Freedom

Tomorrow is July 4th and in the U.S. we celebrate our country’s independence as the Fourth of July Holiday. I travel to Washington DC often for work and there you can see signs of our founding fathers everywhere and the power of our government on what seems like every corner. I waited to visit the Jefferson Memorial until I’d seen just about everything else because I never wanted to “go all the way over there” so I’d just skip it. I remember very vividly seeing the monuments one night and the Jefferson Memorial didn’t look that far away after visiting the MLK Memorial. I was wrong but that’s another story. When you see the quotes from great leaders like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and MLK you are inspired as an American.

The interesting thing about all that history however is, we have no idea what they really went through to get us to the point of “One Nation Under God”. Not too far from the Lincoln Memorial are the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Korean War and the World War II Memorials. These four memorials all represent some of the “actions” that have kept our country free since July 4, 1776. Again, these memorials tell of men and women who sacrificed it all for us to be free in circumstances that are unimaginable to most of us. This Fourth of July is not just a celebration of our country’s birth but is a celebration of those that have fought, here and abroad, for us to remain free. Some did it with words and pens, others with swords and rifles, but they all did it for their love of their Country and in some cases, their actions meant millions of others would be free.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1John 3:18

When I first saw this verse I was ready to write about love and honesty but with the July 4th Holiday upon us, this seemed more appropriate. We “love” a lot of things in our lives – dessert, a TV show, a movie, our clothes/shoes, our cars, food and even our electronic devices. Some people “love” things so much that they post about them on Facebook, Twitter or Insta-Gram. None of these are what God had in mind when he inspired the writers of the bible. We can tell people we love them, we can write them poems or letters or in today’s case we can tweet it but how do we show it? People will say that they love their fellow man when they write a check to a charity and others by volunteering. It’s important to remember, sharing God’s love isn’t about works.

It’s not about how many checks you write or how many hours you volunteer at the homeless shelter or how many doors you knock on to share the word. We have God’s love because we believe and His love isn’t dependent upon anything we do. We are instructed with this verse to love with actions and in truth. The old phrase “actions speak louder than words” is best applied here. Don’t go around professing your love for God but cheating every chance you get. Don’t write or say: “You’ll be in my prayers” but then never pray. All of us as God’s children, have been given the gift of God’s love; not only was it written for us in the bible but it’s shown everyday by His actions in our lives. Let’s celebrate ALL of our freedoms this week: as a nation we enjoy certain freedoms and as a sinner, we are free from eternal punishment through our faith in Jesus Christ. We have these freedoms today because of courageous acts by many; we should never forget them.

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We’re Free to Start 2017

With the start of 2017 just a little more than 24 hours old, I wanted to remind everyone that we are free! We celebrated the birth of a Savior last week and this week we can celebrate the birth of our freedom through faith. Many of us will make, and break, New Year’s resolutions to improve something in our lives. Regardless of where you stand on resolutions, start the New Year knowing that you are free from sin. Knowing this, you can be confident in yourself as you boldly go into 2017 and all that it will offer. Happy New Year! What do you mean, you ask? This is all best explained in St Paul’s letter to the Galatians in the verses found in Galatians 3:23-29. The verses prior to these explain the meaning of and importance of God’s Laws.

23 “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Break the Chains

I’ve written before about being a slave to my calendar but I still haven’t broken the chains. Reading today’s verse got me thinking about the other things in my life that pull me in multiple directions or control my time and energy. Using the term “slave” isn’t appropriate in most cases since it has such negative connotations but it really describes how something or someone can have complete control over you. As human beings, we like to be in control of the things in our lives and the path that we take. When we have little or no say, we feel enslaved.

I function, at high levels, in at least four different capacities in my life. As a local government consultant, an elected official, a military contractor and a husband/father. These are all awesome roles that I play and are hopefully meaningful to those that I serve. The challenge is that they are usually more in control of me than I am of them. What things are controlling your life? Often, they are things that we simply can’t do without – our job, our family or our parents. But sometimes we can actually effect change that will free us; like spending less time with a friend who taking an emotional toll on us or a hobby that has started to consume ALL of our free time. One of the keys to happiness is to spend time on things that are meaningful to you and bring joy into your life. Figure out what those things are and break the chains on everything else.

34Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:34-36

We are a slave to sin. This is one of those things that we cannot control. We can’t control or manage it and no matter what we do, we will sin. Jesus said a number of times that we are “in Him and He is in us”. We also know that what has been given to Jesus has also been given to us. This verse reminds us that we are free from sin because Jesus took all of our sins with and upon Him on the cross. He set us free from sin! It’s amazing to me the number of people who feel that they are not worthy to even go into a church because of their sin. “I have to get right with God, first” they say.

