Posts Tagged With: Christian

Freedom in Christ

July begins with one of America’s favorite holidays. On July 4, most Americans will enjoy a day off from work, feasting at barbecues, watching fireworks displays, or hanging out at the beach (to name just a few fun activities). We do these things in the name of celebrating our freedom as a nation. Freedom is a foundation of our national heritage: it is central to our identity as a country, and few principles are mentioned more often in our political and social discourse. Freedom is important to us not only as Americans, but more so as Christians. God speaks about freedom throughout His Word, but it is not the sort of freedom the world promotes. To understand the biblical concept of freedom or liberty, we can study the letters of St. Paul; Galatians 5 is a great place to begin. In Galatians 5:1, 13, he mentions freedom four times:

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery…. 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.

It is important to consider the meaning of the word “freedom.” Most people think of it as the right to do whatever you want. Among the definitions in Webster’s Dictionary are the following:

  • “exemption from external control, interference, regulation, etc.”
  • “the power to determine action without restraint.”

Both of these definitions are incomplete and therefore inaccurate. They assume that we can be completely free of external control, interference, or restraint. However, this is not possible for several reasons. For one, there are many times when freedom for one person’s course of action places restrictions on another person. For example, before the Civil War millions of Americans were free to buy, sell, and own slaves. Needless to say, their liberty in this regard placed others in bondage. When the slaves were set free, after the war, they obtained a level of freedom they had not known previously, but the people who owned them lost what they considered to be a valid legal right. In each case, one group’s liberty placed a restriction on another group. The same remains true today: A woman’s right to end her pregnancy interferes with the preborn child’s right to live. As New York State recently gave homosexuals the right to marry, it has essentially robbed Christians who serve in public office (like justices of the peace) of their right to live by their moral convictions.

As a result, total freedom (as defined by secular society) is a myth. It is ridiculous to place freedom and liberty on the throne as the ultimate reality, the greatest value in the universe. We need something greater to help us decide which rights to preserve. The Bible gives us the answer. Jesus told us that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love one’s neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40). This standard, of love to God and neighbor (in that order, and defined by His Word) is an essential first guideline for determining which “rights” should be preserved.

Secondly, even when we are free to choose a course of action, we are not free to decide its consequences. For example, there is no law saying how many donuts I may eat. Legally, I can choose to eat a dozen donuts for each meal every day. However, that diet will enslave me with obesity and a host of other health concerns. That is perhaps a rather extreme and silly example, yet millions of people claim their freedom to drink as much alcohol as they wish, only to be bound by the disease of alcoholism. People may think they are exercising their freedom, only to find themselves bound by chains of addiction.

Unfortunately, because of such false notions about freedom, many Christians do not realize their liberty in Christ. Countless followers of Jesus are bound by rules when they should instead by liberated by the Spirit of God. Jesus did not come into the world merely to reinforce the rules, but to offer direct access to His Heavenly Father to all who believe in Him. We are invited to enter into an intimate relationship with God. This relationship brings us the freedom to be everything that God created us to be. Although that freedom has guidelines and limits, it also brings great privileges. We should learn to look at God’s commandments not with resentment (“God said I cannot commit adultery; He just wants to spoil my fun!”), but with gratitude (“Thank you, God! You have shown me how to find true fulfillment in my relationships, and You have protected me from disease and other harmful effects!”).

In Galatians 5, we can discern four principles about such freedom. First, true freedom comes as we yield to the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:24 tells us that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” If you belong to Jesus Christ, He is free to lead you. He wants to lead you into liberty. He wants to set you free from sinful habits that cause slavery. Because I am free in Christ, I can choose to avoid sins that would enslave me. He also offers the liberty to serve others, which provides a sense of purpose in life. I choose to obey Christ and His Word in order to be free to serve Him.

Second, freedom produces liberty in personal relationships. When we yield to the leading of the Holy Spirit and obey Christ, we commit ourselves to a life of love. Galatians 5:14 reminds us that every commandment in Scripture is summed up by “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This love does not come naturally for people. It is not natural for a person to put the needs of others on an equal level with their own, except perhaps for very close friends or immediate family members. The Holy Spirit must orchestrate that love in our hearts. When we love one another in this way, it delivers freedom. People are sucked into bondage when they backbite and devour one another (Galatians 5:15). Numerous marriages have been destroyed, friendships shattered, and churches torn apart, because people place their own desires over the needs of those around them. God wants us to build each other up, not destroy one another.

