Nehemiah was a great man who accomplished amazing things for God and his Jewish people. Billions of men and women since his time are aware of his success of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in just 52 days.
But Nehemiah’s success would have never been realized without one trait, that is relatively unknown. Note this phrase from Nehemiah 5:15:
“…because I feared God, I did not act that way.” Nehemiah 5:15
Fear. Did you notice that? This great man who seemed fearless in tackling the monumental task of rebuilding a wall of protection lying in ruins, understood the importance of fearing God.
While we are often encouraged to interpret the word “fear” as “respect” when reading it in the Bible, it’s clear here, and in many other passages, that this is literally FEAR. And this fear of Almighty God, led to changed behavior.
If we read the context of chapter 5 of Nehemiah, we see that the behavior of the culture, government officials, and the citizens, was one that was ungodly, uncaring, and lacking in love for those struggling under oppressive policies and practices.
But Nehemiah was like a fish swimming upstream. He resisted the pressure of the elite and the culture, and instead he forged a different path. But his reason for doing so wasn’t simply because he possessed extraordinary inner strength. Rather, it was because he feared God.
Having studied history, Nehemiah knew that his God was not only the God of love and mercy, but that his God also administered justice. Just as God held Israel to account for its wayward behavior, with devastating consequences, so too Nehemiah believed God would hold him accountable for embracing the cultural norm and status quo, when that behavior was at odds with God’s standards.
Nehemiah’s acts would not escape “El Roi” — the God Who sees. So this belief led Nehemiah to act differently from the rest of his culture. Nehemiah feared the justice of God were he to oppress and mistreat his fellow citizens, as was the norm for his culture.
So what about you and me? Do we fear God? And if so, does that fear result in our own changed behavior? Do we contrast what is accepted universally by our culture with what is taught singularly by God in His Word? Or do we we just follow the fish swimming downstream, because that’s what everyone else is doing.
Studying God’s Word will consistently expose the disparities between the masses and God, between our norms, and God’s standard. So may we be like Nehemiah, who feared God and acted differently, according to God’s Word.
The election season is over. For some voters, going to the polls was merely a civic duty. For others voting was a matter of stewardship, understanding that God gives us this American privilege, and we will be held accountable for every vote we cast.
But my real focus of this article is not on voters, but rather it’s a message to the newly elected (or re-elected) officials.
God has given me the opportunity (and sobering responsibility) to meet and get to know dozens of politicians, from councilmen to several Presidential candidates. While I’m no longer active in political endeavors, many of these friends or acquaintances were elected to office this last cycle. These offices range from school board members to US Senators, and many offices in between.
So with this as a backdrop, the following verse jumped out at me this week from the book of Daniel:
“For this has been decreed by the messengers; it is commanded by the holy ones, so that everyone may know that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world. He gives them to anyone he chooses— even to the lowliest of people.” Daniel 4:17
The Instruction Manual
The book of Daniel is the instruction manual on how Christians in government should behave. Daniel also illustrates to believers how we should respond to government, particularly adversarial ones.
As we read this manual, for guidance both in civics and governance, it’s important to understand that the government officials we are introduced to in Daniel are both followers of (the one true) God, as well as pagans (followers of someone or something other than the one true God). In addition to Daniel, there are many other books and passages in the Bible that offer insights into God’s view of government officials, and their role in serving Him.
God Elevates Both Believers and Unbelievers to Government
This is the first principle that each recently elected government official should understand. Regardless of whether you believe in and follow God, or not, it is God that has given you the victory you are celebrating. It’s not the voters. It’s Him. Sure, the voters all cast a vote, some for you and some against you.
But ascribing your victory to voters is akin to thanking a courier who hands you the keys to your new car, that your rich uncle just bought for you. Your uncle deserves the acknowledgement and thanks, not the courier.
God “gives them (kingdoms) to anyone he chooses — even to the lowliest of people” affirms this principle. So whether you were elected the county dog catcher, or the President of the United States, God has lent you the office to test your stewardship. That’s not only an awesome opportunity, but it’s more importantly a sobering responsibility. You will be held accountable, not merely by the voters, but more importantly by God Almighty.
