This session, as the bright ones among you may have guessed, is about freedom..
Why? Well, God prompted me to do this session. Inspired by the words of a British journalist called 'Martin Bashir' who I recently heard saying that people in the UK don't like organised religion because they want the freedom to believe what they want and not have to obey a set of rules.
So what's my reaction? Questions: Are people free? What rules are these? What is freedom anyway? You see, my contention (belief) is that there is no such thing as freedom by believing and doing whatever you want.
So let's put this to the test. Let's work together with the young people we work with, to find out..
To look at freedom. Get the game called 'Beat The Bleep' (that's it's name in the latest Argos catalogue). It's the game where you have to guide a kind of 'metal wand' around a small metal twisty circuit without the metal 'wand' touching the metal circuit causing it to bleep.
The explanation is that you win if you follow the rules and successfully guide the metal wand around without the thing bleeping at you. Now, you have the choice to ignore the rules and make it bleep - but this way you lose. Same with freedom. Freedom comes not from doing what you want but living within God's guidelines.
From Forrest Gump where 'Jenny' is dying, we presume that it's from AIDS. Explain that Jenny has lived it up, taken drugs and probably slept around - for various reasons (some we can understand) but this 'freedom' has also caused her death.
Talks a lot about freedom. Let's look:
Galatians 5.13 - Paul is speaking.. 'My brothers and sisters, God called you to be free, but do not use your freedom as an excuse to do what pleases your sinful self. Serve each other with love.'
List what you think Paul is saying in Chapter 5 of Galatians..
This is what I think Paul is saying in this Bible chapter:
1. In Christ, we have freedom. This is the only true freedom there is.
2. We cannot achieve 'freedom' by obeying a whole set of rules. In fact we lose our freedom.
3. Your freedom in Christ does not mean freedom to do whatever you like.
4. Freedom means being led by the Holy Spirit and not by selfish desires.
5. The Holy Spirit (love) and the spirit of self(-ishness) are completely opposite.
6. If you're a disciple of Jesus it means you have died to your selfishness and instead live for Jesus.
Let's look at the arguments people use against Christianity, saying it restrains freedom:
1. People say that religion is all about rules
In some ways this is true. The religions of Islam and Judaism are especially 'rule-based' which means they believe to please God you need to obey certain rules. So strict Jews have things they won't do on a Sabbath (like our Sunday) and Muslims should pray 5 times a day at set times.
But let's look at The Bible and Christianity.
First, Christianity is not a religion. It is not about following a set of rules. Unlike any other 'god', the real God in heaven is not necessarily pleased with sacrifice and rules (see Hosea 6.6). Instead God is merciful (kind) and we get into the Kingdom of God in a very unusual way - through God's kindness and not through anything we do (opposite to the false religions of Islam, Judaism, Jehovah's Witnesses etc.). For this read Romans 3.23-24.
Secondly, the Bible even tells us that following religious rules won't get us into heaven - see Galatians 5.1.
Thirdly, we are inspired not by rules but by the love of God in our hearts. So when Christians decide to help others, when they decide not to have sex before marriage etc. it is not because they are obeying 'rules' but allowing the love of Jesus and the Holy Spirit to shape their thinking to how God wants (but doesn't force) us to think. Simple!
The Bible says in 1 John 3.16-18, 'This is how we know what real love is: Jesus gave his life for us. So we should give our lives for our brothers and sisters. Suppose someone has enough to live on and sees a brother or sister in need but does not help. Then God's love is not living in that person. My children, we should love people not only with words and talk, but by our actions and true caring for them.'
Also, our living for Jesus and obedience to him is an expression of love.
1 John 2.3-6: 'We can be sure that we know God if we obey his commands. Anyone who says, 'I know God' but does not obey God's commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if someone obeys God's teaching, then in that person God's love has truly reached its goal. This is how we can be sure we are living in God: whoever says that he lives in God must live as Jesus lived.'
Hard stuff but very clear. And we find out how to live for Jesus by reading and obeying the Bible.
2. What is freedom?
For this read Romans 3.23-24 again. Here we learn something of what freedom actually is. Does it mean a nation becoming independent? Does it mean going out at night and not having a curfew by parents? Does it mean becoming 18 and being legally allowed to have sex and drink alcohol? Erm, no. Sorry.
