Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Luke 23:26-31 — Memorial Day. It is the day in the United States on which we honor our valiant military men (and women now) who have given their life to defend the honor and interests of the United States. It is ironic we arrive at this passage today as Jesus is being led away to the cross. For many who have died for our country, there were series of events that could not be changed that led to their deaths fighting for a cause we believed to be right. Jesus is now in the middle of unalterable events that will led to his death in a cause that not only He believed to be right but He knew to be right. Our soldiers play small parts in a larger picture with a larger purpose. We thank them today for doing their part in a larger picture. We must thank Jesus in His earthly life for playing His part in the larger picture. For without the sacrifice of our valiant soldiers, we would not be a free nation. For without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we would not be free from the tyranny of sin.

When we think of the sacrifices of our soldiers today, we do not know all of the gory details of their battles. Some will tell you about them with graphic detail that tells you of the horrors of war. Some others remain quiet about it refusing to speak of it. There was a friend of my dad when my dad was serving two churches in the Travelers Rest, SC area when we were there in the late 70’s-early 80’s that served in Vietnam that refused to speak of the horrors of war that he endured. It was too painful to speak of. Luke does not mention the flogging of Jesus because as a physician I bet that it was too painful for him to write about in his gospel. Many soldiers of our armed forces have been captured and tortured during war and have suffered unimaginable horrors. Beaten within an inch of their lives at times. The valiant ones never give up. They think of not compromising their fellow soldiers. They think of the cause they are fighting for. They never gave up on the purpose for which they were enduring great suffering. Jesus is the same kind of soldier. He endured much pain and suffering but never forget to keeping pushing on through for the purpose for which He was fighting.

Here today in this passage, we know from Mark 15:15 that Jesus was flogged before his final sentencing to death. Lead tipped whips would beat and bruise the flesh and then rip the flesh upon recoil of the whip by the holder of the whip. We know from Matthew 27:27-31 that Jesus was beaten too with sticks by the Roman soldiers and mocked and spat upon by them. Flesh ripped from the body. Body bruised and batter. Bleeding from every area of his earthly body. Then beaten by sticks on a body that was raw meat to begin with. Luke is silent about this. It may have been to painful for him to write about. But no wonder in Luke we find Simon of Cyrene being forced to carry Jesus’ cross. Jesus must have been so weak from his beatings that He could not carry the cross. He must have been beaten to a pulp because Roman soldiers would rarely show this kind of mercy to a condemned man. For all the negativity Mel Gibson took for the Passion of the Christ, I think he got it right about what Jesus looked like after having been whipped and beaten. Jesus kept moving though. He kept surviving. Even though if He was beaten so severely like the Passion of Christ portrays, it would have been easy for Him to just give up and stop this whole mess. However, Jesus soldiers on. He knows there is a higher purpose and point to His temporary suffering here. He had all of eternity in view. His momentary deep physical pain was not going to deter Him from His goal. He was not going to throw the eternal future under the bus just because He was suffering. What a soldier!

Jesus though bloodied and battered was able to speak to the wailing women along His trip to the cross. He was able to warn them of the coming doom of Jerusalem. Jesus is believed to have died in 30AD so it was only 40 years later than Rome so completely tired of the rebellion in Palestine that they sent the full force of the Roman army against Jerusalem and laid it to waste. Nothing remained. Not even the Temple. The only thing that remains of it today is the Western Wall of the Temple grounds. Jesus warns them that they should not cry for Him (for He was really doing His Father’s will). They should lament what was about to happen to them so four decades ahead. First, Jerusalem was starved to death by a siege and what was still living was killed brutally when Titus led his armies inside Jerusalem. Jesus knew that His death was serving a purpose and He was doing it willingly. It reminds us the defiance of our soldiers captured by the Japanese in the Philippines. The Death March to Bataan. They were defiant to the end in the belief that the United States would win the war and the tyranny of the Japanese military would be destroyed. Jesus defiantly warns the onlookers that His death was for a greater purpose and a greater eternal victory. He warns us today through this statement that the things that we count on as eternal are just fleeting and that we must look to his death as the source of our eternal victory not the things of this world. What a soldier! Preaching about the kingdom even when suffering unimaginable earthly physical pain.

