The Limits of Freedom

Today we celebrate our 242nd year of independence as a nation. Happy Birthday America!

America has been a shining light to the world for more than 2 centuries as we have pursued the experience of freedom. Although we haven’t always got it right we have steadily moved forward towards “liberty and justice for all”.   Freedom is an amazing thing and a universal pursuit across the world. I recently returned from another country and was reminded of the power of our system of self-governance and freedom.

As we celebrate our freedom let me pose these questions. Is freedom without limits? If freedom has limits who gets to set them? If freedom has limits is that really freedom at all?

If you Google “freedom” we find the following…”the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.”

In this definition freedom is without “restraint”.   Everyone doing anything and everything they desire. This is defined as freedom. One blogger recently wrote, To me, freedom is not only being free, but feeling free; to do, to say, to be, to literally (anything) – whatsoever and however, wherever and whenever. Because I am myself, and only I own me.

As I have pondered that thought I began to question if this is at all a possibility. Although no one wants to be that person who restricts another’s rights somewhere freedom must have a limit. Freedom without “restraint” is potentially a very dangerous thing.

All freedom comes with the responsibility of restraint.

There is no such thing as healthy unbridled freedom. Even in the perfect world after creation, God gave Adam and Eve the gift of free moral agency —the freedom of choice—but even then God gave them limits to their freedom.

The danger of freedom is unrestrained behavior. True freedom must involve both liberty and limits because freedom without restraint always leads to bondage.

Food without restraint… creates major health issues, Driving without restraint…kills people, Pleasure without restraint… creates laziness, Spending without restraint creates debt, Morality without restraint… breeds corruption, accumulating without restraint creates selfishness, and on and on freedom without restraint goes further into bondage.

Our first parents learned this early. As soon as they exercise freedom without restraint and eat that which they were free but forbidden to do, We then find them hiding from God, they accusing one another, kicked out of the garden, and suffering the consequences of their actions by witnessing their son murder his brother. Actually through their unrestrained freedom they entered into and brought all humanity into the greatest bondage of all…. The bondage of unrestrained freedom… SIN.

When freedom is exchanged for a license to do whatever you want apart from God’s laws, it becomes sinful tyranny in your life.

Our founding fathers envisioned this idea of self-government, that within every American there would be a sense of moral understanding that would guide our behavior. They knew without this God-given moral self-governance it would be impossible to maintain our freedom. In his writing on the American freedom experiment the Frenchman Tocquevville pondered the need for moral restraint when he said, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.” “When the taste for physical gratifications among them has grown more rapidly than their education . . . the time will come when men are carried away and lose all self-restraint. It is not necessary to do violence to such a people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves willingly loosen their hold.   They neglect their chief business which is to remain their own masters.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

 We cannot continue to exercise liberty without limits without the consequence of enslaving ourselves. Many a society in history has “freedomed,” their way into bondage.

Let us never forget that Freedom is a gift from God that was given to us at great cost. Millions of men and women have paid a dear price for our national freedom, we owe it to them to live within the moral restraints of our maker so that we ensure their sacrifice was not in vain. May God grant us the wisdom to know where the limits on our freedoms lie, and the grace and courage to live within the lines.


Resolutions for your resolutions

resolutionsLet’s take a couple of minutes to discuss the thing we have all been talking about this week, New Year’s Resolutions. There is something about “January 1” that motivates us to start something new and do things better than before. Undoubtedly it is the clean slate of another year that provides opportunity to start over.

The website Inc. asked 2,000 people at the beginning of 2017 about their New Years resolutions and came up with their Top 10 List: Diet or eat healthier, Exercise more, Lose weight, Save more and spend less, Learn a new skill or hobby, Quit smoking, Read more, Find another job, Drink less alcohol, Spend more time with family and friends. What was interesting in this study is that, Of the 60% of us that make New Year’s resolutions, less than 1 out of 10 people will follow through. Wow! The study goes on to reveal, Women tend to make resolutions about health, while men make resolutions about career and drinking less.

But rather than me trying to tell you what you should become resolute about in 2018, let’s consider some resolutions about our resolutions. Rather than jumping frivolously into next year with a wish list of things for our life, family, money etc… Just maybe we should apply some guidelines for these New Year ambitions. So here are 4 things to remember as you walk to the start line of the coming year. When making New Year’s Resolutions:

#1 THINK BEYOND 2018. Every enhancement in our life must also be pushing us forward to a longer-term goal. Perhaps one of the reasons only 8% of us fulfill our New Year’s resolutions is we have developed a habit of starting each year with an awareness that we will start again next year. Long-term thinking moves us beyond seeing life as a 12 month track to be circled over and over again, to seeing it as a life-long marathon.

