We’ve all been amazed, at least once or twice, by a sunset. Standing there on the beach, or sitting on a dune, or peering from within a forest through the last row of trees bordering a meadow, almost transfixed by the glowing color of the red-orange ball. We watch in awe as the burning sun descends upon the watery ocean or field, waiting for the explosion of steam or fire that never comes. The sun sets. So regularly. So simply. So profoundly there.
We cannot quite comprehend the joy within us, created by a bouncing baby, especially if it is upon our own knee. What a baby does, just by being a baby, is transcendent. Whatever life has going on around us, whatever trials or tribulations, cares or concerns, they all get put on hold while the baby bounces in our midst. As long as the baby laughs, time stands still.
Everyone stops what ever they are doing, as all eyes are focused and all attention drawn, when into the room or up on the sidewalk runs a puppy. Words just can’t explain this thing we call a puppy. Adults turn into kids again, in the presence of a puppy. Their aged voices somehow change into joyous giggles, in the presence of a puppy.
If you would take the time to make up your own list of things like these, it would serve you well. First, taking the time would mean stopping whatever it is that so consumes you on a daily basis, and the break would do you good. Second, the gears of your mind would be shifted away from stressful things to things of wonder and awe. The more you ponder the wonderful and the awesome the more wonder and awe would overtake you, and this would be very good indeed. Third, you would begin to remember the best stuff of life, as frowns give way to smiles, and tears give way to joy, and the tension of just living relaxes, even to the point of exchanging the doubt that the cup-is-half-empty to certainty, once again, that it is half-full.
Remembering the simple things in life seems to do us good. Why, then, do we work so hard at making it all so complicated? Perhaps because of pride. We like to think of ourselves as growing, and learning, and gaining wisdom. We like to think of ourselves as moving UP and not DOWN, and we tend to quantify this measurement with the stuff we have and the power we wield, if we have it and can wield it. If we don’t have it, we want it, and spend our efforts to get it. This complicates everything, and there goes the simplicity…
It’s interesting that bad things are often repressed in our minds, pushed deep so we don’t have to think about them. We don’t like thinking about bad things, and much prefer to concentrate on good things. Remembering good things works for our soul, somehow, whether put in a spiritual context or not. The simple things, again, seem to do us the most good, and are the easiest to remember. Which would lead us to ask what is the simplest of things, perhaps therefore the most essential, most basic, most fundamental to our life and being?
Is there, in the human condition, an answer that all could agree on? I believe there is. I believe that every human yearns for that which he has lost- freedom.
What is freedom? Did we ever have it? How did we lose it? How can we get it back? Who took it, and why?
You can probably think of many more questions pertaining to freedom, but these at least seem common, and a place to begin. We can probably agree that this is not only a common question among mankind, but that in addition to being a question of place or time or circumstance, it is a spiritual question at its core. Now it becomes important to define some terms, to keep us on the same page, so to speak.
By spiritual I mean beyond religion, which will take some explanation. Webster defines “religion” as “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects.” There are other definitions, but this is the basic one and all the others are just variants of this one, so let this one stand for the moment. Notice that the sole determinant in what makes a religion is the people holding to the beliefs and practices.
I realize that I am fighting against a cultural concept here as much as a theological one, but bear with me a bit more.
My observation in life is that man creates religions with a specific purpose in mind. The people joining together with the set of beliefs and practices have a shared result they want. Call it culture, or society, or community. Structure it one way or the other, with whatever government you wish, because you are part of the determining body. Man wants certain things, and he is determined to have them. If he can’t have them now, he will use all his resources to move toward them, over time, in spite of all obstacles. Man is driven, as we all know, by primal forces within him, and these are heightened or lessened by how well he achieves them. Mankind, universally, wants to be in control. He wants to control his environment as best he can, and works tirelessly to cut, chop, build, or take what he can to provide the most satisfying environment he can.
