In the United States of America (USA) the Constitution outlines freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, bearing of arms, and from self-incrimination, rights that have been analyzed, studied, explained, amended, and yes, given boundaries. In a sense, established civil laws direct how these rights can operate and benefit all in a “free” society. It is clear to me in scripture that God ordains the establishment of governments in this world for that express purpose. Jesus is not the anarchist some would like to believe him to be. And so, wherever we live, our freedom is governed by civil law. God makes our purpose as Christians clear, where civil law falls in line with God’s law, we are to obey. When it does not, we pray. When it threatens life or freedoms of others or ourselves, then we act as the Spirit of God directs…but respectfully, consider Daniel asking for a separate diet to avoid the unclean food of Babylon, or praying 3 times a day knowing he would have to submit to an encounter with the lions.
But Christians essentially carry two passports.
One defines citizenship in this temporal world, the country of our birth or adoption. The other defines our citizenship as the redeemed, adopted children of God, our citizenship in the Kingdom of God, both here and in heaven. When we enter into God’s Kingdom, He sets us free. But he doesn’t do it by giving us a fresh change of clothes, a few bucks, and a pat on the back. God enters our being and the Holy Spirit never leaves us alone after that…I mean that in both the yippee! way and the “stop prodding me” way.
God knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows with our new freedom there is a chance we may use it to sanctify our sin. Hey, Jesus saved me! He also knows our tendency to run back to the cover of the law and start telling him all the good things we’ve done or letting Satan remind us of all the bad things we’ve done. He knows if we ever get the freedom concept right, he has to be with us 24/7, reminding us who we are and whose we are. The Holy Spirit enables us to stand strong, convicts us when we don’t, drives us to our knees and then helps us up to move forward. Freedom as a citizen in the Kingdom of God operates with one law, according to the text in Galatians: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
The Qualities produced by God’s Freedom lived out in the world are unlimited.
You and I cannot have too much love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. All the destructive freedom inhibiting behaviors of our past, before Christ, have been nailed to the cross. Why would we choose to go back to our selfishness and evil actions? Why would we treat others with anything less than the love Christ has shown us?
My freedom in Christ thrives and grows
with the measure of Love I bestow
when my cup full of joy overflows
And peace dwells not just within but to all
And I wait on The Lord, without stomping my feet
Or wiggling round in my chair.
My freedom in Christ thrives and grows
with the measure of Love I bestow
when kindness is more than a show
and the goodness of God dwells within and to all
And I keep all my promises, am true to my word
And really and truly am there.
My freedom in Christ thrives and grows
With the measure of Love I bestow
with a gentle touch and gentle glow
Adding self-control as the Spirit directs my call
without fear of law or of men, freedom to be
All God calls me to be…TO LIVE FREE!
I have spent a lot of time today considering this scripture and composing my thoughts. It truly is hard to understand God’s freedom, especially knowing many Christians face increasingly hostile restrictions of their freedoms. Some face death and imprisonment. Some of us only face having our words distorted and made to look like “hate” when we intend “love”. Living free as Christ calls us like following Christ anywhere requires taking up our cross and doing it anyway.
In June 1987, our daughter Brandee left with Teen Missions International’s Tanzania Team for a 5 week construction mission. Today TMI teams have the benefit of multiple satellite connections, so updates on the team’s arrivals and departures are available. Not so in 1987, we got one phone call when she left TMI Boot Camp in Florida to travel to JFK International in New York City. So, we did not know the team missed the flight intended and were divided at JFK or that our daughter and the remaining team members with leader got on a plane that had turned back to NYC due to engine problems to fly to Frankfurt. Looking back, probably best I did not know.
Brandee loved Africa, so I developed a prayerful concern for the second largest continent with its complex history, tribes, and diverse cultures, religions and politics. Even before she served there for 5 weeks in 1987, my in-laws had lived in Cairo, Egypt for 5 years as expatriates with an American oil company. Then in the 1990’s, our friends, Jeff and Rita Osborne served with United World Mission in the northwestern area of Kenya, working with and coming to know the Turkana People. My view of Africa widened as my eyes opened to the stories and pictures from the teeming streets of Cairo, the pyramids, the desert of Egypt, to the mountains of Tanzania, the Serengeti Plain, and then the arid land of the Turkana people in Kenya. My prayer world expanded and then almost evaporated.
