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Friday, July 13, 2018

How Freedom in Jesus Impacts Our Daily Life

Last week, I published an article titled Celebrating Our Freedom. In this article, I shared the fundamentals of the freedom we can find in Jesus. When we hear the word freedom, most of us probably paint a picture of being set free from a tyrannical government or leader. But this is far from the picture the Bible paints for us about the freedom offered in Jesus.

What does it really look like for Jesus to set us free? And how does it impact our daily lives? These are the questions I seek to answer in this article by providing a few practical examples from my own life which demonstrate the ways in which Jesus has set me free. If there’s one thing I’ve learned since God began setting me free from sin,[1] it’s that this freedom is something which permeates every area of my life. My entire outlook on life, the things I strive after, and the things I think about throughout the day have completely changed.

As I share a few of the ways in which my life has been changed by Jesus, know that these are only a few specific examples which have taken place in my life and that they aren’t the only changes I’ve experienced, nor are they the only changes other people have experienced. The reason I’ve decided to share these specific examples is because I think they will be relatable for many of you reading this article.

Jesus Set Me Free from Shame

Shame is one of the most under-discussed and under-researched topics in the world. It’s an incredibly hard subject to talk about because of the pain it stirs up. Nonetheless, I’m going to spend a little time discussing shame because of the stronghold it once had on me and because of the stronghold it probably has on many of you.

Based on the research of Dr. Brené Brown, often recognized as the leading researcher in the area of shame, shame is defined as “The fear of disconnection.” To say it another way, shame is the fear of rejection. All of us have struggled with this fear at some point in our lives and may still be struggling with it today. We so desperately want to be accepted.

As I look back on the few childhood memories stored in the archives of my brain, most of them are somehow connected to the shame I felt in the midst of those experiences. Throughout grade-school, I was often picked on by my classmates which led me to feel rejected by them. For example, I can remember wearing a sleeveless shirt to school one day and one of my classmates made fun of me because my arms were so skinny. I felt that I was being rejected because of my skinny arms which then led me to feel shame.

A few weeks later on the last day of school, we were all ushered into the cafeteria where awards were presented to students who excelled in various areas such as being on the honor roll, getting straight A’s, and having perfect attendance. When the teachers presented the awards to the students, everyone in the room applauded for them. To my young mind, it appeared like these high-performing students received acceptance because of their accomplishments. At that moment, I decided to set out to win every school award imaginable in order to receive the same acceptance. By the time I finished 5th grade, I was earning every single one of those awards every single year. I got to stand up in front of every student in the entire school to accept my award and receive their solidary commendation.

It didn’t take long for this same mentality to carry over into everything I did. I strove to win every award imaginable so that I could experience what I felt was a sign of acceptance. Whatever I did, whether it was school work, sports, choir, or musicals, I quickly climbed to the top of the ladder and won nearly every award. And every time I walked up to the front of the room to receive my award, I soaked up the applause I received from all my classmates.

Unfortunately, awards are only handed out once a year. And although I found myself feeling accepted when I received awards, I still felt rejected and therefore lots of shame throughout the rest of the year. No matter how hard I tried or how many awards I received, I was never able to part with the daily shame I experienced. The constant shame I felt continued until Jesus became the King of my life. When this transition began to take place, everything began to change.

Jesus is God. Why is this important? Because that makes him the most important being in the entire world. God created and continues to sustain the universe. And he created every single person on earth. He’s kind of a big deal.

When I put myself and everyone else on earth up against God, I realize we all pale in comparison to him. In the grand scheme of things, we’re worthless compared to God. We’re just a bunch of messed up peons who are enslaved to sin. God has no reason to give us the time of day. Yet, God loves me so much that he humbled himself to become a human being who lived in this sinful world and died a death he didn’t deserve so that I could be set free from my captivity to sin.[2] This is the greatest act of acceptance anyone could ever demonstrate. The fact that I did absolutely nothing to earn it, yet he gave it to me freely, demonstrates the genuineness of it.

Jesus has set me free from the fear of rejection and the shame that comes with it![3]

Jesus Is Setting Me Free from My Addictions

Another freedom I’ve experienced in Jesus is being set free from addiction. Although I’ve never been addicted to some of the biggest culturally taboo addictions such as drugs, gambling, or pornography, I’ve been addicted to a number of other things including wealth, video games, and perfection.

