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“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” “But we are descendants of Abraham,” they said. “We have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean, ‘You will be set free’?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave is not a permanent member of the family, but a son is part of the family forever. So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free. John 8:32-36

broken chainsOne of the cruelest tricks in human nature is to believe you are free when, in fact, you are in bondage. Likewise, one of the hardest things to admit is that you are enslaved by something over which you have no control. That’s why addicts have a hard time admitting they are an addict. That’s why those in abusive situations have a hard time leaving. The abnormal has become normal to them.

One day, Jesus was talking with his followers and told them that truth would free them. They were shocked! Why would they need to be freed? They were in bondage to no one. The irony here is that while Jesus was talking about the bondage of sin, his followers were in bondage to the Roman Empire. But the bondage to Rome was so ‘normal’ they didn’t even realize they were slaves!

Freedom from bondage requires two things. One is that we are fully aware of our condition. It’s easy to say ‘I’m a sinner’ without carefully identifying each thing in our lives that enslave us. I’m a terrible cleaner. It’s not intentional. I just miss the corners, and overlook the little things. The same goes our spiritual lives. Rather than relying on our own ability to ‘see our bondage’ we need to go to the one who knows us best. That’s why the Psalmist says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

The second thing we need to do to ensure we are not in bondage is to realize who we are in God’s eyes. When sin is in control of our lives we are slaves to it and we are blinded to the truth. When we have been freed from sin through Jesus Christ we are as sons, in intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Fatherhood has a bad rap these days. Most earthly fathers have a reputation of working too hard to make money, being more concerned about their own needs, wants and egos and ready at any moment to pounce on anyone who makes a mistake.

Your Heavenly Father is the kind of dad who shows up at every ballgame or concert. When you make a mistake he doesn’t remind you of how much of a loser you are, he encourages you and teaches you how you can be all you were meant to be.

A relationship with Christ means we have all the freedoms of sons. As we grow closer to our father through reading his word, prayer and corporate worship we gain new understanding into all that God has for us. When Jesus left us he sent his promised helper, the Holy Spirit to guide us into all things, and to understand all that God has for us.

PRAYER: Father God. Search my heart. Show me the things that offend you. Give me the courage to confess my weaknesses. May your Spirit work a change in me for your glory so that I can be completely, totally and eternally free. In Jesus name, Amen.

As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Matthew 13:4

It had hardened soilbeen a dry summer. The ground was hardened and cracked by the lack of moisture and the penetrating rays of the sun. Then the rain came. It wasn’t just a shower, it was a downpour. Raindrops pelted the ground viciously. Lightning and thunder joined in the onslaught. The ground became a river of mud. Then, it was gone. The sun came out, the skies cleared; the ground dried and once again was hardened.

I talked with an old farmer later that day. I mentioned how nice it was that we finally got some rain. I was surprised by the look of disappointment on his face. He took his hat off and rubbed his scalp.

“Didn’t do much good.” He mumbled as he replaced his hat, “Grounds to hard. Just ran off. What we need is a couple days of soft, gentle rain to soften up the ground so the moisture can get in.”

His words weren’t even out of his mouth when I remembered the story of the Sower and the Seed. Personally, I think the title is misleading. The seed really has little to do with the story. The Sower has some impact of course, but the main emphasis is on soil.

Hardened soil has something in common with hardened hearts. Hardened soil, in particular the hardened soil in this story, became hard because it was part of the roadway. Know what happens with a roadway? It gets trampled on. Day after day, week after week, month after month donkeys and horses and oxen and people walked up and down the path.

Our hearts are like that sometimes aren’t they? We all start out with hope and joy. Watch the wonderment and excitement of infants and toddlers if you don’t believe me. Every event is new. Every object is a chance to explore (and perhaps attempt to eat!)

But something happens to our heart. People, places and events walk all over our soul. At first it hurts. But the more we are trampled the harder we get until we lose all feeling. Then nothing seems to matter anymore.

Hardened soil reminds us of two dangers of hardened hearts. One is a warning of sorts not to become hardened in the first place.  Soil, like the heart, never becomes hard when it is nurtured. The only thing I’ve found to keep my heart soft is the realization of how much I am loved by Jesus Christ. People fail me. I fail people. Jesus never fails.

The second danger concerning hardened hearts is the assumption that once a heart is hardened it can never become soft again. This is a tool of the enemy of our souls. Hardened hearts become soft the same way they stay soft, with nurturing. If you pour a bucket of water on hard ground it runs off with little penetration and you may think the situation hopeless. But slowly run a garden hose over the area and after time the water stops running OFF and it runs IN. It takes time, patience and gentleness to soften hard ground. The heart requires it even more.

The same thing is true of a hardened heart. You may not think your kindness is doing any good but time, patience and gentleness, empowered by the love of Christ, can do wonders on a hardened heart.

PRAYER: Lord, I confess to you that my heart has grown hard by the things others have done to me. At times I’ve even blamed you! I’ve grown weary trying to love those you love because their hardness seems impenetrable. May I experience the gentle, penetrating and softening rain of your love in my heart so that I can share it with others. Amen.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3 (NIV)

Jesus tells the story of a man who was beaten and robbed by a bunch of thugs. Severely injured and left on the road to die, he was without hope. Soon two men came upon his beaten, bruised and battered body. Each of them took stock of the situation and decided it was best if they moved on. The third man, a hated Samaritan came along and saw the man laying there in a pool of blood. Realizing there was no time to waste, he bandaged the man’s wounds and brought him to safety. He had compassion on him.

Compassion. The dictionary defines it as a consciousness of someone else’s distress with an urgent desire to alleviate it. Sympathy is understanding and perhaps even sharing the emotions of another person in distress, but compassion takes that a step farther by seeking ways in which to alleviate the pain.