There are a few frightening words in this life that I have heard more often than I would ever have chosen. Cancer is one especially when followed by Terminal. In 2002 on a visit to supporters in the United States, Rita received that diagnosis. Electing to stay in the States near family, both Jeff and she settled temporarily in South Carolina. I was able to visit them a few times before her death in March 2004. My final visit was in December 2003. At that visit, Rita gave me the necklace you see in the picture. When she gifted me, she told me to wear it to always remember to pray for the Turkana. I promised and have done that, and yet that too has expanded to include the work that Jeff and his wife Lucy are engaged in near Nairobi,
Ibukun and the country of Nigeria,
and now a second generation TMI team member, Rita’s granddaughter, Joy who is in Zambia building a bridge this summer.
The chain of silver around my neck
A filigree charm of Africa
reminds me of the times on your deck
laughter, tears, chats about heaven,
about the time you would have decorating my mansion
cramming in talks, relieving the tension
more tears, more laughter, too little time
And a chain of silver from you to me
Africa in silver filigree
The chain of silver hangs around my neck
and I finger the silver charm
as if somehow it connects us in some respect
promises made, laughter, tears, arm in arm
In heaven, girl, my mansion next to yours for sure
No talks now, so let me say this to assure
I am praying for the Turkana, for Kenya, for Jeff,
for his new wife, Lucy, who you would love
For Nigeria and a young woman named Ibukun
All these and there is more
Your granddaughter, the delightful Joy
This year in Africa, like our daughters went
For all these I pray
because I wear your chain of silver
Africa in a tiny sliver.
It is more than silver, more precious than gold
For it reminds me of my promise to always pray
And so it expands, God’s growth unfolds
For me, for Africa, for the Kingdom of Heaven
Ever notice how often clothing or references to being clothed appear in scripture. Relax, I do not intend to do an in depth recitation of all the times clothes, being clothed, shedding clothing and running naked are mentioned in the Bible, but suffice it to say, it happens, often. In the Old Testament Lectionary text for June 30, 2013, we find Elisha ripping his own clothing and picking up the cloak Elijah had dropped.
The prophet’s cloak was “an outward and visible sign of an inward, spiritual grace” a sacramental garment, a piece of cloth and yet more than a piece of cloth. The cloak differed little if any from the cloak of any man in Israel during Elijah’s time and the only power at work in this story is God’s.
Consider with me the story.
Two men, one older, one younger, the older mentoring the younger by the leading of God. Traveling back just a bit, we are reminded that when Elijah ran from Jezebel and entered a cave on Mount Horeb. There in that cave, Elijah met with God, not in the earthquake, wind or fire, but in a whisper. Immediately, after that Elijah as directed by God, found Elisha in a field plowing and called him to follow him. From that time until they were traveling from Gilgal. Elijah knew God was calling him home. He tried urging Elisha not to follow him to Bethel.
Why did Elijah do that? Perhaps even though we know from reading, ” When The Lord was about to take Elijah up in a whirlwind. . .” Elijah knew his time had come, but did not really know how this would happen. Perhaps, he wanted Elisha’s last memories of him to be as alive and breathing. Perhaps, he thought he might be struck dead by a heart attack or stroke.
Personally, I am not sure which is the better way to be present with someone you love at the moment of death or to be have your last memory be before that last expiration of breath. Elisha, however, determined not to leave Elijah, his spiritual father, even though Elijah tried twice to dissuade him from continuing to follow.
At the river, with 50 prophets watching, Elijah strikes the water with his cloak and the waters divide so that the two men cross on the bed of the Jordan. It is on the other side, away from the others’ eyes that Elijah stops.
Put yourself for just a moment into the heart of Elijah as he turns and perhaps places his hands lovingly on Elisha’s shoulders, patting them, squeezing them, as he tries to compose himself to speak. Here is the young man with a heart for God and the calling of a prophet, a young man he trained up in the faith, the boy plowing the field has become a man of God. Elijah loves Elisha like a son. He wants to give him something. He wants to offer him something to not only remember him by but to empower him to not waver from following God. And so, tears in his eyes, they sting don’t they? Elijah asks, his voice breaking, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken.”
If Elijah is stunned by Elisha’s request or if he considers it out of line or grandiose, he doesn’t say. Possibly, off in the distance, over Elisha’s shoulder as he embraces him one last time, he sees the chariot of fire and the gathering of a small tornado. He sees his future, because his reply, “If you see me when I am taken, it is yours.” signals Elisha to keep his eyes open to the power and glory of God as the whirlwind and chariot approach. Elijah reminds Elisha the Holy Spirit is the one who supplies all spiritual gifts.
Suddenly, as Elisha watches Elijah steps back and the whirlwind gathers him up as the chariot and horses of heaven follow him into the sky. In a sweep of the wind, in a thundering of hoofs, in fire that does not consume, Elijah disappears from sight. The shouting dissipates, Elisha stands alone.
