Freedom!

Freedom!

The Fourth of July is just around the corner. It’s actually been my favorite holiday to celebrate for as long as I can remember. There is just something special about it. In fact, when Kelley and I first got engaged, we had planned to get married on July 4, 2009, but due to some employment issues for both of us at the time, we had to postpone that date. 

I don’t know if it’s the fireworks, the food, the fact that it’s summer, or a combination of it all that makes it my favorite to celebrate. One of the biggest factors, however, is obvious. It’s celebrating this nation’s birth. Our freedom. This country was founded on the idea of freedom. And while some of that freedom seems to be under attack today, we still stand proudly as a free nation.

We have the freedom to have the jobs that we want, to live where we want, to own whatever type of vehicle that we can afford, to travel around the country, and most importantly to me, to practice religion openly and freely. That’s what the colonists came here from Europe for. Religious freedom.

But it’s not this nation that gives us true freedom. As much as I love this country, and celebrate the freedom we have, our true freedom comes from a relationship with Jesus. Jesus, with His willing sacrifice on the cross, and God bringing Him back to life, set us free from the constraints of sin. We now only have to accept this freedom. And that should be what we celebrate more on the Fourth of July, and every other day of the year, for that matter.

Freedom found in Christ doesn’t necessarily mean that we are free to do absolutely anything that we want, but neither does the freedom that we have as Americans. We are free to choose, but there are consequences for our actions. Jesus set us free from being slaves to sin, but that means we have to walk away from sin. We are still going to mess up and sin, but it means that we are not controlled and constrained by sin anymore. 

I remember when this first clicked for me. It was such a freeing and exhilarating experience. Sin still tries to reign us in and control us, but as Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:13-14; “For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are free, but we should not use this freedom to continue to sin. That is Paul’s thrust in Romans 6 when he writes about not continuing to sin so that God’s grace would increase. We are free from sin, and should use that freedom to become more and more like Christ, not continue in our sin. 

If you’ve never realized the freedom that we have found in Christ, I encourage you to dig in and study this idea. It is such a freeing experience. Jesus has not only paid the price for our sins, He has broken the chains that sin has had on our lives. While I remember when I realized this freedom for the first time, it is something I long to help others experience. I’ve had the privilege of helping others make that realization in the past, and I don’t know that there is anything better other than a first time confession of Christ. 

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate the Fourth of July and the freedom that we have in this country. I’ll still be celebrating that this year. There is nothing wrong with that. There are a lot of great things about this country. But what I am arguing is that we should be celebrating the freedom that we have found in our identity as a Christ follower above and beyond celebrating this country. We are free in this country. But even if those freedoms get stripped away, if you are a Christ follower, then you are still truly free.

Jesus stated in John 8:34-38; “34 Jesus responded, ‘Truly I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 A slave does not remain in the household forever, but a son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you really will be free. 37 I know you are descendants of Abraham, but you are trying to kill me because my word has no place among you. 38 I speak what I have seen in the presence of the Father; so then, you do what you have heard from your father.’”

There is Still Good in This World

If you look at the media or even social media sites today, you could literally think the world is falling apart. There is so much negativity, arguing, blaming, and just flat out nastiness being thrown around. And it gets really heavy at times if you let it.

Depending on where you look, the two sides in American politics are blaming each other and claiming that the other side is trying to destroy America. Either “they” are going to come take all the guns, or “they” just want this country to turn into the wild west where we just go around shooting anyone we disagree with. Either “they” want to turn this country into a socialist nation, or “they” only care about the rich getting richer. I could go on, but getting too much into politics just drives me crazy.

But it’s not just in politics that you see all of the negativity. It even boils over into sports, something that should be a fun past time. Arguments over which team is the best, or even worse, arguments from fans of the same team because they don’t think the organization made the right decisions. I love my TN Volunteers, but I cannot stand to read comments on fan groups on Facebook most of the time. They are either calling for a particular coach to be fired, complaining about how a certain team is playing, or finding something else to complain about. They forget that the men’s basketball team made it into the “Sweet 16” for the first time in a long time. They just had one of the best seasons in school history, yet there is always something to complain about.

