I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Not long ago, I was having coffee with a couple who described their past church experience. This couple was very active in their church. They served on committees, taught Sunday School, and she sang in the choir. They began by telling about how a new, young pastor had been called to their previous church. At first, it was really exciting because they thought his youthfulness and creativity would breathe a fresh spirit into the soul of the congregation.
He spoke of outreach and growth.
He spoke of the declining morality of the world.
He spoke of an ecclesiastical responsibility to tell the world of their sin.
And, he spoke of an elected body of believers empowered for the mission.
It all sounded very appealing to this couple, until they started to notice the pastor’s words morphed into something more stringent, more rigid, more restricting. In one sermon, the young pastor spoke about the decline of morality. It started off very good, but then he began to identify by name those he believed were promoting a secular or worldly agenda. The notion he was making was clear to the couple, “these people” were against the Gospel. There was problem for the couple though. The public names the pastor was identifying were people they admired and supported.
Nevertheless, they felt like the pastor had a right to his opinion as long as they were not forced to believe likewise. Surely, they could keep their opinions and consciences clear, as well as enjoy the fellowship of their friends. Pastors were always making bold statements were they not? Their pastor was young, they thought, he would most certainly mature over time. They were sure the deacons would help him out.
In another sermon, the young pastor preached from Matthew 13:18-23, the parable about the wheat and tares. He spoke how God had planted good bible-believing Christians in the church who were being blessed and empowered by God to do his work. Unfortunately though, the enemy was afoot planting tares among them. Like the opposing people he mentioned in the other sermon, he began pointing out there were people within the congregation who were not totally on board with God’s direction the pastor was taking the church. These people needed to either get on board or get out. God would surely want them gone so his work could be completed. For some strange reason, the couple could not shake the feeling the pastor was talking about them and others like them.
Surely not though? Surely they misunderstood his intention? Surely he was talking about someone else in the church?
The final straw came when a document landed in their mailbox addressed to Sunday School teachers (for which the husband was one). The letter was from the pastor suggesting he had been informed that certain Sunday School classes were discussing issues directly opposed to Scripture. He even cited a few: the heresy of egalitarian views in the home and church, pastoral authority on matters of faith over congregational authority, and the myth there should be a separation between the church and the state. The letter stated that if anyone was going to teach Sunday School at the church, they had to sign this document declaring their commitment to the church and it’s teaching as adopted by their denominational statement of faith.
The couple, as you can imagine, was appalled. They realized their church was no longer their church. It had changed. People were no longer free to interpret the Scriptures or to practice their faith as their consciences dictated. They were being asked to give up their freedom and submit to a rigid and narrow interpretation of the Christian faith.
The couple looked at me after telling their story, took a sip of their coffee, then asked, “Why NorthHaven? What will we experience at your church, pastor?”
There are moments in my ministry when the pastoral tongue takes over, unleashing a litany of over-religious, over-spiritual, and over-pious language. I know, we preachers can be wordy. We can launch into “preacher-speak” faster than Jesus turned water into wine.
However, after hearing the couple’s story and question, the Holy Spirit must have taken over my mind because I simply said, “Freedom.”
Biblical Foundation for Freedom
From the beginning of the biblical narrative, we are introduced to this radical idea of freedom. When Yahweh God creates humanity, he chooses not to clone us into subservient slaves forced to worship, serve, and love him. In fact, Yahweh does quite the opposite. The man and woman in Genesis are given the ability to freely roam and to freely choose. There are guidelines, restrictions, and consequences for their choices, but their freedom is never jeopardized.
Why would God do such a thing? Wouldn’t it have been easier to make us worship him? Wouldn’t it have been easier to hardwire us into doing as he wants? Wouldn’t it have been much simpler for everyone if we just believed the same thing, felt the same feelings, and loved in the same way?
But I guess that was the point when God gave us free will. To have the potential to love, we must have the potential to reject. In other words, without free will there would be no love at all. Love would be a forced venture. While we might have escaped the heartache of loss, rejection, and betrayal, we would have lost the excitement of a first encounter, the hope of bonded relationship, and the joy of knowing you’re loved.
The Old Testament is filled with both the heartaches and redemptive works of freedom. The people of Israel demonstrated their freedom through poor choices, but continued experiencing God’s grace and love as they freely repented and returned to his ways. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, God has come to “set the prisoners free.”
Often, we become so afraid of freedom we attempt to shackle ourselves to comfortable ideas about God that make us feel safe. Writing to James Madison in 1787, Thomas Jefferson penned these words, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery” (PTJ, 11:92-93). Jefferson words should echo in our ears.
God knew freedom would be a dangerous endeavor, but an endeavor worth taking. Freedom opens the mind and soul to explore the depths of God that brings exciting revelations and miraculous wonderment. Indeed, the freedom-road is a dangerous trek but, anything worth value has a struggle to obtain it.
