Google+ Followers

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Bordering On The Ridiculous



OK, I don't address political issues much because, from my perspective, politics is tremendously limited in it's impact. I also abhor the inflammatory rhetoric that is the norm on both sides of the political aisle when talking about divisive issues. But, I feel the need to weigh in on the "controversy" over President Obama addressing students in our public schools on Tuesday.

From many of the things I have read and heard, there is a tremendous outcry over the President's address - and it is an outcry coming from the conservative side of the aisle. It seems there is a fear that the President might unduly influence impressionable students to embrace stands and ideals that are contrary to their parents.

The speech President Obama is giving is not a policy speech, it is a speech about the importance of education, of staying in school, having goals and sticking with them. Although President Obama comes from a liberal Democratic philosophy, there are things that both sides of the aisle agree on and one of those is the importance of education.

As well, what a phenomenal opportunity to talk with our kids, this event represents. Research over and over has shown that the most influential person in a child's life is their parents. This is a great chance to open a conversation with our kids about a number of issues - education, politics, the role of the President, etc. It is an opportunity to help our kids develop discernment in understanding what people are saying and why they are saying the things they are.

The righteousness of God is greater than the politics of men. We do not need to live lives of fear. Pastor John Piper in his blog today (http://ow.ly/oixP), gave this prayer. We need to take the Bible seriously and pray for our President and others in power over us, that they would use their influence for the common good. (1 Peter 2:13-17) Piper's prayer is a great place to start.

Father, the condition of our schools and families is so broken that nothing seems to be working, especially for the poor in our urban centers. Help our president to have the courage to use his amazing place of influence to speak into this situation in such a way that boys and girls would take their studies seriously and put school above sport and homework above hiphop and graduation above gangs.

O, Lord, create a culture where it is not cool to fail. Give our President the courage to call all children, especially ones who feel hopeless about academic work, to fight for knowledge the way gangs fight for turf.

And as the President plans his speech, help him to feel as helpless as he really is to meet the greatest needs of the children, so that he turns to Jesus who alone has the answer for the ruin and the wrongs of our cities. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Potential


What we are is not fully who we could be. But, if we are headed in the right direction, what we are is more than what we were.

Today, Next Generation Ministries took over the church. The youth led worship, ush-ed and all that stuff. They got donuts in the AM and pizza at the end of the day. I feel cheated (but not fat!) that I don't get that stuff! Reality is, I would rather have a good apple anyway.

As I watched these young guys and ladies, I reflected on what it would take for them to reach their potential. There are a lot of factors that can play into reaching potential but there are three essential elements that have to be taken into consideration. One we don't have control over, two we do.

Our potential depends upon our giftedness (we don't control it - God and the Holy Spirit do), our skill and our character (we have huge amounts of control over these two).

Giftedness
1 Corinthians 12:7 makes it clear that giftedness is an act of God in our life. And that giftedness is not for us, it is for "the common good." It is to build up community. So, there is spiritual giftedness that is promised for all followers of Christ. God chooses this for us and for our serving of others. I also believe God marries this spiritual gifting with our natural giftings as well. Each person is created in the image of God - we carry in ourselves the imprint of God. In that, we are unique with particular strengths. None of us is complete in ourselves (unlike God who is totally complete and self-sufficient). We have areas of non-strength, by God's design, so that we will need community and be blessed by others.

Skills
Proverbs 22:29 reminds us that skill is rewarded. Skill is the intentional development of the aptitudes and abilities we have. Skill takes work, it takes practice. I watched a documentary about Les Paul the other night. Anyone who plays a guitar is indebted to the skill, creativity and inventiveness of Les Paul, one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Les Paul died last week at the age of 94. He was still playing in jazz clubs up to the very end of his life. Although it was obvious he was a giftedness musician, he also worked extremely hard at his craft and he said as much - "Whatever I'm doing, I work hard."

