I’m Free!

U.S. POSTAL SERVICE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION

In an effort to cripple the Confederacy, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order on September 22, 1862, proclaiming that the legal status of the 3 million slaves in the rebellious states would be changed from slave to free if the Confederate states did not cease their rebellion by January 1, 1863. The Confederacy did not yield and so, on January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. While the proclamation did not put an immediate end to slavery, it paved the way for the total abolition of slavery in the United States. On December 6, 1865, the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States was passed, an amendment which abolished slavery.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was at the synagogue in Nazareth and, as was His custom, He stood up to read from Scripture. He was handed the scroll of Isaiah, unrolled it and began to read (Luke 4:16-17). The words that Jesus read were His “Emancipation Proclamation.”

The Spirit of the LORD is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come. (Luke 4:18-19, NLT)

Jesus came to set the captives, those who are oppressed, free. But the freedom that Jesus brings is not a physical freedom; it is a spiritual freedom. In John 8, Jesus is speaking to the Jews who had believed Him and tells them that, if they abide in His word, they are true disciples. They will know the truth and that truth will set them free (John 8:31-32). The Jews responded by pointing out that they are children of Abraham and have never been anyone’s slave. They could not understand why Jesus was telling them that they would be set free (John 4:33).

The slavery that Jesus was referring to was not physical slavery. It was spiritual slavery. Jesus answered their question by saying, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin (John 8:34).” When we live according to the desires of the flesh, our sinful nature, we are slaves to sin. But, thanks to the grace of God which was shown through Jesus Christ, His Son, we are no longer slaves to sin. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, those who believe and follow Him, while turning from sin, are now set free from that sin. As Jesus said in John 8:36, “So if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.”

Love Your Neighbor

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Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with our hearts, souls, and minds (Matthew 22:37-38). He followed that by saying that there is a second commandment that is just as important, that we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39). These two commandments sum up God’s Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:40). If we truly love God, we will worship Him only and not put any idols before Him. We will not take His name in vain, and we will honor the Sabbath, keeping it holy (Exodus 20:1-11). And when we love our neighbor, we will not steal, murder, commit adultery, covet, or bear false witness against anyone (Exodus 20:12-17).

It may be easy to say that you love God and have followed that first great commandment. But, what about the second? Now, you may say, “I have loved my neighbor as I love myself. I haven’t stolen from anyone, I haven’t committed murder or adultery, I don’t covet what belongs to others, and I have never borne false witness against anyone. So, I have obeyed the second commandment, as well!” But is that all there is to obeying the second great commandment? A look at Scripture will tell you that there is more to it.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave us the Golden Rule. He said that we should do to others whatever we would have them do to us. He said that this is the essence of what is taught in the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12). So, it also can be said that if we do anything to others that we would not want them to do to us, then we are violating God’s Law, violating the second great commandment. In the letter of James, we can see three specific behaviors that, although they are not murder, adultery, theft, or covetousness, would still be in violation of God’s law: showing partiality, speaking against a brother or sister, and judging others.

James 2:8 says that if we really fulfill the Law of God’s kingdom by loving our neighbor as ourselves, then we are doing well. But the letter goes on to say that, if we show partiality, we commit a sin and are convicted by the Law (James 3:9). If we favor one person over another, we are not truly loving our neighbor. In chapter 4 of the letter of James, we are told that we must not speak evil against another and we must not judge another. To do so is to speak evil against God’s law and to judge God’s law (James 4:11). If we do so, if we speak evil against someone or judge someone, we are not truly showing love to that person and so we violate God’s Law. After all, who are we to judge our neighbor? We must always remember that there is only one lawgiver and there is only one judge, God Himself.

I Have Good News!

good news

“I have good news!” How many of us love to hear or say those words? They could come from a child telling his parents about a good report card. It could be a husband telling his wife that he just received a raise in salary, or a wife telling her husband that they are going to have a baby. It could be a doctor telling a patient that a biopsy came back negative. Whatever form it takes, good news is something we all love to hear and to share.

The best news ever shared was the good news, or the gospel, of Jesus Christ. Jesus told His disciples to go out into the world and preach the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15). The Greek word for “gospel” is evangelion, a word that was originally used when describing the “good news” of a military victory that was being brought by a messenger to his commanding officer. Later, that same word came to mean simply a “good message.” But thanks to the writers of the New Testament, the word evangelion came to refer to the “Good News” of Jesus Christ.

