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This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow. Isaiah 48:17

paths we choose“I told you so.”

Don’t you hate hearing those words? Perhaps they are the words of a friend or a parent or an employer. You thought you had a better idea. You were warned that your idea wouldn’t work. You went ahead anyway and did what you thought best.

If you had been right you’d be a hero right now. But you weren’t. In fact, your decision has made a huge mess for yourself as well as those around you. Now you have to suffer the consequences. Not only that, your decision is like a pebble dropped into a still pool. The ripple effect with affect your life and the life of others for a long time, maybe eternity. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.”

Whether your decision was personal (such as family, kids, lifestyle), or career oriented, there’s some good news for you. We human beings tend to make decisions that lean towards our own understanding and comfort level. Our finite minds aren’t always able to grasp the full impact of our decisions.

The good news is that there is redemption available to us. Redemption is defined as “the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.” The implication is that if you need redeeming it’s because of an action you are responsible for, or an action that is outside your control. In other words, whether the consequences are your fault or the fault of another you have hope.

Each of us have no doubt been told something by a parent or teacher and knowingly taken a different path because it looked better and easier to us. Even worse are those times when we knowingly go against what God has told us to do. We do so either intentionally, or in ignorance because we didn’t check with God before we acted.

We are redeemed. That’s the message God give us in Isaiah 48:17. The prophet reminds us that “This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.

Another way of stating this verse might be to say this. “I know what’s best for you. I’ll teach you all you need to know. But WHEN you stray from me and take the wrong path, I’ll redeem you. When you focus on your own comfort rather than my glory, I’ll redeem you. When your actions cause turmoil for yourself and those around you, I’ll redeem you.

What a blessed promise we have of redemption through Jesus Christ. He alone frees us from everything that seeks to imprison us.

PRAYER: Father God. There are so many times I see my own comfort. So many times I take the path I think best even though I know it’s the wrong path to take. Thank you for Jesus. Thank you that he alone is my redemption from myself and the evil others plan for me. Amen.

service“For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.” 1 Peter 2:16-17

There are some that say the Bible is full of contradictions. I don’t personally believe that and many of the ‘difficulties’ that people have pointed out can be explained by a more thorough study of the text.

Having said that, there are plenty of dichotomies in the Christian life as taught by Jesus. For example:

  • To be the greatest you must be the least;
  • To gain everything you must lose everything;
  • The poor are the powerful ones, not the rich;
  • A true leader is a servant;
  • The humble ones are the ones that will inherit the earth, not the controlling;

Maybe you can think of others as well. Statements made in scripture that go contrary to everything that is spoken of in society. God’s Kingdom is nothing compared to what we see around us. God’s Kingdom lifts up the downtrodden, encourages the discouraged, empowers the powerless and comforts the hurting.

Peter, one of Jesus’ followers tells us another dichotomy in regards to our freedom:

“For you are free, yet you are God’s slaves, so don’t use your freedom as an excuse to do evil. Respect everyone, and love the family of believers. Fear God, and respect the king.” 1 Peter 2:16-17

Normally, we think of being free and being a slave as being on opposite ends of the spectrum. A slave has no rights, no hope for a future and no identity. He goes where he’s told, he does what he’s told. He has no choices.

A free man, on the other hand has the opportunity to do and be whatever he chooses. His identity is secure in who he is and what he does.

In yet another irony, Jesus teaches us that no one is truly free. Either you serve man or God. Either you choose to follow the desires of the flesh or the standards of God. Being enslaved to God gives you the rights to be called his child. Being enslaved to God empowers you to live free of the futile desires of the flesh. Being enslaved to God allows you to live in peace in the midst of the storm. Being enslaved to God frees you from the guilt of past mistakes.

Peter encourages us by reminding us that because of Jesus Christ, we are free to serve God. Service to God means we are loyal to all the teachings of Jesus. We are free to love those who reject God’s ways. We are free to be ourselves while at the same time showing grace and mercy to those without Christ. We are free to be examples to the world, to be Jesus in skin.

Live free today! Be free to show others around you the love and grace and forgiveness of Jesus.

PRAYER: Father God, it is so easy at times to feel insignificant in a world where wealth, power and status are worshiped. Forgive me for the times I let the voices of society make me feel insignificant. Empower me by your Spirit to live in the freedom of service to you. Amen.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:1-2

prison cellCan you imagine for a moment what it’s like to be on death row? Even worse, to know your day of execution is coming up? You’ve been found guilty of a crime and are about to pay the consequences through execution or physical death. You have no hope; no more appeals. You’ve most likely been forgotten by society. You are hopelessly alone.

I’m reminded of Barabbas, the prisoner that was set free instead of Jesus. What must it have been like for him to hear the crowd screaming ‘CRUCIFY HIM’! What must he have thought as he heard footsteps coming down the hall towards his cell after seeing the cross on the hillside from his window?

I can’t imagine the agony; the fear; the anger; the hopelessness! Every appeal had been used and failed. Every attempt at escape had been thwarted. Death literally was staring him in the face. He may have blinked back tears of anger and remorse just before he heard the guard say, “Ok. Get up. You’re out of here. You’re free. Never let us see your ugly face in Jerusalem again or next time you won’t be so lucky.”

