Staying Free

Being free is hard.

It sounds easy…being rid of the metaphorical chains that bind you to literal misery…having the ability to move about, run away, make your own choices…

But being free is hard.

Because it takes intentional effort and vigilance to remain free.

The Israelites are a good case study. (Aren’t they always?)

They were enslaved in Egypt, worked ragged, abused, and then God/Moses led them to freedom. Pharaoh decided to let the Israelites go, granting them the ability to trudge out into the desert, move around as they wished, run away from the oppression, and make their own choices…they left with tons of goods, and the Lord Himself showed them the way they should go.

They were finally free.

About one month after they were set free, the Israelites were out of water and low on food. Because they were free, it was up to them to provide for themselves…maybe they didn’t know how since they never had to do so previously…or maybe the nomadic existence made it difficult to have reliable, regular sources of food and water…or maybe the unforgiving desert is to blame for their lack of resources.

Whatever the reasons, Exodus 16:2-3 reads, “In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'”

The gnawing hunger and parched mouths led the Israelites to long for the days when they were enslaved in Egypt. Their unmet physical needs actually made them think they would prefer beatings and unreasonable work loads to being free from the inhumane abuse to which they were accustomed if that meant they’d get an all-you-can-eat buffet each day.

This wouldn’t be the only time the Israelites grumbled against Moses, despising him for taking them out of their Egyptian slavery. Many times, in fact, the group said they’d prefer being enslaved again to having their freedom, as long as their stomachs were filled.

Not many of us are the kind of slaves the Israelites were in Egypt. But we all have our own masters, nonetheless.

Sometimes we let people control us…sometimes it’s food or exercise or shopping or alcohol or tobacco or prescription drugs or illegal drugs or lust or greed or ambition or achievement or money or recognition or work or ministry or volunteerism or love for our children or spouse that relentlessly drives us to unhealthy ends.

We humans can make masters out of anything. Literally.

God designed us to serve Him…to be ruled by Him…to submit to His will…to worship Him…and if we don’t, we take our service-oriented natures and our default tendencies to worship elsewhere.

We all enslave ourselves to someone or something.

(And if you’re thinking, “I don’t…you’re probably enslaved to yourself. You probably do whatever you want to satisfy you. In essence, you are your own god.)

We all become enslaved to things that aren’t God at some point.

The good news is we can gain our freedom.

If we pursue breaking free from that master, we can often learn how to gain control over our “issue”. Which is great!

To no longer be controlled by what someone else thinks or by an addiction of any kind is true freedomAnd it is an amazing, healthy place to be.

But.

Being free is hard.

Because it takes intentional effort and vigilance to remain free.

Whatever controlled us before will pop up again, and, just like the Israelites, there will be times we long to return to our former masters, cruel and unhealthy as they may be.

We will be tempted to willingly return to our unhealthy behaviors that were so easy and so comfortable in the past. When our old masters seem to beckon us, we have to work to maintain our freedom from them.

How?

By reminding ourselves of the truth. Any master who is not God will not satisfy us. They can’t.

By remembering how miserable we were when we were enslaved to ________. The grass is not greener on the other side, and nostalgia is more akin to fantasy than historical biography.

By reminding ourselves of the joy we experience when we make God our Master. Recall times you’ve been satisfied in Him worshiping, reading scripture, serving, ministering…

By asking the Holy Spirit to empower us to resist the lure of former masters. The Spirit is real and He really can enable us to resist temptation and see through lies.

By talking through our desires to return to unhealthy masters with encouraging friends and family. Don’t let shame that you even have the thought to sin keep you from opening up to someone about your struggle. Because guess what…we all think about sinning every single day. It’s called being human. And when we try to fight our impulses on our own, our success rate is dramatically lower than when we call on our brothers and sisters in Christ to help us.

Getting free is hard.

And staying free is hard.

Lord, help us make an intentional effort to remain free so we may serve You only, our one true Master.

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The Problem with Reading Through the Bible in a Year

Last year I jumped on the band wagon and read through the entire Bible in a year. I’m glad I did it. It forced me to read parts of the Bible I rarely venture into, and it gave me a good overall view of all that Scripture contains.

When I finished, I started over. Mostly because an amazing Bible teacher whom I think the world of told me that she has read through the Bible every year for 30 some odd years. She said it very humbly and without a hint of bragging simply to make the point that, although she has never been to seminary, she has a thorough understanding of the Bible because she spends time studying everyday.

I was inspired. I want to know the Bible inside and out, just as she does, so I figured I ought to do what she does and read through the Bible every year for the rest of my life.

Well… the calender tells me I should be over halfway done with this year’s reading, but I am only one third of the way through. I’m finding myself frustrated with my Bible-reading plan lately, unmotivated to keep plugging along…

Am I allowed to say that?

I’m a Bible teacher and a woman with a Bible degree and someone who loves Scripture immensely… but I’m also someone who wants to quit reading through the Bible in a year…

And I have to ask myself why…

Clearly, I think Bible literacy is hugely important, and the more we read and study, the better we will know God. But trying to cram 5 or 6 chapters into one sitting every single day is leaving me empty. There isn’t enough time to ponder, reflect, and digest what’s being communicated. I am more focused on checking off the chapters I’ve read than on listening to what the Holy Spirit is trying to communicate to me. The reading plan makes me feel rushed and pressured, so my reading becomes rote and dry…

image via Rawich/freedigitalphotos.net
image via Rawich/freedigitalphotos.net

And, really, what’s the point of that? To accomplish some goal I can feel proud of? While it would make me feel good to be 60 years old and able to say, “I’ve read through the Bible every year for the past 32 years,” that’s not why I read the Bible.

