Freedom is a State of Mind

I am learning a lot lately from a friend who by conventional definition is living in bondage; yet he has claimed power and freedom in a way that inspires and instructs me, because it transcends his circumstance. His choice to live purposefully calls to my mind similar lessons from the Israelites, Joseph and Paul.

Captive

Although God led the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, they continued to live with a captive’s mindset. They even fantasized about their days in bondage: “There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out in the desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” (Exodus 16:3)

To embrace the freedom God offered came at a price: they needed to trust and obey him:

To fear the LORD you God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’s commands and decrees….” (Deuteronomy 11:12-13)

We tend to view laws and rules as restrictions of our freedom, not gateways to it; but God’s laws lead to freedom as they lead away from the bondage of sin. We need look no further than our own lives to know that greater freedom is found in:

  • relationship with God than in seeking satisfaction in the world
  • nourishing gratitude over comparison (i.e., covetousness)
  • speaking life over giving voice to gossip, deceit and mischief
  • seeking peace within relationships rather than tolerating discord
  • offering forgiveness rather than bearing the burdens of anger and resentment

The God “who brought you out of Egypt” reminded the Israelites that to walk with God is to experience his goodness in abundance:

But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven. It is a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. (Deuteronomy 11:11)

What thoughts, ideas or mindsets hold you captive, deceive you into victimhood or keep you stuck? Will you invite God to transform your mind so that you may “be confident that you will see his goodness in the land of the living”? (Psalm 27:13) 

Capitalize

I wrote about Joseph earlier this year (Big Dreams); he, like my friend, rejected a captive’s mindset. For “while Joseph was there in prison the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” (Genesis 39: 20-23)

Joseph did not wield power over his fellow prisoners; instead he was a servant leader, extending himself to help them in times of trouble, including the baker and the cupbearer. Yet even when they forgot him, God was with Joseph. Joseph held onto that truth and resisted despair by trusting the Lord’s timing and purpose.

Joseph capitalized on his situation to be who God called him to be…not at some future date, but right then and there, and each day after throughout his life.

What situations, circumstances or forces of opposition restrict you?What are you waiting for? Will you trust that God is with you, and step out in victory to walk through this day and each day knowing that the Lord works all things for good for those who love him? (Romans 8:28)

Captivated

Paul miraculously transcends imprisonment, brutality and persecution by embracing his identity in Jesus, proudly describing himself as:

a slave of Christ Jesus, chosen by God to be an apostle and sent out to preach his Good News.

Romans 1:1

He explains the paradox of his situation this way:

For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.

1 Corinthians 7:22

Paul began life as Saul of Tarsus, a scholarly and devout follower of the Law, who later repents of persecuting followers of the Way and becomes not only a follower of Jesus, but one persecuted relentlessly for his beliefs, a veritable slave to his faith.

Yet even when the doors of his earthly prison cell were opened miraculously, Paul chose continued imprisonment as an act of love for the guard who arguably was both his enemy and persecutor. (Acts 16:16-40)

Paul wrote half of the New Testament, mostly behind prison walls. He shows us by example that freedom (and bondage) are a state of mind. In dismal circumstances Paul suffered joyfully for the opportunity to extend Christ’s love to others and to use his suffering for God’s glory.

Paul lived in the knowledge that freedom is found in a relationship with Jesus, who accepted the death penalty in our place, and through his resurrection broke the chains of sin and death for anyone who accepts his free, yet priceless gift.

Will you invite Jesus to reveal his purpose, his promise and his great love for you, so that you may experience the freedom he won for you right here, right now?

Will you pray that others in your life in bondage to thoughts or circumstances also will discover the freedom found in Christ alone?

 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

Romans 8: 18-21

Stories of Remembrance

Throughout the Exodus God maintains a delicate balance as he raises up his chosen people.

First he seeks to be known, punctuating each display of his might and miraculous provision with, “Then you will know that I am the LORD.”

Second, even as the story unfolds in the back-and-forth struggle of God’s faithful love for a stubbornly faithless people (who bear a uncomfortable resemblance to us today), the Lord is intentional about archiving stories of remembrance for the generations to come.

After they cross the Red Sea and escape the Egyptians God tells Moses that when they reach the Promised Land, the Israelites are to consecrate their first-born sons, and the first-born of their flocks to the Lord as an act of remembrance:

In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Exodus 13:14

When he provides manna in the desert he again preserves a remnant:

Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’”

Exodus 16:32

Reflections on Remembrance

God does not wait until the Israelites’ journey is complete before instructing them to capture and share their stories. Our walks with God are never complete. We always are inadequate in our faith, and continually learning and growing in our walks with him.

