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Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. A dream where people of all backgrounds would be considered equal despite the colour of their skin. He gave his famous “I have a dream” speech 50 years ago today. The “I have a dream” segment is the best remembered and most quoted part of his speech, despite the fact that there was no reference to it in his written draft. Having been advised against including it because he had used that material before and it was cliché, he chose not to include it. So when he changed his mind in the middle of his speech, that section had to be completely ad-libbed.

Although I’m sure Mr. King would be pleased to see that our society has made some progress since then, I don’t think he would yet be satisfied. Fifty years ago he said, “No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” I think he would still have a dream, a dream for true freedom. Mr. King elaborated on what his vision of freedom looked like. His vision included unity and justice, safety from violence, and relief from oppression. He also dreamed that one day “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together”. This was his hope and the faith that he would take back home with him to face the challenges which would continue or perhaps even be intensified after this one day demonstration of solidarity at the nation’s Capitol.

I think it is unlikely that we will ever see everyone living in the freedom that Mr. King envisioned. That certainly doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for it, but I believe that the only true freedom is eternal freedom, and it is only available through Jesus. I have discussed in previous posts (July 4, 2011, March 2, 2012) that when Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), the truth He was referring to was Himself. In John 8:36, we are given further assurance. If we accept the truth offered in Jesus we shall be really free, truly free. That doesn’t mean that we will be above the law of the land (I Peter 2:13), but that we will be free from the bondage to sin. Free from the eternal penalty we deserve because of sin. Free from the need to find approval in the ever-changing beliefs of society. Free from the fear of death. Yes, we should make our time on Earth the best we can, upholding justice, helping our neighbours, and sharing God’s love. But we should also focus on eternity. Eternal freedom comes through Jesus, and we can have it starting right now.

In last week’s post I suggested that Paul would encourage us to give up some of our freedoms for the benefit of our weaker fellow-believers. But Paul did not advocate giving up the freedom that was paid for by Christ’s blood just to go back to the legalistic way of living that had been commonplace before Christ’s arrival on Earth. And I’m sure that he considered the dietary changes to be a temporary accommodation. Once believers come to truly understand their freedom in Christ, they would grow beyond those food restrictions.

In Galatians 4:4-7 Paul explains to the people of Galatia that God sent Christ to Earth to redeem us from our bondage to the law, and to give us the full freedom of being a child of God. When I use the word law here, I am referring to religious law. The Bible clearly tells us to respect those who are in authority over us, (I Peter 2:13-17, Romans 13:7), but that does not include adhering to legalistic religious practices. Just before this passage, in Galatians 4:1-3, Paul uses the example of a child in a human family. In Roman society, minor children were cared for, taught and disciplined by slaves. Since children were required to obey slaves, they were no better than slaves themselves. But when they reached the appointed age set by their father, they became heirs, with all the rights and inheritance of an heir’s position in the family. Likewise, at a time set by our Heavenly Father, when he sent His Son to redeem us, we became heirs in our heavenly family.

Just as the child had to obey his earthly caregiver until his position was upgraded, Paul’s listeners and their ancestors had had to obey Mosaic law until the appointed time. Then they had the opportunity to move into the position of co-heir with Christ. (Romans 8:14-17) They were given an invitation to join God’s family with the same rights of family membership that Christ has. We have been given that opportunity since the day that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. This was and is a gift of grace. There are no rules, rituals or practices that we must follow to earn it. Yes, we have to make the choice, but once we do we become inheritors of the kingdom of God. Can you even begin to imagine? Many people can’t, which is why they go back to the rituals and rule-following that make them comfortable. There is no need, and it is a sign of immaturity, of remaining a child that needs to be restricted. Accept the freedom that you have in Christ.

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Some people like specifics. They want concrete examples of what they can and can’t do. They want rules to live by, perhaps because if there is a rule, decision-making is easier. Sometimes they create the rules to make future decisions easier. Jesus didn’t have too many rules, but the religious leaders of His time sure did. The religious leaders were still enforcing laws that had been given to the people through Moses, what we now refer to as Old Testament laws, and many others that they had added to the list themselves. I’m sure many of them believed they were doing the right thing, but when Jesus came He created a new covenant. Yes, Jesus would still support following the principles of the ten commandments, but He clearly stated that nothing that goes into your body makes a person unclean, (Mark 7:18) thus nullifying previous food laws. Nevertheless, rules about food remained a big issue.

