Thoughts on Freedom and Easter

It’s one of those things we as Americans prize very, very highly. In fact, Americans prize freedom above almost all else. In the past we have proven that we will even die to ensure freedom for those we love.

But we find ourselves living in a time when that precious gift – freedom – has been largely taken away from us by an invisible enemy no one had heard of until about a month ago.

The novel Coronavirus – or COVID-19 –  was not part of the American vocabulary until about 30 days ago, and yet it has changed life as we know it. It has put our lives into a freeze frame…a full stop…a worldwide time out…which has brought economies and societies to their knees.

We yearn for freedom and at the same time we mourn its loss.

But this involuntary time out may be giving us the opportunity to think deeply about the freedoms that, until now, many of us took for granted.

What is freedom…really?

We know that freedom is more than simply the ability to do whatever we wish to do on a whim.

Tony Evans says you can choose your actions or you can choose your consequences, but you can’t choose both.

You are free to eat a gallon of ice cream every day, but in doing so you become a slave of obesity. You can drink a fifth of whiskey every night, but in doing so you lose the freedom of sobriety. You are free to max out your credit card to buy whatever your heart desires, but in doing so you become a slave of debt.

So in a sense, true freedom is  choosing what we’ll be enslaved to so that we’ll enjoy a corresponding freedom.

An athlete chooses to enslave himself to practice so that he’ll enjoy the freedom of a great performance at game time.

An artist chooses to enslave herself to years of training, practice, and work so that one day she’ll enjoy the freedom of her life’s creation.

A scholar enslaves himself to the book so that one day he might be free to teach the text.

Parents enslave themselves to the needs of their children so they might be free to raise the family they wish to have.

So, freedom is not simply the freedom from something so much as it is the freedom to do something meaningful. Something important. Something significant.

But there’s another aspect to freedom…all of us long to be free from things that burden us so we can be free to live a worry-free life.

We want to be free from worry.

We want to be free from fear.

We want to be free from a wasted life.

We want to be free from death.

Yet we also long to be free to be the person… that best person… we were created to be.

Whether or not we put it in these exact words, I believe we long to fulfill the image of God within us. We long to be free to be all that God created us to be.

You cannot be free to be who you want to be or to do what you want to do when you are controlled by fear. Just think about the fears on nearly everyone’s mind today:

  1. Fear of social disruptions caused by the Coronavirus
  2. Fear of economic uncertainty caused by the Coronavirus
  3. Fear of health risks caused by the Coronavirus
  4. Fear of death caused by the Coronavirus

The sudden onset of the Coronavirus pandemic has shaken us all and taken away many of our freedoms.

Now, I am actually optimistic about our economic and societal future, because I believe in America and the American experiment. We can all agree that it's not perfect! But I believe America is the freest and most just society ever; and I believe it is the society most conducive to human flourishing that has ever existed.

Given that, I’m optimistic in our ability to come together and overcome the societal and economic challenges presented to us by this Coronavirus.

But what about health? Not so much America’s health, but my health. And your health.

Well, I’m feeling optimistic about that too. I just had a great workout this morning and I feel really good.

But… I heard Todd Wagner say something recently that stopped me in my tracks.

He said, “Good health is the slowest path to a certain death.” (repeat) Ouch.

But it's true, isn’t it?

As part of my work as a financial advisor, I have conversations all the time with people about the intersection of their lives and their money. And inevitably those conversations are about life; but they’re also about death. And sometimes someone will say something like, “if something should ever happen to me…”

And I’ll often interrupt them and say, If?

Sometimes it will take them a second, but they’ll get it and then laugh at themselves.

You see, when you think about this whole matter of death, it’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”

Most of us have a difficult time admitting – much less thinking deeply and thoughtfully about – our own death. Even now, some of you are starting to tune me out. But hang in there for just a moment longer if you will, OK?

It’s coming.

I feel great today and I hope I have decades left on this planet. But at best that’s all it is. A few decades, if that. And that’s for me. What about you?

