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March 2, 2014 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

When winter hit Atlanta a few weeks ago, people were not prepared. Streets went untreated and iced over. Trucks couldn’t get through the traffic to plow. Some commuters were stuck—bumper-to-bumper—on the freeway for 6, 8, even 12 hours. Others tired of waiting and just walked away from their vehicles, leaving everyone else to deal with the mess. Of course, that only made the situation worse.

That picture from Atlanta is something like a picture of way too many people who get “stuck” in life. Something messes them up. Some bad experience or difficult circumstance—a habit, a sin, a problem—and they find themselves stuck, unable to move forward. It’s a problem that’s all too common these days.

You’re probably thinking right now about someone you know who is “stuck.” They just can’t seem to get their lives together. Or maybe you’re thinking about your own life. Even though you believe and have prayed for a new life in Christ, perhaps you’re still dealing with personal issues. You’ve made progress. You’re not where you once were. But you’re still not cruising down the spiritual highway, free and clear.

Last week we began a series of messages called “Unleashed.” It’s all about finding freedom from the things that hold us back in our spiritual journey with Christ.

How you handle being stuck is important. How many of you have ever buried a car in a snow drift or a ditch? I mean the snow is packed in around all the wheels and jammed up under the car. Just gunning the engine probably isn’t going to get you out. You’ll probably need some help—someone to dig the snow out or clear a path or a tow truck to pull you through. Just spinning your wheels faster isn’t the solution.

And yet, way too many—even believers—just “spin their wheels.” They spend a lot of energy and effort—and get nowhere. Too many find themselves trapped by circumstances, prisoners to their past, slaves to their habits, unable to move forward.

It’s like spiritual paralysis. God wants us to “run,” but we are often emotionally crippled—by painful memories, addictions, sin and the consequences of sin. Such things hold us back. And that’s when we become “stuck.”

Hurts, habits, and hang-ups prevent us from becoming—and doing—all that God intended. If you stay stuck, you won’t be able to fulfill God’s plan. It would be like running a race wearing concrete blocks strapped around each foot. Some people believe—they’re in the race, so to speak, but they’ve never experienced the fullness of God’s power to be set free from the weight they carry.

Maybe you’re not trapped by some heavy, terrible dysfunctional past. Maybe you’re not running the race with concrete blocks strapped around each foot. Nevertheless, you can still be held back by small problems—small burdens.

That’s why the Bible says “…let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” (Heb 12:1-2)

Either way—whether we’re dealing with big or small problems, major dysfunction or minor irritations, God wants us “unleashed.”  He wants to set us free so we can rise above our junk. He calls us out of slavery and spiritual bondage.

Basic steps to freedom. Every situation and each person is unique, but there are some basic principles that you may be able to apply to your situation.

  1. Let God. If you’re in the ditch and the tow truck comes by and the driver offers to pull you out, accept his offer. That’s not a time to be proud and independent! “Oh, that’s okay. I’ve got a shovel in my trunk. I think I can handle it. There are probably others who need help more than me.”

The first step to freedom is to allow God to have control over your life. Surrender. Acknowledge that you’ve come to the end of yourself. Matt. 11:28. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

  1. Know the truth. Know the truth about your problem, your addiction, your issue. Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32)

AA’s Twelve Steps tells us that you can never conquer the thing that enslaves you until you come to the point where you see it for what it is. As long as you sweep it under the rug, as long as you are in denial about it, you will never conquer it.

We need to know the truth—so we can confess the truth: it’s only when we identify the problem that we can take away the power it has over us.

  1. Rethink. Learn a new way of thinking—see a totally new perspective.

If we want to change our behavior, our thinking has to change. We can’t break free from habits and the things that hold us back if we rely on our instincts—our natural reflexes.

“Don’t be conformed any longer to the ways of the world,” the Bible says. “Instead, be transformed—changed—by the renewing of your mind.” (Rom. 12:2).

One of my favorite Proverbs says, “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.” (Prov 4:23, TEV).

  1. Work on discipline. Some people think it’s hypocrisy to do something if you don’t feel like doing it. But obedience—doing the right thing even when you don’t want to—is a tool God uses to create new paths.