God is Testing Your Humility (or Pride)
In Daniel, we read about the story of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon and a powerful ruler of his day. But with that power, we also see a man who grew very proud. We read in Daniel 4:30 these words:
“As he looked out across the city, he said, ‘Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.’” (Daniel 4:30)
If ever there was a man who embodied the spirit of the “self-made” man, King Nebuchadnezzar was that man. Note how his power led to pride. (And we’ll find out in our next principle, what the king’s pride led to.)
It’s a very difficult task to resist the temptation of pride. Power and pride seem to go hand and hand. So as someone is elevated to a position of power, who was a “no one” or perhaps a “lesser one” before his election, it’s so easy to become prideful in that new found position. A politician can easily look at himself as important. As special. As above others. As privileged. As deserving.
But all those attitudes are not only false, they are Pride whispering lies to us. It’s incumbent on you as an elected official to resist such temptations, and rebuke those attitudes. But if you fail this test, you will soon experience the warning from Proverbs 16:18 where we’re told:
“Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.”
How many politicians do you know that seem to struggle with pride? If we’re all honest though, this is a sin many of us have succumbed to in our own lives. So Mr/Ms Politician, resist this huge temptation that comes to all of us, but particularly those with power. If you don’t, you may find yourself experiencing the next principle.
Pride Leads to Bad Stuff
I suppose I could have been more “sophisticated” in describing this principle, but “bad stuff” really is the result of Pride in the life of an elected official. The prophet Daniel, who was also a high government official in King Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, warned the King of what would occur if he took credit for “his” achievements versus ascribing any success to God. Note Daniel’s warning:
“You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses… King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper.” (Daniel 4:25, 27)
Sadly though, this is what occurred when Nebuchadnezzar refused to heed God’s warning, spoken through Daniel:
“…A voice called down from heaven, ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, this message is for you! You are no longer ruler of this kingdom. You will be driven from human society. You will live in the fields with the wild animals, and you will eat grass like a cow. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses.’” (Daniel 4:31-32)
What a great fall King Nebuchadnezzar experienced! From the height of world power, to the lowliness of an animal — simply because he allowed the spirit of pride to rule in his life.
It’s uncanny, but should not be surprising, that 600 years later, Jesus, the Son of the Voice from heaven who spoke to Nebuchadnezzar, reminded us again of the repercussions of pride in our lives:
“For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
So be sure of this elected official. Pride will tempt you, but you can resist it in your live, and as you do, and take the less travelled path of humility, God will exalt you, according to Jesus, God’s Son.
Nebuchadnezzar’s own life is a reflection of this reality for when the king finally humbled himself and acknowledged the One who had exalted him to begin with, this is what the king had to say:
“After this time had passed, I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up to heaven. My sanity returned, and I praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever. His rule is everlasting, and his kingdom is eternal. When my sanity returned to me, so did my honor and glory and kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored as head of my kingdom, with even greater honor than before. “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud.” (Daniel 4:34, 36-37)
We’ve all heard of the “servant leadership” principle. It’s a teaching that’s hip these days, and often promoted in corporate entities. But long before motivational coaches latched onto this truth, Jesus had this to say about the role servant leadership should play in all of our lives, including elected officials:
“But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.” (Matthew 20:25-27)
Having been around elected officials for many, many years now, I have seen a spirit that is often anything but “servant leadership.” The head tables, the honored seats, and the best of everything is always reserved for politicians. And yet, the elite status most politicians enjoy is entirely at odds with their self-assigned title of “servants of the people.”
So if you were just elected and want to be different and break the political mold, what if you were to truly embrace the idea of “servant leadership” in your elected role? Perhaps one antidote against the pride that will lead to destruction and fall, is to simply commit oneself to truly being a servant in practice versus simply in words.
