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.

Three Ways to Live Joyfully in Life’s Tensions

Three Ways to Live Joyfully in Life’s Tensions

tensionWhy can’t life be a relaxing, sunny day at the beach? 

Home life has a way of arousing tensions, doesn’t it?  From granular tensions such as whose day is it to clean the kitchen, to who gets to go the store with Mom, or which movie to watch; to moderate tensions such as which car to buy, or how to get through a disagreement with a spouse; to the most serious tensions job choice, whether or not to get married, or what house to buy.  Ironically, I think we struggle more from the daily granular tensions than we do from the serious ones.  Someone; a spouse, a child, a mother-in-law: people could be or will be upset with whatever we decide to do which makes any choice seem unacceptable leaving us indecisive.

Almost every decision we face places us in the crosshairs of complex and conflicting forces which raise tension, stress, and the wry if not resigned reflection, “Why can’t this be easier? Why does life have to be so hard!”

Inner and relational tensions come from living in a fallen world.  But there are three positive sides to life’s tensions that I want to encourage you with today.

  1. Tension provides an opportunity to look at life from a godly perspective so that we can have joy. If we’re honest, we struggle to always remember God in our decisions, especially the most granular.  Life happen so fast and we easily succumb to habit, whim, or someone else’s “wishes” er hmm, demands.  If everything went the way we wanted, then we would have no need for God.

As Christians, we are sojourners, exiles, aliens because our real home is in heaven.  Our primary allegiance to God is always challenged.  If we’re living right, there’s a sense in which we should always feel tension on some level.  Tension is a reminder that we need to look at situations from God’s perspective. As the Author of Life, he alone can tell us how to live joyfully in a sinful world.

  1. God is showing how dependent we are on him so that we can rest. As created beings, we all need outside help: God’s “help”.  As The Creator and sustainer of life, we absolutely need God’s wisdom, understanding and guidance in all things. The rugged individualism that we prize in America exalts independence and self-reliance. In proper context and balance, there is value in these qualities. However, our flesh seeks to make these qualities ultimate and we easily carry these qualities over into other parts of our lives such as our spiritual walk and relationships often with devastating consequences.

All spheres of life require ultimate dependence upon God and his word. Tension is an accountability tool that calls us to examine what or who we are depending on.  We can rejoice that God is a rewarder of those who seek, and hence depend, on him. When we depend on him, we can rest, even in distressing situations.

  1. God wants us to exercise our faith to apply his promises. In some cases, especially major decisions, we might cry out, “I want to do God’s will!”  While commendable, God’s will is often not an easy decision that is made with complete clarity on all the factors involved—or the certainty of an ideal outcome.  Seeking to make the right decision can also be a reflection of our own idolatry.  We do not know the future, only God does.

Romans 8:29 tells us what the will of God is: conformity to the image of his son, Jesus Christ.  Previously in verse 28, we read that God uses “all things” which includes good and bad, to accomplish his will.  Life seems to teach us that we learn more from the situations that run the gamut from unpleasant to misery.  They are opportunities to exercise our faith without which it is impossible to please God and to access the precious promises he gives us for life that carry us through tension.

Not every day can be a day at the beach.  I’ve heard it said, “Live joyfully in the tension.”  We can do that when we look at tensions from a godly perspective, accept that each tension reminds us our place a dependent creatures, and that each tension is an opportunity to exercise our faith.

Doing those three things may not make yours a day at the beach, but it will help you navigate the seas of life with resilient hope and the unwavering confidence that gives us peace and draws us closer to God.

Thoughts on Peacemaking, Part 1

Mike Welborn is a longtime friend of Eric and UCH. We hope you find encouragement in his practical words.

“Those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness” (James 3:18 TLB).

Our natural tendency is to hate our enemies or at least to avoid them at all cost. But if you run from conflict, you’re going to be miserable most of your life. Jesus calls us to a higher standard. He calls us to be peacemakers — not peacekeepers. There’s a huge difference. Peacekeepers avoid conflict and pretend it doesn’t exist. But peacemakers resolve conflict and reconcile relationships.

The Bible promises this: “Those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness” (James 3:18 TLB).

When you plant a seed, you always get back more than you started with. If you plant an apple seed, you get a whole tree full of apples in return. It’s the law of sowing and reaping. If you plant a seed of conflict, you’ll wind up with a lot more trouble than you bargained for. But the Bible says if you plant seeds of peace, you will reap a harvest of peace, kindness, and goodness in return.

So how do you do that? One of the most important life skills that you will ever learn is conflict resolution. Over the next two weeks we will cover seven keys to becoming a peacemaker in the midst of conflict. Here are the first three.

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  • Make the first move. Don’t wait for the person to come to you. You take the initiative. Buy that person a cup of coffee or go to lunch together. Jesus took the initiative to show mercy to us. The Bible says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us …. While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son”(Romans 5:8b, 10a ESV). Jesus didn’t wait for us to apologize. He didn’t even wait for us to feel bad about our behavior. Jesus made the first move. And he wants us to do the same thing.
  • Ask God for wisdom. God is always glad to help you when you’re doing what he says. The Bible says, “If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you”(James 1:5a TLB). Ask God to help you decide the right time and the right place to plan a peace conference. Ask him to give you the right words to say and the right way to say them. The Bible says, “The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver”(Proverbs 25:11 CEV).
  • Start with your own confession. Don’t start with a bunch of accusations. Don’t start with the ways you’ve been hurt. Start with what’s your fault. The conflict may be 99.99999 percent the other person’s fault. But you can find something to confess. Instead of accusing the other person — and instead of excusing yourself — start with your own mistakes, even if it was your poor response. But you begin with what was your fault.

