Finding Freedom in the Gospel

The Gospel is not just a section of the Bible.

It isn’t just a story you read about in church.

The Gospel is a message. It’s a truth. It’s a living reality.

It is the message that Jesus died in order to set us free from sin and hell and even from ourselves.

The Gospel is a story of rescue. Because of faith in Jesus and a relationship with Him, you and I can be rescued from all the broken parts of our humanity.

And we all know that there are lots of broken parts in our humanity.

Believing and receiving this gospel – this good news – is something transformative and life-changing.

When we know that we are accepted by God because of Jesus, that the brokenness in us is forgiven and is being healed, that we have been rescued by His love and don’t have to worry about fixing ourselves, THIS changes everything.

That Gospel sets us free from the need to change ourselves, because we learn that Jesus wants to come inside of us and change us from within.

It sets us free from the need to be perfect, because we quickly discover that we never can be, but that God is working on us to make us more like Him. And only HE can do that work.

The Gospel sets us free from the need to make our lives what we think they need to be, because we learn how liberating it is to surrender our lives to God and let Jesus live through us.

The Gospel sets us free from this compulsion to perform in order to please God or to please others, because through the Gospel we find out that Jesus already did what needed to be done in order for God to be pleased with us.

God looks at us through the lens of His Son and He. Is. Pleased. With. Us.

Believing the Gospel sets us free from the unnecessary work of being better. Self-help books and exhausting efforts at improving our humanity become unfruitful and unimportant, because we learn through the gospel that we can never make our own selves good enough. And our version of good enough will always fall short of God’s version of perfection.

So, in the gospel, we find rest, and we find the permission to simply BE and to be loved and accepted for who we are.

The Gospel reminds us that Jesus loves us just the way we are but He wants to grow us and change us. And because of our relationship with Him, that becomes possible.

The Gospels sets us free. Not just a little, but wholly and entirely.

Who among us doesn’t want that liberation and freedom?

Discerning our Burdens and Desires From God’s Perspective

I believe strongly in the practice of being introspective.

I think there is incredible value in understanding yourself and discovering your desires, your ambition, your feelings, and your thoughts.

It’s important to pay attention the things that rise up within us and to ask, “What is this telling me about myself? Why am I feeling this way? And what do I need to do in response to it?”

Self-reflection is an important part of emotional health. The better we are at it, the stronger we will be as humans.

But it’s also an important part of our spiritual growth, as many times the things that we discover within are things that God is stirring up for His purposes.

In Psalm 145, King David writes these words:

“You open your hand. You satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:16)

He is talking about God, and the fact that the Lord has the ability to fulfill desires among not only His people, but also every living creature on the earth.

God WANTS to satisfy our desires. But, to take it a step further, we need to understand that God not only has the ability to grant us the things that we desire, He also is the one who gives us the actual desires.

Charles Spurgeon said it this way: “In spiritual things, when God has raised a desire, He always gratifies it; hence the longing is prophetic of the blessing. In no case is the desire of the living thing excited to produce distress, but in order that it may seek and find satisfaction.”

He is saying something incredibly profound, that I think we need to pay attention to.

He’s saying that God wants to satisfy our desires, but it all begins with God giving us the desire in the first place that only He can satisfy.

When a longing stirs up within us, it is meant to push us toward God for the satisfaction of that longing. When we sense a desire or an ambition in our spirits, it’s meant to be prophetic of the provision that God will soon bring.

Here’s an example: At this point in my life, I have this intense desire to help Christians become more authentic and genuine followers of Jesus, shaped and influenced by His teachings rather than cultural Christianity.

I have to believe that God put this desire in my heart, and that this desire is prophetic of some blessing or direction that He is going to bring in response to it. Meaning that somehow He is going to satisfy that desire in some way, in using me to carry out that burden and see people come to know and surrender more wholly to the real ways of Jesus.

Charles Spurgeon says that the desires that we have are not meant to produce distress in us. It’s easy for that to happen, isn’t it? We discover some burden, some longing, some ambition, and we don’t know how it’s ever going to be fulfilled, so we end up feeling quite distressed and troubled.

We have longings for friendships, for company, for love, for financial stability, for a ministry opportunity, for a calling, for influence, for a sense that we are contributing value to the world.

We may feel stirred up about adoption, or immigration, or the injustices of our society. These burdens create longings within our hearts. We just want to DO something. We want to be a part of something. But we just aren’t sure what to do with it.

God can be trusted to fulfill those desires, if He’s the one who put them in our hearts to begin with.