Precisely because we are naturally uneasy just thinking about death, we can actually experience a loss of freedom while we are alive.

We are not truly free to live because we are held captive by our fear of death.

It’s Easter.

Perhaps more than any other Easter in my lifetime, the world is thinking about life…and death.

Christians celebrate Easter as the day Jesus Christ rose from the grave. In fact, because of this, Easter Sunday is often called Resurrection Sunday.

Christianity still has a very strong influence on America and American culture. When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone who didn’t belong to some church somewhere. I think I basically thought that because I was American, that meant I was Christian.

As I grew up, there was the unspoken social agreement that I was supposed to affirm a set of beliefs – belief that God existed, that He made the world, and that He had a Son named Jesus. It was kind of difficult to escape those claims if you grew up in the American South of the mid-twentieth century as I did. Just the annual celebrations of Christmas and Easter made the basic outline of Christian beliefs rather obvious.

But just like a lot of us are having right now, I had a crisis in my life when I was younger that made me re-examine what I believed and what I held to be true.

How do you get into Heaven? Does everyone? Even bad people? Even Hitler? But if not everyone, exactly where is the line drawn? Am I on the right side of that line?

Is it like a balance scale, where you put all the good things you’ve done in your life on one side of the scale and all the bad things on the  other, and whichever weighs the most determines which way you’re going, up…or down…?

Or is it more like an infectious disease? What if it worked more like the Coronavirus? You may be totally healthy in every observable way, but if just a little, tiny bit of the Coronavirus gets into you…it can kill you.

I think most of us have a general agreement about certain things in life – we have an aspiration for what we think is a good life, but there are obstacles that stand in our way.

We know there is something wrong on the inside of us. Maybe we’re not even sure where that is, but we know it’s there.

We’ve all got a nearly insatiable appetite for love, security, and significance. And our drive to satisfy those needs causes a lot of our problems. In fact, they hold us captive. They keep us from experiencing the freedom that only comes from truly finding love, security, and significance.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve always believed (at least in your mind) that God exists and is there. I have just never found convincing the argument that everything we see, the beauty, the complexity, all somehow just happened as a cosmic accident. That seems to me to require a lot more faith than to believe in a God who created the whole thing.

There’s a book I read a few years ago titled, “I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist,” and that pretty much sums it up for me. I just never really questioned the fact of God’s existence.

But it also dawned on me one day that my intellectual belief might not be enough. Someone once asked me to consider what would happen if the moment after I died, God met me at Heaven’s gate and asked me, “Why should I let you in?”

Uh-oh.

I totally stink at pop quizzes. I freeze. Sometimes I can’t remember my own name, much less the answer to the pop quiz.

But when presented with that question – the one of God asking me WHY He should let me into heaven – I think I did what most people do. I started remembering all of the good stuff I’ve done and trying to forget all of the bad stuff. Maybe, just maybe, I could tip the scale at 51%...

But, again, what if that was the wrong paradigm? What if it wasn’t a scale, but an infection free zone?

These days I think the first thing they’re doing at most hospitals when workers arrive is test them for Coronavirus symptoms. In fact, if there was an instrument they could use to see if there was ANY coronavirus in their system – no matter how well they felt, no matter whether or not they had any visible symptoms – if there was ANY coronavirus in their system, I can assure you they would NOT be allowed into the hospital to work.

Why? Because they would contaminate the environment. Just the smallest amount of contaminant infects an otherwise sterile and safe environment.

Sorry. No admittance.

This “virus” paradigm helped me understand what I was missing in my understanding of what it took to get into Heaven.

It wasn’t that my conception of the scale was completely wrong. But rather than 51% tipping the scales in my favor, it was far worse. Anything less than 100% was unacceptable.

No admittance.

It’s like playing a baseball game where you have to bat 1000 and have zero errors to win the game.

And, of course, no one has ever done that because no one is perfect.

Except God.

Which explains the rather high standard.

So God has this seemingly impossible standard – perfection – I have to be free of the virus of imperfection (the Bible calls this “sin”).

