Treasuring Our Freedom

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For you were called to freedom, brothersand sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13, NET)

Recidivism is the repeated or habitual relapse into something, such as a life of crime. It is the tendency of some who, after being set free from the crime for which they were imprisoned, return to their criminal behavior. The word recidivism comes from the Latin word recidivus, which means “falling back.” A study done in 2005 showed that in the United States, the recidivism rate for released prisoners was 76.8% within five years of their release from prison, with 56.7% being rearrested by the end of the first year after their release. These repeat offenders are living in bondage to their criminal tendencies, using their freedom to go out and do the things that put them in prison to begin with.

At 20 years old, Eugene Brown had been living a life of crime that culminated in his being arrested for bank robbery, for which he was imprisoned. After serving 18 years of his life in prison, Brown was released. Statistics were very much in favor of someone like Brown falling back into a life of crime, but Brown made a choice not to squander his newfound freedom. Brown had a love of the game of chess and he used that love of chess to turn his life around. In 2002, he started a non-profit organization called the Big Chair Chess Club. The goal of this organization is to help at-risk urban youth avoid the pitfalls that they face in life by developing an interest in chess. Rather than using his freedom to indulge in crime, Brown used it, with love, to help and to serve others.

When it comes to the desires of the flesh, to our sinful nature, all of us have been in bondage. Sin has held us captive, has made us prisoners. But Jesus Christ came to set us free from that sin. He died for our sins so that we would have freedom from the penalty of our sins. In Galatians 5:1, Paul spoke of the danger of falling back into slavery and told us that, since Christ had set us free, we must stand firm and not allow ourselves to become subject to sin’s yoke of slavery. We have been called to be free. But as Paul warned in Galatians 5:13, we must not use our freedom as an opportunity to indulge our sinful nature. We must treasure that freedom while avoiding the pitfalls of sin. We must use our freedom to serve one another in love. Our freedom should be used to live lives that are defined by helping others to find that same freedom.

(NOTE: You can learn more about Eugene Brown’s story in the 2013 movie, Life of a King, starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.)

Scripture quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from The NET Bible® Copyright © 2005 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. www.bible.org All rights reserved.

The Wisdom of Solomon

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King Solomon was wealthier and wiser than any of the kings of the earth. (2 Chronicles 9:22).

Solomon was the son of King David and succeeded him on the throne of Israel. Scripture tells us that King Solomon had more riches and greater knowledge than any other king on earth (2 Chronicles 9:22). Kings from all over the world came to Solomon to consult with him and to hear his wisdom firsthand (2 Chronicles 9:23). Those who visited Solomon brought him gifts of gold, silver, and many other things of value (2 Chronicles 9:24). To illustrate the wealth that Solomon possessed, 2 Chronicles 9:25 tells us that he had 12,000 horses and 4,000 stables in which to house those horses and his chariots. With all of his wisdom and his great wealth, Solomon became the most powerful king of his time.

Why did Solomon possess such great wisdom? Why did he become the wealthiest king on earth? How did Solomon become so powerful? The answers to these questions have nothing to do with Solomon himself and everything to do with his relationship with God. In the first chapter of 2 Chronicles, we read that after David died and Solomon took the throne, Solomon traveled to Gibeon, where the bronze altar made by Bezalel, son of Uri and grandson of Hur, sat in front of the Tabernacle of the Lord. Solomon went there to worship God by sacrificing 1,000 burnt offerings on the bronze altar. Solomon made his offering of worship and that night, God appeared to Solomon and asked him what he wanted. Pleased with Solomon’s worship, God told Solomon to ask and, whatever he wanted, God would give it to him (2 Chronicles 1:1-7).

But it was Solomon’s reply that pleased God even more than his worship. Solomon could have asked for anything, and God would have given it to him. He could have asked for gold, he could have asked for power, and these things would have been given to him by God. But, these are not the things that Solomon asked for. Solomon was young and inexperienced and now found himself reigning as the king of Israel, the earthly ruler of God’s people. So, Solomon’s request to God was, “Give me the wisdom and knowledge to lead them properly, for who could possibly govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10, NET). The Hebrew word translated as “wisdom” is ḥoḵmâh, which refers to discernment and judgment while the word for “knowledge” is maddā‘, which refers to practical know-how in everyday affairs. Solomon wanted to lead God’s people well, and he knew that only God could provide these things for him.