Immediately, he tears his clothing in mourning. A quietness like a whisper descends, as he picks up Elijah’s cloak, the only tangible piece remaining of the older prophet. He carried it with him back to the Jordan and there he prayed, “Where is The Lord, the God of Elijah?” Striking it on the current, the waters divided and as Elisha passed through the divided river, I imagine him shrugging on the cloak and as he stepped onto the other side, accepting the anointing of God.
It wasn’t the cloak that made the prophet, it was God working through his mentor Elijah and passing on not the same portion but a double portion to Elisha.
What does this story have for me or for others in the 21st Century? For those like me who are older, I see a need to accept the fact that intentionally I must be shedding some of the physical trappings of this life and sharing the spiritual truths I have learned. I don’t have it all together, but one look at Elijah, cowering in the cave, depressed and discouraged and I know he didn’t either.
What he did have was a close relationship with God!
All of us, who are Christians, no matter what our ages, have a responsibility to live our lives and speak truth so that others, newer Christians, non-Christians, everyone has reason to ask us about the hope within us.
Too often we cling to what we have as if sharing it will somehow diminish us. Consider the aging lady who had played the piano at church for 50 years, who brought a younger woman along to take over after her skills declined. Or on the other hand, Consider the old retired pastor in the congregation, who ran off every preacher they called but remaining the one the congregation turned to for spiritual advise.
Time comes to drop the cloak, climb in the chariot and leave the work to others. It would be a shame if when that happened, there were no others to take up the work of God!
By the way, that is not likely to happen, since God is the one in control. But, wouldn’t we lose the joy of watching those we mentor shine? That would be a really hard goodbye!
Who has been an Elijah in your life?
Who is your Elisha?
But when I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire
And when I look back on the stars
Well, It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park
And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye
What a day! I got up early, walked the dogs, fed the husband and then picked up my daughter and two of my grandchildren. Off we went to Louisville, KY [165 miles]. Our first stop, other than to fill up with gas, get drinks, stop for a bathroom break, OK I guess OUR 4TH stop was the Louisville Slugger Museum.
After touring the factory, we saw a short film about the crack of the bat and toured the LEGO Exhibit which was a whole lot of legos combined into replicas of some of the famous baseball parks in the USA. The largest of these is Wrigley Field. Amazing what the human being can create from children’s toys.
We ate at Cheesecake Factory and then trooped over to PAINT SPOT, where we selected pottery and painted for hours..gotta troop back [Terry and I] to pick up our glazed and fired pieces next week, because they wanted to charge $15 a piece to ship them which was more than we paid for the privilege to paint them.
I know this departs from my usual post, but in all of these moments, I knew how blessed I really am. I have 9 grandchildren and wish I had all of them close enough to just go on more Day Trips!!
Joy’s name did not suit her. As an infant she had been placed in the custody of Child Protective Services. Her story could be the story of a multitude of kids in the Foster care system. By the time she was 5 and ready to enter kindergarten, her mother had surrendered her rights. By kindergarten, Joy had been in eight foster homes. Her cardboard suitcase, a gift of one of her foster mom’s, was battered, but it and its contents were her prize possessions. She refused to allow anyone to touch it. Joy was a sullen, distrustful child…not the least bit joyful. Although legally adoptable her age and frankly her disposition and behavior made that option unlikely.
In many ways, Child Protective Services had saved Joy’s life. Conditions in her mother’s care threatened her growth, safety and her life. The guardians assigned to her case followed her diligently and her foster care met the guidelines. They tried to prepare her for a time when a family would choose her as their own. And when Joy was 7, a couple did adopt her.
In Galatians 3:23-29, we learn that God put his chosen people under temporary guardianship, custody of the Law. Over the centuries from Moses to Jesus, the Law did what it could to protect, preserve, and watch over the people of God. The Law’s guardianship ended when God who had already chosen his children sent Christ.
For Joy, like us sometimes, just being chosen doesn’t necessarily do the trick. Just because they buy you new clothes and you have a room of your own doesn’t mean you can trust them. Joy carried her cardboard suitcase into her new room and lived out of it for months. She chose to wear clothing far too small for her growing frame and refused to wear her new things. Her hostility wore on her adoptive parents, but they prayed, waited, and continued to love her…including disciplining her consistently.
No one really knows what happened in Joy’s life that changed her, but gradually she began to trust their love and by the time she entered 5th grade, she had chosen her parents just as they had chosen her. They were a family. She even threw the cardboard suitcase and its tattered contents away.