Along the way mankind forms these things called religions. As defined previously. The religion has its beliefs and practices, and rules and laws, and tries its best to define a Supreme Being, for purposes of unity in the camp, as well as for reasons of control OF the camp. The Supreme Being, the Almighty, God, if you will, becomes the object of the religion precisely because God is the one who can provide what the people cannot seem to get by themselves. If they could provide for themselves they wouldn’t need or bother God about it, would they? And so God, or gods, or any other variation of this you prefer becomes increasingly important as the needs of man are revealed through time, and as man discovers increasingly that man alone can’t provide for himself, by himself.
It becomes very obvious that man makes a fatal mistake along the way. As one writer has said “In the beginning God made man in His image, and ever since then man is trying to return the favor.” Man wants to be in control, of everything. Man would even use God to gain control, for the express purpose of benefitting man. Another has written, and I’m sure I’m paraphrasing but you’ll get the gist of it: “God is not a big one of us, He is God.” The Supreme Being is not subject to the man. The Creator is not subject to the creation.
Thus, my definition of “religion” is: “man’s attempt to control God.” Yes, even God. Check out all the beliefs and practices and see how many of them are there for us to be able to get what we want. Look at how we run the churches today. Even the historical Reformation of Martin Luther betrays a great flaw in man, as the Protestant church is born, while trying to reform a set of practices gone astray. Hundreds of years later the Protestants are still protesting. Almost everything. With every protest there seems to be the birth of a new church which will do it better, do it right. Forms of liturgy and worship; the use of instruments and style of music; type of dress, type of sanctuary, type of pew! Protesting who can be in ministry, and even what ministry IS ministry. Which Bible to use and how to preach it. Missions, community service, the Sacraments. Women in leadership, or the titles we give them, or wont give them, if they are. Church discipline and what to do with those who violate the …. Laws. These are just a few, and I’m sure you have your favorite, as the protesting leads not to unity but to division, all in the name of ….control.
Many years ago I heard a great definition of the word “sin.” Theologians have waxed eloquently about this ever since there have been theologians, and I know well the academic version. Perhaps the most universal understanding of the word “sin” is “separation from God.” But this doesn’t seem to speak to our hearts very well, because we don’t WANT to be separated from God. We don’t WANT to think of ourselves as sinners and this definition fights against itself. Here’s the one I like best: (Sin is) “I want what I want when I want it.” It’s a good definition because it puts me in the driver’s seat. I am the determinant. Wait! That’s the problem, isn’t it? I’m driving all by myself and I’m blind!
This is what I mean by spiritual being beyond religion, because spiritual is of God and religion is of man, and we all agree that we need to get to God, however that is. Freedom, you will see, is very definitely a spiritual issue, because it is largely due to religion that we have lost it!
This idea of Freedom has at least two prominent characteristics, or differentiations. There is freedom FROM, and freedom TO. Most of the other conjugations of freedom will fall into one of these two.
When speaking of freedom FROM this or that, we are primarily concerned with an easier to understand word– bondage. We all know what a bondage is, because we all have one or more at work in us pretty much all the time. This joins us to the word “sin,” which is the action item in creating the bondage. We can easily see that disobeying God results in a separation from Him, leaving us without that which we really want, which is Him, and giving us something less, which often enslaves us, thus, bondage.
We can usually see, or define, our bondage, even if we don’t want to. We may have repressed it, as I noted earlier, but it festers there still, deep within us, until resolved. We don’t like bondage, because it controls us. The bondage may be physical, emotional, or some combination of the two, but it is always spiritual. We may not be able to understand all the complexities of how we got the way we did, but we immediately agree that to be free from that thing is primary to our being. Freedom is primal. It’s in our DNA. Our Creator, God, made us free at the beginning and we long for it again. Then there is freedom TO, and the best and simplest way to express this that I can think of is to be free to live life the way God intended for us. Freedom to think and be, to do and go, to work and play, to enjoy life and especially to enjoy God Himself. In fact, without being able to enjoy God we are in the worst of bondage!
We have to revisit sin, however, to understand the bondages we’re in and what to do about them. If we are to discover freedom, and to live in freedom, it would mean being free from sin. This, you can see, is going to be big. Someone once noticed that we are called human “beings,” not human “doings.” Yet we seem to get most of our identity from what we do and not who we are. Like I said, this is going to be big.
