Freedom – Hard but Worth It

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James 1:2-4 (MSG)

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. 

Its Hard:

Our values are worth fighting for.  What we value is worth going through the hard things for.  Any success or significance that occurs in our lives wont just happen, but require doing the hard things.

Its worth it:

When we face difficult circumstances.  When we go through the tests and challenges of life, it can seem arbitrary and uncesseccary, but if we have the right perspective and the let the hardships be our teacher instead of our enemy it will be worth it.  

We must look at the obstacles as opportunities and the problems as possabilities.

We will find that the results of the hardships are developed faith, strong resolve, determination and patient perserverence.

Its hard but its worth it.

Freedom has a Cost:

Freedom is a powerful word.  To be free is to be unencumbered by external control.  To not be enslaved.  It sounds so easy.  It sounds just like a decision and mostly, it sounds free.  Although freedom is a gift, and it is a powerful force in life, and may make us free, its not free.

Being a person who travels the world and has seen the difference between the USA and so many other nations, I am truly thankful to live in this great nation.  A Nation that was founded on the idea that all men are created equal and are free to Pursue life, liberty, and happiness.  

But Freedom is not Free

We are free to Believe and express our religeous beliefs freely.  We are free to speak our mind. We are free to assemble.  We are free to do so many things.  We are free from so many things.

Thank God today in America although not perfect, it is a beacon of freedom around the world.

But Freedom is not free.

There has always been and will always be tyrannical power hungry, corrupt people and systems who desire to enslave and control others.  Whether they be nations, terrorist, abusers, traffickers, perpertrators of poverty, or individual control and fear mongers there will never be a shortage of freedom thieves.

However as long as there are those, there will also be others who have a deep God given desire for freedom in the depths of their soul, and will stand their ground, and speak up for those who have no voice and speak out for the down and out, and fight the good fight, to win freedom for themselves and for others.  There will always be freedom fighters.

Because freedom is not free.  Freedom is Hard but its worth it.

It’s easy for us to take freedom for granted, because we know nothing else. 

This generation and many before it in the USA don’t know the bondage of tyranny, or slavery. We don’t understand what it’s like to be confined in our speech, or beliefs or, mobility. We don’t know what it’s like to be controlled by an external power telling us every move to make. 

Rather, we know the privelege of freedom. Freedom of speech, freedom to decide, freedom to believe, freedom to take the opportunities afforded us, freedom to be educated, freedom to live where we want, so many freedoms that we are immersed in and don’t even understand or realize them as freedoms. 

Although we live everyday in these freedoms we don’t have to pay the price for them. 

But Freedom is not Free

I think we would respect and appreciate freedom a lot more if we aknowleged that even though we don’t have to pay for the freedoms we enjoy, someone did have to pay for them and someone still has to pay to maintain them.

Condalisa Rice Said…

   

Now, to be sure, the burdens of leadership have been heavy.
I know, as you do, the sacrifice of Americans, especially the
sacrifice of many of our bravest in the ultimate sacrifice, but
our armed forces are the surest shield and foundation of
liberty, and we are so fortunate that we have men and women in
uniform who volunteer, they volunteer to defend us at the front
lines of freedom, and we owe them our eternal gratitude. 

I am grateful for the men and women and families who sacrifice so much to protect and defend this great nation and its freedoms.  Men and women who are cut from a different cloth. They have an incredible sense of duty.  A deep seated bravary.  A root of responsabiity for the protection and advancement of freedoms way of life.  A root that runs deep and grows into an enormous tree of freedom that extends its branches to provide shade for all those who would gather under it, and produces fruit of opportunity, education, and empowerment for a nation.  

These men and women put themselves in a place of vulnerabiliity for the sake of our security.  These men and women and their families make sacrifices that few understand for the sake of the freedoms of all of us who enjoy them.  These beautiful, faithful, loyal men and women of all of our miliatry branches are owed a debt of grattitude, by every single individual who reaps the benifits of their labor.  

