Finding Freedom

Recently after giving a youth group lesson I was confronted by a group of 5 teens that wanted to debate me about Christianity. Our youth group is a mix of Christians, atheists, and everything in between. Most of the teens stayed after the lesson to watch this debate go down until about 11pm. The leader of their little group said to me, “You’re a Christian. So that means you’re confined by so many rules. But I am free to do whatever I want. I can do drugs if I wanted to, but you can’t. I can get drunk if I want, but you can’t. I watch porn whenever I want and enjoy it with no shame, but you can’t. I’m free, you’re not.”

I thought about this for a moment. I responded by saying, “I don’t think you understand freedom. It’s not that I can’t do those things, it’s that I am free FROM those things. Sure you can watch porn whenever you want, but I don’t think you could stop if you tried. You’re a slave to it without even realizing it.”

If we were to define freedom we might describe it as having the ability to do whatever we want with absolutely no consequences. But imagine if we lived in a world where we had that kind of freedom. That would be like driving down a 4 lane highway with no speed limit signs and no dividing lines. You can drive however you want with no rules…but this would lead to a pileup of disaster.

Freedom requires restraint. It’s actually just like playing drums. Imagine a brand new drummer who’s never played before sitting down on a beautiful pristine kit with new heads, fresh sticks, and fresh cymbals. They sit down and just blast off with no rules. It’s a mess of cymbal slams, dramatic tom hits, chaotic double bass, and of course, cracks and dents in those new sticks.

If you want to be a good drummer, the best place to start is on a practice pad. Learn the basics. Put in the time and discipline. During this process you might feel confined and even bored, but this is what it takes to be great. Once you go through this discipline you now have freedom to play whatever you want with skill and excellence.

The same thing is true about having freedom in Christ. When God calls us to discipline and restraint it’s not meant to confine us, but it’s meant to give us the ability to live free and upright without falling into all these sins traps that are all around us.

Freedom in Christ has two main components. Freedom from & freedom to. You are free FROM your sin. You are no longer slaves to sin, but set free and set apart for God (Romans 6:18). And you are free TO live a new life. God gives you a calling and equips you with everything you need.

So this weekend we are remembering our freedom and independence as a nation. That freedom came at the cost of people laying down their lives. When it comes to your salvation, the same principle applies but in a much larger context. Your freedom came at a cost. Jesus laid down His life so that you could be free. Don’t run back to the chains that He delivered you from!

Have a Happy 4th of July weekend!

Christians with Bad Gas

Mark 8:14-21

A lot of Christians have bad gas.  They stink.  Their stench is partly to blame for driving people away from the church.  Of course, I say ‘partly,’ because those who don’t go to church have to take responsibility for their actions and stop blaming Christians with gas.  But I digress.

I’m not talking about butt gas, but ego gas, and, believe it or not, there’s a difference.  We’re up to Mark 8:14-21, where Jesus warns his followers about the gas of religious people, only Jesus calls it ‘leaven.’  But, let’s be honest, it’s more fun to say gas.

Leaven is the agent in bread that gives off gas so the bread will rise.  Leaven could be either chemically based, like baking soda, or naturally based, like yeast, sour milk, or beer (mmmm, beer).

When the leaven begins to break down, it releases gas inside the body of the bread and the bread rises, becoming bigger than it really is.  A lump of dough could grow twice its size because of the leaven. 

This helps us to understand why Jesus cautioned his disciples, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod” (Mark 8:15).  What did Jesus mean?  Jesus knew that a lot of religious people were puffed up, making themselves appear bigger than they really were.  In other words, they had leaven gas inside them, which inflated them to about twice their size.  That’s why Jesus couldn’t stand the smell of religious people.

There was a kind of leaven inside the Pharisees that gave them an inflated ego or sense of self-importance.  They thought they were bigger and better than everyone else; and they felt their good works made them bigger and better in God’s eyes, too, which is really damnable.  The bottom line (no pun intended) is that they trusted their good works to make them righteous before God and men.  They were inflated, puffed up, and full of gas.

Scour the Bible and you’ll discover that there’s nothing Jesus hated more than self-righteous, puffed up religious people.  Jesus embraced all kinds of people, but not the ‘Pharisee’ kind.  He embraced dirty lepers, prostitutes, drunks, liers, thieves, and even murderers, but he had no patience for puffed up religious folk.  Hell, Jesus even made time for demons and the demon possessed, that’s how low his standards were!