We are all “right with God” because of Jesus! The Son has set us free from sin and nothing stands between us and God. We are no longer under the law and we have been made right with the law thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus for our salvation. It is pretty clear in the Bible that God has granted our salvation and eternal life in heaven through our faith in Jesus Christ. I am in awe of that. Despite my daily sins, God continues to forgive me. When we hear about grace and mercy, this is the first thing that should come into our minds. We are free indeed! Consume your time with things that are pleasing to God like spending time in the Bible reading God’s word or giving your talents freely to those who need it. Let others know what freedom is all about.

Courageous and Strong

The U.S. celebrates Veteran’s Day on November 11th each year. This is an ever increasingly important holiday for us as we attempt to give thanks to those that have served our nation to protect its freedom. When these Veteran’s Day ceremonies are held, we always remember our World War II veterans but they are decreasing in numbers each year. For some reason this year at a local event I started to think about the war this country had to achieve its freedom, the revolutionary war. Today, we talk about celebrating those that have protected our freedoms in the 20th and 21st centuries. How about the courage of the men and women who fought to establish our FREEDOM? The British Army was the largest and most feared in the entire world at the time; we did not back down. The ragged US Army fought to ensure that we were free. The war of 1812 was another assault on freedom. It is not discussed in detail however it was a proud victory from our past. Our Veteran’s deserve so much more than we give them. I’ve heard people argue, “They volunteered for it and knew what they were getting”. I hardly buy the volunteer argument,  these heroes stepped up when many others did not to protect our freedoms. Many of the service members that I’ve worked with spent a career serving our country, which doesn’t sound like a volunteer. The person who volunteers at the food bank is not the same as the one who leaves behind a family to fight global terrorism or protect our freedom. We owe our Veteran’s much more than our thanks but I know, they’d appreciate hearing it.

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong.” 1 Corinthians 16:13

If nothing says Veteran’s Day like “be men of courage” I don’t know what does. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear a commanding officer speak these words before combat. St. Paul is not talking to Roman soldiers or our military today; he was talking to the people of Corinth. They were, as we are today, in a battle for eternal life. St. Paul was warning them and us today, to be on guard and to stand firm in our faith. Everyday, God’s will and His Christian people are under attack. The devil is trying to take back the souls won by Jesus’ death on Calvary by polluting the fabric of our society. False prophets and false teachings are everywhere. It isn’t often we hear about the saving grace of God and eternal life that can only be found in faith through Jesus Christ is our savior. St. Paul encourages us to be courageous despite these challenges. Confidently speak of God’s grace and mercy to all. Stay connected to God’s word and study the teachings of Jesus to remain strong in faith and to have the confidence to be strong.

Are you worthy?

As the holiday weekend comes to a close, I am reminded about the sacrifices that have been made to keep America free. Its been hard to focus on the idea of “fighting for freedom” since we have been involved in military action (war) for more than a decade. Many Americans have viewed the Iraq War as one of questionable intent and the war in Afghanistan as simply a fight against the terrorists. The irony there is that if we don’t stop the terrorists, we are not really free. We often hear people say that America doesn’t need to be the word’s peacekeeper. How do we maintain our freedom if vital parts of the world are controlled by radical governments? This is not a political blog so; I’ll bridge this conversation back to those that have sacrificed for us. We honor men and women for their service on Veteran’s Day and we remember those that gave all on Memorial Day; July Fourth is our celebration of the freedom to hold those and many other ceremonies. Those that serve or have served answered a calling much like each of us have. We all have talents and skills that make us unique in this life. Some people are too confident and we can’t stand being around them and yet others will say: “I’m not special or I don’t have anything to offer”. We all have something special to offer, our trouble is that we aren’t very good at recognizing it. I’ve had conversations about my having no trouble picking up body parts or working on people who were critically wounded but don’t ask me to pull a tooth – yuk! We all have something to offer, that’s why cops don’t like fires and firefighters don’t like bad guys. Don’t waste your time swimming in pity because you don’t feel special or feel like you don’t offer anything worthy. Start spending time seeking to understand what you do offer. Simply being a good listener is a skill that not everyone can do. Find your purpose and then, put it to work.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” Ephesians 4:1

