What Do We Do With The Shell?

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A minister in a small town was having trouble with his collections. So one Sunday he announced from the pulpit: “Before we pass the collection plate, I would like to request that the person who stole the chickens from Brother Harvey’s henhouse to please refrain from giving any money to the Lord. The Lord doesn’t want money from a thief.” The collection plate was passed around, and for the first time in many months, everybody gave.

What is that old saying, “Two things are certain, death and taxes.” We probably prepare better for the taxes than we do for the death. Yet, one of the major issues of scripture is to prepare us for our death.

After attending Brooks’ high school commencement I came to the conclusion that the commencement speaker is like the body at an Irish wake. They need you in order to have a party, but nobody expects you to say very much.

As ministers, our role is to prepare the congregation for the party! But unlike the commencement speaker, what I have to say is very important. For the believer and the non-believer, there are two certainties – we will either die one day or we will be raptured before our death. Paul writes: Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.

In scripture the style of burial wasn’t as important as the preparation for death. The believers lived their lives as if today was the last day. How sudden that change can come; …but we will all be changed in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye….It is a loving act to prepare for death, but many live in fear and are afraid of tomorrow. When and where possible, make funeral arrangements. At the very least have a living will. When Vickie was battling her cancer, it became necessary to put into writing what we had often talked about not having heroic measures taken to prolong life. I remember how angry she got with the doctor when she was admitted to the hospital that last time and he asked for her “living will.” For her, it seemed he was giving up. Perhaps that is why many of us avoid “living wills,” we feel it forces the doctor to give up hope.

When we are prepared for death, we make the task of dying easier for ourselves and for those whom we love.

Traditions around the world dictate the different styles of burial. In some places because of space and tradition, cremation is the option used in death. Most places choose to bury their dead. By far most of those bury in the ground. Some by tradition like the American Indian, buried above ground. Others like in southern Louisiana bury above ground because of the high water table. In the middle east burial was the preferred style. The wealthy were buried in caves or tombs dug in the sides of hills. The poor were buried in the ground in no special fashion.

Why this fashion of burial? Early Jewish tradition dictated that at the resurrection the graves would open and the bodies would come forth. Job writes, I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; The body of Moses is retrieved from death by Michael and given to God. Even in the New Testament we find evidence of this: The graves in Jerusalem breaking open following the crucifixion of Christ. It was Jewish belief that no dead person should be embalmed or cremated. The body came from the ground and to the ground it must return. Nothing was to interfere with the deterioration of the body as it prepares for the resurrection. Our American traditions come from this background.

As a Christian, what shall be do with this earthen vessel when our life has ended? What comes of this body, this earthen vessel, is of little importance. You hear the minister standing at the grave, “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, but the spirit has returned to God who gave it….For the Christian, the body has served its purpose, it is the spirit that goes on and never dies. In death the body and soul separate. The body decays and the soul returns to God who created it.

Is it acceptable for the Christian to be cremated? Yes! Burning the body does not destroy the soul. Paul in the great love chapter writes, If I surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Paul held no fear of how he died or what happened to the body.

Whether we are buried at sea, give our bodies to science, or consumed in an atomic bomb, the spirit returns to God. Paul says, “with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. What will rise? I don’t know, but it will be spiritual not physical. John says, I Jn 3:2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

Paul writes to the Church at Rome and saying nothing can separate us! Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Not even death!

Did you hear about the classified ad that read something like this: “Lost – One dog. Brown hair with several mange spots. Right leg broken due to auto accident. Rear left hip hurt. Right eye missing. Left ear bitten off in dog fight. Answers to name ‘lucky.'” Lucky? Of course! That was a lucky dog. He was lucky because, with all those things wrong with him, somebody still wanted him and was willing to pay to get him back. Isn’t that the story of the gospel? With all of our sin and rebellion, God still loved us enough to pay the ultimate price to win us back to Himself.

