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!

Galatians 5:13: “It is to freedom that you have been called, my brothers. Only be careful that freedom does not become mere opportunity for your lower nature. You should be free to serve each other in love. For after all, the whole Law toward others is summed up by this one command, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.”

Thanks to God there’s freedom. God is a freedom lover. In His realm every creature is free. So in order to explore what freedom is all about, it’s best to look to the source of freedom and go from there.

The first thing I notice, to be free does not necessarily mean we are lawless. Exploring the laws of nature we become aware that the whole universe is fine-tuned. The universe contains organized structures on all different scales, from small systems like the earth and our solar system, to galaxies that contain trillions of stars, and finally extremely large structures that contain billions of galaxies. Planets of any given solar system orbit the Sun. Thanks to the way our home planet Earth orbits the Sun, our terrestrial days fall into 24-hour sequences. Plants use the sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water to produce the lush green pigment chlorophyll generating oxygen as a byproduct, the very oxygen land mammals breathe in. And what do we breathe out? Carbon dioxide! The very carbon dioxide plants use to synthesize foods. What a genius idea to create a partnership like that between vegetation and land mammals! And this is just a little tidbit of the inner workings of nature to illustrate that there is an underlying law to everything we see. Without an underlying law there wouldn’t be a universe to begin with – and no life form to give freedom to.

The inner workings of freedom are based on the law of love. We’re never truly free unless we give love. A freedom lover is a lover of God and people. Just as the laws of nature promote life on Earth, the love law “Love your neighbor as yourself” promotes freedom. It’s a well-known secret: the more love you share, the more love you have. This is contrary to common experience: we spend money and our money dwindles. We spend love and our love increases. Go figure!

Needless to say that the more time we spend in trying to satisfy ourselves rather than to satisfy someone else’s needs, we won’t see the end of it. Catering to our own needs and urges is like a vortex that sucks us in. Our world gets smaller and smaller and we become enslaved to our own ever-growing demands. That’s the opposite to freedom, and it’s hell!

Once we realize how invigorating it is to give something to someone that only unique “you” is capable of giving, we won’t stop sharing. For me it’s the best thing in the world to sing for people with memory challenges. Music plays a key role in these short encounters. Within 60 minutes of playing and singing we are getting to know each other as we dwell in the world of music. What a precious moment in time! I leave there richer than when I came. That’s what happens to everyone who goes out and shares something.

Giving is freeing. Try it and you’ll be amazed!

1 Corinthians 15:55-57: “’Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Death is final and brings about futility. We are here today and gone tomorrow. Nobody likes that. We do not want to be trashed.

So, we have been fighting back. We have been exploring the human body and battling against all kinds of diseases with some mild success: people with access to medical services generally live longer. Still, nobody has found a pill to combat mortality.

It has never been a problem for God to change our physical make up. Actually, He thought about that. The story of our creation in the beginning of the Bible talks about it. He could have turned us immortal in a split second, but that is really no good solution (Genesis 3:22):

“And the Lord God said, ‘The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.’ ”

Bailing us out of death would have just placed a band aid on a cancerous situation. In other words, simply removing our physical aging process to give us immortality would have made matters worse.

Imagine everybody – all the way back to Adam and Eve – would have stayed alive in this deeply dysfunctional state that we are in; can you imagine the resulting chaos? Even though death feels unnatural to us – and it is: we were not meant to die – death helps contain the chaos we have created.

Nevertheless, the introduction of death to creation was meant to be only a temporary solution. Meanwhile, God has come through for us and so the nature of death has changed forever. Instead of being the ultimate end – not unlike a period signifying the end of a sentence – death became a prelude. Again, in terms of punctuation we could compare death to a semicolon.

What happened?

Jesus happened.

To redeem us from death, Jesus had to address the root cause, which originally introduced death into God’s creation – our emancipation from the Godhead.

Freedom and independence are words often used interchangeably. In all reality, however, independence is a curse; by no means does independence bring us freedom. Complete independence brings complete isolation without any interaction at all. If we didn’t need anybody – or perhaps I should say: if I didn’t need anybody – because there is no “we” in complete independence – well, then I would be self-sufficient. I would not need to be inspired by any outside source; I would not need access to any sort of help.

I’d be all by myself – utterly alone.

That’s hell.

And that describes the progressing isolation process of the modern world. Family structures loosen. We are interconnected more via virtual reality – our internet and phones – than by physical reality. Our world becomes a little colder every day.

Interestingly, even the Godhead is Three. There is simply no benefit in being alone.

Jesus came to redeem us from isolation. Being reintroduced to communion with the Godhead is the only effective antidote to death. And that’s how freedom is spelled.

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