Similar to the Old Testament’s meta-narrative about God’s freedom let loose on the world, the New Testament is a more precise indication placing Jesus as the embodiment of God’s work to loosen the shackles of sin allowing us to fall into the freedom of God’s salvation. In John 8, Jesus declared, “Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains in the house forever. So if the son makes you free, you will be freed indeed.”
Paul: To Be Free or Die
The Apostle Paul picks up on this idea in Romans, stating that within creation itself freedom was born at the beginning. The world felt birthing pains. It was ready to burst forth with life, freedom, and the hope of God. Like the beginning, We suffer from our own birthing pains. Because we are subject to sin we suffer, waiting for God’s salvation and freedom to burst out from within us.
In other words, we were created and we were born free. It is in our spiritual DNA, put there by the Creator himself. Unfortunately, however, with our own sin and selfishness we attempt to place restrictions upon this freedom. For Jesus, he fought with religious leaders about the rigid system of piety promoted within his time. Their restrictions were so harsh that it was like placing another “yoke of slavery” around the people’s necks.
It would be like demanding that everyone believe the way I believe and practice faith like I practice it. It would be like demanding that everyone sign a document placing their loyalty to a piece a paper over that of a relationship with Christ. It would be like arguing that individual interruptions of the Bible are infallible and all other perspectives are incorrect.
To this I declare, forevermore, like that of Patrick Henry, “Give me Liberty (freedom) or give me death!”
With puzzled looks, the couple at the coffee house asked, “Pastor what do you mean? Freedom?”
With the door now open, I began to explain…
Freedom at NorthHaven
At NorthHaven we are free to love. Love is always a choice. We work hard to create an atmosphere where individual Christians can fall in love with God and learn to love others as they would love themselves.
Based on the Greatest Commandments, we believe a vertical love of God and a horizontal love for others can never be coerced or demanded. We must remain free to love and to experience the wonderment of God’s love. Yes, it means we might get hurt by others. Yes, it means taking a risk to totally depend upon God. Yet, in the end, it will be worth every ounce of effort we put into it.
At NorthHaven we are free to worship. We do not believe in a coerced worship experience which uses manipulation to garner responses. We do not use oppressive guilt to move people into worshipping God. We do not pound you over the head in an attempt to pull a decision out of you. Our worship is a freeing experience empowering worshippers to meet God in a unique and intimate way.
Our services and thematic material are prayed over by our staff and worship teams. We use outside resources to assist us in creating an atmosphere for worship, but we depend upon the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us. We are free to worship as the Spirit guides and directs, attempting to remove all barriers between the worshipper and our Lord.
At NorthHaven we are free to practice our faith. Built upon the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, NorthHaven holds to the idea that God relates to each individual in a unique and profound way. Every believer posses the ability to interpret the Scriptures and apply them to their practice of faith as their conscience dictates.
Now, does this mean you can believe anything you want? Yes, and no. Yes, everyone possesses the freedom to believe anything they want. However, to be part of NorthHaven there are at least two requirements. First, you must profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We are professing Christians and believe strongly in the person of Jesus, his ministry, his salvific act upon a cross, and his resurrection three days following.
Second, we believe that disciples of Jesus begin their journeys at their baptisms. While the act of baptism is not salvific in nature, it is a symbol of the salvific act one receives when making a decision to follow Jesus. And, at NorthHaven, we practice baptism with a whole lot of water even though we do not require re-baptism from any other Christian tradition.
As disciples of Jesus, and wet behind the ears, we commit ourselves to a lifetime of learning. None of us claim to know it all. None of us believe we have arrived and possess all the right answers about God. We read the Scriptures, hold convictions, and apply those convictions to our practice of faith. However, we all realize we are fallible beings capable of getting it wrong or making a mistake. But through it all, we remain free to believe and to serve.
At Northhaven we are free to serve. If the idea of freedom is one of the great pillars on which NorthHaven stands, then serving others in a missional way is the second. Now, I am going to be saying a whole lot more about this in two weeks, but know this about how we encourage our members to serve. Every NorthHaven member is free to serve God and to serve others. Through missional practices and ministry opportunities, everyone has the opportunity to roll up their sleeves and get to work making a difference in the world.
It was with that comment the eyebrows of the couple sitting in front of me at the coffee house raised just a bit. They sat back in their chairs, took a sip of coffee again, and contemplated everything I had just told them.
Then, they responded, “That’s what we want to do. We want to be free in order to make a difference. We want to be free to explore our faith, grow deeper in our understanding of God, and live out his message making a real difference in this world. You can’t do that with chains around your mind, heart, and wrists.”
To be free of death, in order to live.
To be free of sin, in order to live righteously.
To be free of rigid constraints, in order to fall deeper in love with God.
To be free of legalism, in order to discover new aspects of God.
To be free to limitations, in order to leap in missional opportunities that make a real difference in this community and the world.
If you want to soar as free as an eagle in the sky, come join us, for the winds of the Holy Spirit are gusting and we are about to take flight.