Free in Christ

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 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. – Galatians 5:1

The day I truly experienced freedom in Christ was the day that I realized that I wasn’t right about everything. More, I realized I couldn’t be right about everything because that would imply that I know everything. Even more, I realized that I was saved in a state of not being right about everything, I remained saved in a state of not being right about everything, and I will enter eternity not being right about everything.

For some time in my younger years I ministered under the weighty idea that being correct to a set number of Bible doctrines was how God knew He could save me. I blame no one for that because I can’t actually remember anyone specifically saying that to me. But I do remember the kinds of sermons that formulated that teaching in my heart. It didn’t occur to me that my faith family might have missed the mark on some things.

The truth is that even if I were right about every teaching found in the Bible, that fact could not save me.

That is the kind of enslaving dogma that sinks anyone who embraces it. The only true freedom we will ever find is in Christ. So, yes, we need to be right about someONE, not someTHING. New believers only know they need Jesus to save them. They hear the initial words of who Jesus is and what He has done for them. Following the teaching Jesus gives us, they learn of him and become disciples, are baptized, and learn more.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.  – Matthew 28:19-20

It is the Christian’s privilege to grow in understanding throughout the rest of life. To be a disciple is to be a student who learns.

My goal in life is to become more enlightened about Jesus.

A few days before I was thirteen years old I was baptized into Christ. I believed. I learned. I obeyed. In my youthful obedience, my sins were washed away as I called upon the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16). If I had perished that day, with all of my misconceptions, misunderstandings, immature comprehensions … I would be in the arms of Jesus.

Christianity has always been plagued by the people who insist you have to know the right answers to all the right questions – or else. Some want you to have the right experience or be filled with a certain feeling – that’s the only assurance!

My goal in life is to become more enlightened about Jesus. I can give you my opinion about a thousand doctrines, but I will not see you in heaven because of my amazing conclusions. Because some of them will likely be wrong, which I will discover as I keep on studying and learning.


Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. – John 14:6

We can study and talk all day, delighting in the Scriptures and learning as we go. Freedom in Christ will only come, though, when we totally trust Him and not ourselves. It really is a journey to get to the place of totally trusting Jesus, and not ourselves, to save us.

Strong Prayer for Strong Faith

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I’m in a YouVersion Daily Plan with some men from our church. I love that we can read the same devotional and scriptures, interact with our thoughts, and develop the discipline of daily fellowship with God and one another. In one section of the reading was a reference to the spiritual armor found in Ephesians 6. It reminded me that I had written a prayer based on this text that I prayed daily for a long time. But somewhere along the way I didn’t any more. I think I’m missing some of the strength this prayer asks God to bring into our lives. So, in this post I’m revisiting this text, this prayer, and my desire to pray it often. Eight verses that shape a power-filled prayer life:

Ephesians 6:10-20 (NLT)

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

Admission

I do not doubt for a minute that many Christians are trying to face up to a powerful enemy on their own strength – and failing miserably. I can speak from experience. It is only when we put on God’s armor that we are able to stand. This is a spiritual battle and it requires spiritual resources. Putting on God’s armor is not like putting on a metal suit, but it is a spiritual exercise for a spiritual battle. In an effort to bring to mind the spiritual armor of God and to engage in prayer, I have taken the Apostle Paul’s words and lightly formed them into a prayer for each day as we face a merciless enemy.

Prayer

God, I am calling out to You from the battlefield of my life. I face an enemy I cannot defeat on my own power. I must have Your help to overcome. I confess that only You have the strength to help, enable, empower me to stand against a smart and strong enemy who is working against me. In faith, I enter the battle with Your presence to equip and sustain me. I take up the FULL ARMOR of Your Strength so I can resist and stand.

I take up Your truth to see Your will clearly, unclouded by the enemy’s deception, to protect my mind.

I take up Your righteousness to protect my heart and impact my life and others, by living for You.

I take up an attitude of readiness to protect my will…to bring the Gospel of Peace to overcome in spiritual conflict.

I take up faith to protect my spirit so that the devil’s attacks can be extinguished.

I take up salvation to protect my soul so that I may find my confidence in Your ability and not mine.

I take up the Scriptures to advance your word, defeat every false way, and empower every struggling believer.

I pray these things with the Spirit … alert … persevering … interceding for others.

In the Powerful Name of Jesus, Amen.

Journal

In some of my earlier prayer journals I wrote this prayer and the Lord’s Prayer in the front cover. It was important to begin each session of prayer by acknowledging that without God’s help I can do nothing, but with His Son by our side, we can experience victory. Journaling reminds me to pray – to pray specifically – and to keep up with the requests for which I pray.

