Freedom

Happy Independence Day!

One of my favorite Bible verses comes from Galatians 5:1…

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Honest: I don’t appreciate anything near the truth of those few words. I don’t think most of us truly understand and live our freedom, even those of us who have been set free by Christ.

To the contrary, I believe most of us take it for granted. I do.

Freedom, especially freedom found in Christ, does not mean freedom to do whatever I want. It does not mean I can do or say anything, without regard for others. It does not mean I can be selfish, seeking good only for me and mine. It does not mean I can hoard home, money, possessions for my use. It does not mean I can waste my time, or spend frivolously, or pursue success at any cost. It does not mean I can wield power over others.

Thank God He also promises no condemnation if I use my “freedom” in those ways. But that’s not what Christ intended when He died to set us free.

Freedom means I am free to love God and love others. I am free from sin, free from selfish pursuit, to instead pursue Christ and live His purpose for my life. I am free to receive each day, each moment, each breath, as a gift. I am free to see my life and my place in this world as a present to unwrap carefully and enjoy thoroughly. I am free to see even those things that look like obstacles, hardships, or hell-on-earth as somehow part of His divine plan, and I am free to continue to seek His face as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

I am free to use all the time He’s given me, the things He has put under my stewardship, the personality, inclinations, and talents He has bestowed upon me–all these things I am free to use for His glory. Any power He has blessed me with I am free to use to empower others. I am free to act on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves. I am free to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. I am free to love those who have forgotten or sadly never learned how to love themselves.

On any given day, I don’t use my freedom well. And so I pray: “Jesus Christ, thank you for your gift of freedom. Help me to live freely and to work on behalf of the freedom of others. Amen.”

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Advertisements

Christ Has Risen

He has risen indeed!

The other day we drove past a local church with a banner that read:

Easter is for Everyone!
(No religious experience necessary)

We chuckled, paused, reflected… It’s accurate, but does it feel like an odd thing to say? I’m still thinking about it, so at least that makes it effective advertising…

Easter is for everyone. John 3:16 affirms that God loves the whole world so much that He sent His one and only Son to live and die and rise from the dead to bring us back into right relationship with our Creator. Jesus didn’t sacrifice Himself only for those with religious experience, but for the whole world.

Jesus came to redeem our lives from sin and death. To restore our relationship with the God who loves us. To give our lives meaning and purpose. To reconcile us with one another and with this great big beautiful Planet Earth.

Even those of us with religious experience forget the vast significance of what Jesus did for us. We need regular reminders.

Today Tween and I will teach the 4-year-olds that God sent Jesus to be our forever friend. Because John 3:16. Yesterday I saw our co-teacher and admitted that I hadn’t read the lesson yet. But really, what we want these precious littles to know is that God is good and that God loves them. This sweet man exclaimed, “That’s what I need to know, too!”

Yes. God is good. God loves us. Love God, and love one another. It’s that simple.

But not easy. Even the disciples struggled. Jesus died and He rose. They saw Him in His resurrected body, and they still didn’t know what to do next. So they went back to what they knew. The former fishermen went fishing.

They failed at this thing they’d been doing all their lives. Enter Jesus. Jesus redeemed their failed experience beyond imagination. He restored their discouraged hearts. He reclaimed their vision for what He wanted to do in and through them. Jesus loved them fully and graciously. No judgment, no condemnation, only love and direction for the future.

Thank you, Jesus!

Resurrection Sunday 2017
John 21:1-17

Connect
In which ‘regular’ activities do you engage to distract yourself from discouragement?

Study
Read aloud John 21:1-14.
How did “the disciple whom Jesus loved” recognize Jesus (vv. 4-7)?
Imagine you are Peter. Why did you get dressed and jump in the water (v. 7)?
Why do you think Jesus helped the disciples catch fish (v. 6) and asked for some of the fish they caught (v. 10) when He already had fish (v. 9)? What might that tell us about Jesus? About us?
How do you understand the disciples’ reaction to Jesus in v. 12?
Read aloud John 21:15-17.
Why does Jesus connect loving Him with feeding and caring for His sheep?

Live
How do you recognize Jesus when He shows up in your life?
Where in your life do you need Jesus to show up with His miraculous power?
Jesus helped discouraged fisherman haul in a noteworthy catch, and He also called Peter back to his true calling as a disciple. How might Jesus want to redeem and transform your life?
Do you truly love Jesus? How do you show it?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray for God to do more than you can ask or imagine in and through your life.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Advent 2 – Finding Peace

Ironically, during a week in which I’ve intentionally focused on expecting peace, I’ve found distress more often.

The same hour I learned about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, I also heard that a neighbor, husband of an acquaintance, was in a suicidal stand-off with police. He alternately pointed a pistol at his temple and his mouth and, after hours of negotiation during which a nearby elementary school – his son’s school – was on lock-down, he pulled the trigger. He leaves behind his beautiful wife and four kids, his youngest only six and four years old.

Heart breaks. Lord, have mercy. Send your peace!

Far less dramatic: Traffic. Rushing. Deadlines. Botched plans. Carpools, worse, no carpool. Kid stress (aka, school stress!). Appetizers for two different functions. Overly full calendar. On and on.

Thank God for His Word! A few of our church staff did a Bible study on Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Interestingly, I’d most often read those few verses as three different points: 1- Rejoice. 2- Worry less, pray more. 3- Think about good things.

This week I realized they are One Point (as Peterson translates in The Message): “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

When we rejoice, we put Christ at the center of our hearts and minds. When we present our requests to God, we put Christ at the center. When we think about good things, true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things, we put Christ – the author and perfecter of all things – at the center. When we fix our eyes on Christ, Christ displaces the worry that has us spinning like hamsters on a wheel and in turn gives us peace.

Phew! Hopping off the hamster wheel as my head spins…

This hasn’t been an easy week. Looking back, however, I felt most at peace when I intentionally focused on Christ. Engaged in friendship, worship, Bible reading, serving loved ones, diving deep in fulfilling work, walking our dog, I can pray and allow Christ to displace worry. Sometimes peace “just happened” as I had already scheduled life-giving activities; other times Grumpy Me made a decision to pray and pursue peace (the dog got a few more walks this week).

Bottom line: The Lord is near. So much better than tossing sleeplessly or numbing the anxiety, we can rejoice, pray, let our loving God care for our needs, and think on God’s good things. As the angel declared to shepherds watching their flocks by night, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Peace be with you!advent wreath

Week 2 – Finding Peace

Read and light two candles (purple)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 26:3 and Philippians 4:4-9

Read: How many times today did you think about yourself: your fears or worries, your wants and needs? How many times today did you offer to God your fears or worries, your wants or needs? We get so easily distracted, so quick to neglect the peace God offers us in His Son. God invites us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us. Set your heart and mind on Jesus and live in peace.

Pray: Dear God, help us to trust you and to let go of everything that keeps us from you. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

Monday Isaiah 26:3 Where do you need peace in your life?
Tuesday Matthew 6:31-34 What worries distract you from seeking God, and what will you do about it?
Wednesday Luke 12:25-26 How does worry sap your time and energy?
Thursday Philippians 4:6-7 When have you experienced peace in response to prayer?Friday Philippians 4:8-9 What are some of your favorite “whatevers” to think about?
Saturday Colossians 3:1-2 How do you actively set your heart and mind on God’s priorities?

 

Another blog I’m enjoying this Advent: lessnerismore. Grab a mug/cup of something warm and tasty and set aside a few minutes to check out her daily Advent blog.