One of the greatest sadnesses is observing someone with giftedness but no work ethic to develop their skills. No matter what area of life - musicians, athletes, businessmen, artists, engineers, scientists, parents, pastors, students - the best are not the best just because they have natural aptitude, they are best because they strive to be so. They take that which has been given them and leverage it through disciplined study, practice and learning. Tiger Woods is a phenomenal golfer - and he is one of the most disciplined athletes you will meet. He continues to develop his skills.

Character
Romans 5:3-5 lets us know that character is something that is formed. Character is the slippery one of the three because your character is a result of how you respond to life. Your character is a result of the disciplines you exercise in your life and then how those disciplines transform your experiences. Two critical disciplines are reading the Bible and prayer. In reading the Bible, we learn to see all of life through God's eyes and allow him to define reality. In prayer, we find comfort and wisdom as the Holy Spirit brings conviction, correction and guidance to our lives.

In Romans 5, Paul ties character to suffering. Suffering is the crucible that refines our character. Someone once said hard things in life can make you bitter or they can make you better. That is the character question. No one likes to suffer and, as a culture, we do everything we can to run from it, mask it, hide it and defer it. I'm not saying we should go out looking for difficulty in life but, we must remember that when it comes, God is not absent. He will use these experiences to transform our character if we embrace God in the midst of them.

What keeps you from reaching your full potential? There is a 66% chance it has to do mostly with you. What could you do to make a difference in your potential? It's never too late to invest in yourself. Start with your giftedness (if you aren't clear on this, ask someone who knows you well, they will be able to point you in the right direction), pursue learning so you can develop your skills, decide to be humble enough to allow God to transform your character - then join with him by exercising the appropriate disciplines (Philippians 2:12-13).

Where and when are you going to start?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Water

Jeremiah 2:12-13

Our thirst mechanism is one of the most finely tuned mechanisms we have in our body. When our body needs hydration, it lets us know it. Our body can tell us its thirsty but it doesn't control what we choose to drink.

The end of this month I am going to be running my first race in a long time. The last time I ran a race was in high school and it was 200 yards. (Yeah, I know they measure it in meters now but I'm OLD and, back in the day...). I purposefully chose the sprints because I hated the distance stuff. But, the end of the month I am going to run a half marathon. That would be 13.1 miles for the uninitiated. And it is a trail course so that means a fair amount of up and down. Should be fun. (http://www.brazenracing.com/bearcreektrail.html)

In running, it is important to "Obey your thirst." Water is truly life. And as much as the alcohol, sports drink and soft drink industries have tried to improve on just plain water, ultimately there isn't anything better. The water substitutes we are constantly marketed to purchase don't meet the need of that which we can get for free.

In the book of Jeremiah, God takes his people to task for two evils. God says that we should be "appalled, shocked and utterly desolate" that his people would do such a thing. What did they do? They rejected God's water.

Palestine had three sources of water: the best source of water was fresh water that flowed from a stream or a spring. It was called "living water" in Hebrew. Next was ground water that would be collected from digging a well. Lastly was run-off water that was collected in limestone holes in the ground that were plastered to protect from seepage.

God's condemnation was two-fold: first, they had traded the best water for the worst. They had traded fresh, living water for sludge pond water. Second, the holes they dug for their run-off water were cracked. In other words, they weren't even capable of holding any water.

The words are figurative to describe the trade-off God's people made. They traded the fresh, life-giving presence of God for that which was inferior and, ultimately faulty. There would be a day where they would seek to "Obey their thirst" and there would be nothing to drink because what they had created was cracked. Any life sustaining liquid collected had long ago seeped away.

We face a constant battle against forsaking what is best and creating faulty, cracked cisterns. They can be as simple as working too much - not trusting God's Sabbath principle of rest (which is an act of faith, trusting God to provide). Or they can be much deeper in trying to buy our relationships with our kids through possessions vs personal time or substituting porn or affairs for the true intimacy of a marriage.

As you read through the words of Jeremiah, it becomes clear that for the people of God in that time, they chased everything and everybody other than God.