There are at least two reasons to do so. The first is because Jesus modeled such leadership and what better person to pattern our lives after than the Son of God? But there is another reason, and it has to do with future rewards:
“So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)
God’s Elevating of An Individual Does NOT Suggest He Endorses That Individual
We often misunderstand God’s actions and choices, assuming that because He places certain individuals in positions of authority, that God must then endorse such an individual. This fallacy has been a huge stumbling block for Christians, particularly over the last couple years. But this could not be further from the truth, as taught throughout Scripture.
God elevates individuals to positions of authority for several reasons including 1) to achieve God’s greater Plan, 2) to test that individual, 3) to punish, test, or refine those who are under the ruler’s authority, or some other purposes. We cannot always be certain of God’s reasons, but we can know this:
“For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
We also know that at times God will even elevate evil or immoral rulers to achieve His greater Plan. But when that Plan is achieved, God will discard the ruler, when he does not turn to God and acknowledge His sovereignty. The examples of the numerous kings of Judah and Israel in the Old Testament are an affirmation of this principle, as God used both good and evil kings to continue to advance His objectives. But as soon as God finished with an immoral ruler, God always discarded him.
So the lesson any elected official should learn from this truth, is that God’s selection of you for the office you now hold, is not necessarily an endorsement of you, your political solutions, ambitions, or even your character. Rather, He has placed you there for His purposes. So it’s incumbent on every elected official to ask these questions:
“Why did God elevate me? What does He want to achieve through me? How can I best serve God in this capacity? Am I ready to give account to Him for my actions in my current position?”
All these questions require one particular attitude which we referenced earlier: Humility.
In closing, I trust as you assume the new office or term, which you have been given for a brief moment, that you will ponder these truths from God’s Word. I trust you will acknowledge Whom it is that elevated you, that you will remain humble, that you will truly model servant leadership, and that you will never assume that God endorses all you do, simply because He has granted you this position of authority.
Remember what Jesus said to Pilate when He, as the Son of God, stood before the government official who had been lent the power of life or death:
“Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” (John 19:11)
So if your authority is given to you by God Himself, then this should be your response:
“What do you have that God hasn’t given you? And if everything you have is from God, why boast as though it were not a gift?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)
Blessings to you as you move into what has often been portrayed as “The Swamp.” But in reality, it may be your greatest opportunity and responsibility to:
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)
(If you know an elected official, and agree with this message, would you forward this to him/her?)
As I was reading the story of Noah recently, a few verses jumped out at me as to why God used Noah to build the ark. Note what God had to say about this man, who would build the most famous boat ever, one that was much larger and more capable than the Titanic:
“This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God.” Genesis 6:9
Imagine having the above said about you. But wait. There’s more:
“So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.” Genesis 6:22
When God saw all the evil that filled the earth, He gave Noah very specific instructions on what he should do to save his life, his family, and a remnant of God’s animal creation. Noah’s obedience was critical if they were all to be protected from the impending flood that would soon cover the entire earth.
Noah obeyed God. Period. But Noah’s obedience wasn’t just for a few weeks, or a year or two. Rather Noah’s obedience was for many decades, as Noah and his sons labored to build the vessel that would save their lives… and ultimately yours and mine. (Think about that for a minute. Aren’t you glad Noah was obedient?)
So you may be wondering, where does the rowboat come in to Noah’s story?
Well, God gave Noah an ark-sized mission, because the “master ship builder” had proven to God over time that he could be trusted, that he was “righteous and blameless.”
But what about you and me? Or maybe I should just say, what about me?
Is there a reason my mission hasn’t risen to the size of an ark, or even a yacht? Is it possible that God is still waiting for me to complete the mission of simply constructing a rowboat? I believe this may be true for many of us. Until we’ve proven ourselves as ready, reliable, or consistently obedient in the little things, we can only dream about building an ark.
God needs faithful servants first and foremost. And only then will He elevate the mission He has for us. The parable of the three servants that Jesus relays in the Gospels affirms the concept that connects increasing opportunities to faithful stewardship. The servant who proved he was capable to handle greater resources was given even more. Meanwhile, the servant who was unreliable was given less, and even had those resources eventually taken away altogether.