Although I don’t have a doctorate in psychology, in my experiences dealing with personal addictions and in walking alongside others who have struggled with addictions, I’ve concluded that addictions, regardless pf type, are extremely similar in that every single one of them is completely enslaving. Anything can become an addiction. We can be addicted to work, sports, gossip, politics, sex, eating, cleaning, and even coupon clipping. It doesn’t take a chemical injection in order for something to become addicting.

The way all addictions start is by trying something for the first time. Maybe you got to play a video game at a friend’s house, try a new sport, or take a shot of heroin. As you tried those things for the first time, you realized that they felt pretty good. So you naturally decided to go back to them again and again and again. Before you know it, you find that your mind is constantly consumed with dreaming about the future experiences you’ll have with the object of your addiction. You’ll be counting down the minutes until you’ll be able to have it again. And you get to the place where you feel like you need to have it in order to be happy. This is what I mean by it being enslaving. The addiction ends up controlling you.

One of my addictions for many years was wealth. I’d often find my mind completely consumed with dreaming about becoming one of the wealthiest people in the world. When I had opportunities to earn some money, I’d save nearly every penny of it. By late elementary school, I had saved up enough to open my first Certificate of Deposit. In seventh grade, I saved up another pot of money which I invested in my first mutual fund. A year later, I saved up another pot of money and opened my first Roth IRA. I few years later, I did lots of research on stocks and began buying and selling individual stocks.

Money wasn’t the only part of wealth to which I was addicted. I was also addicted to the stuff I bought with my money. When I spent money on things, which was very rare, I was very selective about how I used it and was very protective of the things I bought. Although I dropped hundreds of dollars on Ty beanie babies, I did it as an investment because I was convinced they were going to increase in value over time. You guessed it: I never cut off their shiny, red, unbent tags because they were sure to decrease in value if I did that. When other people would ask to borrow my stuff, I’d say “No” because my experience had shown that they didn’t take as good of care of it as I did.

When Amy and I got married and were both working full-time jobs, I initially won the battle on how much money we spent. Basically, we only spent money on the necessities and didn’t splurge on anything. We had a tight, rigorous budget which I set for us and forced her to comply. I regularly got upset with her because she’d spend money going out to eat for lunch everyday rather than packing her lunch. During this time period, we filled our coffers with so much money that everyone was in awe of how much money we had.

Due to my love of wealth, I spent my childhood living in constant fear that either someone was going to break into our house and steal all my prized possessions or that our house was going to catch on fire. I regularly had nightmares about one or both of these events occurring. This same fear carried over into my adult life. When Amy and I bought a house, I invested in a top-notch security system to protect all my valuable stuff.

I did all these things because of my addiction to wealth. I was absolutely terrified of losing it because of the dependency I had on it. It was so enslaving that it caused unnecessary friction between Amy and me.

But Jesus decided to set me free from my addiction. He didn’t use a self-induced 12-step program for addiction recovery. He also didn’t teach me how to build up a better resistance to it. Rather, he replaced my desire for it with a desire for something so much more valuable than all the wealth in the entire world put together; he replaced it with a desire for him. He showed me, not just told me, how much more valuable he is than all the wealth in the world. He can satisfy me in a way that all the wealth in the world could never do. As a result, I’m no longer a slave to wealth and I no longer have a fear of losing my wealth. If a fire consumes it all or if a burglar breaks in and steals it all, so what? I trust that God is still going to take care of me.

In a similar way that Jesus broke my addiction to wealth, he has broken some of my other addictions and is in the process of breaking some other extremely stubborn addictions. Jesus is setting me free from my addictions!

Jesus Set Me Free from My Fear of Death

The number one fear I think most humans have is the fear of death. Even though I’ve always been a professing Christian, I still feared death. I feared everything about it from the act of dying to the unknown of what was going to happen after I died. I think every single one of us can relate to this one.

Can you even begin to list out the amount of time you spend planning and implementing preventative measures to ensure that you stay alive? I’m not suggesting that we stop wearing our seatbelts or attempt to walk across four lanes of traffic when the sign says “Don’t Walk,” but I am suggesting that we usually spend way too long and way too much money trying to keep ourselves alive. With all the latest technology in the medical field, we spend thousands of dollars to put loved ones on machines in order to keep them alive for a couple more days. We’ll go to virtually any and all lengths to keep ourselves from dying.