All of life can really be summed up in two laws, the law of morality and the law of mortality. While science has made great strides in medicine, the death rate among humans is still 100%. So no matter what we accomplish in life, nothing will be good enough to keep us from death.

Morality suffers a similar fate. ‘Nobody is perfect’ is more than a cliché. It’s a fact of life. In an effort to ease the futility of trying to be perfect, some have tried to change God’s standards. Others have tried to ignore God’s rules or rationalize their behavior. But the Bible is clear that the wages of our sin is death — eternal separation from God.

King Solomon states in Ecclesiastes that he had everything he could possibly want by earthly standards yet found it was all meaningless until you turn to God.

A personal relationship with Jesus frees us from the law of death because we know that this body will someday fail, but our souls will go to be with him for eternity.

A personal relationship with Jesus frees us from the penalty of the law of sin, so we can know we are forgiven. Because of that, even though our physical bodies die, we are assured of life with him for eternity.

Live free today because of Jesus. Thank him for the freedom only he can give. Because of your relationship with him you are forever free from condemnation!

PRAYER: Lord Jesus. It’s often so easy to forget what a huge debt you paid for me on the cross. Thank you that I am no longer condemned. I lift up those around me who still suffer under the bondage of condemnation. I pray they too may find freedom in you. Amen.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” Luke 4:18-19

lady liberyShe rises majestically above the waters of New York harbor. For over 100 years she has been the symbol of freedom to the world. Millions have passed by her by sea and air seeking freedo
m. Some sought political freedom. Some sought economic freedom. Others sought religious freedom. For many, these shores did not disappoint.

While we are far from a perfect nation, the Statue of Liberty is one of the symbols for what I believe to be the greatest nation on earth. A nation founded on the principles of justice, equality and hope.

In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote a poem, a phrase of which is inscribed on the wall of the Statue of Liberty. While the poem itself is largely forgotten, this phrase is not. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” has welcomed millions over the last 100+ years to a new home of opportunity.

Another symbol of freedom stood alone on a hillside over 2000 years ago. While the statue of Liberty is a symbol of economic, religious and political freedom, the cross of Jesus Christ stands as a symbol of spiritual freedom.

Emma’s phrase sounds remarkably similar to one that was stated thousands of years ago by Jesus Christ. He quotes the prophet Isaiah, in Luke 4:18-19 by saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

Political freedom can be taken away by ravages of war or the passing of time. Economic freedom can be wiped out by recession, disaster or health.  Religious freedom can be weakened by the fickle norms of society.

Spiritual freedom can never be taken way. Jesus offers us hope in the midst of trials; encouragement when we are discouraged; courage when we are afraid; forgiveness when we sin; restoration when we’ve failed him.

To some, the cross symbolizes religion, rules, regulations, intolerance and judgmental attitudes. A personal relationship with Jesus shows us that the cross really is a symbol of God’s great desire to show you forgiveness, hope and a freedom no one can take away.

Today, take some time to thank God for the great nation he has given us. Take time to pray for those who have served and are currently serving to keep our freedom safe. Most of all, thank Jesus for the freedom he gives to those who have made him Lord and Savior of their lives.

PRAYER: Creator God. You have given us so many things we don’t deserve. Thank you for blessing us beyond measure with a freedom that transcends any power, seen and unseen. In Jesus name, Amen.

Memorial Day 2013 

(Presented at Luck WI Memorial Day Celebration)

Nestled along the beautiful shores of Hawaii, the Waikiki Natatorium stands as a reminder of the 10,000 men who volunteered to protect the US Territory of Hawaii during World War I. The memorial now crumbles after years of neglect, budget cuts and the deteriorating effects of salt water and time.

Tourists and locals alike once flocked to the memorial to enjoy its beauty and to reflect on the sacrifice of these brave men. However, the building now gets but a fleeting glance from passersby before they move on to enjoy the sun, the surf and the beach. Many have no idea what the building is for, others simply don’t care. Plans were unvieled in early May, 2013 to tear down the memorial and develop the prime, beach front property for recreational and commercial purposes.

The story of the Waikiki Natatorium is being repeated across the country. Memorials once built to remind us of the over 1.1 million men and women who have given their lives to win and protect the freedom enjoyed by our nation, as well as many other nations around the world, are neglected at best and usually deteriorating with little regard for their significance. The memory of the sacrifice of human lives has become lost in the cares and concerns of the modern world.

The real tragedy, however, is not the deterioration of these structures of mortar and wood. The real tragedy lies in the fact that Memorial Day, which began in 1868 as a day to remember those who have given the ultimate gift of life for freedom, has become a holiday of picnics and leisure. A defining characteristic of our American culture is celebration and BBQ’s. However, while this in itself is not wrong, we must never allow ourselves forget the sacrifice the men and women of our armed forces have given for us.