Without going through the complexities of systematic theology, let’s just agree that what the Bible says is true. If you don’t agree, then don’t bother reading any further because this will just give you more to disagree with, and who needs that in an otherwise okay day? However it came to be in its current form and structure, and by whatever means or tests of integrity were used, the Holy Bible is God’s Word to man, and has stood the test of time and rebuttal. One really wonderful thing about the Bible is that it answers for us so completely the question of sin. The Bible tells us that without the Law there is no sin.
The Old Testament is a wonderful history, or testimony, or group of stories about how man was given the Law, didn’t like the Law, disobeyed the Law, suffered the punishment for violating the Law, came to his senses and repented and called again upon the Lord God Almighty to forgive him and save him, to be restored again into fellowship with God and live once again in peace and prosperity. And then to do it all over again. And again.
I can’t stop myself from here inserting a golf lesson. That golf is played by millions will make the metaphor even stronger. I use the word ‘played’ with great liberty, because it often feels more of a war than a game, but then wargames are enjoyed by all men.
In golf the most important thing is not the score, but the integrity with which that score is recorded. Without integrity the golfer isn’t even golfing, he’s just lying for four hours, and may as well stay off the course! You see, there are Rules of Golf. Laws. At the end of the game you add up the strokes you took and record that score. Compare that with other players in your game to determine a winner. Simple. You may not have noticed a subtle but amazing fact of golf, that even a hole in one, the best possible shot in the game, counts against you, because you have to add that 1 to your score, thus making your score higher. The object is to have the lowest possible score. I think the devil invented golf, because a Loving God surely wouldn’t torture us so.
One rule says that if you take a swing at the ball it counts as a stroke whether you hit the thing or not. At times I hit the ball badly, but after so many years of playing I rarely miss it altogether. To miss the ball is called a “whiff.” Whiffs count against you just as an actual hit would. Some golfers insert a caveat into the Rule Book that is not printed there but serves them just the same. It’s called The Mulligan. The mulligan is a do-over. Take another shot at it and don’t count the one you missed. It’s a way to keep integrity because the fellow golfers you are playing with must agree to the use of The Mulligan, which they will want to do if they think they may need it as well. It can’t be called “bending” the rules, because mulligan’s aren’t IN the Rule Book. So it’s a New Rule. An unwritten rule.
Can you see it? Can you see that without the Rule Book there would be no violation of the Rules? Without the Law there is no sin! Go out there on that beautiful green course and hit away to your hearts content. No harm and no foul when there is no law. This principle is everywhere. It’s the basis for every game, and every system of social interaction. Without laws we have no order, no structure, no way to keep social. Without laws we are more than uncouth, we are barbaric, and it seems that even the Barbarians had ‘some’ kind of order among themselves.
“But wait!” As that TV guy used to say, “There’s more.”
In the Beginning, with a capital B, things were going along quite well. God had created a magnificent creation, and everything was in order according to how He had made it. Man was content in the Garden of Eden, even fellowshipping with God as He walked with man therein. Paradise. Then God made the woman for the man, to be his helpmate, his companion, so that he wouldn’t be alone. Life was even better. God was up to something. Something big.
Then God gave the man a little rule. A law, if you will. We don’t know how long man was content with and kept this little rule, but we do know what happened. Sin entered the life of man as he violated the law, and God dealt with the sin by punishing the man, driving him out of the Garden, and into history as we know it.
The Freedom man enjoyed in the Garden of Eden was replaced with a bondage to a fallen state, further complicated with the continual violations of the law throughout history. More laws were given to try to help the man know what to do and how to live, only to reveal to the man how fallen he was by his inability to keep even one. More law, more sin, more separation, etc. up to Jesus Christ.
Now we turn to Freedom TO. We’ll come back to Freedom FROM as we unite the two into full Freedom.
Men want to be free to do what they want to do. It’s a bit of a contradiction because so much of what they want to do is sinful and just plunges them deeper into bondage. A death spiral, if you can think of it that way. But still they want to be free, and somewhere deep within really want to be with God Almighty. Men WANT restoration, because they know in their hearts that life WITH God is so much better than life without Him. So they create various religions to try to trick God. But God is not deceived. He sees it all, knows it all, and is actually working things out quite nicely for those who will pay attention.