We all thirst. It is the way we were created. What are you thirsting after? And what are you drinking?

John 4:10-14, John 7:37-38, Revelation 22:1-5

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Who's Looking You In The Eye?


I had a disturbing conversation yesterday. It still grieves me.

I learned that a former ministry buddy of mine had left his ministry, left his wife, left his kids. It seems he couldn't keep is pants zipped. Score one for Satan.

My friend is a great guy. A take-no-prisoners type of leader, focused, passionate and capable. He is really smart and insightful with the courage to make the hard calls and lead people forward. He had recently moved to a larger church and was leading forward with changes to help them be out-ward focused and reach their community. What went wrong?

A number of months ago I was talking with him at a conference we both attended. As we talked about his ministry and the things going on, I asked him who his friends were in his new town. I asked him who his accountability people were. He admitted that he really didn't have anyone but, he claimed, he and his wife were close so he talked with her. I remember telling him that wasn't sufficient. He needed a man in his life that he could talk to. The conversation ended.

The bottom line is this, my friend didn't have anyone to look him in the eye. And it wasn't because there wasn't anyone available. It was because he chose to live that way. Everyone needs someone to look them in the eye. At Cold Springs Church, one of the ways we tell people they need to Connect (the second part of our core process for spiritual growth) is to have a friend. We define a friend as someone you have given permission to speak truth into your life - and then they do it.

As I think about my friend and I think about my life, I am drawn back to Paul's words written in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. Paul reminds us of the example of the people of Israel and their failings. It is a warning to us - especially 1 Cor. 10:12 - and a promise to us - especially 1 Cor. 10.13.

If you don't have someone to look you in the eye, someone who will speak truth into your life, someone who will pray with you and for you, you are simply fooling yourself that you will escape the snare of Satan. NO ONE is so strong that they don't need their friends. And if you don't have those people in your life, don't be blaming anyone but yourself. It has been your choice to live that way. Fortunately, God's grace gives second chances. Every time we blow it in life there are consequences to pay. (Galatians 6:7-8) Make the right choice before the consequences bring destruction for you and pain for others.

And pray for my friend.

Loving Jesus Most. dc

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sacrifice


"I'm wondering," I said to Steve and Dawn, "do you see living and serving in Ethiopia as a sacrifice?"

It was at the end of our 10 day stay in Ethiopia. Steve and Dawn have lived in Ethiopia for 18 years, Steve teaching theology and training leaders, Dawn working for Bingham Academy to recruit staff to teach the 1-12 grade students. We hadn't had a shower for 3 days because there wasn't water in the city. They were going into rolling blackouts where there wouldn't be power for at least 3 days per week (but you didn't know which three days). Dawn had been sick for at least a month with an unknown illness that was causing severe abdominal pain. Their oldest son Jack was recovering from a ruptured appendix - no small thing in a country where major medical issues are dealt with outside of the country because of the level of health care.

Yet, I had met many SIM missionaries and most of them had been there a long time - 15 to 25 years. I met a couple of newer ones too. They had only been there a couple of years but were thriving in the midst of the challenges.

In talking with Steve and Dawn about my question, they confirmed my sneaking suspicion - the idea of living a sacrificial life was not what they dwelt upon. Because it wasn't a life of sacrifice, it was just life. It was the life that they were convinced God had called them to, equipped them for and confirmed them in. No doubt there is an awareness that living in Ethiopia means they don't have some things that other people have (like internet access faster than the occasional dial-up they get when the phones work).

I think we get a feeling that we are sacrificing when we try to compare our life with the life of those around us. And, the amazing thing is, we always compare ourselves to those we consider better off than we are. And then we think - "Oh! What a sacrifice this life of living for Jesus is!"