And if you’re anything like me, all this negativity that fills our society today weighs really heavy at times. I don’t know exactly why, but part of my personality sees all the little negative things taking place and forgets that there are still great things going on in this world. I have to purposefully look for the good. So, that’s my challenge for you this month. What are some good things that are taking place in your life, in your town, state, this country, or around the world? Find them. Focus on them. Yes, we have to deal with negatives sometimes, but we need to focus on the positives.

In fact, I truly believe this world is in a better place than what the media would have us believe. They focus only on the negative, very rarely giving us any good or positive news. There is a quote attributed to comedian Rob Schneider that I believe has a lot of truth in it. He says, “If you turn off the news and just talk to your neighbors you’ll find that our great country is far more harmonious than you’re being told.” I’m not saying there are not problems. There are. But what are good things that are going on?

So here is my answer to the challenge I laid out for you. There are a lot of positives taking place, especially here in Canton. One of our own led the SWOSU Lady Bulldogs to second place in the nation in NCAA Division II Basketball. While they didn’t win the final game, they turned in a magical season, and had this whole area united in pulling for them. 

There are groups of students preparing to clean areas of our town. And speaking of our town, I can honestly say that I have never lived in a more generous community. If anyone is in need of anything, it seems that the need is taken care of immediately. Now let me get to some specifics.

We had a “love” offering for our summer intern, Kody Haas, to help with some car needs he has. This church body stepped up and gave around $2,000 to help him out. Kelley was trying to sell turtle backpacks to donate to kids battling cancer at Children’s in OKC. In just over a week, this town stepped in and bought ten backpacks that we were able to personally deliver (unfortunately, we did not get to give them directly to the kids).

But most of all, I want to highlight the most positive, good news of all. In the last few weeks, we have seen two young people give their life to Christ! That’s what this is all about. That is why our church exists; to make other disciples. And it should be celebrated every time it happens. In view of that, I want to take a minute and say congratulations to Maddy Acre and Nate Lang on making the best decision of your lives.  This church body celebrates with you, and we commit to helping you in your walk with Jesus. But I also want to thank you. Thank you for reminding us that there are good, positive things happening in our world, and especially here in our community!

Let’s Have Some Joy!

A few weeks ago, Kelley and I had an opportunity to attend a concert that we had always wanted to see, but never had been able to. And it wasn’t your normal concert either. We’ve seen a lot of Christian musicians over the years, and while there was some music involved, that was not the focus of the evening. Who did we see? A man by the name of Tim Hawkins.

If you aren’t familiar with that name, Tim is one of the most well known Christian comedians around. We’ve watched his videos for years, so when we found out he was going to be at a church in OKC in January, we just could not pass it up. It was a great date night, with dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and then on to the show.

We went in expecting a good night, and lots of laughs. The night, however, exceeded our expectations. Tim Hawkins put on one of the best shows I have ever seen. My ribs were almost hurting from laughing harder and longer than I had in a long time. If you ever get a chance to see him live, I would highly recommend taking advantage of it.

You might be wondering why I’ve taken so much space in the newsletter talking about a date night that Kelley and I had over a month ago. I have a point, so stick with me for just a minute. First, dating doesn’t stop when you’re married. Marriage is a lot of work, and taking the time to intentionally spend time with one another is so important in strengthening that relationship.

My main reason for writing about our experience with Tim Hawkins is something else though. I want to encourage all of us to find joy and laughter as much as we can. I’m not talking about overlooking difficult times and pretending that nothing ever goes wrong. That would be lying to ourselves and others. But as Christ followers, we should be enjoying life, as long as we are keeping God in His proper place and not finding enjoyment in things that go against His word.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in how hard being a Christ follower is. And there are difficulties in following Jesus. But that doesn’t mean that we should only focus on the hard. Yes, there is work to do in sharing Jesus with others that don’t know Him yet. But there is freedom and joy that should be found in our relationship with Jesus. In fact, I would argue that Christ followers should be the most joyful, cheerful, positive people in this world.

