Wonderful Words of Life: Freedom

See the video of this post here.

Transcript:

This is July the 4th weekend, so I thought I would talk to you about freedom. 

In the Genesis stories of creation, it is freedom that separates humankind from the animals. God programmed animals to follow their instincts. God created human beings in his own image and gave us the freedom to do what we please, right or wrong.

Some people think that freedom means being able to do anything they want to do. That is not so. Consider these two examples.

One person says, “I am free, and I am going to do anything I want to do.” He then becomes the slave of his appetites. He eats to excess.  He drinks too much. He uses drugs for recreation. Soon his appetites control him. You know the old story: First, the man takes a drink. Then the drink takes a drink. Then the drink takes a man. The man still says, “I am free!” But he is freer to lie on a couch in a stupor than he is to climb a mountain, run a race, hold a job, or do something worthwhile with his life.

Another person says, “I am free, and I want to remain free.” When he buys his first good suit, he says to himself, “I am never going to outgrow this suit. I am going to control my appetites.”  He eats, but not to excess. He drinks, but not too much. He uses prescription drugs, but only when he has to. He runs or swims every day, and on weekends he often rides his bike 100 miles. He is free to lie on his couch and watch all the TV he wants, but he is also free to complete a triathlon, run a successful business, and volunteer in his church and community.

Which of these two people do you think is free?

In the Bible, freedom means several different things.  Freedom means freedom from oppression. God sent Moses to Pharaoh, saying, “Let my people go!” God is always on the side of the poor and oppressed. Freedom means freedom to resist the powers, the mob, and the crowd, and do the right thing even when everyone else, even those closest to us, are doing the wrong thing. Freedom means freedom from sin, and sickness, and early death. Remember, in this life, it is not so much that we are punished for our sins but by our sins. Above all, freedom means the freedom to live in accordance with God’s plan for our lives. We are free to serve God and to serve others, and in so doing, we discover we are also serving ourselves. As Jesus said, “He who finds his life will lose it, but he who loses his life, will find it.” Jesus came to make us free.  In John 8:36, he says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin…(but) if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” And in Galatians 5:1, St. Paul writes, “For freedom, Christ has set us free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” With God’s help, Christians are free from every form of slavery, whether to the law, or to sin, or to our appetites

Let me close with this thought: Freedom is not freedom unless it is shared. That is why I am so glad to be an American. America is not the kingdom of God. It is not perfect, but it is getting better, and we who know what freedom looks like must help it along. The poet Langston Hughes got it just right when he wrote:

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has yet been—
And yet must be—the land where every (one) is free.

Enjoy the rest of your July 4th Weekend, and remember that freedom is one of the Wonderful Words of Life.

Finnis

Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

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A Very Different 4th of July

Old Glory, New Glories

This is a very different 4th of July. We will celebrate, but for most of us, it will be in much smaller gatherings, mostly members of our immediate family. There will be fireworks—and they will provide a welcome distraction, but the real explosion is still the coronavirus. Covid-19 infections are soaring, even in officially cautious North Carolina. Of course, the official line is not everybody’s line. I continue to be amazed by the people I see in public spaces without masks.  Some say they are declaring their independence—their right to breath without impediment. Some think that they are merely thumbing their noses at the rest of us. I say, “Come on folks, get safe and stay safe, we love you and need you, and we know that, deep down, you love us, too, even if you don’t always show us that love.”

This 4th of July gives us plenty of time for reflection. Some will spend our day watching old movies.  Some will spend our day thinking about the pandemic and civil unrest, and a crumbling economy. Some among us will be unable to think about anything but looming bills and deadlines, and the very real specter of disease and death. The frontline workers are in more danger than ever before.  Let us not forget them.

I hope and pray that each of us will have a little time to think about what a great opportunity now confronts us, as individuals and as a nation. As individuals, each of us can act to help others. We can finally and publicly speak out against prejudice in all its forms. Black Lives Matter! All Lives Matter! We can send along a gift, some relief to those who need it, without letting our left hand know what our right hand is doing. Some are more fortunate than others, and we have a greater responsibility. As citizens, we can act together to help our neighbors, our nations, ourselves.

I know this is a day to remember the Declaration of Independence, but let’s jump ahead a little. The preamble to the Constitution declares:

“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America…”

We are still establishing justice, for all, and insuring domestic tranquility. for all, and providing for the common defense, and promoting the general welfare, for all, and securing the blessings of liberty, for all, to ourselves and to our posterity. The work of forming “a more perfect union” goes on.  Something tells me that the present crisis has provided Americans with the opportunity to make our nation more and more, “a more perfect union,” more and more, “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”  I pray it is so.

Prayer: O God and Heavenly Father, Grant to us, as individuals and as a nation, the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot be changed; the courage to change that which can and must be changed, and wisdom to know the one from the other, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The Pastor

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Wonderful Words of Life: Forgiveness

Click here for a video of this sermon.

In his book, Phycology, Religion and Healing, Leslie Weatherhead* wrote that “Forgiveness is the most therapeutic idea in the world.”

After reading that I went to Forsyth Hospital to see a member. I was sharing an elevator with an MD psychiatrist.  When I saw his badge, I could not help myself. I said, “Doctor, I just read that forgiveness is the most therapeutic idea in the world. What would you say to that?”

