My Sunday sermons given at Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR, for those who missed church or just want to see what we're up to. You can also listen to these sermons if you prefer. Just go to our church website and click the "Online Church" tab. Here's the link:

Monday, July 4, 2011

"Free To Do What?" - (07/03/11)

Independence Day Message
“If the Son shall set you free, you shall be FREE INDEED.” (John 8:36)
July 3, 2011

            The song, “Me and Bobby McGee” was written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster.  It was first released by country singer, Roger Miller, in July 1969.  However, the most famous version of it was sung 2 years later in 1971 by Janis Joplin before she drugged and drank herself to death.  You may remember these lyrics from that song: “…Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.  Nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’, but it’s free.”
            For many people those words sum up their definition of freedom—”…nothing left to lose.”  But is that what freedom is?  I don’t think so.  On this 4th of July weekend I want us to stop and think about what freedom really means to us.  We use the word “freedom” glibly because as Americans we have lived in freedom for so long that it has become something that we take for granted.  Most of us know nothing else.

            Tomorrow, July 4th, America will celebrate 235 years of freedom.  It was on that day in 1776 that our Founding Fathers published the Declaration of Independence from England, which in turn launched the Revolutionary War.  The document didn’t make them free.  They had to fight a long bloody war before their “paper freedom” became reality.  For you see, to declare oneself free does not make it so.  Freedom must be won, and that usually at a high cost.
            The Declaration of Independence begins with these words: “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation…”  It goes on to state: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.  Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”  Of course, the Declaration then goes on to enumerate our grievances and the reasons we were separating ourselves from our mother country.

Today in America we enjoy freedoms that we did not earn.  They were handed down to us.  As a result, there are many in this country that place very little value on our freedom.  It cost them nothing so they do not hold it dear. 
            To be honest, I have never had to fight to defend our freedom, and I have never lived in slavery.  The closest I’ve come to it is to live for ten years under a strict military regime in Brazil.  But I learned an important lesson through that experience.  During all the years of martial law crime was held down to a minimum.  There were no pornographic magazines on the book stands.  We felt safe to take walks after dark.  After the military government was replaced with a civilian administration in the late 80’s, all that changed.  Sin rushed in like a flood.  Every manner of filth and vileness showed up almost from one day to the next.  People quickly began to use their new-found freedom to do evil rather than to do good.  How very interesting!
In our free land, nearly every teenager dreams of the day when he will turn 21 and be free to do the things he really wants to do.  What is the big attraction?  He wants to drink beer, drive fast cars, and date fast women without anybody getting on his case.  He wants to be free of the restrictions placed on him by family, school, and society.  He wants to do what he dang well pleases—to enjoy all the so-called “adult pleasures” from which he has been barred up to that time.  Yet so often, that desire for freedom ends up leading to trouble and a kind of enslavement that the person never dreamed of and never saw coming.  In fact, the real name for that kind of freedom is “license,” and it is not what our country’s Founding Father’s had in mind, nor is it what God wants us to experience.  It is a false freedom and is destructive both to the individual and to society.
This is not something new.  It has been going on for a long time.  The average person thinks of “freedom” as meaning that he/she can do whatever they please.  But is that true?  Can we do anything that we please?  Are there no boundaries or limits to freedom?  That’s what we want to examine today.  If we are free, WHAT ARE WE FREE TO DO?
The text upon which I want to focus our attention this morning is found in John 8:31-36: 31To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples.  32Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  33They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone.  How can you say that we shall be set free?”  34Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  35Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  36So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  

WOW!  How cool is that?!  But does that mean we are really free to do everything and anything we want?  Is that what Jesus meant by “free”?
  • Am I free to be a lazy jerk and deliberately live off welfare?
  • Am I free to become a pornographer?
  • Am I free to impose my views and life-style on others?
  • Am I free to take drugs and sell them to others?
  • Am I free to hurt other people?
  • Am I free to lie, cheat, murder, and steal?
  • Am I free to say anything I want, anywhere, under any circumstances?

