Real Liberty

What is liberty? As Americans, we have fought for it, and thousands upon thousands have died for it.  But is this real liberty? Some 500 years ago, long before America was a country, reformationist Martin Luther described what real liberty is – and he said that all other kinds of liberty are not even worth mentioning in light of it.

Statue of Liberty 2Our conscience is free and quiet because it no longer has to fear the wrath of God. This is real liberty, compared with which every other kind of liberty is not worth mentioning. Who can adequately express the boon that comes to a person when he has the heart-assurance that God will nevermore be angry with him, but will forever be merciful to him for Christ’s sake? This is indeed a marvelous liberty, to have the sovereign God for our Friend and Father who will defend, maintain, and save us in this life and in the life to come.  As an outgrowth of this liberty, we are at the same time free from the Law, sin, death, the power of the devil, hell, etc. Since the wrath of God has been assuaged by Christ no Law, sin, or death may now accuse and condemn us. These foes of ours will continue to frighten us, but not too much. The worth of our Christian liberty cannot be exaggerated. 

As believers in and followers of  Jesus Christ, may we live in the confidence that in Christ, our conscience is free from the wrath of God.  May death, wrath, and hell not frighten us “too much.”  May we hold our Christian liberty – real liberty – as the most valuable thing we possess.  We need not die for this kind of liberty; Christ already did!

Chicken, Football, Gay, and Straight

I like Chick-Fil-A, and I like college football.  Something pretty profound and very God-honoring took place on New Year’s Eve at the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.  Shane Windmeyer and Dan Cathy hung out – as friends.  Shane is a 40-year-old gay man who is the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, the leading national organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) college students.  Dan is a 59-year-old straight man who is the President and COO of Chick-fil-A and an outspoken opponent of same-sex marriage and supporter of conservative Christian causes.

Shane has not liked Dan for sometime.  As a matter of fact, Shane has seen Dan as his enemy and has led national movements against him and his company, Chick-fil-A. Dan decided to do something about this, and what he did – I believe – is a model for how Christians should deal with people they disagree with.  And more specifically, it’s a model for how Christians should deal with homosexuals.  Dan got to know Shane.  He invited Shane to talk with him – not only about their differences – but about what they have in common.  And guess what?  They became friends.  Neither has compromised their position on the same-sex/traditional marriage debate, but by engaging in conversation, the walls between them have been removed.  They are friends.  Friends with differences.

Shane recently published an article on the HuffPost Gay Voices blog, and I was moved and encouraged by what I read.  A gay man writing about his change of heart toward his former Christian enemy – all because the Christian man reached out to him and began a conversation.  Here is a segment of Shane’s article.  You can read the entire article and see a video interview with Shane by clicking here.

Throughout the conversations Dan expressed a sincere interest in my life, wanting to get to know me on a personal level. He wanted to know about where I grew up, my faith, my family, even my husband, Tommy. In return, I learned about his wife and kids and gained an appreciation for his devout belief in Jesus Christ and his commitment to being “a follower of Christ” more than a “Christian.” Dan expressed regret and genuine sadness when he heard of people being treated unkindly in the name of Chick-fil-a — but he offered no apologies for his genuine beliefs about marriage.

And in that we had great commonality: We were each entirely ourselves. We both wanted to be respected and for others to understand our views. Neither of us could — or would — change. It was not possible. We were different but in dialogue. That was progress.

In many ways, getting to know Dan better has reminded me of my relationship with my uncle, who is a pastor at a Pentecostal church. When I came out as openly gay in college, I was aware that his religious views were not supportive of homosexuality. But my personal relationship with my uncle reassured me of his love for me — and that love extends to my husband. My uncle would never want to see any harm come to me or Tommy. His beliefs prevented him from fully reconciling what he understood as the immorality of homosexuality with the morality of loving and supporting me and my life. It was, and remains, an unsolvable riddle for him, hating the sin and loving the sinner.

My relationship with Dan is the same, though he is not my family. Dan, in his heart, is driven by his desire to minister to others and had to choose to continue our relationship throughout this controversy. He had to both hold to his beliefs and welcome me into them. He had to face the issue of respecting my viewpoints and life even while not being able to reconcile them with his belief system. He defined this to me as “the blessing of growth.” He expanded his world without abandoning it. I did, as well.

As Dan and I grew through mutual dialogue and respect, he invited me to be his personal guest on New Year’s Eve at the Chick-fil-A Bowl. This was an event that Campus Pride and others had planned to protest. Had I been played? Seduced into his billionaire’s life? No. It was Dan who took a great risk in inviting me: He stood to face the ire of his conservative base (and a potential boycott) by being seen or photographed with an LGBT activist. He could have been portrayed as “caving to the gay agenda” by welcoming me.

Instead, he stood next to me most of the night, putting respect ahead of fear. There we were on the sidelines, Dan, his wife, his family and friends and I, all enjoying the game. And that is why building a relationship with someone I thought I would never understand mattered. Our worlds, different as they can be, could coexist peacefully. The millions of college football fans watching the game never could have imagined what was playing out right in front of them. Gay and straight, liberal and conservative, activist and evangelist — we could stand together in our difference and in our respect. How much better would our world be if more could do the same?

