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Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

How many times have you gritted your teeth and determined to stop doing that thing you want to stop (or start that thing you know is right)?  How many times have you faced the shopping mall and told yourself you’re not going to buy another overpriced outfit?  How many alcoholics have said NO just before downing that next drink?

The DARE program says this is all it takes.  They tell us that if we just Say NO to Drugs that is enough.  Is it?  For those already battling the addiction, it is not enough.  There has to be something more.

The word YES is beautiful.  It demonstrates a conscious choice to do something positive.  And when used to choose the negative, then at least it’s done with determination and not merely gravitation toward an old unwanted habit.  But we can say YES to something better.  We can choose the park over the mall, and we can choose sobriety over a life ruled by another.

But there’s a bigger picture.  What if we said yes to something that encompassed more than just the issues before us?  What if we said yes to a whole new way of thinking?  What if we had a change of heart?  Instead of living by mind-over-matter, what if we could live by a 180-degree turn of our very soul?

I wonder if this is not what Jesus meant when he told a very prominent ruler that he “must be born again.”  Paul told the Roman church that “to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”  I wonder if focusing on behavior is not “setting the mind on the flesh.”

I think life and peace sound much better.  I think if I let Jesus change my life and not just my behavior, it makes for a much more cohesive way of life.   A change of heart.  Consistency.  And I think that if I let Him change my heart, I can then choose not only better behaviors, but better attitudes, like forgiveness-over-bitterness, or contentment-over-jealousy.

I’ve seen it happen.

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Did you ever wonder how it works that Jesus came to set us free, yet He seemed to add even more to what God had already said in the Law of the Old Testament?  Come on!

God says, “Thou shalt not murder,” and Jesus said that even if we hate someone we have already committed murder in our heart.  We’re all doomed!  And how about this one:  God says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” but Jesus said that if we even look at another with lustful thoughts, we have already violated this commandment.  Does this sound like freedom?

I find two principles in this idea which are very encouraging to me.  The first is that Jesus, though He did not come to negate even one letter of the law, is more interested in our motives than the fine legal points.  This is true of the positive stuff as well as these “shalt nots.”  Look at what He did on many Sabbath days:  He healed people, much to the horror of the religious folks of His day, and to His own demise.  This seemed to be a violation of God’s law, but He was, and is, more concerned with the intent of the law, and with compassion, than with keeping law for law’s sake.  The law is good, after all.

The other thing is that Jesus did not come to bring more law, but more grace.  I get chills when I think of this one!  Whereas it looks at first glance like He is telling us that no matter what we do or don’t do, we can never measure up (and yes, He is saying that), He’s saying that He offers forgiveness for not only the actions we commit or withhold, but also the intentions of our heart.  His ability to deal with our shortcomings and moral guilt are even greater than the scope of our offenses.

I can live with that.

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I just watched a movie called Bobby about the assassination of Robert Kennedy.  I was in eighth grade when this tragedy occurred.  I remember that awful era in our nation’s history – the Viet Nam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of drug use, campus unrest, the Cold War.  Hatred was being flung in all directions while free love was the mantra of flower children and hippies.  Authority was questioned.  Materialism was rejected.  Altered reality was embraced.

I especially remember the racial bigotry.  I lived in an all-white neighborhood.  It was in the County of Los Angeles, but our little burg was sheltered from those “others.”  I didn’t see a lot of the hatred in my town because there was really no one to hate.  We were all the same.  You gotta love that.  But we could see the Watts Riots on our local TV stations, and we knew they were just a few miles away.  Fear set in.  They were close.  Too close.

I take comfort in knowing that our nation has come a long way in our racial sophistication.  We embrace multi-culturalism, and if we don’t, we know enough to act the part.  At least in polite company.  Am I right?  We are not driven by that fear anymore, no sir-ee.  We know better.  We are an evolved society.  Bravo!

That was 40 years ago.  But I wonder:  what will characterize our present age?  40 years from now, how will folks remember us?  Are we tolerant and peaceful?  Do we love our neighbor?  Here’s what I think, and I’d welcome your thoughts:  We’re still a nation motivated by fear and disgust, only now we play in the arena of ideals.  We don’t hate because of race but because of creed, be it political, religious, or moral.  At best, we are suspicious of other religions (or no religion) , intolerant of Democrats (and Republicans), and are well-equipped for name-calling when it comes to social issues like abortion, homosexuality, or welfare recipients.