#2 BE REALISTIC AND INTENTIONAL. Although it feels good to challenge “the socks off” ourselves pushing the bar too high can lead to discouragement, failure and giving up all-together. According to BusinessInsider.Com 80% of resolutions fail by February. If you attempt too drastic, too quick of alterations in your life you are setting yourself up for failure.   Make commitments that demand discipline and altering your lifestyle and then have a plan to follow through.

#3 BE OTHERS-FOCUSED NOT SELF-CENTERED. Why is it that I want to make/save more money? Why do I want to be in great physical shape? Why do I want a new career or to quit a bad habit? These are all noble goals but if the motive behind them is for rooted in a carnal ambition we will not be better off if we are successful. Self-centeredness is always destructive! Determine to make and save more money to be generous not greedy, get into shape for long-term health benefits and to bless your family longer not to be vain or pursue a sinful relatioship. When it comes to life’s goals, motives matter! Don’t just aim to make your life better, pursue that which makes the world a better place!

#4 REMEMBER THE ONE WHO CAN HELP YOU. So much of self-help is rooted in the presumption that “I possess the power”. Certainly God expects us to use our will and decision making everyday but ultimately achieving the purposes of our life demands a dependence upon the one who alone has all power to do in us what needs to be done. Don’t enter into 2018 or make a resolution without consulting your creator and without relying on his grace. Ultimately “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” PS 121:2 And if he made all of that he can help you do his will more perfectly in 2018! If all of us made this our resolution, and if that were to happen what a world this would be! God alone can do the miraculous in your life! Seek him, worship him, commit to him, obey him and 2018 will be better than ever!

May God’s blessing be upon you in the New Year.

 


What to do with Matt Lauer?

A simple vlog I shot today on thoughts surrounding on this craziness.


Peace, Where are you?

emotional man listening his inner voice over grey backgroundWhere is Peace? There is spirit of division in the air. In every arena of life it seems that hostility is raging.

The powers of the world are teetering on the edge of conflict and technology has made it more vocal than ever.   It seems that rage and anger are the spirits of the day.

It’s hard to even get decent news coverage anymore. The broadcast voices have all taken up sides and each program is their latest and sharpest attack on the other. Entertainment is filled with hostility. Awards shows that used to be speeches of gratitude to God and Grandma are now used as an opportunity to stir up hostility towards people and policies that we despise.

Sports was at one time a place where we could get away from the craziness of the world and unite around our favorite logo. Now the spirit of anger and division has entered this arena. From protesting the anthem, to the private lives of our heroes there is an abundance of anger and division. Last week in one issue of USA TODAY there were 7 stories on the sports page of violence on and off the field, from children’s sports to the pros.

And we all feel it. Our social media feeds display our own level of angst. We live with a sense of anxiety over the condition of our world. It has entered our homes, our places of business and penetrated our lives at every level.

So where is Peace? Humanism says humanity is on a path of evolution. Modern culture is pushing towards equality like never before and yet it seems that our “progress” has only elevated the self-centered nature of mankind and the product is more and more division among us.

The reality is that there is no peace without the source of peace. In our humanistic pursuits of harmony we have evicted the “Prince of Peace” from our lives. Our world is now reaping the results of living without the one who alone has the power to heal, restore and unite.

Hostility with one another is the guaranteed outcome of hostility with God. Whenever we try to live in our own human strength we always end up in self-centered pursuits which place us at odds with others.

As Christians we are called to be agents of peace. 2 Cor. 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation The first step in knowing and living a peaceful life is to be reconciled to God our creator through Christ. Then as believers we are to work to bring the world into this same experience of peace with God.

As Christians we are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out practically a life of peace. Romans 12:14-21 literally gives us the practical application of a life of Peace.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The world is living in exact opposite to these powerful words and we are suffering the consequences of our neglect.

If you consider yourself a follower of Jesus let this passage be your rule and guide everyday. Start blessing your enemies and stop cursing them. Empathize with people in good times and bad. Refuse to take every opportunity to disagree. Embrace humility, do not return evil for evil, resist the temptation to avenge yourself, do every good thing you can possibly do to our enemy and as much as it depends on you live peaceably with everyone! This would change the world.

So let’s all begin today to put this world back together, start by ensuring you are reconciled to God, then get up and determine to change the spirit of this hostile world by living out the timeless truths found in God’s word.

In the words of Harry Connick Jr. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!


Don’t despise the brook

dried-up-creek-bedWithin just a few sentences of being introduced to the great prophet Elijah we find him isolated, alone and siting by a brook. This colorful prophet who became a powerful instrument of God was first hated and sought after by the wicked King and Queen of Israel. His earliest assignment was a place where he had to be fed by the birds who brought him his meals twice a day.   What an entrance into ministry. Attempting to do what God had spoken he found himself afraid and alone. To make matters worse due to the severity of the drought, his only source of water dried up.