God knows the talents that He gave each of us and then calls on us to use them when He sees a need. Too often, we get wrapped up in our own circumstances or needs that we forget to notice what God has done for us. We have all been blessed by wonderful lives and God has put us where He needs us. Sometimes we are the inspiration for others and other times He gives us people to be inspired by. It’s only when we are open to His will that we realize what is happening. St. Paul continued to write inspirational letters despite being a prisoner for his faith. He stayed strong and reminded others to live as Jesus instructed/demonstrated. He reminds us that we have a life worth living because it came from God. Are we worthy enough – absolutely! We are all worthy. No matter what we do, God says we are worthy because He sent Jesus to die for us. Our job, our bank account, our house or car or whatever we have do not make us worthy. God wants us near him and that is a life worthy of the calling we have received.

Freedom!

This week I’ll be combining the message with the theme, which I hope is apparent at the end. I thought that I’d mix it up and this was a perfect way to do that.

This week the United States is celebrating “Independence Day” on July 4th. This is the day we celebrate our separation from England in 1776. Americans proudly talk about freedom and strength on the 4th of July. It is a great time of year because it happens at the start of summer. People are embracing the summer weather (unless you live in Arizona, its been “summer” since April) while most kids are planning a long summer away from schoolwork. People will celebrate the day with a barbeque, friends, and a few cold drinks and simply relaxing. The night is usually capped with a fireworks display to commemorate the rockets of the battle we fought. This year the holiday falls on a Friday so it is a three-day weekend for most everyone.

There is another independence day that happened on a Friday but we celebrate it in the spring – Good Friday. Independence, you ask? Yes, a separation from the power of the devil in our lives. 21But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. 27Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” Romans 3:21-28

Paul’s letter describes our freedom from the guilt and power of sin. We are free from the law and yet remain redeemed. We are “justified freely” by God’s grace because of what Jesus did for us. American freedom comes with constraints just as God’s justice (punishment) was handed down through Christ; our freedom was also won through Him. We are free from sin not through our own work but through our faith in Christ and the righteousness of God. U.S. freedom today was won by the heroic acts of brave people fighting our enemy in 1776. We did nothing to earn it today. Jesus took the heroic fight against the power of sin and the devil and won our freedom too. This Friday is another Good Friday for us to celebrate our freedom (whether you are in the US or not). We are truly free “and justified freely by His grace through Christ Jesus.” Remain strong in faith and stay safe!

Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the U.S., so I thought that I’d provide a little history lesson. Three years after the U.S. Civil War ended, on May 5, 1868, the head of an organization of Union veterans, the Grand Army of the Republic, established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate, with flowers, the graves of the war dead. Maj. Gen. John A. Logan declared that Decoration Day should be observed on May 30. It is believed that date was chosen because flowers would be in bloom all over the country. The first large observance was held that year at Arlington National Cemetery. Gen. Logan’s order for his posts to decorate graves in 1868 “with the choicest flowers of springtime” he urged: “We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. … Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no neglect, no ravages of time; testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.” Several states in the south refused to acknowledge Memorial Day and held their own ceremonies to observe the passing of confederate veterans. There are several U.S. cities that claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day, and the debate continued to fester for almost 100 years. It was not until after World War I, however, that the day was expanded to honor those who have died in all American wars. In 1966, Congress and President Lyndon Johnson declared Waterloo, N.Y., the “birthplace” of Memorial Day. In 1971, Memorial Day was declared a national holiday by an act of Congress, though it was often called Decoration Day. It was then placed on the last Monday in May, as were some other federal holidays. May we never forget the sacrifices that many made to keep us free people.

14Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the LORD.
Hebrews 12:14

If it were not for the civil war, we would not have Memorial Day. The day was expanded to honor all those that made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free. It is a holiday that I wish we didn’t need but I am thankful for everyone that made it possible for me to post on this blog and live an unencumbered life. We must make every effort to live in peace with all men. This verse does is very specific about who we should be at peace with – ALL MEN. This doesn’t apply only to the countries that the U.S. is friendly with; it applies to us as well. Live in peace and be holy. Sounds simple enough but we know it can be hard. There is no exclusion to whom we must be holy with – I have to be holy with the guy with the annoying dogs behind me! This verse is a great reminder that living in peace and holiness is hard and will require sacrifice. Some sacrificed everything for us to live in peace, we owe them our best to live holy lives; without it no one will see the Lord. We should live our lives as Jesus showed us – gracefully with humility, with love, faithfulness and forgiveness. Enjoy your holiday weekend but remember why we have it. Put a little “memorial” into Memorial Day and give thanks for those that made it possible and then go out and be holy.