Our children — and every child of God with whom we engage — need to hear about our journeys, perhaps even more so than the destination.

I tend to shirk this responsibility by leaning on the fact that I lead a pretty ordinary life. God moves in my life in ways that I find to be spectacular, but there is no parting of the sea or manna showing up on my front lawn. Will others be moved by my mundane stories?

The honest answer is, “Who knows?” Faith is a gift of God; it’s not the result of our works–or our stories themselves. God simply teaches us to be obedient in sharing what he has done and is doing in our lives…as it unfolds.

Finally God makes an interesting point of preserving physical signs. God told the Israelites to save some manna so they could show future generations God’s handiwork. This is a little tricky, but it got me thinking about what physical artifacts I can preserve.

Steps to Remembrance

So let’s get practical. If the faith of our children — and our children’s children — depends on these stories, how do we get about it in earnest? What can we do right now?

Here’s a list I’ve come up with; feel free to add your thoughts in the comments to this post.

  • Share your stories. My in-laws rode a tandem bicycle cross-country when they first retired. They arrived home with two storylines, one about the people and experiences they encountered, the other about God’s protection and presence throughout the journey. One of the stories I remember to this day was that they were almost out of water with miles to go, and my mother-in-law prayed from the backseat for God’s help. A few miles later  a random car rolled up, and a stranger offered them water bottles.

Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.

Exodus17:6

Practice spiritual discipline and talk about why. My sister-in-law used to read her Bible on her phone during her morning quiet time. Then she realized that to her children it looked the same as if she was perusing Facebook or reading email. So she reverted to her physical Bible so her children will see God’s Word in her hands each day.

When our children see us read the Bible daily, come to worship with us on Sundays or serve others as a family, it is good and right to talk with them about why we do these things and for whom.

Share God’s Word. My kids tease me about it, but I am shameless in pointing them back to Scripture on questions of right and wrong, problems they are facing or as an encouragement of their infinite value and worth. I write them letters about who they are in God’s eyes, personalizing the verses with their names. I text them verses weekly.

God speaks to us powerfully through his Word, reminding us of his truths, but the seeds must be planted in order to bear fruit.

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Keep a journal; write in your Bible. When I study the Bible I make notes in my journal. An effective technique I’ve adopted recently is to read and and then answer three questions (Anne Graham-Lotz’s 3-question study): 1) What does it say? 2) What is God saying? 3) What is God saying to me?

This photo is of the Bible owned by one of the most passionate Bible teachers I know. BibleIt is testament to the truth that, “When your Bible is falling apart, you are not.”

Consider creating a priceless treasure for your children in your well-worn Bible, filled with the record of what God is showing you, even if it means leaving a broken down, dog-eared, highlighted and cross-referenced tome.

Make and preserve symbols of your faith. It took me a few minutes to even think of symbols equivalent to manna in my life, but I have them…so do you. One that came to mind is the wedding band I gave my husband for our 21st anniversary. I had it made because I had come to deeply treasure his faith leadership over our family. Since two of our four children are adopted from Korea, I had the band inscribed in Hangul with the citation “Joshua 24:15”:

As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

The ring serves as an instrument of witness for him on a daily basis, and one that I hope our sons especially will preserve and remember as they enter into their own seasons as heads of their households.

The message God teaches us throughout Exodus is to begin today to be intentional about the legacy of faith we are planting in our children.

As a result of Joshua’s bold witness, Scripture tells us he created a legacy of faithfulness:

Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

Joshua 24:31

“P” is for Prayer

A Daily Rhythm Encouragement

Originally published by Church on Morgan

 

As part of our focus all month on S.O.A.P., “P” is the final letter in this handy method for studying the Bible. If you missed S O and A—covered in weeks one through three—they’re as close as your inbox.

Prayer, a churchy word for talking with God, comes with a lot of baggage for many of us.

And yet without prayer SOAP is nothing but a letter jumble, because studying God’s Word absolutely is powered by prayer.

So how do we pray well? Here are two verses that have helped me grow in my prayer life:

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

And Thessalonians 5:16-18 reads: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

When I am feeling anxious I thank Him for taking care of me and my needs. I ask for Him to take my burden. And when I really do let Him have it I have experienced inexpressible peace in the face of the most challenging circumstances.