When I lived in the Chicago area, I would frequently drive on Ogden Avenue (also part of the famous Route 66). It was a typical metro thoroughfare—traffic, lights, businesses. But it wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time it was just grass blowing on the prairie, but the buffalo herds established migration paths that they would follow year after year. So Ogden Avenue began as an old buffalo migration trail.

Phil 1:6. tells us that God will finish the work he began: “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

But while God is working in us, he also gives us the “will” and the “power” to work out our salvation. Phil 2:12-13 …continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

God gives us the ability to do the right thing, but he also gives us the desire to do the right thing.

It’s not that we “have to” obey; we “want to” because our love for God motivates us. He gives us the “want to” along with the “have to.”

Let God; know the truth; rethink; discipline yourself (work out your salvation). The more you see these things growing in your life, the more you’ll experience freedom from the things that hold you back.

God wants us to grow in freedom—to become increasingly free—so we can become more effective in serving him. To fulfill his call and purpose, to become all that God intends for us and to do all that God plans for us, we must be free from sin and all the things that hold us back.

We are called out of sin and slavery so we can make a difference in this broken world. In fact, the English word “church” is ekklesia in the original Greek Bible—literally meaning “called out.” We are people called out so we can be set free to be a powerful force for good in this world.

There are, however, some misconceptions about spiritual freedom, which we probably need to clear up. Myths about spiritual freedom:

1. Freedom doesn’t mean anything goes.

“Liberty” does not mean we can do anything we want. We’re not set free so we can live wild, undisciplined lives. Instead, we’re set free to live productive, useful, disciplined lives.

1 Pet 2:16. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.

God sets us free so we can be his slaves—his servants. Freedom is for doing good, doing better!

Some think grace means they can do anything they want. They think freedom means no accountability, no responsibility, no discipline. It doesn’t.

Instead of doing anything, freedom means being able to do certain good things that you never could do while you were weighed down with sin or stuck in your habits:

Freedom is an angry man finally set free to love his wife… an addicted mother set free to care for her children… a rebellious young person set free to respect others… a man consumed by material things finally set free to give away to others…

2. Freedom doesn’t mean doing nothing. Freedom means doing something. It’s not about sitting, inactive, going nowhere. It’s being released to do something you could not otherwise do on your own.

Watching Olympics—a fascinating sport was the biathlon: where cross-country skiers carry a gun and ammunition, stopping at certain intervals to shoot at targets. If they missed the mark, they had to ski an extra penalty loop before they could continue the race. In other races the skiers just skied as fast as they could—no extra weight to carry, no stops along the way, no penalties.
Think of the advantage a skier would have to compete without all those extra restrictions? How much faster could he go with no extra weight to carry, no stops along the way to hit targets, no penalty laps to take if he missed? Imagine the advantage he’d have over those who had all those additional requirements of the biathlon?
A lot of Christians carry extra, unnecessary baggage on their journey—stuff that weighs them down and slows their progress. They stop along the way to prove their spiritual marksmanship and penalize themselves when they miss the mark.

Freedom means being able to go farther and faster than you could before. Freedom means going without the extra weight. But freedom does not mean sitting, going nowhere.

3. Freedom doesn’t mean a life of ease. Like the idle rich, having arrived so others wait on them.

Bob Dylan: “You gotta serve somebody…”
I’ve met guys who can’t stand working for a boss. They want to be their own boss. So they decide to do their own thing, to become “self-employed.” And that’s when they discover that instead of one boss, they have dozens of bosses. Every client or every customer they get becomes their boss. They will have to fill dozens of “orders” or perform multiple “services”—but who follows orders and perform services? Servants! So they discover that even though they are “self-employed,” everyone has to serve somebody.
Even those who climb to the top of the heap have to serve somebody. You’d think once you became wealthy or powerful or successful that you could finally control your own destiny. But there’s a danger there: you could become the victim of your own success. Fame and fortune can be another form of bondage. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Hollywood stars who feel trapped by reporters and paparazzi who intrude on their private lives and prevent them from living anything like a normal life.
Viktor Yanukovich, (former) president of the Ukraine, discovered the hard way what can happen if you try to avoid serving the people while you live the high life. Even dictators have to serve somebody.