God's words from the Bible come to mind in this. Take a moment to read Romans 12:1-2. Everyone is called to live a life of sacrifice, if we are a follower of Christ. But we aren't supposed to sacrifice things. We are supposed to sacrifice ourself. It goes back to the Old Testament (and New Testament era) understanding of what worship involved. Judaism and other religions of the day used the sacrfice of animals in their worship ceremonies. The animals were dead. You and I, we are alive and that is what we are called to be - living sacrifices. We give of ourselves, voluntarily, laying ourselves on the altar of God to used in any way He chooses.

For some, that is an absolutely appalling, frightening thing. And it is that way because we don't very well trust God to do anything with us that would be much to our benefit or pleasure. But laying our lives on the altar of God to be used any way God sees fit is the pathway to the "good and acceptable and perfect" will of God. It seems to me that would be a pretty good place to be. I am all for good, acceptable and perfect! Those three words are also a pretty good beginning description of the character of God - a God you can trust.

Last Sunday I received an e-mail from Steve telling me they had finally diagnosed what was afflicting his wife. She has an ameoba living in her. They are very difficult to detect and very difficult to kill. Pray for Dawn to be healed quickly. She has a lot of things to do to live out that good, acceptable and perfect life that she gets the privilege of living in Ethiopia.

Living for God is not a sacrifice, it is a privilege. But it isn't necessarily challenge free.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On The Way




When you go to bed at 12:30 AM, 3:45 AM comes around really fast! The good news is everyone for the trip to Ethiopia remembered their passport and a clean change of underwear. Other than that, I'm not sure and I'm not asking!

I am sitting in Dulles International Airport in Washington DC. In another hour we will be boarding our flight to head to Frankfurt, Germany - our next stop. That flight is a little longer than the 4.5 hour flight from Sacramento to DC. From Frankfurt we will fly to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with a brief stop in Sudan.

As the team sat at dinner, discussing our experiences and expectations so far, we all agreed that what greets us will be vastly different than what we have been trying to imagine. For me, that is a part of the wonderful adventure of the trip. It really does cause us to trust in Jesus more than we normally do, when faced with the mysteries of life.

Dan Zacher sat beside a young woman who was questioning him about our trip. She asked him if we are conservative baptist people. From her question, it was obvious that it was not a good thing to be a conservative baptist person. I think it was safe to say that her question came out of some negative experiences and woundedness that still remained.

As we discussed how to respond to a question of that sort I shared with the team that those kinds of questions can have a tendency to put us on our heels. My response to her question would have looked something like this:
"We are a group of people who are trying to follow Jesus and to become more like Jesus. The thing that guides us in our understanding of who Jesus is (not was) and what he wants from our life is the Bible. We are honestly seeking to do what Jesus said was most important - to love God and love other people. What has been your experience of Jesus?"
We all have boxes we try to put people in so we can understand them. This young woman had a negative box and she was trying to figure out how we fit in that box. the thing I love about following God is he is the master "Box Smasher." Just when we think we have it all figured out, God reveals more of himself that makes us run and hide or run to him and embrace even more of his fullness. And then we have to once again admit we don't have God totally in our box.

One thing I am sure of - this trip will be a box smashing journey. We will see and experience God in ways we never dreamed of. Here is the really cool thing - you don't have to go to the other side of the world to have your box smashed! Every time you step out in a new way to trust God, your box will stretched, reshaped and possibly smashed! That is a good thing. We can't become more like Jesus without coming to know Jesus more deeply.

There is something I am clear on. On this trip I will receive much more than I will give. That's the way God works - you can't outgive him. But it is always an adventure to try!

As we travel on our journey across the world to serve God and people, I pray you will embrace your journey and walk across the room, the office or the street so you can see God in new ways too.

Tell you what - I'll pray for you as you pray for me. Only through God's power are we able to accomplish God's purposes.

More later...

dc

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Aha?


I’m going to round my numbers to make it a little easier: 3; 46; 11; 138; 1,518. Remember these numbers – they are really important!

