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Not Your God #1: Freedom

Not Your God #1: Freedom

When we think of idolatry we often imagine it to be an easy sin to detect and stay clear of. Thoughts of carved images and statues from the Old Testament come to our minds and certainly no good Christian succumbs to such things. But, there is another side of idolatry that is more subtle. It’s the type of idolatry that takes something good and makes it more important than God. This idolatry doesn’t involve formal worship or a confession of faith, yet it is just as dangerous. Martin Luther once said, “That upon which you set your heart and put your trust, is in reality your God.” Our “Not Your God” series takes a look at several modern day idols that can wrestle away your heart faster than you may think.

Not Your God – Freedom

We start off this series with a tricky topic. We have to be careful when defining freedom because the Bible does talk about it as one of the primary reasons that Jesus came to earth. Galatians 5:1 says, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (NASB).” If it seems wrong to think that freedom in Christ is idolatrous that’s okay because it isn’t.
The type of freedom we guard against is different. It comes from a different source than faith and it centers on a different existence than faith. This is the freedom of citizenship among nations of this world. Now, you might be thinking to yourself that freedom in this sense is not a bad thing either. It may not be as important to a Christian as the freedom of faith, but it is still a virtuous thing. If you think this you are correct. Anyone who has grown up in Western culture has been taught to value freedom. Citizens of the United States have fought for this freedom and continue to. And it is a noble thing to stand for.
The problem we face is when our pursuit of this nationalistic freedom overshadows the freedom that Christ won for us on the cross – because they are different. Freedom in this world is a temporary blessing that can be taken away. It serves a purpose for here and now but not for eternity. All rights have an expiration date as all things of this world do. The unique thing about faith in Christ is that while it liberates us from sin, death, and condemnation of the law, (eternal blessings) it does not give us the right to do whatever we chose. In fact, faith actually binds us to our Master even more than before we believed because it engenders a desire to serve God. God’s path of righteousness is much narrower than the world’s path of self-proclaimed rights. Paul described the freedom of the gospel in this way, Romans 6:18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness (NIV). You see, no matter who you are and what you believe, you are serving something or someone.
Think of the difference in this way:
Earthly freedom leads me to think I have the right to do whatever I choose,
which leads to an existence without boundaries,
which leads to sorrow and captivity under sin.
Faith freedom leads me to believe that obeying God is the best path for my life,
which leads to an existence within the confines of God’s Word,
which leads to greater blessings for my life and greater glory given to God.
Freedom becomes idolatrous when a person uses it to convince themselves that they are completely independent from any servitude in the world, which is also a great irony because the illusion of total, personal independence is one of the most enslaving philosophies ever. When Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me… (Matthew 12:30 ESV) He dispelled any notion of absolute autonomy. We are always serving something or someone. We live at a time when freedom is offered as an excuse to pursue any self-edifying pleasure. That belief takes something which is noble and forces it to serve as a cover for sinful purposes. This is the freedom that becomes more important than God.
Arguments abound today about free speech and freedom of expression but no one considers the consequences of this so-called freedom. America is becoming more and more polarized on what is acceptable when it comes to expressing or protesting this freedom we have. What our nation has forgotten is that if our highest pursuits and goals are only in temporary things, if there is no higher spiritual mooring for our lives, then we will simply fight and struggle in the same muck and mire that all civilizations before us have plodded through. We can call it the pursuit of freedom if we want – that sounds nice. We can claim to be a greater, more sophisticated civilization – that will calm our insecurities for a time. We can say that we have the right to do what we want – we may from earthly leaders but not from God. Whatever excuses we offer, we will continue to nitpick and fight against our differences if we don’t have anything greater or more important to appeal to than our personal freedom. That’s because we’ll be serving an idol, even if we try to convince ourselves it is something noble.
Remember what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin (John 8:34 NASB).” We are fallen creatures. We can see the worth in something like nationalistic, earthly freedom but if we take it and use it as a cover for sin or a balm for all problems it will be a mirage of true hope. Peter, himself, warned: Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves (1 Peter 2:16 NIV). There is only one path to true peace and liberty. This path is not freedom apart from God, however, but freedom given from God and received by faith in Jesus. Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:31-32 NKJV).”
Freedom in this world is not your god. Don’t let it’s trappings and pursuits over-shadow what the real, true, flesh and blood God did when He came to earth for you. It is for that freedom that Christ set you free.

