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Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, July 5, 2015

True Freedom

TEXT: II Corinthians 12:9

Freedom. Freedom is at the heart of our nation’s self-identity.

• The Declaration that declared us to be an independent nation says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these rights are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

• The Constitution says that its purpose is to “secure the blessings of liberty” for the people of this nation.

• Our National Anthem refers to America as “the land of the free.”

• Our pledge of allegiance calls us “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

• Our greatest President’s greatest words, the Gettysburg Address, say this nation was “conceived in liberty.”

Freedom is what America is all about. And yet, we have a lot of questions about what true freedom is.

• Are people free to do whatever they want, with no regard for the rights of others?

• Are people free to ignore the will of God in making their moral decisions?

• Are people free to exercise their religion without interference from the government?

• Are people free when their economic and social opportunities are limited because of the color of their skin?

• Does having more money give you more freedom?

• Are you freer when you have no responsibilities?

• Are you freer when your health is good?

• Are you freer when you are young and the whole world lies ahead of you?

In the land of the free we all have an opinion about what freedom is. But true freedom transcends nations and cultures and political systems. It transcends economic circumstances. It transcends health and welfare. True freedom is something only God can give you. Only God can truly set you free. And when He does, you are free, even when you are:

• Being threatened by ISIS marauders;

• Lying in a hospital;

• Or locked in a prison cell;

In II Corinthians 12:9, the Apostle Paul quotes Jesus as saying: “My grace is sufficient for your, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” “My power,” Jesus said—all the things I can do—that’s all you need. For when you put your trust in me, when you back out of my way, I do amazing things. In other words, we find our true freedom in letting God be Lord of our lives.

In this letter, Paul speaks at length about his life. He gives a long list of all he has endured for the cause of Christ. He speaks of the glory he has witnessed, and then the chronic affliction he suffered, the “thorn” in his flesh. And that is when he says that Jesus had said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”

What that reassuring phrase is saying to me today is that we find true freedom in turning ourselves over to Jesus. To have true freedom is to be:

• Free to believe God;

• Free to trust God;

• And free to find contentment in Him.

I’m holding in my hand an amazing gift from God. The Bible is a treasure trove of God’s wisdom, which in His grace He has chosen to reveal to us. Do you believe that? If you listen to what man says, this is isn’t God speaking; it is just a book of stories and opinions by people whose opinions don’t matter much to us today. Have you been set free to believe God and not man?

• Do you believe man when he says that all life came about by a random accident? They call it irrational to propose that all this was actually created by God. Do you believe that?

• Or do you believe what God has told us—that He created everything, including the heavens and the earth, including life, including mankind. And that He created us in His image for a purpose?

If you believe man’s version, then there is no real purpose in life, other than to survive and propagate. In man’s version, when you die, it’s all over—end of story. But if you are free, and you believe God, then you know that God made you for Himself. You know that He knew you before you were even conceived. You know that God intends for you to spend eternity with Him. And He intends to start that eternity now by saving you and making you holy, like His beloved Son. Are you free to believe that?

The Bible cautions us,

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. [Colossians 2:8-10]

Are you free to believe that? Because if you are, then Jesus has promised that you shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16; John 11:25) What freedom it is to know that!

In fact, God has made many promises to us in His Word. And to be free to trust in Him to deliver on those promises is to know true freedom.

We can trust in man, and what we get will be a mixed bag.

• Sometimes, we will get faithfulness, and sometimes betrayal.

• Sometimes, the ones we trust will stay with us in the most heated crises; and sometimes the flames will run them off.

• When we trust in man, sometimes they will meet their deadline and give us what we paid for, and sometimes it will turn into a big disagreement, and it will always be our fault.

• Sometimes, when you put your trust in man, you will find yourself investing in a lie.

• Sometimes, you will throw a party and nobody will show up.

But when you put your trust in God, you are trusting in the one:

• who cannot lie (Numbers 23:19).

• who is the head over every power and authority (Colossians 2:10)

• who never slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121:3);

• who will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5)

• who promised, “I will be with you to the end of the ages.” (Matthew 28:20)

All the great Christians about whom we read were people who freely put their trust in the Lord. They were people who knew from whence their help comes.

• Missionaries trusted in God to fund their missions.

• Leaders trusted in God to make them wise.

• Warriors trusted in God to fight their battles.