I’ve been thinking about changed lives a lot lately. It is the vision of our church – Growing Transformed Lives – and it is the passion of my heart. But I have also at times become a little depressed, to be honest. I get depressed because it takes a small amount of self-evaluation to realize that I have a few issues of my own that aren’t fully in submission to Jesus! Which then makes me think more about transformation – how does it happen? Why do some people change but not others? How can I help people make the changes in their life? Is there a secret key to life transformation?

Do you remember the important numbers I started out with? Hey! You cheated! You looked above at the numbers. I told you to remember them – they are important! Here is what they mean: 3 talks per week, 46 weeks per year, 11 years of talks, 138 talks per year, 1,518 talks over the last 11 years. That is how many times I have “preached” since coming to CSCC. If you have listened to me at all over the last 11 years, how many of those talks do you remember?

OK – no email responses – I don’t want to fall into a deep depression!

Actually, the most important question is, “How many Aha! moments from God do you remember?” God is constantly trying to get our attention, He is constantly trying to direct us into paths of peace and blessing – but are we listening? An Aha! moment is a recognition of God’s voice and His leading.

If you do a search in the Bible on the word “remember” you will see it is used 237 times. It is an important word.

There has been research done to see what the difference is between people who know something and people who know something and then live differently because of that knowledge. You know what the key is? People who live transformed lives regularly, intentionally remember their Aha! moments.
So, the next time God speaks into your life, the next time you get a little spiritual nudge, the next time the light bulb goes on in your head take the time to write it down. And then, for the next three weeks, every day, read over that insight and then act accordingly. You will experience transformation.

God wants you to embrace His best for your life. It is a daily journey of recognizing His best and choosing to live that way. As you do that you will experience blessings from God and he will use you in incredible ways to be a blessing to others. Remember to join the journey today!

Peace and grace.

"Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. " (James 1:22-25, The Message)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Language Lessons


“I should note that you will have to work through a translator…”

THAT set my mind spinning.

The e-mail update from Steve Bryan, my friend from Ethiopia, was letting me know about some pastors’ training events I was going to be speaking at. I will have the privilege of working with the Kale Heywet Church, Ethiopia’s largest denomination, in their “Disciple-Making Pastor” project when our team goes to Ethiopia from March 10-22. This denomination has over 7,000 churches and there is a great need for the growth and development of pastoral leadership. I will be going to two different cities – Mizan Teferi and Jemma (check them out on Google Maps!) – and meet with a group of pastors in each city to talk about leadership and discipleship. That is pretty exciting! And then I read those words…

“I should note that you will have to work through a translator…”

As I have thought about this great adventure to Ethiopia, I have wrestled with what I should focus on in my teaching. I am painfully aware that the difference in cultures between Placerville and Ethiopia are vast. It is making me think about whether the things I do and teach in ministry are simply cultural or whether they transcend culture.

All ministry takes place in the context of a particular culture and when you think about Jesus’ church in the world, those cultures are extremely diverse. Yet, even though times, places, languages, cultures and people change the timeless message of the Gospel remains the same. How could that be?

“I should note that you will have to work through a translator…”

I go back to my friend’s words. The thought of speaking using a translator is a bit of a challenge. But I am reminded that it is actually how God speaks to us all the time. I am not left alone to try and figure out how I can contribute to those I will be with in Ethiopia. Long ago God has made a provision for our weakness. He has sent a translator.

John 14:26-27 (NIV)
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.“

Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”


It is a great comfort to me to be reminded that in any new, strange or uncomfortable place I might find myself, I am not alone. Through the Holy Spirit, God is speaking my language to encourage me, teach me and lead me.

And you, as well, should take comfort in the truth that you are not on your own. There is one who speaks the very words of God into your heart and mind that is forever with you. He will speak truth and lead you. Trust him.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

"You were a wuss."


wuss |woŏs|
noun informal
a weak or ineffectual person (often used as a general term of abuse). (Dictionary definition)

As we sat having our discussion over fried rice, hot tea, egg flower soup and curry shrimp, that was what my friend said to me: "You were a wuss."