And that’s where we need to not only be introspective, but also learn to go to Him and ask for clarity and discernment, asking God, “Is this desire from you? If so, I trust you to satisfy it. You know my longing. Now take it and do what you want with it.”

Can we commit ourselves to turning our desires, longings, and ambitions over to God and allowing Him to satisfy them in His own way and timing? I believe that when we do that, He will begin to open up doors and give us opportunities to step into a place where those longings, passions, burdens, and desires can be acted upon.

In that, there is a greater experience of the work of God in us and through us. And surely that’s what we desire more than anything else.

How Like Fish We Are

I love fishing. As often as I can throughout the year, I’ll load up my kayak and my fishing gear, or hop on a boat with my father-in-law and head for the water. I greatly enjoy casting that line out, hoping to get a bite from a hungry fish.

For the fisherman, fishing is an activity that brings relaxation, enjoyment, and the thrill of success. For the fish, however, it’s a lesson in giving into temptation, chasing after something desirable, only to find a hiding hook and be caught up in an unexpected place.

Along these lines, Aldo Leopold, in his book A Sand County Almanac, once wrote these words about fish:

“How like fish we are: ready, nay eager, to seize upon whatever new thing some wind of circumstance shakes down upon the river of time! And how we rue our haste, finding the gilded morsel to contain a hook.”

Here Leopold points out a very important, and unavoidable, flaw of all humans – that we are prone to rush to new things – seductive things, enticing things, exciting things, things that we THINK will improve our lives – only to discover some kind of “hook” hidden within that thing.

I know this has been true in my own life over the years.

I’ve chased after things that I thought would satisfy or fulfill me – a new job, a new house, a new car – only to soon discover the ways that the new and enticing thing led me into a trap of financial hardship and burden.

I’ve given into the enticement of new circumstances in life – areas where I thought I was needed, things that I was asked to do and assented to – only to experience extra stress and a disappointing lack of enjoyment.

Quick to hasten to the enticement of new things, only to find a hook hiding within the “gilded morsel.” Just like a fish.

The funny thing is that fish don’t tend to learn. They repeat the same mistake, over and over again, sometimes even immediately after being hooked the first time. Maybe God didn’t give them intelligence in this area because He wanted to use them to show us something.

Fish don’t learn. But do we?

We have this human tendency to be drawn to things that entice our own desires. And all of our desires are different. We don’t all crave the same things and so, therefore, we aren’t enticed by the same things.

But we’ve all given into whatever those things are that do entice us. Some of those things are more damaging and destructive than others. Some just cause us some inconvenience or a setback in life. Others may cause tremendous harm to ourselves or our relationships.

Whatever the thing is, the question is not “why did I do that?”, but, rather, “What can I learn from this?” How can realizing and paying attention to all the times that we have bitten into a hidden hook cause us to change our behaviors both now and in the future? How can it help us to understand that not everything that glitters is gold, and that not every opportunity, positive circumstance, offer, idea, or ambition is going to bring about good things in our lives?

Probably the most important thing we can do, in order to avoid the hidden hooks, is to carefully consider each of these new circumstances and opportunities, and then to make a plan for what we will do if it isn’t’ as good for us as we think it will be.

When we’ve seized upon the new thing or the new circumstance or the new opportunity, and we discover that we’ve bitten into a hook and we’re now experiencing hardship or regret, or we’ve caused damage to some area of our lives, or we realize that we’ve made a great error, we must have a way to bounce back, and then we must learn from the mistake.

Repeating them makes us even more like fish. And God didn’t create us with the intelligence of a fish. He designed us in His image – with the ability to reason, to apply wisdom, to learn from mistakes, and to be redeemed.

Life is not without its failures. Humans are not without their flaws. But all can be fixed and redeemed and made whole, if we allow ourselves to grow and change in the ways that keep us trapped.

Yeshua: Jesus Rescues His People From Sin

The angel Gabriel visited Joseph in a dream, announcing to him that the woman to whom he was engaged would give birth to a very special son.

Joseph had discovered Mary’s pregnancy and was very troubled by it.

They were not yet married. He thought she was a virgin. How could these things be?

But the angel’s visit put his fears at ease, and helped Joseph to see that much was going on here than he had assumed.

The baby that Mary would give birth to was not some child conceived out of wedlock or a secret scandal for Joseph to deal with.

The child would be the Messiah, God’s Son, and Mary had been chosen by God to deliver this baby that would one day deliver the world from their sins.

In fact, the very name for this baby that the angel gave to Joseph indicated this very thing. Notice his words in Matthew `1:21.