A Vote for Life Matters

A Vote for Life Matters

For me, part of preparing to register my vote in this year’s election involves reflection on the last few years. I am continually led to think not so much about President Barack Obama, but rather his wife, first-lady Michelle Obama. It’s becoming more common for the first-lady to push for significant change while her spouse is in office. It almost becomes a position in and of itself. Mrs. Obama has devoting significant work in the last eight years to educating young children in healthy living. She has helped create a movement called “Let’s Move” which encourages five pillars:

  1. Creating a healthy start for children
  2. Empowering parents and caregivers
  3. Providing healthy food in schools
  4. Improving access to healthy, affordable foods
  5. Increasing physical activity

“Let’s Move” prides itself as “America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids”. Who can argue with this motto or any of the pillars it supports? Healthy eating and exercise are great things to teach kids about and encourage them in. In this effort I certainly support Mrs. Obama. At the same time, I can’t help but cringe at the blatant contradiction that exists in reality. Any political candidate who claims to care about children, yet supports and promotes abortion, is simply hypocritical. This is why I think of Michelle Obama during this election season. She has a track record of supporting abortion through politics, both for her husband and for other politicians. It’s not so much that this is a new issue for our country; it’s certainly been around for much longer than the last eight years. The thing that bothers me most is this recent insistence by those who promote abortion that they care so much about children. If Mrs. Obama would at least be honest about her position I could respectfully disagree with her and appreciate her candor. But, for her to put on the front of making her life’s work about helping kids and growing a healthy next generation, while promoting the senseless murder of millions of unborn infants, is a most despicable evil.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that along with the growing discussion of the morality of abortion in our country also comes a growing promotion by abortion supporters of the ways in which they support children. It reeks to me of a man-made salve to alleviate the consciences of those who know better.
This is why a vote for life matters. When election season comes around, abortion is relegated by many to a strictly political topic. Questions of right and wrong take a backseat to questions of personal rights. What people say becomes more important than what God says. Righting the economy, fighting terrorism, preserving 2nd amendment rights, and determining which tax plan helps me the most all help us collectively drown out the blatant horror of stripping a helpless child from the protection of a mother’s womb.
Please don’t take this as calloused indifference toward a pregnant mother’s difficulty, especially that of a single mother or a rape victim. But, no atrocity demands a further atrocity as retribution, especially when that retribution is directed at the innocent. To speak out against the plague of abortion in our country and to vote for life is not to ignore the pain or rights of women. A system which advertises murder as the first and best choice is a broken system. We can do better.
So many people have complained this election season about the presidential candidates of the two major parties. It feels like no one is happy with our options. The problem is always passed off as someone else’s fault. In truth, I believe that the candidates we have are a reflection of the individual citizens of our country. That’s how a democracy works. Our government leaders’ morality is a litmus test for our own morality. To blame the candidates, but not see oneself as a contributor to the problem, is an element of personal hypocrisy too, equally as damning as standing for healthy eating while vacuuming wombs bare.
This is why moral and religious issues absolutely matter when it comes to our vote. You can buy into the “political” label for abortion but that’s willful ignorance. When we’ve allowed such a blatant moral tragedy to exist and prosper for so long (roughly 55 millions abortions since 1973), should we be surprised when immorality seeps unchecked into other areas of our nation; into the economics, into transparency of government, into the military, and even into the personal and professional lives of our leaders? If we’re willing to talk away what is done to a helpless infant in the most fragile of states, we’re going to be willing to talk away anything.
Those who vote based on abortion are looked at as religious zealots or simpletons; people who are willing to overlook the important things for an idealistic crusade. Abortion is not the only important issue which our vote impacts, not even the only moral issue. But, there is no doubt, it is the most glaring evil in our country, especially when one considers the moral and rationalistic gymnastics which are used to excuse it. We know more about a mother’s womb today than ever before in history. There is no doubt that life begins as God teaches, at conception. A child’s heartbeat alone begins within 18 days of conception. We cannot claim ignorance about what abortion really does. What a blatant contradiction, that in this supposedly great age of science and reason our culture has found more and more ways of ignoring the clear evidence in favor of sinful desires.