I certainly don’t pray without ceasing (yet), but I do try to pray as I go about my day; when I notice the beautiful Carolina sky in the school pickup line or stand for the national anthem at our son’s athletic events. When such things touch my heart I thank God for the blessings of the moment, for beauty, health, joy, etc.

So when does God get a turn to speak? When we read His Word. Prayer in this situation is a simple yet important discipline. When we sit down with Scripture, invite God in. My prayer usually sounds something like this:

Lord, thank you for this time with you. Please clear my mind so that I may hear your word, open my heart to embrace the truth you reveal to me and instill in me the desire to live it out in my life this day.

Thank you for joining me in cleaning up on our Bible study methods with a little SOAP. It’s been a pleasure!

Read from the beginning of this series Today’s Post Sponsored by the Letter “S”: Scripture

Copyright © 2017 Church on Morgan, All rights reserved.

“A”: Apply Scripture to Your Life

A Daily Rhythm Encouragement

Originally published by Church on Morgan

 

This week in our S.O.A.P-y series we’re focusing on A, Application.

What would be the point of reading and observing truths in Scripture if we didn’t do anything with them? When God speaks to our hearts we are called to act, using what we’re learning to bring light and hope to a dark and needy world.

Reading the Bible as part of the rhythm of your days, weeks or months, creates a place where you can go to hear God, learn about His character, discover how much He loves you, experience His amazing grace and be reminded that “as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

As you uncover truths that speak to your heart, be intentional to apply them to your life and in the world:

Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. (Mark 4:21-22)

With each step forward that you take, standing on His truth, God will likewise be faithful to invite to take yet another step…and another…and another. One of the beautiful things about our God is that we can never exhaust the joy of discovering him, nor grow complacent in our praise as long as we are moving toward Him.

And the really great news is that even when we falter and turn away, he uses his Word to call us back to him:

God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. (Romans 4:12)

What truth is God teaching you as you adopt a rhythm of reading His Word?

Read this series from the beginning: Today’s Post Sponsored by the Letter “S”: Scripture

Copyright © 2017 Church on Morgan, All rights reserved.

“O”: Open Your Eyes to Scripture

 

A Daily Rhythm Encouragement

Originally published by Church on Morgan

Throughout June we are focusing on the S.O.A.P. method of Bible study. S.O.A.P. stands for Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. (See last week’s Daily for a more detailed overview.)

This week we’ll take a look at Observation…pun intended.

Judaism refers to the Torah, our Old Testament, as a multi-faceted gem, one that reveals new light each time it is turned in the context of our life experiences. Maybe you’ve had the experience of reading a familiar passage and something relevant to your current circumstance jumps out to you as if you’re seeing it for the first time?

As we read the Bible we’re listening for what God is speaking to our hearts; those Spirit-led insights that we can then apply to our lives. (The good news is that He is always speaking…we just aren’t attuned to listening.)

Unlike English class or your book club, reading the Bible doesn’t require parsing everything or even understanding it all. Instead God invites us into a slow marinating process, one that allows His word to wash over us and soak in…maybe just a single word or phrase, an idea or an image of Jesus.

I have collected a few helpful tools I turn to when digging deeper into a passage that you might like to check out:

  • Bible Gateway or Bible.com – Both are easy to navigate by phone or mobile device, and offer myriad translations, from King James to The Message.
  • Blue Letter Bible – Look up a passage to see its root words in Hebrew or Greek, definition(s), and a concordance of places where the word or phrase is found throughout scripture.
  • VerseMinder – a great app for memorizing scripture.

What resources do you like to use in making observations as you study Scripture? Share as a comment and I’ll include them in a round up in the final Daily for this month.

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…

Luke 24:45

Start reading from the beginning of this series: Today’s Post Sponsored by the Letter “S”: Scripture.

Read the next post in this series: “A”: Apply Scripture to Your Life.

Each week’s email will be written by someone in our community and provide a few thoughts, insights, or experiences that have come from their own morning, meal time, and evening practices. If you would like to learn more about our “Shared Rhythm” you can read about it online or pick up a set of our “Daily Rhythm Cards” at Church on Morgan.

Copyright © 2017 Church on Morgan, All rights reserved.

Today’s Post Sponsored by the Letter “S”: Scripture

A DAILY RHYTHM REFLECTION

Originally Published by Church on Morgan

I just completed my first S.O.A.P. Bible study, so I considered it a bit of a divine coincidence to be asked to write about this simple and effective method of studying scripture for this month’s Daily Rhythm.