The bible tells us in Romans that we shoud give honor where it is due.  We honor these men and women because freedom isn’t free, and they have and are paying the price for it.

Whether they are fallen in battle, or served in the past, or currently serve or are newly inlisted we honor them because they honor this nation and what it stands for by their service to it.  
Freedom isn’t freee…Its hard but its worth it.  

Our founding fathers in founding this nation of free people did so at the risk of their very own lives. 

In reference to the occupation of the founding of our nation and the resulting response of the british government Benjamin franklin said to his partners…

“We must all hang together, or we will all hang seperately”  meaning if we are not all in, and unified we will surely die for what they consider a treasonous act.

From then until now many have put their very life on the line for our freedom.  

They were able to do this because they had a mind to fight for freedom.  

They understood freedom isn’t free and although its hard, its worth it.

Benjamin Franklin said…

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

Patrick Henry Said…

“Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death! 

They were so completely given to the cause of freedom it empowered their every thought and was the filter through which they saw every thing.  To the degree that they wanted every child to know, embrace and live out freedoms cause.

John Adams Said…

“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”

An Incredible Gift:  

As we can see freedom is an incredible gift to us.  A gift that has made our way of life possible.  A gift that has given us opportunities that others are not afforded.  A gift that causes our great nation, our young nation, to take its place in a very short time as nations go, atop of the list of nations of influence.

Not the Best Gift:

External freedom is a great blessing but not the greates gift.  There is a freedom that is greater.  A freedom that is eternal and not temporal.  A freedom that far supercedes any type of earthly freedom…

Ronald Reagen said…

Democracy is less a system of government than it is a system to keep government limited, unintrusive; a system of constraints on power to keep politics and government secondary to the important things in life, the true sources of value found only in family and faith.”  

A Greater Freedom:

I submit to you today that there is a greater freedom than external freedom.  It is Internal freedom, spiritual freedom.  There are many who enjoy the gift of external freedom but don’t understand or live in internal freedom, spiritual freedom.

The bible calls this freedom Salvation.  Many use the terminolgy being saved.  The greek word is Sozo – to save, make safe, make whole, to heal, or be whole.  The theological term is regeneration, which means spiritual rebirth.  It is what Jesus talked about in John 3 when He told a man by the name of nicodemus, how to be saved (be in true relationship with God) “You must be born again.”  Nicodemus asked him, “How can I, an old man go back into my mothers womb” Jesus explained that to be in relatiobnship with God we had to know christ and in knowing him, believing him, we would have a spiritual encounter that results in being born spiritually.  Saved, made whole, changed, reborn.  

This is the beginning of true internal freedom.  Its not religion or religeous ideas that make us free.  Its faith in Christ alone that makes us free.  It saves us from the enslavement of sin, and destruction.  It sets us free from the perils of life without God.  It releases us from the chains of shame and guilt and binds us to Jesus with cords of love.

Freedom however isn’t free.  Its hard but its worth it.

We can’t earn salvation, spiritual freedom.  We can’t do good things to get it.  We can’t be good enough to earn it.  It is free to us.  All we have to do is believe it and receive it.  

But freedom isn’t free.

Someone had to pay.  Someone had to stand on the front lines of spiritual battle for us.  Someone had to pay the penalty for the sinful things we have done, and the sin nature that we are born with.  Freedom was available but not free.

There was a cost

Jesus, was perfect, and sinless.  He is the Son of God, and as a result the only one qualified to pay for the freedom we all need.
So He willingly went to that cross, but before doing so, he went to the garden to pray.  In that Garden, he talked to his father, and came to this conclusion, that the price for spiritual freedom was steep, expensive, and personally costly for Him, but  It was worth it!

So He went to that cross, gave his life in place of us, then was buried in a tomb, and three days later, on his own volition decided He would not be a slave to sin, death, hell or the grave, and he rose again to personal freedom and as a result gave all of mankind the opportunity for true, real, internal, spiritual freedom!