So, if you and I want to build an ark for God, we must first prove we can build the rowboat He’s asking us to tackle. And the only way we can build the rowboat is by simply obeying the Truth God has already revealed to us. When we do so, we will be given more.
So let’s go build a rowboat today. Who knows, maybe God will use our rowboat to simply save some folks who are struggling to keep from drowning in the lake of life. And if so, we will have served an eternal purpose for God.
“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities.’” Matthew 25:23
Growing up you no doubt heard the story of Jonah and the whale. You may remember it as a cute little Bible story about a man who was swallowed by a big fish and after he prayed, the whale spewed Jonah out onto dry land. But there’s a whole lot more to the story, and perhaps a critical lesson or two for you and me as well.
In the opening verses of this story, we see God directly informing Jonah of the mission He has for the prophet. However, unlike the movie Mission Impossible, there is no, “your mission, should you chose to accept it…” option. Rather, if God is your Heavenly Father, then He has placed a distinct call upon your life. No child is exempted. And while there may be some common missions that we all share, we all have a unique mission or call from God Himself.
Running from God
Notice though what Jonah did when God called him:
“But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord… hoping to escape from the Lord…” (Jonah 1:3)
Have you ever done what Jonah did… run from God? We may not physically board a boat, as Jonah did. But we may have a clear understanding as to what God’s mission for us is, yet we chose to set it aside, turn the other way, and we figuratively run from the God of the universe.
Imagine trying to outrun Usain Bolt, the fastest man in the world. Attempting such would be absurd. Now consider how foolish it is to run from the God of the universe. Infinitely more foolish. Futile is how we might describe such an effort.
When Storms Roar
When Jonah ran, we see that God brought a hurricane-like storm into his life, to grab his attention and halt him in his journey to escape from God.
Invariably when we resist God’s mission for our life, He will bring pressure to bear on us, whether physically, financially, emotionally or spiritually, in order to get our attention and “convince” us of the priority of His call on our life. But how do we respond when God is clearly speaking to us through the storms of life?
Jonah was an interesting fellow. As the ship he was on was being battered about by the hurricane force winds, Jonah literally fell asleep. His apathy towards God, and the others on the ship, was so great that he could care less about the impending disaster that was facing him and his shipmates.
What about you and me? Are we so “asleep at the wheel” running from God that we no longer see the danger and threats that are posed towards us and our family, friends or even our fellow citizens? If so, note what happened next to Jonah.
Pagans Begging for Prayer
When Jonah’s shipmates were hopeless and feeling their lives were all but lost, they screamed out to Jonah, waking him and begging him to pray for them. They sensed calamity was near and they turned to the God who they themselves had yet to meet.
There was a moment in our nation when this happened from coast to coast. It was the first few days after 9/11/01. Hundreds of millions of Americans sought for some sense in the midst of our national storm. They could not make sense of the tragedy and they sought out a sleeping church, begging for hope, prayer and understanding. But it did not last long. And sadly, I believe we as believers dropped the ball, going back to sleep as quickly as we were jolted awake. We missed our call, corporately and individually.
Getting Thrown Overboard
When Jonah realized he was the reason the lives of his fellow travelers were threatened, he pleaded with them to simply throw him overboard. Jonah realized that unless he repented of his disobedience, not only would he die, but the lives of many others would possibly be lost as well. So the sailors, hoping to save themselves, literally threw Jonah overboard.
And the Storm Stopped
When we’re running from God, the storms He brings into our lives are meant to redirect us to the mission He has for us. And the storms will continue until we acknowledge to ourselves and possibly even those around us, that our rebellion is the cause of the storm. Sadly, in order for the storm to stop, oftentimes it requires the threat of our own loss of life. And the unbelievers around us are often all to willing to send us to a murky death.
The Big Fish
As soon as Jonah hit the water, the great fish swallowed him alive. And Jonah remained there for 3 days and 3 nights.