Now let me tell you something - I have never been called a wuss to my face before. And, to tell you the truth, there was something about that statement that brought great delight to my soul.

What we were talking about when this profound insight was shared was some leadership failures on my part in dealing with people. My friend graciously pointed out that he didn't believe I was stupid, nor was I ignorant and unaware of what was going. He wasn't questioning my ability to address the issues I was up against. He was even confident I had what it took to help make positive steps forward. But I didn't. So he (rightly) assumed I chose the path of least resistance in that I wussed out. I chose to be weak and ineffectual instead of strong.

The proverbial slap in the face was a delight to me because I recognized I had a friend that truly cared about me that was sitting across from the table. He didn't wuss out when he could have by pointing out something that was obvious, true and uncomfortable. In that moment, my friend chose to be courageous.

Last Fall God pounded on me pretty hard in convicting me about the level of courage I was exhibiting in my life and leadership. An honest assessment made it clear that on a regular basis I was choosing to be safe instead of courageous. It was mostly about not speaking truth to myself and others when I knew it would be uncomfortable. And so, when I found myself in those situations, I would just let things slide until they faded into the background. The problem is, they never really fade away, they just fester.

Let me be clear, I'm not trying to justify being a jerk under the banner of courage. Some people "speak their mind" under the guise of "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) and really, they're just being jerks. No, I'm talking about those delicate and hard conversations we are sometimes called to have with others that will help them grow in their character and not-so-gently nudge them toward Christ-likeness. The kind of conversation my friend had with me.

For many years I have carried a laminated card in my wallet that has my personal values and vision written on it. "Courage" is right there (twice, actually). My friend wonderfully reminded me that I've still got a ways to go. It is my hope that I will live both a courageous life and a graceful life that I might reach my full potential in Christ and I might help others realize theirs, too. It is also my hope I will continue to have friends who won't wuss out on me when I need it and I will have the grace and wisdom to listen and learn from their courageous words.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Follow This Blog

Hey - wanna be notified when a new deep, amazing thought is shared? Look to the right and click where it says "follow this blog" and sign up. They tell me you won't get a bazillion spam messages - just a notification that says David has put something up on his blog site. Come on, make me feel like someone cares - follow my blog.

Why You NEED To Connect


One of the essential pieces of being a disciple of Jesus is to connect in authentic relationship with others. When we are at our greatest level of strength, we have connected on three levels.

The first level of connection we experience is in fellowship with others. This is where we worship together, learn together, gather together. A lot of people call this "going to church."

The second level of connection is family. Family is more intimate than fellowship. It is where we make the commitment to regularly spend time with a few people so that we know others and we become known. At our church we call this a small group.

The third level of connection is friendship. This is a one-on-one relationship where you give someone permission to speak truth into your life. It is built upon a high level of trust and the expectation of honesty and grace. This is the fulfillment of James' command to "confess your sins to one another and pray for each other that you may be healed." (James 5:16)

Most people who call themselves Christians stop at level 1 connection. It is a good place to start but a terrible place to stop. We experience God most deeply and grow most profoundly in the context of relationship. The level of relationship we experience in the fellowship context is minimal. It is in the family and friendship context that we really grow in relationship with God and others.

Here's the deal: if you are going to connect with family and friends it takes the willingness to make the tough choices to put those relationships as a priority. The true measure of what we value is shown in what we do, not in what we say. Real relationships require us to say "No" to the good things so we can say "Yes" to the best things.

I got an e-mail from a friend recently that spoke of her small group experience. She communicates why we NEED to connect.

"Dear Small Group friends,

Whenever I have thought or prayed about small groups it has always been in the context of the question: Why Small Groups? Some conclusions are a community of believers, spiritual/personal growth and missional outreach. I have read about and contemplated this subject a lot over the recent years both in ministry in Southern Calif and as it pertains to CSCC. I have been wanting to consider what are the things God wants me to bring to the proverbial small group table. What I did not expect to experience was the outpouring of grace, love and support that I have received from all of you.

