Winning Freedom

Happy Memorial Day!” It’s a conflicted greeting, isn’t it? The day arrives each year with such innate ambivalence: We rise to honor valor in conflict, while kneeling to grieve the wars that demanded it; we bow to mourn the ultimate sacrifice of a million souls, even as we celebrate the day under the freedom they gave their life to defend. Yes, there is a distinct tension about Memorial Day, though an important one, for as Solomon observed, “death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart” (Ecclesiastes 7:2). And so we do. Yet for the believer there awaits another destiny—a glorious one—eternal life, the door to which death is reduced to the station of a lowly welcome mat. So, in this week of mourning, let’s use this space to look up from our sadness and fix our eyes on the promise of new life, one more certain than death, indeed one that begins before we die and can never be taken away. Consider:

“Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” {John 14:2, 3)

Jesus said to [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25, 26)

“Do you believe this?” Reverberating through the generations, Jesus’ question reaches us. He has done everything for us—lived without sin to become our perfect sacrifice, incurred the punishment we deserve, burst and chains of death that surely would have fettered us forever. This is what we celebrate. This is why we hope. This is whom we proclaim: He who died—and rose—to win our freedom and give us life.

Yes, Jesus, we believe you are the resurrection and the life. Send your Spirit to lead us in freedom, that God would be glorified through our transformed lives. Amen.

Up, up, and away!

A couple of years ago, Peggy and I invited some international students to the Marysville Balloon Festival, a fun day of absorbing the sights, listening to tunes, and, of course, consuming junk food. At some point in the afternoon, about a dozen pick-up trucks with trailers pulled up alongside the airstrip. We watched, mesmerized, as the aviators and crew unpacked their hot air balloons—each one spectacular: huge, colorful, not one like another—and spread them out on the ground. Thinking back on it later, they were a picture of humankind separated from Christ1—majestic in design and unique in conception, though empty and spiritually lifeless.2

As the crews began to fill the listless behemoths with hot air, we initially saw no outward change at all, but after a while, the skyward side of the balloons began to billow, and over time their topsides started to rise. Finally, filled with hot air, every balloon stood upright, anchored to the ground, yet reaching for the sky. They were magnificent, yet stationary; beautiful, but going nowhere and doing nothing. This, too, was illustrative, depicting a point along our spiritual journey: “born of the Spirit,”3 yet not moving, birthed but not launched.

Then, at the right time, one by one, these silent aircraft lifted into the atmosphere, and we saw their glory—hot air balloons transformed into what hot air balloons are supposed to be and doing what they were created to do. Carried on currents, they were visible now for miles around, spreading out and bringing joy even to those who did not come to see them. Likewise, it is God’s purpose that all who are in Christ by faith be filled with His Spirit and transformed to the image of His Son, realizing our identity and pursuing His purposes.

The apostle Paul tells us, “We all who … contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”4 Please stop and re-read this verse; He is working in you today. Over the coming months, this will be our focus: God steadily transforming us into the likeness of His Son. May it be so.

Father, thank you for saving us through Christ and for transforming us to His likeness today. Your will be done. In His name, we pray. Amen.

1 Ephesians 2:12
2 Ephesians 2:1
3 John 3:8
4 2 Corinthians 3:18

The Pinnacle of Maturity

It seemed disgusting, but I sang it with all the conviction of a five-year-old at Christmastime: “Slee-eep in heavenly peas.” Celestial slumber on green vegetables, the worst of which were peas—it made no sense, but, well, if this was part of heaven, so be it, I guess. I’ll bet we all could entertain each other for hours with precious recollections of childhood misperceptions. Fortunately, we learn as we go, building broader and deeper frames of reference, gaining clarity and understanding that serve us well as we grow into adulthood.

It was from this more mature vantage point that Paul reminisced to the Corinthian church, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”1It would be fun to hear some of his own early memories, but the apostle was making a larger point to believers young in their faith, essentially this: There comes a time when partial knowledge and understanding will disappear, and what will remain are these—faith, hope and love, “the greatest of [which] is love.”2 So what does real love look like? Paul mentors us through this now-familiar contrast:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.3

Who can disagree? Who is not humbled before true love? Isn’t this life as life should be? Then does love become another law that we try to keep in our own power? Fortunately, no. Writes John, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins,”4 adding, “We love because he first loved us.”5 There is something in receiving God’s love for us that exposes the futility of a self-centered life, and it is in the joy of His unfettered love for us that we are free to live in love—the pinnacle of maturity.

Father, thank you for so loving the world that You gave us your one and only Son, that, believing in Him we would not perish but have eternal life. Fill, guide and nurture us, that we would live this forever-life in love—real love, your love. Amen.

1 1 Corinthians 13:11
2 1 Corinthians 13:13
3 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
4 1 John 4:10
5 1 John 4:19