Because Solomon’s request revealed an unselfish character, God granted Solomon what he asked for. In His reply to Solomon, God said, “Because your greatest desire is to help your people, and you did not ask for wealth, riches, fame, or even the death of your enemies or a long life, but rather you asked for wisdom and knowledge to properly govern my people—I will certainly give you the wisdom and knowledge you requested. But I will also give you wealth, riches, and fame such as no other king has had before you or will ever have in the future!” (2 Chronicles 1:11-12, NET). Solomon received his great wisdom and all his wealth because he sought the things of God first.

We can all learn from the example of Solomon. God knows all the things we need in life and we should ask Him for them. But Jesus taught that we must first seek God’s kingdom. When we seek the things of God first and seek to live righteously, God will supply all that we need (Matthew 6:33).

Be Good

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In the final scene of the Steven Spielberg movie, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, we see E.T. saying goodbye to Elliot, Michael, and Gertie, the children who cared for him when he was left behind by his spacecraft. In this tender and touching scene (which, I’ll admit, brings tears to my eyes), E.T. looks at Gertie, played by Drew Barrymore, and says, “Be good.” Just as Gertie was called by E.T. to “be good,” we, as believers, are called to “be good” by God.

God, Himself is good. There is no doubt about that. His goodness is proclaimed throughout Scripture. Psalm 34:8 tells us to taste and see that God is good. In Nahum 1:7, we read that God is good, that He is a fortress in times of distress and protects those who come to Him seeking refuge. And Psalm 145:9 says that God is good not just to some, but to all, and has compassion on all that He has made. God’s goodness is eternal (Psalm 23:6).

As God’s children, we are called to emulate God’s goodness (3 John 11). Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit, a characteristic that a follower of Christ should seek to cultivate (Galatians 5:22). In his second letter to the Thessalonian believers, Paul said that his prayer for them was that God would make them worthy of His calling and that through the power of God, they would desire goodness. We must never neglect to do good, generously sharing what we have with others. The generosity that we demonstrate by doing good for others is a sacrifice, an offering of worship, that God is pleased with (Hebrews 13:16).

When we display goodness in our lives, it will be evident in the fruit that we bear. We will be like a tree that bears good fruit (Matthew 7:17-19). That good fruit will show through the manner in which we treat others, our generosity towards others (1 Timothy 6:18), and through our words. And when we bear good fruit, the fruit that we bear will produce life as others are brought into God’s kingdom as a result of our actions or our words (Proverbs 11:30).

The Crown of Life

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In writing to the twelve tribes – the Jewish believers in Christ, who have been scattered throughout the nations – the apostle James begins his letter by telling believers that they should consider it fortunate, or pure joy, whenever they face trials of any kind (James 1:2). The biggest trials that those believers faced were poverty and persecution. It is likely that those trials tested the faith of those early believers and James was referring to those trials in his letter. But James wrote “many trials” or “all kinds of trials,” which would include some of the things that believers face today, such as sickness, the loss of loved ones, children who rebel, the loss of a job, anything that could cause a believer to lose faith.

So, James is saying that no matter what kind of trials we are facing, big or small, we should consider ourselves fortunate and take joy in those trials. But, how can we do that? How can we be joyful when faced with a serious illness, how can we consider ourselves fortunate when faced with the loss of a job? The answer starts with understanding that when we hold on to our faith in the midst of trials, it builds in us the ability to endure, to persevere (James 1:3). And the result of our endurance or perseverance is that we become mature and complete as believers (James 1:4). In other words, God is able to use our trials to help us to grow into believers whose faith is not lacking, believers who lean into God and believe that He will see us through any trials that we face. We become strong, unshakable believers.

For us as believers, knowing that God is able to help build such strong faith in us through the trials we face is reason enough to be joyful. But in James 1:12, we are given another reason to rejoice in trials. In that verse, James tells us that, when we persevere through any trials we face, when we stand through the testing of our faith, then we are blessed. How are we blessed? We will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those of us who love Him. That crown is the eternal life that faith in Jesus Christ brings. In Revelation 2:10 (NET), speaking to the believers in Smyrna who were facing poverty and persecution, Jesus made a promise that He also makes to us, when He said, “Remain faithful even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown that is life itself.” That is a promise that merits rejoicing!

Pay It Forward

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In 2000, a movie hit theaters about a young boy named Trevor McKinney who receives a challenging assignment from his social studies teacher. The assignment is to think of an idea that would change the world and then put that idea into action. Trevor comes up with the idea of repaying good deeds not by paying back the person who performed the good deed, but by paying forward with new good deeds done to three new people. The movie was Pay It Forward.

The concept of paying something forward is not a new idea. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to Benjamin Webb, “I do not pretend to give such a deed; I only lend it to you. When you […] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.” In her 1916 book, In the Garden of Delight, Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward.” The definition of the term “pay it forward” is to respond to the kindness that someone shows to you by being kind to someone else.

Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). As such, it is something that a follower of Christ should look to cultivate in his or her life. Jesus said that, if we want to be His disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). He has set the example for us, and it should be our desire to be like Him. We need to have the same attitude toward each other that He had toward us (Philippians 2:5). Jesus placed our interests and the interests of God above His own, so we must place the interests of others above our own Philippians 2:4). He came to serve, so we must serve (John 13:14-16). He loves us, so we must love others (John 15:12). Jesus showed kindness, or compassion, to those He came in contact with, so we must show kindness to others.

Ephesians 4:32 (NET) tells us that we must “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” The things that Jesus does for us, we must do for others. In other words, as followers of Christ, we must always look to “pay it forward.”

Be Kind to One Another

Good Samaritan

American author Henry James once said, “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” Henry James apparently placed great importance on kindness. Kindness is shown in an attitude of care and concern for others, especially those who are weak, poor, or in need. A synonym for kindness is compassion. Compassion is shown by God to His people (Isaiah 63:7). And compassion is something that is seen in the character of Jesus Christ. This compassion is spoken of in the gospel accounts, in verses such as Matthew 9:36 (NIV), which says that when Jesus saw the crowds who gathered as He made His way through their towns and villages, “he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

God’s Word makes it very clear that kindness, or compassion, is important in the life of a believer. It is counted as one of the fruit of the Spirit, which are characteristics that must take root in our lives (Galatians 5:22). In his letter to the believers in Ephesus, the apostle Paul wrote that we must be kind to one another, we must be compassionate and must forgive, just as God forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). Paul mentioned kindness again in Colossians 3:12, pointing out that in addition to such virtues as humility and patience, we must clothe ourselves with a heart of kindness. In 1 Peter 3:8, Peter exhorts us to be like-minded, sympathetic, and compassionate.

Kindness is something that believers must show to one another, but it doesn’t stop there. God wants us to be kind, or compassionate, to all. We should display kindness, or compassion, to the sick, to the needy, to those who mourn, to those who are alone, and to those who are oppressed. And we must display kindness, or compassion, to people we don’t like, and even to our enemies. We are commanded in Scripture to love our neighbor, and our neighbor includes anyone with whom we come in contact who is in need. Jesus illustrated this in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Although Samaritans and Jews despised each other, it was a Samaritan who, upon seeing a Jewish man who had been robbed and beaten lying on the side of the road, felt compassion and took care of the beaten man (Luke 10:30-35).

My prayer is that all believers will show the kindness, or compassion, of the Good Samaritan, the kindness, the compassion that comes from God, not just to each other but to all who need it.

 

Our Plans and God’s Will

Proverbs 27_1, GNT

In January 1957, the following quote by writer, journalist, and cartoonist Allen Saunders was published in Reader’s Digest magazine: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Those same words also appeared 23 years later in the lyrics of the 1980 song by John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy.” Another way of putting the sentiment of these words would be, “Go ahead and make your plans but live one day at a time because you don’t know what tomorrow will bring.” Proverbs 27:1 in the Good News Translation says, “Never boast about tomorrow. You don’t know what will happen between now and then.”

The truth is that we can make all of the plans we want to make, but we don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Life is uncertain. James 4:14 (NET) says, “You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life like? For you are a puff of smoke that appears for a short time and then vanishes.” Life is also as complex as a good mystery novel. It is made up of minutes, hours, and days that are filled with people, places, and things. And each day, we may be called upon to make decisions, some of which may be critical, and some which may be routine and even mundane. And while there is nothing wrong with making plans, and we should do so, we must never allow pride or arrogance to cause us to boast about our plans (James 4:16). When we make plans, they should be made saying, “This is what I will do, if it’s God’s will (James 4:15).”

When we do things in accordance with God’s will, when we place His will above our plans, then we are doing what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:33-34 (NET) when He said, “But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So then, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” Trusting in our own plans can lead to anxiety, but when we trust in God’s will for us, in His plan for us, and do so with all our hearts, then we can walk in confidence, knowing that He will guide us each step of the way (Proverbs 3:5-6). And we can face life with the certainty that God’s plans for us are never to harm us, but rather to prosper us (Jeremiah 29:11).

Living life based on our own plans brings uncertainty, but life in accordance with the will of God brings certainty, even when we don’t know what tomorrow will bring.

Scripture quotations marked GNT are taken from the Good News Translation — Second Edition. Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quoted by permission. Quotations designated (NET) are from The NET Bible® Copyright © 2005 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. www.bible.org All rights reserved.

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