Thursday, November 30, 2017

Free Indeed

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Gal. 5:1) 
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (2 Corinthians 3:17) 
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32)
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We have a particular kind of cultural view of freedom:
  • “No matter what they say, I’m doing to do whatever I want.”
  • “Break the rules. Find your freedom. Live your life.”
  • “Walk where your heart leads you.”
  • “Run without a destination, and you’ll finally see what freedom can be.”
I think of it as a fish jumping out of a fishbowl that it considers to be this horrible confinement…and goes nowhere. All it wants to do is leave, but it has no destination.  It does what it wants, it finds its freedom, it jumps where its heart leads it, and it jumps without a destination.  But it doesn’t jump to freedom. It doesn’t realize it is leaving behind the very thing that brings it life. We know this principle is true. We see it everywhere.
  • A train needs to run on tracks
  • Drivers need rules for driving
  • Our diet needs restraint
  • Fireworks need guidelines
  • A band needs to be in agreement about the constraints of the song in order to make music to which anyone wants to listen.

Free...From Slavery To The Shadows

Plato told a story in which people are trapped in a cave, watching shadows on a cave wall and thinking it’s reality. Occasionally, some of them recognize the shadows for what they are and leave the cave, entering into the sunlight of Truth and experiencing Reality for themselves. It might surprise you to know that the Apostle Paul tells a very similar story.

The Colossian church had a problem with living in the shadows. Paul started out his letter by stressing the preeminence of Christ in everything, then noted how glad he was that the Colossians were rooted in and built on Christ, because He was the source of all that mattered.
“Be strong in the faith, just as you were taught, and always spill over with thankfulness. Make sure no one deceives you through some misleading philosophy and empty deception based on traditions fabricated by mere mortals. These are sourced in the elementary principles originating in this world and not in Christ. You see, all that is God, all His fullness, resides in Christ.” (7-9)
Paul goes on to say that God, through Christ, has beaten all the principalities and powers – that is, every spiritual or supernatural force - and publicly displayed their ineffectiveness and Christ’s effectiveness. Then he adds:
“It was God who brought us to life with Him, forgave all our sins, and eliminated the massive debt we incurred by the law that stood against us. He took it all away; He nailed it to the cross. He disarmed those who once ruled over us—those who had overpowered us. Like captives of war, He put them on display to the world to show His victory over them by means of the cross.
But here comes the problem. There are those who want them to rob them of the freedom Christ has offered. There are those who want them to go back to the world’s “elementary principles” that will keep them in a spiritual cave. And Paul tells them what this will look like:

Free...From Saving Ourselves

We talked last week about being set free from the eternal penalty and the power of sin because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. When we give our lives to following and serving Jesus, we are no longer slaves to sin, chained to our vices and doomed to patterns or lifestyles of sinful failure.

But, even as Christians, there are still ways in which God is working in us to bring freedom. We didn’t get saved in a vacuum of history; there are a lot of things that have shaped the way we think and live: family, culture, school, friends, etc. We are going to revisit some dynamics in the early church to talk about how after salvation God continues to free us from slavery to false and destructive things.

Greek converts in the early church came from a particular kind of culture. Virtually all of them were coming from pagan temple worship and a Greek or Roman conception of how the gods worked. There are three things that stand out about how they lived and worshipped.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Freedom That Christ Brings

I recently finished preaching a four part series on what it means to be free in Christ. The series just scratching the surface, but I hope that that the links to the sermon notes posted here provide a  helpful way to think - or begin thinking - biblically about a concept that can be tricky, especially considering how our culture so often portrays freedom.

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Free - From The Penalty And Power Of Sin

"Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the eternal PENALTY of sin; a overwhelming debt we build all our lives will be covered because Jesus has gone to the Cross to take our just penalty upon himself. The wages or cost of sin is still death; it’s just that Jesus paid it for you.

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, we are freed from the present POWER of sin. We were once dead in sin. We were incapable of bringing ourselves to life, and we were going to inevitably default to sin. Because the Holy Spirit is now in us, we have God’s power to break what the Bible calls “chains” of sin. We will struggle with temptation, but we are not doomed to failure. God will work in us (sanctification).