Finding The Meaning Of Life

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There is a small town in Tennessee that had a place of worship with a sign in front that read: “LEFT FOOT BAPTIST CHURCH.” A student had passed by it many times, chuckled to himself and wondered about the meaning of the name of the church. Finally, one day, waiting for his bus, the student asked somebody in the town about the significance of the rather unusual name for the church. It seems that a number of years ago, there had been a split in the local congregation which practiced foot-washing. An argument broke out over which foot should be washed first. And the group insisting on the left foot taking precedence finally withdrew and split off to organize its own church, and named its congregation accordingly! “LEFT FOOT BAPTIST CHURCH.” A division like that might be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

Almost everything has a story behind it. And so does human existence. We sometimes confuse “meaning” of life and “purpose” of life. Purpose of life is what am I going to do in these years of life that I have upon the face of the earth. In other words, what am I going to do with myself in this lifetime? Meaning of life is quite different, because it asks the single question, “why was I born?” It has to be more than the simple answer of the results of two people being in love.

When God created the Heavenly Host (Seraphs, Cherubs, Archangel, Angels) He instantly set what He had created in Heaven. Think about it for one moment. To be created and instantly be placed in Heaven. There are some benefits in that – no sickness, no death, no unemployment, very little difficulty. There are also some things missing in that concept, ignorance, marriage, possessions, total freedom, etc. Creation was wonderful as God had created everything.

Then sin entered the picture, as Lucifer and his followers (1/3 of the angels in Heaven) were tossed out. They had avoided what you and I dread, disease, pain, death, broken relationships, and yet they wanted more…to be God. Upon making that choice, they were tossed out.

It is interesting how the book of Genesis opens. Gen 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The Hebrew wording here leaves open the chaos that ensued following God’s creation and subsequent fall of the angelic host.

Then God changes His plan, lets do creation differently. God creates humanity in His own image. That means that we were designed very similar to the angelic host, with the ability to reason, to know the difference between right and wrong, the ability to love and hate, and we were created with a soul. The difference now was that following our creation we were not placed immediately into Heaven but upon the face of this earth.

All at once I discover the meaning of why was I born? That I may in this lifetime have an opportunity to choose to love God. The whole purpose of this lifetime is to prepare us for eternity. Our existence is to allow us this choice!

Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? We understand Job’s dilemma, for life certainly has not been easy for him. But without even realizing it, Job is drawing closer to God. The very reason for this life, to prepare us for God. The whole meaning of earthly existence lies, not in prosperity, but in the development of the soul. Job’s question is a good question, “Why was I born?” Answer: “To give us an opportunity to accept God’s love.”

So if the meaning of life is to find God, then what purpose do we have in our course of life? In December 1990, George Gallup delivered a talk at Princeton Theological Seminary in which he shared six basic spiritual needs of Americans as revealed through surveys and research on many topics. The need to believe that life is meaningful and has a purpose. (2/3 of those interviewed did not believe that churches were effectively meeting this need).

Pollsters say, “one out of five Americans feel life is meaningless.” Jesus recognized such feelings among His countrymen when He noted they were like sheep without a shepherd. To all those people wandering in a wilderness without meaning, Jesus has promised purpose and hope. Do you know anybody who is just living for the day they can retire and take it easy? Recent studies have been conducted by the insurance industry concerning retired military officers and businessmen who were looking forward to retiring and relaxing after 30 years of hard work. The results indicated that “just kicking back in retirement” leads to a funeral in 4 to 7 years. Longevity requires a purposeful retirement that includes meaningful hobbies, ongoing relationships, and sustained involvement.

When Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl was arrested by the Nazis in World War II, he was stripped of everything-property, family, possessions. “How should I have interpreted such a ‘coincidence’ other than as a challenge to “live” my thoughts, instead of merely putting them on paper?” Later, as Frankl reflected on his ordeal, he wrote in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning”, “There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life…. ‘He who has a “why” to live for can bear almost any “how”‘.”

Matt 22:34-40 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’

We have a great destiny: 1 Cor 6:2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

Understanding Hell

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A man awakened in the hospital after an operation. It was dark in the room, all the curtains and blinds were drawn. “Nurse! Nurse!” shouted the man, “why is it so dark in here? I want to see outside.” “Now, now, Sir, be patient,” she replied. I drew the curtains because there’s a terrible fire in the building next door and I didn’t want you to think the operation was a failure.”

