Freedom Responsibilites

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

Galatians 5:13-15 (NIV)

As children mature, they make efforts to establish their independence. This is first noticed around the age of 2 when they enter the “me do “phase. Once they reach the milestone of legally driving, this striving for independence increases in leaps and bounds. No longer dependent on parents or older siblings to chauffer them from place to place, they begin exploring the world and its offerings on their own. Graduating from high school marks another turning point in their goal for personal independence. Each stage of new found freedom increases the level of responsibility to use these freedoms without causing injury to self or others.

Today we hear Paul’s words in regard to responsible use of freedom. He has been writing to the Galatians concerning confusion over their living under the Law. Paul points out that by believing in Christ, they no longer are bound to the Law. They have a new freedom. He expresses to them that this freedom should not be used to obtain their own wants and desires solely but it should be used in service to one another. Paul reminds them that they are to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If in their freedom they attack and steal from each other, it will be mutually destructive.

The nation in which we live provides many freedoms that are not available in other countries of the world. We are able to share our thoughts aloud without fear of being restrained, tortured, or put to death. We choose where we live, what we purchase, and how we live without a government dictating any of that to us. These freedoms have some restrictions placed upon them in the interest of public safety. There are still steps which need to be taken to ensure these freedoms are available to ALL people within our borders. Yet we remain one of the nations which affords its citizens more freedom than others.

As Paul points out, we also are free of retaliation by our God when we do not adhere to the Law of the Old Testament. Because of the grace shown to us through Christ, the punishment of the Law no longer hangs over us. We live as ones who have been freed.

However, as mentioned in regards to children obtaining independence, with our freedoms come responsibilities. Whether talking about our civic freedoms or our spiritual freedoms, we must exercise them in light of how our neighbors might be impacted. The words we use or the actions we take should not have us as the sole focus. In light of human advances, we are more connected to each other in much broader ranges than ever before. If we use our freedoms in ways that negatively affects others then we will begin a path of mutual destruction.

Be grateful for the freedoms which have been obtained for you, but be responsible and loving in how you exercise them.

Amazing Grace

Music has a powerful way of communicating a message. Today I invite you to take a moment to watch this YouTube video. The song is Amazing Grace (MyChains are Gone) by Chris Tomlin. Toumlin has blended the message of the old hymn, Amazing Grace, with lyrics he has written to remind us how the Lord has broken the chains of sin by God’s amazing grace.

After watching the video, consider these questions:

  • What is so amazing about God’s grace?
  • What chains have bound you?
  • How has the Lord’s mercy impacted your life?
  • Is there anything from which you still need the Lord to set you free?

God’s grace is truly amazing. The Lord wishes to set you free from anything which prevents you from fully experiencing the love and life God continually gives you.

A Recognition

The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.’”

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

12 At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, 13 and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.

John 1:1-13 (NIV)

All of us enjoy when our work is acknowledged and we receive kudos because of that work. Receiving a pat on the back encourages us to continue in our efforts. If we are the supervisor or manager of people or volunteers, taking the time to stop and express our recognition of extra effort by one for whom we are responsible is vital. A person who feels unnoticed and underappreciated will only do the minimum amount of work which is required. There is no motivation to go beyond if the efforts are not acknowledged.

The Gospel of Mark opens with the introduction of John, the Baptist. John tells of one who is coming and this one will be greater than John. Jesus then arrives and seeks baptism just as so many others have. In the midst of this baptismal rite, Jesus sees the heavens appear to open, an image of a dove descend upon him, and then hears a voice. The voice affirms Jesus as the Son followed by an acknowledgment that Jesus has pleased God. This occurs before Jesus has even begun the work of his ministry. Jesus has received a pat on the back before entering the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for a large number of days. It appears that God knew how important it would be for Jesus to hear recognition prior to undertaking a very difficult challenge.

Imagine hearing the words recorded here from a heavenly voice, from God. Realizing how motivating recognition from a human is to us, receiving similar kudos from our Creator would have to build us up in tremendous ways. The truth is that we already have received such recognition. Scripture tells us that God knew us before we were even born. God has already affirmed us as God’s daughter or son. God’s demonstration of love and grace has already told us we please God solely by being who we are. So we respond and are motivated to daily make the effort to be who God already sees us to be.

