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Throwback Thursday is a new feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
When we were in Nazareth, Israel, a tour guide reminded us, “It was here that Jesus began His ministry. It was in the synagogue of Nazareth that Jesus stood up and read the first several verses of Isaiah 61.” It says, “The Sovereign Lord has filled me with his Spirit. He has chosen me and sent me To bring good news to the poor, To heal the broken-hearted, To announce release to captives And freedom to those in prison. He has sent me to proclaim That the time has come When the Lord will save his people And defeat their enemies. He has sent me to comfort all who mourn, To give to those who mourn in Zion Joy and gladness instead of grief, A song of praise instead of sorrow” (GNT).
What Jesus said next angered them, but will prove to be powerful to you and me. In Luke 4:21, Jesus said, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (NLT) What should have been an exciting moment in history ended with them trying to throw Jesus off a cliff. He wasn’t just telling them He was the Messiah, He was telling them He was bringing healing and restoration. Think about what Jesus was saying would be fulfilled. He would be bringing good news to the poor, healing the broken-hearted, freeing us from our prisons, saving us from sin and enemies, comforting those who mourn and bringing joy to those who grieve.
Jesus said that starting that day He began fulfilling that Scripture. He wasn’t just going to do those things for a short while. He came to do it long term. That’s great news for you and me. When we find ourselves in need of healing or restoration, there’s no need to wait for a future date. He’s willing and able today! We don’t have to stay in the prisons of our own devices. He’s here to liberate us. We don’t have to live a life of grief. He gave us the Comforter and plants joy deep in our heart. I believe today is the day you can enjoy that promise and experience all that God has for you.
On January 1, 1863, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. It legally changed the status of slaves in ten southern states from slaves to free. Even though it was a legal document, many southern states refused to accept it. There was also the fact that news moved slowly. In fact, it was June 19, 1865 before slaves in Texas received word of the Emancipation Proclamation. To this day, June Teenth is a holiday in Texas that celebrates the day of freedom of slaves even though they had technically been free for over two years.
I tell you that story because it applies to many Christians today. We are no longer slaves to sin when we accept Christ into our lives. Yet many of us go on living as though we are still in bondage. As the scripture tells us, it was for freedom that Christ set jus free. Jesus broke the chains of sin in our lives and made us free from the law of sin and death. We are to leave the life we were living and to become new creations.
II Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (emancipation from bondage, freedom)” (AMPC). The emancipation that Jesus brings is not just from the bondage of sin. It’s to set you free from any bondage you may be in. He came that you could be set free from the bondage of fear, self destruction, pornography, drugs, sickness, and any other bondage you may find yourself in. As a Christian, you are free and it’s time to quit living as a slave.
Romans 6 has a lot to say about leaving a life of bondage to a life of freedom. Verse 11 says, “Even so consider yourselves also dead to sin and your relation to it broken, but alive to God [living in unbroken fellowship with Him] in Christ Jesus.” In the next verse, in a different version, it tells us not to give sin a vote in how we live. Our mindset has to change along with our salvation. We have to accept the freedom Jesus brought us, then change our mindset from slaves to free people in order to begin walking in that freedom.
If you find yourself having accepted the freedom Jesus brings, but still living with a slave mentality, pray that God would renew your mind and to give you the mind of Christ. Ask that God would help you to accept your freedom and to begin living in it. God has issued His own Emancipation Proclamation for your life. He has set you free because His Spirit now resides in you. Don’t spend years living in bondage after you’ve been set free. Begin walking in your freedom today.
I believe that there are several habits we as Christians can adopt in our lives to become the type of believer we truly aspire to be. While Hebrews 11 has compiled a list of heroes of the faith for us, there have been many people who have lived since that time whom we can learn from as well. If I were to ask you to think of a person, past or present, who exemplified a life of faith as a believer, you could probably think of a name quickly. Whether they were written about in the Bible, history, or have just touched your life in some way, they have habits in their life that you and I can adopt into our own lives to become that type of Christian.
