Freedom Above All Others

freedom

What freedom do you most hold dear? I would guess most would defer to freedom of speech or freedom of religion. The thing is, despite the wording found in the preamble to our constitution, God does not guarantee such rights. He never promises that we will have the physical freedoms we have come to take for granted in this country. Surely, Paul and the other apostles in the book of Acts were not being granted freedoms of speech and religion. Nor did Jesus come to forcibly change Roman or Jewish law to allow His followers those freedoms. Instead, our Savior expects us to assemble and to teach regardless of the secular freedom to do so.

No, Jesus came for a better freedom. John 8:32 records Jesus simply stating that His truth makes us free. The religious leaders present understandably mistake Jesus’ meaning and begin to talk about physical freedoms, even claiming that they had never been in bondage as children of Abraham. (I’d like to know how they were characterizing Babylonian captivity and Roman occupation, but that’s another discussion entirely.) Jesus redirects them to focus on something bigger.

Starting in verse 34, Jesus speaks of slavery to sin. The very presence of sin in our lives takes away a freedom that we can never reclaim, but Jesus came to release us from those chains. Paul, in Romans 6, makes the case that Jesus’ sacrifice pays the debts accrued by sin and releases us from them, transforming us from servants of darkness to servants of light. Paul reiterates in Galatians 5 that, now being free, we should be wary of willingly submitting to the chains of sin once more.

I am grateful to live in a nation that allows me to believe and teach as I will. Some may fear those freedoms are coming to an end (a fear, I believe, that is unjustified and fueled by factions that seek to gain power through such fears). Even if they are, the loss of physical freedoms cannot touch those that are spiritual, as Paul makes clear in Romans 8:38 – 39. It’s good to have physical freedoms, but they are nothing compared those from above.

And defending those better freedoms is far simpler than our physical ones. Our battles are spiritual instead of physical. Instead of seeking to take lives to preserve our perceived rights, we seek to preserve life and save souls. Instead of facing down world powers, we instead face the powers within us. Instead of looking to a paper and a piece of cloth for our ideals, we look to the Prince of Peace and the perfect law of liberty. These provide a freedom above all others, and we can celebrate them every day by walking in our Savior’s footsteps and telling others about His love.

I’m Just a Passing Through

mountain-path

Is it possible we’ve grown overly comfortable with this world? I saw a preacher I love and respect talking about how he simply doesn’t feel welcome in America anymore. I understand where he was coming from, and I sympathize with his feelings. I do not criticize him for the statement; it was just an impetus that got me thinking. Are we supposed to feel welcome in this world? How welcome did Christ and His apostles feel in their home country, and did it affect their mission or relationship with God?

An Unwelcome Savior

In Matthew 8:18, a scribe approaches Jesus and says he will follow Jesus wherever He goes. Jesus responds to this by saying, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” In other words, I might be willing to follow Jesus, but am I willing to be an outcast for doing so? Just look at how Jesus’ own hometown receives Him in Matthew 13:54 – 58. The reception is so unwelcome that Jesus goes away without performing a single miracle.

Consider also Hebrews 11:13 – 16:

These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place — a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

I Can’t Feel At Home…

When I was growing up in the church, we would sometimes sing a song that went like this:

This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door.
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

O Lord, you know I have no friend like you.
If Heaven’s not my home, then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me from Heaven’s open door.
And I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.

We would sing that, but living it is another matter. Think about going to visit another country. What would you do while you were visiting? Would you spend your whole time trying to make your hotel room suit your needs exactly? How involved would you become in local controversies? Would you even be aware of them? Would you convert every cent of your savings into the local currency? Probably not. Instead, you’d have an itinerary to follow, and, if the hotel sheets are the wrong shade of periwinkle or the local cuisine doesn’t sit well with you, oh well. It’s not like you’re going to live there.

Looking Toward Home

Additionally, those things that can make you feel a bit uncomfortable in another country — driving on the other side of the road, unfamiliar foods, different languages, currency conversions — make you long for home all the more. Again, we might sing, “I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” Those things that make this world uncomfortable and even unwelcoming should, instead of distract us into focusing more on this world, set our eyes above to our true home. They should make us long for our home where God is our light.