Walter Hooper, who was C. S. Lewis’s personal secretary, laughed when he read the following grave inscription: Here lies an atheist, All dressed up with no place to go. Lewis, however, did not completely share in his laughter. He responded soberly, “I’m sure he wishes now that were true.” Hell is a sobering reality for those who don’t believe.

Some people don’t believe in hell. They argue against such a place and claim they will simply “take their chances.” Is that really a good gamble? Even if you’re not religious, those kinds of odds are worth reevaluating. Let’s say a non-believer insists there is no hell but concedes there is a 10% chance he may be wrong. He still isn’t worried about the odds but let’s now ask him to board a jet that has a 1 in 10 chance (10%) of crashing. Will he buy a ticket to sit on that plane? Not likely because it isn’t a “safe bet.” Yet, he’s hedging the same odds when he concedes there is a small chance a place called hell does indeed exist. Gambling with your soul is far more serious than taking a daring airline flight. Freedom of religion is the God-given right for each individual to choose to go to hell the human ways or to go to heaven God’s way. The concept of Hell appears in Jewish writings during the Babylonian Exile. The Hebrew people have always felt that there was an evil force in the world and a place for the wicked to be punished. However, until they were exposed to the Babylonians that did not have the language to express their understanding and belief.

There are four (4) words in the original Scriptures that we get the term “Hell” from in our English. “Tartaroo” is used only once in scripture (2 Peter 2:4) and means to incarcerate. Clearly those who are in Tartaroo are confined and not free to do as they choose. Sheol is a term borrowed from the Greeks and was “the place of the dead”. We are not talking about the grave, but the place of those who have departed from this life. The psalmist prays: “Do not drag me away with the wicked and with those who work iniquity” (28:3). Hades is the NT term most used and rendered “hell.” The distinction thus recognized between “hades” and “Sheol” is that Hades is a place of misery. Gehenna was a true Jewish term that became Hell. The valley of Hinnom. A place where the Jewish apostasy, the rites of Molech, were celebrated (1 Kings 11:7). It was converted by King Josiah into a place of abomination, where dead bodies were thrown and burned (2 Kings 23:13-14). Hence the place served as a symbol, and the name was appropriated to designate the abode of lost spirits.
The word occurs in the NT, and in every case it is properly translated “hell,” denoting the eternal state of the lost after resurrection.

Jesus tells a story (Luke 16:19) that brings all of these concepts together.
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, `Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ “He answered, `Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

Our Scripture text today from Revelation gives us the most vivid picture of Hell to be found in scripture. It is called a prison. The condemned will be thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the devil, beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

A rabbi dreamed he had been given the opportunity to see both heaven and hell. He was directed to a closed door and informed that hell existed beyond the doorway. As he entered the room he was surprised to see a banquet hall that was set for a feast. Everything was exquisitely prepared but all of the diners moaned and wailed in agony. In the center of the table was a mouthwatering dish of food and each person had a very long spoon set beside them. The spoon was long enough for one to dish out the food, but too long to reach one’s mouth. Consequently, they were unable to eat and were shrieking with pains of hunger. The horror was more than the rabbi could bear so he asked to leave. When he opened the door to heaven he was petrified to see the same scene. Everything was the same except laughter replaced the pitiful cries. The difference in the two places was that those in heaven did not cry over their inability to feed themselves, but celebrated the privilege of feeding each other with the same long spoons. The law of the harvest promises joy to those who joyfully serve others.

C. S. Lewis said, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” A man who lives in Maine told of his little hometown by the name of Flagstaff. He said several years ago the town was flooded as part of a large lake for which a corps of engineers built a sizeable dam. He said the most painful part of this experience, besides the relocation, was watching his hometown die. He said improvements and repairs ceased. Why paint a house that will soon be covered with water? Why repair a building when the whole village will soon be wiped out? Rubbish collected in the streets and week after week the process of deterioration set in.

Then he closed by making this very telling observation. “When there is no faith in the future, there is no power in the present.” I think he’s right, because without hope, without a sense of something beyond our immediate problems, we become overwhelmed. Without hope, without the feeling of something that will outlast this current dilemma, we despair.

