1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”

Attending a women’s retreat, one day our speaker invited us to paint a picture while listening to her story. I painted a cross with the Sun rising in the background and a bunch of birds soaring in the skies. My drawing was about freedom. It was the first artwork I’ve done in three decades and I remember how good it felt.

I’ve always been artistic. At age 11 I picked up my first instrument. At school I majored in fine art. My art teacher encouraged me to do something with my talent. I couldn’t see how.

My life’s journey has a lot to do with getting out from underneath a pile of rubbish. The first ten years of my adulthood I basically went undercover. I hid behind the walls of a religious community that dictated every aspect of my life and separated me from family and friends. After 12 years behind walls I was fed up and got out.

Here I was, 35 years old with no professional degree or experience. I didn’t want to be a starving artist. So instead of pursuing the arts I became an administrative assistant and worked myself up to payroll management. That’s as far away from the arts as I could get. In my private life I found happiness when I married the love of my life, but professionally I felt miserable. Three heart surgeries later, I am no longer a payroll manager; I am now a self-employed artist.

Looking back, I can say that major life decisions, especially in my early adulthood, were fear-driven. A fear-driven world is extremely small. It’s a world full of limitations. I don’t believe that anybody wants to live in such a world. We are created for so much more! Our world has a lot more potential when we are connected to the Creator of the universe.

Thanks to God I am where I am today. I know He is the reason for the hope I have. Without Him I’d still be stuck under a pile of rubbish. Inspired by His Spirit, the sky is the limit, and I am free to thrive.

God’s world is so much bigger than ours ever could be … “and I think to myself: What a wonderful world!”

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

What is holding you back? There is always something, isn’t there? Issues! We’ve all got issues. Paul wrote Timothy a letter and practically gave him carte blanche. His advice was: No holding back! Go for it! Reason being: The Spirit of God makes us bold. There is no timidity in God’s Spirit. One of the famous lines in the beginning of the Bible gives us a snapshot of the Spirit of God in action (Genesis 1:2):

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

If the Holy Spirit wasn’t bold I cannot imagine how He could have taken on the mighty task of bringing order into chaos. As a result, rising out of the ashes, a brand-new universe was born!

It requires boldness to be creative and do something new. It requires boldness to go to places where we’ve never been or to do things that we have never done before. It requires boldness to be a trendsetter. It requires boldness to redefine life. It requires boldness to defy the status quo. Last but not least, it requires boldness to become the person we are meant to be.

For very good reasons do we need boldness. Here is one in particular: It requires boldness to take advantage of the freedom God has given to you and me.

Freedom is a big word in the North American conscience. We have freedom written on our banners for as long as we can remember. Without standing up and fighting for freedom many of the refugees who came to the United States wouldn’t be here. The Statue of Liberty historically used to be the first thing immigrants saw before they entered the country. It goes without saying that without standing up and fighting for freedom the United States as we know it today wouldn’t exist.

Quality of life stands and falls with freedom of choice. Freedom is often misinterpreted as freedom to dominate, as in “uninhibited by any foreign power”. I don’t believe that this is the defining feature of freedom. Freedom of choice on the other hand is the original empowerment coming from the Trinity. God gave us the tools to make up our minds and choose. However, from Day One our freedom has been challenged.

Mankind was but a few minutes old, so it seems, when the Snake encroached on our freedom insinuating (Genesis 3:4):

“You certainly will not die!”

Unfortunately, we ended up losing Paradise believing a lie. And with it went the freedom we took for granted. Outside of Eden we are surrounded by bullies. Now we have to stand up for ourselves and fight for freedom. On the bright side though, outside of Eden we can learn to be bold. And the Spirit of God rising up inside of us will show us the way, the truth, and the life. He gives us the wherewithal to step on virgin ground. And in our lifetime we will go to places where we have never been, and we can become the person we are meant to be.

Isaiah 43:16, 18-19: “I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea. “But forget all that— it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

In a time of need, Jacob (one of the many descendants of Abraham) had to move his entire family to Egypt. There he was received with open arms. One of his sons – Joseph – was an influential man in Egypt. That is why Jacob’s family was treated with utter respect and admiration.

Nevertheless, 400 years later all of this was distant memory. Feeling threatened by Israel’s explosive population growth, the Egyptian government sought to wipe them out by enslaving them.

Now it was definitely time to leave Egypt!

Israel’s exodus from Egypt was no minor event. In order to arrive at their destination – a region southeast from the Mediterranean Sea – they had to go through treacherous desert terrain and get past the Red Sea. With their former Egyptian slave-masters on their heels, the Red Sea quickly became a death trap. With their back against the wall, there was simply no way to go!

And Israel cried out to God.

