Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Truly Free!

When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.
What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God,
the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

(Romans 6:20-22)
Ask a person on the street today what freedom is, and what would the answer be? Most likely, it would be related to choosing one’s own way, casting off restraints in order to do as one wishes.

But think about it: is an alcoholic free if he can drink whenever he wants, whatever he wants, however often he wants? Is a growing bondage to alcohol the true definition of freedom? Clearly, authentic freedom is not the same thing as license to do as we please; what we please is not always good for us and can, in fact, imprison us.

What is God’s definition of freedom? In Luke 4:16-21, Jesus preached Himself as the fulfillment of this passage in Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news . . . to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners . . ."

In John 8:31-32, Jesus declares, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Later, in verse 36, He adds that if He makes you free, you are truly free. True freedom is not found in independence from others or from societal restraints; true freedom is found in dependence upon God.
 "Abide in My word." To abide means to live, to dwell. This is more than opening your Bible on Sundays when the preacher teaches, or doing your morning devotional before starting your day. Abiding in God’s Word means counting it your home: so saturating your mind and heart in it that, as you face the day’s tasks and challenges, God’s voice is the primary influence on your thoughts, emotions and choices. By living in His Word, you are His disciples, knowing His truth, knowing Him! And you are made free.

But made free from what? In John 8, Jesus’ listeners didn’t get it: they stated defensively that they had always been free and had never been in bondage. But so might the man with a sharp temper who has consequently lost the respect and affection of his wife. Or the self-described honest woman who habitually overspends and then hides all evidence from her husband. Or the teen who can’t seem to turn off her electronic gadgets, even though her grades and relationships are suffering as a result. We do not easily recognize our own bondage to sin, yet our fallen hearts rush easily toward it, like moths to a flame. Without Jesus’ truth living in us, we are not free to experience deep joy, love with abandon, or disentangle ourselves from nagging sin patterns.

Jesus makes us free by saving us from God’s judgment on our sin. His death on the cross paid for our freedom from condemnation! We are free from the fear of guilt and shame and rejection, because we know that our repentance before God brings His full forgiveness. We come close to God and call Him Father. We are free to live as privileged, unconditionally loved children of God.

When we live in Jesus, and His Holy Spirit lives in us, we are freed from the control of sinful passions, from the behaviors and thought patterns that previously imprisoned us. This does not mean they will instantly disappear, but that God’s power is stronger than theirs. As we depend upon Him, we are empowered to say no to what once ruled us. This freedom is what we were made for! We are free to be who God designed us to be.
 Do you know this freedom? Do you know the precious lightness of having sin’s condemnation lifted from you? Is your life about Jesus and seeking Him in God’s Word? Are you His disciple, making your home with Him, free to serve the Lord with joy?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Waiting on God

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of Your laws, we wait for You;
Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts — Isaiah 26:8

I’ve been reading about Joseph. As I often do in reading Genesis, I wish there was more detail. I wonder so much about what’s not said. But in Joseph’s case, the little he does say reveals a lot.

If you didn’t know the ending, you would think Joseph’s life story a great tragedy. The apple of his father’s eye, his jealous brothers kidnap him and sell him to a slave trader. Through his own strength of character and God’s blessing, he ends up running Potiphar’s household, and we begin to have some hope for this displaced young man. But Potiphar’s wife is impressed with him too (evidently, his physique was as attractive as his character). When Joseph rebuffs her advances, declaring His devotion to God and to her husband, she cries rape and Joseph ends up in prison. There, God continues to be with him, and he helps two cellmates by interpreting their dreams. When the dreams come true and one man is released to serve Pharaoh again, Joseph has one request: Tell the Pharaoh about me, so that he will let me out. But the very next verse says: When two full years had passed... 

We read a careful telling of the prison scene, and suddenly two whole years are gone. What happened? Wait a minute!

Evidently, the cupbearer forgot his promise to Joseph, that is, until the Pharaoh is troubled by two dreams of his own that none of his wise men can interpret. Joseph is finally summoned to the Pharaoh’s presence, but we are never told about those "missing" two years.

Did Joseph pray? Was he faithful to his God? Did he grow bitter, blaming others for his plight? We know Joseph waited, but we aren’t told just how he waited.

However, we get a strong clue when Joseph answers the Pharaoh’s request to interpret his dream. Joseph simply says, "I cannot do this; but God will tell you your dream."

Without one narrative verse of those two years, we learn from his words that Joseph was not blaming God for doing wrong, or wallowing in self-pity, or entertaining vengeful fantasies. The humility of his answer, and his impulse for giving God glory, reveal his heart: he was a man who had waited with God, and waited for God.

We desire to walk well, as we follow Christ. What I continue to learn is this: much of walking well is connected with waiting well. So much in our life is a process of waiting: waiting for a loved one to accept Christ, for a health problem to be solved, for a relationship to be healed, for our financial situation to improve. No-one likes to wait; we feel inactive; we think we are accomplishing nothing.

But in fact, waiting well is an active pursuit. We can choose to wait in faith, trusting God is at work, even when we don’t see Him at work. We can choose to pray without ceasing as we wait for answers. Or we can choose to wait in frustration, forgetting the grace that God has supplied for our wait.

Waiting on the Lord is never wasted timeMay the Lord give each of us the grace to wait with Him in view, to trust that His timing is perfect, and to bring glory to Him, no matter how long we wait.

Recommended reading: Waiting on God, by Andrew Murray