You Will Be Free

Here is another word from Jesus that might get the attention of one who feels in bondage. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” (vs. 31-32)

These words brought a response from the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. What do you mean we will be free? We are free. “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Had they forgotten their nation’s history?

They had been slaves in Egypt. Both the Assyrians and the Babylonians had carried them off into captivity, and even as they spoke the Romans ruled them.

Evidently political captivity did not mean they had lost their freedom. They were children of the covenant. They were God’s chosen ones. They were different from all other people on earth. So they were and so they are even today, according to the New Testament.

The American response, in some ways, is similar to the Jewish response. We are Americans and since the Revolutionary War have been in bondage to no one. When politicians and bureaucrats attack our freedom through regulations and laws, we stand ready to fight.

The medical profession is an excellent example in our day. They resent strongly all the bureaucratic regulations forced upon them by people who know little about what the medical consequences can be. My doctor tells me that once it was a challenge and enjoyable to practice medicine. Today it is not. The politicians have seen to that.

We long to be free. What does Jesus mean when He says he will make us free? He is dealing with a greater captivity than national bondage. He says, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” If I live in spiritual captivity, am I free? Let’s take a look at a few Biblical characters who were helpless in the hours of temptation.

David, King of Israel, had no control over his emotions when he saw Bathsheba and slept with her even though she was Uriah’s wife. Was Zaccheus, the Roman tax collector, free when he stole from the people by assessing them exorbitant taxes even though the government didn’t oppose his dishonesty as long as it received what it wanted? Greed had made him a captive.

Was the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well free when she piously told him that she had no husband? This woman had been married five times and now had a live-in boyfriend. Was she not a slave to her sexual appetite?

Is the addict free? He or she cannot control their appetites whether it be for food, liquor or drugs.

Is the person who is unable to maintain a good marriage free because of his or her self-centeredness? Everything has to be done as he or she wants it to be done.

Is the person free who is so concerned about public opinion that he cannot voice his or her convictions on matters that are important?

Is the person free who is bound to a legalistic code of man-made laws to control his behavior? I refer not to the Law of God but to the list of “shall nots” and “shalls” that some of us lived with believing such obedient behavior would contribute to our salvation. Jesus was pretty tough on the legalistic Pharisees and their man-made regulations. When they condemned Him for healing a man on the Sabbath, Jesus asked, “Is it wrong to do a good deed on the Sabbath?”

Martin Luther was a spiritual captive. As a German citizen he was politically free to go about his business. As a member of the Roman Catholic Church of his day, he was bound to the laws of the Church which could be found no where in the Bible.

Was he free as an Augustinian monk seeking to appease an angry god? It is clear that wrong religion has put many people in captivity. Spiritual freedom knows no geographical boundaries. You could be a spiritually free man in Hitler’s Germany and a slave in Clinton’s America.

How then are we set free spiritually? Here is the answer: “If you will abide in my words, you are my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

Jesus is not looking for short term followers. Note Jesus’ word, abiding. This means we faithfully read and obey the Bible for it is our authority in matters of faith and life. These quiet moments with God’s Word are our daily visits with God through which He speaks to us. He will not only teach us the truth but will empower us to live according to the truth, which in turn will make us free. In Christ we become new people and a part of that newness is freedom.

Does that word freedom interest you? It matters not what you are in to, Christ can set your spirit free. The answer is clear.

Smiling Through the Tears

A month ago my wife and I attended homecoming at our alma mater, Dana College, located in Blair, Nebraska. We had a marvelous weekend visiting with many friends, some whom we had not seen since leaving college. Dana is a small liberal arts church college.

We did not watch the football team win its game before 70,000 fans. No, they lost the game before a few hundred people. We didn’t attend one of many formal banquets being served in a luxurious hotel. The banquets were served in the dining rooms on the college campus.It was a rather modest setting in a small Midwestern town.

As we drove home, I asked my wife what part of the festivities impressed her the most. Her answer was what I expected – learning what the years had done for our friends with whom we visited. There were some wonderful success stories, but it was also clear that there had been some difficult times. As they told of their tragedies, many of them heartbreaking, they smiled through their tears.

