Are you free?

I have never lived without freedom. My life has always had certain unalienable rights. We, as Americans, have very little understanding of what it means to live under oppression. I think that too often causes us to take it for granted.

Today, I encourage you to thank someone who fought for those freedoms. The Americans that most appreciate the freedoms we enjoy are the men and women who have put their lives on the line for those freedoms. I think I understood this difference one Memorial Day as I sat on the porch and listened to some stories told by Wendy’s Uncle Jack.

Uncle Jack is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He stayed in the military until he retired as a Lt. Colonel. Uncle Jack is a great communicator. That day as I listened I did not realize that I was privy to a special moment. As we left that day, my father-in-law (Pops) asked how I had started that conversation. I told him I did not really remember how we got there. I then learned that Pops had never heard his brother talk about Vietnam that much in the many years that had passed since the war had ended.

Uncle Jack talked about what he saw in Vietnam in the lives of the people. He told me about one of his toughest days in commanding his troops and the devastation a battle had caused in a local village that was out of their site line during the battle. I could tell that day still stung in his memories.

Pops then shared with me the story of the first time Jack went to the Vietnam wall. It was in 1997 while I was engaged to Wendy. Their family was in D.C. for a family reunion. While they were driving to the wall Pops asked Uncle Jack how long it had been since he had been there. He answered, “Never.” The surprising thing about that answer is that Uncle Jack had lived in D.C. for many years.

Pops told me that when they got there Jack began to walk down that wall. There was one particular spot that he stopped and got very quiet. I do not know what that spot represents to him, but since the wall is in the chronological order of the war, I would imagine it represents one really bad day. I am sure Uncle Jack had many of those as an officer. I am sure there are names on that wall that he had command over. I would imagine that those names are difficult to read and the memories are not easy to bear.

Why do I share you these stories? I learned something from Uncle Jack that he does not even know. I was not even there to see it. I learned this. Freedom is expensive. It costs more than most of us could ever imagine. Some of you, men and women who have fought for it, understand it better than others.

No freedom is free. Our spiritual freedom carried a great price. Jesus said, “I have come not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many.” It is also said in God’s Word about us, “You are no longer your own. You have been bought with a price.”

If Jesus is our Lord, we are free. We must always remember, however, that our freedom was not free. It carried a great price.

So, today, to our veterans, we say, “THANK YOU!” I personally want to say Thank you to Uncle Jack and his son-in-law Louis, and Louis’ son, Matthew. These 3 generations have bravely served in the Marine Corps and all during times of war. Thank you for showing me what freedom costs. Thank you for showing us how to be willing to pay the price, not just for your own freedom, but for the freedom of the Vietnamese and the Iraqi people. You – and the others who have served like you – have taught us much.

Also, today, tell Jesus “THANK YOU!” He, too saw a people that were not his people, and he paid the ultimate price for their freedom.

Face to Face with a Facebook Friend

This past Sunday I had the cool privilege of preaching at my home church. Cook Baptist in Ruston is a great place. The people there have always loved me and supported me. They are absolutely awesome.

I had two bonuses on the trip, too. That Sunday was my mom’s birthday. She is an absolutely amazing woman of faith. My mom was up at 4 AM on a Sunday morning for her own birthday cooking for college kids’ lunch and loved it. She rocks. I hope hearing me preach on her birthday was better than hearing me sing for her birthday all these years. (Although it would have to be one awful sermon to be worse than hearing me sing,) The other bonus was getting to deer hunt with my dad. He rocks, too. My parents are great people who love Jesus. Another cool thing was that I got a spike, but what I really want is to kill one of the 8 points my dad kills all the time – like last week. He must still be living better than me or something.

Anyway, the title of this blog is not really about any of that. It is about the sermon I preached at Cook. That was the title of it – Face to Face with a Facebook Friend. Facebook is a great site to catch up with old friends. In so doing many of my old friends have been a tad surprised to find out I was a pastor.