On this day, we salute our fallen heroes who paid the ultimate price for the defense of American freedom. They gave their lives to protect our interests around the world. They gave their lives because they believed in honor, duty and service to a country that they love and were willing to defend with their lives. Soldiers today have various reasons for going into the military but common thread they have is ultimately when it comes down to it, they love their brothers in arms and they love this country. They are willing to put theirselves in harm’s way and to die for a way of life that they believe in. They believe ultimately in the freedom that they defend. They give their lives in defense of it. They defend you and me and we don’t even know 99.9% of them. They work on our behalf daily without us even knowing it until we take pause to do so. What soldiers we have!

Jesus is the the ultimate soldier that suffered unimaginable pain and suffering even before He got to the cross. Why? Because He had a higher purpose. He knew that His suffering was in defense of us, you and I, from the condemnation to hell that you and I deserve. He fought for us by dying at the cross. He gave His life willingly so that we could have freedom from the tyranny of sin. He gave His life for you and for me even before we came to know Him personally. He gave His life so that someday you would come to know the peace and comfort of the eternal presence of God. He gave His life for that. We give pause when we accept Him as our Savior and we live a life of thanks for the remainder of our days for his sacrifice. As we are eternally grateful to our soldiers who gave their life for the freedom we enjoy in this country, we give thanks to Jesus Christ for the eternal freedom that He gave us through His ultimate sacrifice on the cross. What a soldier was He!

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Romans 13:1-7 — Obedience to authority. Wow, this passage is a tough one. In a day and age where governments seem to be growing more and more hostile to Christian values, this one is a really tough one. What is Paul really saying to us here.

First, I think that Paul is saying that we should not be the origin of disobedience or evil in society. As Christ followers, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than that of general society. We should obey the laws of our society whenever possible. We should not blatantly disobey laws for our own advantage. For example, we should pay our taxes and be honest in preparing our tax returns of any kind. We should apply Christian principles in our dealings with one another and with our government at whatever level. We should apply God’s law and Christian values in our day to day living and in our dealing with governments. May it never be said of us Christ followers that we are not open, honest, and transparent in our dealings with society at large or with our government. The hallmark of Christian character has to be integrity. Thus, we should not be examples of those who simply disobey the law because it is to our advantage, or that we are lazy, or that we might gain some edge by not obeying the law.

Second, I think it is a call to us to do more than complain about our government. If we as Christians are so dissatisfied with government and its policies, let’s mobilize and elect leaders who have Christian values. Let’s mobilize and run for office at the local, regional, state, and national levels. You see all over Facebook how my fellow Christians and often myself decry the loss of values in our nation. We often decry that our society has gone to crap. We often decry how our elected officials are doing wrong and we act like they were magically appointed over us. We talk about they instead of us. We act has if we had played no part in electing officials. We take this detached view that “they” are taking our rights away, “they” are abridging my freedoms. How did “they” get into this position? They were elected. They were not appointed. We, as in the general populous, elected them. We act like people in Washington are this evil dictatorship, but they were ELECTED by us. It is time for us as Christians to engage our society. We are not giving them any alternatives than dirty rotten scoundrels. We are not running for office. We are just sitting back and complaining and allowing evil to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we don’t take this thing seriously, our rights will be abridged. If we don’t influence government from the inside, how can we sit here and complain about same-sex marriage, about lost freedoms, about the expansion of government into areas not intended by the constitution. If we don’t run for office in droves at all levels, we cannot change the direction of our government. It is not a they thing. It is a lack of options for our voters. Let’s return our government to Christian values by being city councilmen, by being commissioners, by being county councilmen, by being mayor, by being state representatives, by being state senators, by being governor, by being senators, by being president. Let us give the voters alternatives. Without alternatives, voters have a choice between two immoral and non-Christian candidates, what do you think our government is going to look like. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you are going to keep getting what you get. If we as Christians are doing nothing, how do we expect the government to change. We can no longer sit in our ivory towers and decry what is happening to our government. We must do more than sit behind our fences and comment on society. We must get out there an actively change it for the better. Talk. Talk. Talk. It is just that. Action. Action. Action not words!