Jesus said, (Matt 7:13) “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Waste and Grace

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A man once said, “The church is like manure. Pile it up, and it stinks up the neighborhood; spread it out, and it enriches the world.” The Church always struggles with the issue of evangelism. Sometimes we want to close up in a little shell. We want to protect ourselves and keep everything as it is. My brother pastored a church that the finest house in the town was the church parsonage. Why? Years ago, the church had neglected the residence for the minister, so a lady in the church, when she died she left her farm to the congregation. The stipulation was that the church could not sell the farm and all proceeds from the farm could only be used for the upkeep of the parsonage. I guess we reap what we sow as a church. Jesus said, I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.

I had in my front yard a “Global Locust” which was a very pretty tree. It was a very brittle and frail tree that was always being damaged by storms. However, it was a tree the was very prolific and would not die. Sprouts from the tree pop up in the yard, my flowers beds and even in the cracks in the sidewalk. The presence of the tree is evident all over the front lawn! In many years of living in that same house I have pulled, cut and poisoned those shoots and nothing has stopped that trees attempts to multiply. Jesus words again, But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

All at once we realize the power of the seed. This tiny seed that falls in cracks in rocks and grows into a huge tree and shatters the rock in the process. That is great power. Lotus seeds were found in 1995 in a dry lake bed in China. They were 1,288 years old! Seven of them were obtained by the University of California at LA. The seeds were germinated, sprouted, and a plant grew from them. A seed can hold life for 1,288 years, that is power!

What I find challenging about our lesson today is that the reason of God stands opposed to the reason that you and I use everyday. Num 20:7-11 The LORD said to Moses,”Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.

Matt 17:24-27 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. “What do you think, Simon?” Jesus asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes– from their own sons or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin.

That day Jesus went out of the house at Capernaum, and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. The land around the Sea of Galilee gently slopes toward the sea.

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop– a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.”

Why does this farmer waste all of this seed? Wouldn’t it be better if the farmer only put the seed on the good soil? This is valuable seed. The farmer knows that it isn’t going to do any good to plant seed on the rocks or in the weeds. Look at how this farmer wasts the seed! He casts it everywhere that he can cast it. On the rocks, on the path and in the weeds. What a waste, or is it?

Serving the purpose of God is never a waste. How many times do we plant a seed that we don’t realize will take root one day. We don’t realize what seeds we plant in the little children we teach in Sunday school. We don’t realize what seeds we plant as we visit the shut-ins. We don’t realize what seeds we plant as we minister to those who have no family. The seeds are falling all over the place. Shouldn’t we cut the funding and only put it in areas that we see benefit?

Isa 55:10-11 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

As a young man, John Harvard emigrated from England to the United States. All predicted the brightest future for him as a brilliant scholar. He died after only one year. When he died, he left a little over 700 pounds and a collection of more than 200 books for a new university. Harvard University! The death of John Harvard looked like waste, but it produced an abundant harvest. The harvest is sure.

What Is Sin, Anyway?

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What is sin? In a sermon on “sin,” a preacher announced that there were seven hundred eighty-nine different sins. A few days later the mailman delivered ninety-four requests from members of his congregation for a list of the seven hundred eighty-nine sins.

In scripture “sin” is a falling away from or missing the right path. It is not an act as much as a relationship. The underlying idea of sin is that of law and of a lawgiver. Hence sin is everything in the disposition and purpose and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God.

The sinfulness of sin lies in the fact that it is against God, even when the wrong we do is to others or ourselves. Sin therefore is nothing more or less than “disobedience.” When Jesus is asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” We are expecting Him to say something like, “You shall not kill,” or “To have no other gods before Me.” However, Jesus’ response is: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. It is a relationship, not a law!

I see a society today very much like in the day of the Pharisee, very legalistic.
But how many of us know that we can obey the law and miss the intent? “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices– mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law– justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.