            Are these the kind of things Jesus had in mind when He said that He can make us “free indeed”?  Of course not!  On the one hand I think we can agree that from the standpoint of the Declaration of Independence freedom is a God-given natural right, which all humans possess and to reduce it is an attack on human dignity and on the Rights of Man.  However, the freedom that Jesus is talking about in John 8:36 is freedom to do what is right, and good, and just, and holy; not that which is evil, and rude, and destructive, and filthy.  From God’s perspective we are not free to do anything and everything that we happen to feel like doing.
Let’s break this question down into some categories.

Physically, are we free to do everything that we want to do?
            It is undeniably true that unless we are ill or paralyzed we enjoy a certain liberty, freedom of movement, to be able to move our heads, to raise fingers, to run, etc.  But this physical freedom is not unlimited.  For example, we can frantically wave our arms but we still cannot manage to fly because our freedom of movement is limited by other rules, which we are unable to transgress.  For example, we cannot live without eating and drinking, we cannot live without oxygen, and we cannot drink poison without dying, etc.  To rail and rebel against the God-established limits of our physical liberty is useless.  On the other hand, if we submit ourselves to the laws of nature, like that of gravity for example, we can succeed in flying, but only by going up in an airplane.

Spiritually, are we free to do everything we want?
       Can I save myself by my own efforts if I am just sincere enough?  Can I atone for my own sins and make myself acceptable to God?  Can I live a sinless life if I try hard enough?  Of course, the biblically correct answer to each of these questions is NO!  It is apparent that we have limitations to our freedom whether we like it or not.  While I have a degree of spiritual freedom I am still constrained by my basic nature, which is sinful.  Although I want to be good and righteous, I find myself in the same sad and regrettable situation as the apostle Paul, who said, “The bad things I don’t want to do, I end up doing anyway.  And the good things I want to do, I never seem to be able to accomplish… O wretched man that I am!”

Psychologically/Mentally, are we free to do everything we wish to do?
            Our thoughts and our will undoubtedly possess a certain degree of freedom.  Even the man who is chained down in a solitary cell in a prison keeps it.  You can beat him, torture him, but you cannot prevent him from thinking about his wife or of wanting to escape.  His jailer can apply the whip as much as he likes but he can never force the prisoner to like him.  The latter remains free to think or to like whatever he wants.  One can by force prevent him from expressing his thoughts but one cannot force him to change his opinion, because he keeps his free will, his freedom of judgment.
  But is man totally free intellectually and psychologically?  How about “phobias”?  Those are fears that a person cannot control on his own, try as he might, such as the fear of heights or the fear of tight spaces.  And how about passing the MENSA Test?  I’d love to be a genius and become part of that exclusive club but I’m not smart enough.  My freedom to join MENSA is limited by my intelligence.