The Doctrines (teachings) of Christianity are summed up in the word Gospel. The Lord God of Heaven actually has good news for man, and that news is the news of Freedom restored. Freedom FROM bondage, and freedom TO redemption, restoration, renewal, revival, and ultimately relationship with God. The Doctrines are often complex, and often debated, even fought over, resulting in the very division we discussed. These very Doctrines, then, become man’s attempt to influence God to get for man what man wants. So the good news turns instead to old news, even bad news, as God holds firm, waiting for man to come to his senses and yield to God’s Plan.
What is freedom? Did we ever have it? How did we lose it? How can we get it back? Who took it, and why?
Freedom is known by us all, as we experience quick pieces of it in small measures. We yearn to be free. To answer the “what?” we purpose ourselves to be free from bondage. Did we ever have it? Of course we did. It’s IN us, that small remnant of our Beginning still calling to us. How did we lose it? By rebelling against the Law, (demanding our own way) resulting in sin, (separation from God) and the resulting bondage (to whatever). Who took it? No one. We gave it away. Why? Because we were selfish and easy prey for the deception practiced by our enemy.
So we come to the main question remaining- “How can we get it back?” and a host of tangential questions. Is it even possible to be free again? Are we too far gone? Is my sin so great that I’m lost forever? Can my chains, which I wrapped myself in so willingly, ever be broken? With so many different religions how can I really know which one is right and true? With so many Laws attached to every religious system, how can anyone ever be free from the sin which results from breaking the Law? If forgiveness is part of the answer, why would God even bother to forgive me, yet another time, having heard from me so often, when I seem to only care about myself? And, of course, if God is Love why do babies die and bad things happen to good people?
Back to the Gospel, the good news for man. The Doctrines didn’t do it, did they? By this I mean that the mere words didn’t give us the Freedom we yearn for. There has to be more than words, or teachings, or religious systematic theology. There has to be something greater, more powerful, more able, than the Doctrines. Even if I agree that the Bible is God’s very articulate Word to mankind, I also have to admit that it, by itself, doesn’t make us free. I can reject the Bible altogether, I suppose, but that would surely not bring me closer to God. A child in rebellion doesn’t get closer to his parents by running away from home. An indebted slave doesn’t achieve his freedom by running away from his master before paying his debt; he ends up being a hunted runaway, never at peace, always looking to be captured again. This is hardly freedom.
Freedom, by its very definition, IS the good news. We may not be able to explain exactly what it is, but we certainly KNOW it can be achieved, because it’s IN us. Freedom is a PART of us. So we come to that final question, and all the tangential questions, with a very profound, albeit very simple answer. The answer is so simple, in fact, that it is resisted with tenacity and willful battle.
Freedom is not an it, or a place, or a style. Freedom is not some thing, nor is Freedom an opinion, or even a Doctrine. Freedom is not a concept or a thought process or psychological methodology. Freedom is, actually, being free FROM most of those things, instead of being in bondage TO them. Freedom, you see, is not a thing, but rather a Person. How else can mere man explain who God is, other than a Spirit? Yes, God is Spirit. But for man to know God, to relate to God, to be in fellowship with God, to both enjoy God and be enjoyable TO God, then man must have relationship WITH God, and so God presents Himself to man in the form of a Person for all that and so much more to be discovered and lived.
Jesus Christ IS Freedom, and only Him. All else is something else, therefore not what we really seek. Is it too simple? If Jesus Christ is Freedom, how do we “get it back,” this Freedom we’ve “lost.” Can you see it, that by losing our Freedom, we become lost?
Can we get “found” by surrendering again to the Law? Can we find Freedom by plunging into a morass of do’s, don’ts, rules and regulations, sacrifices and rituals? Not only do I think not, but you know not, deep down, because Freedom is IN you and calling to you and trying to woo you back to a marriage of one flesh-ness with God, as His Personhood unites with yours.
The Apostle Paul said “For me to live is Christ…” He meant that his ultimate life experience was Jesus Christ. Paul explained the mystery of what a real life was by saying it “…is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Yes, it really is that simple. Freedom from bondage comes by being united with Jesus Christ, the Lord God Almighty.