WHAT IS S.O.A.P.?

S – Scripture. Develop a daily habit of reading the Bible. More on this in a moment.

O– Make an Observation. Allow God’s Word to speak to your heart. Record your observation in a journal, share it in your missional community, discuss it a Bible study group…the goal is to be intentional about hearing from God in through the text.

A –Apply what you’re learning in how you work, relate or serve that day.

P—Pray. Prayer is the fuel to each of the steps before it: Pray before you open the Bible; ask God to show you what He wants you to see and also to show you where and how to put it into action in your daily life.

SCRIPTURE

Today’s Daily is brought to you by the letter S, for Scripture.

I considered myself to be a Christian all my life, yet I had never owned nor read the Bible until I was in my forties. Once I finally entered its sacred pages, I was hooked.

Today I think of the Bible like a Verizon network for our souls. As I read, memorize and recall Scripture I can almost hear God saying, “Can you hear me now?”

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

Read the next post in this series: “O”: Open Your Eyes to Scripture

—-

Each week’s email will be written by someone in our community and provide a few thoughts, insights, or experiences that have come from their own morning, meal time, and evening practices. If you would like to learn more about our “Shared Rhythm” you can read about it online or pick up a set of our “Daily Rhythm Cards” at Church on Morgan.

Copyright © 2017 Church on Morgan, All rights reserved.

There Will Be Blood

I used to cringe at the song, “Nothing but the blood of Jesus,” or if I heard someone refer to being covered by his blood; it sounded so, well, gory.

Why blood for goodness’ sake? Why is God so punitive? Why couldn’t He just clear the board and forgive our sins without blood?

Blood is at the very heart of Jesus’ story and thus our salvation story. Rather than continue to avoid it, I began to pray for greater understanding, and slowly I’m growing to a deeper understanding, although I still have a long way to go.

(I offer my learnings here with the caveat that this is a cornerstone of faith, and there are far better sources than me on this topic. I hope my post will serve simply as a starting off point to your own exploration.)

God is love. God is life.

The wages of sin is death.

Romans 6:23

Sin is death. Sin by its nature is a separation from — and if uninterrupted by repentance, a severing of — our connection to our life source. I believe that those wages the Bible speaks of are not so much “collected” by God as they are the inherent, inevitable cost of sin.

God is holy and just.

I’m watching the Netflix docuseries,”The Keepers,” and I am sickened by the sadistic acts of one man who abused and exploited many innocent girls at a Baltimore High School. If he had been brought to trial and simply given a slap on the wrist, those whom he harmed, and all people of goodwill, would be legitimately outraged.

We yearn for justice to confront evil and set the world right. We desire and expect God to be just in his response to sin, especially toward those who injure us.

“Vengeance is mine says the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19

Counting the Cost

When we are in need of forgiveness, justice also must be served. Here is where our misunderstanding of sin leads us to say, “But what if I’m a basically good person?” “And what about little sins like telling a white lie; surely that doesn’t lead to death?”

When we consider ourselves or others to be “good” we are deceived about our true sin natures. In response to being called “good Teacher” Jesus said:

“Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.”

Mark 10:18

When we acknowledge the darkness that lurks in all our hearts, the dastardly things we have done or know we are capable of doing when we are not fully surrendered to God, then we begin to see that there is no such thing as “a little sin.”

Sin is not an act so much as a state of mind. It is just a manifestation, a symptom of inward decay, a cancerous rebellion that attacks and eventually kills its host if unchecked.

There is no stasis in life; we are either moving toward God and dying to our sin natures daily, or we are turning from God, moving deeper into sin, indulging our flesh, which leads to death.

Once for All

So…if all sin leads to death, then the only remedy for sin is death, which requires the shedding of blood…blood symbolizing the essence of life.

God proclaims this truth from the very beginning. In Genesis, after Adam and Eve fall, God sacrifices animals as a covering for their sin.

In God’s covenant with Abraham He followed the social convention for sealing a contract. Animals would be sacrificed and the carcasses split in two, laid facing each other. Each party would pass through as a physical sign that proclaimed: “If I break this covenant, may the blood be on my head.”

Abraham prepared the sacrifices for his covenant with the Lord; however; he “fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.”

“When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking fire pot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.”