If you were drowning in the ocean, the last thing you might expect to save you is a whale-sized fish bearing down on you. But God is mysterious. His ways, thoughts and plans are beyond ours. And so what we may see as a threat, may in fact be our savior.
When we repent of our own rebellion, at times we may need a prolonged period of reflection, to reevaluate our past, reconsider our choices, and recommit our future to the mission God has for us. Like Jonah in the fish, God may place us in an obscure and even dark place in order to gain our undivided focus.
Once Jonah was back on dry land, after his period of repentance, reflection and recommitment, his face turned toward the mission for which God had called him. The mission was a God-sized one. By himself, Jonah stood no chance in achieving what God had ordained.
Whenever you combine those two words, there is no stopping what can happen next. Nineveh, a thriving but pagan metropolis, was facing imminent judgment from God for its utter rejection of God. But when Jonah simply obeyed God and imparted His message, the king of this wicked city repented and led his entire city to do the same. And God relented from destroying thousands.
When you and I simply obey God and pursue His mission for our lives, there is no predicting the outcome. The potential exists that an entire city could be changed and saved; or a family member might be rescued from the clutches of the enemy; or some other mission. But regardless of the outcome, God will work in you and others His perfect will and plan. Your purpose will have been fulfilled, and God will receive the glory.
So, are you Jonah? Or have you been? If so, when you’ve exited your dark time of repentance, reflection and recommittment in your “big fish,” turn your face towards God and never turn back. The best is ahead and the worst is behind. And God will sustain you for whatever Impossible Mission He has for you.
“My houses. My cars. My bank accounts. My businesses. My properties. They are all mine. I’m a self made man.”
These phrases are frequently referenced and even celebrated in America. We use them so routinely that it’s almost second nature. But truthfully, in the nation that prides itself on capitalism and entrepreneurship, it should come as no wonder.
But in an era that condemns #FakeNews and seeks #Truth, are these statements accurate? Are they true? Or is there something deeply misleading about them?
In my years of pursuing the “American Dream” and seeking a bigger house, faster cars, larger bank accounts, and more profitable businesses, I have come to understand that there is a truth to these pursuits that sadly too often escapes our understanding.
As I’ve taken time to ponder, research and seek the meaning of life as it relates to possessions, wealth and stewardship, the following key truths have become clearer to me.
Truth 1: It’s not yours or mine
The first truth is that you and I don’t own what we routinely call ours or “Mine.” That home, car, property, bank account, business, or fill in the blank, is not yours or mine. There is a higher Power and Authority to whom it all belongs. The same One who created the universe, and you and me, also entrusted you and me with the possessions we have that we call our own. There are so many references in the Scriptures that affirm this truth, but here are just a couple:
“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.The world and all its people belong to Him.” (Psalm 24:1)
“Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.” (1 Chronicles29:11-12)
Truth 2: The “self-made” man does not exist. There is no such man
The idea that a man makes himself, as in his achievements, possessions and such, and they are are all his own creation, and it is he who is solely responsible for them, is false. In fact, it is the epitome of arrogance and it’s highly disingenuous to ignore every other person and circumstance that came together to enable such a person to achieve and possess. But worse, the idea of a “self-made” man ignores the One who breathed into each of us the gifts, skills, intellect, and health, and orchestrated the right circumstances that led to what our culture defines as success.
