As we celebrated the birth of our country this past weekend, we also take time to remember and pray for those who serve our country by putting their lives in harm’s way. Even though they are volunteers, they still must meet fitness standards of the military in order to be accepted for service. What about us? Are we fit for service in the Lord’s Army? And what is it that makes us fit or unfit? Can we handle the freedom that is ours in Christ? Do the responsibilities of freedom mean as much to us as the privileges of freedom? These questions apply to our calling as Christian citizens. When God promises that He has plans for us, or Jesus lays out a plan for ministry the intent is for us to be equipped for service, in all areas and aspects of our life. How will you use the freedom, the help and guidance God seeks to give? Sunday’s theme was “Understanding Freedom”. Here are a few thoughts from the day’s worship.
1) We must know what freedom is and what it isn’t. Freedom is a gift, something that we have not personally earned or deserved but has been handed down to us. Whether it was accomplished by generations before us (people who have won freedom and paid the price to gain, or keep them) or whether it was through Jesus sacrifice for us on the cross to give us freedom from sin and eternal damnation, the freedom we have today are not of our own doing. Now there’s nothing wrong with being given something, it’s just that we can take a gift for granted a little easier when there was no effort on our part to gain it. This happens with many things that are gifts and blessings that feel like “ordinary” parts of our life (until they’re not). We take our health, or ability to earn a living for granted, until circumstances change. We take our relationships, to one another and to God, for granted, until something goes wrong or is missing. We enjoy the “rights and freedoms” we have gotten used to, until they are threatened or taken away. This is a very strong trait of human nature and we must work not to take for granted what are, in reality, such valuable gifts or blessings.
2) We must know what freedom’s purpose is. Whether in the Bible or in our founding documents and writings as a nation you will not find freedom referring to self-centered gain. For instance, in Galatians 5 Paul writes: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Freedom then is meant to be used for the benefit of others, not simply to “do whatever I want”. That’s not freedom, that’s license and it cares nothing for the well being of anyone else. Not only is it not godly, it is not beneficial to anyone but you. True freedom has a “responsibility factor” built into it. We see this in the ways in which we live. You are free to drink yourself silly if you choose, but you are not free to be a nuisance or endanger others’ lives because of your drinking. As Christians we are free to know and celebrate the love and forgiveness of Christ on the cross. But we cannot use our joy and appreciation to force others to accept or believe in this Savior no matter how beneficial it might be for them or how strongly we feel. I did a show of hands to ask those present how many had experienced a situation where they had someone they were trying to help or influence in a positive way but could not get them to take advantage or go along with what you suggested or prepared for them. Everyone raised their hand!! This lets you in on the frustration of our Heavenly Father and His Son our Savior Jesus. They have freedom (and power) to do anything as the Almighty God. Yet God used that freedom to sacrifice His Son’s life on the cross, paying for our sins and giving us the mercy and grace we need to over¬come the sin and trouble of our lives and hopefully find benefits, blessings and joy along the way. God does not force us to believe in the work of His Son as Savior. Oh He could! Much like your unwilling child, friend, neighbor, family member or co-worker, people are free to reject Him, even though it may seem like a poor choice. But if we do embrace that freedom then we have a responsibility to do something with it where we live. Which brings us to the national holiday celebrated this past Monday.
3) We must learn to trust God in the process. One of the readings Sunday was from Jeremiah 29 where God lays out His desire for a people who were disconnected from their homeland, having been deported and exiled to a strange country. The encouragement He gives through the prophet is instructive for us today as we deal with circumstances and situations in our country but also in our personal lives. We may feel that we do not have the freedom or the privilege we’d like in our work, our living conditions, finances, health, political climate or a host of other challenges we could recite.
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”… For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Do you trust God enough to depend on Him? Are you seeking the welfare of the place and situation you are in, even if it is not your dream? Are you helping it prosper with the understanding that you too will prosper? Are you using your freedom to make life better for all concerned around you? How you answer those questions gives much insight into how well you understand the freedom we have as citizens of this country but also citizens of God’s kingdom.