Gal 5:13. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

We are called to be “free”—not so we can live a hedonistic lifestyle, without restrictions, indulging in all sorts of self-absorbed behavior. No! We are set “free” so we can “serve” others “in love.”

Left to our own devices, we cannot love as we ought. Human nature (you know this) is to protect and guard ourselves. We are completely self-absorbed—from the time we take our first breath and cry because the doctor slapped our bottom. We are “slaves” to that self-centered human nature…until God calls us to be free!

If you’re carrying extra baggage in your spiritual journey… if you’ve got junk that weighs you down… God wants you to find freedom from all that stuff, so you can live the disciplined life he intended!

When we’re free from our struggles, we can be free to serve others. The freer we are, the more we can impact the world for good. The more we’re free, the more we can serve and help others.

4. Freedom isn’t self-centered. Freedom means thinking about others, being set free to give.

God wants us free to give ourselves away. God wants us able to give our time, our resources, our blessings. Human nature is to take; human nature means to grasp; freedom means being able to give.

God loves a cheerful giver—one who is excited about what he can give for God! But to give cheerfully, you have to be spiritually free! (2 Cor 9:7)

God doesn’t want to twist our arms to make us give. He doesn’t want us to give out of compulsion or obligation because of some rule or law. He wants to set our hearts free. When our hearts are transformed, our inner motivation will be to give.

Why is human nature so selfish? So ungiving? In the natural we try to protect and hoard. Why? Maybe it’s because we are never satisfied! We always want more.

We live in a society where an increasing debt (not increasing productivity) seems to fuel our economy. So people look for bail-outs and benefits.
The U.S. government is itself in debt to the tune of $13 trillion, which is more than I can imagine. Our lawmakers know this cannot continue indefinitely. So they have, in their wisdom, put in place a “debt ceiling,” where the never-ending process of borrowing has to finally end.
Unfortunately, the “debt ceiling” has come to mean absolutely nothing. None of our lawmakers wants to be blamed for “shutting down the government.” So when we reach the “debt ceiling,” we just raise it. We might as well just take the lid off. The ceiling is meaningless, because our land is enslaved by the need for more. Discipline and responsibility have given way to grasping for more. GREED.

Or maybe human nature hoards because of an innate fear of what could happen if we didn’t watch out for ourselves—if we gave away the very things that make us feel safe and secure.

If that’s true, then we are slaves to our need for security. If we trust in things instead of God, then we’re slaves to those things. Freedom from things unleashes us to trust in God more and more.

As we give ourselves to God, we entrust him with our lives, our future, our eternal destiny. If we surrender ourselves completely to him, then it’s no problem to give 10 percent of our income (a tithe in the OT). What’s a mere 10 percent when he owns the whole package?

Under the law, 10 percent was the expected amount to give. We don’t demand 10% today because we see that as merely a benchmark. If our hearts are transformed and we’ve been set free, the amount doesn’t matter. God will lead us to be generous givers.

Some in hard times will struggle to give even 1 or 2 percent. But out of love for God, they will still give something. Others with the spiritual gift of giving (and earning) may give 20, 30 or even 50 percent—because God has set them free from the fear of losing stuff.

Zacchaeus, in the NT, was in business to make money. He looked out for himself. He was a wheeler and a dealer, and he wasn’t afraid to bend the rules in order to line his own pockets. His neighbors despised him, but what could they do? He worked for the government, and corruption was the name of the game. Then one day Jesus came to visit him, and Zacchaeus’s life was transformed. Somehow he saw the futility of materialism. He gained new insight about eternity. So he said, “I’m going to give away half of my possessions to the poor. And if I’ve cheated anyone, I’m going to pay them back four times as much as I took from them.”
Giving a tithe would have been easier for him. But his heart was change. He had a new motivation. So he gave away far more than 10 percent. And Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house.” In other words, Zacchaeus was set free from the tyranny of materialism and physical possessions.

So let me ask: What would a church look like if it was truly free to give? What would happen if you (if we all) were set free from the fear of financial trouble?

I see giving as a grace more than a discipline. We can work at it, but it’s better if we can give because we’re “set free” from fear and materialism. If we (the church) were radically retooled and set free to give, we would not be confined to traditional church activities, to customs, to standard religious operating procedures.