By Kathi Woodall –
My older brothers and I have good relationships…now. That hasn’t always been the case. As children, they would team up against me. One would pin me down while the other would tickle me relentlessly. Imaginetwo older boys against an innocent little girl. In response, I learned to kick and flail until I wriggled to freedom. Then I would run for all I was worth.
Freedomthis powerful word defines us both as Americans and as Christians. Our historical battles have thoroughly ingrained freedom into our collective conscience.
Throughout history, many have cried out for freedom. Once freedom appeared on the horizon, I’m sure they also ran for all they were worth. Can you imagine a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz choosing to stay when Soviet troops liberated the camp? Would an inmate in Alcatraz refuse a boat offering passage to freedom? Would a POW at the Hanoi Hilton stay huddled in his cell when the door opened to freedom?
I’ve never been in prison desiring to be free. I’ve never been a soldier defending my freedoms on the battlefield. But I’ve fought a battle for freedom—the spiritual battle for the soul. My freedom was granted because Jesus had already paid the price required to obtain it. He opened the gates, tore down the walls, and loosened the chains. My freedom was there for the taking. Jesus made freedom available for me and for all humanity.
Living in Christ’s freedom has affected my views. Subsequent changes in behavior are evidence of His freedom.
Living free is possible because Christ redeemed me. Nothing I do merits entry into heaven; most of it merits eternity in hell. Despite that, God loves me. He initiated a plan to reverse my course. He sent His Son to die for my sin. With His resurrection, hell was defeated. Satan can now claim no right over me. Resting in the surety of my salvation frees me to live fully, both now and for eternity with Him.
Living free relinquishes my control issues. God is in control, and I’m not. Not having to control every issue frees me to rest and trust in His sovereignty.
Living free shifts my focus. It’s not all about me or even those around me. It’s all about God. Seeing God as the primary focus frees me to maintain a pre-determined order of priorities. I can let go of anything that doesn’t fit within those priorities.
Living free eliminates an environment of fear. Persecution will come. God may call me to do something outside my comfort zone. I’m ok with these things. Letting go of fear frees me to do what God wants me to do.
Living free allows me to live and let live. Other believers are different than I. God didn’t make us all in one mold. He doesn’t want us to live in one mold. Rejoicing in other’s differences frees me to be who God created me to be.
Living free is possible because God extends grace. Grace is fundamental to my salvation and my relationships. Once we’ve basked in the wonder of God’s grace, imprisonment is no longer an option.
If you’re a follower of Christ, you’re already free. Are you stepping out of your prison cell and walking in the freedom He died to give you? “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32 NIV).
By Kathi Woodall –
Three p.m. I turned into the parking lot of my daughter’s home school group and drove to my spot at the end of the pick-up line. As I waited, more vehicles lined up behind mine while other parents walked out of the building having already retrieved their children. One particular mom exited with her two small children. As she walked toward her car, I realized I would block her in.
Moments ticked by as I alternated my attention between watching her buckle her two little ones into car seats and watching for the assistant director to come out of the building with her walkie-talkie and start the car line moving. Would the line move in time for me to pull my car forward before the mom was ready to make her exit? She buckled in one child. No sign of the assistant director. As she strapped in the second child, the assistant director appeared and started speaking children’s names into her walkie-talkie. The line slowly crept into action; I should be able to move out of the way soon.
The timing was perfect as the mom opened her own door and sat down while I gently let off the brake to allow my car to pull forward. I watched in my rear-view mirror to see if the lady behind me would wait for the mom to back out of her parking spot. I shook my head as I watched her pull forward without a moment’s hesitation. Busily texting on her cell phone, she was oblivious to the plight of the mom with the two small children waiting to exit her parking spot.
I immediately thought of myself. I often focus so intently on one activity that I am insensible to the needs of those around me or to God calling me in a new direction.
The mom behind me did nothing wrong; she may have had a good reason to text. Likewise, several times I find myself doing good things–lunch with a friend, teach a Bible study, write a new book. I’m comfortable with these things; they are an easy place to stay focused. However, God sometimes calls me to something else for a moment–visit a sick relative, start a new study group, help a friend at work. The original object of my attention may have been valid, but it wasn’t the best that God had for me at that time.
I don’t want to focus so much on the good that I miss out on the best. I don’t want to be so used to the ordinary that I am oblivious to the extraordinary. I don’t want to be satisfied with anthills of ministry when God is calling me to move mountains.
“O LORD my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them. You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings. I finally understand — you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings. Then I said, ‘Look, I have come. As is written about me in the Scriptures: I take joy in doing your will, my God, for your instructions are written on my heart’” Psalm 40:5-8.
By Kathi Woodall –
Amy is a newborn whose mother died in childbirth. Her aunt and grandfather walk eight miles to bring her to a milk clinic run by an orphanage in rural Haiti. At the clinic, they receive clothing and infant formula for the precious baby who weighs less than five pounds.
A few days after a clinic visit, our group joined the orphanage director as she went on a home visit to see the aunt and grandfather plus visit baby Amy. Due to the poor conditions of the roads it took us close to an hour to travel the eight miles by truck. After asking around, we found Amy’s hut and were glad to find her family home. A brief exam found her in good condition, relatively speaking. I then had the privilege of rocking her while the pastor who came with us visited with the grandfather and aunt.
My French is too poor to understand much of their Creole dialect; I’m afraid I can’t retell the conversation that transpired between the two. After several minutes of conversation, though, Pastor turned to us and said, in English, that they wanted to accept Christ as their Savior. They bowed down to pray and I could make out enough of their words to know they recognized the sin in their lives and accepted the gift of Jesus’ death on the cross as the payment for their sin. They understood this decision enabled their eternal life in heaven with Him.