Former President Ronald Reagan once said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Now more than ever, we realize the fragile state of peace in our nation and our world. Now, more than ever we need to not only remember what these men and women did for our country, we need to learn from them the importance of standing for the principles of freedom and justice that have always been a hallmark of the United States of America.

Normally, we measure legacy by the passing of time and the number of accomplishments one has in their lifetime. But these men and women left us a legacy of another kind. If you look at the dates on many of the stones of remembrance, for our veteran’s in cemeteries across our nation, you will soon realize that far too many of them were taken from us at too young of an age.  They weren’t given the opportunity to live long years and develop to their full potential. We often say these men and women paid the ultimate sacrifice but we too paid a huge price. We are the ones who didn’t get to see our little boys and girls grow to their full potential; we are the ones who never got to meet the fathers and mothers and grandchildren they would bring into this world.  We are the ones who lost friends and neighbors and classmates to the cruel realities of conflict.

Thankfully, there were many others that were fortunate enough to return to us. They have raised their families and lived productive lives in our communities. Some have suffered, and continue to suffer physical and emotional scars as a result of their sacrifice. Let us use today to remember, not only those who have gone before us, but those who are still in our midst and those who are currently putting their lives on the line for us every day so that our freedom will continue to be a reality and not just a memory.

There five lessons we can learn from those who have gone before us. Lessons they lived every day of their lives; lessons that continue to make this nation the greatest nation on earth. The lessons we can learn from our veterans spell the word SERVE because the one thing that makes us great as an American people is our willingness and desire to serve each other. Each of these qualities are qualities all of us should endeavor to practice in our homes, our schools and our communities.

  1. Selflessness: They believed in themselves.

The “S” in serve stands for SELFLESS. People who think of others do so because they believe in themselves strongly enough to realize their worth comes not from what they can get, but what they can give. They live out in reality the old adage that ‘it is more blessed to give than to receive.” All of us have been touched from time to time by pictures of soldiers carrying young children, caring for the elderly and helping their comrades.

Selfless people gain from realizing the best gift they can give themselves and each other is the gift of service. Service based on our desire to give and not to receive monetary gain.

  1. Embrace: They believed in their cause

The ‘E’ in serve stands for EMBRACE. Embracing reminds us that the men and women of our military believed in their cause. This cause they believed in was not the battlefield for no one wants to go to war. The cause that drove these brave souls was a belief in freedom, the sanctity of life, and the right for all mankind to be treated as equals.

Each of us needs to embrace the freedoms they fought for by working to make our communities places of safety, respect and acceptance.

  1. Resolved: They believed they could make a difference

The “R” in serve stands for RESOLVED. The men and women who gave their lives in our military did so because they believed they could make a difference, not only at the local level, but globally. That same resolve continues today. In many of the nations where the US has served, schools have been built, roads improved and social institutions developed. They went, and still go, firmly believing they can achieve something great.

We too need to truly believe that our God-given gifts were given to us so that we can make a difference in our corner of the world.

  1. Value: They believed in the value of others more than themselves

The ‘V’ in serve stands for VALUE. The American soldier has proven throughout history that they value life and freedom for others more than for themselves. To value others doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with them socially, culturally or in areas of faith, but it does mean that each of us has God-given qualities that must be preserved. Freedom can not happen without a commitment to valuing the sanctity of life.

  1. Encouragement: They made a difference

The ‘E’ in serve stands for ENCOURAGEMENT. Encouragement is a double-sided coin. For the American soldier encouragement comes from a realization that they have made the world a better place to live. Freedom never comes without hard work, tenacity and risk. Our veterans lived that every day of their lives. Those who returned have continued to serve this nation well.

The other side of the coin of encouragement is our part. We have the opportunity today to honor those who have gone before us with a moment of silence this afternoon at 3:00. To spend just 60 seconds thanking Almighty God for the freedom we have as a result of their sacrifice. We have an opportunity today to thank those in our midst who have served this nation in the past, some who still bear the scars of their service. We have an opportunity today and into the future to thank those who are currently serving at home and abroad with our prayers and our support, and to remember their families who wait at home, praying for their safe return.

As he neared the end of his life and looked towards his own death, the Apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy and he wrote these words. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

These words could well be the inscription on every tomb of the American Soldier. They have fought the good fight. You have finished the course set before you and our continued freedom proves that. You have kept the faith and the freedom to express that faith. Not every battle was won. As long as mankind exists there will be conflict. But you fought the good fight. You ran the race well, and for that we express our deepest gratitude.

I found this poem on the internet and was unable to give credit where credit is due, but I share this with you in closing:

I do not know your name – Nor for which battle you died.

I do not know your home, nor the tears that were cried.

I do not know where you rest – Nor the promise broken.

I do not know your uniform, and your fears lay unspoken.

But, I know your spirit exists – That your courage is admired,

and your sacrifice is honored by each soul that’s inspired.

And I offer you from my heart, Thank you, to guardians unknown,

for offering yourselves for all of us, that we may keep freedom… Our home.
Bless you!!!

Thank you once again for allowing me the honor of joining you in this time of remembrance. Thank you to all those veterans in our midst and to their families for your sacrifice. And lastly, may God Bless America.

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