One of the hardest habits for us to adopt is the habit of forgiveness. When we’ve been wronged, we feel justified in holding anger and resentment against the one who wronged us. I’ve learned in my own life that anger, resentment and being hurt are all that’s needed to become bitter. That bitterness then becomes a prison that holds your thoughts captive and stops any progress in your life. It has the power to consume you and that kind of bitterness causes you to spread that poison to others.
God wants us to let go of the wrongs that have been done to us because He knows that’s where our freedom lies. You cannot be a productive Christian if you’re holding anger, resentment, or bitterness towards someone else. God’s desire is that we turn the other cheek, not so we can get hurt again, but so we can lead with our un-bruised side. He knows that we will be better witnesses for Him when we don’t lead with our hurts and bruises out front. He knows that we can be healed in time when we first learn the habit of forgiveness.
In Matthew 6, we find the Lord’s Prayer. I’m sure you’ve memorized it at one point in your life. What you may not have memorized are verses 14-15 which come immediately after it. Jesus followed up His prayer with, “If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in Heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father in Heaven will not forgive the wrongs you have done” (GNT). Your forgiveness from God is dependent on your ability to forgive others.
I like how the Amplified Bible describes what forgiving “wrongs” is and looks like. It says, “Their reckless and willful sins, leaving them, letting them go, and giving up your resentment.” All of this is put on you, not the other person or God. Your own forgiveness starts with your ability to let go of what someone else has willfully done to wrong you. The life God has for you will be bright and fresh again once you choose to adopt the habit of forgiveness.
A while back, I used to have the opportunity to listen to the radio during the day. On a few occasions I tuned into the Dave Ramsey show. If you’re unfamiliar with him, he helps people get out of debt using Biblical principles. Every so often he would have people call in who had gotten rid of their debt. They would say how much they paid off, how long it took them and then scream, “I’m debt free!” You could hear the excitement in each of their voices as they declared their freedom from the slavery of debt.
It reminds me of how we should live as Christians: free from the debt of sin. When you accept Jesus as your savior, you automatically become debt free. You become set free from the chains that held you down. Romans 6:22 says, “But now you have been set free from sin… Your gain is a life fully dedicated to Him, and the result is eternal life.” If you’ve been set free, quit living like you are still enslaved to your old life. God has set you free, so you should set yourself free too.
Imagine if a person was in prison and then were found innocent of the charges. The warden comes, walks them to the gates of the prison, opens the doors and says, “You’re free to go.” What would you think of that person said, “Thanks, but I’ve done wrong things in my life and I’m going to stay here”? We would think there’s something wrong with them. They have their freedom yet they choose to stay bound up. Yet, so many of us do the same thing. Jesus set us free, declared us innocent of our past and we stay in a self imposed prison of guilt.
If you’ve been forgiven by God, walk in your freedom. Don’t stay in that cell. Bust through those gates and declare to the world, “I’m debt free!” We should each have that excitement in our voices when we talk of what God has done for us. There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t been bound in a prison of sin. Many choose not to accept Jesus paying the price for them and they stay there. But for those who have been set free by His blood, it’s time we started living like it.
Ephesians 1:7-8 says, “For by the blood of Christ we are set free, that is, our sins are forgiven. How great is the grace of God, which He gave us in large measure.” If God has given you grace, then give yourself some too. Accept the freedom He gives you and don’t hold yourself down. You are debt free, it’s time to live like it. Let go of the thoughts that hold you captive to your past. Let go of the guilt that keeps you from being happy. Trust the freedom God has given you and live debt free.
It becomes increasingly difficult to remember what it was like to just be a kid. Running around in the woods behind our house, picking blackberry’s along trails, or making mud-pies in our dirt driveway. I fear that we are not growing-up as much as we are dumbing-down. Why do we let the creativity, passions, and the joy of life taper off as we get older? Who said that we were supposed to stop playing in puddles or gazing at the stars for hours? I’m reminded of what Matthew 18:3 tells us Jesus said, “‘I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven’.” I’ve heard many commentaries on this passage of scripture over the years, and I think many of them miss the mark. Yes, it is true that we need to have a child-like faith and we need to be open, receptive, and trusting toward God. But, there is a freedom that children have, a resilience they possess that has all but vanish from us by the time we enter adulthood.
