Sand. I have a love hate relationship with it. I say this because the beautiful sandy shores of Orange Beach was my home last week. As I set on the beach enjoying the gentle breeze, watching waves, enjoying family, and reading books, I also had to deal with sand. I must admit that I enjoyed playing games, drawing sketches, and taking walks with Mary in the sand, but there was another side of sand I didn’t enjoy. It was everywhere I didn’t want it to be, in my lunch, stuck to my skin, and eventually into nearly everything we owned. I got home and found sand in my luggage, our car, and clothes. What I’ve determined is sandy venues are nice places to visit, but not a place I necessarily want to live. In Orange Beach, like so many other beaches, it appears that homes are built on the beaches but look closely and you will see that nothing is built on sand. The homes are built on wood foundations that go deep below to soil. Luxurious condominiums that rise into the sky are set on foundations that go as deep as they are high. There is a parable where Jesus talks of how we should build. In the parable Jesus speaks of two builders who built homes. One built on sand and the other solid ground. Jesus says that after the homes were built, storms came, and the home that was built on sand collapsed, while the one built on strong ground, stood. Notice, the problem wasn’t the material, the problem was the foundation. This parable causes me to ask, what are we building our lives and culture on? Things, people, and ideas that shift, change, and move like sand, or on principles and values that have stood the test of storms, time, and difficulty? There is a current of religious culture that feels very sandy. It says have the right look, connect to the right people, have trendy social media, and you will draw a crowd and that makes a successful church community. Don’t rock the boat or make people feel uncomfortable. While it looks good, it’s sandy. No conviction. No call to altars or repentance, and definitely, no allowance for the Spirit to have any freedom in a service. Shudder to think that they might allow signs, wonders, or miracles to work, it might alarm the sinner. Keep the environment controlled and comfortable. It’s sand. What will stand the test of storms and time? Pretty simple. Anything built on the power and Word of God and anywhere there is passionate prayer, and the Spirit is allowed to have liberty.
Freedom. We have parades and shoot off fireworks to celebrate it. Yet I’m afraid freedom is a concept that we don’t totally grasp. It’s not necessarily a liberty to do anything, but more, the possibility not to be bound by anything. Early Americans didn’t want liberty to do everything, they wanted freedom to live without being controlled. Unfortunately, far too many who will wave flags and shoot off fireworks this week, are encumbered by bondage. Government and leaders are binding their citizens with humanistic ideas, political and social elites control society with carnal philosophies and beliefs, and the minority wants to set the standard for the majority. Beyond societal oppression, many are bound by the entrapments of this life. Countless are controlled by greed and gold. Others are bound to alcohol, drugs, and perversion. Far too many are overcome by sin that is destroying their lives and families. In Luke 4:18, Jesus said he had come “. . . to proclaim release to the captive. . .to set free those who are oppressed.” Jesus’ freedom liberates us from things that the devil had enticed and trapped us with. It’s Zacchaeus, insnared by greed, being freed by the grace of Jesus. It’s a woman lured into a moment of adultery, freed by the mercy of Jesus. His words to her as he frees her are important, “go and sin no more.” What does he give her? Freedom over sins control over her, the ability to have a different lifestyle, and live untangled from her past and mistakes. In John 8:36 Jesus said to the crowd, “the Son makes you free and you are free indeed.” What does that mean? It means because of Jesus we are no longer controlled by things that overwhelmed and mastered us. We are liberated from sins power and set free from our past mistakes. Live in liberty. Live in the freedom of Jesus!
Freedom. It is the exemption from external control, interference, regulation. It’s the power to determine action without restraint. For many freedom means the ability to make our own decisions, go where we want and do what we want. Those who love to go to the lake and water-skiing experience a taste of freedom. There’s a liberating feeling on a warm summer day when water is spraying in your face as you skim along a lake, but are you truly free? Let the boat run out of gas or let go of the rope and the liberating ride is over. Ski the Rockies, nothing says freedom like a crisp Colorado morning and fresh powder. One of the most freeing feelings is casually meandering down a mountains slope, but again, are we actually free? Come to the bottom of the mountain or the end of the snowpack and once again the freedom ride is over. As Americans we champion the freedoms of our country, and while I am thankful, we are watching as our freedoms are slowly being taken away. So, where can we really find freedom? One source, Jesus. John 8:36 says, “…the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” This world is built on control, someone or something is always saying you can’t. Only life in Jesus truly liberates. Sickness may come, death will visit, and hard times might come but those things don’t rule those in Christ. We may fall to sin or fail miserably, but sin does not dominate those redeemed by Jesus. How? Simple. Those in Christ are not controlled or bound by this life. They have been set free. This life is temporal and while we hurt, grieve, and face difficult situations, we live this life in the freedom beyond the grave. We know a day is coming when we will truly be free. Today, July 4th, I invite you to experience the true freedom only found in Jesus.
