It's the Fourth of July!
Sparklers for everyone!!
Today is the 240th birthday of our United States of America!
It is a day of fun and celebration, but it's also a good day to reflect on the concept of freedom.
Freedom is: the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint; absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government; the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved; the state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily; the state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing); the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity; unrestricted use of something.
(Synonyms: independence, self-government, self-determination, self-rule, home rule, sovereignty, nonalignment, autonomy, democracy, liberty, liberation, release, deliverance, delivery, discharge, exemption, immunity, dispensation, impunity, right, entitlement, privilege).
Every war the United States has fought in has been over the issue of freedom – (at least in theory, let's not get stuck talking about political agendas here!).
We seek to maintain it for ourselves, and we fight to secure it for others.
There is nothing frivolous about freedom – even when we sometimes take it for granted.
Today we should take the time to remember what it cost, and continues to cost, to maintain freedom in our country and in our lives.
We should remember, and be thankful.
But let's also expand on the idea of freedom, and ponder the concept as it applies to the believer's life.
Last week I talked a lot about battling in the spiritual realm.
I talked about *standing* after the battle.
About the importance of not only winning spiritual territory, but also in occupying it so the enemy can't take it over again.
This is what I want to focus on today.
I have a picture in my mind –
A war-torn, battle-weary soldier standing in a muddy battlefield. He's dirty and scraped and bruised, maybe a bit bloodied by the fighting. He stands, barely balanced, but he stands strong nonetheless. In his right hand he holds a pole with a flag attached to it reading, "The LORD is my Banner!" This he has firmly planted in the soil, claiming the new land of victory.
Then I see the General quietly approach him.
The General looks long and hard at the soldier.
Finally, he gives him a firm handshake as he states, "Well done."
Then he gives the soldier a hearty salute, and just before he turns to leave, he issues this command:
"Now live in freedom!"
You do see the spiritual parallel here, don't you?!
I think of how often the Lord and I win a spiritual battle, just for me to cede the territory again at a later date.
I talked last week about following up, about occupying the *just-won territory* with something other than what the enemy wants.
And part of this *occupation* must certainly be the idea of living in the newfound freedom that the battle won!
We all know what it looks like when it fails.
A battle won, a victory secured, freedom is established.
But then, occupying forces leave.
And all too often, the country and its people return to their old ways. And sometimes this leaves them in a position to be overrun by enslaving powers once again.
Take politics out of it, and we can see the same principle occur in our spiritual lives, too.
That's why today I'm thinking about this *fight after the fight* idea.
I'm thinking of the General who tells us, "Now live in freedom!"
It's no use if we are set free, if we don't use that newfound freedom to live free!!
Thinking about this idea of being set free, and then not living free, I thought it might be interesting to see how many prisoners who are set free actually return to a life of crime.
I found a report from the U.S. Department of Justice (2005) that detailed the recidivism (relapse into criminal behavior) rate of federal prisoners upon release (about 400,000 prisoners in 30 states):
More than a third of released prisoners were arrested again within six months of their release. That number rose to 56.7% by the end of the first year, 67.8% within three years, and 76.6% within five years.
I find that staggering, don't you?!
But are we any different?
How often do we win a battle against sin, only to be tempted to sin in the same area once again?
And how often do we succumb, once again falling into the same trap of enslavement?
Rhetorical questions, because we know the answer is – we do it all the time.
Why do we return to enslavement, imprisonment, reoccupation?
I can think of several reasons:
1. The outside world is too tempting
2. We don't think we deserve freedom
3. We don't know how to function in freedom
4. The old ways and old places are too familiar
5. We associate with the wrong people
6. We're afraid of new choices
7. We return to comfortable, instead of making change
8. We try to do it all alone
On the surface, we might think it foolish that anyone who, once having tasted freedom, would willingly return to a life of captivity and restriction.
It's easy to point fingers at people who fail in this area, who "relapse" into old habits and sins.
(My opinion? We all tend to be a motley bunch of "log in the eye" pretenders who delight in bringing to attention the "motes" in others...)
Sometimes I think it's because we're so ingrained in our propensity to "rate" sins.
We like to reproach the alcoholic or addict who falls into addiction again. Or the cheater who gives in to infidelity again. Or the criminal who keeps committing crimes.
However, if we're honest, we do the same thing, because we turn a blind eye to our own shortcomings.
For how often do we return to gossiping, or lying, or self-righteousness, or criticizing, or complaining, or anger, or...the list goes on.
We don't judge our own "minor" sins as harshly as those we point out in others.
But there is no such thing as a *sin scale* in the eyes of God.
SIN. IS. SIN.
It's ALL falling short of His standard – no matter if it's practiced in big or little ways.