This is the inspiration for the words free at last, and the only real fulfillment of them.  Free at last, free at last, Thank God almighty I’m free at last.  While external and national freedom are great blessings, they aren’t real freedom.

Real freedom is to know Christ.  To be covered in His righteousness.  To know that the chains that used to bind you no longer have a hold on you.  To be free of sin, and to have hope in spite of death, and to know that your eternity will not be in the eternal jail called hell, but in the presence of your liberator, your king, your friend and father.  

You are free.  Free from the traps set to you bind you.  Free from the enemy that’s out to get you. Free from the wrong thinking that enslaved your mind.  Free from the petty survival mode of this life and free to live out the purpose and destiney that God has planted as a seed deep inside your spirit that flourishes and grows and rejoices, in Freedom!

What do we do with this real freedom?

We Know it, live it, and never retreat from it.

Galatians 5:13-15 MSG

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? 

I thank God for a free nation, and for the people who have paid the price for it, and I thank God for spiritual freedom and for Jesus who paid the price for it.  The question is are you really free today?  Do you know him?

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Everybody Loves a Gift

This morning as I sit in the cafe of my hotel here in Rwanda, I think about all the gifted people Ive met in the last two weeks. This trip is almost over and as always I am moving into that contemplative mode. I am thinking about what I have seen, what we have done, those we have encountered and the wonderful relationships that God has allowed me the opportunity to continue or begin.

As I think about all this one of the things that popped into my head was a question. Why does God give us gifts? By gifts I mean, talents, abilities, skills, propensities, and certain personalities, or even spiritual gifts, that we read about in the Bible.

I have come to a conclusion: The gifts are given to us, but not for us.

I have met artists on this trip, one in particular who has become a very good friend, and I look forward to our continued developing relationship. His Name is Ludigo http://www.ludigocreations.org He is truly a gifted individual, not just as an artists but also with an entrepreneurial mind. He was telling me that much of the art world is moving to more of a cause minded approach, which he says is an antidote to the natural insecurity that many artists deal with. It gets the focus off the gift or the art and on to the cause, which gives more meaning to the gift itself and more confidence and creativity to the artist.

I love this concept, and it reinforces my conclusion that God gives gifts to us, but not for us. Do we get pleasure in employing our gifts? Yes. The pleasure however should be in the reception of the gift by someone else not merely in the gift itself or what it does for us.

This mistake is made in the church all the time. We can make the mistake of putting the focus on the gifted not the gift giver. We make the mistake of putting emphasis on the gifted and not the purpose of the gift.

The gift is not our purpose, it is merely a tool to express our purpose. I think we avoid all these mis steps if we understand, God gave gifts to us, for others. Not for us to set around and rave about the gifts but to use those gifts to make a difference in the lives of others.

Don’t misunderstand me, we should take huge delight in the gifts God has given us and enjoy them to the fullest, but never lend to the gifts some kind of virtue.

Remember if you are gifted it is what it implies. You were given something. You can’t take pride in something you were given, you didn’t earn it, and you didn’t create it, so the proper response to it is to be grateful for it, and be intentional in using it.

I want to encourage you if you have gifts in your life, use them. Don’t sit on them, don’t sideline them, don’t avoid them. Use them, but, in using them do so with the understanding that they were given to you for others, for the kingdom of God, for the church, for the community, for expressing the purpose of God in and through your life.

Everyone likes a gift, so give yours out and make someones day.

Worship with the World

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It is always amazing to me that no matter where I go in the world and gather with other believers, no matter language barriers or equipment limitations all you need to feel like family is to start worshiping the father.

I’ve been to many different nations speaking many different languages, but the moment music starts and the worship begins you sense that same familiar presence. The presence that binds us together. The Spirit of God gathering with His kids and connecting them in a common purpose to declare His goodness. Literally every time it puts me in awe of God and His family and I immediately realize how truly big our family is. When you worship this week whether in a large gathering or small group realize that all over this planet you have brothers and sisters doing the same.

