Matthew 11:29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

In Walt Morey’s story “Gentle Ben”, an adult bear helped a trapped man. This was the same man who had hunted the bear down just a little while ago. Gentle giants are that way – they could squash a person in a moment’s notice, but they choose to save a life instead.

There is a direct link between freedom and humility, demonstrated by the life of God’s Son. Jesus knew the secret of relinquishing power and not holding on to any privileges. Paul described the nature of Jesus in a letter to the Philippians in East Macedonia, and here are his remarks (Philippians 2:5-8):

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!”

The Son of God was not forced to become a human being; it clearly was His choice. Nobody took His life from Him. He voluntarily gave it away. And by doing so He opened the door to freedom. There is a big difference between relinquishing our power because we have to and relinquishing our power even if we don’t have to do it. That’s the way of humility.

Don’t let false humility deter you – wherever there is fraud, the original is not far away; so all we need to do is keep looking. We recognize false humility in people acting like doormats. That’s not what humility is all about. When Jesus was asked who He was, He did not answer: “I’m a doormat.” He answered (all quotes taken from John’s Gospel):

“I am the bread of life. I am the light of the world. I am the good shepherd. I am God’s Son. I am the resurrection and the life.”

The Lord knows Who He Is. And as humble people, we also know who we are. Learning from the gentle Giant, the great I Am, we become gentle and humble in heart and find rest for our souls.

“Don’t expect a free ride from no one
Don’t hold a grudge or a chip and here’s why
Bitterness keeps you from flying
Always stay humble and kind”

Lori McKenna

Luke 1:76-78: “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven.”

Zachariah was as happy as could be. He held his newborn son John in his arms. A prophecy whispered in His heart as looked at his son. John would prepare the way for the Messiah.

Fast forward to 30 years later, throngs of people flocked to the area where John preached, which was down by the banks of the Jordan River. Those who were moved by his words stepped into the water and got immersed. In Judaism, a bath called “Mikveh” or “mikvah” Hebrew: מִקְוֶה / מקווה is used to achieve ritual purity. It is understood that most forms of impurity can be nullified through the immersion in any natural collection of water, like the Jordan River.

The Jordan River is 156 miles long and flows roughly north to south through the Sea of Galilee and on to the Dead Sea, which gave John a nice radius for his ministry. The Jordan River also serves as East/West border separating Israel from neighboring countries. It is reasonable to assume that foreigners were also attracted to John’s ministry. In John’s lifetime, the Roman Empire ruled Israel and the neighboring countries with an iron fist. People were looking for a king to free them from current oppression and lead them into freedom.

Contrary to popular belief, however, the Messiah did not come to address their political situation, as desperate as it was. As a general observation, personal freedom exceeds political freedom; regardless how restrained we are from the outside, our hearts and minds can still be free.

Never despise the small beginnings. John the Baptist started a revolution that began at the Jordan River and went all around the globe. By immersing ourselves in water we symbolize a new beginning, and the new beginning is in our heads. Jesus came to revolutionize our way of thinking, and John the Baptist prepared the crowd by preaching repentance. This is what repentance is all about: a change of mind. We all have to let go of our old mindset. There is no freedom in preconceived notions and close-mindedness.

In God’s kingdom, common sense is turned upside down. The last comes first, and the first comes last; what seems foolish is wise; and what seems wise is indeed foolish – welcome to God’s world! It is His intention to broaden our vision. This is why Jesus has come. Are we ready to receive the King?

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

John 8:36: “A slave is a transient, who can’t come and go at will. The Son, though, has an established position, the run of the house. So if the Son sets you free, you are free through and through.”

Freedom doesn’t fall in our laps. Unfortunately, freedom is a precarious gift. It can be taken from us if we’re not careful.

Here is my freedom story:

We were a family of five with no Dad around. Every child reacts differently to an absentee father. For some reason it tricked me into thinking that I was inconsequential. Well, to make matters worse I faced sexual abuse in my teenage years, unbeknownst to my mother. I became more and more withdrawn.

