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Learning to be Free

It was a lesson learned from nature that brought me to understand the need we have to learn how to be free. You would think because we are American and we live in the land of the free that we would understand freedom without the need of learning, but like me, you’d be sadly mistaken. I was about to be humbled into reality of what freedom really means.

It was Saturday morning. The third Saturday of the month, and the church calendar prompted us as normal to Prayer Breakfast and Church Clean-up. These were common duties of the third Saturday and so it would seem mundane, but God had other plans. These plans included teaching me the importance of learning to live free.

We ate a hearty breakfast at the local McDonald’s where it was our custom to conduct prayer breakfast. Now looking back I realize we were placing more emphasis on the breakfast than we were the praying (that’s another story for another day). After breakfast we made our way to the First Baptist Church where I was serving as Pastor. Several others had already showed up and began cleaning choosing rather to skip the breakfast and just get the hard work done.

It wasn’t long into the cleaning process when one of our Deacons came and notified me that we had a minor issue at the dumpster. He said he had gone to throw out the first load of trash when he opened the lid and found a small raccoon hissing and swinging at his intrusion. The Deacon made some crazy gestures like a shadow boxer preparing for a big fight. We determined the dumpster was too deep and the walls too slick for the trapped raccoon to escape, so we decided the best thing to do was offer it a hand by lowering a ladder into the dumpster. It was after I lowered in the ladder that I learned something about nature, and not just animal nature, but human nature as well. You see, the raccoon had grown comfortable in the trash and he wasn’t ready to leave. He walked under the ladder as I peered down from the balcony staircase waiting, fifteen minutes passed and still the raccoon lay beneath the ladder not even curious about where it might lead. It seemed the raccoon was content in the dumpster.

Naturally this got my wheels to turning and thinking how like the raccoon, we too are content to sit in the trash of our lives and how we ignore the opportunities of freedom that lay just outside our comfort zones. Why? Well the obvious reasons we would rather sit in our garbage than consider the freedom beyond is “comfort”. The raccoon found a comfortable place to curl up and take a nap, never mind it was in a dark cold dumpster, that could also be dangerous (especially if the trash truck came to empty the container). Comfort has a confining charm that holds us spellbound to the less important matters of life and disconnects us from opportunities to live in freedom. It is comfort that builds walls around the habits of our daily living. Our habits are the patterns of comfort that insulate us from discovering the unknown territories and pathways that lead us to what could be. When was that last time you did something that was completely out of your comfort zone? We like the slow burn, being placed in the pot of water so that it heats slowly enough that we are accustomed to the change before it is realized. Unfortunately, in the slow burn we miss out on the spontaneous victories that bring with them refreshing rushes of freedom. To learn to be free one must confront the comfort zones that have become nothing mote than outdated security blankets.

After discussing the raccoon problem with my son, we decided the best thing to do would be turn the dumpster over on its side, thus sufficiently rocking the world of the raccoon and forcing him out of his comfort zone. So we carefully lowered the heavy steel container on its side, where everything except the raccoon came out of the dumpster. The raccoon backed into a corner and stood on its hind legs and leaned against the bottom of the dumpster as if to say “I will not be moved”. Why? Well the comfort issue had been resolved but now we were dealing with a new issue, fear. Fear is the most common occurrence in the lives of those that live in bondage. We are afraid of almost anything that we are unfamiliar with, and that fear causes us to hold fast to that which we are most familiar. Fear manifests itself in many ways and is often hard to read. Fear will cause us to live indecisively, trapped between choices and desiring to let go of nothing.

I remember a minor accident I had at a stop light. I had a cup of coffee in one hand and a steering wheel in the other. I needed to downshift in order to slow the vehicle to the speed of the car in front of me but to do so would mean I would have to drop the coffee. My mind was working as it all seemed to be happening in slow motion, but somehow I thought in my mind I could juggle all the distractions and still maneuver the vehicle correctly. I didn’t want to let go of the coffee just so I could drive. The valley of indecision cost me more than a cup of coffee that day and many times since. We always think in our minds that we can juggle our obligations and still maintain control of a vehicle speeding down the highway. Nowadays we even have a name for it “multitasking”. We will never experience freedom until we can train ourselves to let go of what is less and grab onto what is most important. Is there anything in your life that you should release so that you can focus on what is more important? Has your prayer life or Bible study suffered because you have been too busy with things of less importance? The valley of indecision is a very costly place where freedom is forfeited and opportunity is squandered.

