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How much longer will you carry that ball and chain?

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Most of us have heard the term “ball and chain” before. It used to be a common term that described an actual weight attached to the ankle of a prisoner, a method of prohibiting the prisoner from escaping.

You may have also heard it used derogatorily by a husband or wife who refers to their spouse as a ball and chain, meaning that they are being dragged down by a reluctant spouse. Hopefully not, but…

It is the rare individual that isn’t walking around carrying some type of baggage, or in this case a ball and chain, these days. As a matter of fact, I am hard pressed to think of even one person who isn’t.

All of us have been negatively impacted by someone or something in this life. Such is the cost of our living in a fallen world. The result of such encounters can leave us damaged and scarred, left to carry around the consequences like a ball and chain.

You know what’s interesting about carrying around a ball and chain? You never feel the impact of it as long as you’re sitting still. It’s not until you wish to get up and move on that you begin to feel the tug of it’s weight holding you back.

This is an apt metaphor for our Christian walk as well. How many of us live lives clouded by guilt, uncertainty, shame, and the like? Many of us do, of this I have no doubt.

We go through life carrying around all kinds of baggage, having learned to function to a certain degree in spite of the ever present weight of it all. This, in spite of the fact that Jesus said that “if the Son make us free, we shall be free indeed”(John 8:36).

How is this possible? It happens because we learn to navigate through this world from the security of our own comfort zone. Thus, as long as I stay in my box, or comfort zone, and do not try to move about too freely, all is well. I can manage the weight of the ball and chain, and still function.

But what happens to us when we feel God wanting to stretch us beyond our comfort zone, to get us out of our special box and move us to a new level? Well, if you’re like me, this brings about a degree of uncomfortableness and forces us to confront the ball and chain once and for all.

You see, sooner or later we must all deal with those things that hold us back. This is because God has a plan and a purpose for your life, and those plans don’t include you becoming comfortable enough to forever manage that ball and chain you’re carrying around.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.   Jer. 29:11

God’s plan for you and I is to be free from our past mistakes, to be free from the harm inflicted upon us by others. God has called us to a life of peace and love. The torments that have enveloped our lives are but shackles that must fall off in the presence of Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown weary of carrying around the ball and chain of past regrets. The things I cannot fix on my own, I must surrender to Christ. If we’re going to surrender all, then all must be willingly lain at the foot of the Cross.

Be blessed,

Ron

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Two of the hardest “EASY” things to do

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Have you ever thought about how we Christians go out of our way to make life harder than it needs to be?

Consider the church or assembly where you worship. I imagine there are certain rules that you are expected to follow in order to be a member in good standing. For instance, some churches have rules on attendance, and others prohibit smoking and drinking. No gambling is also found in most list of rules.

rules

chypsministry.org

Some churches still prohibit women from wearing makeup and jewelry. These are typically associated with long jean skirts for the ladies and white shirts for the men. UGH. When will we ever learn that personal holiness begins in the heart and not the closet?

Oh, and did you know there are different rules for the Methodists than there are for the Baptists? Did I mention the rules in the Black church, whatever that is? In addition to all of this, perhaps most important of all are the unspoken rules, which of course everyone is somehow supposed to know.

There can be no room for personal liberty in such an environment, as personal liberty might allow one to step out of order, thus creating chaos, and if there’s one thing we like about rules it is that they bring order.

Now, I like order, to an extent. Order, or Rules, brings with them a sense of stability and security, and who doesn’t appreciate that?

I do not like order however that is so inflexible that I cannot be free to express myself. Here’s a personal example of what I’m talking about. I like color, lots of color, especially bright colors. Maybe it’s because I have a degree of color blindness and struggle to see color like everyone else. Whatever the case, I love bright, bold colors.

On Sunday’s I always wear a suit to church. Why?  Because I like wearing them. I also like wearing a tie to church, which I am acutely aware, goes against the norm these days. But I won’t wear just any tie. No boring, ugly ties in my closet! That’s why I wear ties that are bold, colorful, and bright.  Like this for example….IMG_0111

Sorry, but no dress codes for this guy!

OK, back to my topic. One of the greatest problems with church rules is that we expect everyone to follow them, thus creating carbon copies of ourselves in the process. And as if that weren’t bad enough, we will follow up on our rules by making even more rules.

So, are all of these rules necessary to be a follower of Jesus? Do we really need a list of can’s and can not’s? Well, let’s consult the manual, shall we? Surely there we can find some direction.

In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 26 we find the following:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.   Matthew 22:35-40  KJV

twogreatestcommandments

the-ten-commandments.org

Love the Lord. Love your neighbor.The two hardest “easy” things you can do.