Taking time to laugh at good, clean humor is therapeutic. I am convinced that God has a sense of humor, and that is why we enjoy laughter so much. And as we were recently reminded at the end of Sunday school by Joyce Robison; “We all need to walk around with a smile on our face.”

Hate Thought it Won

Hate thought it won 17 years ago today. That’s what drove people to fly planes into buildings. And they thought they would destroy what they hated. Buildings came down. People lost their lives. For a few moments, it seemed that hate had won. As a senior in high school, I watched all the coverage, and I was numb.

It was a beautiful, crisp, fall like day in east TN when I got the news about what had taken place. The blue sky outside didn’t seem to fit what was happening in the world. And again, it seemed that hate would win. But then the unimaginable happened. People started to rally around one another. But it was bigger than that. They started to rally around each other, but at churches. This nation turned to God.

And hate doesn’t win when we come to God. People in crisis came to God all across this country, trying to make sense of what happened in NYC, Washington D.C., and a field in PA. And hate was defeated. At least momentarily. As lives got back to normal, people decided they didn’t need to rally to God any longer (human nature took over). Until the end comes, hate will always try to win.

Hate thought it had ultimately won some 2,000 years ago, on a hillside outside of Jerusalem, when Jesus Christ was crucified. Hate celebrated that day. The Son of God was killed by humans, and hate thought it had won the victory. And, from the outside looking in, it appeared that was the case. The sky grew dark. Jesus was dead. His followers were devastated. All hope seemed to be gone.

BUT! Three days later, Jesus walked out of that tomb, raised back to life through the power of God. He defeated death. He defeated sin. He defeated hate. And the best news we could ever have is that those defeats are permanent. Yes, death, sin, and hate will continue to think they can win and will try to bring us down. But Jesus defeated them through His death and resurrection. Those that place their hope and trust in Him, no matter how hard life gets, know that the victory is already won. And it’s not through their power, but through the power of the ONE who created everything.

Hate may think it can win. It may have thought it won on 9-11-01. It definitely thought it won when Christ was crucified. But it was ultimately defeated through the same act that it tried to conquer. Because of that, it can never truly win. Trust in Jesus. No matter how bad life gets, as Christ followers we have hope. The victory is set. The war is won. Stay faithful in the battle. HATE DOESN’T WIN!

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Happy Father’s Day

Earlier this month was the anniversary of my dad’s death. Nineteen years since I’ve been able to talk to him. And I’m not writing this in an attempt to say “woe is me” because I don’t have a dad. I’m very grateful for the fifteen years that I was able to have with him before he died. He was a great dad, though not perfect, because none of us are.

Dad

So as I sit here and think about Father’s Day, I want to wish him a Happy Father’s Day. I miss him every day, but again, I am thankful for the time that I had with him and the lessons he taught me. He instilled a love and importance in me for my relationship with Jesus. He showed me what it meant to be a husband and a father.

But I was just fifteen when he died. I still had a lot of lessons to learn (and still do for that matter). As an only child, I didn’t have an older brother to help along the way. But I did have some other men that stepped into my life and made sure I had that father figure in my life. They never pretended or intended to take the place of my dad, but they made sure I wasn’t on my own either. So, as I say Happy Father’s Day today to all you dads out there, I want to take a minute to acknowledge some men that stepped in and helped fill a hole in my life. If it wasn’t for these men, I don’t think I would be the man or minister I am today.

Thank you Tom Berry, Tom Tucker, Barry Tolley, Curtis Booher, Clint Andrews, and my father-in-law Kevin Whitsett.

You all took an interest in me at different times and made sure that I had positive male role models to look to when needed. While I hope my dad is proud of me and who I’ve become, I hope the same from each of you. I wouldn’t be the Crosseyed Jesus Freak without you all!

If you read this and you know any of these men I mentioned, please share this with them. Most of them are not on social media.

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A Reminder: Why We Do What We Do

God did it again. I really shouldn’t be surprised, but He never ceases to amaze me. This past week was a little rough. It came at a time that I had purposefully taken some time away to reconnect and refresh my relationship with God. When I came back from that time, it just seemed like there was just some things working against me to get me down.