Similar to the other topics I’ve discussed in this article, the fear of dying can be enslaving. It can completely control our lives. Some people install five locks on every door, have an armed gun by them at all times, and almost never leave the house out of this fear. The person who does decide to break into that house isn’t going to fare well.

If you don’t believe in an afterlife or you believe that you won’t receive an afterlife of reward, then you have every reason to fear dying. Things don’t look very good for you. But for those who believe they have received life in Jesus, we have no reason whatsoever to fear dying. Jesus promised that all those who belong to him will inherit eternal life with him. Yet, some of us still struggle with this fear. I believe the reason we struggle with it is because we (1) don’t yet have a kingdom mentality, (2) don’t believe Jesus is really in control of our lives, and (3) don’t actually trust that Jesus has the power to do what’s best for his kingdom. We could try to brainwash ourselves into believing these three things, but it’s not going to change the way we operate unless it becomes a deep conviction that he places on our hearts.

Personally, I’ve experienced this change in my heart. I can remember the fear I experienced a few years ago when the thought crossed my mind that a terrorist could attack any public place at any time. But when that thought crosses my mind now, I no longer experience the fear of dying. When the realization hits me that I could get in a car accident and lose my life, I no longer experience fear. When I get on a roller coaster and feel like going over a hill the wrong way could cause me to fly out of my seat and die, I no longer experience fear. Why? Because he’s set me free from that fear. I can wake up every morning without the fear of dying that day. As long as I am here on earth, I will live for him. And the day he decides it’s time for me to be with him will be the best day of my life; I’ll finally get to see Jesus face to face.

Jesus has set me free from the fear of dying!

Do You Want to Be Set Free?

As can be seen from my life, I can personally attest to the fact that there is freedom found in Jesus. It’s a freedom that can’t be gained anywhere else. Not even the best mind games can get you there. You can try to talk yourself out of your fears, but they don’t magically go away. They may be masked for a while, but will inevitably resurface. I know because I’ve tried these tactics. They don’t work. It’s something which Jesus has to do.

Although you can’t earn this freedom, if you want Jesus to set you free, ask him every single day to do it. And ask him for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the results. Additionally, I’d strongly encourage you to read the Bible because it paints a much more comprehensive picture than I can write in a couple short articles about what this freedom looks like. It shows you the character of God. It shows you how to follow him with everything you are. And it shows you the results you should expect to see as you experience the freeing work he’s doing in your life.

If you’d like to discuss this topic more, feel free to reach out to me via phone, email, social media, etc.

Can you relate with some of the ways in which I’ve been set free by Jesus? From what has he set you free? From what do you want to be set free?

[1] As a clarification, I’m not claiming that I no longer a sinner. I’m a sinner every single day. But sin no longer runs my life. Jesus does!
[2] See John 3:16 and Philippians 2:5-9.
[3] This isn’t to say that I no longer struggle with pleasing other people, but I’m no longer a slave to it like I was previously.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Celebrating Our Freedom

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Second Continental Congress stating that the thirteen British colonies in North America declared themselves to be independent of British rule. For the next seven years, these colonies joining together to collectively fight against the British who sought to maintain their control over what became known as the United States of America. Through the valiant efforts of thousands of people, some of whom died in the process, the thirteen colonies won their freedom from British rule.

As great as the freedom is that we have in this country, we can experience an even greater freedom in Jesus. Freedom from what? As Americans, we’re not slaves to anyone, right? According to the Bible, we are all born into slavery.[1] It’s not the type of slavery we typically imagine because it’s not a type of slavery which is visible to the eye. It’s become so familiar to us that we don’t even recognize its existence. This slavery has taken our hearts and minds hostage. We are born as slaves to sin. And there’s nothing we can do to set ourselves free. We need a hero to come set us free.

How Did We Get Here?