The Apostle Paul continued trying to enlighten people on the subject. In I Timothy 4:4 he declared that all of God’s creation was good; any food could be eaten, but Paul did stipulate that we should be thankful for it. In Romans 14:13-21, Paul again said that no food was unclean, but he was dealing with a larger issue here. Keep in mind that as followers of Jesus, former Jews and Gentiles were coming together in the same belief for the first time. But each group had their own baggage—all the rules that they were used to living by. Although Paul knew that he and his fellow believers had the freedom to eat whatever they wished, he encouraged them to give up that freedom, at least in certain circumstances, so that no one would create a stumbling block for a fellow believer. He wanted the more important issues of righteousness, peace and joy to be attended to. No meal is worth the cost of lost community. Think of it this way: If you were invited for dinner to the home of a vegetarian friend, would you offend that friend by taking your own meat to their home just because you usually ate meat with your meals? If you had friends that you knew to be recovering alcoholics, would you serve wine with your meal when you invited them as guests? I hope that you would be willing to give up what you would normally do for the good of your friends. That’s what Paul was asking people to do in Romans, but there was even more at stake, because these people were just learning about the ways of Jesus, and he didn’t want their beliefs to be harmed or confused over the issue of food.

In this passage, Paul is speaking to Christians about their relationship with Christians. But I think this principle could also be applied to our relationship with non-believers. I get irritated when I see examples of Christians criticizing non-believers or telling them what to do, expecting the non-believers to do what the Christian believes is right. Obviously, the one being criticized does not have the same belief system, and only sees the Christian as hateful and judgemental and sometimes, sadly, violent. What a poor testimony. We are called to love. Jesus said that there were no more important commandments than to love God and to love others. (Matthew 22:36-40) If non-believers see the love of Christ shining through us, they will be so much more interested in what we have to say than if we try to cram it down their throats. I think Paul would agree.

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I’ve spent a lot of time on university campuses, three campuses as a student and one as faculty. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of talk about truth. Generally speaking, the consensus is that truth is individual—what is true for you may not be true for me, and what is true for me may not be true for you. And the truth could change. As we gain new knowledge, we may alter our views. For me, that doesn’t define truth at all. For me, that defines opinion. That is not to say that we can’t learn more about truth as we go through life, but truth doesn’t change, only our knowledge of it does.

In French, there are two ways to express the verb to know. Savoir is used when the meaning is to know a fact or to know how to do something. Connaître is used for being familiar with a place or for knowing people. In English, we don’t have those distinctions, but Jesus told us in John 14:6 that He is the Truth. So in John 8:32 when He speaks of knowing the truth and being set free by the truth, He is referring to Himself. In this case, there is no question of what that truth might be depending on who perceives it. John 8:31 makes it clear. “If you continue to follow my teaching,” Jesus says, “then you will be true disciples...” John 8:32 continues the sentence, “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So often people take John 8:32 out of context, and use it alone to encourage the pursuit of knowledge. But that is not the point of this verse. Jesus is encouraging new believers to know Him. He is telling them how to truly be disciples, and He gives them a promise, that abiding in Him will give them freedom. He didn’t mean political freedom as the speakers of John 8:33 must have assumed, but spiritual freedom, freedom from bondage to sin. (John 8:34-36)

Being somewhat academically inclined, and also somewhat idealistic, I like to know the truth for the sake of knowing the truth. But if knowing that truth, also brings freedom, that’s a bonus that I don’t want to miss out on. So I will choose to abide in the teaching of Jesus who is the Truth. Will you?

Today's post was written by Kenny Silva.

I’m writing today’s post because pride is the sin I struggle with the most. It lays heavy on my heart. Pride has caused me to stumble numerous times in my life and I fear it will do the same to each and every leader who succumbs to its subtle embrace…

Here’s what pride will tell you:

You’re right. They’re wrong.
You don’t need help.
You’re solely responsible for your own success.
Your better than everyone else.
Your life is more important than everyone else’s.
You don’t need to listen to anybody else.
You are the center of the universe.
Your intellect is superior to scripture.
Your wisdom is better than truth.
You are your own god.
Pride has told me each and every one of these lies at varyious points in my life.

Pride loves to feed us a batch of lies. It’s goal is to boost our fragile ego in a way that is completely illegitimate and false. Pride is the pretty little bow we put on our lives when we want to appear more “together” than we really are. It is the very sin that causes us to conceal our struggles, hide our shortcomings, and alienate friends.