May we follow the example of Dan, a man who had more than most of us to lose in befriending Shane.  May we as Christians be willing to enter into relationships with non-Christians that may be “unsolvable” riddles for us – for the sake of Christ and for His kingdom.

Parental Guidance Suggested

This is a (very) condensed transcript of my January 27, 2013 sermon.
To hear the sermon in its entirety, click here.

It’s true.  Almost all parents (I wish I could say “every parent” but I know better) – almost all parents want to be good parents.  We want our children to be loved, nurtured, and protected.  We want our kids to grow to become healthy, well-adjusted, and productive adults.  And as Christians, we desire to see our children grow up to love God and serve Him.  How do we get our kids to that point?  I wish it was as easy as following a few simple steps.  I wish I could guarantee that if you do x, y, and z that your kids will turn out exactly the way you want them to be.  This just isn’t the case, but the Bible makes it pretty clear that if you do the following 3 things, you will greatly help your children to not only become well adjusted adults…but adults who love and serve the Lord.

1. Make All of Life God-Saturated

The Apostle Paul tells all followers of Jesus: “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  As parents, if we want to raise children who glorify God in all things, then it’s imperative that they see us living this kind of life.  Before I became a “senior” pastor, I served as a youth pastor – for 10 loooong years!  Over those years, I interacted with hundreds of teens.  Among them were a large amount of kids from homes where mom and dad were either not following Jesus at all and didn’t care or where they were claiming to follow Him (at church) but really weren’t once they got home.  Among those kids, I can only count on one hand how many of these teens are now following Jesus as adults.  When dad and/or mom are striving to live God-saturated lives, the percentage of kids who leave home with their faith in-tact or with at least a solid foundation laid that they eventually come back to as adults is high.

May we strive to live like this father who commented on my Facebook page recently: My goal for me and my kids is to strive to make God’s Word so much a part of me that it becomes like inhaling and exhaling. Life itself. I think this is what is being described in Deut. 32:47 and Prov 4:13. I like the use of the word “permeate.”

2. Pray

From 1999-2004, I produced and hosted a weekly radio program called, Parenting Teenagers.  Over those 5 years, I hosted 164 radio programs where I interviewed parents, authors, and ministry leaders – asking them for advice on how to parent teens.  During this time, I asked many of my guests whose kids were adults to share with me and my audience what they discovered to be the key to raising godly kids.  Nine times out of 10, these parents said, “We prayed and prayed for our kids the entire time we were raising them.”

On one of the programs, I interviewed a dad who made prayer a priority in his home.  Tom Bishop has written some wonderful prayer books to help other parents pray for their kids.  These books are available for download for free here.  Here’s a link to an audio clip where he reveals what he’s discovered about praying for our children:

God had a layaway plan long before Sears did! We can ask for things for our kids today, and God can deliver it in their lives later. We may even be up in heaven and God will still be answering our prayers! The example of that is John 17 as Jesus prayed. God is daily still answering that prayer. Get a head start before the crisis come. Then when you get into the crisis, you’ll have peace inside because you have already prayed for these things. If you haven’t been praying, you had better start! If you are prayed up, then you can watch and see what God does with all those prayers you have laid up. It doesn’t mean you don’t pray then, but you will have peace.

We went through the same crisis that everyone else goes through, but when they came there was peace because we knew that God was using them. We have two out of the teen years, and one with only a year to go. We have seen our kids choose godly friends, chose to turn to God and walk with Him, and we have seen God take our imperfections and work through them. God has pulled things together for us, and He has been faithful. Most of my best prayers weren’t my idea at all, they were the Holy Spirit prompting them. I simply prayed them, and God brought tremendous blessing to my kids and to our family.

3. Demonstrate the Importance of the Bible

I was born in Columbus, OH and am a die-hard Ohio State Buckeye fan.  So, it pains me to mention this about a man who teaches at the University of Michigan, but I suppose the Lord cares even about Michigan Wolverines (not 100% sure though).  In an article by William Frankena, a professor of  philosophy at the University of Michigan, he says that when he was a boy, his father read at least one chapter from the Bible after every meal and that they finished the Bible every year for 16 years straight.  Obviously, this was transformational for him.  Seeing his father demonstrate the importance of the Bible by faithfully reading through it with his family for 16 years straight made a huge impact on him as a boy.

Pastor and author John Piper stresses how important the Bible must be in our homes.  He says,  “The Bible will be the sun in the solar system of all that we teach our children. It will not be one among many books. It will be the central book, the all-permeating book. The other books are dark planets; the Bible is the light-giving sun. All other books will be read in the light of this book. All books will be judged by this book. All books will find meaning in the worldview built by this book. Which means that this book must be known first and known better than all the other books.”

For more, click here to hear the full audio of the sermon.