Tempting, isn’t it?

Temptation is everywhere; don’t we all know it? Sometimes it shows itself at Costco when we see a “deal that we can’t pass up” or it shows up at work when we don’t need to “tell the whole story” or we agree to get “creative with the accounting” because our boss told us to. I’m talking about the temptations that shape us as people, not those that tempt our waistlines or will power like a donut or one more glass of wine. The people in our lives, the experiences that we’ve had and what we’ve been taught all shape our morals and values. Values are the inner judgments that determine how we will behave and morals are about how we execute those judgments. While some people interchange those definitions, it is clear that they both influence how we behave. When we experience no negative consequences from “deceiving or cheating” our brain stamps it “okay for future use”. We will continue to deceive ourselves until there are consequences and we “re-learn” to do it another way. The best way to continue to train our brains is to keep doing the right thing, even when no one is looking, be people of integrity. If we give in, we are only deceiving ourselves and that will have life-long implications.

Romans 13:12 – “…let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

An armor of light sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I envision a brilliant white, shining armor chest plate and a matching shield. What can’t you defeat with such protection? We know, of course, that the white armor is the protection given to us from our savior, Jesus Christ. He has clothed us in white as we go through our lives “not guilty” of sin because of what He did for us. We must guard that our light does not dim and we remain true to our Father, God in Heaven and to His Son, our savior. We dim every time we submit to darkness. When we do not live, as God wants us to, we dim our light. The good news however, is that our confession of those sins and our faith in Jesus Christ allows our light to shine brightly once more. We all know people who have fallen into darkness. We have a responsibility to shine our light on their lives and show them the way. Reassure them that they too, can put on an armor of light by turning their lives back toward God and then “get fitted for their suit” through Jesus Christ. We do not have to live in darkness; Jesus is our light and He is always ready to keep our light shining bright.

Freedom isn’t free

In a few days it will be the Fourth of July holiday, the celebration of our country’s independence. Yesterday, I returned home from four days in Washington DC. You see signs of our founding fathers everywhere and the power of our government on what seems like every corner. I visited the Jefferson Memorial for the first time on this trip. I’ve been to DC more than half a dozen times in the past couple of years but never wanted to “go all the way over there” so I’d just skip it. This trip I decided to see the monuments at night and the Jefferson Memorial didn’t look that far after visiting the MLK Memorial. I was wrong but that’s another story. When you see the quotes from great leaders like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and MLK you are inspired as an American. The interesting thing about all that history however is, we have no idea what they really went through to get us to the point of “One Nation Under God”. Not too far from the Lincoln Memorial are the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the Korean War and the World War II Memorials. These four memorials all represent some of the “actions” that have kept our country free since July 4, 1776. Again, these memorials tell of men and women who sacrificed it all for us to be free in circumstances that are unimaginable to most of us. This Fourth of July is not just a celebration of our country’s birth but is a celebration of those that have fought, here and abroad, for us to remain free. Some did it with words and pens, others with swords and rifles, but they all did it for their love of the Greatest Country on Earth – the United States of America.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1John 3:18

When I first saw this verse I was ready to write about love and honesty but following my DC trip, love of country seemed more appropriate. We “love” a lot of things in our lives – dessert, a TV show, a movie, our clothes/shoes, our cars, food and even our electronic devices. Some people “love” things so much that they post about them on Facebook, Twitter or Insta-Gram. None of these are what God had in mind when he inspired the writers of the bible. We can tell people we love them, we can write them poems or letters or in today’s case we can tweet it but how do we show it? People will say that they love their fellow man when they write a check to a charity and others by volunteering. It’s important to remember, sharing God’s love isn’t about works. It’s not about how many checks you write or how many hours you volunteer at the homeless shelter or how many doors you knock on to share the word. We have God’s love because we believe which isn’t dependent upon anything we do. We are instructed with this verse to love with actions and in truth. The old phrase “actions speak louder than words” is best applied here. Don’t go around professing your love for God but cheating every chance you get. Don’t write or say: “You’ll be in my prayers” but then never pray. All of us, God’s children, have been given the gift of God’s love; not only was it written for us in the bible but it’s shown everyday by His actions in our lives. Let’s celebrate ALL of our freedoms this week: as a nation we enjoy certain freedoms and as a sinner, we are free from eternal punishment through our faith in Jesus Christ. We have these freedoms today because of courageous acts by many; we should never forget them.