Freedom

I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out Your precepts. Psalm 119:45

♫♪♫ “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom…” ♫♪♫

This chorus has been on my mind quite bit lately.  I don’t know the whole song, just that line, but it doesn’t matter.  I sing it over and over again, joyfully reminding myself of that I am truly free.  The song is from a letter that the Apostle Paul, who called himself a bondservant of Jesus Christ, wrote to the Corinthian Church.  Paul knew a lot about freedom.  He knew that he didn’t deserve it. He knew what he had been rescued from, and he threw himself upon Jesus, offering his life to the One who had rescued him.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Corinthians 3:17 

With each note, I am declaring that I am no longer bound to my old ways of thinking and living, but have a new life in which I am free to express my love for my Savior and my thankfulness to Him.

Then Jesus came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. As was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath. And when He stood up to read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Then He rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on Him, and He began by saying, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:16-21

Yet we do have an enemy, the same enemy that was in the garden with Adam and Eve.  Like us, they chose to believe the lies that he whispered.

Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree of the garden? Genesis 3:1

But that wasn’t what God had said.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”  Genesis 2:16-17

He told them not to eat from a particular tree.  The enemy twisted what God had said, but Eve didn’t have it completely right, either.

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” Genesis 3:2-3

I wonder at this point if Eve even understood what death was.  She had not seen anything die.  The Bible clearly says that sin and death came into the world through the sin in the garden.

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Genesis 3:4-5

She chose to believe the lies and ate, and her husband, who was there when the instructions had been given, also ate.  Their eyes were opened all right, but not in the way they expected.  They were instantly aware of their sin, and they were filled with shame.  For the first time ever, they hid from the Lord who had walked with them in the garden.  Their relationship with Him, and each other, was broken.  They hid, and we’ve been hiding from God because of our sins and mistakes ever since.

Even then, the Lord had compassion on them.  He shed the first blood, right there in the beautiful garden, to make clothing for Adam and Eve.  Even then, the Lord had a plan.  Death, both the physical and the spiritual, would be overcome.  People would offer sacrifices as a temporary measure, but one day, a Savior would come who would be the final, perfect sacrifice.

According to the Law, in fact, nearly everything must be purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  Hebrews 9:22

Because Jesus shed His blood for us, we can sing songs about freedom, because we have been set free from everything that separated us from God.  But still the enemy whispers, and we often choose to believe him.

“You’re not smart enough.”

“You’re not good looking enough.”

“How could God ever love YOU?”

“You only live once, so you’d better get all you can now!”

“You deserve it.” (whatever IT is, and whatever the cost)

Just because someone chooses to follow Jesus doesn’t mean that the enemy whispers any less, in fact, I believe he whispers even more, because now they’re a threat.  He will bring up the past, distract us, and try to get us to focus on “being good” instead of spending time with Jesus.  He certainly doesn’t want you to start telling people about your newfound freedom.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be encumbered once more by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1

So how can we keep from listening to the lies?  Is there a way to block them out, or make them less effective?  Yes, there is.

Jesus said to the Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“We are Abraham’s descendants,” they answered. “We have never been slaves to anyone. How can You say we will be set free?”

Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:31-36

The Word of God is filled with so many truths and promises that we can fill up on.  The more we know the truth, the less we believe the lies.  The lies won’t stop coming, but we’ll have the weapon of truth to fight with. Spend time with Jesus.  My prayer is that you will come to know the freedom that Jesus offers, and that with that freedom, you will seek to set others free.

For you, brothers, were called to freedom; but do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh. Rather, serve one another in love. The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Galatians 5:13-14

The Bread of Life

O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  Thus I have seen You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.  Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips will praise You.  So I will bless You as long as I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.  Psalm 63:1-4

I have been contemplating something for a couple of weeks now.  I heard a song recently that talked about seeing I AM.  As I listened to the words, I heard a gentle whisper in my spirit, “I am the Bread of Life.”