Jesus just wanted the bread how it was, not all puffed up.  He didn’t want self-righteous leven in it.  And that’s pretty cool.  Jesus will take bread that’s moldy, half-eaten, soggy, small, burnt, or underbaked, but he won’t have anything to do with deceptive, leavened bread.  That’s the good news.

But there is bad news: everyone who has ever lived is infected with the leaven of the Pharisees.  It’s in our human DNA.  It’s what makes you want to puff yourself up and look better than others; it’s why social media works.  It’s what makes you think you can earn God’s favor by being good or obeying his commandments.  It’s what makes you give up on yourself for failing, because you think you’re better (and bigger) than you really are.  It’s what causes you to thumb your nose at religious folks, because you think you’re better than they are.  Wow, that just came full circle.

There’s no getting around the fact that we all have religious leaven in us, giving us spiritual gas.  So how do we get rid of it?

Let’s go back to our passage of Scripture.  

The disciples forgot to bring bread (14) and were arguing about the fact that they had no bread to eat (16).  That’s when Jesus chimed in with his cautionary tale about leaven, which seemed to come out of right field.  The disciples wondered what the heck he was talking about, for they were starving and Jesus was warning them about the dangers of leaven.  So Jesus told them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?  Do you not yet perceive or understand?” (17). 

They were still confused, so Jesus reminded them of the multiple times he provided bread for them when they didn’t have any.  “Don’t you remember?” (18), he asked them, when there was just the twelve of you, I miraculously provided bread for over 5,000 people, then I did the same for over 4,000 people, and each time there were leftovers!

In other words, Jesus reasoned, trust me to give you bread when you don’t have any; also, trust me to give you the kind of bread you need.

When we are empty, Jesus will provide what we need.  When we don’t have what it takes to earn God’s favor, Jesus will provide for us.  When we don’t have our own righteousness, Jesus will give us his righteousness.   There’s no sense in puffing yourself up in order to look twice your size, because Jesus is able to give you 9,000 loaves of bread with plenty to spare!  (That’s about 9,000 times your size!)  You don’t need to be full of gas when Jesus is full of grace.

Just be you.  Be ordinary, flimsy, plain-bagel-you.  Stop trying to impress God and those around you.  Jesus is able to provide all you need, and then some.

Here’s a thought that just occurred to me: there are two kinds of people, those who tell the truth and those who trust in their own inflating self-righteousness.

The Breakdown

  1. What did Jesus mean by ‘leaven?’  Where do you see leaven in your life?
  2. In what situations are you afraid to be your ordinary self?  Why do you think this is?
  3. Have you ever been ‘empty’ and experienced the grace of Jesus filling you up?  What was that like?  Was the ‘bread’ he provided better than what you would have been able to provide on your own?
  4. What do you think the last sentence means (“There are two kinds of people, those who tell the truth and those who trust in their own inflating self-righteousness.”)?

Jesus Is Disturbing

Mark 1:21-28

How long had the demon-possessed man been in the synagogue before anyone noticed him?  Years?  Decades?  He had probably been there a long time, but nobody knew he had a demon.  Then “immediately” (there’s Mark’s favorite word again!), Jesus went into the synagogue, which was like a church, and began to teach.  Jesus taught like none other.  

Everyone was astonished, because he taught with authority, unlike the other teachers.  Almost instantaneously, as soon as the man with the unclean spirit heard the teaching of Jesus, the demon surfaced.  It cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?  Have you come to destroy us?” (1:24).  The demon was threatened by the authoritative teaching of Jesus.  

Then the demon-possessed man made the first public declaration of the true identity of Jesus, saying, “I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”  This declaration came from a demon-possessed man, rather than a disciple or religious leader!  How did Jesus respond?  “But Jesus rebuked him” (1:25).  Jesus commanded the unclean spirit to exit the man, which it did, convulsing him one last time.  Everyone was amazed, saying, ‘What is this?  A new teaching with authority!  He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’” (28).  Put another way, it’s equally amazing that the unclean spirits did not obey the other religious teachers of the day!