According to the Bible, many years ago, God brought the earth and everything in it into existence. He created the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the water, the plants, and the animals. To top it all off he created humans, the only part of creation which is recorded to have been created in his image.[2]

God took the man, Adam, and the woman, Eve, whom he had created and placed them in a luscious garden called Eden. In this garden, they experienced complete freedom in him. They were slaves to no one except him.[3]

But then something happened which changed not only the freedom they experienced, but the freedom which was passed down to all of humanity. Adam and Eve sinned against God. This was a huge deal. Their one act of sin caused them to lose the freedom they found in God and become slaves of sin. As slaves of sin, they became obedient to sin and all its shortcomings, including the addition of a whole new set of fears they’d never experienced before such as shame and death. When they later had children, those children were also born into slavery. And since all of humanity is descended from these two humans, every single person on the earth is born a slave to sin.

How Can We Be Set Free?

If the story ended here, it’d be sort of a doom and gloom story. Not exactly something worth celebrating. But thankfully, the story doesn’t end here. Before Adam and Eve ever sinned, before they were created, and before the entire universe was created, God had already developed a plan to deal with this problem.

Sin isn’t something which God can magically overlook. He is completely holy. People who aren’t completely holy (sinful) can’t bear to be in his presence because they are unworthy and they fully recognize it. As an example, when one of the prophets of the Old Testament found himself in the presence of God in a vision, his first response was, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…”[4] Immediately following this realization, he was cleansed from his sin, making it bearable for him to be in God’s presence. In the same way, in order for us to be in God’s presence, we have to be made holy which means we have to be set free from our slavery to sin. How does God make us holy?

Have you ever experienced financial debt? If you went to college, then you probably had student loans or if you own a house, then you probably have a mortgage. For the purposes of this example, imagine you’re in lots of debt. Imagine you have racked up a debt of $6,000,000,000 (6 billion dollars). Will you ever be able to pay off this debt? Probably not. If you think there’s the potential you could pay off this debt, then imagine you have a debt of $6,000,000,000,000 (6 trillion dollars). For the purposes of this illustration, you need to imagine you have a debt you can’t pay off. If your imaginary self feels hopelessly a slave to your creditor, then you’ve got the point.

Will your $6,000,000,000 debt merely disappear? No, it won’t. Someone has to pay for it. Maybe Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos would come along and pay off your debt. Wouldn’t that be nice! Then again, maybe your creditor will decide to forgive the debt. Regardless of who’s paying for it, someone has to pay for it. The debt doesn’t just magically disappear.

In the same way, sin doesn’t just magically disappear. It’s something we can’t repay and something which God doesn’t just wave his hand over and say “hocus pocus” to make it go away. Someone has to pay for it. How is this debt paid? Death.[5] All people die; that is a fact. Even though we have been trying to defeat death for many years, we’ve yet to conquer it because sin is still present. If sin were to vanish, then death would vanish as well.

This death is not only a death in this life, but an eternal death apart from God.[6] The problem we face is that every single human who has ever lived (except Jesus) is sinful, meaning that we’re all in the same boat. We’re not even able to pay off our own debt, let alone pay for the debt of another person. It’d be like every person on the planet owing a debt of 6 trillion dollars. Not even Jeff Bezos, currently the wealthiest man in the world, could pay off his own 6 trillion dollar debt, let alone pay the 6 trillion dollar debt of every single other person in the world.

But God, out of his love for both himself and humanity, developed a plan to pay for the debt owed by all his people. He chose to personally come to earth as a human being (Jesus), live a sinless life, and die in place of his people. Think of it like him making a trade; he traded his holy life to his people for their unholy lives and as a result, endured the punishment they deserved. It was through this act that he set his people free from their slavery to sin.

Looking Ahead

This may be the first time you’ve heard this story or it may be the thousandth time you’ve heard it. But what I find over and over again is that although many church-going people know this story like the back of our hands, they struggle to see how this story changes our lives. It’s one thing to say we’re free, but it’s another to know how our lives are transformed as a result of this freedom. What does it look like to wake up every morning having been set free from slavery to sin? I’ll be addressing this topic in my next article. Stay tuned…

[1] See John 8:33-47.
[2] See Genesis 1:26-27.
[3] Slavery to God is different than slavery to anyone or anything else. Slavery to God is freeing whereas slavery to anyone or anything else is like the slavery we usually picture.
[4] Isaiah 6:5.
[5] See Genesis 2:17 and Romans 6:23.
[6] I’m not claiming that peoples’ souls will cease to exist after they die on earth. The Bible speaks over and over again of eternal punishment and torment for those who die apart from God.