There are numerous examples in Scripture that speak to the flawed concept of a “self-made” man but in Deuteronomy 8 we read this warning from God:
“He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy.’Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
Truth 3: Gifts do not appear out of a vacuum
Along with the misunderstanding about someone being “self-made” is the idea that our unique giftedness is simply our own doing. It’s true that gifts can and should be cultivated, but they are initially embedded in us by a Power much greater than ourselves. Again, we see this truth playing out repeatedly in Scripture. For instance, when God led Moses to build the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant, God singled out a man named Bezalel to be responsible for all the work involving precious metals, gemstones, and woodwork and also appointed Oholiab to be his assistant. We read this about these two men:
“Look, I have specifically chosen Bezalel… I have filled him with the Spirit of God, giving him great wisdom, ability, and expertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a master craftsman, expert in working with gold, silver, and bronze. He is skilled in engraving and mounting gemstones and in carving wood. He is a master at every craft! I have personally appointed Oholiab… to be his assistant. Moreover, I have given special skill to all the gifted craftsmen so they can make all the things I have commanded you to make.” (Exodus 31:2-6)
Truth 4: You and I will give account someday for all the assets that were placed within our control
Perhaps this is the most sobering truth of all, at least for me. Whether we acknowledge that God owns it all, or that a “self-made” man is a delusion, or that our gifts come from God, someday you and I will give account for all that God placed within our control. The bank accounts and every other tangible asset and intangible gifts that we have controlled or will control are being monitored by our Heavenly Father. We will give account to Him for how we have managed and stewarded them. This also includes our time.
When I personally think about this truth, I am greatly disheartened as I recognize the many times I have mismanaged God’s resources, finite ones that He entrusted to me. But this truth also compels me to not merely look backwards but more importantly to focus on what is ahead. I cannot change yesterday but I can impact today and tomorrow.
What about you? Do you recognize that someday you will be called to account for every asset that is within your control? And if so, does that cause you to reevaluate your actions and priorities, and how you are using the finite resources in your life?
One of my favorite stories from Scripture relating to the topic of Stewardship is the Parable of the Three Servants in Matthew 25. The quick summary of the story is this.
A master goes away for some time but before he leaves he provides his three servants with funds to work with while he’s gone. To the first servant he gives five bags of silver; the second he gives two bags of silver; and the third he gives one bag. While the master is gone, the first and second servant get to work. When the master returns, they both doubled what the master gave them, with the first earning an additional five bags of silver and the second earning two more bags. Consequently, both servants are amply rewarded.
However, when the master calls the third servant forward, he is only able to return the original one bag of silver, having earned nothing for his master. The master rightly becomes very angry, takes away the one bag of silver that had been entrusted to him, and the third servant is severely punished.
So we come to understand that just like these servants, we are all given varying amounts of resources, but someday we will be required to account for everything that God gave us, whether a physical asset or an intangible gift, or even an opportunity or our time, that we may have squandered. Recognizing this truth should cause us to reevaluate our view of possessions, wealth and stewardship. And as you and I do this, I trust we will become the kind of stewards for whom our Master will someday say, “Well done good and faithful servant.”
July 4th: a day that many Americans will spend with family and friends, enjoying food and fireworks. It’s a day that we celebrate the founding of our nation, more than two centuries ago. That day in 1776, was a day like no other for the men who penned their names to our founding document, the Declaration of Independence. Their grievances were serious, real and legitimate. And their public defiance of the King was a certain death warrant, leading them to mutually pledge their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.”
Their unwavering commitment to the principle of Liberty, resulted in innumerable blessings for us today. But have you ever considered what the purpose of Liberty really is? Is its end simply the “pursuit of happiness?” While this question begs a much deeper and more thorough discussion than what follows, I trust these brief thoughts will serve to challenge you and me to go deeper in meditation. And as we do, perhaps our thoughts will call us to a higher level of accountability than what we as Americas are accustomed to acknowledging.
The First Liberty: In a Perfect World
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…” I would assert that this phrase, known to most people across the world who have been blessed with the knowledge of the Scriptures, is the greatest opening statement of any manuscript ever known to man. In the passage following this opening truth, we find that God not only created the entire universe and all that is within it, but He also established the principles and laws that would control all things. These laws would govern not only the physical, but also the emotional and spiritual, and even what our Founders referred to as “unalienable rights.”
So when God, on the sixth day, created man in “His own image,” He presented to that first couple a state of perfection. In that perfect world, God offered Adam and Eve the freedom to exercise liberty, and then he defined how they would do so. The first couple would initially exercise dominion over the world God had created — every creature, plant and the entire earth. Secondly, Adam & Even would express their love by multiplying themselves, thus reproducing life. And lastly, they would discharge their free will, and their understanding of liberty, by the choices they would make.