In the concept of “original” sin, it is believe that because of Adam and Eve’s sin that we are born sinners. What was Adam and Eve’s sin? Disobedience.
I don’t believe that we are born sinners, but I do believe that we are born into a very sinful world. As a result of that we easily start participating in a life of sin.

Let us contrast two events in scripture to better understand the issue of sin.
The first is the fall of Lucifer in Isaiah. How you have fallen from heaven,
Why is Lucifer cast out of Heaven? Sin! You said in your heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain.” In other words, he wants to be like God, no, he wants to be God.

The sum of all the commandments is love; sin in its nature is egotism and selfishness. What is at the bottom? Disobedience, and it becomes hostility to God when it collides with His law.

Let us contrast that with the temptations of Jesus at the end of His 40 day fast. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Where is it wrong to change the stones into bread if we are hungry? Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” He is God, He can do anything He wants to do. Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” This is the first temptation of Jesus that directly breaks a law of God. Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

The law is solely for our benefit, in God’s eye, sin is sin. Save the Unpardonable Sin, all sin has the same value, death. The sin of stealing just like the sin of murder will get us thrown into Hell. There is no difference between a white lie and a black lie, sin is sin.

Defying God’s laws is wilful disobedience. Disobedience destroys relationships and even our relationship with God. The whole purpose of “grace” was to re-establish that relationship.

Between my junior and senior years in college, I worked at the Department of Human Services in Oldham County, Kentucky. I met a beautiful girl who was also working in that same office. We started dating and had lots of fun. On our sixth date, she made an advance toward me. Sure, the physical attraction was there! She knew what I stood for, I had been clear from the very beginning. I had even taken her to church with me. She knew my plans for the ministry. When the advance came, I was not flattered. Her concluding words were, “I am not jail bait.” Those words were not an invitation for me but a conclusion. The only question that I had was, “Who do I love more, her or Jesus?” I took her to her home and dropped her off. There was the most freeing feeling going home.

Time magazine had a report (Jan 11, 82) on Children of War. The report included interviews with children now growing up in war-torn Ireland, Israel, Lebanon, Cambodia and Viet Nam. In Ireland, Elizabeth Crawford was just 16, one of ten children. Her mother was senselessly caught in the crossfire. Her friend Patrick was also killed. Her grandfather was shot. When we were younger we couldn’t understand it. We didn’t know where to turn or who to blame. We asked, Why is all this happenin’ to us? The reporters asked her “Did it shake your belief in God?” “Not in God. In man.”

Sin is humanities problem! God is the answer to that question.

True Freedom

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This is the day when Americans celebrate our national independence. We give thanks to God that we have been allowed to have this freedom. We are free! We can speak, think, travel, believe, and do as we please. That is what freedom is all about. And yet the age we live in, is not known for its freedom but for our anxiety. We are anxious about many things: Having enough money. Having good health. Being secure and safe.

Most of us define freedom as “being free to do what we want.” But my question is, “Are we really free?” Are we free to do what we want? Is freedom even good for us?

Our Western concept of freedom comes from a mixture of two teachings on freedom. The middle eastern concept of freedom was a socio-political freedom. The Jewish community did not like to be under the control of the Roman empire, even when life was really better for them under Roman authority. For them freedom was a political issue. The European concept of freedom is not so much political as it is personal attitudes. The Greeks and Romans valued freedom of thought much more than political freedom. Viktor Frankl wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning. He found that even amid the horrors of a Nazi prison, when all freedom was taken away, there were some prisoners who remained strangely , free. He found that the greatest freedom was to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.

Most of us have difficulty with freedom, we abuse and we misuse it. Oh, we want our freedom and our liberty, but when we have it we don’t know what to do with it. (Romans 7:14-20) We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do– this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. When Paul became a Christian he was set free! He didn’t have the weight of all the ceremonial laws. He didn’t have the detail of all the Jewish laws. For Paul it was a paradox: To be free and yet continue to sin and do what you shouldn’t do. But that helped Paul understand “grace.”