Common objections to voting pro-life:

1. It violates the mother’s rights. We often hear this as the most common objection to the government getting involved in ending abortion or setting rules on abortion. It’s true, in one sense, that the government has no right to infringe upon a woman’s rights, or any other citizen’s, without just cause. We certainly don’t believe the government should never get involved, or never restrict anyone, because all laws are restrictive in some way. Laws are necessary, both by logic and by what God says in the Bible (Romans 13:1-7). The question comes down to what the law says and why. Is there a reason for restricting a woman’s right to procure an abortion? It depends on the reason. If a woman is in serious health trouble due to the pregnancy and could lose both her life and potentially the life of the child, there is an obvious moral reason for possible termination of the pregnancy and it shouldn’t be determined by the government. However, this situation describes less than 1% of all abortions, and even in these cases the right decision is never clear cut. Most abortions are done because the mother decides, or is pressured to believe, that it would be too difficult or inconvenient to raise the child. Abortions also occur frequently as a last-ditch effort at birth control. In such cases, the government’s responsibility should be to protect the innocent and provide support for expectant mothers who need help. Advocating death over life is never supportive. In no other realm of society do we force the agenda of death as much as abortion. In any other area it would be considered barbaric, but somehow we’ve allowed that exact system to exist for over 40 years in this country.
2. Christians have no right to legislate their beliefs on others. This argument assumes that opposition of abortion is unique to Christians. Although Christians are often the most outspoken voices against abortion, it is by no means simply a Christian issue. Most religions in the world respect the life of the innocent in some way. As Christianity itself teaches, the basic moral law that murder is wrong is in the heart of all people since God created them to recognize that in the conscience. Therefore, to relegate the pro-life stance to promotion of only one religion is a fallacy. The fact that abortion without just cause is immoral is not just some ancient tenant of Christianity, it is an unchangeable moral law, set in our hearts by our Creator. It is true whether you believe it or not. Christians who say they shouldn’t vote based on their faith should also check where their loyalty rests. When human governments allow things that a morally wrong, Christians are to obey God above all. Saying that a Christian should not vote against abortion because it is forcing one’s religion upon others is putting government above God. We, obviously, are not to use the government to do the church’s job, but we are also to be lights that shine forth the truth of Christ in the decisions we make, a vote being one such decision. I encourage Christians who think this way to diligently consider the import of Matthew 10:32-33 when it comes to their view of government: “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. 33 “But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.”
3. Abortion is a necessary evil because chastity is not realistic in our society and the world is overpopulated. First of all, regarding chastity, it may be extremely rare in our society but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. God clearly wants man and woman to wait until marriage before sexual contact. This is clearly not the norm in our culture, but it remains God’s commandment. While it is very difficult to keep chaste before marriage, God promises, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13).” To say that it is impossible to be chaste is to tempt God by doubting His promise to help in temptation. It also reveals that the one who doubts is in danger to more than just sexual temptation, but also to idolatry, by trusting in their own word over God’s.
The argument about overpopulation is so over-the-top it is almost not worth commenting on. What you see in it is the honest practice of evolutionary philosophy. If we are truly animalistic organisms with no Creator, then life is all about survival at all costs. Why not destroy the weak and fragile to preserve resources for ourselves? It is truly the most shameful and baseless defense for abortion, but you will see it employed by many.
A vote for life matters greatly. It matters to other issues as it seeks to root out evil in our government and culture. It matters to God, Who says that murder is wrong and Who is our Creator and the One who fashions life from conception. It matters to our fellow citizens, many of whom live without the light of Jesus in their lives, and could use a Christian’s solid and Biblical witness of the truth. It matters to mothers who are pregnant and are pressured to take the “easy” way out while not realizing the great pain, anguish, and guilt that they are acquiring in the process. It matters to the helpless child in the womb, who has no voice in our nation, except perhaps yours.
I encourage you to get out next week and exercise your blessed civic right to vote. Vote as one whose ultimate trust is in what God says, not the world. Vote as one who reflects the value of life with which Jesus has enlightened your heart. In His cross, we have a continual reminder: Life is always greater than death! A vote for life matters for many reasons.

1 Peter 1:17-19 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

When God built a wall, and someone else paid for it…

When God built a wall, and someone else paid for it…

One of the most surprising things of this election year is Donald Trump’s claim that he will build a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Now, accomplishing that feat on its own would be interesting enough, but Trump is going even further. Not only will he build the wall, he will have Mexico pay for it. The thing is, Mr. Trump really hasn’t explained how he’s going to do this. What makes this claim even more outstanding is that the President of Mexico has publicly stated that they will not pay for it. Will Trump succeed? I suppose it’s possible but it seems highly unlikely. Trump’s wall claim seems like most things in politics, big promises made to make headlines but excuses for failure almost always follow.
I’m not here to speak for or against the wall or to delve into the politics of it all. You’ve heard enough of that already. But, Trump’s promise brings to mind an interesting account from God’s Word. There was a time when God built a wall, and had a foreign kingdom pay for it. That time comes from late in the Old Testament history of Israel, from the book of Nehemiah. To understand the miracle that this was you need to know who Nehemiah was. Nehemiah was a Jewish captive in Babylon during the time that God’s people were exiled. Like other prominent Jewish people who arose to high standing in foreign lands (Joseph, Daniel) Nehemiah had ascended to the position of cup-bearer for the king. While in this position, Nehemiah heard about the great disrepair of the city of Jerusalem. With boldness, he petitioned king Artaxerxes he be allowed to return to Israel and help in the re-building process of the city’s wall. Artaxerxes not only granted the request, he decided to pay for the entire venture. Nehemiah recorded his request in chapter 2 verse 8,