I am sure he had questions. What about my future? I thought I was doing the work that God wanted me to do? Why am I suffering when I believed this was my calling? Does God know where I am? Does anyone where I am? Does God care? Does anyone care? Is this my destiny?

Elijah isn’t the last person to ask these questions. As I study history and the lives of people who have made a difference in this world it seems they have all at one time or another been left by a dried up “brook”. Although they know they have calling to do something significant the twist and turns of life leave them in a difficult place. Show me a successful person and I will show you someone who has wept beside a dry creek-bed.

It seems that on the journey towards fulfilling God’s call we often find ourselves in a place of hardship. Perhaps you are someone who wants to have a successful business and you can even envision what it might be, but today you are wrestling with cash flow problems, troubled employees or a lack of work. Maybe you are a retired person who has dreamed and saved for the joy and fruitfulness of retirement. Only to be facing your brook experience, loneliness, confusion or the feeling of irrelevance. Perhaps as a young mother your “brook” is the duties of nurturing or caring for your family where the demands are greater than the returns. As a missionary you may be sitting thousands of miles from home with these questions. Many a pastor has labored in obscurity with the eerie silence of a dried up brook.

Today I want to encourage us all that long before God can trust us with success, possessions or people he must first prove our character in failure and difficulty. If you find yourself today sitting alone beside a dried up brook here are some things to remember.

Remember that you are never actually alone. God who created you and has called you to live out his will in this world is with his children in the most difficult of times. As a child of God he is living within you through the Holy Spirit and you have this promise that he will “never leave you nor forsake you”. It to the brook that the Lord directed him, by the brook that the Lord provided for him and at the brook that the Lord spoke clearly to him.

Remember these moments are the preparation for the next. The lessons learned and embraced in the times we often regret are some of the greatest lessons we will ever learn. There is a biblical principle that is true at every stage of life. “If we are faithful over a few things (in the lean times) the Lord will make us ruler over many”. In other words what we do when things are hard and no one is looking will determine how much we can be trusted in the future.

Remember these moments are not forever. The reality is that in everyone of our lives there are times of difficulty, times of obscurity, times of pain and tears. Be assured that these are not your destiny. Keep doing what the Lord has commanded you to do. Keep doing what is right. Keep believing in the plan God has for your life. Keep listening for the voice of the Lord.

It was in Elijah’s darkest moment that he began to hear the word of the Lord again. God knows where the brook is and he speaks clearly by it. “The word of the Lord came to him” (I Kings 17:8) It is often in our darkest moments that we will hear God speak. Keep listening for his voice. Remember the brook always precedes the blessing. Don’t despise the brook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Did you use the correct lenses?

landscape-1502913760-gettyimages-467000032Do you see the eclipse this past Monday? I accidentally did. I was doing some work on our house and had to make a run to CAPPS Home Building Supply just about the time it was at maximum coverage. Several of the employees were in the parking sharing glasses to view this “once in a lifetime” cosmic phenomena. They were kind enough to give me a look using the right lenses.

In the days leading up to this event one of the things that really stood out to me was the importance of making sure you had the correct lenses. There were warnings everywhere that you must have certified ISO 123-12-2 rated lenses or else you could severely and permanently damage your eyesight.

In the days just before the eclipse Amazon had to recall a bunch due to the fact that they were not certified.

As I thought about this I have been reminded of the crazy times in which we are in as a country. Over the past 2 weeks our country has ripped open wounds of division, racial animosity and hatred and it seems that we are as polarized and divided more everyday. You can’t watch a sporting event without seeing the political and cultural overtones of our day.

What took place at Charlottesville was a disgrace to this country. These are difficult days in America.   It’s very hard not to be forced into choosing sides in times where it seems that no side is speaking truth about all of this. Talking heads on TV, bloggers and self-declared experts on Facebook force us to a judgment. Just like the Eclipse of 2017, how we view what is going on in this world, what set of “lenses” we use to gain perspective is critically important.

I think there is a lesson in this for all of us.

Whenever we look at the problems in our world with the wrong set of lenses we destroy our ability to accurately see.

So what lenses are you using to look at the world?

Let me give us a warning about some lenses that if used can prevent us from seeing clearly the events unfolding in our world.

POLITICAL LENSES – Christians must not see the events of our world merely from a political perspective. With political lenses you only see what is good for your favorite party or elected official. Regardless of the truth or morality we care that our political ambitions and preferences come out looking good.

There are also CULTURAL LENSES – Cultural lenses are nothing more than grown up peer pressure. Cultural lenses dictate we see everything based upon what the culture accepts, idolizes, or despises then make our decisions based upon this.