I read the Bible because it is the living Word of God, which means God Himself uses the words on the page to speak to my spirit, personally. That is a thrill that delights me more than anything else this side of Heaven.

And for me, the problem with reading through the Bible in a year is that the sheer volume of information doesn’t allow me the time to stop and listen to the Holy Spirit. It’s when I slow down and ponder a handful of verses at a time that I most often hear from the Lord.

So yesterday I shelved my plan. Plans are not bad, mind you. They can help keep us accountable to staying in the Word… but I may exchange my old plan for a read-through-the-Bible-in-three-years plan to break it down into a more meaningful portion.

The Lord affirmed this decision yesterday. I cracked open Psalm 119 and read the first two verses. That’s all. He spoke so intimately through the second verse, there was no need to read on.  He and I thought through and had relationship as a result of my reading just a couple of verses instead of hundreds.

If your current Bible-reading plan isn’t cutting it for you, I hope you feel the freedom to change it up. He wants you; find an approach that will give Him that.

All is Grace

Ann Voskamp has a favorite saying, “All is grace.”  There is something good about everything, namely that everything affords us the opportunity to grow closer to God.

Even the bad things that happen have a good component.  Extreme tragedies, for example, are our invitations to deeper intimacy with the Lord as we wrestle in conversation with Him over His allowing the tragedies.  We are drawn to Him out of anger over the event, demanding answers and explanations.  But as we pursue Him, He reveals His tender, personal love for us in a way we cannot see when we don’t come to Him.  And we are changed by His love.

All is grace.

Psalm 145:8-9 says, “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.  The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.”

All.

Even those who do not accept His existence.  Even those who worship His nemesis.  The Lord is gracious to all.  Because all is grace.  Unbelievers experience blessings every day, not the least of which is they haven’t been eternally judged yet.  He is patient, not wanting any to perish but everyone to understand their need for His love (2 Pe 3:9).

James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father,” (James 1:17).

I typically only believe this verse applies to BIG gifts.  My husband, by children, my salvation – these are from the Father, and I am thankful for them.

But the little gifts I take for granted, not noticing that I am literally surrounded by sweet nothings from the Lord, day in and day out.

My 2 yr old’s little hand resting on top of mine.

My 5 yr old’s laugh.

My husband’s freshly-shaven face.

The aroma of cookies baking.

All is grace.  All is a good and perfect gift from the Father, meant to draw me closer to the Giver.

Lord, help me to see these gifts all around me, and use them to deepen my affection for You, the One who spoils me so with His infinite love.

Spiritual Freedom Isn’t Free

People are under the impression that they aren’t free unless they are allowed to do whatever they want.  But that definition of freedom is lacking.  Due to human nature, when we are allowed to do whatever we want, we freely choose to do things that will eventually enslave us.

The Israelites proved this a millionty times.  At least.  And I’ve proved it more times than I care to count.

The Israelites were told twice BY GOD to not intermarry with the idol-worshipers around them because they would surely be lured into participating in idol worship if they did (Exodus 34:15-16; Deuteronomy 7:3-4).  And the Israelites managed to obey while Joshua was alive.

But after he died, their brains stopped working.  More accurately, “…another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10).

Where did this lack of Bible knowledge and personal relationship with God get the Israelites?

“Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord…They forsook the Lord…they followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them.  They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served [idols]” (Judges 2:11-13).

What we have here is a people who decided they wanted to do whatever they wanted to do.  No more obeying Someone else’s rules.  They wanted to be free!

So, they intermarried and served other gods (Judges 3:6).

They were free to live how they wanted to live!  They were making their own choices.  They weren’t hurting anybody, just marrying whomever they wished and worshiping whatever they wished.

Hmm…sounds like the modern day definition of “tolerance”…

But this tolerance – this freedom – cost the Israelites dearly.  Those very foreigners with whom they lived, with whom they made families, and with whom they worshiped turned on them.  They enslaved the Israelites.

When Israel made their own choices, they thought they were gaining freedom, but they quickly became enslaved.  Every time God bailed them out of slavery, they freely chose to return to the evil practices that had resulted in captivity.  Over and over and over again.

This is no kind of freedom.  In fact, it sounds like the opposite of freedom.

By exercising their free will, Israel became hopelessly addicted to evil.

And I do too.

Whenever I am feeling self-righteous, I raise my fist in the air and say, “I am tired of living by God’s rules!  I want to do what I want to do.  I am an adult, for crying out loud!  I ought to be able to make my own choices.”

And I set out with my defiant heart, freely choosing to engage in activities and relationships that the Lord has told me to stay away from.  I like that I am making my own choices.

For a little while.

Until I realize that I have lost the ability to refrain from doing that which God tells me I should not be doing.  If I don’t have the ability to not do something, I don’t have freedom after all…  Rather, I am enslaved to that something.  It has control over me.  And that is not at all what I had planned.  That’s not what I was going for when I declared my freedom from the Lord.

So I cry out to Him.  And He rescues me.  He loves me too much not to.

And then I am all good.  I realize the error of my ways and never error that way again.  Until that rebellious nature of mine flares up again…

Paul sums it up best by saying the only time you and I are actually free from the dominion of sin is when we are living in the power of Christ (Galatians 5:1).  Without His defeat of sin, we are hopelessly controlled by it.  But by His defeat of sin, we have the power to resist it.

The power to choose to not sin…that sounds like freedom.

image via Crosscards.com