Do you see what is happening here? God passes through twice, symbolically taking the consequence not just for himself but on Abraham’s behalf as well. By passing through for each of them God was saying: “If I fail to keep the covenant I will die, and if you fail to keep it I will die for you.” (Read more about this amazing moment.)

Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up….

“You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”

John 11:50

Caiaphas unwittingly prophesied the rationale for Jesus’ substitutionary death in advocating for his execution to the Sanhedrin.

Yet in order to be a just sacrifice for the sin of humanity, Jesus himself had to be without sin…otherwise he’d simply be dying for his own sins. The message of the Gospel is clear:

Jesus came and led a perfect life; he suffered and died in our place, for our sins, so that we could be forgiven and reconciled to God.

That is why Jesus’ shed blood and his resurrection — his victory over the death that sin brings to the world — is the only hope for us all.

 

Keep Discovering

Genesis 15: God confirms the covenant with Abram: http://bit.ly/2s9q7uD

Learn the Bible: Blood Sacrifices: http://bit.ly/2s9xQIX

The Blood of the Lamb, by Timothy Keller:  http://bit.ly/2s9r0TT

Lamb of God, by Jill Carattini: http://bit.ly/2s9qRzU

A Graduate’s Guide to the Bible

My second son graduated high school last Sunday. While re-experiencing some degree of the grief I first wrote about when my eldest son graduated (Secrets Mothers Keep: On Roots & Wings), I’m also more focused on the practical this time around, hoping to equip my big-hearted #2 boy to survive and thrive in what can be a heart-breaking world.

I gave him a Bible because it is the ultimate how-to guide for life. In its pages I have found hope and inspiration when things seemed hopeless, wisdom and understanding when I didn’t know what to do; and purpose when I was feeling lost.

As I gift wrapped it for him I wondered if he would ever read it, not because he doesn’t value it, but because he wouldn’t know where to start.

If he began at the beginning–Genesis–he’d likely get derailed by the time he reached Leviticus or Numbers; the complicated rules and details are tough sledding to a generation weaned on Twitter and Youtube.

And so I prepared a brief how-to guide based on my own experience. It’s nothing more official than that, but perhaps it will help you or a graduate you love discover the life-giving joy and truth of God’s Word for the first time, or again…as if for the first time.

 

 

  1. Want to know Jesus? Read John. If you only were going to read one book of the Bible ever, read John. He has such a heart for Jesus and wrote with the goal of convincing you that Jesus is the son of God and that his mission on earth was to ransom us for our sins.

 

  1. Want to understand sin and the reason we need Jesus to save us? Read Genesis and then Romans. The story of the beginning of humanity is the story of all humanity. In the Jesus Bible you’ll see how Jesus himself is present from the very beginning of creation. And why Romans? Paul wrote half the New Testament. He was brilliant and gifted by God for the task. In Romans he walks the reader through the problem of sin, why we can’t save ourselves and why we need Jesus.

 

  1. Facing a dilemma? Need some wisdom? Use Proverbs. Proverbs isn’t a sit-down and read end-to-end book. It is more like life’s little instruction book. It speaks wisdom on just about every topic you can imagine in the human condition.

 

  1. Have a problem, issue or other life decision about which you need insight? I use Google as a starting point and enter: “Bible verses about ________.” Or “What does the Bible say about _______.” Then break out your Bible and read the verses you find.

 

  1. Wondering how to live the life God called you to? Read Acts. Acts details the post-resurrection life of the apostles and the conversion of Paul. Put yourself in the shoes of the disciples and consider how they surrendered their fears, their will and ultimately their lives to follow Jesus and to ensure the good news was spread across the earth. We all share in this mission, and understanding how the first tribe got things done has value and relevance today.

 

  1. Interested in learning leadership? Read about Joseph (Genesis 37), Moses (Exodus), David (1 Samuel) and Daniel (Daniel 1).

 

  1. Pray. Open. Read. Sometimes, when I have nothing else in mind, I just say a prayer, open the Bible and start reading where the pages fall.

 

  1. Memorize God’s word. As you find verses that speak to your heart, underline or highlight them in your Bible and then memorize them. (You can use the app Bible Minded to help). When you do this God is faithful to speak to you in times of need by bringing just the right verses back to mind.

Get more help leaning in to God’s word with Summer Bible Study Tools.


Special Offer for Faith Runner Subscribers

Be one of the first 25 people to order my new book, Denial: Abuse, Addiction and a Life Derailed and get a 15% discount off the cover price. Use promo code: BLOG15.

childhood sexual abuse