The sermon I preached was about why I always hope that people on Facebook might see that I am not who I was. The truth about my life is not that I got saved and God changed my life, though. I was already saved. I just was not living like it. I shared a truth out of Romans 12:1-2 that God taught me many years ago now that I believe is the real reason for the change I have experienced in my life.

It was this. We always need to see God’s mercy. We often think about the part in this passage that says “offer your bodies a living sacrifice” or “do not conform to the pattern of this world” or “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. What we must realize is that all of that truth begins with these words, “in view of God’s mercy.”

The question I have to ask you is this, “Do you see it?” I do. I now see it every day. And it is new every day. His mercy is fresh in my life every morning. That is what changed my spiritual life. I finally realized I was not responsible for the condition of the living sacrifice. The mercy of God made that sacrifice holy and pleasing, not me. That truth really set me free.

Stop trying to sacrifice enough to deserve the mercy of God. Stop trying to quit conforming to experience the mercy of God. Quit trying to transform your mind so that you can understand the mercy of God. Just stop and see it. See the love of God in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Understand that his mercy is already yours.

Then, get up and live your life in response to Jesus. Allow him to give you the power to no longer conform to the world. Allow the mercy of God to transform your mind.

Never lose sight of God’s mercy. He has never lost sight of you.

That is the confession of a Facebook friend. I am not who I was, because Jesus is more than I knew He was. And that my friend, is the mercy of God.

Do you see it?

The Freedom of Life

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

One of the basic foundational truths of all of Scripture is the importance of life. The Bible begins with God’s work in the creating of life. God created all living things and then he said, “It is good.” God took very seriously the first act of murder. (It is interesting that it took only one generation for man to begin to think that he should take another one’s God-given right to life.)

God is strong in his judgment on murder. The Scripture speaks to the beauty and the activity of God in the creation of each life in Jeremiah where the beautiful words are written, “Before I knitted you together in your mother’s womb; I knew you.” We see the value that Jesus gives all life when he raises the widow’s son or as he takes time for the small child that others see as a distraction or as he speaks with love and mercy to thief on the cross.

The truth is that life is sacred. It is a God-given gift. Life according to the beautiful words of God begins when he begins the life in a womb. Life must be sacred to all those who love God because life is sacred to Him. He created it. He sustains it. And he sent his son to die for it. Jesus died so we could have life beyond breathing in and breathing out for a certain number of years. Jesus died so that life could be full of all that God desired it to be when he made it in the first place.

The issue of life must be a deciding factor for Christ followers when they vote. We must be willing to stand on the same principles and truths that the Bible is built upon and the God clearly established in his laws (and interestingly enough through His grace, too). People who follow Christ must choose to not vote for those who oppose every person’s God-given right to life.

I do not speak on many political topics with that much authority. Truthfully there is no wiggle room in the Scripture that will allow a person who stakes their life on the truths found within it to support people who believe they have the authority of giving or denying others the right to life.

Interestingly enough, it is not just a Biblical principle. It is an American constitutional principle, too. Our unalienable rights are LIFE, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The issue we are facing with abortion is that people believe their right to pursue happiness should give them the right to take away someone else’s right to life. Not only is it wrong Biblically and morally, it is wrong constitutionally.

Please hear this. God is gracious and forgives such acts. The man on the cross with Jesus found grace as did the soldier at the foot of the cross that crucified Jesus. The grace of God over the personal acts that rob a person of their right to life does not, however, mean that it should be legal in our society.

The taking of another’s life is wrong. The issue that most conservatives will not deal with in this discussion is why capital punishment is okay. I have a very straightforward answer to this one. When a person decides that they have the right to rob another person of their right to life, they give up the right to their own. Biblically murder is punished with capital punishment. God saw that as appropriate. He understood that a person that takes away a life has in some way decided that they should be the one that gives and takes away unalienable rights. That is not theirs to decide.

When you vote remember these foundational Biblical and Constitutional truths. We as a people must be willing to stand for life and that means we must stand against all political candidates that no longer believe life is an unalienable right. Life is not a choice!