So it is with us, when we by faith choose Christ, who has already chosen us, we entered God’s family as full members, siblings with those like us and those different from us who have also chosen Christ. We belong and in that belonging we are reclothed in Christ…out with the tattered, dirty, stained sin clothing and on with Christ clothing. We are everyone of us heirs to the Kingdom!
Time to toss out and burn that cardboard suitcase!
We were in Nashville today for a doctor’s appointment at Vanderbilt. As I pulled off I-40 to the stoplight at Broadway, I saw a familiar sight, a man selling newspapers. From our ten weeks at Hope Lodge for Terry’s radiation and chemotherapy treatment, I know these men hocking these newspapers and these newspapers are not ordinary. These are newspapers published for and about issues of homelessness. The folks selling them are homeless or have been homeless.
“Street Newspaper” is a term for a newspaper that focuses on the issues surrounding homelessness and poverty and is sold by homeless and formerly homeless individuals on the street. 
Across the United States there are a growing number of individuals and families living without benefit of a place to call home. These folks, including children, live without benefit of a permanent address. . .while the overall number of homeless decreased slightly between 2011 and 2012 by 0.4%, the number of homeless families increased by 1.4%…62% of the homeless were living in emergency shelters or transitional housing, but 38% were unsheltered, living on the streets, in cars or abandoned buildings, places not intended for or safe for human habitation. 
Many of these folks are ordinary individuals and families who hit a really bad patch, some are victims of domestic violence, some made really bad choices, but whatever the reason they live in poverty with no place to call home. Some are mentally challenged or mentally ill individuals who have been discharged from hospitals or simply left. These individuals face even greater perils as they wander. Homeless, baffled, tormented they become easy targets and some of them traumatized, carrying a war zone between their ears, become dangerous to themselves and others.
Move back in time with me as we explore the scripture in Luke. I think this event exists for us to read and consider today, because God intended it so that we would understand the problems of poverty, homelessness, and tormented souls have always been with us. God wants us to be more like Jesus everyday, so how did Jesus approach and help the man at Gerasenes?
Now, just so you know where I stand, I believe the man at Gerasenes was possessed by a Legion of demons, but I want to approach Jesus response to him from a slightly different angle. Jesus and the disciples had experienced a rough night at sea and the disciples, no doubt, were still in awe over his calming of the wind and waves. Face it folks, they were one exhausted company, when they stepped on shore to be greeted by, WELL! A wild naked man, ranting and raving. Not a pretty, nor a welcome sight. Easy to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear, well maybe a little difficult, what with the man running directly at Jesus, shouting at the top of his lungs, flinging himself or being flung into the group of men dragging themselves out of the boat. Okay, NOT that easy to ignore, but possible. Point being Jesus did not choose to ignore him.
Let’s stand off from the scene on the beach, not too far, because we want to hear and see what happens. What happens, what does Jesus do?
He sees the man.
He assesses his condition.
He takes action.
His action creates an adverse reaction in the man.
He probes deeper.
Too bad for the pigs, but wonderful for the man. Not so great for the pig farming economy, but restoration for the man. An indication here of God’s regard for human beings, human rights, the human soul. Clearly, one man’s welfare outweighed the welfare of a herd of pigs. Clearly, the results viewed by the community were miraculous. Here clothed, hair and beard trimmed, talking sense was the naked, violent, insane fellow who lived in the caves. He cleaned up really good, once Jesus took hold of him.
Still, once the astonished town people started looking around, dead pigs bobbing on the water, frightened workers, the loss of income, the adverse effects of this man’s healing, they got together and asked Jesus and his disciples to leave. It doesn’t say, “And don’t show your face here again.”, but you get that feeling.
As Jesus leaves, the restored man attempts to follow, but Jesus has another ministry for him. He sends him back, to live and work among the people in his hometown. His very presence is a constant reminder of the power of God, but Jesus instructs him to do more…Use your new voice, your ability to reason, your knowledge of God’s action in your life. Be a living testimony! And so he did just that!
In light of this scripture what am I, what are you called to do in this world where, just as Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you.”? Seems a bit overwhelming, doesn’t it? So much need, so many poor, so many hurting, so many unsaved…I think I will take a nap….I mean, pray about it!
Look instead in prayer to Jesus–one deranged man healed, when surely there were many others in similar states. I need to look right in front of me, wherever I happen to be and ask God to let me see as He sees, assess as He does, take action, and if thwarted at first, pray again, look again, probe again and persevere. . .One by one!
