Free at Last, Free at Last

April 25, 2014

We live in the land of the free. The Bill of Rights guarantees to us certain liberties. We have freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceful assembly. Our freedoms have made our country “the land of opportunity.”

Yet it’s a paradox. Freedom occurs in the context of rules and responsibilities. Freedom in our country doesn’t mean I can do just anything I please. An easy way to reflect on this is to consider the rules of the road. I have great freedom to travel by automobile. The rules of the road are in some sense restrictive, but viewed from another angle they are liberating. Imagine if no one obeyed the rules of the road. It would be anarchy. Suppose that no one stopped at stop lights or stop signs or driving on the right or left side of the road were a matter of whim. The flow of traffic would be impeded. “Freedom” from these rules would actually give us less true freedom.

Consider the words of Jesus – “and the truth will set you free.” It is easy for these words to be ripped out of their context. I’ve seen them engraved on buildings in universities, where the idea was probably that learning and the pursuit of truth is liberating. I’ve heard it used in pop psychology kinds of settings: “If I just tell my irritating roommate that I’m fed up and I’m going to move out, admitting this truth makes me feel free.”

But notice what Jesus actually said: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32, ESV). The freedom that Jesus is promising occurs in the context of obedience to his teachings.

I can imagine someone complaining, “I don’t like being told what to do.” Yet another one of those interesting paradoxes emerges. “Doing our own thing” often leads to self-destructive and addictive behaviors. We enslave ourselves.

When Jesus promises freedom, it is the freedom to be human as God intended us to be. Jesus seeks to transform us as we slough off the old person of sin. And strangely in God’s intent, there is true freedom, although human hearts frequently rebel against it.

In the words of the old spiritual, freedom is having a King and meeting Him someday.

Some of these mornings, bright and fair
I thank God I’m free at last
Goin’ meet King Jesus in the air
I thank God I’m free at last

Free at last, free at last
I thank God I’m free at last

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How Many Circles? How Many Circles?

April 18, 2014

I had a professor who spoke of the one circle man and the two circle man. He would draw a circle on the chalkboard for the one circle man, and two circles that overlapped a bit for the two circle man.

The one circle man is the person who believes that nature is all there is. The single circle represents the physical universe. If you attempt to talk to the one circle person about a miracle, for example, the resurrection of Jesus, he has ruled such things out of bounds. He will say such things cannot happen. No amount of evidence will be convincing. because he views the universe as a closed system. That’s all there is. He is a one circle man.

The two circle man believes in the natural universe but also believes in a spiritual realm and the existence of God. Or, if not certain about God, he is at least able to grant the second circle as a possibility to be reasoned about. If you attempt to talk to the two circle person about a miracle, for example, the resurrection Jesus, he is willing to consider the evidence.

The two circle man also believes the universe usually operates by physical causes and effects. Miracles are not claimed to explain everything. Miracles would be viewed as something rare, that is why they are by definition wondrous. But the two circle man doesn’t rule them out of bounds by definition. He is open to the possibility that God can intervene in this world and do something instantaneously that cannot be explained by natural causes and effects.

The one circle man sometimes thinks that his one circle worldview is to be identified with the scientific enterprise. But the two circle man can do science as well. In fact, science grew up in the midst of two circle thinkers — the Christian west. The two circle man believes that this universe is orderly and understandable, because the Creator made us with senses and minds that correspond to that reality and lead us to true knowledge about the world around us.

The one circle man will sometimes unknowingly borrow from the two circle man. He will talk about the pursuit of truth and moral values and even meaning, failing to realize that those things to have substance must come from the other circle — the circle he denies.

Some one circle men will even wistfully talk about the Christ of faith even though they believe Jesus of Nazareth is mouldering in the grave. Their one circle life doesn’t allow for a resurrection, no matter the witnesses, no matter the prophecies, and no matter the tremendous transformations that occurred.

I’m a two circle man. I’ve not ruled the evidence as out of bounds. In your life, how many circles?


The Lesson of the One Talent Servant

April 11, 2014

When we use the word talent, we are usually talking about abilities and aptitudes which someone has. Interestingly enough, our English word comes from the Greek word used in the New Testament. Our English meaning may even come from the phrase “each according to his ability” in Matthew 25:15 in the Parable of the Talents. But the Greek word means a weight of about 75 pounds.

The servants in the Parable of the Talents receive 5 talents, 2 talents, and 1 talent respectively. That is, they receive about 375 pounds, 150 pounds, and 75 pounds of something. The talent was equivalent to about 6,000 drachmas or about 20 years’ wages for a laborer. If we were to say a laborer earns $15 per hour, at 2,000 hours per year, he would earn $30,000 per year. That would make one talent equal to about $600,000.

  • 5 talents = 100 years of wages or about $3,000,000
  • 2 talents = 40 years of wages or about $1,200,000
  • 1 talent = 20 years of wages or about $600,000

These are approximations, but they give us a comparison we can understand. This stops me from saying, “Oh, the poor one talent servant, he was given so little.” He was richly blessed, but other servants had greater blessings.

What is wrong with the one talent servant? It is not that he possesses only one talent. He is not blamed for his more limited resources. But two words describe him that we ought to ponder. He is “slothful” ESV, KJV or “lazy” NIV, NASB, NKJV. The definition of the word is possessing a state involving shrinking from something, holding back, hesitation, reluctance. And from that, the definitions of idle, lazy, and indolent.

The second word is “worthless” ESV, NIV, NASB and “unprofitable” KJV, NKJV. This word means being of no use or profit especially in an economic sense or being unworthy of any praise, although the former of these meanings would be more likely in our parable.

The thing I must ask myself has to do with the kingdom of God. Am I dragging my feet to be involved? Am I hesitating to serve God with the result that I’m actually idle or lazy? Am I useful to the kingdom? Does God derive a benefit to his kingdom because I claim to be a servant? Let us learn the lesson of the one talent servant.