One of our friends, a retired minister who is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, told about losing their son from an aneurysm in the brain. He was a promising young man who was an ordained pastor. Through their tears the heartbroken parents confessed, “It is very difficult to accept, but we know he is at home with the Lord.” Then they smiled. The brother of this grieving man offered him comfort.

He knew what it was to lose a child. His son had been murdered one evening as he was closing his business for the night. “Only God’s grace saw us through this tragedy,” he said. Another of our friends, a former U.S. Senator, made the trip alone. His wife was at home convalescing from surgery. She had a malignant brain tumor and they hoped the operation was successful. “We have to be positive and thankful for the advancements of medical science and then leave her in God’s hands.”

My roommate, who had spent 40 years as a missionary in Japan, told of a son and daughter who were mentally ill. They had rejected their childhood faith in Christ. My friend expressed guilt for not having spent more time with his children as they were growing up in a foreign country, but he rejoiced that they had recently returned to the Church and was confident that God’s Word would not return void in their lives.

Hearing all of this you might respond, You heard all of this in one weekend? It must have been terribly depressing. How can you say this was a marvelous time together? Well, don’t get the wrong impression. We didn’t line up to see who could tell the most heartbreaking story. No, these happenings just surfaced in ordinary conversation. It was not a doom and gloom time. Sorrow and comfort was a part of their lives as they described what had happened to them since graduating from college.

As we relived the weekend, it was clear to us that these were people of hope. Their trust was in Jesus Christ who had sustained them in good and bad days. Life had given them cruel reminders that we live in a broken and imperfect world. The Christian will not be spared these heartbreaking experiences. The people of God have suffered since sin came into the world. How these friends handled their sorrows is what impressed us most.

David makes this clear as we study Psalm 13. It’s a brief verse that can be broken into three parts. In the first two verses there is a time of questioning. David asks some strong questions, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

David is confessing that he is in the dark. Why are all of these bad things happening to me, Lord? It just did not make sense to him nor does it to us. Those who trust the Lord and seek to serve Him are often the most afflicted. Did you ever have these feelings? We call Him Father but why wouldn’t a father protect his children from these troubles? We are told that our relationship with God can be very personal but He seems to be so far from us. “He has hidden His face from us.”

Our friends had those questions also. A pastor who had buried his son, a legislative assistant whose son was murdered, a U.S. Senator whose wife’s life is threatened with a brain tumor, and a veteran missionary whose son and daughter are mentally ill, were asking the same questions that David asked in this psalm. Were there moments of doubts? You bet. Satan never loses an opportunity such as these experiences to raise questions about this loving God. The legislative assistant was asking God to help him look beyond the cold-blooded murder of his son, even though the man had walked into a place of business killed the assistant’s son and a customer and then went home and told his family he hds just killed two innocent people like it meant nothing to him.

This news had disturbed the murderer’s family so much that they testified against him at the trial. He now sits in prison for the rest of his life with no chance of pardon. What a test! The father prays, “Lord, help me to deal with the hatred for this man and help me to look beyond the murder to see if something good can come from this meaningless act.”

David and our college friends not only asked questions of God but they asked for His presence in their lives. It is in these low moments that they have serious conversations with God, but in their asking you see they are people with a great Christian hope. In the midst of his sorrow David prayed, “But I trust in your unfailing love. My heart rejoices in your salvation.” Experience had taught the psalmist that God never let him down and he was convinced God was faithful.

We are human beings. We ask our questions. We make our requests to God. We are hurt. We are beside ourselves, but there is always the hope that God has placed in our souls. This hope was evident as they said, “He is home with the Lord; God has given us grace.”

This hope comes to us in Jesus Christ. When we have received him as our Savior, the Lord Jesus assures us that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He has made it clear that while we now see through a mirror dimly and know only in part, one day we shall understand fully and see Him face to face. This is our hope that the hymn writer says, “Is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

It is this hope that bound us together as friends who had come to enjoy a weekend. It was a great time for sharing and we left one another spiritually refreshed with a better understanding of what John Fawcett had written in his well known hymn, Blest Be the Tie That Binds.

