Precious Freedom

Precious Freedom

is satan stealing your freedom?Thinking a bit more about your freedom these days?  A little frustrated?  Anxious?  Freedom is back in the national conversation.  Although that conversation is 100% political, I was predisposed to think about it spiritually in what may seem an unusual place, Mark 5.

Jesus and his disciples had just crossed the Sea of Galilee.  Upon arrival in the Gerasenes, they were met immediately by a man possessed by a legion of demons.  The conversation between the demon and Jesus is fascinating:

And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud   voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.”  For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”  And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are   many.”  And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country.  Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,  and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.”  So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

This passage provides refreshing peace and rest for our weary souls.  About this, I will make two points.

First, in the exchanges between Jesus and the demon, we see that Jesus is in full control of Satan and his dark forces.  Satan must submit to God!

It helps to remember this at a time when so much evil is on public display.  It is a powerless feeling to watch what is happening to our nation.  But God is the sovereign ruler of the universe and is still in control.  We need not be afraid.  God is not the author of evil.  That God allows it is a deeper conversation beyond the scope of this article.  But we know from Scripture that God’s redemptive plan is not stymied by evil.

While we rest in his sovereign control, we can be thankful for the opportunity we have as the Church to creatively and powerfully give testimony to the hope that is within us.  Certainly, this is one way that God is using the current crises.  There is a great opportunity for people to come to know God personally.

If you are looking for a place to read in the Bible, please consider Mark, especially the first nine chapters.    These chapters are full of examples of Jesus’ absolute power over Satan and his demons, the forces of nature, sickness and death.  This is a perfect place to read during these times when the world seems to be spinning out of control.

Second, how many times have you read a passage like this and thought, “Why can’t change in specific areas of my life be as immediate?  Why can’t I be like that person?!”

It is in this kind of self-talk that Satan slithers in and does some of his most effective work.  He gets us to think about our battle with sin as something yet to be accomplished that WE must do on our own.  Indeed, we must apply effort but the effort is more in applying THE victory that has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ through his life, death and resurrection.

The power of Satan to force us to sin is already broken!  Jesus’ work with the demoniac did not make him sinless but it miraculously freed him from possession and sin as a controlling condition.  Those who are in Christ are like the demoniac in that we have been freed from sin’s tyranny.  How are we freed from sin’s tyranny in our lives?

Attracted as we are to our idols, the pleasure they offer us is replaced by a much greater pleasure: the pleasure of knowing The God Who loves us so much He died for us.  Do we remember that and act on it?  This is the locus of work in our daily battle with sin.  It takes Holy Spirit energized faith that is grounded in Jesus’ once for all victory.  Like the demoniac, we are free indeed!  Like the demoniac we are filled with the same joy.

We are free and might not know it.

When I listen to Christians talk about their struggles, sometimes it sound as if Jesus never came.  I wonder, “Do they know they are already free?”  I find myself asking this question in my own struggles at times.  Now, certainly we struggle with temptation and it is painful.  But Jesus has already accomplished the victory we need over our present sin.  Do we really believe that we are already free?

Ultimately, mercifully, and gloriously the freedom we need most is not given by politicians, but by God alone.  He alone has the power to free us from what troubles us most: our sin.  This is the only real message of freedom there is for us personally and as a nation.  We need it now more than ever.

Celebrate Faithful Training in the Home

Celebrate Faithful Training in the Home

celebrate family leadershipWhat would you say to a Christian who told you they wanted to get into major sin just so that they could repent thus giving them an experience that would affirm their faith as real?  The thought of such a thing seems completely insane—and it is.  But this sort of thinking is apparently alive and well in some churches and homes.  I am not making this up!  How can this be?

I remember speaking at a denominational youth and children’s ministry conference.  In talking about the struggles children who are raised in the church face, one of the other plenary speakers made a startling point that knocked the wind out of the 400 people in the hotel ballroom that day.

He said that a growing number of children raised in faithful homes in the church felt like their faith was not as authentic as others because the church seemed only to highlight the people with glory stories who were saved out of backgrounds in illegal drugs, gangs, or illicit sex.  He said that they felt like “second class citizens in the kingdom of God”.