When God emerged on the horizon of my awareness, I felt this was my ticket away from a life that seemed mostly scary. I was the perfect candidate for a cult. Barely 20 years old, I joined the community who lived in an old castle in Rheinbreitbach, Germany. I stayed there until I was in my thirties.

The cult was toxic to say the least. Used as a rule book, the Bible was abused to infringe on every aspect of freedom, especially freedom of thought. Our brains were washed. I honestly believed I would go to hell if I ever thought of breaking up with them. However, after twelve years of being at a place I secretly hated, the stress began to wear on me. I got sick, lost weight and sunk into a deep depression.

My reaction was that of escape – into the world of music. Thanks to music I held on to this community as long as I did. Composing felt like a window in a cage. A melody emerges out of nowhere and evolves and you just roll with it. Music became my little freedom corner. However, a melody is wordless, and I had yet to learn to put my pain into words, rise out of the ashes and move on.

That day arrived when my brother came to see me. I had little to no contact to my family, so he had to jump through hoops to get through to me. I asked him one question: Would my mother be able to forgive my crudeness for pushing her away all this time I’ve been in the cult? The answer was yes. So I jumped ship. I broke away from a community that claimed to be my true family but had hurt me badly. It was ironic because I tried to escape hurt and pain and by doing so I got more hurt and pain.

I was set free from false religion, but to maintain my freedom I had to learn to find my voice. I had to start believing in me. Believing in God is a two-way street. If we believe in Him we need to start believing in us also, because God believes in us. And who are we to question Him on His beliefs?

Our identity is tied with Him. Essentially, we will begin to appreciate who we are as we walk with Him through highs and lows, day after day. We don’t go into hiding. We don’t try to escape. We learn how to live fully. God frees us for good, and He knows what He is doing!

2 Timothy 1:7: “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.”

The Spirit of God makes us bold. And boldness we need in this world, for one reason in particular: to take advantage of the freedom God has given to you and me.

Freedom is often misinterpreted as freedom to dominate, as in “uninhibited by any foreign power”. I do not believe that this is the defining feature of freedom. Freedom of choice, on the other hand, lies in the very heart of the matter.

The Trinity has empowered us to make up our hearts and minds by giving us free will. Maintaining this God-given incentive, however, has proven to be a challenge. Mankind was but a few minutes old when the Snake encroached on our freedom insinuating (Genesis 3:4):

“‘You will not certainly die,’ the serpent said to the woman.”

In the end, we practically lost Paradise over a lie. Outside of Eden we are surrounded by bullies and we have to hold on to freedom to keep it. We cannot take freedom for granted; it is a precious commodity.

On the bright side though, outside of Eden we can learn to be bold. Thankfully, there is no timidity in the Spirit of God. Rising up inside of us, He will show us the way, the truth, and the life. He gives us the wherewithal to break through those walls trying to close in on us. The Spirit of God teaches us to take all obstacles life presents, one by one. Life is an ongoing battle. It certainly takes a lot of endurance to see life through.

Here is to boldness and guts!

We go to places where we have never been and do the things we have never done. It requires boldness to be a trendsetter. It requires boldness to start something new. And it certainly requires boldness to develop into the person God designed us to be.

Genesis 38:22: “Judah noticed her and thought she was a prostitute, since she had covered her face.”

Judah’s youngest son Belah should have been the next in line. When his two brothers died a mysterious death while being married to Tamar, it was Belah’s turn to marry her. Middle Eastern practice in Judah’s time was to provide a new husband for a young widow without children, namely the brother of the deceased, to continue the family name. But since two of his sons were now dead, Judah did not take any chances on the only son he had left. So he postponed the wedding indefinitely. And with every passing year Judah did not get back with her, Tamar saw her chances dwindling of ever having a family of her own.