Paul expresses a concern about being UNEQUALLY YOKED in marriage. A relationship with God is a lot like a marriage. Time magazine reported (1/22/95) that the earthquake in Kobe, Japan, occurred when two plates on a fault line fifteen miles offshore suddenly shifted against each other, violently lurching six to ten feet in opposite directions. Thousands died. More than 46,000 buildings lay in ruins. One-fifth of the city’s population was left instantly homeless. Two people committed to each other but going in different directions can only lead to trouble. The same with God.

I think at the heart of the gospel there is a paradoxical claim that only as our lives are linked to Christ, only as our lives are bent toward his will, that we are free. St. Augustine first noted this when he was a young man converted to Christ. While young he lived a rather carefree life and even had a child out of wedlock. He noted that freedom means to be free, not to do what we want to do, but rather to be free to be whom God intends us to be.

A young man in a parish I served became an attorney. He was invited by a big law firm for an interview. A member of the firm casually mentioned that one of their clients was a company that ran all of the video poker and gambling operations in the state. “There are a number of questions which are up for grabs, but that’s not one of them.” I believe that such activities are a sign of bad government and are wrong.” “But its all legal.” “It may be legal, but it is not ethical.”

Who is free in this story? The one trapped in the system? Or the young man that knows who he is and to whom he belongs?

Do you really want to taste freedom? Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. There are a lot of us who are weary and burdened. We understand the pain of life and are not really free. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. The “yoke” Jesus refers to is well illustrated by the process of training a young bullock to plow. In some parts of the world, the farmer will have the young bullock harnessed to the same yoke as a mature ox. The bullock, dwarfed by the other animal, will not even be pulling any of the weight. It is merely learning to walk in a field under control and with a yoke around its neck; the ox pulls all the weight. It is the same when a believer takes Christ’s yoke. As the Christian learns, the yoke is easy and the burden light.

Freedom comes when you know who owns you. Robert Browning was right when he wrote, “So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!” Jesus said, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Learning To Pray: Travailing Prayer

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Two small boys walked into the dentist’s office. One of them said bravely, “I want a tooth taken out and I don’t want any gas, and I don’t want it deadened . . . because we’re in a hurry!” The dentist said, “You’re quite a brave young man. Which tooth is it?” The boy turned to his smaller friend and said, “Show him your tooth, Albert.” The world is full of volunteers like that. We’re anxious to have something happen — to someone else! We don’t mind God changing the world — as long as He doesn’t bring any pain into our lives.

Remember that old poem, “I walked a mile with pleasure; she chatted all the way; but left me none the wiser for all she had to say. I walked a mile with sorrow, and ne’er a word said she; but, oh! the things I learned from her,when sorrow walked with me.

Travailing prayer is prayer that comes in the time of crisis. C. S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures . . . but shouts in our pains.” Our last three sermons on prayer have come from Jesus’ prayer in the Garden which is in crisis. Luke describes it this way, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Now, the crisis heightens and the trauma is very real at the crucifixion. Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Paul writes to the young Hebrew Church and says (5:7), During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. That is Travailing pray!

The question is, “Is a prayer in crisis more powerful that any other prayer?”
God hears all prayers! The prayer of the sinner. The prayer of the unbeliever, if there is such a thing. Furthermore, God knows our need before we even ask. So, why are travailing prayers so different and so powerful?

(Gen 21:8-19) The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.” Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

God does permit us pain but then he gives us also the strength to bear it. God does allow us problems but then he gives us also the wit to solve them. God never allows us darkness but that he gives us faiths that there will also be a morning. And when he gives us mud he also gives us children to play in it.

Severe trials come at a cost, but they also have great rewards. Take away my capacity for pain and you rob me of the possibility for joy. Take away my ability to fail and I would not know the meaning of success. Let me be immune to rejection and heartbreak and I could not know the glory of living.

I believe that God has a heart for those who are in trouble. King David said of God, “…for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble.” Prayer is not a matter of getting what we want the most. Prayer is a matter of giving ourselves to God and learning his laws, so that he can do through us what he wants the most.

Think of the last thing you prayed about–were you devoted to your desire or to God? Determined to get some gift of the Spirit or to get at God? “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The point of asking is that you may get to know God better. “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Keep praying in order to get a perfect understanding of God Himself. The reason travailing prayer is so powerful; it is so pure!