We have an itinerary in this world to do God’s work, to live like Christ, and to seek out lost souls to share His hope with. This world is a layover before eternity. It’s a temporary residence. It’s not our home. It’s nice to feel welcome, but it’s not necessary. Wherever we are and whatever the climate is toward our Christian faith, our hope and our work remain the same. Our relationship with God through Christ stays the same.

Politically Charged Topics and Christian Online Conduct

socialmedia

I’ve been hesitant to write anything about Indiana’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act. I’m an Indiana resident, so it goes without saying that I’ve heard and read one or two things about it, and I do have an opinion about it. But that’s not the point of this post. My opinions are unimportant. What’s important is this: anytime something like this occurs, where a large portion of the Christian population becomes invested in a politically charged debate, conduct becomes the point.

Whenever politics and religion mix, things get ugly, and many things I’ve been seeing from my brothers and sisters in Christ on social media only proves it. I’ve been appalled by some of the things I’ve seen shared and reposted in defense of the bill — so appalled I’ve caught myself shaking in anger that a brother or sister in Christ, who would never speak that way in person, would think it’s a good idea to share the stuff filling my timeline.

James 3:9 – 12 says this about the contents of our speech:

We praise our Lord and Father with [the tongue], and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way. Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water.

Colossians 4:6 says that our words should always be gracious, as if seasoned with salt, and Jesus asks, in Matthew 5:13, what purpose salt serves if it should lose its flavor. When we behave differently from the world, in both speech and conduct, then we are as salt that seasons the lives of those around us and makes God’s word easier to digest. When we act like the world, and when we use mean-spirited and ungracious words to prove a point, we lose our flavor and become pointless in God’s work.

This is especially important when we start sharing and reposting things to social media. As soon as I share an article on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, email, or wherever else, I’m making the words of that article my own. If the author uses bad language, I’m taking ownership of those words. If the author is using mean-spirited words, I’m now using mean-spirited words. If the author is acting like a bully, I’m acting like a bully by sharing. I say I’m praising God while belittling others with what I share. I might as well be trying to get sweet and bitter water from the same spring.

I could write much more at this point about the flaws and dangers of our continuing habit of looking to politicians to do our Christian work for us, but I won’t. Perhaps another time. For now, all I want my brothers and sisters to take away is this: we can choose to agree or disagree on a number of secular topics — Indiana’s new religious freedom act being one of many. We don’t have to be ungracious about it. We can disagree without being disagreeable.

Be mindful about what you post online. Be mindful about the links you share. Be wary of link-bait titles. Would Jesus actually use words like those? Does the post have a Christ-like tone? Does it line up with the kinds of things found in Philippians 4:8? You may agree with the overall point, but we undermine God and the nature of His message when we share things that are harsh and belittling or that cruelly attack those with whom we disagree. (And I’m sorry, but the defense of “calling it like it is” is no defense at all.)

Be mindful about what you post, especially when polarizing issues arise. Don’t post out of anger or frustration. Don’t post to “score points” against the other side. Stop posting things you have to qualify due to harsh tone or harsher language. Avoid using social media as a mask of anonymity through which you can shelve Christian conduct. Exercise kindness and graciousness online. I beg you — I implore you — think before you link.

One Reason You Are Bored with the Bible

One Reason You Are Bored with the Bible

I can already hear people saying, “But I only watch things that are wholesome and I only use social media to connect with other like-minded Christians.” Hey, me too! But that doesn’t mean these things are not still negatively affecting your attention span and ruining your spiritual appetite. And remember, even reading a religious blog article does not take the place of actually reading the Bible.

Uncomfortable American Idols

american flag

The Sunday morning Bible study I’ve been participating in is beginning to wrap up a marathon through the Old Testament. It’s an area of the Bible that presents some unique challenges, both in terms of what we can best get out of a covenant no longer binding us as well as in some of the directions classes usually take the Old Testament. I’ve studied these books numerous times now, and certain themes emerge time and again — some helpful to our spiritual development, others less so.

One of those themes that gets brought out every time we get to Aaron and the golden calf or the prophecies of men like Isaiah is that of idolatry. What does idolatry look like in the modern day? Of course the obvious ones come up: wealth, popularity, entertainment. You probably know the drill. I’ve noticed, though, as much as we like to discuss these idols and how they affect the world, we tend to shy away from discussing some common, but uncomfortable, idols that tempt many a conservative Christian.