It’s because we the Church make it so. Not the Lord. Not the Word. WE make it so hard. It’s as if we cannot fathom that loving the Lord and loving your neighbor could be enough. So we add our own special flair to it in the form of Rules.

And look what we’ve made of the church!

All of the Law and all of the prophets hang on just these two commandments. Nothing else is required. No list of Rules. No list of do’s and don’ts. No clothesline religion here, no sir.

All of the Law and all of the prophets hang on just these two commandments. This easy, this simple, this uncomplicated.

Maybe the reason we make it so hard is because of the word “love”. If it were anything else, perhaps it wouldn’t be so troubling, but love, well that hits us right in the heart doesn’t it?

Just like it’s supposed to.

Be blessed,

Ron

Another soldier’s coming home

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Yesterday I had the incredible privilege of attending the funeral service for a 95 year old father, grandfather, WWII veteran, and faithful Christian man named Eddie. My wife and I had been asked to provide part of the music and singing, and of course we gladly volunteered to help.

Listening to this man’s two sons speak so eloquently of their father brought many tears to my eyes, for it was easy to sense the deep, abiding love they had for him. But there was one thing that was said that impacted me more deeply than anything else.

As the eldest son came to the front of the church, dressed smartly in the same full dress uniform he had proudly worn many years ago, everyone listened intently as he began to share with us how that recently his father had begun to grieve over the conditions in America being played out on the news.

You have to understand that this man was a decorated soldier who sacrificed  everything to fight for the freedoms you and I enjoy today,and watching Americans turn on one another broke his heart.

Having served in no less than five European countries during WWII, participating in countless battles,including the infamous Battle of the Bulge, this man knew sacrifice and hardship like few of us can even imagine.

Yet unbelievably, at the end of his life he wondered if not only his own sacrifice, but that of millions of others had not been in vain. To set by and watch the nation he fought for be torn apart from within was more than he could bear.

This patriot,to whom America is deeply indebted,died feeling like the country he loved so dearly had betrayed him and his fellow soldiers. He stated on several occasions that the country he loved was being taken from him,and those of his generation, and I’m pretty sure if you were to ask,most veterans would agree with this assessment.

Listening to all of this broke my heart, and the fact that I had met this man only a couple of times prior to his death did nothing to diminish the impact of these powerful words from a man who was part of America’s “Greatest Generation”.

All of us would do well to step back and really think about the sacrifices made by prior generations, sacrifices that we continue to benefit from today. Whether we choose to accept it or not, the fact is that the entire world as we know it would be a much darker place had those before us not responded to freedoms cry.

As we topple the images of our past in a vain attempt to erase the painful memories associated with them, we would do well to remember that just like its individual citizens, our nation has made many,many mistakes, some of which have scarred this nation with a perpetual open wound.

None of which however can ever be forgotten,either individually or collectively.

The mistakes of our past are part of our history,and history cannot be rewritten, though many have tried and continue to try to do so today. The truth however, is still the truth. All we can do is move forward, not backward as we seem to be doing.

 

Eddie knew his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for many decades, and in the end it was this relationship with Jesus that kept him pressing toward the mark in spite of what was going on in America.

For you see, it was Jesus Christ that gave him hope for a future. An eternal future without violence and hatred. A future without racism and bigotry. A future where there would be no need for another world war. A future where sacrifices ceased.

A future not of this world…

As America continues on its march to abandon democracy in favor of socialism, as she slips further and further away from her Godly heritage, hope in this life will eventually become non existent.

The only hope available will be the hope we have in Christ.

As I close this post, the words to a song written about a soldier going home are ringing in my mind tonight, so I thought I would share them with you.

Verse 1

His back is bent and weary, His voice is tired and low
His sword is worn from battle, And his steps have gotten slow
But he used to walk on water, Or it seemed that way to me
I know he moved some mountains, And never left his knees

Chorus
Strike up the band assemble the choir, Another soldier’s comin’ home
Another warrior hears the call, He’s waited for so long
He’ll battle no more, ‘Cause he’s won his wars
Make sure heaven’s table, Has room for at least one more
Sing a welcome song, Another soldier’s comin’ home

Verse 2
He faced the winds of sorrow, But his heart knew no retreat
He walked in narrow places, Knowing Christ knew no defeat
But now his steps turn homeward, So much closer to the prize
He’s sounding kind of homesick, There’s a longing in his eyes

Lyrics to “Another Soldier’s Coming Home” by Janet Paschal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Relinquishing Your Freedom in Christ is an Expensive Proposition

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Freedom

Just saying the word evokes thoughts of sacrifice and struggle, oppression and conflict. It also calls to remembrance our sincere appreciation and gratitude for those who have sacrificed to ensure freedom for people’s everywhere.