A New Year Prayer

This New Year’s Day, I have chosen to share a prayer as today’s devotion instead of using my normal format. My understanding of the Gospel is that it all is about love. The problems between people can be traced to an absence of love demonstrated in action and not solely in emotions and/or words. So I found this prayer which shares my hope for this new year.

A NEW YEAR PRAYER FOR LOVE

Dear God, thank you that you are a loving, gracious God. Thank you that you’ve offered us forgiveness and the gift of new life in you. Thank you that your love is perfect, it never fails, and that nothing can separate us from your love.

We pray that our lives would be filled and overflowing with the power of your love so we can make a difference in this world and bring honor to you. We ask for your help in reminding us that the most important things are not what we do outwardly, it’s not based on any talent or gift, but the most significant thing we can do in this life is simply to love you and choose to love others.

Help us to love as you love. Fill us with your Spirit so that we can choose what is best. We are weak Lord, but we know also, that even when we are weak, you are strong within us. Thank you that it is not all up to us. Thank you that you equip us to face each day with the power of your love, your forgiveness, and your grace. We love you Lord, and we need you today, and every day. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Source: Christianity.com

This is my prayer for each of you and the world. May 2021 be filled with the love from the source of all love, God.

The Old Becomes New

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2 (NIV)

As we sit on the eve of the new year, many of us hope for a better year. We once again are ready to celebrate a new beginning. The imagery used to symbolize a change in years is the image of an elderly man and a baby. Historians believe using a baby’s image to symbolize a new year can be traced back to the Greeks around 600 B.C.E. The elderly man is thought to be Father Time. Legend says that Father Time (the Old Year) hands over duties of time to the Baby New Year at midnight. In some ways, this can be seen as the passing of the old creation to a new creation.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth regarding the change of an old creation into a new creation. Due to God’s grace, the old, sinful nature of humanity is replaced by the righteous image before God. Christ is the one who assumes our sin so that we can become a new creation and reconciled to God. The old is gone and only the new remains.

Just as the old year fades away, our sinful selves can fade. God no longer takes notice of the sin which existed prior to our reconciliation through Christ. Paul tells us at the start of this passage that we should view each other in the same way. Having been reconciled, we now see only the new, righteous self who God has brought into being. The old no longer exists, only the new remains.

A Gift

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

John 3:16-21 (NIV)

Each person brings something special into our lives. Like snowflakes, there are no two people exactly alike. When I was younger, I loved playing in the snow and taking time to look at the snowflakes as they fell onto my mittens. There was a beauty in the snow. My love for the snow decreased as I grew older, especially when I became responsible for removing it from sidewalks and driveways. But I still can see beauty in freshly fallen snow and each individual snowflake’s uniqueness. This can be easily translated to the beauty found in the individuals in my life and the unique offering they present to me which enriches me.

Our passage from John’s gospel begins with one of the most quoted verses of the Bible. Yet, it is important to look at this passage in its entirety. John tells of God’s love for all creation. This love is demonstrated by the sending of the Son into the world. The Son comes not to condemn but to save. If a person chooses to reject this salvation by not believing in it, then the person has condemned themselves. Then John presents an image of this action using light. He indicates that failing to believe is wishing to remain in the darkness instead of coming into the light. The reason for this is to hide their evil deeds.

Jesus brings a unique gift to us. He offers to us something which no one else can offer, the chance to be saved from the effects of our sin. However, just because he presents this gift it is our choice to accept it or not. We must step into his saving light but will not be forced to do so. If we choose not to believe in what Jesus gives from the love of God, we will remain in darkness. John presents we may make this choice if we feel exposing our deeds is too high of a cost. If this is the case, remember that grace abounds greater than any sin and forgiveness is promised.

Let each of us accept the gift given from the love of God when the Son was sent into our lives. May we all step out of the darkness and into the light, letting the Lord remove the sin which is hidden in the darkness.