These idols are uncomfortable for many reasons. They can easily become part of our identity. They are things that can seem good, but they adversely affect our spirituality when they inform our attitudes and conduct overmuch. They become deeply personal. We develop itching ears that want to hear what others are doing wrong, but leave my own idols alone, thank you very much. These are the high places that we turn to without giving them a second thought.

Our Politics

Politics is such a loaded word in American culture. The assumption is that you are for one side or for the other. Christianity and politics have become so intertwined that it’s sometimes hard for a potential convert or new Christian to tell the difference between secular opinions that insinuate themselves into Bible classes and pulpits and the spiritual truths we should be holding as sacred.

The problem with politics is that we begin to let our chosen side’s platform inform how we interpret Scripture. We try to turn secular issues into Biblical ones. We try to use the Bible to defend the second amendment (as if Jesus would ever shoot anyone), to disprove the climate crisis, to promote capitalism as the way. In doing so, we turn people away from God who might otherwise be open to His word.

II Timothy 2:24-25 simply says we should never be quarrelsome but should rather be kind, patient, and gentle teachers. Allowing politics into our hearts leads to the opposite behavior. James 4:1 rhetorically asks what causes quarrels, and the answer is found in our worldly passions. James goes on to call friendship with the world adultery to God, the same word God would use to describe idolatry in the Old Testament. When we elevate political struggles to the same level as spiritual ones, when we allow politics to inform our attitudes and conduct as much as Scripture, then we are committing spiritual idolatry.

Our Nationalism

In Hebrews 11, the author of that book talks about how Abraham left the land of his fathers to seek after God’s promise. It talks about how he did not look back, that he considered himself a foreigner and temporary resident of this world. Philippians 3:20 states that our citizenship is in Heaven, and Ephesians 2:19 calls us citizens of God’s household with Christ as the cornerstone of that house.

How does that harmonize when we then post things online about America first? How does that harmonize with the doctrine of American exceptionalism? When we treat our country’s flag like a sacred object, when we allow patriotism to enter our worship, or when we refuse aid to people based purely on their nationality, we make an idol of our earthly citizenship. While we are to be good citizens as Christians, that does not mean our citizenship defines our Christianity.

Our Freedoms

Have you noticed how closely related these are? These items are more than some car on a showroom floor. They are more than a paycheck. They are deeply integrated with who we are as a culture, and nothing is more deeply rooted in Americanism than freedom. It’s as American a bald eagle wearing a flag bandanna and eating an apple pie.

The problem is that, while we may have certain governmental documents ostensibly to protect things like freedom of religion and freedom of speech, God makes us no such promises in His word. When Galatians 5:1, II Corinthians 3:17, or I Peter 2:16 are talking about freedom, they are talking about spiritual freedom — freedom from sin and the eternal consequences thereof. These passages have nothing to do with our secular liberties.

Yes, it’s great to live in a country where we can express ourselves freely without unreasonable fear of government censorship. Yes, it’s nice that we can gather to worship without fear. It’s even nice that taxation gets coupled with representation. But these are not rights handed down by God, as I’ve heard some put it. They are rights and freedom’s in man’s eyes.

Certainly, First Century Christians didn’t spontaneously gain these rights upon baptism into Christ, nor does God promise them to us. The preamble to our Constitution and the Bill of Rights are not inspired documents. They may invoke God’s name, but that does not make them God’s will. We are blessed that God has allowed us to live and thrive in such a nation with such freedoms, but let’s not idolize our freedoms in the process.

Tearing Down High Places

The trouble we see in so many Old Testament kings is that, while they might have tried honoring God by enforcing the feasts or adding to the temple, they often left the high places installed. These high places served as a constant pull away from God and toward idols. We, in turn, have a choice about what we’re going to fill our minds and hearts with. We can allow these high places of nationality, freedoms, and politics to become idols in our hearts. Or we can abandon them.

Idols like these are difficult to talk about honestly, but we have to be able to separate these things out if we are going to reach the world with Christ’s message. Whether or not someone believes in climate change has no impact on their relationship with God, and it should have no impact on our spiritual relationship with them. Whether or not someone is an American has no impact on their relationship with God. Our earthly freedoms have no effect on our relationship with God. Unless we put them on par with God. Then they become idols.