What is that good news? It’s the news that Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, became flesh and came to earth to pay the price for our sins. It’s the news that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). It’s the news that, if we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead, we receive the gift of salvation (Romans 10:9). It’s the news that, when we receive it and believe it, we must pass on to others. Why? First, because we want to be obedient to Jesus’ command to preach the gospel to everyone, but also because, as Paul says in Colossians 1:28, “We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

The Ransom Has Been Paid

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On December 8, 1963, 19-year-old Frank Sinatra, Jr. was kidnapped at gunpoint from his room at Harrah’s Casino in Lake Tahoe, California. Two days later, after allowing Sinatra, Jr. to speak to his famous dad, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $240,000 for the victim’s safe release. Despite receiving offers of help from Attorney General Robert Kennedy and organized crime leader Sam Giancana, Frank Sinatra sought the help of the FBI to secure the release of his son and apprehend the kidnappers. The ransom was paid, and Sinatra, Jr. was released. A few days later, all of the kidnappers had been located and arrested.

The fall of man in the Garden of Eden allowed us to be “kidnapped,” held captive by sin and death. A ransom needed to be paid, but it was a ransom that we could not pay ourselves. Nor could this ransom be paid by another man or woman, even one with great wealth (Psalm 49:7-9). The ransom, the cost of redeeming us or liberating us from the sin that held us captive, was too high to be paid by man. But we have a heavenly Father who not only was able to pay our ransom but who also was willing to do so, despite the high ransom.

The ransom, the cost of liberating us from sin, from the empty life of the flesh that has been passed down throughout the generations, was not a cost that could be paid with silver and gold. Those are things that lose their value. Our ransom needed to be paid through the sacrifice of the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. Our ransom was the blood of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, God’s only Son (1 Peter 1:18-19). And not only was God willing to pay that ransom through Jesus, but he had also chosen Jesus to be our ransom long before the world began (1 Peter 1:20).

Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He came to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). The ransom has been paid, and we have been set free from the captivity of our sin. We must put our hope in the gift of salvation that comes from Jesus Christ. He paid the ransom that we could not pay because of His great love, grace, and mercy. In turn, we must live our lives as obedient children of God, turning away from the sinful desires of the flesh. And we must strive to live holy lives, being holy and righteous in all that we do, just as our heavenly Father is holy (1 Peter 1:13-16).

God Provides a Way Through

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Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the LORD opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side! (Exodus 14:21–22, ESV)

The Israelites were free. Moses had led them out of Egypt, away from the bondage of slavery. But Pharaoh and his army were in pursuit, determined to capture the Israelites and bring them back to Egypt. While the Israelites were fleeing on foot, Pharaoh and his men were on horseback and gaining ground quickly. And, as the Egyptians overtook them, the people of Israel found themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. Pharaoh and his men were behind them and in front of them was a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, the Red Sea. The people of Israel were faced with a situation from which they saw no way out.

In our lives, we may face situations from which we can see no way out, obstacles that seem insurmountable. They might be unexpected bills that we don’t have the funds to pay. Or they might be serious illnesses. They could be life-controlling addictions. When the people of Israel found themselves faced with the waters of the Red Sea and the possibility of being captured by Pharaoh and brought back into slavery, or worse yet, killed in the wilderness, they abandoned hope and panicked, saying that it would have been better for them to have remained as slaves in Egypt (Exodus 14:10-12). They saw no way out of the situation they were in.

But Moses had faith in God, who had gotten them this far. Moses knew that God would help them through this situation. Moses told the people to remain calm and wait on the Lord to pull them through. Then, with staff in hand as God had instructed, Moses raised his hand over the sea. As a result of this act of faith on the part of Moses, the waters of the Red Sea parted and the people of Israel passed through it on dry land (Exodus 14:21-22). When their pursuers followed them, God closed up the sea, and all of Pharaoh’s men were covered by the waters. God had provided the way through for His people (Exodus 14:26-28).

When we face difficult situations that seem impossible to overcome, we need to have faith like Moses, believing that God will provide a way through, just as He provided a way through the Red Sea for the people of Israel. In those situations, we must remember these words of Jesus, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.” (Mark 11:22–23)

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

“O death, where is your sting?”

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If you’ve ever been stung by a bee, you know it can be quite painful. Most people have no reaction to a bee sting other than the pain, but for some people, that sting can cause major problems. Due to an allergy that these people have to the venom, that painful sting can cause illness and even lead to death. When that happens, you could say that the bee has had victory over the person it stung.