Here are the words to the second stanza:

“Before our Father’s throne

We pour our ardent prayers;

Our tears, our hopes, our sins are one,

Our comforts and our cares.”

I pray that if you do not live with this hope,

Christ may be permitted to enter your life

and assure you that He is with you forever.

Joy, Lasting Joy

If you are looking for lasting joy, might a verse like this get your attention: “He put a new song in my mouth.”?

Most of us experience a lot of joy in a lifetime. Just this week my wife and I had dinner with some dear friends in their new house. It is beautiful and were they ever happy. A grandma stopped me one day and said, “You just have to take a minute and see the pictures of my first grandchild.

Isn’t she beautiful?” Another woman was bubbling with joy when she gave the good report that her doctor had said she is cancer-free after having surgery five years ago for a malignant tumor.

These are joyful times in the lives of people. The only problem is that any joy attached to people or human experiences can be temporary. What we seek is permanent joy that will be with us even when life is filled with sadness.

King David talks about this lasting joy when he says, “I wait patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to God” (Psalm 40:1-4).

As David reviewed his life, he could recall both good and bad experiences. He experienced joy in his work. When 30 years of age he became Israel’s second king and reigned for 40 years. These years were filled with luxuries and honor, but they were also time when these joys were turned into sorrow. There were wars to be fought and people were killed. That was the other side of the coin. His family brought him joy and sorrow. He was thrilled when each one of his children were born, but those kids grew up and gave their father a bundle of problems. Son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar.

When David heard about this, he was furious. (II Samuel 13:21) When Tamar’s full brother, Absalom, heard about Tamar being raped by Amnon, he plotted for two years to kill Amnon. When Amnon was dead, Absalom ran away for fear of his father’s wrath, but David finally asked him to return home. When Absalom returned home, David did not receive him with open arms but refused to see him for two years. This rejection irritated Absalom and he started a conspiracy to win the kingdom from David, which started a war between the followers of David and Absalom.

It was while fighting this war that Absalom was killed. Hearing of his son’s death, David spoke these well-known words, “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you O Absalom, my son, my son!” (II Samuel 18:33b).

Through all his grief David said God had put a new song in his mouth and peace in his soul. This same lasting joy is experienced by many today. I recall the young widow and her three children at their dad and husband’s funeral singing, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” There were concerns as to what the future had in store for them but God had put a song in their mouths and they were confident He would care for them. I think of the mother who told me about visiting her son in prison, “It is a horrible experience to have the steel doors slam behind you and there you see your son sitting behind bars. Where do you turn for strength? I could only think of the hymn, ‘My faith looks up to Thee, Thou Lamb of Calvary, Savior divine.'” Her heart was broken but God had put a new song in her mouth.

The book of Psalms records some of these songs that were in David’s mouth. Here are excerpts from two of these psalms:

“The Lord is with me, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? The Lord is with me, he is my helper” (Psalm 118:6, 7).

“Praise the Lord and all that is within me, bless his name. Don’t forget his benefits. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed my sins from me. He heals my diseases. He redeems my life . . . He saves me. He has more compassion for you than your father or mother could ever have” (Psalm 103).

This is more than a story of David. God wants to put a new song in our mouths. Yes, life is filled with joys which come from personal accomplishments, people, experiences, possessions, and good health.

While we are grateful for these sources of joy, none can put a permanent song in our mouths. These joys can be taken from us. David tells us what makes for lasting joy.

“God lifts me out of the mire.” When David fell in sin, God was there to forgive him. This also applies to us if we confess our sins and trust Christ. “He sets my feet on a rock and gives me a firm place on which to stand.” Having been forgiven, David could begin life anew. This time he would walk on solid ground as he placed his trust in God to lead him.

We can have this same experience. Walking in that personal relationship with God, there is a peace and security which fills our souls and this joy puts a new song in our mouths. In the service for the burial of the dead there is a prayer which reads, “O God who heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds, look in tender pity and compassion upon your servants whose joy has been turned into mourning.” It is a beautiful prayer.