True, it is utterly impossible for us to “become like little children” in the natural. For that matter, we can’t do it mentally or figuratively without divine intervention. The biggest problem with this idea, the Jesus-curve-ball if you will, is that he was asking everyone to be something that they had spent the better part of their lives trying not to be! Think about it. We can probably all recount the days of wishing, in hopeful naivety, about how great it was going to be when we were teenagers, or 20-something, married, etc. We literally wished our lives away. Now, here sits Jesus telling everyone they can’t even get into his Kingdom unless they start acting like little children – little, clueless, simple-minded, needy, helpless children. But what if he knows something we don’t? I know, it’s a stretch of the imagination to say the God of the universe, creator of both seen and unseen, could know things in greater depth than you and me. Notwithstanding, what if he is trying to bring us back to a place of wonderment and innocence. What if he is trying to free us from our need to be in-control, and independent?
I would wager that Jesus is saying that he desires for each of us to simply give-up. Imagine how different would the world look to you if you became a child again? We couldn’t reach the tall shelf in the closet. We couldn’t lift the heavy branch that fell in the back yard. We wouldn’t be able to touch the pedals in the car or reach the steering wheel. But we would know who to ask for help. I’ve watched my own kids risk life and limb to climb cabinets and strain while attempting to lift an impossibly heavy object. My kids always knew that they were just one prayer (or request) away from getting exactly what they need. Maybe Jesus is asking us to stop all the trying and striving to be “grown-ups” and humble ourselves to simply ask – simply trust. This I know for sure, he is eager and willing. The question is, are we?
I don’t know why, but when I’m flipping channels and see “The Green Mile” being replayed on TV, I stop and watch for a while. It’s a sad movie, but there are a lot of parts that I like to watch. There’s one scene toward the end of the movie that caught my attention the last time I saw it. John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan) is talking to Paul (Tom Hanks) about said, “You can’t hide what’s in the heart.” There’s truth in that statement. Several scriptures came to mind as soon as I heard him say it.
The first one I thought of was what Jesus said Luke 6:45. He said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” You can hide who you are for a little while, but sooner or later, your mouth let’s others know what’s on the inside. Most of us have filters we use when we speak, but even with them on, we let out some of what we really think. You can’t hide what’s in your heart when you do a lot of talking. Proverbs 12:23 says that a wise man keeps his mouth shut, but a fool utters everything in his mind. What comes out of our mouths says a lot about who we are.
The next scripture I thought of was Proverbs 23:7. It says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” We are what we think about. We become like the thoughts that dominate our minds. Our thoughts create our feelings. Our feelings create our behaviors. Our behaviors create our actions. Our actions show what’s on the inside. You can’t hide what’s in the heart. Not only will your words give you away, but your life will too. What you do on the outside is a reflection of who you really are.
Jesus told a parable in Matthew 21 about a father who had two sons. He asked the first one to go work in the vineyard for the day. He said, “I don’t want to,” but later thought better of it and went to work. The father asked the second one the same thing. He responded, “I’d be glad to!” The problem is that he never went. Jesus asked, “Which of these two did what the father asked?” They replied the first one because his actions spoke louder than his words. He spoke what he felt, but he also knew to respect his father so he went to work. The other just gave ill service to his father, but never had the intention of doing anything.
What’s in your heart? Only you and God really know. Your words and actions are good indicators. You might be able to fool some people, but you’ll never fool God because he doesn’t look at the outward expressions of it. He looks directly into your heart. He knows what you think and who you are when no one else is around. He loves you no matter what and if your heart isn’t pure before Him, He offers to do a heart transplant free of charge. He’ll take out your heart of stone and put in a heart of flesh. All you have to do is ask. That heart transplant will change how you talk and act because you can’t hide what’s in your heart. If you have Jesus in there, He’s going to come out through your words and actions.