The Spiritual Armor of God is ESSENTIAL in the fight against our enemy, Satan. We can’t put it on like we do a new pair of shoes. Putting on God’s Armor is a spiritual exercise. Write it down. Say it out loud. Memorize it. Say it throughout the day. When it becomes a part of our way of thinking about spiritual things, then we are advancing forward in the battlefields in which we used to be defeated.

Thanks for reading.

You Were There

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This summer we are working through Gene Getz’s encouraging book BUILDING UP ONE ANOTHER. This week our study is about honoring one another. One of the points he makes is that we sometimes fail to honor the ones who helped us along in our lives at crucial moments. I do not know if I have failed to say ‘thank you’ across the years, but maybe it’s been a while. And while I can’t name every person of influence in my life, I can thank a few. So that’s what this post is about.

While I can’t name every person of influence in my life, I can thank a few.

It’s not hard to make the list. It is hard to limit the list in some way, though. So I’m just presenting a few examples. Some of the people who helped me are no longer with us. Some I’m just not in contact with. Without much of a father figure in my life, I think these men filled more than the role of advisors and mentors … they were fathers in the faith to me.

Cecil May, Jr. was the new President of MBC not long after I arrived. While I won’t name every teacher (and I did love them all and was well influenced by them), Brother May’s influence is highly impactful in my life and my ministry even today. His commitment to study, his attention to the details of the text, and his spirit of civility are all well known. Once when I lived in the Mississippi Delta, I was struggling with a teaching of the Bible I couldn’t quite get. He drove from Kosciusko and met me in Greenwood to spend a few hours with me to talk about it. I don’t know that I ever felt more important or more encouraged. I worked for him for a few years and I never saw him lose his temper, heard him say a curse word, or witnessed him be unkind to anyone (even some who were being very unkind to him). And as a bonus, among my closest friends are his children. Thank you, Cecil.

Names are running through my mind now … many more than I can share.

Eddie Lewis was the preacher for the, then, Highway 8 Church of Christ in Cleveland, Mississippi. I had just graduated from college and was about as green as I could get (even if I didn’t know it!). I had so much to learn from Eddie and he was such a willing mentor. What an excellent example he was and is. He was a disciplined and diligent worker for the church. He was excellent at visiting the members, evangelism, counseling … and such an encourager. Eddie’s wife, Judy, was also an encouraging presence not only in the church but in my life. Eddie eventually presided at my marriage to the beautiful and delightful Maggy. As I look back over the years, I have thought many times about what a wonderful role model he was for me. I wish I was more like him in so many ways. Judy is with the Lord now, and it is no surprise that Eddie found a partner who is just as enthused about Kingdom work as he. God bless you, Eddie and Madolyn! And Eddie… thank you.

Some People Have Influence Over Many Years.

John Pigg has had a lasting influence in my life over the years. He was the preacher at Kosciusko, when I went to college at age 17. He invited me to be on staff at his session of Sardis Lake Christian Camp, which became a part of my life for a decade of summer sessions and retreats. When I was the Youth and Campus Minister in Cleveland, Mississippi, John was preaching in both Greenwood and, later, Greenville. While he was at South Main Church of Christ in Greenville he invited me down to have lunch with him. There was a lady in his congregation whose brother was an elder in a coastal Mississippi town. They were looking for a preacher and John knew that I was feeling the need to embrace the ministry for which I had been trained. So, it was because of John that I met elder Robert Lingle and ultimately moved to Pascagoula to work with the Central Church of Christ. Robert was a huge influence in my life and I still quote his wisdom today! I stayed there for sixteen formative years. John Pigg is non-stop, on-mission, and always ready with a word of encouragement. He is a relentless gospel preacher and he taught me so much. Thank you, John.

It’s almost embarrassing the names I’m passing by … each one so important in the development of who I am today.

Cecil, Eddie, and John were like steady rocks upon which I leaned across the first decades of ministry. They all know one another, but they are each as different as can be. That’s another blessing to note as well. I didn’t have to become like any of them, to receive the benefits of wisdom and example of all of them. Through the influence of these men (and many others), God has been tending to my path all along. I didn’t really know it at the time.

So I hope two things are happening. I hope I’m still leaning and learning on those who have greater wisdom, strength, insight, and influence. And I hope that along the way I have passed along some of those things to others. I appreciate the insight of Gene Getz and his encouragement to honor one another above yourself by saying thank you. You were there when I needed you.