To get Judah’s attention, Tamar put herself in his path one day. She hid her face as she sat near the entrance of her village. The village entrance or the city gate used to be a public place where important business transactions were officiated and disputes were settled – all in absence of women. – This was entirely a men’s world. So, Tamar’s presence at the city gate indicated she was there to sell herself. Judah noticed her, and the rest was history.

All prostitutes have a sad story to tell, because prostitution is never a career choice but a vicious cycle initiated through rough life circumstances or bad decisions with ensuing drug addictions.

In our story Tamar became pregnant when she sold her body to Judah on that day when she sat veiled at the entrance of her village. Once Judah got wind of her pregnancy, he demanded the death penalty for her. This may seem outrageous to us today, but Judah simply followed the letter of the law. In the book of Leviticus we read (Leviticus 21:9):

“If a priest’s daughter defiles herself by becoming a prostitute, she also defiles her father’s holiness, and she must be burned to death.”

Never mind that Judah himself had sexual relations with a prostitute – so in all reality the same law should have been applied to him. However, once the truth about his involvement in the affair materialized, Tamar came under Judah’s protection. Her life was spared, and she ended up giving birth to twins.

Prostitution is not confined to the red light district. From God’s perspective, we all deal with prostitution to some degree; we either participate in it, or we abstain from it. Examples of prostitution could be anything, ranging from selling ourselves to maintain popularity, or to abandon our values to get a certain job and make more money. Whichever the trigger – once we are in this kind of mire, it’s hard to get out. This is well illustrated in the song “Hotel California”. Written by Don Felder, Glenn Frey and Don Henley, this song is about materialism and excess. California is used as the setting, but it could relate to anywhere in the world. Don Henley in the London Daily Mail November 9, 2007 said: “Some of the wilder interpretations of that song have been amazing. It was really about the excesses of American culture and certain girls we knew. But it was also about the uneasy balance between art and commerce.”

God’s intention is to free us from any form of prostitution. We don’t have to stay enslaved to money, business, and success in order to live what we depict as the good life. When the good life turns out to be a nightmare, God has freedom to offer, a freedom that is priceless. Can you imagine living a life without having to pretend to be someone else? God fully accepts you as you are; you do not need to play games with God. In a world of vanity and fake God is the genuine original. He is the real deal. So if you find yourself stuck somehow and somewhere, be sure to pray. God listens, and He is the way to true freedom.

 “Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night man,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’”   

John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.”

As I was driving down Southern Avenue this morning, I noticed a bumper sticker on the car right in front of me: “Stop texting, just drive!” This made me smile. Actually, beside the obvious practical implications – avoiding accidents while being an alert driver – this little bumper sticker is pretty profound if applied to life in general. How about:

  • Stop worrying, just live!
  • Stop judging, just love!
  • Stop all prejudice, just explore!

Worries, judgmental attitude, and prejudice all distract from living life to the fullest.  Paul calls this kind of life “freedom in Christ”.  In one of his letters he wrote (Galatians 5:1):

 “So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”

Anything infringing on our God-given freedom is some form of slavery. If caught up in drug and alcohol abuse, we’re enslaved to it. We could also be enslaved to our work, to our possessions, to other people’s expectations and opinions, to our personal anxieties and worries, and the list goes on and on.  The bad thing about slavery is that it keeps us in a box, and we’re unable to unlock our true potential. Jesus wants us to get out of this box – and following Him we will. That’s Jesus redemptive activities in a nutshell!

Quoting from a song in the 60s, freedom is NOT another word for nothing left to lose. Freedom is the opportunity to live the surprising life that we’ll experience when we follow Jesus, and we’ll never know where Jesus will lead us today….we just need to keep an open mind!