I’m not advocating that we set aside our beliefs and settle for an anything-goes society.  I hope that we can be passionate in our convictions and express them freely.  What I’m calling for is respect.  I want to listen and be listened to.  I don’t want to hear haughtiness or ridicule.  We’re better than that.  We who lived through the 60’s never thought it would get any better, and it did.  But we’re not done.  There’s still work to do.

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I was reading in the book of James in the Bible this week and came across something very curious.  I was in the first chapter, and he was going on about how we are to be good people, and not just say we believe in God and think that is enough.  There are rules we need to follow, but he talked about more than that.  He was also addressing issues of the heart, things that cannot be anticipated and made into law.  Then he called this whole thing “the law of liberty” (verse 25).

Does that sound right?  Does it make sense that we can be expected to go beyond even what the law dictates and consider ourselves “free”?

It took some pondering, but it was time well spent.  You see, there is this biblical principle of not aiming directly at the target, or perhaps it should be better described as redefining the target.  Here’s an example:  “Seek God and His righteousness and all these things [food, clothing, general provision] will be added to your life” (Matthew 5:33).   Oftentimes we aim directly at those things and are frustrated that we never quite have enough.  He is telling us to aim at Him and let Him take care of it.

Or consider what Jesus said in Matthew 10:39: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”  He’s saying that if it’s life you want, let go of the one you’ve got and find the real thing in Him.

So in considering this law issue in James, I’ve come to realize that if we aim at keeping the law, the law becomes our focus.  We try and we try, and we may succeed at some things and fail at others, either intentionally or ignorantly, or because we’re just unable to for one reason or another.  But if we let love be our aim, as he goes on to detail in verse 27, then the law is naturally fulfilled.  It is not our focus, but it is the result.  We are free!  We have kept the law without being slaves to it.  And the intent of the law all along, as Jesus said, was summed up in these two commands:  1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and 2) Love your neighbor as yourself.

Legalism seeks to keep the law, the whole law, and nothing but the law. We carry out the law for law’s sake without understanding its intent.  In this newfound freedom, we gain an understanding of it and can apply that insight to our actions.  We then become entrusted with the law, not enslaved to it.  Turns out this “new” law is a law of liberty after all.  And it’s not until we give up our legalism that we have any hope of fulfilling it.

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I had a really big decision to make.  It was life-changing.  It was the kind of thing that, once it was made, there would be no going back.  It would change everything.

Most days, I was very enthusiastic.  Everything pointed to YES .  It seemed everything in my life had been building up to this very thing, yet there was a nagging sense at times that perhaps I was reading too much into circumstances.  Perhaps this would be a diversion that would end up in disaster.  After all, my life at present was very satisfying and purposeful.  Why change all that?

It was during this quandary that I encountered a stranger who came to change the way I think about decision-making.  We were seated next to one another on a flight from Buffalo to San Diego.   He had no idea the dilemma I was facing when he began talking about the will of God.  Imagine!  He introduced himself as a Christian counselor in San Diego, and for some reason began telling me how he thinks we Christians drive ourselves nuts trying to make perfect decisions. 

He said that we put these choices into the wrong categories.  We think of them as “right or wrong,” when we should in fact think of them as “good or bad,” or even ”good or better.”   His idea is that we stop looking for that one perfect choice, and just use wisdom and go with what seems to be a good choice.  There will be adjustments along the way, as circumstances and further information come into play, but we will be moving in a good direction.

Now, God says a lot about wisdom in His book.  Wisdom, knowledge, and understanding are all through the Bible, as if He expects us to learn them and use them.  Understand this:  He won’t bless us because we made the perfect choice, (hooray for us; we’re smart) but because we belong to Him and He loves us.  His intentions toward us are good!  We can walk in freedom, freedom to choose well, freedom to make adjustments, freedom to learn as we go.  We can rest in that.

So what did I do?  I carefully but wholeheartedly made that decision on which there was no going back, the one I was tending toward in the first place.  It was not perfect, but it was very good.

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