Jesus is the Bread of Life

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”  John 6:35

There is so much in that sentence that I know that I cannot fully comprehend the meaning.  My understanding can only touch the tip of the iceberg.

Jesus first spoke about bread when He was being tempted in the wilderness:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry.  And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But Jesus answered, “It is written:  Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  Matthew 4:1-4

Jesus had been led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  That sentence alone is enough to cause a tremble or two, isn’t it?  You mean the Spirit leads us into the wilderness?  I don’t know about you, but being led into the wilderness doesn’t exactly sound like a good time.  Maybe for people who love camping and hiking, being led into the wilderness would seem like fun, but not to me.  But then, as if that wasn’t enough…He leads us into a place of temptation?   A time of testing, to see if we really believe what we say we believe?  How thankful I am that He promises not to allow us to be tempted beyond our endurance, and instead provides a way out.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.  1 Corinthians 10:13

Jesus is the Word made flesh

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

Jesus is life, the Word of God is life 

So…what have we been feeding on lately?

Jesus was born in Bethlehem, as was prophesied in the Old Testament.

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity.  Micah 5:2

Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.  While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.  And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  Luke 2:4-7

Did you know that Bethlehem means house of bread?  So Jesus, the Bread of Life, was born in the House of Bread.  How like God to do something so spectacular!

“I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”  John 6:45-51

Again, what have we been feeding on?

I started doing something recently that has really helped me focus on Jesus as the Bread of Life.  Maybe you already do this, but it was new for me.  At the end of 2016, a few ministries that I follow were speaking about doing communion in their quiet times with the Lord.  I’ve had communion in church, and with some home Bible study groups that I have met with, but I had never had it with only Jesus.  May I encourage you to try it if it’s not something you’ve done?

I’m reminded of a song by Michael Card, Light of the World, part of which goes like this:

You are the Bread of Life, oh Lord,

Broken to set us free

So how could there be any hunger in me

If you are the Bread of Life

You are the Bread of Life

May the Lord satisfy your every hunger for Him.

My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth offers praises with joyful lips.  When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches, for You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.  My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me.  Psalm 63:5-8

Kokabee and Hurricane Matthew

“But certainly God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, who has not turned away my prayer nor His lovingkindness from me.”  Psalm 66:19-20

One day, a few months ago, I was sitting at my desk when I suddenly felt overcome with exhaustion. Now, I’m no energizer bunny, but this was very unusual for me. I must have closed my eyes, because the next thing I knew, I dreamed of a good friend of mine, a woman with a missionary heart, standing before me. She said, “Kokabee, true love.” That was it. I was jolted awake, wondering who or what a kokabee was.

It didn’t take long to discover that Omid Kokabee was an Iranian physicist who was in jail for refusing to cooperate with officials in a nuclear military program in Iran. He had studied in the United States and Spain, and traveled home to visit. He was taken into custody when attempting to return to the U.S.

Kokabee, true love. He was unwilling to use his knowledge to harm others. Instead, he was willing to give up his freedom, give up his life, for people who may never know of, much less thank him for, his sacrifice. Sounds kind of like Jesus, doesn’t it?

“This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you.” John 15:12-14

I don’t know if he’s a believer, but we have been praying for his salvation and his freedom. If reports are to be believed, I read today that he was scheduled to be released on parole last August.

This week, Hurricane Matthew arrived off the coast of Florida, where I live. Many people were praying that this storm would not come ashore. My church alone had three prayer meetings, and I know that other churches were praying up and down the coast and in other states as well.

The projected path, within the cone, wobbled to and fro on either side of Lake Okeechobee.  I noticed that every time we had a prayer meeting, the blue cone would move to the east, but before long, it would drift back over to the west. It really seemed that it was a battle, all up and down the coast, like a great arm wrestling match.