An incredibly wonderful thing that God has done, which gets us back to the Beginning, and solves the problem of being lost, is how the very Law we blame, for creating the sin we committed, which caused the separation, actually leads us TO Jesus Christ! The Law is good, you see, because it acts as a schoolmaster, or master teacher, instructing us exactly how to come to Christ.
So here it is, simply. We are saved not by the Law, but by Jesus Christ. We are made Free not by the Law, but by Jesus Christ. We serve not the Law, but Jesus Christ. We yield not to Law, but to Jesus Christ, Who now lives IN us. Freedom lives now IN us and wants to live THROUGH us, as we so allow. We actually give permission for Jesus Christ to have His way with us, and become like Him, as He manifests Himself through all of us who are His.
While the answer is simple, the resulting life is profound, to say the least! It is no longer I who live, but Christ Who lives IN me!
Freedom discovered. Freedom explored. Freedom debated. Freedom achieved.
The Bible now becomes so much more than a history book of people’s problems, of wars and failures, and of difficult sayings. The Bible now comes alive itself, as God’s Word explodes off the pages into our very souls. Freedom begins to speak to us, to instruct us not with endless regulations, but with exciting life and joyous experience. The one set free is free indeed, who dances with delight, sings with strong voice, full of laughter, living life large! The one set free knows no bondage, yields to no bondage, with victory over sin the new normal. The one set free doesn’t just know about Jesus Christ, but rather has become the very container OF His Holy Spirit, being poured out upon the world. Freedom isn’t just achieved, Freedom takes over.
Yes, it really is that simple. Yes, there seems to be a great battle going on in the spirit realm, but God wins. Yes, there seems to be a great battle going on in the hearts and minds of mankind, but God wins. Yes, bondage is real and holds on to many, but Freedom is available, and free to all who will come to Jesus Christ.
However. Yes, there always seems to be a “however” to keep things going along. In this case the “however” is absolutely necessary, because up to this point our discussion of Freedom has been pretty cerebral, although not academic. It’s a sad thing that relationship with Jesus Christ is so cerebral and so little personal, but that’s at the core of what we’re dealing with. Let’s see if we can move from the mind to the heart; from the mental, only, to the “real.”
Freedom doesn’t apply just to the mind, although that’s the place to start. A person in a real prison, in physical bondage, certainly benefits from psycho-emotional-mental Freedom, which often is what keeps him going until release. Having the mental toughness to endure a thing is enhanced when you know your destiny is Freedom.
We turn now to the application of Freedom in our lives, or, more correctly, to the lack of if. I like to call this the “shoe leather” side of life. It’s where life is lived out, not in the books and dreams, but in the real day-to-day stuff we go through. If the academic side is the white collar side, then the blue collar side is surely regular, everyday life. We have spouses and kids and jobs and illnesses and hobbies and teams and cubicles and vacations and…everything else to contend with. Where is the Freedom in this? I think it takes no time to discover the bondages, so where is the Freedom? Can there even BE Freedom in all of this?
To get very personal, and risk losing everyone in the process, who may subconsciously as well as purposely devolve to defense mode and miss the point, let’s look at the Church.
I love the Church. I especially love my local Church, where a very successful experiment in Freedom has been playing out for the past 23 years. I call it an experiment because what we are doing and living out isn’t status quo, or very normal for the modern church. In trying to present the details of this great experiment there is the danger of seeming critical of every other attempt at church life, and I surely don’t mean to do that. We are not “better” people than anyone else. But we have found a Freedom that is exceptional, hard to explain, but thoroughly enjoyed when discovered.
I don’t need to develop here all the problems that plague the modern, Western, evangelical church, do I? Hasn’t enough been written about these problems? Alas, without some understanding of the problems, the bondages, if you will, we don’t have a way of discovering the Freedom.