Because of the sacrifice and forgiveness of Christ, one day we will be freed from the very PRESENCE of sin. In heaven, shalom will be restored.  The New Heaven and New Earth will not be broken, and neither will we. This is the solution that frees us from a life of brokenness and sin and an eternity of despair."

Free - From Saving Ourselves

"If you want to keep relying on your ability to ‘do work’ to save you, you are in spiritual slavery and outside of God’s promise. You are meant to be free – and that freedom comes from Heaven. Heaven will fulfill the promise in God’s power, not yours."

Free - From Slavery To The Shadows

"Shadows aren’t bad things in and of themselves, because they point toward the real thing. In a drought, you want to see the shadow of clouds across the land. On a hot day, you want to see the shadow of a tree. But those don’t exist without the cloud or the tree; we would be foolish to exalt the shadow and ignore that which cast it.

The same it true of spiritual realities. The Old Testament was full of shadows: the Law; various people whose lives we now see as in some ways prophetically revealing of God; the promise of physical blessing to Israel that pointed toward spiritual blessing in Christ.

So shadows aren’t bad things. They point us toward the Shadow Caster. But a "shadow" is an imperfect representation of the thing it reveals. Problems arise when people mistake the shadows for the Real Thing."

Free Indeed

"Christian freedom is a directed, purposeful pursuit of the life given and empowered by God that allows us to increasingly participate in the character of Christ. We are created in the image of God; genuine freedom, then, is found in conforming to that image, not rejecting it.

When we say, “I am a Christian,” what we say, what we do, what we post, what and how we picket, what we laugh and cry at, how we show Christ’s love, how we balance justice and mercy, how we balance law and grace, how we prioritize our life, how we engage in relationships, the kind of person we commit to becoming in our homes, our workplace, at church, in sports leagues…. These all matter. Every moment leads us further away from or further into the likeness of Christ, and with it the freedom Christ offers."



Monday, June 12, 2017

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 4)

  • A Labor Foreign Secretary (1966-68) named George Brown got this response from another guest at a diplomatic reception: “I shall not dance with you for three reasons. First, because you are drunk, second, because this is not a waltz but the Peruvian national anthem and third, because I am not a beautiful lady in red; I am the Cardinal Bishop of Lima.”
  • When Barbara Bush, the wife of then Vice President George Bush, Sr., was on a diplomatic visit in Japan, she attended a lunch with Emperor Hirohito at Tokyo's Imperial Palace. In spite of her best efforts to start a conversation, the Emperor would only smile and give very short answers. She finally complimented Hirohito on his official residence."Thank you," he said. "Is it new?" pressed Mrs. Bush. "Yes." "Was the palace just so old that it was falling down?" “No, I'm afraid that you bombed it."
It’s embarrassing when a leader or an ambassador poorly represents something of which you are a part. They are supposed to be a compelling face for something or someone, and it’s hard. At times they fail, sometimes hilariously and other times more seriously. We tend to think of this in politics or schools or sports teams, but Paul wrote to the first followers of Christ:
“Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:20
As followers of Christ, we are His ambassadors to a world that is not our home. We represent another King and another Kingdom. "Our citizenship is in heaven" (Philippians 3:20). As ambassadors for Christ, we have the same kind of responsibility as the previous spokespeople I mentioned. But now we are going to the Kingdom of the Earth on behalf of the Kingdom of Heaven, and things of eternal import are at stake.  We’ve been talking about spiritual health for the past six weeks. It’s worth noting that we don’t become healthy through Jesus just for our sake. We are made healthy as part of preparation for evangelism and discipleship.
“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others...not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell [people] of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others.” (Dietrich BonhoefferLetters and Papers from Prison).

Monday, May 15, 2017

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 3)

Here is today’s leading question: how do we reorder our loves and experience what David called ‘the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living’ (Psalm 27:13)? I would like to offer general principles about what I think is the God-ordained path by which our hearts flourish in their new life – and by flourish I mean our hearts increasingly begin to resemble that heart of Jesus.