Peacemaking isn’t a well-developed skill in our world today, but it’s a skill that can be learned. In fact, Jesus calls all believers to be peacemakers. We will post part two of this installment next month when we look at four more keys to biblical peacemaking.

Graduation Gift

It’s that time of year! Announcements are arriving in the mailbox and the calendar is filling up with graduation ceremonies and parties.

We have the perfect gift to help send the graduates in your life on to the next chapter!

We have the perfect gift!

Who Are You? for Teens

Identity is a huge issue for teens today. This booklet written by teens for teens is an easy read for the teenagers in your life. They will be grounded in their true identity in Christ and find hope, confidence and purpose.

Depression and Four Tools to Combat it

Depression and Four Tools to Combat it

I’m going to be real honest here. The last few months have been rough. I have felt like I’ve been in a valley. There have been a number of factors that have contributed, ranging from the holidays, to helping our elderly neighbors sell all of their belongings and move into a nursing home, to working through learning disabilities in our homeschool, to normal everyday teenage issues and finally ministry. I have felt guilt-driven and burned out!

As a homeschool mom, I think this is a common challenge. We are basically on all day long and our husband and kids count on us to be a shoulder to cry on and a listening ear to gripe to! It can get heavy and overwhelming to try to keep our peace. Sometimes I can be surrounded by people, yet feel all alone!

It has been rough, but God is faithful and he has shown me some valuable resources to help me work through.

The Gospel Transformation Bible is so helpful in showing Jesus (always our hope) in all of scripture. At one point, I told Eric I was having trouble digging in. He encouraged me to just focus in on the Psalms. That did me a lot of good.

This little booklet is a must read. It is simple and short and filled with hope and encouragement. It can be read in one sitting and I have gone through it MANY times. It gives a very clear step by step approach to dealing with depression from a solid, biblical perspective. Amazon has a kindle version or you can buy a pack of five from the publisher. My guess is you will want to buy the set so that you have some to give away!

This is a year-long devotional has encouraging truths about the gospel and its application to everyday circumstances. I have read it and am going through a second time now. It also makes a great gift. Last year, a friend gave a copy to all the graduates in our church. Excellent idea!

This is a good read for anyone who struggles with people pleasing. Certainly, that’s an issue for me! I think often times moms can take on a responsibility for their kids which extends beyond where it is intended. Paul Tripp jokingly calls it trying to be the fourth person in the Trinity. We feel like our children’s well being is up to us. This book helps to get things back into perspective!

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Encouragement to Forgive

Forgiveness is not a popular topic these days. We know we should forgive but in our worst moments, we might rather just get even. Forgiveness can seem hard, complicated, and sometimes we rationalize that it is the thing “I just can’t do”. This is especially true in relationships where we have been hurt time and time again by a spouse, child, sibling, or friend. Following are two important points to remember that will help you forgive others.

First, we forgive because we have been forgiven by Christ. Consider Ephesians 4:32. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” To me, this sounds like a model for forgiveness. How does God forgive us? His forgiveness is limitless. He forgives every offense: the big ones and the little ones. His forgiveness is offered and granted in love and is not grudging. He really does forgive and promises never to bring our sin up against us ever again. How do we measure up to his example?

Our ability to forgive others is based on our own experience of being forgiven by God. When we find it difficult to forgive others, instead of mustering will-power, we should ask God for a deeper understanding of our own sin so that we can confess it and receive God’s forgiveness. Are we daily confessing sin? Are we daily receiving his forgiveness? If so, that will go a long way toward empowering us to quickly and eagerly forgive others.

Second, forgiveness restores and builds relationships. Our relationship with God is restored by His forgiveness of us thru Jesus Christ. All relationships depend on and are strengthened by mutually forgiving one another. When we sin against another person, a wedge is driven between us. When we forgive someone we are saying in real terms that they are more important than whatever happened. This also means that we are willing to absorb the cost that real forgiveness requires. This begins with the conscious decision not to hold their sin against them. But this could include other costs such as your own time, inconvenience, absorbing emotional costs or the even the cost to replace something the person cannot afford to replace themselves.

One of the miracles of forgiveness is the restoration it can produce in relationships. When forgiveness is sincerely requested and graciously given, a relationship passes an important test that enables it to grow; actually making the relationship stronger. Of course, there are situations where significant sins or sins that have been a pattern can set relationships back. Forgiveness can be granted, but perhaps trust needs to be restored. This will take time. However, only forgiveness provides the necessary foundation upon which rebuilding can be accomplished.

Working closely in a business can resemble a family; distrust, competition or real cooperation. Harmony builds a team, a family and a business. I’ll never forget a time as work when a senior manager of another department called me at 5 pm to advise me that the next day one of my engineers would report to him! I had a major melt down and stomped out feeling satisfied that my response registered my anger over his stealing one of my best engineers. On the drive home, the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sinful, angry response. Early the next morning I was in the manager’s office and asked him to forgive me for the way I responded. His response: “Ok… if you are sorry”. This presented the opportunity to explain the difference between “sorry – I got caught” and “forgive – a contract to want to work together”. Our personal relationship grew stronger and the new quality control group the engineer developed improved the reputation of our products.

Are you struggling to forgive someone? If so, be encouraged first that God has forgiven you for your sins. The Psalmist tells us as far as the east is from the west, so has God removed our sins from us. This provides a powerful motive for forgiving others. Second, forgiveness provides a foundation upon which restoration of the relationship can take place. Wouldn’t you rather enjoy your relationships? Forgiveness makes that possible; with God and with others.

Lightsey Wallace is Executive Director of The Psalm 119 Project. To receive a FREE e-copy of his Psalm 119 devotional, please email him at jlwallace6@mindspring.com.