… and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy. And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

There you have it. Not only did Artaxerxes give Nehemiah time off, he covered the expenses for the materials. God, in His power and wisdom, was able to use a foreign king to accomplish His will. And this wasn’t the only time, either. In the book before Nehemiah’s, his contemporary, Ezra, encountered a similar circumstance. Once Cyrus, king of Persia, conquered the Babylonians he gave the order for the Jews to return to their land and re-build their temple. Ezra was tasked with this responsibility, but God was also working behind the scenes. We’re told,

In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices were offered, and let its foundations be retained. Its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, 4 with three layers of great stones and one layer of timber. Let the cost be paid from the royal treasury (Ezra 6:3-4).

Much like Nehemiah’s re-building of the wall, Ezra’s expenses would be paid by a foreign king. But, this didn’t make either task easy. Ezra was plagued by the native peoples living Judea. They wanted a share in this great endeavor, but they were also idol worshipers. The entire reason Ezra’s people had been sent to captivity was because they intermingled with false gods. He wasn’t about to let that happen all over again, so he refused to join with the other nations in the temple reconstruction. This decision, although correct, would prove to be the source of headaches and difficulties in the project. We’re told,

Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:4-5).

The native people tried to turn Darius, Cyrus’ successor, against Ezra and the Israelites. But, once Darius realized the truth of the matter, he issued his very own decree; once again, fulfilling God’s will by paying the way for the project,

Let the work on this house of God alone. Let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews rebuild this house of God on its site. 8 Moreover, I make a decree regarding what you shall do for these elders of the Jews for the rebuilding of this house of God. The cost is to be paid to these men in full and without delay from the royal revenue, the tribute of the province from Beyond the River (Ezra 6:7-8).

Nehemiah, likewise, faced his own share of hardships as he tried to rally his people to rebuild the city walls. We’re told that the workers had to hold a weapon in one hand and their tool in the other. Half of the man-power needed to be directed at protection. In the end, though, the wall was completed in just 52 days (Nehemiah 6:15). No plan of man can thwart the will of God. In the short accounts of Ezra and Nehemiah’s work, God used three separate foreign rulers to not only accomplish His will, but pay for all of the expenses.
The lessons of Ezra and Nehemiah remind us of many things. We see the importance of perseverance and faithfulness to God’s plan. We see bricks_14545actremendous examples of leadership in both Ezra and Nehemiah. We see the utter folly of trying to resist the true God. We see how God values both the physical (wall) and spiritual (temple) protection of His people. But perhaps greatest of all, we see God’s plan of grace. Long before Ezra and Nehemiah’s triumphs, the Israelites were humiliated by captivity under the Babylonians. Not only were they carried into slavery, away from their homeland, but God’s holy temple was sacked and looted. What a disgrace for both God and His people. But, throughout it all, God had a perfect plan. He used the oppression of Babylon to bring His children back to repentance; so that future followers like Ezra would learn to resist idol-worshipers, and future believers like you and I would have confidence in the work of Christ. But, at the same time He also provided the mechanism for their re-building process. He moved Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes to kindness and favor with His people, so much so, that they funded the re-building of Jerusalem. Never before had foreign rulers so willingly submitted to a nation in such a lowly status.
If God was able to accomplish so much in that setting, what can He do for your life? Well, He can certainly help with with those lingering financial issues, or that friendship that seems to be on the rocks. He reassures you with love when you’re in the thick of an unfriendly world. He listens at all times when you’re distressed or in need. Just like the Israelites, God’s got you covered at all times. You have a Friend who can use His own enemies to accomplish His will. What is too great for Him?  But, the matter that God places as highest priority for you is your salvation. He wants you to know and believe that you are forgiven and redeemed. Examples of His eternal power like those in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are more than just things to wish for, or “ooh” and “aah” at in amazement. God is showing you the power of His grace in your life; powerful enough to save you from sin and all of it’s effects. So, when you hear a politician’s outrageous claims, remember Who is really in control, what He has done for you, and what He wants for your life.