You are not alone.

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12 miles

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What is 12 miles? The distance that many of the members of this church walk, one way just to get here.

You see this is the only church in the area. This culture is very pedestrian in the sense that many of them aren’t fortunate to have a car or moto so they walk. Even so 12 miles one way? So let’s get this perspective. They are almost walking the distance of a marathon to attend church.

Now before you think I’m about to bash those of us who live in the west and give you some speech about how when I grew up we had to…etc. slow down, that’s not my intention.

However, I do want us to investigate the question that in our current mindset, our life of options and conveniences if someone told us we could only go to church 12 miles away and we had to walk would we do it?

Do we love the gathering that much? Are we that committed to the cause of Jesus, His Church, that we would walk it?

Seriously, how motivated, how inspired, how spiritually hungry, would we have to be to make that walk?

Are we that excited and motivated about our relationship with God, are we that moved by our love for our church? Are we burning with the spiritual hunger and passion enough to take that walk?

As I write this to you, I’m challenged in my own relationship with God? Am I that hungry for him? Am I committed to that level?

Again, it is not my desire to condemn you or make you feel bad, it’s a question I’m asking us.

Warning: before we make excuses like…

Well they don’t have the distractions we do, true, there distractions are more like roads that are dirt and difficult to traverse.

Well, they don’t have all the options we do, don’t get this twisted, they are human and can easily choose other things that are more convenient and make for a much easier day.

I could go on but let me stop and make an observation. Our blessing doesn’t make us bad, and their lack doesn’t make them good, and that’s my point.

I didn’t say every African goes to church, and I didn’t say every African Christian would walk or has to walk twelve miles.

What I’m saying is this is not an externally religious obligation that motivates at this level. It’s an internal heart motivation based on a relationship with the one who has saved our lives.

The question I’m asking myself and the question I want you to ask yourself is our relationship with God and His Church worth a twelve mile walk?

God give us the heart that we would walk to the end of the earth for you.

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Every Bible Counts

Today I had a great conversation with a new friend from Tenesse who I met here in Uganda. A humble guy, who came to work on a painting project for Watoto. 

As he was planning to come he felt that God impressed him to bring some bibles. He took the bibles wrote the plan of salvation in the front and high lighted the scriptures in each bible. 

One of the days he was working he felt impressed to take the bibles to the work site and when he got there there was a Watoto teacher. He told her about the bibles and she teared up and said if he would give her the bibles she we distribute them. 

THE NEXT DAY she came back to him and told him that she took the bibles to the village and a man gave his life to Jesus after receiving one of them. 

He was so happy, that he heard God, obeyed and a life was changed. Glory to God!  

Every action of obedience makes an eternal difference. Even if it seems small to you it’s big to God, and to whomevers life is changed. 

30th birthday

Was like. 

Last night, what I would guess was around 20,000 people gathered to celebrate 30 years of Watoto church ministry. 

To try to describe this would sound at best like sheer exaggeration, and at worst inarticulate, however I will try to let you in in one of the greatest experiences of my life. 

A night filled with beautiful, passionate voices, and skilled traditional, as well as modern dance weaving a story throughout the night of the burden, vision, and fulfillment of a dream given to Gary and Marylin Skinner who, when receiving it must have been overwhelmed by it, while not being able to see in full what has actually become of it.   A dream that has fought cultural, spiritual, and economic battles to exist, and might I say has come through in victory on the other side. A dream that is consistantly and continually giving a hand up spiritually, economically and culturally to an amazing city of Kampala and Nation of Uganda. 

Everything about the beginnings of this, it’s place in history, the nationality of its leaders, the dream itself screams “this wil never work!”  Yet 30 years later to call it a success would be to underestimate it on every level. 

The stories as told through music, media, readings, narration and the fact that the story tellers are not acting out the life if another, rather were telling their very own story. The sincerity and authenticity of that left me in tears most of the night. 

