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“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8:32-36

broken chainsOne of the cruelest tricks in human nature is to believe you are free when, in fact, you are in bondage. Likewise, one of the hardest things to admit is that you are enslaved by something over which you have no control. That’s why addicts have a hard time admitting they are an addict. That’s why those in abusive situations have a hard time leaving. The abnormal has become normal to them.

One day, Jesus was talking with his followers and told them that truth would free them. They were shocked! Why would they need to be freed? They were in bondage to no one. The irony here is that while Jesus was talking about the bondage of sin, his followers were in bondage to the Roman Empire. But the bondage to Rome was so ‘normal’ they didn’t even realize they were slaves!

Freedom from bondage requires two things. One is that we are fully aware of our condition. It’s easy to say ‘I’m a sinner’ without carefully identifying each thing in our lives that enslave us. I’m a terrible cleaner. It’s not intentional. I just miss the corners, and overlook the little things. The same goes our spiritual lives. Rather than relying on our own ability to ‘see our bondage’ we need to go to the one who knows us best. That’s why the Psalmist says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

The second thing we need to do to ensure we are not in bondage is to realize who we are in God’s eyes. When sin is in control of our lives we are slaves to it and we are blinded to the truth. When we have been freed from sin through Jesus Christ we are as sons, in intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Fatherhood has a bad rap these days. Most earthly fathers have a reputation of working too hard to make money, being more concerned about their own needs, wants and egos and ready at any moment to pounce on anyone who makes a mistake.

Your Heavenly Father is the kind of dad who shows up at every ballgame or concert. When you make a mistake he doesn’t remind you of how much of a loser you are, he encourages you and teaches you how you can be all you were meant to be.

A relationship with Christ means we have all the freedoms of sons. As we grow closer to our father through reading his word, prayer and corporate worship we gain new understanding into all that God has for us. When Jesus left us he sent his promised helper, the Holy Spirit to guide us into all things, and to understand all that God has for us.

PRAYER: Father God. Search my heart. Show me the things that offend you. Give me the courage to confess my weaknesses. May your Spirit work a change in me for your glory so that I can be completely, totally and eternally free. In Jesus name, Amen.

“And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.” 1 Kings 3:14

“Why can’t you be more like…”

Remember how much you hated hearing that? Maybe it was comparing you to a sibling, a relative or the class valedictorian. It’s fun to compare ourselves to others when we have better gifts and skills. It’s not so much fun to be compared to someone who obviously has their life together better than you do. What would it be like to be compared to someone who lived a life that was below your standards? How would it feel to not only be compared to them, but encouraged to be like them!

That was the situation Solomon found himself in. His father, King David had just died and the kingdom was now securely in Solomon’s hands. God came to him and offered him whatever he wanted and Solomon wisely chose wisdom.

Then, God says to Solomon, (look out, here comes a personal paraphrase), “Ok Solomon, here’s the deal. I want to bless you more than you can imagine because I love you and you love me. So, what I want you to do is to follow the example of your father, David. He was a man after my own heart who followed all my rules.”

I have to wonder if Solomon didn’t take a momentary double-take on that.

“Wait! Like my father David? Most Holy God, do you remember how his affair with mom and how he killed her first husband? Do you remember when his daughter was raped by his son and he did nothing about it? Do you remember how he constantly did his own thing and had to come to you time and again, repent and ask you to forgive him? Wait. That’s it isn’t it God. Dad made plenty of mistakes but he always came back to you. I get it now.”

Maybe it didn’t happen that way for Solomon, but it certainly does for me. If you feel like a failure. If you wonder if you’ll ever get it right? Remember there are many examples in the Bible of men and women who failed miserably and yet, they were used mightily by God.

PRAYER: Lord, I’m constantly reminded by others and my own conscience of my failures. I’m weak, stubborn, rebellious and selfish at times. Yet, even then, I love you. Thank you for always waiting with open arms to welcome me home. Amen.

But while in deep distress, Manasseh sought the Lord his God and sincerely humbled himself before the God of his ancestors. 2 Chronicles 33:12

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I tend to try to do everything on my own. For example, when the instructions say, “Use two people for the next step in assembling your new back-hoe.” Not a chance. I’ll break my back before I’ll ask for help.

Why, you ask? I could give you a variety of reasons. Some of them may even be half-way intelligent. But the reality is, I’m full of pride. Pride comes in various shapes and sizes. Sometimes it comes disguised as “There’s no one to help me.” Other times it comes deceives me by saying, “this isn’t big enough to ask for help on”, or “I’m big enough to handle this, I don’t need anyone.”

wake up callManasseh was a King in Israel in need of a big attitude adjustment. He ignored the lessons learned from those who went before him and followed other gods. He rejected the teachings of the most high because he was sure he knew better…until the Assyrian Arm
y came and led him away in shackles with a ring in his nose. The, all of the sudden, he remembered what he never should have forgotten. He remembered that the God of heaven warned him about rebellion.

Rebellion against God is really saying “I know more than you, I know better than you, my way is better than yours.” God is a patient, loving, understanding father. Because of this he is more than willing to let us try our own way in an effort to prove ourselves. But also, like any good father, he has his limits. There will come times when he’ll finally pull the plug and let our actions fall victim to the natural consequences of our rebellion. When that happens we become like Manasseh. We see the error of our ways and how much better it was to follow God’s way.

“I did it my way” may have been a great song, but it’s not the way God intends of us to live. Before you blame or question why, reflect on where you have been, what you have done, how you have treated people, what you have taken for granted. Your Father in Heaven may not be ignoring you, he may just be calling you back to himself.