The raccoon scurried away once his fear had subsided and he recognized something nearby that offered him more security and less chance of harassment than the local Pastor. We set the trash container back upright and shut the lids to avoid any other unwanted visits. The powerful lessons on freedom resonated in my thoughts for a few days and caused me to consider what it meant to be free in Christ.

I was blessed to have had the privilege to lead a young man and his wife to Jesus at the close of one of our services. They had been invited to attend the church by one of our members and for all intensive purposes they were babes in the faith. Because of a medical condition that prevented the husband from being placed under water, I made the decision to spend some time counseling them on baptizm. During our session, I learned something about the way new believers think of Christianity that rocked my world. It seems that in the minds of these new believers, there were fixed rules that each denomination had adopted and the members of those denominations were required to follow those rules in order to be a member in good standing. This young man told me that he didn’t want to be baptized to become a Baptist, since the rules they followed were more rigorous than those of the Methodist. To be honest I never had encountered anything like this, they had come forward in a Baptist Church so why this dilemma? At the top of his concerns was that he would be a hypocrite if the rules imposed by the Baptist were too astringent for him to achieve. He knew that he wasn’t able to keep a set of rules but he also knew he needed Jesus.

I wanted to cry. I thought if this young man and his wife somehow believed Christianity to be a set of rules that had to be maintained then we have failed to give the good news as it was proclaimed by Jesus. I baptized the young man and two weeks later he died, but not before I set him straight on this thing called grace. Grace in its simplest of terms is unmerited favor. That means that we can do nothing but accept what Jesus has already done. The do of men’s desire is overshadowed by the done of Jesus.

Romans 5:6-9 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

What is it about trying to earn God’s approval that holds us in a bondage? The rules of religion are nothing more than man’s attempt to reach up and say “I deserve heaven”, but such a proclamation shouts, “we do not accept your Son’s sacrifice on our behalf”, and our rules intended to please God, only insult God. First we must recognize that the earth and everything in it belong to God. He is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), and everywhere at one time (omnipresent). You have nothing God needs, nothing to bargain with, and nothing worthy of His purity. So why? Why did He send His Son to die for you while you were at your weakest? Not because you could do something, but because of Love. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. John 3:16

I’m reminded of movie scene the title of which I can’t recall. A man who has been imprisoned for many, many years has been released back into the world. He somehow manages to get hired at a job in a diner that could care less about his previous failures. But his history gives him away when he asks the boss if he can go to the bathroom. The boss says to him “you’re a grown man you don’t need to ask me if you can go to the bathroom”. His prison life required him to ask permission even to go to the bathroom, but as a free man he could go whenever he desired. He had to learn to be free.

Freedom must be learned.

Addict’s Hope

I have seen your pain, your trials and your struggles, your fears and concerns. I have known your hate for the extreme weaknesses to which you have given yourself time and again. I’ve seen your embarrassment at the wrong choices you have made, and the hurt you endured along the way. You have destroyed your own life, missing moments that cannot be regained. You have cheapened the lives of those about you, taking from them the joy they would have known. You have stole, borrowed, and begged to satisfy your inner longings, only to be fed on that which removes your pain temporarily. The pain is never gone long and that which once you controlled, now controls you. You are unable to let go, it beacons you like a lover and rules you like a master. You have in this process aligned yourself with unseen enemies that take you down pathways of hopelessness and emptiness. The mask you wear to hide from the world is showing signs of over use, and even it has taken on the wrinkles it was intended to cover. You have been abandoned, left of those who once stood beside you, but could not any longer. You have broken promises, failed attempts at recovery and each time it becomes harder. I know you have considered death as an alternative because you think you have tried everything and to your understanding you have, but now you’ve reached a breaking point. The cycle continues and you are weary…but what to do??? You are wondering how I know this? Because, I endured all your pain, I suffered all your failure, I felt every ounce of your addiction, I took on every one of your sins. I died so you could live. I paid your price. When will it end my child? When will it all stop? When will the pain cease and the joy return? When will you give up and allow Me the reigns of your life? Then you will find the peace you desire. I’m not telling you it will be instantaneous bliss, that it will all just melt away, that some of the consequences of you choices will not linger, but I will love you and accept you, and restore you, cleansing you from all your unrighteousness. Will you come to Me and allow My blood to work on your behalf? Come to Jesus.

The Hero by Scott Chadwick

He shuts his eyes to recall a time that yet he hasn’t known,
And breathes a sigh to question why, for now he’s all alone,
No one there to hold him true, to the lies he’s always told,
So now he relaxes in just what the facts is, as he ages until he’s no longer old.
It’s a sad sentiment when he can’t repent of the loneliness that he feels,
Cause he’s never alone or far from home or at least where he eats his meals.