Morally, are we free to do everything we want?
            Not really, though we like to think that we are!  How about bad habits?  Millions of people want to quit drinking because they know that it is destroying their lives.  They have the freedom to quit drinking.  But do they have the moral power to quit drinking on their own?  Not usually.  Most people need lots of outside help.  Millions of people want to quit smoking or quit using drugs because they have come to believe that it is harmful to their health and to their relationships.  But are they truly free to quit?  Yes and no.  On the one hand they are free, but on the other hand they are incapable.  It just proves that we are not always free to do what we want to do.
            Also, we can be easily tricked by our own erroneous thinking.  Psychologists have often pointed out that human beings always seek out that which they think is the best for them.  In other words, we make choices every day based on what we think will benefit us the most at the moment.  For example, imagine that I have the choice between two paths to arrive at an appointment.  One is long but nicer than the other.  Before making my decision, I use my intelligence to decide which is the better way for me, the less tiring, or perhaps the route with the loveliest scenery?  The solution could vary, according to circumstance but I will always seek to take the one that I think is the best route for me at that time.  My free-will permits me to choose a way to reach what I consider to be “good”, whatever I determine is best for me.
            OK, but I can be mistaken.  For instance, I can choose to follow the impulses of my distorted feelings rather than the judgment of my intelligence.  I might choose to eat a healthy balanced meal, or because I’m sad and depressed, gobble down 25 Snickers Bars and a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade.  However, even if I suffer a liver attack as a result, it is no less true that at that moment I believed that in swallowing the Snickers and chugging the booze I was doing the right and best thing for me.  My goal was to make myself feel better, but certainly not to suffer a liver attack, because I would never do that on purpose!
            All that to say that while we are theoretically free to make good choices, we are still enslaved to our stormy emotions, our lack of intelligence, our base motives, our lack of moral character, and our lack of good judgment.  In fact, freedom, at least the way it is perceived by the majority of people, is a mirage, a fiction.  It exists only in theory because in practice we find that more powerful forces always trump our so-called “freedoms”.
So what can we do?
1.       First, we must recognize that God did not grant us freedom as carte blanche to do whatever we happen to want to do, but rather, the liberty to seek out and do those things that are good, and noble, and respectable.  Freedom should never be used as license to do evil.
2.      Secondly, we must admit that we are incapable of perfectly exercising our freedom because of our inadequacies.  Though we may want to exercise our freedoms to do what is good, we cannot do so without divine assistance.  The Bible says in John 8:36 that the Son [who is the embodiment of Truth] is the One who will set us free indeed.”  Without His help and intervention we can never experience real freedom.
3.      Thirdly, we must seek His promised help.  We must turn to Him in faith, believing that He will forgive us and set us free to experience genuine freedom—freedom from sin, freedom from condemnation, freedom from the fear of death, freedom to become what God designed us to be.
4.      Fourthly, we must stop trying to exercise our freedom to run away from Him; but rather, to exercise our freedom to run toward Him, so that we might discover what it means to be truly free.
            I have to ask you this question: Today are you walking in the freedom that Christ offers?  Or are you still a slave to sin, to fear, and to ungodly habits?  I don’t have any particular bone to pick with A.A.  They try to help people and their hearts are in the right place, but frankly their theology is all screwed up.  They teach that a person is always an alcoholic, even if he/she hasn’t touched a drop of alcohol in 30 years.  That makes me mad!  My Bible says that Jesus came to set us free from the domination of sin and death in our lives.  My Bible says in Romans 8:37, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  And my Bible says in I Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  And in my Bible the apostle Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth that they had been freed from the domination of Satan and had been washed in the blood of the Lamb.  In 6:9-11 Paul said, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  
            Praise God!  You and I can be set free from the prison house of sin, and fear, and all the things that Satan has devised to keep us bound up and feeling like victims!  No more!  Christ tore the bars away and set us free!  Now we can be more than conquerors through Christ.  Through Christ we can have the victory!  We just have to decide to start living out our freedom.
Peter Marshall, before the U.S. Senate said it ever so well in a prayer many years ago. “Lord Jesus, Thou who art the Way, the Truth, and the Life; hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make all free.  Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved, but also to be lived.  Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books.  It costs too much to be hoarded.  Help us see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right.” Amen.Top of Form

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About Me

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Since 1994 I have been the pastor of Sellwood Baptist Church in Portland, OR. Before that I was a missionary in South Brazil for many years. Until just recently I have also served as a police chaplain with the Portland Police Bureau. Now, however, God has a new assignment for us. My wife and I have been appointed with WorldVenture and are preparing to move to Ireland to help plant a new church in Sligo, a small city in NW Ireland. I'm married to Ramel, a crazy, beautiful redhead that I love more than life itself. We have three great kids, Jonathan, Chris, and Simoni who have given us ten wonderful grandchildren. We are truly blessed.

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