All of a sudden, right before their very eyes, the waters began to recede. Bit by bit water levels decreased until they were able to safely cross over to the other side with their children, their flocks and herds. All of Israel passed through the Red Sea on dry ground! Well, so did the Egyptians, in hot pursuit of the Israelites, but they didn’t get very far. Soon after the last Israelite had set foot on the other shore, the waves of the Red Sea came crashing down; and as the water levels rose, the Egyptian soldiers drowned.

This was the day when the nation of Israel was born. A pivotal point in history for sure and an extraordinary miracle!

And yet, now the Lord says: “Forget this miracle at the Red Sea! This is nothing compared to the miracle about to happen.”

Can you see it?  Sometimes we can’t see the forest from the trees. If every piece of information was a tree, we’d have a forest of information out there; thanks to internet access, all these pieces of information are at our fingertips.  That’s great, but at the same time, that’s a ton of information to sort through.

To cut through this sea of data, I think it’s helpful to remember that there is one tree out there that matters most to humanity: the tree Jesus was nailed to. Looking to this one tree, Jesus’s death and resurrection pulls us all together and draws every human being to Him.

Regardless who we are and where we are from, we all seek our way through the wilderness of life, and in the end, we all die.  The good news is that Jesus has passed through the impassable, and conquered the impossible: death – a crucial turning point for all people, since death enslaves us all! The tree Jesus was nailed to stands for victory over death and offers the fruit of Eternal Life.

In all the good times I find myself longing for change and in the bad times I fear myself.
I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now!

Luke 1:76-78: “And you, my little son, will be called the prophet of the Most High, because you will prepare the way for the Lord. You will tell his people how to find salvation through forgiveness of their sins. Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us.”

Israel was devastated. After Jerusalem was conquered by Roman General Pompey in 63 BC the nation suffered greatly. By the time Jesus was born, people grew increasingly restless looking for new leadership; specifically, they were looking for the promised Redeemer of Israel, the Messiah who would turn things around.

Meanwhile, Jesus’s cousin John went to work. He was the herald who publicly announced the good news:

“The Messiah is coming! Prepare your hearts and get ready to receive the King of kings!”

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; hence the Jordan River came in handy for John.

So, people got immersed and stepped out of the water in hopes to live a better life. Expectations were at an all-time-high. They were looking for a king freeing them from dictatorship and leading them into freedom. Freedom fighters all around the world will testify how elusive freedom can be, and how hard it is to obtain and maintain freedom.

However, contrary to popular belief, Israel’s Messiah did not come to address their political situation. In fact, Israel’s Messiah is not Israel’s alone. Redeemer of all nations, Jesus actually fights for every one of us. His precious gift prominently exceeding political freedom is: freedom of heart, freedom of mind, and freedom of soul.

There is neither freedom in preconceived notions, nor is there any freedom to be found in close-mindedness. Try to have a friendly discussion with an opinionated person, and you know what I’m talking about. In God’s kingdom our common way of thinking 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.

John the Baptist incited a revolution because God wants to revolutionize our way of thinking. He wants to revolutionize you and me.

Jesus has come. The ball is in our court now. Are we ready to receive the King?

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

Philippians 2:5-8: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Jesus has absolutely no sense of entitlement. He could very well think: “As the Son of God I’m entitled to this or that” – but that’s just not who Jesus is.  There is not a shred of arrogance in Him.  Seeing the opposite happening in the world around us on any given day, I perceive Jesus’ attitude as a breath of fresh air!

Because of His humble attitude He voluntarily and unconditionally signed up for life on our messed-up planet. He did not come as a superhuman – He was no superman as we know it, who was flying around intervening with superpowers to counteract evil. He was the unassuming son of a carpenter in the small Middle Eastern town of Nazareth, who grew up, was taught in the synagogue along with other children and learned his father’s trade, which neither seems glamorous nor spectacular. When He left His carpenter trade and became a traveling teacher He brought the Kingdom of God to the people. To silence Him He would end up being executed by the Roman authorities only three years later. Jesus did not even hold on to the most basic human right – the right to live. Whether it was human rights or divine privileges – he did not hold on to anything. He did not think of Himself better than others, and He died between two criminals even though He never committed a crime; Jesus listened to what each of them had to say and empathized with them.

Living this kind of life Jesus lived the dream – “How so?” You might ask. “Who wants to end up being mistakenly executed?” The dream that Jesus lived was the dream of freedom. Jesus’ life breathed freedom, a life uninhibited by the anxieties that come with wealth and reputation; it was a life without regrets because even though sin was crouching at His door He mastered it. Jesus was tempted like everyone else but He did not fall for it. Jesus lived a life of freedom, and not even death could hold Him. Our Heavenly Father brought Him back to life, and He rose from the grave with the intention to provide this very same freedom to all who believe in Him.

In order to experience His freedom, we need to let go of everything we think we’re entitled to and understand that everything is a gift from God – including our very lives. That’s precisely the attitude of Christ. We are promised that with the attitude of Christ our lives will be revolutionized; and we will find that believing in Him – we will never be the same!