And as a result, they undertook great things for God. They had a deep sense that God had shed His grace on them for very important reasons, and that God had plans for them to be instrumental in building His Kingdom. Jonathan Edwards, the highly acclaimed theologian of 18th-Century America, ignited the Great Awakening as pastor of a church in Northampton, Massachusetts, was a humble man. His preaching was not dramatic. He barely gestured at all, it is said. He didn’t have a theatrical bone in his body. And yet, through the power of the Holy Spirit, many people came to faith because of his preaching. Jonathan Edwards once said, “I wish to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all...” He trusted that God would take what he had to offer and make something of it for His glory.

Harriet Tubman is remembered as the head of the underground railroad, which took slaves to freedom in the years leading up to the civil war. She was a Christian, and an escaped slave from Maryland. Not content to be free herself, she made 19 trips back into the South to lead over 300 slaves to freedom. She never lost a single one. She knew that what she was doing was dangerous, and that if she was caught, her life would be over. Her memorable statement on trusting God was when she said,

I always told God, “I’m going to hold steady to you, and you’ve got to see me through.”

God watched out for her and gave her and her cohorts success in their righteous work. And she became known as the Moses of her people.

Not only was she free from slavery. She was free to trust in God, and leave the heavy lifting to Him.

For people who have that kind of freedom—the freedom to believe God and not man, and the freedom to put their trust in God and not in man—there is another quality that money can’t buy. And that is contentment. By contentment, I mean the peace of mind and serenity of spirit that comes from knowing that Jesus is all you need.

The Apostle Paul was getting at that when he quoted Jesus as saying, “My strength is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” He went on to say,

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Corinthians 2:9-10]

In another letter, Paul spoke of contentment. He said,

...I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. [Philippians 4:11-13]

There is a man I greatly admire, named Nick Vujicic. Nick is a 32-year-old Australian who was born without arms or legs. Despite having a loving and supportive family, Nick had a difficult childhood. He wanted so much to be like everybody else. When he was ten years old, he considered taking his own life, and putting himself out of his misery. But at the age of 15, he gave his life to Christ at his local church in Brisbane. Soon after that, a janitor at his high school told him he ought to give motivational speeches. Speaking to the kids at his school, he was struck by how almost everyone was either in tears or on the verge of tears. One girl ran up to the stage and hugged him, and thanked him over and over for telling her she was loved and that her life mattered.

By the time Nick Vujicic was 17, he had started a ministry called “Life Without Limbs,” and a motivational company named “Attitude is Altitude.” Today, Nick has traveled all over the world, and has given thousands of speeches. He is a Christian evangelist, and he reaches out to people who feel scorned or forgotten by God and by people. Nick is the hero of thousands who have handicaps of all different sorts.

On his “Attitude is Altitude” website, Nick has posted a motivational letter to whoever may visit the site. And it ends with this message:

Dream big my friend and never give up. We all make mistakes, but none of us are mistakes. Take one day at a time. Embrace the positive attitudes, perspectives, principles and truths I share, and you too will overcome.

About three years ago, Nick married a beautiful Hawaiian woman named Kanae, who loves him dearly. Nick says, “It doesn’t take a perfect person to find perfect love.”

I have watched almost all of his videos, and what I see is a man of incredible energy, self-awareness, and self-acceptance. His faith in Jesus Christ shines brightly, and he is especially remarkable for his obvious contentment. Dealing with the immense challenge life handed him from the moment of his birth, he turned it all over to God, believing God’s promises and trusting in Him. He is content. And he is free.

Contentment in Christ is what sets us free to be all that Jesus calls us to be.

• He calls us to a self-sacrificing kind of love that is very difficult for us. But when we believe God and put our trust in Him, and when Jesus is all we need, we are able to step back from ourselves and love that way—

• loving our neighbors,

• loving the unlovable,

• loving those we don’t even know who need God’s love passed along through us.

• We are able to love our enemies, whom everything in us wants to hate.

• When we are free in that way, we are able to forgive those who have wronged us, and you all know how hard that is. It was a stunning Christian message to the world that came out of Charleston last week. The families of the slain pastor and eight members of Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston forgave Dylan Root one by one. That was not the expected thing for them to do. But they were speaking prophetically to a nation and a world boiling in the turmoil of racial conflict and hatred. They were bearers of God’s message of grace and love in the place of darkest suffering. That is true freedom.

As we wind down this weekend of Independence Day celebration, let us pray that America continues to be a free country. And let us pray that each of us will know the true freedom of belonging to Christ:

• Believing God

• Trusting in His Promises

• and being content that Jesus is all we need.

And let us pray for a great contagion of that freedom, that others may come to know Christ, and that the truth shall set them free.

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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