He lit up like a lightbulb and became very animated. He said, “Yes, that’s it. Forgiveness is the most therapeutic idea in the world, but just you try and get one of my patients to forgive themselves.”

I did not say it out loud, but I thought to myself that I would not do that. When we repent toward another person, we repent into the mouth of a raging lion. At least, it feels like it. When we repent toward ourselves, we repent up a slippery slope. Yes. It is only when we repent toward God that we repent toward the source of all forgiveness, goodness and love.

Is God really willing to forgive us? Yes! In Psalm 134 we read, “There is forgiveness with you, O Lord, that you may be (worshiped).”

In Luke 5:31,32 Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

And in 1st John 1:9 we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

God’s ability to forgive us depends upon one thing: Our ability to recognize and renounce our sins. God cannot save us from our sins until we are ready to be saved from our sins. This make sense when you remember that, in this life, we are not so much punished for our sins as by our sins.

And someone will say, “So, okay, God will forgive us but what about the forgiveness of others?”  But Jesus did what he could to inspire us a culture of forgiveness among his followers. He taught his disciples to pray, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  He taught that “the mercy we give is the mercy we get.” And he told Peter that we ought to forgive the one who wrongs us “not 7 times, but 70 times 7.”

When I fail to forgive someone, the one I hurt most is myself. Resentment lives in me like a cancer, a rot. I need to get it out. There it is.

And someone will say,” Fine, God forgives me, and there is some chance I will be forgiven by others, but how can I forgive myself?” I had a friend who said, “I do alright by day, but at night, I toss and turn and remember the wrongs I have done.”

Well, here is bad news. We will always remember the wrong that we have done. The Holy Spirit is with us to convince us of sin and righteousness and judgement. Here is the good news.  As Christians we can remember our sins like they were committed by another.  For, as we read in 1st Peter 2:24, “He himself (Jesus!)  bore our sins in his body on the (cross), that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

I would close with this.  In John 20:23, the risen Christ spoke to his disciples saying:

“If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

I say to you: You are forgiven!  Now go out and forgive. Forgiveness is one of the wonderful words of life. Finnis

Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.

Prayer: O Lord, forgive us our trespasses against you, against one another, against ourselves, and against our world. “How Long O, Lord!” Give unto us your peace! Amen

*Note: Leslie Weatherhead was the pastor of City Temple in London during the Blitz in World War II. City Temple was “Methodist,” and the largest non-Anglican church in the city. He was famous on many fronts, especially for his little book, The Will of God. It has sold millions of copies.

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Wonderful Words of Life: Hope

Look here for the video of this post.

It was Alexander Pope who wrote, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.  Man never ‘is,’ but always  ‘is to be’ blest.”

In Jesus Christ, the “to be” has become the “is.” Some say that Jesus threw himself on the wheel of human history only to be crushed by it.  Christians say that, on the third day, God raised him from death, and exalted him to the right hand of the majesty on high. His cross was not the bad end of a good man—it was a road traveled, once for all, by our now victorious Lord and Savior.

The resurrection of Jesus changes everything, for Jesus and for us. In 1st Peter 1:3 we read:

3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4 and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  5 who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials,  7 so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 

It is because of Jesus that we “rejoice in the hope of sharing the glory of God.”  More than that, it is because of Jesus that:

3 … we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.

Because of Jesus we have a hope for life after life, and we have a hope that the suffering of this life has meaning and purpose.  Ironically, St. Paul and Nietzsche agree, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

But what about hope in this life? After all, there are those who say: “I don’t give a damn about life after death; I just want to know there is life after birth.” I want to see some good, right now!

Ironically, it is those who have hope for “life after death,” who have the strongest hope for “life after birth.” If we believe that God raised Jesus, we believe that God can raise the dead. If we believe that God can raise the dead,” then it follows we must believe that God can give us all that we need in this life.

God never promised his people a rose garden, but God sustained his son in the Garden of Gethsemane. The God who has numbered the hairs on your head will give you the strength to rest in the rose garden when you can find one, and negotiate your Gethsemane, when you must.

That is our hope, and hope is one of the Wonderful Words of Life.

Prayer: O, Lord, on this day, we pray for ourselves, and for those on our right and on our left, liberals and conservatives, wise and foolish, rich and poor, strong and weak, sick and well, confident and despairing. Fortify us with the hope that you would give, a hope that transcends all earthly concerns, deprives the powers of the ability to make us their prey, and enables us to master our own fate, through trust in the Master of us all, Jesus the Christ. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Pastor Green

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Thoughts on the Trinity

Theology is “faith seeking understanding.” Unfortunately, when we start to do theology, we often make things harder not easier. Nobody every said that knowledge brings easy or contentment. 

Thankfully, the doctrine of the Trinity has never been a part of the basic preaching of the gospel. Why? Because one does not have to understand the Trinity to be a Christian. Indeed, any consideration of the Trinity ought to be considered as part of very mature Christian thinking.

Scholars tell us that, in speaking of the Holy Trinity:

The problem is not to divide the Essence of the one God or confuse the three persons in which God has revealed God’s self.

The Shield of the Trinity diagram shown above is intended to help us remember the right relationships within the Trinity.  (Please click on page 2)

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