Moral failure is nothing new; been around since the Garden. Moral failure in the Leadership is also nothing new, but no matter how we try to prevent it the flaws in man come to the surface, like a splinter working its way through a fester, bringing to the top the splinter AND the goo. So churches devise forms of government to try to prevent this from happening in “their” group. These forms of government soon take on their own identity, creating a further divide in the Body of Christ. We start with personal qualifications, then add formal university training, then a sort of time-testing apprenticeship, to the place where very few can hold a position, which develops a strong sense of power and entitlement, which lasts until either a moral failure takes them out or a “newer, better” version starts up across the street, drawing the crowds over there. I know, that’s much too simplistic, and certainly not complete, but it speaks to a pattern well established. Add your own version of the story if you like, but it wont make you feel any better. One wouldn’t look at the modern Evangelical church and immediately be overcome by the Freedom enjoyed there!
As for the congregations, or laymen, things are no better. Since there ARE no qualifications, or training required, or apprenticeship to work out the kinks, the assembly grows with not necessarily like-minded people, until someone wants something. As soon as someone wants something the machine goes into gear and out come the By-Laws, Statements of Faith, Committees, Boards, Elders or Deacons, and all identifiable forms of government. This would be summarized as control. The more control, to maintain order, the more bondage to something- ie: the less Freedom is experienced.
Agonizingly late nights can be spent by well-meaning folks, discussing the color of carpet to buy, or strength of the coffee, ad infinitum! And we haven’t even mentioned the issues with PEOPLE yet. Who gets to be a Deacon, and why? What are you doing with my money? The music is too loud, or too fast, or too modern, or too old. The preacher talks too long, or never “feeds” me. It’s boring, or it’s dishonoring to the Sanctuary, or it’s too hard to find a parking space. They quit using the King James Bible, or they keep using it! And, boy howdy, what about those young people, or, oops, those old people?
I know, I know, it’s a short list and you can easily add to it, but I think the point is clear. Does church life today feel like the amazing expression of faith and discovery we read about in the early part of the Book of Acts? Is it even reasonable to look at the early church and expect that now? After all, we’re so much more advanced as a society. Really? Would the modern church be labeled as a place of Freedom? Better still, would the modern church be the place where someone IN bondage could come to be set free? Or would he just run into a new set of rules and regulations he would soon violate, be told about, shamed and guilted over?
This is what the modern church is wrestling with, and I’m sure it’s what the early church wrestled with as well. There is nothing new under the sun. Ok, I get that, but how do we move beyond the bondages of life? How can we do church in a way of Freedom, and still do all those things a church is called to do? That, you see, is our experiment for the last 23 years.
You will notice that I’m not quoting a host of Bible verses to prove my position. It doesn’t work. Drawing the swords of Biblical interpretation seems to be at the foundation of the problem, as each man is right in his own eyes, and well able to defend his position, resulting only in the carving up of one another. Freedom isn’t exegesis, Freedom is a Person. Freedom is Jesus Christ. It is His Word, after all, and our job is to hear it, obey it, and help others to hear it. We go amiss quickly when we try to force the interpretations or be the Oracle.
In order to focus on Jesus Christ we can very nicely look at ourselves and not the other person. We don’t need to judge another when we have plenty of work to do within. We all know this, but it’s just so much easier to look at the other fellow and tell him how to live than to develop our own spiritual relationship. So, first things first, we need to begin with ourselves and let the Holy Spirit work with the other guy. This is easy to write about, but hard to do, especially in church work where so many “others” show up.
The experiment of our church began with a practical problem of monumental issue. How can we have the pastor we want to have when we can’t afford to pay him? (Because that person was me it is easy for me to write about without distortion.) This question needs to be developed better so you can appreciate the monumental status I claimed for it, so allow me to digress a bit. Here are some of the issues:
***Pastor; pastor qualifications; pastor family size; pastor needs.
***Congregation; size; budget; physical needs; spiritual needs.
***Denominational or non-denominational considerations of the organization, meaning, the By-Laws, Corporation, etc.
***The mystical yet supernatural reality of “calling.”
After just these few, and of course there can be many more, you can appreciate the complexities which develop. Perhaps you’ve been here before and can relate. As we pile up the things to think about, do we move TO or AWAY from a sense of Freedom? You know the answer, but you hold on to the practical side of things and justify every position you hold. Of course you do. Can you see Jesus Christ coming to your church Board meeting? Do you think Jesus Christ would even entertain so much of what we discuss, argue about, even passionately argue about because we’re right and we’ve got the answers in the Bible? We know well what to expect from Jesus Christ when confronted with this kind of thing, by looking exactly at how He dealt with the spiritual leaders of His day, the Pharisees. Not a pretty thing, is it?