My heart overflows with gratitude and love for each of you...

...And most of all- I know of your prayers. I appreciate your prayers. I ask for your prayers. And having people who are interested in praying for me is indeed an awesome thing.

In so many ways... you have all made a lasting impact on me. God has used you- my small group brothers and sisters- so very powerfully. All the reading, seminars, contemplation, etc... couldn't enlighten me better than you all have... Small group is one of God's most significant ways to show us His grace.

Thank you for doing life with me... even when life is messy. You are in my prayers. You are in my heart.

God bless you."
You can't get that on Sunday morning.

dc

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Free To Be A Slave

A friend of mine was arrested. It was a good thing.

It was not the first time he had been arrested but when he got out of prison this time, there seemed to be a genuine change in his life. When he was baptized in the American River in his jeans and t-shirt, the look on his face was one of joy, relief, transformation. And then he began to live that way as well. He worked hard for people, using his multiple talents and sheer determination to accomplish jobs in half of the time others would take. He started going to Bible Study with the guys on Monday mornings, he met with another group of guys to talk about how he was doing and what he was doing to continue to move forward. He served others, he honestly and courageously shared with others his path to destruction and his story of redemption. He began to trust others. Others trusted him. It was a joy to observe.

But then the cracks began to show. Some missed meetings happened. The joy and happiness that had been there wasn’t as evident anymore. Some of the friends he hung out with were some of the “old friends” from an old way of life. Bitterness got a foothold with feelings of under-appreciation that festered in his soul but never made their way to his lips so he could forgive and seek forgiveness. With old friends came some old habits…

I don’t know what finally tipped the scale for my friend because he lived in the balance for a while. But one day, he packed up his tools, stole his employer’s car and continued on to victimize those who had helped him the most. Then he disappeared.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus*. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2
Without a doubt, I believe my friend is a saved person. I believe he has faith in Jesus Christ and that he knows what freedom in Jesus Christ is and feels like. One day, I believe I will see him in heaven.

In my Bible there is a footnote on Romans 8:1. What that means is there are some early manuscripts that have a few more words added onto that verse. What scholars surmise is these words were an editorial comment of clarification. The additional words say this “*…who walk not according to the flesh (but according to the Spirit).”

My friend is a condemned man by the State of California. He had not served all his time for his past transgressions and some of his new ones will be easily proven. He will go to prison, perhaps for a long time.

My friend’s story raises all kinds of theological questions, particularly in light of Romans 8:1-2. Is there now no condemnation for him?

Freedom is a really popular word. For most, an understanding of freedom means they can do whatever they want when they want to do it. It is a silly thought because it doesn’t take a whole lot of thought to recognize that definition of freedom isn’t true for anyone. But still, many people live by that belief.

Jesus will set a person free, it is what his grace is all about. But it isn’t a freedom to do anything, anytime, anywhere, to anybody. In the Bible Paul ridiculed the idea that we should sin a whole lot so we can get a whole lot of grace.

Jesus’ freedom sets us free to be “slaves of righteousness” (read Romans 6). We are set free so we can enter slavery. Now here’s the kicker: God cares more about my internal slavery than my external freedom. The safest place for me to be is in accountable, caring, loving slave relationships so I can remain free. Slave relationships like marriage, friendship, church membership, small group bible study, disciplined daily times alone with God praying and reading the Bible. I place myself under authority – I choose to be a slave – so I can be free. Sometimes I don’t like it because, truth be told, I want to do what I want, when I want, where I want, whenever I want. But thankfully a slave doesn’t have that option, so as long as I live the life of a slave, I remain free.

My friend’s supposed external freedom has been taken away by the State of California. My prayer is he will find his freedom again in prison. My prayer is he will once again become a slave to righteousness and no longer live as a slave to sin.

Also, I am sobered by the reminder that I daily have the freedom to choose to live a life of slavery so I can remain free. And that my friend and I are not so different from one another that God would not remove my freedom so I could find my freedom in Him.