Finally, if government has gone too far and abuses its power and is oppressive. If it has gone too far and we are not able to change it from within. What then? Do we obey governments when they are killing their own citizens. Do we obey governments when they are imprisoning people for no reason and without trial? Do we hand over sermons to a city government that disagrees with our opposition to their gay agenda? Do we obey that which is blatantly evil. As we see in my writing here, there are progressive levels. We are not to create anarchy ourselves. We should never be the origin of the reasons to disobey government. Next, if we don’t like our government we should change it and influence it from the inside. What if none of that works. What if being Christian involves being imprisoned and persecuted for no other reason than being Christian? What if we find ourselves living under a dictator who is hell bent on raping his country and oppressing his people for his own personal gain and preservation. In these cases, I think Paul expects to hold ourselves to God’s standards in how we act ourselves. I think Paul expects us to measure our governments in this way, too. If governments are disrespecting basic human dignity, disrepecting human rights, treating people as if they are not made in the image of God by treating them like vermin, killing them if they do deny their faith in Jesus Christ, we must oppose governments. We must do so in peaceful ways however. We must be willing to be martyrs for our beliefs. We must not return evil with evil. We must be willing to die rather renounce Jesus. Maybe, through our willingness to die for Jesus’ name brings glory to God and brings change to society. Martin Luther King and Gandhi changed their worlds more with their peaceful protests and principled action that by anything the Black Panthers here or Indian militants there ever did. We stand firm. We help others who are oppressed. We do so through peaceful means. We hold to our Christian values even if it means imprisonment or death. We do not meet violence with violence. We do not initiate violence to get what we want. Jesus changed the entire world without a gun or a spear. That should be how we change society – with the love of Jesus.

Father, help me never to be the origin of evil in my society. Help me to have integrity and display it in everything that I do especially in front of non-believers. May my integrity in a world that is generally without it be a witness to the unsaved as to what Christians are all about. Help me too Father to quit complaining about the direction of my nation’s government at all levels and do something about it from the inside. Further, Father, please help me to never compromise my faith in your Son just to survive. Help me to stand firm in my faith and never cave in before those who would kill me for not renouncing my faith. Help me to hold fast to your Word daily as governments slowly try to chip away at Christian values. Help those who are currently suffering oppressive regimes. Help me to be motivated to help them. It is in the name of your precious Son, Jesus Christ, that I pray this prayer. Amen.

Romans 9:1-29 — Even though I am 52 years old now, does the fact that I grew up as a Methodist preacher’s kid give me an auto-pass into heaven? Does being part of church for most of my life give me brownie points on judgment day? Does doing all the right things get me there? These are the types of questions that Paul talks about in this passage.

In Romans 9-11, Paul deals with the heritage of the Jews as God’s chosen people and how that relates to salvation in Jesus Christ. The Jewish people were very proud of the fact that they traced their lineage back to Abraham. It was through Abraham’s line that God promised to make his descendants His people. God made covenant with the Jews and made them His chosen people through who He would bring forth the blessing to all nations. God made His chosen people different. He gave them the law, social and ceremonial rules that made them completely different from the nations around them. He did this so people would be drawn to them because it was through them that Jesus would come. Over time though, the Jews fell in love with who they were rather than being in love with God. The reveled in their privileged position. They thought that because they were among the chosen that this mere fact saved them and would give them heaven. Paul says no one can claim to be chosen by simply by heritage. Being born a Jew does not guarantee salvation. Being born a preacher’s kid does not make me chosen. It did not guarantee salvation. My pedigree does not save me. My salvation comes from the mercy of God to give me Jesus as the sacrificial lamb who took my punishment for what I deserve. My salvation comes from the Lord. It comes from His mercy. Being a preacher’s kid does not give me a free pass nor more than being born a Jew. We all are dependent upon the mercy of the Lord so that no one can boast. I was born this. I was born that.