Sin can be just like a bee sting. It can be painful and lead to problems in our lives, problems that can manifest themselves in things like depression, broken relationships, physical illness, and even death. Sin is Satan’s victory over us, and that victory started in the Garden of Eden when Satan deceived Adam and Eve into disobeying God. That disobedience led to sin and death. Scripture tells us that sin is the sting of death (1 Corinthians 15:56). But because of God’s grace, mercy, and love for us, which were shown by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, the sting of sin and death no longer has a hold on us.

When a honey bee stings someone, the bee’s barbed stinger gets caught in the person’s skin, and when the bee pulls away, the stinger and part of the bee’s abdomen break off, resulting in the death of the bee. So, you could say that the bee’s victory over that person is short-lived. This is true of Satan’s victory over us. Satan’s victory in the Garden and His seeming victory in the death of Jesus were short-lived. When Jesus rose from the grave, Satan’s victory, the victory of sin and death, was reversed. In 1 Corinthians 15:55, Paul wrote, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The victory no longer belongs to Satan, it no longer belongs to sin and death. The victory belongs to us! It was a victory that has been given to us through Jesus Christ. We can claim that victory over sin and death when we choose to turn from sin, to believe that Jesus died for us and was raised from the dead, to confess Him as Lord, and to follow Him all the days of our lives.

Faith Alignment

Anyone who owns a car knows that, occasionally, the tires can go out of alignment. Potholes are one of the biggest culprits in taking your tires out of alignment. After a snowy winter, roads may be full of potholes, and hitting these potholes can take tires that were once nicely aligned and throw tires that were once nicely aligned into misalignment. Misaligned tires can wear unevenly, causing you to need new tires, the car’s fuel efficiency can be diminished, increasing your gas costs, and the steering may pull in one direction, affecting the safe handling of the car. The solution to these problems is to have the tires realigned, restoring them back to the correct alignment.

In Luke 22:31, Jesus warned Simon Peter of this very thing. On the night before He died, Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat.” Jesus knew that when He was taken from them, Simon Peter and the other disciples would be scattered like sheep without a shepherd. Their alignment would be off, and their faith would be shaken. But Jesus also said that He had interceded in prayer for Simon Peter, praying that his faith would not fail so that when he had repented and turned back to Jesus, Simon Peter would be able to strengthen his brothers (Luke 22:32). When Simon Peter protested that he was ready to go to prison with Jesus and even die for Him, if necessary, Jesus predicted that Simon Peter would deny that he even knew Jesus three times that very night (Luke 22:33-34).

As Jesus predicted, Simon Peter did deny Jesus. Seeing Jesus arrested and brought to trial before the Sanhedrin shook Peter’s faith to the core. Satan threw a pothole at Peter that threw his faith out of alignment. As followers of Christ, we need to keep our hearts and our lives aligned with Him. But we have an enemy who, like a pothole, will try to throw our faith out of alignment. Our enemy will try to place doubts in our minds, shaking our faith when trials and tribulations come our way. And when our faith is shaken to its core we may deny Jesus, just as Simon Peter did. But the good news is that, when our faith is taken out of alignment, there is a way to have it realigned. That way was given by Jesus in Luke 22:32. We must repent and turn back to Jesus. When we do, not only will our faith be realigned, but we will also be able to strengthen the faith of our brothers and sisters who may be struggling.

Our Debt is to Love One Another

Romans 13.8

Part of our responsibility as citizens of the United States is to pay income taxes. Tomorrow is Tax Day in our country, the day on which all taxpayers must file their tax returns. If there is any tax money that is due, that amount must be paid by Tax Day in order to avoid a penalty. This is a requirement of the laws of our country, but it is a principle that was first mentioned in Scripture. In his letter to the Romans, Paul wrote that, if we owe taxes, we must pay taxes. We must give everyone what we owe them. We must pay revenue to whom it is due, respect and honor to whom it is due (Romans 13:7).

After pointing out that, as believers, we must fulfill our obligations to others, Paul says we should owe no one anything. And then he describes the one debt that must be paid on a daily basis because it is due on a daily basis. That debt is love (Romans 13:8). Origen, a third-century Bible scholar, and early church father, once said, “The debt of love remains with us permanently and never leaves us. This is a debt which we pay every day and forever owe.” At the end of Romans 13:8, Paul gives us a good reason for wanting to continually pay this debt. When we truly love one another, we keep all of God’s commandments.