First, pray for God to do the work only God can do.

He must create a new heart in you (salvation and regeneration), and he must be the foundation of our ongoing heart health (sanctification). I hope my list last week didn’t drive you to despair. It was meant to drive you toward Jesus. Even if we have a sliding scale that showed us how close we were to the right side, it would always remind us of the need for Jesus. No matter how close we get, we will fail. This reality is not meant discourage us. Godly sorrow is intended to bring repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).

I am reminded of the times when it is clear to me that I fail my wife or friends. I have two choices: I can retreat in frustration and depression (maybe even anger), or I can appreciate how much they must love me to continue to do life with me. So my failure, properly processed, increases my awe at their faithful love. It is often when I am most aware of my sin that I am in awe of God’s love. When I am most aware of my weakness, I marvel at His power. When I am asking others and God to forgive me, I see the cost and beauty of their love as they forgive and remain faithful.
Let your failures increase your awe of God’s love and inspire you even more to press toward the kind of heart that loves like that.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 2)

The classic vampire claim is that they can’t come into your house until you let them.  Kept outside, they can do nothing. Left inside, they will drain your life.  Though Hollywood has turned most vampire stories into gory bloodbaths, this wasn’t always the case. Some of the earliest stories (such as Bram Stoker’s classic work) were deeply connected with Christianity, with the vampire as the figure of Satan or at least of sin. It was meant to shock the reader into recognizing the seriousness and horror of what sin does.

This doorway metaphor echoes biblical imagery. Right before Cain killed his brother, God reminded him that “sin crouches at the door; its desire is for you, and you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) Sin is the ultimate vampire, the one that wants in to drain our souls.

These spiritual vampires that crouch at the door of my heart want me to be harsh in my home; they want me to love money and fame; they want me to ignore God; they want me to reject the guidelines of the Bible; they want me to overlook my friends and hate my enemies; they want me to objectify people and love things. They want me to shame the name of Jesus in my testimony.

Thanks to Jesus, the most it can do is crouch at the door of my life. But I still have my free will, and I can still choose to whom I open the door of my heart.

This isn’t the only time the Bible uses this image: When John records in Revelation 3 that God says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” he was talking to the church – the Christians - of Laodicea. They needed to continue to open the door of their heart.

I need Jesus as much after my salvation as I did before. That’s what I want to talk about today: how, after salvation, God has a plan in place for us to help us resist the ongoing temptation of the sin that so easily besets us (Hebrews 12:1).

From The Great Physician To The Great Commission (Part 1)

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  (Mark 2: 15-17)

Jesus is often called the Great Physician because of this claim.  He took a common experience (doctors are trained to help the physically ill) to describe a spiritual reality (Jesus came to help the spiritually sick).

The Pharisees were angry because Jesus was more focused on the “sinners” or the “sick” than he was on them, the healthy non-sinners (or so they thought). It was as if the Pharisees were saying, “Look, we are all cleaned up. Wouldn’t you rather hang out with us?”  And Jesus said by his actions and his words, “Oh, well, if you’re that fine without me, carry on. I will find those who see themselves honestly – they are the ones who are ready for me.”

We, the followers of Jesus, came to him as the Sick.
  • We accepted His diagnosis (sin), cure (salvation), and ‘after care’ plan (sanctification), and we celebrate our health by promoting the doctor (evangelism).
  • We became part of the Fellowship of the Healed (once for all for the eternal punishment for our sin) and the Healing (the good work Jesus has begun continues).
  • Now, we have the privilege of paying forward what happened through the presence of the church, in which more of the sick in desperate need of The Great Physician can find healing and hope. 
When people follow Jesus to church, we want them to experience our church as a place where the spiritually sick find healing through the work of Jesus, the power of his Word and Spirit, and the presence of His people. Assuming that Jesus was very purposeful with that analogy, what can we learn from our experiences with medical hospitals as we help to participate in the spiritual hospital that is our church?