This puts the spotlight on some glaring weaknesses in our churches and homes that need correcting.  One of these weaknesses is that we tend to celebrate either the people who blew up their lives and were miraculously “saved” or those who possess something extraordinary while we rarely celebrate ordinary, faithfulness in homes that by God’s grace and mercy avoids major sins.  Maybe this is because we prize entertainment.  And nothing entertains like a good story spoken by someone who has a story to tell or a pastor who is a good storyteller.  Ordinary faithfulness seems just, well, ordinary and nothing to celebrate.

Certainly, we should celebrate and give God glory for these exceptional stories!  But here’s the point: we should also find ways to celebrate ordinary faithfulness because this describes many people in the church, especially our younger members.  Faithfulness is not perfection.  We are ordinary, weak, struggling people.  More is accomplished in ministry through the ordinary than the extraordinary.

It is harder to maintain faithfulness when it seems like it doesn’t matter.  These days some young people apparently reason, “Why not just sow some oats and enjoy what the world has to offer.  Afterall, I can always come back later… and be a cause for celebration!”  While I don’t believe people think about it or verbalize it in just those words, I think it represents a very discouraged, bitter faith experience in younger generations who are increasingly leaving the local church.

It is wise to celebrate ordinary faithfulness.

If you are a faithful parent, here are a few encouragements to keep going!

  1. God sees your faithful efforts.
    In one sense, this is motivation enough to stay the course (Prov. 5:21).
  1. God is working through you.
    Even if outward fruit is lacking, God is still working. His word that we lovingly and gently proclaim does not return void (Isa. 55:11).
  1. God will reward you.
    God is a rewarder of the work we do heartily unto him (Col. 3:23-24).

If you are a church leader, here are a few ideas that will greatly encourage the parents in your congregation.  Before reading these, be encouraged that faithfully functioning homes can be vital supports to the church’s ministry!

  1. Teach on the importance of faithful training through a sermon or mini-series. *Consider sermons that include not only the commands to teach but the comfort and power God gives to do those commands.  See my notes on Deut. 6 and Psalm 78 in my book, Real Hope For Your Home.

  2. On some regular basis, dedicate an entire pastoral prayer (or segment of it) to parents being faithful in training their children.  Pray for families by name.
  3. Share victories with the church body (or in small groups) that commemorate ordinary training     efforts. “The Wallace’s just finished reading the Gospel of Mark.”  “12 year old Maria is going to recite John 3:16 as part of our service today.”
  4. Provide families with excellent devotional material, practical guidance, and accountability.

For more ideas on how to encourage churches and homes to work together, see my book, Real Hope for Your Home.

 

3 Essential Truths we Need to Teach our Kids— Now

3 Essential Truths we Need to Teach our Kids— Now

three simple truths to teach our kids

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. – Isaiah 41:10

As the virus causes great collateral damage and casts an ominous pal on the future, what should we be teaching our children?  Try these three things (at least).

First, God is Sovereign (in Control)

Genesis begins with: “In the beginning, God.”  God has always existed.  He created the world by speaking it into existence.  He sovereignly rules over his creation (Col. 1:16-17).  He directs every detail of our lives.  God knew 10,000 years ago we would be dealing with Coronavirus today and he is firmly in control of exactly how all of this is going to play out.  All of this should bring us great comfort and peace.

Second, God is Using This Crisis to do Good in Our Lives

Because God is sovereign, he uses all things—including the things that we most dislike, suffering for example—for our good (Rom. 8:28-30; 2 Cor. 4:17).  This includes everything from mild anxiety about food shortages to significant distress about losing a job or retirement savings.  God can use it all for good.

Third, God is Love

Our children need to be reminded that God loves us especially at a time when there is so much fear.  Nothing shall separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39).  God’s love is demonstrated in all that he has done to redeem us.  This includes the new identity we receive in his son, Jesus Christ.

That God loves us so much that he sent his son to die for us and then sent his Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts and never leave us, provides assurance of his love.  His love has not waned one iota even with current events.

Hope For The Fearful

These three truths about God are important for us and our children as Christians.  But that’s not all.  We are called to give an answer for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).  How do we do that if we are as fearful as everyone else?  By intentionally focusing on these three truths—now—we strengthen our children’s faith in God and equip them to share him with others who are caught in the tsunami of fear caused by the virus and its ripple effects.

Practical Help Teaching These Truths

Mention of these truths in informal conversation can be reinforced by gathering the family together and teaching them, too.  I have prepared a simple 14 day study  that you can do with your family on these truths. Sign-up below to access the PDF!