Being Judge

5Then they all went home, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

John 7:53-8:11 (NIV)

How easy it can be for a person to judge another person. Whether we know the individual or not really does not matter in many situations. We seem to learn this type of behavior from a very early age. One of the most judgmental and cruel locations in a child’s life is the school playground or lunch room. This behavior is acquired by watching adults in a child’s life. Judging others usually is an attempt to make ourselves feel better about our own lives, a mental game of “I may be bad in (fill in the blank) but at least I do not (fill in the blank) like that one.

Our passage for today is a controversial one. Many ancient copies of John’s Gospel do not include these verses, The debate about the authenticity of the words I will leave for a different discussion. The message is an important one for us no matter how the debate is settled.

Jesus is teaching in the temple courts when Jewish leaders bring an adulterous woman before him. They quote the law concerning adultery and the prescribed punishment of stoning to death anyone who is caught in this sin. The leaders want Jesus’s opinion on what to do with this woman accused of adultery. They are hoping to trap Jesus in his response so they can eliminate him. Jesus attempts to ignore them but since they are unrelenting, he gives them a response. He tells them that the one(s) who have not sinned should cast the first stone(s). Slowly everyone leaves with no stone being thrown. Jesus tells the woman that since no one else has condemned her, he would not condemn her. Then he dismisses her and instructs her to leave sinful behavior.

What a message regarding judgment. We stand ready to cast stones at others, maybe not in a physical sense but instead verbally or by our behaviors toward others. Often we do so without any knowledge or understanding of the individual’s life. Their ability to control whatever we are judging does not matter to us. All that we care about is our dislike or disapproval of whatever we are judging. Yet Jesus’s words echo in our ears, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” We, like the Jewish leaders, must walk away without comment or action. None of us can live up to the requirement which Jesus places before us.

The good news for every one of us is contained in the words Jesus tells the woman, “Then neither do I condemn you.” Jesus could/can fulfill the requirement he placed before the leaders and us. However, he chooses not to exercise his right. The Lord does not condemn us but offers forgiveness because of love instead. The challenge to respond to such grace is for us to leave our sinful behaviors.

Any Time

Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.

But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 (NIV)

Many of us share one frustration in common, few of us are happy when the weather forecasters get the forecast wrong. The ability to accurately predict the weather into the future is a relatively new phenomenon. Humans developed the ability to notice trends in nature as signs of general weather and season changes but the accuracy was limited. With the enlightenment which opened a deeper understanding of natural science, the accuracy began to be more consistent and the amount of time into the future for the predictions grew longer. Continued advancement of scientific knowledge and the introduction of technology improved weather forecasting to the point we now know up to seven days in advance what to expect. While the forecast has a day here or there when it is not 100% accurate, if we are honest, the predictions are more often right than wrong. Yet, we crave more accurate and precise predictions.

There is another type of prediction which all believers in Christ crave. Since the time of Jesus, people wanted to know when God will fully establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians addresses this desired prediction. He echoes the words of Jesus when he tells the people that no one knows the date or time. Paul reminds them that part of the establishment of the kingdom on earth will be the return of Jesus. He indicates that many will be caught unaware. These people will be participating in all types of activities which make them unprepared. Paul tells the believers to live in the light and be alert for Jesus’s return. He says that when Jesus comes on a cloud with power and glory, the believers should stand proud for their redemption is at hand.

Our desire to know exactly when to expect the events of the establishment of the kingdom comes from a combination of fear, control, and need for preparation. We fear that we have not been acting and behaving in ways which would please the Lord. We desire to control the events in our lives. Our wish to be prepared is because of our wish to place our best before God. However, there is nothing we can or not do which will make God love us any less. Our fear is unwarranted. Yes, in response to God’s love and grace, we should strive to be our best in following Jesus’s teaching but this will not include or exclude us from the kingdom. We anticipate the kingdom fully on earth but the exact day and time is irrelevant because we are the redeemed children of God already.