Therefore, *reoccupation of the land* can occur with a marauding army of invaders, or by one little voice that sows doubt and discontent.
This is why it's very important, very necessary, to attend to our hearts after a battle against the enemy.
Especially when we start feeling too secure in our victory.
So, how do we occupy the land?
Our pastor recently gave a message about God's peace, and about how He promises that it will guard us. It was a study on the first part of the 4th chapter of Philippians.
Let's listen in to Paul’s words:
"…in this way stand firm in the Lord."
OK, Paul, tell us how to do that!
(Verses taken from The Amplified Bible)
1. "Rejoice in the Lord always [delight, take pleasure in Him]; again I will say, rejoice!" (verse 4)
2. "Let your gentle spirit [your graciousness, unselfishness, mercy, tolerance, and patience] be known to all people." (verse 5)
3. "Do not be anxious or worried about anything…" (verse 6)
4. "…in everything [every circumstance and situation] by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, continue to make your [specific] requests known to God." (verse 7)
5. "Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God's word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]." (verse 8)
6. "The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things [in daily life]…" (verse 9)
What's the payoff, Paul?
"The Lord is near…and the God [who is the source] of peace and well-being will be with you…And the peace of God [that peace which reassures the heart, that peace] which transcends all understanding, [that peace which] stands guard over your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus [is yours]." (verses 4, 7, 9)
I am beginning to see…
Go back to my image of the soldier on the battlefield.
The General has just said, "Now live in freedom!" – and he is turning away.
If the soldier lets him go, he's left alone to hold the territory, in his own power and strength.
This scenario most likely ends in reoccupation by the enemy.
End of story.
What if there's a different ending?!
What if, as the General begins to walk away, the soldier shouts out:
"Wait!! I cannot maintain this victory alone. I need a guard, a trustworthy sentinel who will protect the borders of this territory. I need someone who will keep watch, and warn me of impending danger."
The General turns back...
The soldier speaks once more, "Please send help."
At this the General smiles.
"Yes, it is the wise soldier who understands the importance of a watchman."
At this, he motions forward another person.
"I present to you the one who will guard and protect you. Always listen to him."
You do know who the *watchman* is, don't you?
The Holy Spirit.
Might these words from Paul also be the parting words of the General?
"Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me – a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you." (2 Timothy 1:13-14, NLT)
Oh yes, amen.
In that all-important aftermath of battle, in that *fight after the fight,* in that time of victory, might we recognize our deep need of The Watchman – or as my pastor called Him, the "Silent Sentry."
And might we depend on Him to guard and protect us.
For the enemy will approach once again – loudly and softly, with an army or a whisper.
Tempting us to cede territory, and to return once again to a state of occupation.
We must not listen.
Focus on these things (from my pastor's sermon, reflecting Philippians 4:8):
What's real vs. what's phony
What matters vs. what's frivolous
What's right vs. what's convenient
What's clean vs. what's dirty
What's unifying vs. what's divisive
What's helpful vs. what's harmful
What's best vs. what's inferior
What's positive vs. what's negative
Happy Fourth of July, my friends!
May you have a wonderful day doing what you do to celebrate!
Barbecues, pool parties, fireworks.
Maybe even a main street parade like our little town!
But might we take a moment or two (or many) to reflect upon the idea that this is a day when the cause of freedom in our country became a reality.
Therefore, let this be a day when we ponder the meaning of freedom.
It's a day that's also called Independence Day.
And in every real sense of the word, our own *Independence Day* occurred when we believed in the salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Having won His victory on the cross, He now encourages us to fight on as conquerors.
To battle for the faith, to stand our ground, and to claim our territory.
I hear His parting words…
"Now live in freedom!"
Are you living in freedom, or are you ceding territory to the enemy?
Here in the power of Christ
(From "In Christ Alone" by Stuart Townsend)
"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV)
"So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me…Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"
(Romans 7:21-25, NIV)
"Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don't you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living. Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living." (Romans 6:15-18, NLT)
"When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us,…evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God…in the new way of living in the Spirit." (Romans 7:5-6, NLT)
"'For when a strong man like Satan is fully armed and guards his palace, his possessions are safe – until someone even stronger attacks and overpowers him, strips him of his weapons, and carries off his belongings.'"
(Luke 11:21-22, NLT)
"'…if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.'"
(Genesis 4:7, NLT)
"…you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you." (Romans 8:9, NLT)
"It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1, NASB)
"'…you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'" (John 8:32, 36, ESV)
"For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2 Corinthians 3:17, NLT)
"'And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth.'"
(John 14:16-17, NLT)
"…for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth."
(1 John 2:20, NLT)
"I will climb up to my watchtower and stand at my guardpost. There I will wait to see what the LORD says…" (Habakkuk 2:1, NLT)
"Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong."
(1 Corinthians 16:13, NLT)
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