Stand firm!

Today’s devotional thought:

Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

Before walking out of jail a free man in February, Albert Woodfox spent 43 years almost without pause in an isolation cell, becoming the longest standing solitary confinement prisoner in America. He had no view of the sky from inside his 6 foot by 9 foot concrete box, no human contact, and taking a walk meant pacing from one end of the cell to the other and back again.

Then in April 2016 he found himself on a beach in Galveston, Texas, in the company of a friend. He stood marveling at all the beachgoers under a cloudless sky, and stared out over the Gulf of Mexico as it stretched far out to the horizon. "You could hear the tide and the water coming in," he says. "It was so strange, walking on the beach and all these people and kids running around."

Of all the terrifying details of Woodfox's four decades of solitary incarceration … perhaps the most chilling aspect of all is what he says now. Two months after the state of Louisiana set him free on his 69th birthday, he says he sometimes wishes he was back in that cell.

"Oh yeah! Yeah!" he says passionately when asked whether he sometimes misses his life in lockdown. "You know, human beings … feel more comfortable in areas they are secure. In a cell you have a routine, you pretty much know what is going to happen, when it's going to happen, but in society it's difficult, it's looser. So there are moments when, yeah, I wish I was back in the security of a cell." He pauses, then adds: "I mean, it does that to you." [Ed Pilkington, "43 years in solitary: There are moments I wish I was back there," The Guardian (4-29-16)]

They don’t tell you that when you come to Christ, when you die to self and are raised to walk in newness of life, the dead you reaches back from the grave. That self, the old you, is like a jail cell. You were a slave to sin. It had mastery over you--confining you, hemming you in, directing your choices and path--but when you became a follower of Jesus he says, “You are free!” And it can be like standing before a vast vista and marveling at the vision before you. Where once you were blind now you see. Not only is the view majestic, sweeping and surreal, it is also a bit frightening. Freedom can be disorienting, perhaps a little scary. And the familiarity and comfort of the cell will call your name. This is has been the reality since Peter preached at Pentecost and started the church of Jesus.

Did you think you were the only one who struggled overcoming some secret sin? That those Christians that seem to have it all together are some how above you, better than you and you could never achieve their level of spiritual success? The truth of sin is that the ground at the foot of the cross is level. We all must stand there as sinners. Therefore, we all will hear a call to return to the cell of our old selves. Paul’s advice? “Hang in there. Don’t give in. Don’t give up. Stand firm.” You will never be sinless but you will sin less. Christianity is a journey and any journey can only be judged after some ground has been covered. One day you will look back and marvel. One day you will look at yourself and the person you were before Christ will be the stranger. Stand firm!

Prayer: Our Holy Father, help us to stand firm, help us to remember the horrors of our sin. You are holy. Help us to be more like You today than we were yesterday. Help us to give you glory by the choices we make, the words we use and the lives we live. May You receive all the glory You are due. In Jesus name, amen.

I am a Christian...

Today's thought:

Matthew 9:10-13, "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eatwith tax collectors and sinners?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."

Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

When I heard what he said I winced, "You Christians are such 'Holier than thou,' types." I smiled sadly. "No," I said. "we're just so pathetic that we're desperate enough to admit how much we need God."

There is this bizarre perception, this age old myth, that Christians have some sort of superiority complex. Once you know some genuine Christians this becomes laughable. The 'holier than thou' types of Jesus' day were the religious leaders, the Pharisees, and Jesus blasted this group more than any other. In fact it was the only group He did attack. "You brood of vipers..." (Matthew 23:33). "You whitewashed tombs..." (Matthew 23:27). Jesus said, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). Not much has changed in 2000 years. Jesus is still looking for the pathetic, the broken, the head cases, the addicts, the helpless sinners, the homeless and the hopeless. That's how come He found us, we Christians.

Actually, what they really mean to point to is the exclusive claims of Christ. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). But there is an important difference between Jesus exclusive claims ("I am the only way to God")—which would be true if He was who he said He was because truth is exclusive by nature—and Jesus inclusive offer of salvation. Remember how pathetic we are and you'll understand how easy it was to dismiss the other law based faiths with their myriad of laws, rules and regulations that we haven't got a chance to keep. If you understand who we are you understand why karma doesn't sit well with us. After all, we don't need some moral law we can't keep. We've tried to change ourselves a million times and failed a million-and-one. We've just failed so often, so spectacularly, that we know what we need. We need a Savior!

So, when I say that, “I am a Christian,” I am not shouting that I am clean living. I'm whispering that, “I was lost, but now I'm found and forgiven.”

When I say that, “I am a Christian,” I don't speak of this with pride. I confess that I stumble and need Christ to be my guide.

When I say that, “I am a Christian,” I'm not trying to be strong. I'm professing that I'm weak and need His strength to carry on.

When I say that, “I am a Christian,” I'm not bragging of success. I'm admitting I have failed and need God to clean my mess.

When I say that, “I am a Christian,” I'm not claiming to be perfect. My flaws are far too visible, but God believes I am worth it.

When I say that, “I am a Christian,” I still feel the sting of pain. I have my share of heartaches, so I call upon His name.

When I say that, “I am a Christian,” I'm not holier than thou. I'm just a simple sinner who received God's good grace, somehow! (By an anonymous sinful Christian)

If that's you—if you too are a failure in your moral life, and know how easy it is for you to mess up your life; if life has leveled you to the point you know you can't stand on your own two feet before a holy God; if you're a screw up, a stumbler, a falling down mess—have I got the perfect One for you! Jesus. He's the only One who wants us sinners. He said, "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly" (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message). That's what I need. How about you?

Prayer: Father, we know we're chosen because the perfect people wouldn't come. We are still grateful to come, eager to come. We've tried to change ourselves from the outside in but failed so often we know we need Your power to change us from the inside out. We are sinners in need, not of yet another moral law we can't keep, but a Savior. We humbly fall before Your cross, Lord Jesus, and accept by faith what You were willing to do for us who were unable to do it for ourselves. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! In Jesus name, amen.