I’m convinced that pride is one of the devil’s sneakiest tricks. It creeps up on us as a subtle sense of accomplishment. Next, we’re patting ourselves on the back after a job well done. Finally, we’re at cocktail parties bragging about the bagillion dollar deal we just put together. We’re on top of the world.

Here’s the problem:

God is supposed to be on top of the world. He IS the world. We accomplish nothing through our own efforts. When we allow pride to sneak in and steal the glory from God, we are essentially setting ourselves up as objects of worship. We become our own little deities. Who needs the one true God when you’ve got your own success to worship?

Flip the coin and imagine yourself with nothing. You just lost your job, your savings are gone, and the bank is about to foreclose on your home. You’ve got family and friends who would step in to help you at the drop of a hat, but you refuse to ask for help. Your pride just couldn’t take that hit…

That same selfish pride has kept you from the authentic community in which God has blessed each and every one of us to take part. It has told you that you need to put on a show; that you need to appear “better” or “more fortunate” than you really are. Your pride has lied to you. The enemy has lied to you.

As James 4:6 says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ In James 4:10, James calls us to humble ourselves before the Lord, that He (God) may exalt us.

Today, I want to challenge each one of us to intentionally take a stand and go to battle against this enemy; to humble ourselves and descend. Praise God in your triumph. Trust him in your defeat. Cast your prideful crown before the throne.

Don’t let your foolish sense of pride continue to lie to you. Stand in truth and be free.

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” – Romans 11:36
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You can visit Kenny's site at www.kennysilva.net, and see his original post here.

In my last post, August 1, 2011 I said that being filled with and led by the Holy Spirit would give us the tools we need to develop discernment. That made me think of Galatians 5:25. Being led by the Spirit, requires that we make a conscious choice to follow the Spirit. This should not be considered a burdensome task, but part of the freedom of living for Christ. Let’s look at the context of this verse beginning today with Galatians 5:13-14.

Galatians 5:13 tells us that we were called to freedom; God never intended for us to be bound by religious legalism. But there is a wide span between legalism and lawlessness, and we should not use the freedom we have in Christ to indulge our sinful nature. Just as a rock climber needs a foothold to get to the next step, we provide a foothold to Satan if we give in to our sinful desires. Being free does not mean having no boundaries. A.T. Pierson has said:

True freedom is found only in obedience to proper restraint. A river finds liberty to flow, only between banks: without these it would only spread out into a slimy, stagnant pool. Planets, uncontrolled by law, would only bring wreck to themselves and to the universe. The same law which fences us in, fences others out; the restraints which regulate our liberty also insure and protect it. It is not control, but the right kind of control, and a cheerful obedience which make the free man.

Instead of using our freedom to indulge ourselves, we should use it to serve one another. We are of course expected to obey the laws of our land, (Romans 13:1) but we also need to obey the most important commandments of Christ, which are to love God with everything we have within us, and love others as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:37-40) Love should be the motive and the result of all Christian behaviour.

In these days when John Deere and Massey Ferguson are common names on the farm, the yoke has become an unfamiliar implement. Before the tractor was invented however, the yoke had been used for millennia to link oxen, horses or other animals together to plow the fields or to haul heavy loads. Although there are different types of yokes, they are essentially molded wooden beams used to bind animals together so that they work in unison. Often the yoke was molded so that a larger, more experienced animal could be linked with an animal that needed to be trained.

The idea of a yoke would have been well understood by Matthew’s audience, both literally and symbolically. They understood the concept of a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1) The religious leaders known as the Pharisees had taken God’s laws, the commandments given to Moses, and added to their own rules to them, rules that were so strict that they were a burden to follow. In Matthew 11:29-30 Jesus is telling his listeners that what He expected of them was not as difficult as the expectations of the Pharisees. It is not that our load is taken from us when we decide to partner with Jesus, but He helps us to bear it; if we yoke ourselves to Him, He will teach us and share our burdens. If we follow Him, learn from Him and do things His way, we will find rest for our souls. When we come to Jesus, we are free from the law, not the laws of the land we live in, (Romans 13:1) but the extra religious laws like those that the Pharisees imposed. Today, that would be seen as the legalism of some churches—burdens that God had not intended for us.