Paul tells us that the commandments that say we must not commit adultery, must not murder, steal, or covet, are all summed up in what Jesus told us is the second greatest commandment after loving God: we must love our neighbor as ourselves (Romans 13:9; Matthew 22:39). Paul goes on to say that love does no wrong to a neighbor, so love is the fulfillment of God’s law (Romans 13:10). If we truly love one another, we show respect and restraint. We do not seek to destroy but to build up, and we will take more pleasure in giving than receiving.

Jesus commanded that we love one another just as He loves us. We have a debt to love one another, not just friends, family, and fellow believers, but even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We may not be happy to pay taxes but, when we consider the love that God showed us by giving His only Son, Jesus, to die for our sins (John 3:16), we should not just be happy, but overjoyed to pay the debt of love to others.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Listening & Doing

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“Hear ye! Hear ye!”

A town crier, or as he was sometimes called, a bellman, was an officer of the court whose responsibility was to make public announcements of such things as proclamations, bylaws, and even advertisements. The town crier would ring a bell and then cry out, “Oyez! Oyez!” which means “Hear ye! Hear ye!” This cry was a call for those in hearing distance to be silent and listen, because what the town crier was about to say was important.

In the first chapter of the letter of James, the writer, believed to be the brother of Jesus, begins verse 19 by telling his brothers and sisters in Christ to “take note of this.” The Greek word used here is iste, which means know. In some translations, it appears as “know this” or “understand this.” Like a town crier, James wanted the readers of his letter to know that what they were about to read next was important. It was something that they should pay attention to and take to heart. What could be so important? What did James want believers to take note of? After getting our attention, James continues by telling us that all of us need to be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19).

Listening is important for a follower of Christ. In a conversation, it is more important to listen than to speak. This is why James says we should be quick to listen but slow to speak. We need to hear what the other person has to say so that we will know how to respond. When we spend our time thinking about what we are going to say without listening, when we are quick to speak and slow to hear, misunderstandings can occur. And with misunderstandings come disagreements and disagreements often lead to anger. A person who is quick to listen and slow to speak is much more likely to be slow to anger. This is important, as the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20).

Listening is also important when it comes to God’s Word. As we spend time reading His Word, we must also be listening. We must be listening to what the words say and also for what God is trying to say to us through those words. God speaks to us through His Word and, if we listen, we will hear His still, small voice as He speaks to our hearts. But, we must not just listen to His Word, we must also do what it says. We need to be both listeners and doers. When we listen only but do not do what the Word says, it will not stay with us but will be forgotten (James 1:22-24). When we listen to His Word and then act on it, we will be blessed (James 1:25) and will have a firm foundation on which to build our lives on (Matthew 7:24).

Don’t Repay Evil for Evil

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.1 Thessalonians 5_15 (ESV)

Retaliation is the act of repaying in kind or returning like for like when someone has been wronged. It’s getting revenge or evening the score. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. Seems reasonable, right? After all, if someone does something to harm you, why should they be allowed to get away with it? It’s only fair, isn’t it? By the world’s standards, retaliation seems to make perfect sense. But what does the Word of God say about it?

In Romans 12:9, the apostle Paul said that we should abhor evil, we should hate what is wrong. So does that mean we should seek revenge against those who do wrong to us? Should we retaliate against those who seek to do evil, to harm or to persecute us? In 1 Thessalonians 5:15, Paul wrote, “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil.” In Romans 12:17, he said the same thing, “Repay no one evil for evil.” The apostle Peter gave the same instruction in 1 Peter 3:9, “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling.” In one translation, 1 Thessalonians 5:15 says “resist revenge.” Retaliation is not an option for those who choose to follow Christ.

So, how do we answer evil or wrongs done to us? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matthew 5:38-39).” The way in which we respond to the wrongs done to us should set us apart from the world. The world says, “seek revenge” or “even the score.” But God’s Word says we should turn the other cheek, do what is honorable in the sight of all (Romans 12:17). Rather than retaliate when we are hurt or wronged by someone, we should do good to them. And this is true not just for another believer who hurt us, but for everyone (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

The apostle Peter wrote that, rather than repaying evil for evil, we should bless those who do evil to us. He goes on to say that when we bless rather than retaliate, we also will be blessed. And the best part is that when we do good to those do wrong to us, bless those who hurt us, and do what is honorable in the sight of all, we are reflecting the character of Jesus to the world.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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