Third, this freedom liberates us from the bondage of sin. There is no crueller taskmaster than sin. In Galatians 5:19–21, Paul lists some of the “deeds of the flesh.” While Scripture refers to them as manifestations of sin, many of them are almost deified in our culture. American society promotes sexual freedom, but millions of lives have been destroyed because people ignore the biblical warnings against sexual immorality, impurity, and sensuality. Millions of marriages have ended because of adultery. Countless young people have been emotionally scarred because they jumped into physical relationships they were not emotionally ready for. In addition, millions have enslaved themselves through hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, and a host of other sins. Sin produces personal shame. It creates consequences which we must live with. Sometimes, it damages our physical health. Too often, we think some sins are “victimless,” but ironically, the person committing the sin is the greatest victim!

Fourth, freedom in the Spirit liberates us as we develop a Christlike nature. Christianity is not a matter of living by the rules. Some churches teach us that a good Christian does not smoke, drink, dance, or go to the movies; that he prays at least one hour every day, goes to church three times per week, and listens only to Christian music. Such rules are not totally bad: Most of these guidelines will do us more good than harm. However, they do not make somebody a “good Christian.” In fact, some of the grouchiest religious fanatics follow all of these rules, yet they do not show any of the love of God. One becomes a good Christian not by following rules, but by having Christ living within them. As we allow the Holy Spirit to produce His fruit within us (see Galatians 5:22–23), we will become more like Christ. We will become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), and we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We will obtain victory over sin. We will do this without rules that create bondage to guilt and shame, mingled with feelings of inadequacy because we always realize that there is more we could do.

Christlike character traits are called the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22. Fruit grows; it does not just appear overnight. As we yield to Christ and the Holy Spirit, the fruit will grow. Even though you may be weak in some areas now, you should encourage yourself as you realize that the Holy Spirit is producing growth. No matter how weak you are now, you will grow stronger as you yield to the Holy Spirit.

Let us be encouraged by these thoughts. We are free from the legalism of dead religion. We are free from the guilt and anxiety that religious rules create. As we yield to Christ, we are free from sin and enjoy newness of life as we look forward to eternity in heaven.

Categories: Bible meditations, Holidays, Politics, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Finding Time for God

One of the greatest challenges for Christians in our busy society is finding quiet time alone with the Lord. More distractions scream for our attention with each passing day. As I started writing this article, I received a Facebook alert as one of my online friends declared his love for his Blackberry. Ten years ago, “blackberry” was a fruit, not a cell phone with gazillions of “apps” to keep one occupied wherever he went. Social networking sites were likewise nonexistent. These days, such technology gives us the illusion of being connected to one another, but at the same time, they create the reality of relational distance from God.

High-tech wireless devices and websites are not the only things demanding our attention like never before. Many companies expect their employees to work in a state of non-stop multitasking, thereby eliminating even the opportunity to pray a silent one-minute petition to God between tasks. Many employees work overtime—sometimes without pay—to accomplish their tasks and keep their jobs. Parents of school-aged children chauffeur them to all sorts of sports-team practices and games, leaving few quiet afternoons or evenings at home. Many churches fill their calendars with so many events that the most committed members find it difficult to set time alone to meet with the Lord. In this article, I will offer some advice to help believers find time for God.

Recognize Prayer as a Priority

In the Gospel of Luke, we read the story of two sisters. Both of them loved Jesus, but he commended the way one showed her love for him over how the other one did so.

“Now as they were traveling along, He entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, ‘Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.’ But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her'” (Luke 10:38–42, NASB).

How easy it is for Christians to be like Martha! Those who have ministry responsibilities in the church can relate to her. The church tends to glorify the “Marthas” in its midst. It seems as if some Christians measure one another’s spirituality not so much by how much time they spend praying and reading God’s word, but by how busy they are “doing things for the Lord.” Mary had chosen the most important way to relate to Jesus; she was the one who had chosen the “good part.”

The lesson is clear: Prayer and hearing from the Lord (especially study of his word) should take priority over ministry and other activity, no matter how urgent it may seem. If you are not meeting your deadlines, the solution is not neglecting prayer. If you are not able to keep up with your various responsibilities, time with God is not the area where you should make sacrifices. At times like this, the solution is not less prayer, but more prayer. As a matter of fact, if you are active in any ministry, prayer is the most important job you have in the church. Pastors must pray for the members of their congregations. Sunday school teachers must pray for their students. Church musicians should worship God throughout the week, so that it flows naturally during the church service. No matter what role you serve in the church, God calls you to pray. In fact, some of the most effective ministries seek prayer supporters even more zealously than they seek financial donors! That is how important prayer is to them.