Making Mistakes

There is not a person alive who has not made at least one mistake over the course of their life. Mistakes are a part of the human experience. How we react when we make a mistake is the most telling part of who we are as a person. The human instinct when a mistake has occurred is to attempt to cover up the mistake. We want an endless supply of white-out. Okay, I realize that many young people have no idea what that product even is anymore. Maybe a better illustration would be our desire to have a backspace key on the ready at all times. The point is that we hope that no one else notices the mistake, and we can eliminate the evidence as soon as possible.

Times occur when we cannot eliminate the evidence of our mistake. So we may attempt to justify the mistake or blame someone else for it happening. We want to reduce our responsibility for the mistake as much as we possibly can. The mistake does not go away, but we feel better about ourselves if we can become a much smaller player in whatever has led to the mistake in the first place.

We deal with some mistakes by trying to repress it. Our efforts are directed toward hiding the mistake. We may choose to not talk about it with anyone and if they bring up the mistake in conversation, we change the subject as quickly as possible. Putting the mistake out of our thoughts becomes the goal. Max Lucado once described this approach in this way, “That’s like walking around with a pebble in our shoe—it causes us so much frustration that our whole body compensates for its presence, when all we have to do is take it out and toss it away.”

Some mistakes in life are minor and have little impact on others or life in general. Other mistakes have a significant impact. The key is stepping up and being honest about mistakes which we make. We have to take ownership of the mistake and where necessary apologize and seek forgiveness. This approach does not cover up the mistake but it can be a tremendous step in correcting the mistake. Healing can take place once the mistake is out in the open. We are able to move forward without having to hold on to the mistake.

God is aware of the mistakes we make whether we are willing to own them or not. God does not need us to admit our mistakes. Yet, God knows that if we are to heal after making a mistake, we need to admit it. The Church has come to term this as confession. The terminology we use is not important but the act is very important. If we do not admit our mistake, then it is just as Lucado states, it is like a pebble in our shoe which brings us discomfort, pain, and endless frustration. The promise which God gives to us is that our mistakes are forgiven and forgotten. They are tossed away as Lucado suggests.

Making a mistake is human, admitting it and then letting it be thrown away is the correct response.

No Separation

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)

It was many years ago when I was introduced to this passage from the Bible. I was asked by a very close friend to become involved in a week-long camp for youth interested in music, arts and drama. I was recruited to lead the drama portion at the Presbyterian camp near where I grew up. The youth came to camp on Sunday and were given the script to a musical which was chosen in advance. We spent the week auditioning, rehearsing, building sets, worshiping, studying the Bible, and enjoying the lake. The camp culminated in a performance of the musical on Friday night. A few years later, we began to also tour with the musical around the area for three additional performances. One of the musicals which we chose to perform was entitled, Big Picture. Toward the climax of the plot, a grieving parent sits on his son’s bed and reads from his son’s open Bible. This is the passage which he reads and his perspective on life and God is forever changed. (You can send me a message if you want to know more about the plot.)

Since assisting with this musical, this passage has become the most important Bible passage to me. I have often turned to these words when dealing with challenges in my life. This passage has spoken to me when I feel unloved or unworthy of being loved. When doubts about my faith have arisen, this passage echoes in my mind. Asked what is the most important thing to know about God and I will answer by quoting these words attributed to the writer of the letter to the Romans.

From my perspective, these are the only words a person truly needs to know when thinking about their relationship with God. My reasoning is that if there is NOTHING which can separate us from the love of God, why worry.

Our world tries to convince us that we can never measure up to what God wants. Churches have even made the mistake of saying that the only way to be in relationship with God is by following a list of rules. People have told others that their actions, words, thoughts, lives are unfit for the love of God. Criteria has been established in some faith communities to determine who qualifies to be a member based on the color of their skin, their financial status, their sexuality, their type of work, their background. To all of those with this approach to Christianity, I say it is time to read your Bible again and specifically this passage.

The writer makes it very clear here that no power upon the earth, no spiritual being, no aspects of our lives are capable of removing us from the love of God. We are not even capable of doing this for ourselves. God loves us completely as demonstrated through the life of Jesus the Christ.

Believe this good news and live accordingly!