As children of God we know that in Christ we have been made free. Those who know the Lord as Savior know a freedom unlike any other, as “free indeed” is unlike any other freedom……”whom the Son sets free, is free indeed”. (John 8:36).

Other verses inform us of the fact that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, and while we are now free from sin, we have become slaves to righteous living.            (II Cor.3:17 & Romans 6:18)

All this to say that as Christians, we willingly, lovingly embrace the liberty we have in Christ. Nonetheless, this liberty is fraught with potential dangers should we be tempted to dangle our toes in unfamiliar waters.

All of us, and I do mean all of us, face temptations that appeal to our flesh. Whether we are tempted by power, drugs, alcohol, sex, or money, the fact is that any of these can quickly become our master, overpowering our senses and bringing us again into bondage.

We must remain ever vigilant to counter such temptations if we are to live in victory. Prayer and the reading of the Word are key weapons in this never ending struggle.

These points have been driven home to me again this week while reading the story of how Israel came to have a king reign over them. What started as a nation fully dependent upon and loyal to God, soon turned into full blown rejection of His leadership.

Without launching into a long, detailed history lesson, Samuel was the prophet who had the unenviable task of anointing the first king of Israel. While crowning a new king would normally be cause for great celebration, Samuel’s task was heartbreaking because he knew that in anointing an earthly king, it signaled a severing of the cord between Israel and their God.

As most of you know, throughout Israel’s history they demonstrated a propensity to wander from God. This tendency to stray eventually culminated in their demanding a king to rule over them, just like all the nations around them. In other words, they wanted to be just like everyone else.

Have you ever been told, or have you ever told someone “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”? This is about to happen to Israel.

Even though they had received an advanced warning as to the quality of leader they would be getting, Israel was determined to proceed with having things their way regardless of the cost. And oh what a price they would pay!

If you will read 1st Samuel 8:10-18 you will see the details of what was to come upon Israel. Take note especially of how many times the word “his” or “take” appears in the description of their new king.

The takeaway I want to leave with you is just how much this new king was going to take from them. Whereas we look to new leadership with an eye for what they can do for us, Israel’s new king would be a taker, not a giver.

What’s the lesson for the New Testament Christian in all of this? The lesson is that we are called out of sin to be the Church. We are not called to be like everyone else.

We also have a Leader who is unlike any other. We are different because our King is the difference maker!

Once God has delivered us from sin, we are not to go back. Not even to look back! We have a freedom known only by the redeemed, and that freedom was purchased by the highest cost imaginable.

Relinquishing your freedom in Christ is an expensive proposition, a proposition I have no desire to entertain.

How about you?

Already Clean….

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You’ve heard it all before,right?

Good enough…

Follow the rules…

More works…

More faith…

Fall in line…

All of us who know Christ have been told some variation of the above.

Maybe it was when you joined your church.

Maybe it was what you were taught as a child in Sunday School or some other bible class.

At some time in your life you reached a point where you just knew that you could never be…

Good enough………….you could never…

Follow all the rules……………you just couldn’t do…

More works………………..you grew weary of trying to somehow have…

More faith…………………and you simply couldn’t bear to…

Fall in line…………..and be like everyone else.

And then you found it. A verse in the Bible where Jesus was talking about a vineyard,and suddenly it all made sense!

1 I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.
Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.   John 15:1-4 KJV
Did you find it???
Now lets look at this again but this time through the Amplified Bible
1 I AM the True Vine, and My Father is the Vinedresser.
Any branch in Me that does not bear fruit [that stops bearing] He cuts away (trims off, takes away); and He cleanses and repeatedly prunes every branch that continues to bear fruit, to make it bear more and richer and more excellent fruit.
You are cleansed and pruned already, because of the word which I have given you [the teachings I have discussed with you].
4 Dwell in Me, and I will dwell in you. [Live in Me, and I will live in you.] Just as no branch can bear fruit of itself without abiding in (being vitally united to) the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in Me.
Do you see it? It’s right there in verse 3. Jesus said that you are already cleaned because of the word that He had given you.
The Word that…
Makes you Good enough…
Teaches you that rules won’t save you…
Increases our faith every time we read it…
Separates us to fulfill His calling upon our lives…
What freedom! What perfect liberty we enjoy in Christ!
Free from religious rules and laws.Free to follow His footsteps wherever they may lead us.
Already clean!
And all I had to do was say “YES” when He knocked upon my heart’s door. Isn’t God good?
Be blessed,
Ron