It’s not that He didn’t care about these things, really, but that He was FOCUSED on something different, something greater. Jesus said He listened to His Father, and did what He told Him to do, went where He told Him to go. Jesus Christ was Free from sin, Free from bondage, because He was united to His Father and obedient to Him in all things. Freedom happened because Jesus Christ was Freedom.
But what about all the practical stuff? Here’s where our church experiment gets good, as the practical is faced every day. It’s about gifts. Who’s got them, and how can we get them distributed? This isn’t limited to the Pentecostal gifts, but much more inclusive of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t the place to define and develop understanding about all these gifts, as that is in itself a lifetime of discovery and learning and practice. This is the place to connect the gift to the Giver to the Church.
Back to the pastor question you thought I forgot about: How can we get the pastor we want? This is a very bad question. Most church pastor-seeking, or selection committees, would agree that what they really want is the pastor God has in mind for them. What they want leads to bondage, but what God wants leads to Freedom. The misuse of power in churches is too obvious to even discuss, so let’s just admit it. What we need is a Freedom to hear from God’s Holy Spirit and the courage to obey, even if it looks different than what we expect. Jesus Christ, the Victorious King of kings and Lord of lords, came triumphantly into the city, riding on a donkey!
How can we pay him? This leads to so much strife and worry. I felt that God was calling me to this church, and they felt that God was leading me to them to be a pastor among them, but the reality was they didn’t have the money to pay me. As I pondered this dilemma the Lord showed me the way of Freedom. I have certain gifts. My gifts make me no better than any other person, but they do enable me in certain ways. Two of my gifts are preaching and pastoral sensitivity, and the church both needed and wanted them. Why not just GIVE my gifts to the church? Why do I have to be paid? (Yes, the apostle Paul was a tentmaker, and argued well for the spiritual worker to be paid, even double, but he also took no money from the churches he served.)
The enemy can quickly begin to speak here, causing all sorts of division, using all sources of Scripture and exegetical effort, with one thing in mind- to rob us of the Word of the Lord and the Freedom He leads us in. The fact was, and I rejoice every time I think about it, that God Almighty was at work, and it was our opportunity to discover it, or reject it and Him.
I come every Sunday and all week long to give my gifts to the church. They are freely given, freely received, without controversy. I’m not hired so I can’t be fired. I don’t have to worry about the church paying me, fixing my children’s teeth, providing me with a car, retirement, etc. The members of the church are free too. They can come or not come, give or not give, with very little structure or Law to contend with. At any time they think a new person should assume the role I have they are free to make it so, just as I am to hear from God and go. There are no hooks. There is no bondage. We allow the Lord God to pour out His Holy Spirit upon us even in the practical things like this.
Can you see why this is very wonderful? Perhaps you can also see the potential for much angst, or disagreement, as wills collide as to how a thing should be done. So we extend the experiment beyond just me, the pastor, but to the church as well, to every department, or ministry therein. Let’s purpose ourselves to let God be God. In Henry Blackaby’s study “Experiencing God,” this amazing piece of Freedom is revealed: “Find out what God is doing and join Him in it.”
Read that again. If you really want to experience the Living God, it is to Him you must go and Him you must follow. That’s because He is Freedom at work. Notice it doesn’t say to find out what program you like the best, or which building looks the nicest, or what meets your personal tastes the most. It’s all about Jesus Christ. When once we join in with Him all kinds of amazing and supernatural things begin to happen in our lives, because He is amazing and supernatural!
So a few years ago I began to tell my church, from the pulpit, on a regular basis, so often that they now have it, understand it, and can repeat it, even to others, even during the regular weekday events of life: God is up to something!
The focus is on God, and there is faith that He is doing things, and we choose to be a part of it. Or not.