“She will give birth to a Son; and you shall name Him Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

In the Hebrew language (the language that Joseph would have spoken), the name “Jesus” is the word “Yeshua.” In the original language, this name is synonymous with the phrase “God delivers.” It was a significant name that was used to refer to the saving and rescuing power of God and, on this occasion, it was used to indicate what God planned to do through the life of this child.

Jesus, God’s son, would be born as a human being, live a perfectly sinless life, die on a cross, and then rise from the dead again – all so that He could fulfill the very meaning of His name.

To deliver. To rescue. To bring freedom from sin to those would be His people.

And who are “His people”? Who are the people to whom Jesus would bring rescue and deliverance?

John tells us in his gospel that they are the people who believe and put their faith in Jesus. Notice his words in John 1:12.

“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.”

God’s people – the ones to whom He promises deliverance and rescue and freedom from sin through Jesus – are the ones who believe in His Son, who put their trust and faith in Him, and who come to belong to Him.

We who believe in Jesus and belong to Him have received that eternal and everlasting rescue from our sin. We are no longer imprisoned to the curse, the bondage, or the consequences of sin.

We have been set free!

That’s such good news. And the apostle Paul elaborate on that when he says this in Romans 6:11 –

“So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Not only have we been delivered FROM something; we have also been set free TO something.

We have been given the freedom to walk in righteousness. We have been delivered to pursue godly living. We have been freed to new life in Christ.

We are DEAD to sin and ALIVE to God now, all because of Yeshua, the Christ, the Messiah, who came to save His people from their sins.

What kind of difference should this make in us today? In what ways does God want to further deliver us from the residue of sin in our hearts?

The sinful nature within us has been crucified but, as Charles Spurgeon once said, “it is a slow death.” We have been delivered and have freedom to live the way God wants us to live. But we need His help.

Let’s ask Him for more of it as we pursue Him today.

The Renovation of Our Lives

Here at our house, my wife and I are wrapping up a home renovation/addition project, finally adding the finishing touches on a months-long adventure.

My father-in-law took our ideas and worked his magic to implement them, making our house look better and bigger, just the way we envisioned. A pretty big shift took place here, and lots of things changed in order to complete the project.

Walls came down in some places and new walls went up in other places. Windows came out and were replaced. Paint was upgraded and doors were added. The kitchen was gutted and then refilled with everything my wife had wished for.

It was a tough process, and I’m sure my father-in-law would tell you that it challenged and stumped him at certain times.

To personify the house for a moment, I am willing to bet that it felt some pain – things being ripped out and cut down and stripped away. Shaking and bouncing and noise – things that caused utter chaos and confusion.

But the end result was something beautiful. The painful process produced a product that was renovated, rebuilt, and renewed. All the hard work ended with a home that more closely resembled the vision that we had for it.

And this is what is going on with our lives as believers.

Much like a challenging home renovation project, God takes His people through a process of renewal and rebuilding, from the day they give their lives to Him until the day He calls them home.

He begins with a vision – a desire to see His people restored and redeemed and remade into His image. Remember Genesis 1:26? God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” His vision for mankind was a people who were like Him, who had a close relationships with Him, who lived in communion with Him, and who represented His character on earth.

God has a vision that His people will return to their original design – to be truly human, set apart from the evil and sin of the world, like Him in goodness and love and holiness.

He starts with this vision, and then He takes us through a process of making this a reality.

And at times this process is challenging. At times it involves tearing things down, ripping things out, removing ugliness, replacing old things with new things.

It involves God showing us the things in our hearts and in our lives that serve as obstacles to us being more like Him – sin, pride, selfishness, anger, lust, unforgiveness, self-righteousness. He takes us through the process of revealing these things to us and then actively works on removing them, in order for us to be more like Him.

And sometimes that’s painful, isn’t it? Because we have to come face-to-face with our own reality. And we have to walk away from certain things or situations or people. And we have to let go of certain desires or ambitions that keep us away from God. And sometimes we have to be torn down, all in order to be rebuilt the way that Go wants us to be.

But the process – as painful or challenging as it may be – always produces the fruit of righteousness. And all the hard work of sanctification (that’s the fancy theoogical term for this growth process) eventually leads to a person – a child of God – that more closely resembles the vision that He always had for us.

The process is hard sometimes. But the growth that God wants to produce in us is the gift at the end of the road.

Will we trust God through the process and allow Him to do a work in us to make us more like Himself? If we do, we will be rebuilt, renewed, and reformed in all the ways that make us the people of God that He envisions.