And then be a testimony to all God has done. Live as a restored sinner saved by grace! As D.T. Niles once said,
“Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”
When I was a child, I loved dancing across the front lawn, in my bare feet, twirling and twirling until I got so dizzy I fell down. I loved laying on my back on a pallet on that same lawn at night with the expanse of the Milky Way across the dome of the sky. Somehow, heat and bugs bothered me less back then. Truth is I loved the times in my childhood when I could really be a child. Even the boundaries imposed by parents were safeguards and not so restrictive that they prevented us from digging a huge hole in our backyard in an effort to “dig to China.”
My childhood was shortened by illnesses, financial problems, alcoholism, and a growing sense that I could depend on No ONE, but myself. And yet, I still had moments when God’s grace reached me, moments of knowing I was not alone. Even with those moments, after I was around 12, I never lived free. Not only did my family issues entangle me, but bad choices on my own part led me far from the faith of childhood and from freedom. And then backed up against a wall, I built, I submitted to Jesus and He has worked in me from then until now to set me free. I am a work in progress not a finished project, but I am closer to living free than I have ever been before.
As God often does He led me to my next step through a daily ritual I began again in the last 6 months, regular quiet time with Him. In this process, I recently finished a http://shereadstruth.com study on 1 Peter. Near the end of the study in the 5th chapter, I encountered a familiar verse: “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. “(1 Peter 5:7 KJV) or in the NIV translation: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Not an unusual reminder, for Jesus preached the message of releasing our burdens to God, long before Peter wrote his letter or Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing..” to the Philippians. So familiar it was, an age old directive, but then I read the verse in The Message: “Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.”
And from that came the following verses
Come, Come bring all your burdens,
Come, Come lay down your problems
Cast off the weight of all of your fears
Lay down the pain, Child, every wee care
‘Cause I’ve got you right there.
Come, Come give me tomorrow
Come, Come share all your sorrows
Cast off the tears, climb on my knee
Snuggle in close, Child, as close as can be
‘Cause you are precious to me.
Live free, Live carefree before me
Carefree, Alive every moment
For I have your burdens and I’ll see you through
Dump all those fears, for I care about you.
I’ve taken your sins and cast them away
I’ve picked up your burdens
I’ll carry you through just cast off your cares
I’ll be care full for you!
Live free, Carefree before me
Love with the love that comes when you’re free
I’ll never let go, I will see you through
So never look back..I care about you
‘Cause you are precious to me
And I died on a cross, with you on my back, So you could live FREE
Do it for Me!
As I have mentioned, my mind latches on an obscure phrase or single word and ZING! off I go. There is so much in this obviously Messianic psalm that deserves attention, so why on earth did my mind go to the dogs. All of a sudden I am trying to remember other mentions of dogs in scripture. Well, in case you think I didn’t check, depending on the translation, there are around 40 times dogs are mentioned. Sadly, the biblical mentions of dogs include no favorable comments, no furry pets of the canine family follow along after Jesus. In fact, most uses of dogs equate them with degradation, executioners, and evil doers. Sorry, Max and Emma.
God’s Word does not deal with you kindly.
Ok, back to the meat of this Lectionary text which does not include the whole psalm, for some reason only the scholars or the lectionary committee–Whoever–understands. Most of those really smart people agree that this is a Psalm of David, but right off, if you read the WHOLE psalm, It is clear no matter where David was in his life when he wrote this Psalm, God intended it as prophecy. Consider the first verse:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”
I know in my heart that when David wrote this psalm, he was expressing words given to him by the Holy Spirit. As he sang it, with a chorus in the Tabernacle, did he sense in his inner being that his words transcended time and place. Who knows, right? Do any of us fully understand how the Holy Spirit works through our lives, our words, our presence? This psalm presents a powerful word picture of crucifixion, a form of execution not used until the time of the Persian rule and was not popular until the time of Alexander the Great.
While the first 21 verses reveal the anguish of the suffering Christ, the verses in the lectionary begin with verse 19 and it is in these words, the prayer of Jesus in the garden are in my opinion revealed. In those moments, when he sweated blood, Hear his voice as in the ear of Father God:
“But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.” Don’t leave me alone, come quickly, deliver me, CALL OFF THE DOGS! Worn out, prostrate on the ground, all of it poured out before the Father, Jesus is strengthened by angels, as he yields completely, “Not my will, but Yours.”
We know the story and the Psalm written by David expressed it more than a 1000 years before it happened. The Psalm, however, moves from the suffering Christ to the victorious Christ, ending as a powerful chorus of praise and yes! prophecy. From every corner of the world God will call his people, He will gather the faithful and even those who did not honor him will bow down and worship.
And perhaps a few folks like me will be bringing along their furry family members…if Rocks can praise Christ, then consider what the dogs and cats can do!