How often in life we have the experience of our joys being turned into sorrows. The good news today is that these sorrows can be tolerated, and even turned into joys, when the Lord Jesus walks with us to bring us comfort and peace.Ê

Then there is a song in our mouths that causes us to sing:

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise Him all creatures here below.

Praise Him above ye heavenly host.

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

A Dream Come True

On Saturday evening, June 18, I joined millions of Americans who were watching the Miss America pageant. At the appointed time, Marie Osmond came with the judges’ decision and crowned Miss Kentucky, Heather Renee Finch, Miss America for the year 2000. After the crying, hugging and other emotional responses, Heather Finch told the press, “You can’t imagine the feeling running through my entire body. This is a dream come true.”

To a greater or lesser degree, we have all had those times when our dreams became realities. After the ceremony, I have heard many brides exclaim, “I am married!” She had dreamed of her wedding day, and now it had come. It is always a thrilling experience to visit the hospital and hear a new mom say, “Look at my baby! Isn’t she beautiful? It is a dream come true.”

Today I would like to direct your attention to one verse in our text Ð “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” If this one passage of God’s Word would come alive in the souls of ten percent of the Church, there would be a spiritual awakening in America. This nation would be turned around. That would be a dream come true for evangelical Christians.

St. Paul tells us that when we are in Christ, “the old has passed away and the new has come.” We have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ, and He has given us the ministry of reconciliation. He is going to make His appeal to this world through us. I often wonder why God has chosen to evangelize the world in this way, but the fact remains that He has and we should not question it.

Who are these ambassadors? We assume it is the television evangelists who have the opportunity to preach weekly to millions of people. It is the evangelist of our day, Billy Graham. It is the pastor who has been trained to share the Gospel. It is the missionary who goes to the mission field. It is that person who has a special gift to tell the Gospel.

The Bible tells us that the ambassadors are all of these people, but more importantly it is every believer in Christ, including you and me. We all know someone in this world with whom we can share Christ better than any other person. The thought of being Christ’s ambassador has not come alive in the hearts and minds of most Christian people. That is the reason there is not, nor has there been, an on-going spiritual awakening in our world.

Let’s dream for a bit. Do you know a person whose life is messed up? If so, then do you ever say to yourself, “I wish I could do something for them.” Ask this person what needs to be fixed in their life. If they think of you as a friend who really wants to help, they will probably talk freely with you about it. If it becomes evident that they have some basic spiritual problems, then this is the time we become Christ’s ambassador.

What a privilege to take as much time as is necessary to stay with your friend, always holding the Gospel before them. They need to be reminded that God loves them, and Christ has died for them. Whatever stands between God and them can be forgiven in Christ.

At this point we have fulfilled our assignment as Christ’s ambassador. We cannot convert the person, but we can leave it all with the Holy Spirit and watch Him act. If you have never been the Holy Spirit’s agent in leading a person to Christ, you have a thrilling experience before you. In the words of Heather Finch, Miss America, you can’t imagine the feeling that will be running through your entire being when you see this person’s life changed. It is a dream come true.

Throughout my ministry, I have had many thrilling experiences, such as dedicating new church buildings, watching a congregation grow from a few hundred people to several thousand, and seeing a budget increase from $20,000 to $2 million dollars. However, nothing compares to watching a person come to Christ and grow up spiritually. What a thrill it is to observe a dysfunctional family become one with Christ at the center, with order and love replacing chaos and hate! Believe me, it happens. And inmost cases one of Christ’s ambassadors had a part in bringing it about.

Our Christian life becomes exciting when we commit ourselves to being one of Christ’s ambassadors. Pam found that to be true. She is serving as a Bible translator in Cameroon. As a medical student Diane wanted her life to count for Christ. Little did she know that her dream would be realized in Nepal, where she now cares for the sick and tells them about Christ. Many medical people Ð doctors, dentists, nurses, technicians, and pharmacists Ð sit in the pews Sunday after Sunday and hear the pastor talk about using their talents for the extension of God’s Kingdom. The last few years, these people have spent time as short term missionaries in Jamaica.

