By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher
The heartfelt opening prayer for the traditional readings for the worldwide church this Sunday following the Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala & Report to the Entertainment Industry is:
“Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which you have made known to us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
What a poignant cry:
“Set us free, Oh God, from the bondage of too much work, grievous mistakes, selfish desires, intentional harm, and much more that traps us day after day.”
Isn’t this the prayer of most of us?
Don’t you want to be free?
Shockingly, the prayer continues, “Give us the liberty of that abundant life!”
Don’t you want the freedom of that abundant life? Who would dare ask for so much?
The Scripture readings for this particular Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014, tell us how we can achieve this freedom, because God wants to answer this prayer.
Isaiah 58:1-12 seems at first to set a different tone.
God calls Isaiah to confront the hypocrites who make a show of their worship and are outwardly religious, but in fact, they exploit people and are unjust, quarrelsome, and oppressive.
Even so, they expect God’s blessing and tell God how good they are. They resemble the so-called “Sunday Christians” of today. Let me illustrate:
When I came to know Jesus Christ, who set me free from a debauched life, I was living in New York City. I had grown up with a father starring in Broadway plays. My mother, a former beautiful Hollywood star, died when I was a young teenager, so I started looking for love in all the wrong places and indulging in a lifestyle of drugs, alcohol and license. After a wonderful older woman, who had come to know Jesus Christ at the 1957 Billy Graham Crusade in New York, asked me why I was so anti-Christian, I read the Bible to prove her wrong, but instead God freed me from self-destruction.
After studying theology at a seminary in New York, I was elected by the denomination to be the president of their radio and television division to help them produce THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE for CBS Television. That division was in Atlanta, Georgia, so I moved with my wife, Lili, and son, Peirce.
Of course, we needed a car in Atlanta, so I went to a major dealership near where we lived. The salesperson noted from my card that I was a minister and enthusiastically told me he was a Christian and where he went to church. He guaranteed that the used car he was showing me was in excellent condition.
The next day, as the sun’s heat beat down on the red Georgia clay, I discovered that the air conditioning in the car didn’t work. I brought the car back for return or repair and faced the wrath of this “good churchgoing” man.
The moral of the story and the heart of this passage of Isaiah is that God is never pleased when we observe the forms of worship and religion without a heart of love for Jesus and for others.
On the other hand, God tells Isaiah that if you love God and your neighbor, then God will bless you. More than that, you will be a light unto others, because you will be joyous, prosperous, and saved by God. You will bring your light, as manifested by your God-given faith, gifts, and the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control) to help others. He will guard you and answer you. Best of all, He will turn your problems into prosperity.
At this point, the reading in Isaiah refers to the living water who is Jesus, nearly 700 years before Jesus Christ came to live among us. Isaiah says that the Living Water will heal, restore and revive you when you love Him and your neighbor as yourself.
Psalm 112:1-10 asks, What do you do to find happiness or to delight?
My grandfather sought happiness in money and was written up on the front page of the New York Times when he died because of his wealth. Even with all his wealth, happiness escaped him.
My father sought happiness in fame. As Bob “Tex” Allen (aka Ted Baehr), he was a famous Hollywood star who won the Box Office Award for the biggest box office in 1936, but now he’s largely forgotten.
Some of my close family members sought happiness in power, but, after illustrious careers, they grew old and were relegated to the sidelines.
I sought to delight in drugs and serial relationships, but discovered myself trapped in a self-destructive lifestyle.
When Jesus Christ set me free, I found real happiness. Life made sense. Peace reigned in my heart and mind.
Furthermore, the Psalmist says that our children will be mighty. In spite of my debauched past, my children Peirce, Jim, Robby, and Evy are blessed and a blessing to me and my wife, Lili.
The Psalm even promises that when we love God and our neighbor we will have wealth and righteousness, because we delight in God, not riches. He will light our way, and we will be generous and just, letting our light shine the way for others.
If our heart is right – if we trust in Jesus – then we will triumph and be blessed.
These promises are very difficult for me since my parents had been in many superstitious cultic movements. So, when my mother died, I rejected nominalistic, magical thinking. Yet, God’s promises came true at the Annual Faith & Values Awards Gala & Report to the Entertainment Industry, so we gave away lots of money prizes and gave a party that exemplified the lifestyle of Hollywood while proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In 1 Corinthians 2:1-16, Paul, who was brilliant and well educated, says he simplified his message to be all about Jesus and Him crucified.
Why did Paul do that?
Because that is how Jesus set us free. Jesus paid the penalty that I owed for all the pain and suffering I had caused others. Jesus ransomed me with His blood from the penalty for my debauchery. Jesus redeemed me forever.
Jesus cared enough to give His most valuable life, the life to the Creator of everything, for my insignificant life and for your life.
Paul cared enough to tell the Good News, because, when we are inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, caring is the only daring.
Paul said that he proved the Good News of being set free not by words, but by the POWER of God.
However, Paul cautions that, without faith in Jesus, you will have no understanding and no power.
With faith in Jesus, we have the mind of Christ Jesus. We have the power of the Holy Spirit! We have the liberty of that abundant life!
In Matthew 5:13-20, Jesus says that we are salt; so, like salt that improves the taste and preserves, we make everything better and stop decay.
Do you want to make everything better and stop the decay?
Again, as Jesus has said throughout these readings, He says that we are the light, to light the way for others.
Jesus calls you and me not to legalism, but to the Spirit of the Lord in Jesus’ name, by loving God and by loving our neighbor.
Then, God will answer your prayer and set you free, and you will have the liberty of that abundant life.
Do you want that abundant life?
Then, pray to Jesus and let Him free you from whatever binds and entraps you and give you that abundant, Spirit filled life.
Pray to receive His Holy Spirit and His gifts: wisdom, knowledge, discernment, prophecy, tongues, interpretation, apostleship, teaching, evangelism, pastoral ministry, leadership, encouragement, faith, healing, miraculous powers, administration, service, giving, fruits, and mercy.
Affirm Jesus Christ’s call to you.
Join the great thanksgiving.
Live in the freedom of that abundant life.