until the death of Herod. Later, God told him to return to Israel, but still not to his hometown: “Then after being warned by God in a dream, he left for the regions of Galilee, and came and lived in a city called Nazareth” (Matt. 2:22b-23). Imagine Joseph—a carpenter by trade, possibly looking forward to taking over a family carpentry business in a small town where everyone knew his reputation and name. We can be sure that having a baby this way and then leaving town were not the career moves Joseph had planned.

Imagine him having to find work as a foreigner, a Jew, in Egypt. Sure, he had a useful trade, but he had no reputation in Egypt, no portfolio of work to show potential clients, no family to provide helpful emotional or monetary support. It was just him, Mary, and Jesus relying on God above for their daily bread. We know of Joseph's poverty because when he and Mary went to church to present Jesus to the Lord, they offered a poor-man’s sacrifice to God, “‘A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS’" (Luke 2:24). Obeying God and putting his family before his own personal dreams of success were very costly choices.

The lessons here are simple but deep and eternal. To be a good father (or even a good mother), one must hold fast to these three truths: Put God first. Put family second. Put self last. That’s how you tell the measure of a man.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Another American Idol?

He was the new music minister at our church who quickly became good friends with my family. As a young teenage girl, I had found what I thought to be a good Christian role model, someone to look up to. In a few short months, he began teaching me advanced piano, he and his fiancé attended a barbecue in our backyard, he played badminton with my brother and me, and he said his marital vows in my presence. Then, a couple weeks after the wedding ceremony, he left his wife, had the marriage annulled, resigned his position at the church, and swept out of my life.

I was crushed. How could a Christian do this? And what effect would I let this have on my faith?

It seems built into our genes to idolize others. Christians and non-Christians alike are guilty of putting on pedestals anyone who claims Jesus as Lord and Savior, expecting only absolute perfection from a Christian. And when those Christians fall, everyone is watching, sometimes just waiting for them to trip over their own sinful humanity. I’ve heard some react indignantly: “They’re no different from me!” or “If that’s what being a Christian is, I want nothing to do with it.” I’ve heard others react in defeat: “If she couldn’t follow the narrow path, then I know I don’t have a chance of staying true to Christ.”

The problem with such reactions is they show a focus outward instead of upward. God never told us to keep our eyes focused on mankind for an example of what a Christian should look like. Instead, Jesus told His disciples, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Notice Jesus didn’t say “be perfect as your pastor is perfect” or “as your best friend is perfect.” He didn’t even tell us to look at Himself for a model of perfection, even though we know He is the model of a sinless, perfect life. He said to look at the Father.

One reason we must look to God alone is because while we may think the people we know and admire are Christians, we cannot 100% know their hearts. This is why John said of several people whom he had considered brothers in Christ at one time, “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19). Even Paul who at one point considered Demas a “fellow laborer” for Christ later admitted, “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me” (Phil. 1:24; Coll. 4:14; 2 Tim. 4:10).

Another reason for looking to God alone is because our faith must be in God, not in man. In Philippians 3:13b-14, Paul gives the analogy of the Christian life being like running a race: “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” He later says, “let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:1-2a, my italics) To run a good race, we must keep our eyes on the goal, on Jesus, not on other Christians, lest our faith falter and we stumble or fall.

If you’ve been disappointed in the past by something a Christian said or did and that has affected your relationship with God, you must determine in your heart if your faith is in man or in God. A steady, strong faith cannot be contingent upon another man or woman’s actions, even if you've idolized that person your whole life. A faith must be rooted in Christ alone. As the old hymn says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.”

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Sitting on an Ant Nest?

This weekend, my two-year-old was playing on a decayed stump. Although he’s been warned several times that this is a “no no” because of the colony of ants that lives beneath the ground, since he can’t easily see the ants, he forgets. Sure enough, after a few minutes of stomping on the stump, he was coated in swarming black dots and yelling for help. The big problem? He sat down on the ant-covered stump to yell for help.

After hastily peeling off the infested clothes, a dose of Benadryl, a dab of Campho-Phenique on each bite, some tear-wiping, and lots of cuddles, I tried to explain how he needed to run from the ants and then call for me. As his mom, I instinctively know it’s only a matter of time before he will be back dancing on the stump again and, once again, needing some “help!”

This incident made me think of the many times I have complained “God’s not listening to me! He doesn’t answer my prayers for help, for deliverance from ______ problem.” In these periods of darkness, it seems as if my prayers are being stamped “Return to Sender.” Yet, Scripture says when God remains silent, there is a reason.

First, sometimes God remains silent because He is asking us to wait or to trust Him by faith that He is working behind the scenes even when we see and hear nothing from Him. The prophet Habakkuk begged the Lord to help Israel: “How long, O LORD, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ Yet You do not save.” God responded, “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days--You would not believe if you were told” (Habakkuk 1:2, 5). God is working to help us, and the plan He’s crafting may knock our socks off.

Secondly, God may be silent because there are important events of eternal importance taking place in the heavenlies. When Daniel is terrified by a vision he doesn’t understand, he waits 21 days before the angel Gabriel finally shows up and helps, saying “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. Now I have come to give you an understanding…" (Daniel 10:12-14, my italics). God heard Daniel’s heart immediately, but His vehicle for imparting help was detained by Satan. Sometimes, it helps to think that maybe I’m being called upon to wait upon God in faith because of something magnificent going on in the heavenlies.

While these kinds of divine silence do not mean that God has not heard our prayers, there can be a reason for His silence wherein He does not hear us. David tells us of his prayers, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;” (Psalm 66:18, NIV). Isaiah 59:1-2 further reads, “Behold, the LORD'S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, And your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” God even refused several times to hear Israel’s prayers: “Then they will cry out to the LORD, But He will not answer them. Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time Because they have practiced evil deeds” (Micah 3:4). In essence, if we cherish and practice sin in our lives, God will not hear our prayers.

This week, if you feel like you’re continuing to call upon the Lord but are getting no answer, take a hard, honest look at your life to see if there is anything hindering your prayers from reaching the Father’s throne. Look around you. Is God merely telling you to trust Him and wait in faith? Could He have already sent an answer, but it’s en route? Or are you asking for help while sitting on an ant nest of cherished sin?