We tend to set low expectations for God. It happens when we attempt to make our plans, God’s plans. Palm Sunday is a textbook example. As people lined the street that morning, one might sense an atmosphere of high expectation. Palm branches, rugs and cloaks covered the street. Screams and cheers of Hosannah are heard along the parade route. Jesus had spoke of His kingdom, and their assumption on this day, was that He was bringing His kingdom to earth. They knew the significance of a person riding into Jerusalem on a colt; an honor given only to dignitaries. In their eyes, Jesus’ Triumphal entry was the answer to years of hopes and prayers. The oppression, abuse and rule of the Roman government was going to end, Jesus, the man of miracles, was about to set up His earthly kingdom. No more Roman rule. No more taxes to Caesar. Little did they realize how trivial their expectations were. Palm Sunday was not about a day of freedom from Rome, but about a day that would set-in motion freedom from sin, death, hell and the grave. Palm Sunday was not about God solving earthly problems, but eternal issues. Still today we undervalue our expectations for God. Israel wants deliverance from Pharaoh, God gives them a new culture and land. The lame man at the Gate Beautiful wants money, God uses His disciples to give him a miracle. Too often we get frustrated when God doesn’t answer our prayers our way. We tend to focus and pray longing for earthly issues to be solved, while God is focused on our eternal destination. Palm Sunday. I invite you to see God’s big picture; to see God and His will differently. To pray differently. Surrender your small expectations for His big plans.
Spontaneity. It’s a person walking up to a Salvation Bell ringer and beginning to sing Christmas carols with them. It’s a child, reacting to a gift that was totally unexpected; so overwhelmed that they respond without thinking…spontaneously! Spontaneity is a natural impulse or tendency; without effort or premeditation. It’s natural and unconstrained; unplanned. Spontaneity, it’s the way God wants us to live and what He wants us to experience. Mary hears that she is highly favored, that she will be overshadowed by the Spirit and she will birth Emmanuel, God with us. Without thinking, she reacts and says, be it unto me! It’s Elizabeth, upon seeing Mary, feeling her baby leap inside her and exclaiming loudly, “blessed are you among women.” It’s shepherds in a field, experiencing an explosion of light and songs of angels, and without thinking, leaving their sheep and going to see the baby Jesus. What does it take to experience spontaneity? It takes stepping out and acting when it’s not on our daily agenda. It takes hearing, believing and acting when we hear God’s subtle voice prod us. It is responding in faith, without completely thinking it through. It’s the spontaneous moments, the “suddenlys,” that change our lives. It’s often the spontaneous moments that our families remember the most. The gift of spontaneity, it changes our days from the mundane to magnificent. It leaves us with a smile on our face and a warm place in our heart. It’s where you want to live, it’s what God wants you to experience. Live in, live for, His gift of the spontaneous!
Freedom. This week we will celebrate with picnics and fireworks. Freedom, as a Nation it has been fought for through many wars and as a Christian it has been given to us through the work of Jesus on Calvary. As a Nation, if we are not careful, we will give away our liberty. The current climate is one where there is an all-out attack on our freedoms. If we’re not vigilant, without a shot being fired or war being fought, we will lose our right for free speech, right to defend ourselves and the right to worship without being censored. As tragic as that may be, a worse scenario is to lose the freedom Jesus purchased for us on Calvary. Regardless of how hard we might try, without His blood, mercy and grace we were bound to sin. With one gracious act, God robing himself in flesh, coming to earth and becoming our sacrifice, sins power was rendered powerless. When we repent of our sins, are filled with His Spirit and live daily in relationship with Him, sins power is limited. But the moment we fail to keep Him as the priority of our life, fail to pray and read His Word and fail to make His house our priority, sins power begins to take hold once again. We surrender the freedom we’ve gained, and He gave us. Let’s make a commitment to guard, protect and value the freedom we’ve been given in Jesus. Live in the liberty of the Spirit.