Set Aside Time

Jesus in Pray

Jesus in prayer. Image via Wikipedia

Many mature Christians suggest that you should pray at least one hour per day. They cite Matthew 26:40, where Jesus asked his disciples why they could not tarry in prayer with him for one hour, shortly before he was betrayed and arrested. Many will cite the morning as the best time to pray. Personally, I make an effort to get up at 5:30 AM every weekday morning, so that I can spend at least 30 minutes praying before I leave for work. I will usually add one to three more prayer sessions throughout the day. Many great men of God, including Jesus himself, would pray in the morning.

There is no passage in the Bible that gives a strict command to pray first thing in the morning. Quite a few passages testify to the importance of praying in the morning, but many of those passages will mention other times of day for prayer. Perhaps the strongest command specifying when we should pray is First Thessalonians 5:17: “Pray without ceasing.” So, if morning prayers are a fantasy for you, do not lose heart. While many Christians are especially blessed during early-morning prayer, God will honor your prayers whenever you say them.

More important than the exact time is the priority we place on prayer. The biblical principle of first fruits is very helpful when making decisions about any area of spiritual stewardship, whether it be our treasures (money), talents, or time. The principle is known as “first fruits” because, for several Old Testament sacrifices, God commanded the Israelites to bring some of the first crops received during the harvest (Exodus 23:19; Deuteronomy 18:4). In fact, they were not supposed to eat any of the harvest until they had presented the first fruits as an offering (Leviticus 23:9–14).

Many Christians think the principle of first fruits applies only to their finances. They might say, “First I write my tithe check to the church; then I pay my bills and buy groceries.” However, first fruits is not just a financial budgeting guideline. It is a principle of giving God our highest-quality resources, including our time. Genesis 4:3–4 tells us that “Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” God rejected Cain’s offering but accepted Abel’s. Many Bible teachers claim that God rejected Cain’s offering because it was not a blood sacrifice. They cite Hebrews 9:22, which says that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” However, that would assume that Cain and Abel were offering a sacrifice for sin, which Genesis does not specify. The Old Testament mandated several different kinds of offerings, and some had nothing to do with sin. In several kinds of sacrifices, plants would have been an acceptable offering.

The source of God’s displeasure is more obvious in the Hebrew than it is in many English translations, but if   we look closely, we can still see the major distinction between the sacrifices of Cain and Abel. Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. In other words, he chose the best and healthiest animals he could offer. He gave God the best he could. Cain, however, offered some of the fruits of the soil. Nothing special here: he probably grabbed some stuff at random. Maybe he gave God the things he did not want (like many people who donate to a thrift store or food pantry). Even if he did not give God his junk, he made no real effort to give his best.

When it comes to giving God your time, do you give him your best or just whatever you can find? Do you give God the best of your time, or do you pray whenever you get around to it? If you wait until you have “nothing better to do” before you pray, you will never develop a regular habit of prayer. You will never know the joy and blessedness of an intimate, growing relationship with Christ. There will always be another television show to watch, another ball game, or another gathering with friends that will keep you from praying.

Since first fruits is our best, morning may not necessarily be the ideal time for you to pray. While I am blessed by my morning prayers, sometimes my best times are at night. Over the last year or so, my morning prayer time has evolved into “marching orders from God”; I do not lift up too many of my petitions at that time, but I get my day off on a spiritual angle, and the Lord speaks to me through his Word and his Spirit in a way that sets the tone for my day. Nights, though, can be times for really deep prayer for me. Unhurried prayer, after the day’s duties have been fulfilled, can allow me to spend relaxed time meditating on God’s word, getting to know him better, and devoting ample time to prayer for the needs which burden me most.

What is most important, though, is that you treat your prayer time as a priority. Don’t wait to “find time” for prayer. Make time for prayer, and then guard it as if it matters. If you plan to pray when you get home from work in the evening, don’t sit down and turn on the television. Find your place of prayer and get started.

Several passages, including First Peter 2:2, compare prayer and Bible reading with food. Our souls need spiritual nourishment, just like our bodies do. A good goal would be to seek three spiritual meals per day, just like we eat three meals of food per day. This will reduce the risk of getting “run down” spiritually. The Book of Common Prayer provides prayers for four different times of the day: morning, noon, evening, and “Compline” (bedtime prayers). In addition, it is helpful to set aside “spiritual snack” prayer times: praying or meditating on scripture during times when we are not otherwise mentally preoccupied. Sometimes, I will spend a few minutes with God while driving, or during a coffee break at work, and so on.

