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The path of freedom or the slope of slavery?

My youngest son, Luke, and I had lunch today with a wise sage of the faith, George Bebawi, and his equally wise wife, May. Since Luke is going into high school this coming August, I asked George if he had any counsel that might help Luke prepare for this new season of life. George, who taught at Cambridge, St. John’s College in Nottingham, England, and Selly Oak College in Birmingham, England (just to name a few), did, in fact, have some counsel to give Luke. His counsel wasn’t academic, even though he is quite the academician. His counsel wasn’t necessarily theological, although he could spar with any of the theological greats. George’s counsel was fatherly, or, perhaps I should say, “grand-fatherly.”


George told stories of his own childhood, and although many years have passed, and there are obvious cultural differences, the principles of truth, upon which these stories were told, apply in our culture and time as well. George spoke to my son as a loving, discerning grandfather speaks to his grandchildren.


Of the many lessons we learned at George and May’s dining room table, one stood out above all the rest. George said, “In America, people are taught that freedom comes when we follow our heart’s desire. But if there is nothing to guide our heart’s desire, then we have no path to freedom; we only have a slope to slavery.” We think we are free if we get to do what we choose, but that which we choose determines the state of our freedom.


I believe God creates us with the ability to choose. Will I follow God or not? Will I be kind or not? Will I give in to this temptation or not? The fact that I have a choice does not make me free. The commitment to choose wisely determines if I remain free or if I enter the slope to slavery. As George said, “The ability to say ‘no’ is an exercise of one’s freedom which is a defining characteristic of being human. The yielding to immediate gratification simply makes us monkeys.”


In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter (who knew a thing or two about bad choices—cf. Mark 14:66-72), writes this, “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:19b).


To Luke, my youngest son: You are free to choose, as am I. That is part of what it means to be human. But as you exercise your freedom, stay on the path God has for you, for only then will you ultimately remain free. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German pastor and theologian who was martyred for his faith by the Nazis in April, 1945, once wrote:


If you set out to seek freedom, then learn above all things to govern your soul and your senses, for fear and longings may lead you away from the path you should follow. Chaste be your mind and your body, and both in subjection, obediently, steadfastly seeking the aim set before them; only through discipline may a man learn to be free.”


“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). The path of freedom or the slope of slavery? “You were called to freedom” (Galatians 5:13), but the choice is yours. I encourage you to choose wisely.

Where is God’s Church?

What is “church” really all about? I mean, really? In over 2,000 years of church history, followers of Jesus have voluntarily committed to one another in local contexts all over the world to be the church. But what does that mean? Jesus Christ declared, “I will build My Church” (Matt. 16:18). No matter how we interpret it, this passage talks of one church. Christ continues, “and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” He promised that His Church could never be destroyed.


Externally, most of us have a pretty good idea of church. It means people meet together on Sunday mornings for worship services, Sunday school classes, and children’s classes. Many American churches have some type of mid-week service for prayer and study of God’s Word. Most churches have a pastor, minister, and/or elders, and/or deacons. Most churches have some type of facility whether it’s rented or owned. Most have a few, if not many, ministries for women’s and men’s groups, students, and children. Most will have some type of missions program and perhaps some type of community outreach.


But what is it all for? Or, to phrase the question in proper English, For what purpose do all these ministries, programs, and activities exist?


Laura and I have recently sold our house to move closer to the church we serve and to the school our children attend. Plus, thanks to Dave Ramsey, we’re downsizing. Way to go, Dave. In preparation for selling our house, we went through all our closets to de-clutter, we did some touch up painting, and we made a few minor repairs where needed. As we were going through all this prep work, I asked myself, “Why didn’t we do this sooner?” Why did we get so comfortable with things as they were and not pay as much attention to the details of fixing that bathroom tile caulk or that carpet that needed to be cleaned? Why? Because the purpose of our home was for us and our comfort. If it didn’t bother us that the carpet had a few stains, then so be it. The purpose of our home drove the upkeep and activities we did inside the home.


So it is with church. The purpose of the church drives the upkeep and activities we do inside—and outside—the church. If the purpose of the church is for us and our comfort, then guess what? We’ll keep the focus, activities, ministries and programs about us and our comfort. But what if the purpose of the church is not primarily for our comfort? What if the purpose of the church is for something far greater and compelling? What if Jesus, the One we claim to follow and Who is the Center of the Church, calls us to join Him on His mission, not ours? If I’m left to my own devices, I will make my life mission and our church mission to be as I want it to be for my needs, preferences and comfort. But if I align my life mission and our church mission with Jesus’ mission, then all of a sudden the tables are turned (which Jesus had a way of doing, cp. Matthew 21:12).


What is Jesus’ mission? Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus’ mission was to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for others (Mark 10:45). This is Jesus’ mission, and He invites us to join Him in it. Your life mission and church mission should be Jesus’ mission. The purpose of our “house” is not for us and our comfort. The building is simply a tool to gather, equip, mobilize, and release us to be the church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, as we live our lives to love God, follow Jesus and serve our world. Those are more than mere words; they are a mission for the ecclesia, the “called out community” that is God’s chosen vehicle to bring the redemptive power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our neighbors, friends, family, co-workers and, yes, to people all over the world.

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