The Pharisees rejected Jesus because they didn’t feel that they needed Him; they believed that they were already righteous, because they followed the rules so closely. But to those who wanted it, those who felt weary and burdened, Jesus offered the gift of rest. (Matthew 11:28) We need to come to Him, to believe and to accept His gift. Let me emphasize that we are coming to the person of Jesus, not a church or a religion. Following religious rules is not the way to find rest for our souls. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6) We can receive this gift of rest from no one else.

We have just celebrated the birthdays of two great countries that share a border and consider themselves to be not only neighbours, but friends. Canada Day (July 1) and the Fourth of July (America’s Independence Day) often elicit thoughts of freedom and gratitude for the country that we live in. Both countries have paid a high price for their freedom, and are still paying for it with the lives of their young men and women.

What does it really mean to be free? From John 8:31-32 come the words that the truth will set you free. These days there are many differing opinions about what truth is, including that each person has their own truth; what’s true for me might not be true for you, and your truth might not be my truth. Therefore one has to wonder what truth will set us free? This saying has been repeated so often it has become a cliché, but if we look at the whole context for it, we will gain the insight we need to find freedom.

Jesus had just been speaking to the people at the temple. He had been telling them that He was the light of the world, (John 8:12) and that if they knew Him they would also know His Father. The Pharisees questioned Him and argued with Him. Many of the Jews at that time depended on religious rituals and ceremonies for their hope of salvation, and they did not understand what Jesus was saying, but many of them professed to believe in Him.

Jesus knew that for some that profession was superficial, and He responded to them with these words, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” What then must we do? We must spend time studying the word of God, and spend time in prayer asking the Lord for understanding. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) The more we get to know Jesus, the more we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free.

John 3:16 is probably the best known verse in the Bible.  Lots of children have memorized it in Sunday School, perhaps because it sums up the whole gospel so succinctly.

God loved the world so much that in order to redeem the world, He allowed His only son to die as a sacrifice for us.  That kind of love is hard to fathom.  And it was for the whole world.  When Jesus spoke these words, the people of the time thought that the Messiah was coming only for the Jewish people, and that the Gentiles would be condemned.  They expected judgement, but John 3:17 clarifies for us that Jesus did not come to condemn us, but to save us. All we have to do is believe in Him.  It is our choice.  The creator of the universe could choose to make us do whatever He wants us to, but He doesn’t.  He loves us so much that He lets us do whatever we want.  When we do choose to believe in Him though, we are rewarded with eternal life.  The Greek word used here for life represents not only life after death, but life here and now, and it represents the quality of life as much as the quantity—the more abundant life that John 10:10 describes.

I think this sounds like a great offer.  There is no need to perish.  The gift of life has been given; all we need to do is accept.  Why is it that there are people who don’t want to accept?  Fear, maybe?  Fear of losing control of their own lives?  Ironic when you think about it because God has given us so much freedom.  (II Corinthians 3:17, Galatians 5:13-14)

I chose this verse for today because I think of it as a Valentine verse.  I will share the Valentine with you here just in case you have never received it in an e-mail.  Happy Valentines Day everyone!

Now that I’ve committed to studying the messages that God sends to us, the next question is where to start.  The first thing that came into my mind was, “In the beginning…”.  I know of two verses in the Bible that start that way:  Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1.  I will look at Genesis today and John in the next post.

As I see it, Genesis 1 is the whole basis for faith.  If we don’t believe that God created the universe, and us, there would be no reason to believe anything else in the Bible, or that we have any relationship to God, let alone that we could have a relationship with Him. Conversely, if we do believe that God is the creator of the universe, it allows us to believe that He is all-powerful, and therefore we can have confidence in what follows in the rest of the Bible.

Interestingly, the account of creation assumes the existence of God; it doesn’t try to prove it.  It is more concerned with telling us who created the earth and everything in it than with how it was done, or how long it took.  There is no exhaustive explanation of creation, so whatever you believe requires faith.  Not understanding how it happened actually makes it easier for me to believe that a higher power was involved.

The reassuring fact here is that we didn’t happen by accident.  God chose to create us, and He chooses to have a relationship with us.  From the very beginning God has been involved with His creation.  He interacted with Adam and Eve, and He gave them freedom.  They had the choice to accept or reject God, to follow Him or not.  He interacts with us today, and gives us the same freedom.  We can choose to accept or reject God, to follow Him or not.