Your primary prayer time should be treated with the same urgency you would ascribe to other high-priority aspects of your schedule. Think about it this way: Do you skip work just because your favorite television show is on, or because you would rather go shopping? Probably not. Well then, why should we show more respect to a human boss, than to the Creator and Lord of the entire universe?

Set aside a time and place where you will not be easily distracted. Many people prefer morning prayers because there are fewer distractions in the morning: very rarely will someone call me on the phone at 7:00 AM! A place of prayer is important too. Usually, I like to say my morning prayers in a spare room in my apartment (at one time it was my son’s bedroom, but now that he is grown up and starting a family, it has become my “prayer closet”). Find a place where you can spend some time alone with God, with few distractions.

Come Prepared

Finally, come ready to both talk to and hear from God. I keep a prayer list handy, specifying people and circumstances that I am praying for. I also keep my Day-Timer handy. It provides two purposes. First, I keep a list of Bible readings for each day in it. Second, if I start thinking of things I need to do, I can scribble them down very quickly and move along. Before I started doing that, one of Satan’s most effective distractions was to make me obsess about things I need to do. Now if, during my prayer time, I think of something I need to do, it is usually God’s directive for addressing one of the needs I have prayed about! The power of demonic distraction is gone.

Most importantly, bring your Bible. Prayer is not just a time to tell God what you want. It is a time to ask God what he wants to tell you. Usually, he will speak through his word before he speaks in any other way. Prayer is a dialogue with God, not a monologue with the air.

Conclusion

Most of the guidelines above are really basic principles of time management. Many people allow time to become their master. They surrender to temporal passivity, and allow circumstances to dictate how they spend their time. Good time managers recognize the need to set priorities. You must choose to allocate time for the things that are most important to you. The Bible tells us that a wise disciple of Jesus will “redeem the time,” making the most of it (Ephesians 5:16). This begins by setting aside time to commune with God. Then, you need to allocate time for the important responsibilities of your life. When you manage your time properly, you can enjoy your leisure time with peace of mind, knowing that you have not squandered an irreplaceable commodity.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Jesus Will Return When HE’S Ready!

It is now May 22, 2011, and still no Rapture. I am still here, and I have not heard of any suspicious disappearance of Christians (although, from what I understand, Harold Camping is nowhere to be found). Life goes on, for Christians and nonbelievers alike.

It is easy to joke about Camping’s claims that the Rapture would take place yesterday, and that the world will end on October 21. I will make every effort to avoid ridiculing the man and his followers. Nevertheless, his false teachings cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. They need to be confronted, and Christians need to learn from recent events.

Wikipedia refers to Harold Camping as “an American Christian radio broadcaster.” I would normally not be that gracious in my assessment of him. His teachings in recent years have gone beyond misguided or controversial, into all-out heresy. He is probably best described as a “radio cult leader.” In 1994, after his first prognosticated date for the Rapture did not work out, he claimed that, instead of taking the church out of the world, God had decided to take his Holy Spirit out of the church! According to Camping, the church had become so heavily infiltrated by the devil, that the Holy Spirit had left it. He began teaching his followers that true Christians must leave the established church.

This is in complete conflict with what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, where he told Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I cannot see how a person who would make this sort of claim has any true understanding of the power of God, the mercy of Christ, or the plan of salvation.

Harold Camping has hurt a lot of people. One retiree from Staten Island, NY invested his entire life’s savings—about $140,000—in advertising to warn people of the coming apocalypse. I am sure he is not alone. To be perfectly honest, if I had believed Camping, I probably would have quit my job so I can spend my last days doing something more personally meaningful (like spending time with my wife and my son’s family). I can only imagine that countless Campingites made decisions that will have long-lasting harmful effects on them.

Camping has hurt not only his followers. He has hurt the church’s witness, in a way. Over the last couple weeks, more and more secular news outlets reported Camping’s “prophecy.” Unfortunately, news radio stations—including those that focus on brief sound bites and are therefore not well-suited for deep analysis of complex issues—may not always give all the facts. It was not always clear that Camping was wrong before (he previously said the Rapture would occur in September 1994), or that most evangelical, fundamentalist, and charismatic Christians do not agree with the man. Based on a shallow, quickly reported account of Camping’s claims, one could come away thinking that those conservative Christian nuts had come up with some crazy story.

Yet, we can learn some positive lessons from this ordeal, and I would hope more Christians try to seek a positive outcome. Saint Paul tells us that all things (I would dare say that will include heresy and irresponsible preaching by false prophets) work together for good for those who love God, and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). If we continue to pursue God’s purposes, we will be OK. More than that, we will see greater blessing not only in spite of Camping, but because of him.