As Adam and Eve partook of liberty in those first few days of perfection, enjoying a deeply personal and intimate fellowship with God, they were free to experience all of God’s creation. A smorgasbord of sensual pleasures surrounded them everywhere they looked. The radiant beauty of their environment, the luscious delicacies their taste buds enjoyed, and the intellectual and emotional stimuli they were exposed to during their daily walks with God, was beyond any experience modern man can fathom.
But there was just one, ever so small, limitation that would test their understanding of liberty. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the center of the Garden of Eden, was off limits. The perfection they daily enjoyed eventually came to be overshadowed by their knowledge that there was one singular item, stored away in the middle of their “heaven on earth” of which they were to steer clear. Their “dilemma” is akin to being given the key to Whole Foods so that anything you desired to take and eat was yours, except for one box of cookies on a counter in the middle of the bakery department.
So liberty’s purpose was clear. And liberty’s test was even clearer. Mankind’s destiny literally hung in the balance as Adam and Eve grappled with the concept of liberty. Would they fulfill God’s purpose? Would they exercise dominion over every aspect of God’s creation, including the tree in the middle of the garden? Would they tame and control their own free will to conform to God’s singular restriction on their liberty? Or would they chose to pursue a distorted view of liberty, one that suggested they could do anything they pleased, with no consequences?
Sadly, we know the rest of the story as Adam and Eve trampled the liberty God gave them, exercising their free will to violate the boundaries that liberty imposed.
Liberty in an Imperfect World
Since that tragic day when Adam and Eve traded true liberty for a lesser form, man has continuously sought liberty. But not until the founding of these United States of America has there been a nation whose very DNA was infused with liberty as ours. Many of our nation’s greatest icons carry the theme of liberty. The Statue of Liberty. The Liberty Bell. The Liberty Tree. Sons of Liberty.
So it seems only natural that Americans love liberty and seek after it. But do we understand what liberty is, and more importantly are we fulfilling its purpose in an imperfect world?
Thinking back to the initial purposes of liberty as revealed in the opening scene of the world, we are to have dominion over all of creation. The world is ours. God has granted it to us but will also hold us accountable for the way in which we subdue it. Are we acting as the stewards that God intended in every asset, gift, and relationship that God bestows upon you and me?
Secondly, are we reproducing and embracing life? Life is under attack like never before. The forces of evil are seeking to dismantle life, convincing us that children are a hassle, and in a million instances a year in American, not even worthy of life. Our birthrates in America are not even sufficient to replace ourselves. So do we truly value life? Yet, liberty demands that we must.
Finally, liberty is a test, between good and evil. In a sense, Adam and Eve had it much easier. Their choices were sorted into two categories. In the first column was the one item in their world of infinite good that they were told to reject: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In the other column was everything else! They were presented with only one bad option and literally millions of good choices.
Not so in our lives. The truth is that we have literally millions of options and choices available to us at any given moment, both good and bad. And because of the free will that God granted to us when he created Adam, we have the liberty to chose either, the righteous or evil. But sadly there is a plethora of wrong choices today. And it seems that it’s all too easy to default to bad choices, at least I know it is in my life. But while liberty gives me that option, liberty also demands better. Liberty instructs that we must resist that which is not good, not only for our own good, but for our family, friends and nation. For if we learned anything from Adam and Eve, we can understand that our choices are not made in a vacuum but rather they ripple out, resulting in either a wave of good or a flood of bad.
So at the end of the day, the purpose of liberty is simple. It is a test. Will you and I pass the test? Will we weigh every choice by God’s perfect standard, rejecting those that don’t measure up? Or will we abuse liberty to do what we want, regardless of the impact on ourselves and others?
Only you can say. But as we celebrate another July 4th, may we never again forget the purpose of liberty and with God’s help, exercise our liberty in a manner worthy of God’s blessings.