Of Men and Mice

It’s like the mice in my shed.  Since I don’t go into the shed during the long winter, it remains undisturbed.  In the spring, I finally open the doors of the shed and expose the rodents living inside of it.  As the light shines in for the first time in months, I’m able to see their nests, droppings, and terrified eyes!  They immediately scurry out of sight, for they recognize me as an enormous enemy.  I usually shout at them a few times, as if they understood English, “Get out of here, stupid mice!” before I begin to clean up the mess they left.  Then my shed can begin to be used for what it was meant to be used for, rather than a Motel 6 for mice!

Again, how long had this man been sitting in the pews of the synagogue before Jesus showed up?  The demons, like my mice, were quietly gnawing away at him, completely undisturbed.  But before they could devour him altogether, Someone showed up who actually spoke the truth with authority.  The kingdom of God arrived and the kingdom of his world shrieked and fled.

Powerless Churches

Have you ever heard anyone speak with authority?  Maybe it made you want to get up and leave?  Or you got scared?  Or offended?  I wonder how many people there are with unclean spirits in our churches, who remain completely undisturbed because nobody is teaching with authority?  The antonym for authority is “powerlessness,” which makes one wonder about the teaching going on in our churches today.  

If we want to see our inner demons surface and flee, then we have to expose ourselves to the authoritative word of God, not the powerless babbling we’re used to hearing.

“Authority Song” 

What’s more important to you, the veracity of a teaching, or the authority of the person who speaks it?  Don’t answer too quickly, because we’d like to believe we’re objective and are able to measure a teaching on its own merits; but, most often, we decide on a teaching before we even hear it, because of the trustworthiness of the speaker.  Would you rather hear a confusing and difficult message, from someone you trusted completely, or hear a teaching that makes complete sense to you, but it comes from somebody you do not trust at all?  Our present political climate should make this obvious.  The media won’t agree with certain politicians, no matter what they say!  The majority of the time, we listen to people we trust, who speak with authority, even if their messages don’t make complete sense to us yet.  We tend not to listen to those we don’t trust.

Since Jesus spoke with authority, people trusted him and listened to what he said, even if they didn’t understand at first.  

Disagree to Agree

Let’s face it, even though we tend to trust Jesus, he said some pretty crazy things!  In fact, let’s be real here, we would be shocked if you agreed with everything Jesus said.  We’ll go one step further, those who agree with everything Jesus said are completely out of touch with themselves.  After all, some of his words were meant to offend.  His words stir us up.  His words shine a light into our hearts, causing all the rodents in there to scurry.  He wasn’t always easy to listen to.  He said some extreme things.  He condemned really good people and he praised really bad people.  Again, if you agree with everything Jesus said, then you’ve not been paying attention.  He spoke not just to comfort the sinner, but to disturb the self-righteous.  The words of Jesus are like the Ten Commandments, nobody measures up to them!

Expose Yourself

Regularly expose yourself to the teachings of Jesus, in order to get your inner demons to surface.  You might not know they’re there, just like nobody knew about the undetectable demons of the man.  In fact, the better the job the demons do, the less you’ll even notice them. It takes the word of Jesus to expose them.

And maybe this little devotional on Mark 1:21-28  is raising your ire, kindling some furry, because you don’t want to admit that you have demons or darkness or secret places or doubts. Maybe it’s exposing something you really need to see right now.

The most dangerous part about us is not our most wicked thought or disgraceful deed, but it is our unknown one.  

Fully Known

“But,” you protest, “How can I ever know it, if it’s unknown?  How can I ever be conscious of my unconsciousness?”  That’s exactly why we need to expose ourselves to the words of Jesus, because they cause the unknown parts of us to reveal themselves.  You might not know how to fix you, but Jesus does.

Has Jesus disturbed you?  If not, don’t worry, he will!  Don’t think you have any demons?  Just spend some time with him and the demons will come shrieking out of you.  We all have unclean spirits inside of us, hiding in the neglected corners of our being, the parts we don’t like to talk about. 

Yes, Jesus is disturbing, but he has the authority to disturb you. 

And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.  —Mark 1:22

The Breakdown

  1. What stood out to you the most from Mark 1:21-28?
  2. What are some of the teachings of Jesus you find difficult to agree with?  
  3. What are some ways you can expose yourself regularly to the word of God?
  4. Are there areas in your life you haven’t addressed in a while?  Spend some time in prayer, asking God’s Spirit to search your life and reveal the neglected parts.  Then ask Jesus to teach you his word about these areas.