“The facts are that all of us have gotten where we are with the help of others.” – Gene Getz

The Unintentional Prodigal

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The story of the Prodigal was always about someone else. I wonder if many haven’t become an unintentional prodigal and it happened so gradually that they do not even know it.

The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is one of the best known stories of the Bible. It doesn’t seem like a tale of gradual decline, but we are not given the details of the time between the young man’s request of his inheritance and waking up starving in a hog pen. It doesn’t take much imagination when we read that “squandered his wealth in wild living.” But as he took each step toward the hog pen, he ignored everything he knew and proceeded to waste it all. That’s what ‘prodigal’ means; wasteful.

I know the pandemic was (is) rough on us all.

I know the pandemic was (is) rough on us all. Truthfully, I expect that it will be a few years before we fully realize what happened to us during this traumatic experience – I mean really understand the impact it has had on our psyche. One area of loss has been in the spiritual connection to God.

While some used it as a time to reconnect with God, I think there are some people who let their spiritual life slide and now can’t figure out why they’ve lost interest. Focused on the news, numbers, reports of spreading illness, grieving the losses of friends and family, income and savings depletion all have taken their toll. The one place where we found security, family, hope, faith either didn’t exist for a while or had such restrictions it didn’t seem the same. So, many just stayed home.

And there they still are. I know, some remain very connected to the church even though they do not yet attend in person. Good! But some have just slipped away. And in small increments the fire is going out. I doubt they consider themselves prodigals – but if we waste every opportunity to grow closer to God and His Family, what else can it be called?

Envision the Father’s welcoming arms!

This is not to wag a finger of judgment. What can redirect the prodigal towards home? Envision the Father’s welcoming arms! I don’t know what you might expect when you re-enter the life of the church, but there will be some representatives of the King ready to welcome you with joy and smiles. Re-engage the basics of Scripture Reading and Prayer. Connect up with active believers and join in with them to serve others. One thing is always true about prodigals, the One who counts the most is ready to welcome the loudest.

I remain prayerful and concerned for those who, during a time of upheaval, stayed away from the church and decided that was ok.

Thirteen

There are no new pictures, no new experiences to share, and no new life developments to tell you about. At the marker of thirteen years without John Robert there are no new observations. We’ve lived through several cycles of holidays, birthdays, and this anniversary of loss. At least so far, we have survived the most devastating loss a parent can imagine. We have associated with other bereaved parents and been coached, encouraged, and helped on this journey. So what is there to share thirteen years later?

Maybe there’s something good about the lack of new reflections to express. When our dreams for his life were snatched from us in one stunning moment, we couldn’t imagine ourselves coping thirteen years later. As we sifted through all the emotions over and over again, it did not appear possible to ever feel kind of normal again. After years of reading, writing, teaching, and speaking about grief, I have come across few really new and helpful gems of knowledge. Not that I know everything about grief- far from it. Grief is so personal and individual that you never know all there is to know. It’s just that somewhere on the timeline you realize you don’t think about your grief any longer. It is no longer the center of your attention. But grief?

It is still there.

If thirteen years of grief has taught me anything, it is that on the day that I pass from this earth I will have my grief with me. The only way I can be rid of my grief is to stop loving John Robert. That, I cannot do.

In order to carry John Robert in our hearts forever, we must also carry the sorrow of loss. It no longer controls us. The dark presence of grief has diminished and is mostly a subtext of our lives, not the main feature that it was for a while. We don’t fall apart every day. We can tell funny stories and share happy memories without a waterfall of tears. We can look at his pictures and smile. We reflect on the promise of heaven and being reunited with him. We hurt less but we do not love him less. So if you see us smile, it is genuine. But grief?

It is still there.

So if I have any new reflection about grief at this marker in time, it is that in spite of the fact that grief remains a presence in our hearts, it is not in control. Most of the time. It is our plan to stand at his grave tomorrow and reflect. We will place flowers and see family. We will wonder aloud … what would a 31 year old John Robert be doing? We will agree that he would be making us smile. We will laugh, enjoy a meal, visit with Maggy’s sisters that we haven’t seen in a year, and John Robert will be in the middle of our thoughts during all of it.

Yes, grief is still there.

Grief is not necessarily a friend, but it is a reminder of the depth of love we still feel for the one who is no longer with us. In that sense, love never dies. So, it may be true that grief is still there. But we have this inward reminder:

Love is still there also.

Out here, hope remains.

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