PRAYER: Father I confess to you that many of the sleepless nights I endure are the result of worry caused by the consequences of my actions. Forgive me for those times and allow me the privilege of sensing your presence once again. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.

Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. Amos 5:15

A friend of mine came around the corner of his garage just in time to see his young son with the garden hose, filling his lawn mower with water! He stopped him immediately, but it was too late. The tank which had been nearly empty, was now full of a mixture of gasoline and nice fresh water. The little boy was very proud of himself for ‘helping daddy’ get ready to mow the lawn!

The lad, of course had no idea the damage that could have been done had dad not discovered his actions. Not only would the mower not had run properly, the engine would have been completely destroyed. Water and gas don’t mix. Gasoline engines weren’t made to run on water.

To fix the situation, dad drained the fuel tank completely and made sure it was completely dry. Then he filled it with fresh, untainted fuel. Any moisture left behind could have had disastrous effects on the engine.

The prophet Amos, found a similar situation during his ministry to the people of Israel. The people had strayed far from the laws that God had instituted. They were a greedy people. They were an immoral people. They had turned worship into a bunch of rules, traditions and activities.

Amos tells them that if they were to escape the consequences of their sin, changes were going to have to happen. They needed to rid themselves of all evil. Just as my friend needed to completely empty the fuel tank of his mower, Israel needed to completely remove all vestiges of evil in their lives. We call this repentance. It’s a change of activity, a change of attitude, a change of mind. To confess our sin means nothing without repentance.

But more was needed in order for Israel to be restored. They needed to replace the evil actions in their lives with something else, something good, something pleasing to God. It would have done no good from my friend to empty the fuel tank of the mower and then try to start his machine. It needed new fuel in order to run. Clinging to the good rather than evil is called holiness. It involves actions, thoughts and motivations that please God rather than man.

In our lives it’s even more important to replace the ‘evil things’ with good things. Jesus tells us that if a demon leaves and we don’t replace that part of our lives with good things, he’ll just return at a later date…and he’ll bring friends. You’ll be worse off than you were before.

The end result of turning our back on evil and clinging to good is that our lives will be marked with justice towards others. Not the fickle kind of justice the world offers, but the graceful and merciful justice of a loving God.

You can’t run on empty. Ask the Father to search your heart and reveal anything that may be hindering your relationship with him. Then fill that spot with things that are pleasing to him. Your ‘engine’ will run more smoothly.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, reveal to me the areas of my life that need repentance. Empower me to change so that my life is filled with good things, not bad; so my life will exemplify the graceful and merciful justice of your word. Amen.

I pray that the Lord will guide you to be as loving as God and as patient as Christ. 2 Thessalonians 3:5 (CEV)

It was far from my finest moment. There certainly was no compassion, no grace or no acceptance in my actions. I was totally out of line.  It was several years ago now, but the memory is still fresh in my mind. The neighbors were having marital issues and the husband came over to talk to me and try to get information that he could use against his wife.

To be honest I don’t remember much of the conversation even though it went on for close to two hours. What I do remember is that at some point he made a comment about how his (soon-to-be) ex-wife could never be forgiven for what she’d done to the marriage. I wasn’t thinking. I intended to put a hand on his shoulder and reassure him that his statement wasn’t true. What I did instead was more of a grasp and push. He looked scared. I was embarrassed. I apologized of course and later we laughed about the scene.

While the physical parts of my actions are most likely not practiced by many, each of us has been on one end or the other of a good ‘holy shove’. You have a loved one that you see self-destructing. The most frustrating part of it is that ‘they should know better’ but they just keep going down the same road. So, you shake them up. Not physically of course (I hope), but with your words, your attitude, your ‘sharing the gospel with them’ and ‘setting them straight’.

In his letter to the Thessalonians Paul lays the foundation for how we treat others. Our actions towards each other are to be marked with love and unity. That is the key for our evangelism. That is the key for discipleship and discipline.

We were called as Christ-followers to make disciples, not converts. Disciples take time. Disciples grow due to relationship. Disciples follow our Godly example not our theological knowledge. Discipleship takes patience. Not any patience by the way, but the patience of Christ.

The patience of Christ is seen in the story of the prodigal son. Daily the father watched the road leading home. Daily he heard stories of his son’s antics and failures. Daily he prayed for his safe return. On that glorious day when a familiar shape walked down the road towards him he didn’t have an ‘I told you so’ speech ready. There was no list of the young man’s failures and a ‘how could you do this to us’ tongue-lashing. There was only love and celebration.

Patience with ourselves and others isn’t possible without the patience of Christ in us. It’s easier to be patient with the jerks in life when I fully realize what Jesus went through for me. It’s by his patience that I seek to treat others. But that still isn’t easy. I want change now. Change in your life. Change in mine. Change comes slowly in God’s world. We serve a ‘crock-pot’ God and live in a microwave world.

Attitude is the key to life change. If those who are struggling see us as patient, loving and caring people who truly seek their good they will respond as God works in their lives. Ours is not to change lives. Ours is to provide the direction and atmosphere for change.

If you are dealing with someone who you’d like to give a good shoulder shake, remember to act according to the love of God and patience of Christ. If you’ve been on the other end of the emotional ‘shoulder-shake’ realize that Gods way is a way of firm gentle calling, not shaking. Like the father in the prodigal son, he’s daily calling you home and searching the path for your approach. He loves you no matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done.

PRAYER: Father God, help me to exhibit your love and Christ’s patience in my life as I travel this journey. Forgive me for the emotional ‘shoulder shakes’ I’ve had a part in. Heal my wounds from the shoulder-shakes I’ve endured. Thank you for being patient with me. In Jesus name, Amen.

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January 2023
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