Another saying that has become familiar to us is “How’s that working out for you?” It’s a great question, with both positive and negative applications. If what we’re doing isn’t working, let’s change! I heard a fellow pastor once say, about a ministry at his church that seemed to be struggling for support, “If it’s dead, bury it.” Folks, that’s Freedom! Get beyond. Move on. Break the chains! Get to what Jesus is doing NOW. The songwriter Bill Gaither pens “Get all excited, go tell everybody, that Jesus Christ is King!” To discover the Living Lord God Almighty is an awesome discovery; a life-changing discovery; emphasis on changing! Freedom is not a thing, remember, but a Person. Freedom is not a condition, but a Person.
One more? Someone has said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. This current world is insane! Over and over it keeps trying to obey the Law, lots of laws, endless laws, and over and over it keeps failing, thus sinning, thus separating from God. It isn’t working, is it?
When someone comes to me at church, or calls me on the phone with a great idea, an interesting thing happens. After a few years at our church one learns how this goes, but it’s always the same for the new ones. “Hey pastor, how about a Bible study for the kids after school?” or “How about a (additional) ministry to the poor.” or “No one’s been to visit me for awhile.” (I’m sure you can add in many such ideas or issues from your own experience.) Can you see what is happening? People want something. And they often want me or the church to provide it. And they usually “expect” me to provide it, since I’m the pastor and therefore the guy employed to be such. In fact, the western church today is dominated by the entitlement mentality of a client wanting to be served. “I’m looking for a church, how’s your youth program?” “Do you have a children’s church so the kids wont bother me during the sermon?”
Does that sound like Freedom to you?
If the request is actually in my gift mix I don’t mind at all taking it on, because when I use my gifts I’m really energized and activated, because my gifts come from God, right? But I usually respond by asking them to develop the request, think the thing thru, pray about it, even put it on paper and try to answer as many questions as they can, and bring it to the Elders so we can see how to help THEM get the thing going. The church isn’t MINE; I’m only one cog in the wheel. Let’s get the whole wheel turning. The church is the Bride of Christ, so let’s bring as much as we can to Him and let Him sort it out, develop it, and empower it to happen. This, is submit to you, is Freedom.
I discovered in the Old Testament that the people of God made a terrible mistake, and keep making it today. When they found themselves in a bad way they finally called upon God to help them, and He did. These are the stories of one deliverance after another, which is really good news if you’re the one who’s been in bondage. God shows up and answers the prayers of His people when they are earnest in their pursuit of Him. He delivers them and gives them favor and Blessing. They multiply and build cities and prosper under His leadership in their lives. Enemies are conquered, lands are inhabited, people are happy. Life is good. Freedom is restored to those who were in bondage.
But then the people of God look around at the other nations and notice these other nations have kings, and the people of God want a king too. God tells them that they don’t need a king, because He is their King. The people hear, but they don’t agree. The people think that they now know what is best for them and disrespect the Wisdom of God, or, at the very least, they want what they want when they want it, and are determined to go get it. So God allows the people to be ruled by kings, and usually kings do what is best for kings and not for the people. Freedom lost.
It seems to me that the modern western church is still asking for kings. We want our pastors to LEAD us. Studies are made, books are written, conferences held, and churches are built on the strong leadership skills of men and women. Programs are developed that become self-promoting and self-generating, as the church become expert in the skills of manipulation and marketing. It works. Or does it? This gift of pastoral ministry is not a kingship, it’s a service. A service is freely given and freely received, or else it’s not a service, it’s a slavery, a bondage. I choose Freedom.
We face issues of dis-order or dis-unity with the same pain and concerns of any other church. In applying “seek first the Kingdom of God” we try not to overpower or just have it our way. We try to discover the other gifts that may be present and allow them to minister to us and meet the need. We fail at this sometimes, if by failure we mean that a person leaves our fellowship. We aren’t able to make everyone happy. We can’t seem to give everyone what he or she wants. Our idealism about Freedom always meets the shoe-leather of real people and real lives and real differences. We are, however, first and always, a fellowship of people who want to grow together and hear from and learn more about our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther King Jr. said “Let freedom ring!” Wendell Wallace cried aloud “FREEDOM.” And Jesus Christ said “Come to Me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Freedom, you see, is a Person.