With these lenses we get caught up in believing that if we can take down a monument or change our view of something we can change the way we all live and get along.  Some people worship at the altar of cultural norms others in the sanctuary of political advantage.

As Christians we should view these things through a different pair of glasses, a set of lenses that allow us to look directly at the problem, see if for what it is and respond to it accurately and in a way that brings about change and true healing.

As Christians we should see this through a GOSPEL LENS!   As men and women who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ we cannot afford to look through inferior lenses.

The Gospel is the supernatural work of God’s grace in our lives through Christ that when received by faith transforms us from the inside out. It is the Good News that we can be forgiven and delivered from sin and given eternal life.   This should be our view.

Racism, hatred and division are Spiritual and Theological issues rooted in the heart of every human being and resolvable ultimately only by the supernatural work of God’s grace in Christ through the Gospel.

The remedy is not in another roundtable discussion but in repentance and redemption.

With a Gospel lens we have a perspective that is rooted in our relationship with Christ and our new found affection for things that he loves and that honor Him.   What is honoring to Christ? What is holy and pure? What matters in Heaven and eternity? The Gospel lens is an eternal lens, a righteous lens, a Christ-honoring lens, not a political or cultural lens….

The Gospel lens removes from our hearts the things that create division and animosity. The Gospel lens allows us to see every person as equal and valuable. The Gospel lens provides the power for us to live out the life of Christ to this broken world.

On these issues the Christian living out the Gospel transcends culture and politics and provides a Christ-like grace that truly heals.

Church we must live this out! We need the church today to be first and foremost Christian. Seeing the problems of our world through any other set of lenses will get us burned and could damage our ability to see clearly in the future.

To contact pastor Troy pastorkeaton@gmail.com


Don’t be scared of fear!

bigstock-Frightened-and-stressed-young-41736385Perhaps fear has gotten a bad rap. I know fear has had some bad days and there are some things that fear does that are not good. Fear can be crippling, it can cause people to react in ways that are bizarre or even dangerous. Fear has been known to keep a lot of people from reaching their full potential. A president once notably said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (FDR)

But perhaps there is something to fear that we are missing.   Amy Bucher said, “People’s natural instinct when confronted with a scary situation is to avoid it. On reflection, most of us realize the downside to running away from fear: Avoidance just intensifies the feelings of anxiety and makes it hard to focus on anything else.”

Researchers say that a certain amount of fear can prove helpful in exceptional performance. “Fear signals there’s something of consequence on the line, a reason to exert effort which often produces greater results.” (AB)

Whenever we are forced out of our comfort zone or challenged to a new level there will instinctively be fear that comes along. It is in this moment that our level of discipline, faith or determination will direct our response. Fear either paralyzes or motivates, it either creates a state of frozen intimidation or drives us to whole-hearted action. This is not a fear problem but rather a me problem.

I have recently been pondering this thought as I have been challenged at a whole new level or personal, spiritual and leadership growth.   After all what great things have ever been accomplished in this world that weren’t first an intimidating fearful idea to a person? Show me something great, and I’ll show you something scary. Show me a person of great influence or accomplishment and I’ll show you a person who knows what it is to be afraid.

When we consider that we are all called to be on mission for God and his Kingdom there are a few considerations that underlie our involvement.

God’s work is always God-sized. God is up to something exceptional in this world.   God’s work is always done in a unique and exceptional ways and God’s work is only accomplished through God’s supernatural power. What is remarkable about this is that God has chosen to accomplish his work with human hands. When we understand this the only appropriate response is to reverently fear and tremble before God.

As I thought more about this it dawned upon me that just about every great leader, whether in the Bible and down through history, somewhere early on in their endeavors stood with fear and trembling before the Lord.  David ran from Saul and the throne that God had anointed him for, in fear.  Paul, was humbled at the calling of God and considered himself the worst of sinners, least among Apostles. Mary had to be told by the Angel to “fear not” when God’s plan for her life was revealed. Even Jesus trembled in the garden before the greatest act ever performed in human history and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

It seems to me that before God does something great his first order of business is to scare someone really good.

Although fear is often the entrance into the calling of God on our lives and is often the first emotion when we are tackling something new, fear is never to be our final destination. Fear that comes from hearing God’s voice and being called of God ultimately leads to great strength and courage.   The same presence that caused Moses to fear at the burning bush was later his source of strength and courage as he stood face to face with Pharaoh. The song writer of the famous hymn put it this way….’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved.

So today perhaps you read this article and are surrounded by fear. Take heart choose to respond in faith and courage. Remember you are in good company and it may just mean something great is about to happen! Don’t let fear scare you!