Who defines freedom? What things would you consider beyond inalienable rights? Does freedom have limits? These are all questions I considered as I prepared for this past Sunday.
According to one historian, Americans don’t define freedom by its limits. Americans are involved in the perpetual process of expanding the definition of freedom. For many, this pursuit of freedom produced many reforms bringing greater freedom to women, slaves, and workers just to name a few. There have even been times that Americans have felt obligate to fight for freedom in other countries. This desire justified wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
In the past 60 years, our desire to expand the definition of freedom has moved into the realm of morality. Our country is now expanding the definition of personal rights; the right for a woman to have an abortion (Row v. Wade), the right of a business to generate profit through the exploitation of women in the pornography industry (Miller v. California), and the right to marry whoever we wish regardless of sex. Today, many Christians feel the pressure to conform. There is a pressure to ‘be on the right side of history’ about these current issues, but now is the time where we say “Here we stand, we can do no other.” At the end of the day, as Jesus articulated to Pontius Pilate; “My kingdom is not of this world”, and neither is ours.
We are citizens of heaven and our definition of freedom is given to us in the Scriptures, not the Declaration of independence or the Constitution of the United States. Our country’s definition may be expanding to allow greater freedom for individuals, but the scriptures do not change and God’s word does not fail.
The good news is that we don’t have a misogynistic, cruel, and vindictive God. We have a God that has endured endless insult by his own creation. Again and again He has welcomed people back into relationship with Him. It is from this posture of mercy and love that God gives His people the 10 Commandments. He gives these 10 words because; “He is the God, who brought us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”.
As I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, our new found freedoms have resulted in an environment where we are no longer free to walk the streets after dark without fear. A society where we are no longer free let our kids play in the street during the day or play on the computer for fear of what they will stumble across. We’ve created a society that is in bondage to all manner of addictions. And we’ve created a free market economy that has led us into a national debt equal to about 103% of our GDP.
God gives us limitations because left to our own devices we naturally create chaos, disharmony, and brokenness. When we live within the boundaries that God has placed for us, and when we stop kicking against the goad, we find that we have greater contentment, greater happiness, greater peace. God does not give us boundaries to punish us, He gives us boundaries to help us prosper.
But He also gives us a choice. He presents His word before us, and says; “My statues, my ways provide you a way of greatest freedom”, but often we choose to find that freedom we are longing for in our attachments. Lent is a time when we do the work to ‘right size ourselves’, when we pay attention to our attachments and offer them up for God to remove. We engage in the disciplines of fasting, giving, and praying in order to help us restore boundaries for our bodies, for our billfolds, and for our false belief that we are autonomous beings.
This principle of restraint is seen most clearly in Jesus Christ himself. Jesus limited himself to one body, in one time, for a period of 33 years and only 3 years of public ministry, because God loved the Whole world. When Freedom is Fully Grown, it manifests itself in extravagant restraint rather than ego-centered extravagance.
St. Francis gave away all his possessions including his shoes. He did not do this because God demanded this of him, but because he wanted nothing to fill his heart so that it could be filled by the grace of God.
- In what types of things is God is calling you to practice restraint.
- What things fog you vision and your desire for God?
- What would be the most painful thing in your life to give up?