I really believe that it was the prayers of the saints, and the Lord’s answer to those prayers, that kept the storm off land. Christians with shields raised in battle lined the coast. Then I came across these verses, in a way that only the Lord could arrange:

“Let them give glory to the Lord and declare His praise in the coastlands. The Lord will go forth like a warrior, He will arouse His zeal like a man of war. He will utter a shout, yes, He will raise a war cry. He will prevail against His enemies.” Isaiah 42:12-13

All glory, honor and praise to You, God, for delivering Your people! The Lord is good, and kind, and merciful, even when He doesn’t answer the way that we hope.

It reminded me of Kokabee. He was imprisoned for refusing to use his knowledge to harm people, many of whom would never know or thank him for his sacrifice. And how many are there here in Florida and along the east coast who are going about their business, never realizing that the prayers of the saints, and God’s answer to those prayers, have kept them safe?

We are called to stand in the gap, to be repairers of the breach. If we don’t do it, who will? We were put here for such a time as this. Let us not grow weak, let us not cease to pray for our country to turn to Him. Let us pray at all times, praying for those in authority, praying for racial unity, praying for unity within the church. Let us not grow weary in well doing. And above all, let us love well. They will know that we are His disciples when we have love for one another. Can we truly love if we’re not even willing to pray? May the love of God shine brightly in and through us as we serve one another in love.

A Sacrifice

“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.”  Psalm 147:11

There are many great, deep theological truths packed into the story of the Lord asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac – about how Isaac was offered up as a sacrifice as a preview of what was to come when God’s Son, Jesus, would be offered up as the final sacrifice for all mankind. About how the ram was caught in the thicket, a substitute for Isaac, just as Jesus became our substitute when He died on the cross as payment for our sins. About how Abraham remembered and believed God’s promise to him – that he would have a son and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, even if it required the Lord raising Isaac from the dead. About how the ram’s horns were caught in a thicket, and sinless, compassionate Jesus wore a thorny crown about His head as He became the sacrificial Lamb of God. There are many more, the depths of which humanity can only try to fully comprehend. What is on my mind most right now, though, is Abraham as a father.

Abraham was told many years before Isaac was born that he would have a son, and although he believed God, 25 years had passed between the promise and the fulfillment. Abraham finally had the son he had longed for, the son of the Promise. Now he was being asked to give him up? His only son?

For the last few days, I’ve come across this particular verse several times:  He said, “Do not stretch out your hand against the lad, and do nothing to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” Then Abraham raised his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him a ram caught in the thicket by his horns; and Abraham went and took the ram and offered him up for a burnt offering in the place of his son. Genesis 22:13

Is there something you’re holding onto with all your might?  You’re afraid to let go, afraid it will slip out of your grasp, and out of your life?  May I encourage you to hold it up as an offering, palms up, no holding back?  I can’t guarantee that you’ll be able to keep this thing, this person, whatever it is, but I can tell you that there is freedom in giving it up.

Sometimes the Lord will let you keep it. When I separated from my husband, our youngest child was seven. At that time, it wasn’t clear whether he would stay with his father or with me. It was already a very difficult time, and the thought of being away from my son, too, was almost more than I could bear. Finally, it came to the point where I had to just put the situation in the Lord’s hands and give my son to God – palms up, no holding back. I had to trust that God would do whatever was best for him, even if the best wasn’t me. The Lord was gracious, and allowed him to live with me for five years.

Sometimes the Lord will not let you keep it. Recently, I had to do that again. It was a little easier this time, because my relationship with the Lord is stronger than it was then, but it was still difficult, and I still cried a lot – not because I didn’t trust the Lord, but because I knew I would miss him so much. Sometimes I still cry, but the Lord is gracious now, too, even though my son is living in another country with his father. He is learning things that he would not have learned here with me, and experiencing the joy of being with his dad.

Whatever His answer, God is good, and He is faithful, and He comforts us and provides for us. He is our exceedingly great reward. He heals our hearts, and fills our lives with good things. He honors our sacrifices and fills the empty spaces. His ways are not our ways, but His ways are good.

Abraham called the name of that place The LORD Will Provide, as it is said to this day, “In the mount of the LORD it will be provided.” Genesis 22:14