A few lessons we can learn and remember are the following:

  1. Jesus will return when he and his Father are good and ready! Camping is not the only date setter to get it wrong. Before Harold Camping, Edgar C. Whisenant wrote a book in 1988, 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988. When that did not pan out, he followed up with a book proposing reasons why the Rapture would occur in 1989. I started telling people that I would write a book entitled, Ninety Reasons Why Jesus Will Return When He’s Darned Good and Ready.
    Well, I never did write that book. Plenty of “prophecy experts” have issued their warnings over the years, and have been proven wrong. It is easy to grow cynical about the second coming of Christ (see Second Peter 3:3–7). Yet, Jesus never gave us a date for his return. In fact, he told us that his Father is the only being who knows the date of his return—neither Jesus nor the angels know the date (Matthew 24:36; 25:13).
  2. It is not our job to know when the end will come. It is our job to occupy until Jesus comes. In Acts 1:7, 8, Jesus ended his earthly teaching ministry by answering yet another question by the apostles, about the dating of end-times events. Jesus said, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” We do not need to know when Jesus is coming back. We just need to proclaim the truth that He is returning, and that he offers forgiveness and everlasting life to all who call upon him.
  3. We do not know when our own end will occur. This should be obvious. While I was writing this post, I heard about a killer tornado in Joplin, MO. Although the article I read did not give any numbers (it referred only to “some fatalities”), I can be sure of one thing: those people who died in that storm did not expect it. I would not be surprised if they had Day-Timers filled in, like I do, specifying where they expect to go and what they plan to do tomorrow. Their plans will not be fulfilled. It does not matter to them when Jesus will return. Their judgment day is now.
    The same is true for all of us. I can hope to live another 30, 40, or even 50 years. It is not inconceivable for a man my age, in reasonably good health, to expect to live a long time. Yet, there are no guarantees. Accidents, sudden illness, or other tragedies can take us out of this world when we least expect it. So, it does not really matter when Jesus will return. We will all face our day of judgment; we will all stand before him sooner or later. We do not know that date and cannot schedule it on our Blackberry. We need to just be ready always to meet the Lord.
  4. Therefore, let us live each day with our eyes on eternity. On my Facebook page, I list one of my favorite quotes, which I saw attributed to actor James Dean: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.” Sadly, he did die young, and I do not know exactly where he said it. But, the truth is worth considering. We can make plans for our future. We should have long-term goals. At the same time, those long-term goals should be pursued with a mindset that focuses on eternity.

To explain that last thought, I turn to an observation by Stephen R. Covey on page 11 of his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004). He asks:

How many on their deathbeds wished they’d spent more time at the office—or watching TV? The answer is, No one. They think about their loved ones, their family, and those they have served.

So, if the world were scheduled to end this week, and we knew without a doubt that the Rapture and/or the Second Coming of Christ, what would you do? How would you spend your last days on earth? What would you do to make those last days meaningful or rewarding? What would you want Jesus to see you doing at the moment of his return?

Based on those questions, why don’t you do those things now? Make those matters high-priority goals for the weeks and years to come. Take those things that you say would matter most at the end of days, and give them priority treatment for the rest of your days.

Finally, if any Harold Camping fans read this: God has not failed. A man has made a serious mistake in his interpretation of Scripture. God is still on the throne, he is still all-knowing, and he is still in control of the universe. I urge you to find a church that preaches the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It does not have to be a perfect church (there is no such thing, because all churches are filled with imperfect people); just one that remains faithful to the truth of God’s Word. Continue to seek a living relationship with Jesus Christ.

Categories: Current events, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

OSAMA BIN LADEN NOW IN HELL (via Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog)

Strongly-worded title, but it needs to be said. I saw Joel’s blog while I was working on my post (see below; I published it just before I posted this). He says a number of things that I probably would have said in a more detailed analysis. I urge those who read my post to follow it up by reading his.

The long American nightmare is over. Osama bin Laden has been brought to justice, killed in Pakistan yesterday by U.S. commandos after a decade-long hunt. Justice has been served. But let’s be clear: bin Laden is not now in Paradise with 72 virgins. Bin Laden was a fanatical Radical Sunni Muslim. He hated the Lord Jesus Christ. He hated and cursed Christians and Jews. He murdered Christians and Jews and others; recruited, trained and deployed tho … Read More

via Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog

Categories: Current events, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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