James tells us, what good is it, when you see someone in need to say “I’ll pray for you, I feel bad about your plight.” (My paraphrase from James 2) Referring back to our example of the story Jesus told. Let’s give the first two men that came upon the victim some credit. Let’s say, for the sake of argument that they stopped, looked and even prayed over the man who was beaten to a bloody pulp. Of what benefit were there prayers.

It’s interesting that Jesus chose the characters he did. The two that passed by were ‘the religious elite’ of the day. The type of people any pastor would love to have on their board or staff. The one that stopped to give compassion would be looked down upon in most churches.

Perhaps you are the one wounded on the side of the road. You’ve had a history of abuse and abandonment. Your wounds aren’t readily visible to those around you, but the pain is unbearable. Perhaps those bruises were given to you in the name of the church, or for your own good.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth to remind them that we are to be examples of God. God is the one that not only stops to look at your pain, He’s the one that stoops to our level, bandages your wounds, and comforts you in your pain. You may think you have fallen too far. You may think your wounds too deep. You may say you have nothing to offer.

That’s the beauty of our God. None of us have anything of any value to offer him for his kindness. None of us have the resources to purchase his forgiveness. We are comforted only because of his grace.

PRAYER: Father God. I praise you for the assurance we have that you will bandage our wounds and show us your compassion. We are a needy people. We are a wounded people. Thank you for the comfort you offer us through Jesus Christ. Amen.

I have died, but Christ lives in me. And I now live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me. Galatians 2:20 (CEV)

I don’t put bumper stickers on my car. I’ll tell you it’s because of my fear of damaging the paint, etc. but there’s another reason. The only kind of bumper sticker I’d consider putting on my car would be one about my faith in Christ.

I’m not blaming those of you who have your car plastered with ‘Honk if you Love Jesus banners, or the cute little fish. I’m not being judgmental or critical if you are one that has some of those really quite clever sayings about faith and practice or God.

The reason I don’t want to put up any indicators of my faith on my car is really quite simple. Sometimes I get driving and forget to watch my speed. I thank God daily for cruise control! Sometimes I’m thinking about other things and don’t pay close enough attention to what’s going on around me. That’s why I may have cut you off that day on the interstate. (Sorry by the way). Then again, there are times when I’m not sure where I’m going and suddenly realize that this is my corner. Sorry for slamming on my brakes back there. I really did think it was my turn. My bad.

So what does all this have to do with bumper stickers? I don’t want my reputation as being a bad driver (sometimes) to be a reflection on who Jesus is and what he means to me.

Perhaps that’s a rather mundane example of a rich spiritual truth, but I wonder what life would be like among us if we lived as though we were dead and Jesus Christ had taken over our bodies. Not just the driving but the thought processes when we are treated poorly; or how our schedule would change when a friend in need interrupts what we think is extremely important; or when our child asks to play ball when the lawn needs mowing; or when our spouse needs a listening ear and not a lecture on how to do things.

What would our worship be like if Jesus were in control of our thoughts, our actions or our attitudes? When we leave a tip for lousy service would the server, who was up all night fighting with her spouse,  watch you leave, look at your tip and say “That must have been Jesus!”

Every day Jesus took time from his schedule to show people the love of God. Every day Jesus put aside his own needs for rest and food to feed the hungry and encourage the tired. Every day He calls us to do the same. The banners of action we wear will do far more to spread the love of Christ than any ‘bumper stickers’ we wear in life.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus empower me with your Holy Spirit to live everyday as though you were in complete control of my actions, my thoughts and my feelings. Take control of every part of my body for your name’s sake, Amen.

Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms. Psalm 68:19 (NLT)

“I’m tiiiiirrrrrred.” Any of us have heard those words of pseudo agony if we’ve ever had children. Usually it comes close to the end of a fun day at the zoo, a long hike in the park or one of those shopping marathons you vow you’ll never take them on again!

They aren’t just giving you that information for your own well-being. It’s a signal, a request in hiding. If you don’t respond in the way they expect you’ll hear the more direct approach, “Carry me!”

You scoop them up in your arms and depending on the day or time they are soon relaxed, enjoying the rest of the trip, or even deciding your shoulder is a pretty cool place for a nap. A stroller would be easier for you, but how many times have you seen one parent pushing an empty stroller while the other has a sleeping child on their shoulder? How many times have you been that parent? Why is it? Because we all need at times to be carried.

What’s true for children physically is true for all of us spiritually and emotionally. Sure, there are times we may need to suck it up, to push on, to ‘run with endurance the race set before us’, but sometimes the race is just too much. Sometimes the obstacles are too large, the pain too unbearable. We need to be carried.

We need to feel the arms of Jesus around us. We need to feel the security of he hold upon our lives, to know that we will get through this. Maybe not on our own power, but his power is so much greater.

Your need to be carried can be the result of your own mistakes and failures. He’ll carry you.

Your need may be the result of abuse or attack by others, even well-meaning friends and family. He’ll carry you.

Your need may be fueled by loneliness. He’ll carry you.

Your need may be rooted in your past, a past that keeps haunting you. (How could I do that? What was I thinking?) He’ll carry you.

Jesus doesn’t carry you because you are weak (even though you are) he carries you because that’s what loving parents do when the journey is too great. When you are in his arms you have time to rest, time to regroup, time to bask in the safety of his presence.

For those days when you can’t go on, rest in his arms. He’s waiting to carry you through this.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus. I’m tired. I know that the things I’m going through are largely my fault. I know I live in an evil world full of people and things intent on hurting me. Right now I can’t take another step. I want to feel your arms of love and security around me so I can rest in you. Thank you. Amen.

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