OK, so if my heritage as a preacher’s kid doesn’t give me a leg up, what if I do all the right things? What if I am in church every Sunday? What if I serve in every way possible at church? What if I follow your command to tithe? What if I read the Bible daily? What if give alms to the poor? What if I do all the right things? What if I go to seminary to learn more about you, Lord? What if I write a daily post on Facebook and/or a blog where I help people understand Scripture? Nope. These things don’t save me. Don’t get me wrong, these things are admirable but in and of themselves they do not save me. Nothing that I do. There is no effort, no action that I can take that will make me heaven-worthy. The only thing that can save me is a relationship with Jesus Christ. No amount of good that I can do in a million lifetimes can erase the sin nature that I have and the sins that I have committed. If God is perfect and sin is imperfection then I cannot be in his presence no matter how much good I try to do in this life. I am saved by realizing that I need mercy. I am saved by God’s mercy as expressed through His Son Jesus Christ. He cleans me up and makes me right and beautiful before the Father. Doing good deeds for the sake of seeking favor or brownie points with God is like putting the cart before the horse. Because of the joy of our salvation, because of the joy of my salvation, good deeds flow overflow. We are so thankful for this salvation that we KNOW we don’t deserve that we can help ourselves but serve Him in every way possible.

If my lineage saved me, if my deeds saved me, there would be reason to boast and there would those who are excluded from salvation because they are from the wrong people group or they simply don’t care about doing all that churchy stuff. We could easily say I am better than you because I do this and I do that. If you live on the wrong side of the tracks, or you have done all these bad things in life that are so much more seriously bad than the things I have done, then sorry bud I guess you are screwed. Have you ever noticed when God leaves things up to us, we try to make gradations out of everything. That way I can measure myself against you. That way I can determine and show you that I am better than you. Paul says wait a minute! THERE IS NOTHING that we can do to earn our salvation. My pedigree doesn’t save me. My degrees don’t save me. My social position doesn’t save me. My church membership doesn’t save me. My good deeds and service don’t save me.

It is the mercy of our God that matters. A man that lives like hell for 70 years and accepts God as His Savior in the last years of his life has the same standing as one who accepted Christ at 7 and has lived a life of service ever since then. God grants His grace in the manner that He chooses. We are saved by grace not by who we are, what we are, what we do, when we do it, how often we do it. So, there is no life that is so horrible that God cannot redeem it through grace given through Jesus Christ. Nothing that you have done is so horrible that I cannot be covered in grace. You are never too far gone. Our bad deeds don’t condemn us. If that we the case, heaven would be empty. God’s grace through Jesus is a gift. It is not something we earn.

Think about it. It’s like doing something wrong repeatedly even though your parents told you not to. So, finally, they put us on restrictions and oh yeah you know that trip to Six Flags this weekend, you as a teenager have to stay with us your parents the whole time. Uggh what torture that is going to be. Being seen by all the kids in the world having to hang with your parents. The humiliation! But when you get to Six Flags as you are preparing for your humiliating day, your parents inexplicably say go, go have fun. See you at the gate at the end of the day! Freedom not deserved but freedom given. That is grace. If salvation was something we earned, then we are in trouble. I am in trouble. Thank God for grace. Thank God that He has mercy. And thank God it really isn’t about who we are and dependent on what we do. Thank God for your mercy. Thank God I don’t get what I deserve. Thank God for Jesus. Thank God. Thank God. Thank God!