I was feeling a little discouraged in my ministry. Nothing big. But a few small things were popping up here and there and I let that distract me from all of the good things that were happening. Then, on top of all of that, NW Oklahoma caught on fire. It hasn’t really hit the Canton area, at least not yet. But there is devastation to the west of us. People losing homes, fields, farms, entire herds, and even a couple of lives, with no real end in sight unless we get some rain.

All of this just led to even more discouragement. That’s what I felt when I woke up this morning (Sunday). I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I just felt down. So I spent a lot of time asking God to help my attitude and to be able to preach with conviction. I didn’t want to let a little discouragement to cause me to just go through the motions, which I tend to do every now and then.

As our service ended this morning, and people were leaving, I finally understood why I had been feeling the way I was feeling. The enemy didn’t want me on my game today. He wanted me to just go through the motions or to phone it in. I had noticed while I was preaching that a couple of teens were in the back and seemed pretty emotional. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on, but I quickly found out.

They were both feeling the call to give their lives to Jesus and surrender to Him in baptism. After the service was over, I was able to talk with them about why they wanted to be baptized and to get things ready for tonight. They didn’t even want to wait until next Sunday. So as I write this, our baptistry is getting filled, and during our adult evening service tonight, we will have two new sisters in Christ and they surrender their lives to Christ through the act of baptism. (This won’t be published until Monday morning, so celebrate with us after the fact!)

That’s God’s perfect time again. That’s God reminding me that this is why I have given my life to serving Him. Watching these two girls come to an understanding of who Jesus is and what He has done for them makes all of the down times worth it. There is nothing better this side of heaven than getting to be a part of someone giving their life to Jesus. All the struggle, all the discouragement, all the restless nights are made worth it when we get to be a part of someone finally understanding that Jesus is the only thing that is worth anything in this life.

As I was talking with these two this morning, I congratulated them and then reminded them that this was the best decision that they were ever going to make in their entire lives. And that is all the encouragement I need to carry on in this calling of ministry that I have in my life. Even a Crosseyed Jesus Freak needs that reminder occasionally, so if you’re reading this and feeling discouraged in your walk with Jesus or in your ministry, take heart. There is a reason we do what we do. We have a Savior that loves us and died on the cross for us. That is the only chance that anyone has, so share Him with any and all who will listen! It’s all worth it in the end!

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We Live in a Broken World

My heart aches. In fact, it is breaking for our brothers and sisters in a little town in Texas right now. I’m sure most of you have heard by now of the most recent senseless shooting to take place in our country. This time, a church was targeted, and the casualties are staggering. At the time I am writing this, there are 26 confirmed dead, and around the same number injured. The age range of those killed seems to be from 5 years old and up (Now reports are saying the youngest death was 18-months). And why? 

I don’t know exactly why this particular person decided to open fire at this particular church. But I do know the answer to ‘why’. We live in a broken world. We live in a world that is consumed by our sinful nature. We live in a world where we try to handle things on our own, leaving God out of the equation. The evidence of this is all around. Most recently in Las Vegas, New York City, and now, a small community in Texas just outside of San Antonio.

This tragedy has another answer to it as well. It’s not just because we live in a broken world. It’s because, as Christ followers, we will be persecuted. Things like this, while tragic, should not surprise us. I’m not condoning this type of action. Not by any means. But Jesus told us that the world would hate us because of Him. John 15:18 states,

‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.’

So how should we respond? We have to put our trust in Jesus. We need to invite God back into the equation. And we should treat those that hate us because we follow Christ with the love of Christ. Easier said than done. I get that. But that is the way we need to respond. Jesus said in the next chapter of John 16:33,

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’

Pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Texas, and all those that have been hurt, whether physically or emotionally, by this senseless tragedy. Pray for the shooter’s family. Pray that Jesus may return soon. But also pray for ways that we can be a light in this dark and broken world. This side of eternity, there will be problems. There will be troubles. But we have Jesus’ promise and reminder that He has overcome the world!

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