But the Bible also says that God loves us – after all He made us. But He cannot violate His own standard of perfection – the Bible calls this “holiness.” He simply will not let the virus of sin into his environment.

“But can’t God just overlook it?” we might ask.

Yes, He could, but then He would be violating His own standard of perfection.

We may not completely understand it, but the Bible portrays God as having put Himself in a bind – on the one hand He is committed to his perfect holiness; and on the other, He loves us and wants us to be with Him forever.

But if I fall short of God’s standard of perfection, and I’m not allowed into Heaven, then I’m doomed.

Unless there’s a solution.

And that’s where Jesus, and Christmas and Easter come in.

If Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus from the grave, then Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ coming into the world. It is God coming into the world as a baby, who would grow up to be a man. The Bible says He was the God-Man.

Let’s suppose you were in a hospital dying of cancer. And I come to  you and say, “Let’s take the cancer cells from your body and put them into my body.”

If that was possible, what would happen? I would die and you would live. I would be your substitute.

That’s the essence of Easter. Jesus Christ came to earth to live a perfect life as a man. Only God could do that. And He willingly died on the cross as a substitute for me…and you, too, if you accept His gift.

The Bible says it this way in the book of Romans: “God demonstrated His love towards us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Now, back to my crisis – when all this started to rise to the front and center of my life, I realized I already believed a lot of this…maybe all of it…but it wasn’t really making a difference in my life.

And for me, I think it went back to the cultural Christianity in the world I grew up in. It was so present, I hardly saw it anymore, like a piece of furniture in your house you don’t even see anymore.

But I was missing the key part… what to DO with all of this.

Here was God offering me this GIFT of FORGIVENESS for my sins, and my response was more or less, “Yeah, I believe that. I believe all that happened. I believe You did that – the coming, the dying, the resurrecting…yeah, I believe all that.”

Someone was trying to give me a gift, and my response was to acknowledge the gift exists…but I never accepted the gift. I never received the gift.

Thirty-five years ago I married Melinda Burns. I was attracted to her, I thought she was cute, I fell in love with her, I wanted to be with her…but there was this moment in time, about 3pm on Saturday, February 16, 1985, when I said two very fateful words…”I do…” which changed everything.

We became man and wife. She accepted me. I accepted her. We were wed.

I could have gone my whole life believing in the existence of Melinda Burns and of her many, many lovely qualities. But until I received her as my wife, we were not married.

It’s kind of like that with Jesus.

It’s one thing to intellectually believe He exists and to believe as fact everything the Bible says to be true about Him.

But there is a line you cross when you accept Him. In essence you say “I do” to Him.

It is you acknowledging, “I have no other way of ever being acceptable to God but through Jesus Christ.”

The Bible says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…”

That was the sticking point for me – I had intellectually believed in Him, but I’d never received Him. Someone once explained to me it was really trusting Him with my eternity.

So I guess that’s my invitation to you this Easter week. I’m inviting you to reconsider who Jesus Christ is to you and why you think He came, why He died and whether or not He really did rise from the dead.

If He didn’t rise, then all this Easter stuff is really a scam.

But if He did come and if He did rise from the dead – well, that changes everything.

But please don’t stop there – at the point of simply believing He rose from the dead.

Because the Bible claims He rose from the dead…for you. He’s offering a gift…a free gift… of forgiveness for your sins, of acceptance by God, of new life, of abundant life, and of eternal life with Him.

But it’s a gift offered that must be accepted.

Have you accepted it?

If not, you can do that by humbly doing that with God right now in prayer. No fancy words needed. Just a humble heart willing to accept God’s free gift of Jesus Christ on His terms.

There’s a sense in which I’m grateful for this coronavirus. I think it's causing us all to think about life and death and what’s really important in both.

I hope you’ll join me this Easter week in thinking more deeply than you ever have about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

I believe He’s the key to experiencing real and lasting freedom in this life.

Happy Easter. I hope this is the Easter you discover what it means to be really, truly free.

Thanks for listening.

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