John 8:36: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

If someone has a bad reputation we usually stay away from that person. Have you ever noticed that God has a bad reputation in the eyes of people who don’t want anything to do with Him? Bad experience with religion can lead people away from God. I had such bad experiences and here is my story:

Growing up without a dad, every child reacts differently to an absentee father. For some reason it tricked me into thinking that I was inconsequential. To make matters worse I faced sexual abuse at age 15, unbeknownst to my mother. I became more and more withdrawn.

When God emerged on the horizon of my awareness, I used Him as an escape from a life that seemed scary to me. I was the perfect candidate for a cult. Barely 20 years old, I joined a 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. I honestly believed I would go to hell if I ever thought of leaving. Meanwhile the stress of living in a place I had begun to hate began to wear on me. I got sick, lost weight and sunk into a deep depression. Music helped me cope. 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 say what I think, rise out of the ashes and move on.

That day arrived when my brother came to see me. It was strongly discouraged to have any interaction with relatives (unless they were pro-cult), so I had not spoken with my family in years. I asked him one question: Would my mother be able to forgive me for pushing her away all this time? The answer was yes. So I jumped ship. I broke away from a community that claimed to be my true family but treated me like a slave.

I was set free from false religion, but to maintain my freedom I had 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. Our identity is tied with Him. Walking with the Lord through the highs and lows I have learnt to face a crisis instead of going into hiding; no more trying to escape, I live fully.

Slavery keeps us in a box. Jesus wants to free us from this box, unlock our true potential and live the surprising life of a follower of Christ. We need to take advantage of the redeeming qualities of God’s Son who can heal us and bring us to a place of peace where we don’t have to prove anything, start from scratch with God and abandon any tainted ideas about Him.

If marbles stand for preconceived notions, then we need to let go of our marbles to keep an open mind. And once we are freed from our box, we need to refrain from the nasty habit of putting other people or even God into a box. Holding on to Jesus He will defend our freedom like no other.

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 at the Jordan River. Those who were moved by his words stepped into the water and got immersed. The river Jordan 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 Valley is part of a rift valley running north and south that extends from Southern Turkey southward via the Red Sea and into Eastern Africa – the perfect starting point for a revolution that would go all around the globe. Due to the river’s location it is reasonable to assume that many foreigners came to see John.

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 an immersion in a natural collection of water, like the Jordan River. By immersing ourselves in water we symbolize a new beginning. We all have to let go of our old mindset. There is no freedom in preconceived notions and close-mindedness.

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. Personal freedom exceeds political freedom; regardless how restrained we are from the outside, our hearts and minds can still be free.

Jesus came to revolutionize our way of thinking, and John the Baptist prepared the world by preaching repentance. Repentance is all about changing our mind and obtaining a different viewpoint. Welcome to God’s world – In His kingdom the last comes first and the first comes last; what seems foolish is wise; and what seems wise is indeed foolish. Jesus came to broaden our vision. Are we ready to receive the King?

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

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 freedom, however, has proven to be a challenge. 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 has 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!’”   

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.