'Verse 24 tells us that freedom is freedom from sin. So, again, this sounds upside down. Surely freedom means doing what we want. But the Bible tells us that freedom is the ability to live our lives for Jesus and increasingly not do things that are sinful and selfish.
3. But surely we can't have freedom if we are living for God and not ourselves?
But there is no such thing as freedom by living for ourselves. That's a myth that Satan puts around. You see, why is the world so messed up? Because of people exercising their 'freedom' to do whatever they want. And the result is? Not having freedom. You see, people talk about freedom but not responsibility. People talk about freedom but not about the cost.
Let's look at an example or two:
- I can say that I have freedom to have sex with anyone I want to have sex with - after all it's my life. But there is a price to pay. I may get a sexually transmitted disease. In fact, it's very likely. I may get a girl pregnant. I may then decide not to have anything to do with the baby. The baby may get aborted. The girl may feel dumped and hurt. I may get HIV. I may infect a girl with HIV. So is that freedom?
- I decide that I have the freedom to do what I want. So if I want to murder someone that's OK. Yet, there is a heavy price to may for murder. The weight of living with the killing, the consequences for families, prison, being judged guilty before God.
So there is no such thing as freedom to do whatever we want. We often hear people who fought in World War II say they paid the price so that we can enjoy freedom from the Nazis. And they're right. But there was a price paid.
When Jesus came to the earth, lived a perfect life, obeyed God, died on the cross and then rose again to go back to be with God in heaven, to return again some day.. that was the price that Jesus paid for our freedom. He gives us the opportunity to accept him as being lord (in charge) of our lives so that we can be completely set free from sin and evil (ultimately).
4. Let's look at the flip side and other kinds of freedom that God brings..
By obeying God, I choose not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to be dishonest. This gives me freedom from prison, from breaking up families and marriages. It also gives me freedom in terms of paying less tax, insurance and other things we currently pay because people are dishonest and steal and because people do kill and cause harm. So in fact we see that living for Jesus brings freedom, doesn't limit freedom.
But we have freedom from Jesus in many other ways. For example, freedom not to worry. When we live for Jesus and commit fully to him, look to him for our every need - it can free us from the worries of the world. Why worry about money when you know God will provide? Why worry about how you look if you know that God looks at your heart and that one day you'll be with God in heaven. This is very hard to think about but living in the centre of God's will can bring us this kind of freedom.
Freedom from suffering and more. Not to say that we won't suffer. But there are times when by us bringing Jesus to others we can help alleviate (end or minimise) suffering in others.
Let's think of some examples and add our own:
- Compassion of Jesus motivates people like Tearfund to give farmers fair prices for their coffee
- Jesus can deliver people from demons and set them free from inner pain and torture
- We can share God's love with the hurting and oppressed and set them free from loneliness and fear
- We can call on the name of Jesus to heal some people and free them from their suffering
- We can speak encouragement into the lives of others and free them from discouragement
- We can support someone through a tough time and free them from helplessness
These are just some of the many ways that Jesus brings freedom to others through us.
"I try to think happy thoughts to put myself in a good mood. It usually works. If all else fails, there's shopping."
- Actress/singer Hilary Duff, YM, October 2003
"Throughout my life, I've had the heartbreaking experiences of family and friends fall the victim of alcohol and drugs."
- Priscilla Presley (Elvis widow), quoted by the Associated Press, September 21, 2003
"I think I always thought being a star would make everything okay. Make you loved, make you this or that. But as time went on I found out that just wasn't true."
- Hal Riddle, 83 year old retired actor, Entertainment Weekly, September 19, 2003
"There are so many complexities involved in love that people just don't talk about. There are all these sayings, like, 'Love will set you free'. They seem so definite, but I don't think there are definites."
- Thursday singer Geoff Rickly, Spin, November 2003
Other Bible Verses
See Matthew 6:25-34 and Philippians 4:6, 'Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.'
Life in Christ is freedom from worry - Christ has finished it in every situation in your life (see John 19:30). Give it over to Jesus - Phillipians 4:7 - he will give you his peace.