As they prayed, I silently prayed for their newfound faith, spiritual protection, and growth. Here is where my story turns ugly. As I stood in the filth of their hut, holding a sweet infant who smelled of her own waste, I found myself praying, “Lord, what a blessing it would be for You to return soon and lift this family out of these desperate, dirty conditions.” Here is my confession: At this point in my prayer, my thoughts shifted. In that squalor, my bizarre mind wondered if God will hose us all off as we leave earth and enter His heavenly presence. Please don’t leave me nasty comments; I can’t help it these weird thoughts pop into my mind.
As soon as the thought entered my head, the Spirit reminded me that in God’s eyes, all of us are more dirty and filthy than the aunt and grandfather were in my eyes. “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). In our sinful state, we are so nasty, so dirty, that Holy God has to turn His back to us. In His glory and perfection, we can’t even be in His presence.
The wonder of it all is that God couldn’t stand for us not to be in His presence. His sacrifice on the cross made the way for us to be clean, and, in a way, He will hose us off when we stand before Him someday—it will just be a little more spiritual.
“‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints” (Revelation 19:7-8).
By Kathi Woodall –
My daughter was sick recently, so I took her to the walk-in clinic at our pediatrician’s office. The walk-in clinic is a blessing because an appointment is not required. It is a curse because the wait can often be long, especially during cold and flu season. Anticipating the wait, I grabbed my Samsung Tablet on the way out of the house so she could play games or read while we waited. However, my preparedness turned out to be worthless. The batteries ran down the day before and I hadn’t plugged it in to recharge overnight.
A few days later I wanted to listen to my iPod while housecleaning. After searching awhile, I found it in a pocket of my backpack with a dead battery. Weeks of neglect had killed it.
As I write this, my cell phone is charging in the kitchen, my daughter’s iPod is plugged into my laptop, and my laptop is plugged into the wall. The battery on my laptop no longer charges, it doesn’t work at all unless I plug it into the outlet.
All of this charging and plugging started me wondering. Does God want to use us sometimes but we have run our batteries down so low we’re worthless? Are we ever so in need of a charge that we can’t do what He desires? Do we wander so far that, when He finds us, we can’t do anything because we haven’t plugged in lately?
We plan out each moment of our day weeks and even months ahead of time. We are so busy working, shopping, cleaning, cooking, planning, playing, talking, texting, meeting, eating, driving, and doing that we don’t take enough time to plug in and spiritually recharge.
We can recharge spiritually many different ways. Some may renew their spiritual batteries by worshipping God through music with a great praise band whereas others may recharge by spending time alone in prayer. For me, I recharge by studying God’s Word. Even better is when I can then write about it. My husband, on the other hand, reenergizes by hiking through the woods and enjoying the beauty of creation. There are as many ways to spiritually recharge ourselves as there are Christians who need to do it! What’s critical though is that we find time to stop…just stop…and plug in to Him. Let Him refill us once again.
“Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).
By Kathi Woodall –
Agapeland—many of us in our 30’s or 40’s grew up singing fun songs about a magical place whose name meant “Land of Love.” We all knew agape (pronounced a-gă-pē) love was God’s kind of love.
I’m not a kid anymore; I’m thirty-… Let’s just say I’m in that age range I mentioned earlier. Is there a grown-up story behind the magic of Agapeland?
Agape-love involves reverence, obedience, appreciation, pleasure, unwillingness to abandon, and desire. The Bible teaches about four agape-love relationships; God loves Christ and us, Christ loves us, and we can love each other.
God’s agape-love climaxes in one key passage. “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10 NIV). This intense passage both defines love and is the evidence of God’s love.
God created the physical world—waterfalls, giraffes, and lilacs. He also created the conceptual world—hope, sorrow, and love. Since God created love, He also defined love. Chocolate candies and heart-shaped boxes don’t define love. Jesus’ death—His atoning sacrifice—defines love.
Friend, our sin made us the recipients of God’s wrath. God had to separate us from Himself forever. However, Jesus came as the atoning sacrifice. In so doing, Jesus turned aside God’s wrath and allowed it to pour on Him. Imagine God’s wrath—piercing as nails and burning as fire—as it poured down on each of us. Before it scalded us, however, Jesus reached out and deflected the molten stream. His nail-pierced hands turned aside the wrath of the Father so it fell on Him and not us. He said, “This is love: not that our children love us but that we love them. This is love: the wrath our children deserve will fall on me and not on them.” That’s the real definition of love.
Jesus’ death and resurrection is also the evidence of God’s love. Returning to 1 John 4:9, God evidenced His love in the ultimate way; He sent His Son to die, “that we might live through him.” He gives us eternal life on account of the Son. Our life is the evidence of His love for us.
Agape-love should also describe believers’ relationships. In and of ourselves, we are incapable of agape-love. Throughout the gospels, only God refers to Jesus as agapetos, or beloved. For example, God said at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17 KJV). The remainder of the New Testament never used it in this context again. The usage of the phrase shifted after the Holy Spirit indwelt believers. Agapetos appears 53 more times; every use is between fellow believers.
John encouraged believers to agape-love each other. We are able to because of Jesus’ sacrificial example. John wrote a few verses earlier, we, “love one another for love comes from God; everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7 NIV). Love extended to us; we extend it to others.
God’s ways are so contrary to the ways of the world! To try to fit Him into our definitions twists and warps the whole process. He is the definition of love. He is the evidence of love. He is love. When we truly know God and His feelings for each of us, then that same love naturally pours out to others. Since He loves us in this way, no reason exists as to why we should not be displaying that same love for others. Those who are loved—let us love.