If marbles stand for preconceived notions, then we need to let go of all our marbles to keep an open mind. Preconceived notions can infringe on our relationship with God and can also prevent us from reading the Bible altogether. If someone has a bad reputation we usually proceed with caution. Bad reputation will kill any chance of a good relationship. Have you ever noticed that God has a bad reputation to most people who don’t want anything to do with Him? In the same vein, if we ran into some bad experiences with religion don’t you think that would affect our relationship with God?

We need to take advantage of the redeeming qualities of the Son of God who can heal all our hurt and bring us to a place of peace where we don’t have to prove anything, where we can start from scratch with God and abandon any tainted ideas about Him.

Lastly, after we’ve lost all our marbles, let’s stick to this newfound freedom!  Once we are freed from our box, we need to refrain from the lifelong habit of putting other people or even God into a box. Let’s identify and abandon our preconceived notions and get a fresh outlook on life.

Go with God and stick with Jesus. He will defend our freedom like no other.

“You say I took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah

Hallelujah!”                                                        Leonard Cohen

Exodus 29:45-46: “Then I will live among the people of Israel and be their God, and they will know that I am the Lord their God. I am the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I could live among them. I am the Lord their God.”

Slavery is not an option; we do not choose to be slaves, we rather become enslaved. Slavery is a reality of life and an unfortunate side effect of our early emancipation from all things God. We wanted a bigger world than the Garden of Eden, and ironically our world got smaller and smaller.  One of the worst case scenarios is depicted in the book of Exodus when the young nation of Israel was used and abused as Egyptian workforce. The world of the Israelis shrunk into mere survival mode.  Getting the job done without getting killed was a daily goal. Living with low self-esteem and suffering daily abuse, their life was considered cheap and replaceable. And apparently, the Egyptian king simultaneously despised and feared them because he decreed to kill their newborn sons to keep Israel’s population growth at bay. Operation “Exodus” started when Moses was called to task. Mission Impossible: Leave Egypt and move a whole nation to a land next to the Mediterranean Sea, formerly known as the land of Canaan, soon to be known as the country of Israel.

Reading the story of Exodus is experiencing human helplessness versus God’s power to redeem. In a very moving statement to Moses God makes His intentions very clear (Exodus 6:6-8):

“Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’”

Slavery, unfortunately, leaves its mark on the human spirit. Besides physical abuse there is emotional abuse; dealing with unbridled hatred day in and day out causes both innate fear and bottled up anger. “But the mind can remain free!” you might say.  “No one can tell me what to think!” Well, along comes mind control: Occupy all your time with hard labor while with the cracking whip instructions are continuously forced down your throat from the day you are able-bodied until the day you die.  In time your mind gets used to being told what to do and what to think. And this is exactly what several centuries of slavery did to the people of Israel. Moses encountered their broken spirit when they ran into difficulties during Operation “Exodus”. The Egyptian king would not let Israel go without a fight, and immediately, Israel was ready to give up. In the 6th chapter of Exodus we read:

“Moses spoke thus to the people of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery.(…) So Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.”

Built over time, Slave mentality will not dissipate overnight; and so, the nation of Israel needed time to heal. A new generation had to grow up with a new mindset: the mindset of the redeemed.

We all can learn from Israel’s history. The book of Exodus teaches us a lesson or two about freedom.  Freedom has a purpose.  Freedom’s purpose is summarized in Exodus, chapter 4 when God sends a request to the Egyptian king:

“Let my son [Israel] go, so he can worship me.

Our destiny is to worship the Lord. Yet there’s still another purpose to our freedom, and it’s beautiful and astounding. At the end of the 29th chapter of the book of Exodus God says about His people:

“I am the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I could live among them.

The purpose of Israel’s freedom was to worship God in the land that He provided, a land He too wanted to dwell in!  What is God revealing here? God reveals one of the deeper meanings of His name. His name was earlier revealed to Israel as “I Am”; and part of “I Am” is the encouragement deriving from “I Am with you”, God with us. God wants to live with us; God wants to live in us. In other words: He wants to move in! With a heart of worship we will enjoy His presence and God will enjoy ours.