There are days he escapes from the norm that everyone does see,
and there he becomes one of the ones, he knows he never could be.
A smile on his face or there you could see, if the mask he did remove,
but what would be the point of looking beneath for he really has nothing to prove.
Why is he tempted to stand in his fear and fight for what is just?
He asks himself the question but has no answer, he somehow just knows that he must.
So now committed to the defeat that some will never find, 
he braves the transformation, accepts the pain, and continues as if blind.
Tomorrow comes too quickly and passes just as quickly and frequently too,
If you’re not careful, the he that he sees, will be the he that is someday you.
What makes you, you is not what you might think, but more really who you know,
and though unseen with the natural eye the he of whom I speak is someone else’s hero.

I wrote this for all those folks we walk by each day, never knowing the battles they face, the scars they embrace, or why they feel out of place, but wish they could know they are important to someone, somewhere always.

When the bondage is broken…

There are times in our lives when our faith is being tested, when trials assail us, when frustration takes hold, and fearful anxiety comes taunting. Many of us have experienced those valley days when would much rather be anyplace but where we are now and any road out seems like a good option. It is in the times like this that our faith is tested, our convictions are tried, and our real heart is displayed in the actions we take.
Such was the case for three young men who had been taken captive by the enemy empire Babylon. While many of the others from their home had been reduced to working hard labor these three had been trained to be leaders. Yes, their position of authority was better but the fact that they were in bondage to another people made these chosen people of God see their situation as grim. I wonder what they were thinking as the God they had trusted allowed them to be captured. If that were not bad enough, they were now being told to bow down to a foreign idol in worship with the promise that if they refused they would in fact face death in a fiery furnace. From bad to worse, the situation and circumstances seemed to be placing bigger and bigger demands on their faith.
I know that these men were facing serious consequences if they refused to bow down; I also know that they were raised to faithfully serve God no matter the circumstances. But it is at the point of no return that some fail to live faithfully. Faith that is not tested is not faith.
When we look at a situation and see we are in bondage and we reason, if God really loved us how could he let this happen to us. We consider, really how bad, to bow down to an idol is, I mean we are talking life and death here. If we compromise surely God would excuse a momentary lapse of faith in a situation where our lives are in the hands of our enemy. The problem with that type of thinking is that it second guesses God.
These three young men understood faith to mean that you trusted God to deliver you from the circumstances and moreover you continued to trust God even if he doesn’t. Real faith trusts God with the outcome even if it’s not the outcome we desire.
By now you probably know that the three young men are Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. If you are familiar with the history of these Israelites then you are also aware that they refused to bow down. Because they refused the then King Nebuchadnezzar, became so enraged that he had the fires of the furnace heated seven times hotter. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego bound hand and foot and thrown into the furnace. Evidence of Nebuchadnezzar’s lack of faith in their God’s ability is characterized in his last question to the men just before he had them thrown in the furnace; “what god could save you from my hand”?
Needless to say Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were faithful to trust God with their very lives. But their experience has much to teach us about fiery furnace circumstances and standing firm despite the obvious consequences. Here are just a few things I learned from Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s experience in the fiery furnace: 1) Never look at your circumstances look to the one who holds them. Sadly we are people that only view life in terms of the now…life is eternal and unless we can embrace that understanding our fears will prevent us from trusting beyond the threat of death.
2) Faith means trusting God with the outcome even when we may not like the outcome. 3) It is in the fire where the bondage is taken away. These three young men went into the fire bound hand and foot but Nebuchadnezzar saw them walking around in the flames unharmed and free. Too often the things in this life that take precedence as urgent and pressing pale in comparison when the fires are turned up to what really matters. A death of a mother or dad will often draw siblings together to comfort one another even if they have been indifferent to each other for years – because what really matters is more important. 3) Standing firm in your faith will open doors to others who have previously stood unbelieving. Nebuchadnezzar sent out a decree after seeing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego live a faith that did not fear death. 4) You are never ever in any circumstance alone – the fourth one walking in that furnace was God and he is there no matter the trial. This last lesson is most important, because too often we think we are going through our trials alone.
Now the question: Are you living faithful in your circumstances right now? Are you trusting God even when what was bad gets worse? Do you understand that standing firm in your convictions will open the door for others to see the real value of putting their faith in the God you serve? Do you know you’re not going through this trial alone?