Stories of the most graphic unspeakable horrors that can be perpetrated on one human being to another. They didn’t stop there but went on to finish the stories with the hope and forgiveness that only Jesus Christ can bring in any circumstance. 

I want to give specific examples but it would be impossible because one would lead to another and another and another. Stories of devastation followed by hope and forgiveness. I guess you should have been there. 

All this was capped off with Israel Houghton leading one of the best worship sets I’ve ever heard and what must have been 20,000 people singing, dancing, rejoicing in our great God and Savior Jesus Christ in a unity I have rarely felt anywhere, ever and the energy level was off the charts. To tell the truth the rapture of the church would having been fitting at the end of that night. Just another level. It was all culminated in a song befitting these victorious Ugandans and their understanding of the testimony God has given them. “I am not forgotten”

I am not forgotten 
God knows my name 
He knows my name

And I will praise Him for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Light in the darkness
The father to the fatherless 
Strength in my weakness
He knows my Name

At the very end the combined Watoto children’s choir and the Watoto church choir which must have been 250-300 people strong. Sang a song about rising from the ashes, and as they sang hundreds of floating lanterns rose from the back of the stage and filled the night sky, leaving us with a visual affirmation of a people who have and are rising from the darkness carrying a great light. THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD!

We left their last night lifted, strengthened, refreshed, convicted, and empowered. 

Let me just say this, without being presumptuous, for the sake of the spiritual hunger in your church, for an opportunity to make a difference in the world, for perspective and hope, do yourself a favor and get connected to Gary and Marylin Skinner and Watoto church. So many ways to get involved, so much benefit to your church in eternal, purposeful ways. 

I love the church, and Watoto church like all of us is not perfect, but are what I believe Is one of the best examples of what God intends for the church to be. 

The idea that #wecandosomething is the way they live every single day. 

http://www.watoto.com
http://www.watotochurch.com

Uganda

Today was our first full day in Uganda, and it was an excellent time. We woke this morning and had breakfast with some of the team here and just talked about what God was doing in our lives.

We then had the good fortune of being able to visit the bulrushes the ministry to rescued babies by Watoto church. One of the most unique ministries I’ve seen in the world.

A ministry that truly rescues babies from trash heaps, public toilets, some who’ve been buried alive and others who were picked out for sacrifice to whatever god would demand such a thing.

Babies who were unloved and unwanted, for whatever reason. There is hope for such children in Uganda because of a special place called Watoto. Watoto this year is celebrating some significant landmarks. 40 year marriage anniversary of the senior Pastors Gary and Marylin Skinner, there 30th year as a church, and the 20th year committed to child care ministries.

Watoto is one of the great churches in the world! We are so excited as a church and as Global reach for Justice to be partnering with such an amazing church and vision.

The team of this great church are compelled and compelling people. I am stirred with passion every time I get around them. Their culture of compassion exudes from their very pours. They love God and love people, and I believe they are one of the great innovators of our day.

I could go on and on with stories of at risk women who’ve been helped and orphans who’ve been taken in and lifted to places and opportunities unavailable to them otherwise, or churches that have been planted and lives changed. The truth is Watoto church is an incredible extension of the hand of God in a beautiful nation, and what’s more they are a huge inspiration to the church at large. If you think your facing an impossible task read the history and bio of Watoto church and realize if God says to do it NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE!

I’m inspired to reach my community, region, nation for Jesus. I’m inspired to love people, beyond their problems and weaknesses. I’m inspired to give people and hand up and not insult their dignity by giving them a hand out. I am inspired to do what we can to effect positive change.

Tonight I go to bed happy to have held and fed little Ruth, who will live a fruitful life, fed, clothed, educated, cared for and most importantly loved. It was my honor and privilege to pray for her and declare the word of God over her life and I have no doubt God rescued her for great purpose. Now lets go about the business of rescuing all those around us who desperately need it.