The majority of Christians will not travel to other lands to be Christ’s ambassadors. However, they will find their calling at their work or in the home with their spouse and children. Wherever we find our ambassadorship leading us will be fulfilling. Our lives are counting for Christ.

Yes, there are many exciting experiences in life when we say that it is a dream come true. Yet, for those who have had the experience of leading another person to Christ, these words say it all: “You can’t imagine the feeling running through my entire being! Christ can and did use me!” Pray this week that God will make this Scripture passage come alive in your life: We are ambassadors for Christ. God makes His appeal to this world, with all its needs, through His children. In Christ, we are one of those children, called to be an ambassador.

Transference of Fear

This is a word from Jesus that might get the attention of someone who feels they are in bondage: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples,and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8: 31-32).

These words brought a response from the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. “What do you mean we will be free? We are free. We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Had they forgotten their nation’s history? They had been slaves in Egypt. Both the Assyrians and the Babylonians had carried them off into captivity. Even as they spoke, they were ruled by the Romans. Evidently political captivity did not mean they had lost their freedom. They were children of the covenant Ð God’s chosen people. They were different from all other people on earth. So they were then, and so they are even today according to the New Testament.

The American response, in some ways, is similar to the Jewish response. We are Americans and since the Revolutionary War have been in bondage to no one. When politicians and bureaucrats attack our freedom through regulations and laws, we stand ready to fight. The medical profession is an excellent example in our day. They strongly resent the bureaucratic regulations forced upon them by people who know little about what the medical consequences can be. My doctor tells me that it was once a challenge and a joy to practice medicine. Today it is not; Politicians have seen to that. We long to be free.

What does Jesus mean when He says, “I will make you free?” He is dealing with a greater captivity than national bondage. He is telling us that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. If I live in spiritual captivity, am I free? Let’s take a look at a few biblical characters who were helpless in the hours of temptation.

David, the king of Israel, had no control over his emotions when he saw Bathsheba and slept with her, even though she was Uriah’s wife. Was Zacchaeus, the Roman tax collector, free when he stole from people by assessing exorbitant taxes, even though the government didn’t oppose his dishonesty as long as it received what it wanted? Greed had made him a captive.

Was the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well free when she piously told him that she had no husband? This woman had been married five times and now had a live-in boyfriend. Was she not a slave to her sexual appetite?

Is the addict free? They cannot control their appetite, whether it is for food, liquor, or drugs. Is the person free who is unable to maintain a good marriage because of their self-centeredness? Everything has to be done as they want it to be done. Is the person free who is so concerned about public opinion that he cannot voice his convictions on important matters?

Is the person free who is bound him to a code of man-made laws by legalistic religion in order to control his behavior? (I refer, not to the Law of God, but to the list of shalls and shall-nots that some of us lived with, believing such obedient behavior would contribute to our salvation.) Jesus was pretty tough on the legalistic Pharisees and their man-made regulations. When they condemned him for healing a man on the Sabbath, Jesus asked, “Is it wrong to do a good deed on the Sabbath?”

Martin Luther was a spiritual captive. As a German citizen he was politically free to go about his business. As a member of the Roman Catholic Church of his day, he was bound to the laws of the Church, which could be found no where in the Bible. Was he free as an Augustinian monk seeking to appease an angry god? It is clear that wrong religion has put many people in captivity. Spiritual freedom knows no geographical boundaries. You can be a spiritually-free man in Hitler’s Germany and a slave in Clinton’s America.

How then are we set free spiritually? The answer is found in these words: “If you will abide in my words, you are my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus is not looking for short-term followers. Note Jesus’ word Ð abide. This means that we faithfully read and obey the Bible, for it is our authority in matters of faith and life. These quiet moments in God’s Word are our daily visits with God through which He speaks to us. He will not only teach us the truth, but will also empower us to live according to the truth, which in turn will make us free. In Christ we become new people, and a part of that newness is freedom.

Does the word freedom interest you? It matters not where your interests lie, Christ can set your spirit free. The answer is clear.

Receive Christ

Abide in His Word

Then you will be free.