Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Understanding True Freedom: Give Thanks to the Lord

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Preached at Northwest Christian Church
David P. Kautt
Sunday Morning, July 31, 2011

Psalm 107:1-22, “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy, and gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. They wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses. And He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city for a dwelling place. Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness. Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in affliction and irons— because they rebelled against the words of God, and despised the counsel of the Most High, therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces. Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He has broken the gates of bronze, and cut the bars of iron in two. Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted. Their soul abhorred all manner of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with rejoicing.”

What does it mean to be truly free? As we come to the end of 'freedom month', I want to take one last opportunity to examine this important question with you from the perspective of God's Word.

As you remember, our theme texts for this study on true freedom have been found on the lips of Jesus and from the pen of the apostle Paul. We have heard and read words that describe for us what true freedom is, and how to obtain it. Think again of these passages with me for a moment, will you? “Brethren, you have been called to liberty, to freedom, only do not use [that] liberty as an opportunity, a launching pad, for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even this: 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself.' “ (Galatians :13-14) And the words of Jesus in Luke 4, “The spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Luke 4:18-19) And, then, of course, our starting point, from the from the eighth chapter of John's gospel, the words of our Lord, “If you abide in My word, then you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Therefore if the Son makes your free, then you shall be truly free – free indeed!” (John 8:31-32, 36)

What does it mean to be truly free? We've covered quite a bit of ground as we have explored this subject, but one thing we haven't examined as much as I think we should in this study, is the response, the proper Biblical response of the liberated, of those who have been set free, to the One who has freed them. Come again to the text we read a moment ago from the psalms, and you will see it written all over the passage, won't you?

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever! Let the redeemed, the rescued, the liberated, of the Lord say so, those whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy, and gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.”
Thanksgiving, you see it, don't you? A joyful expression of gratitude to God, our Liberator! I know it's not late in the month of November. I know that we're not all sitting around a table spread with a juicy turkey, a warm pan of dressing and a delicious helping of pumpkin pie, but listen, if the Son has set you free, it's 'Thanksgiving Day!' It's the season, as the Redeemed of the Lord, to say so! To say, 'Thank you, Lord! You are so good to me! By your eternal mercy You have rescued me! Praise God!'

I know that you and I are not Jesus, not Old Testament Israelites, and that the details and specifics laid out in this 'historical psalm' pertain to ancient Israel and God's gracious dealings with that nation. I know all that. But listen. In many ways, their history, Israel's history, is not that different from the history of each one of us. Take a look.

Verse 2 – Ever felt like you were in the clutches of someone or something greater and stronger than you? Something or someone intending to harm you, to steal from you, to destroy you? Are you, have you been freed from that 'enemy'? Has God rescued you from that 'evil grip'? Say so! “Thank you, God! For in Your goodness and in Your everlasting loving kindness, you have set me free from that 'enemy'. Praise God!”

Verses four through nine: ever been lost and lonely? I mean, have you ever felt like you were wandering in a limitless desert without a compass, with no landmarks to guide you, and, maybe worst of all, without an oasis anywhere in sight? Ever been there? Then, you know what it means to be hungry, don't you? And you know how it feels to be bone-dry, parched! You know what it means to be weak to the point of fainting! And, by the way, we're not just talking here about desperate situations physically, but also the desperation we sometimes experience in our souls! Ever been there?

Look at the words the Bible uses to describe what we're talking about here: verse 6, 'trouble', verse 6, 'distress', verse 8, 'longing' – intense, deep-down longing, and nagging, gnawing hunger. Ever been there? Have you? Then, you will understand, you will join with the psalmist and the Israelites of old in exclaiming, 'Thank you, God! For Your goodness, for Your wonderful works to me, this child of a man!' For in my 'desert', no compass, no landmarks, no oasis, in my desert, You supplied me with Your leadership! You “led me forth by the right way, that I might go to a city for a dwelling place!” And to my parched lips, my gnawing stomach, my stressed-out soul look what You did for me! Verse 8 – You provided satisfaction, You filled me with Your goodness! Hallelujah!

What does it mean to be truly free? For the Christian, set free by the Son, liberated by abiding in His Word, and by knowing His truth, for the Christian, in ways not too dis-similar to the Old Testament Israelites, you've been there.

Yes, we've been there, sitting in that dark, dungeon at midnight, bound there, not because we were preaching the gospel, as Paul and Silas had been, but held there, like that jailer at Philippi was held there, not by literal chains and stocks, but by the iron-like grip of our sins against God.

Yes, we've been there, haven't we? Some of us maybe are still there. As verse 10 says, in a place of deep darkness, in a place over which death, the unmentionable, casts its horrible shadow. Been there, are there, because we rebelled against the words of God, because we despised His lofty and righteous counsel, thinking, we know better! We could handle it without Him!

What happens eventually, in the long run, what happens to every, single, solitary person who thinks he know better? Who arrogantly tells God to 'get lost 'case I can take care of this without you!'?

Look at verse 12, with me, will you? Have you ever considered your work as a form of slavery? A type of imprisonment? When you kick God out of the equation of your life, that's what your work becomes! Worse yet, look at what the text says, verse 12, tells us, when you tell God to get lost, who is left to help you? Who?! 
Do you know what it means to be truly free? I mean TRULY FREE? It doesn't mean you think you're big enough, strong enough, rich enough, smart enough to tell God to get lost! No! Rather, look with me at what it means. Verses 13, 14, 15 and 16. True freedom comes, when, on your knees in desperation and in genuine humility, you invite God into your life, to save you out of your distresses, to break your chains in pieces, to cut your prison bars of iron in two! Praise Him!

Why does God do it? I just said it, didn't I? So that we will praise Him! He extends His goodness to us, displays works more wonderful, more gracious, more life-transforming than we can begin to imagine. Why? So that the children of men, are you a part of that group? A child of a man? God saves us from our distresses and the shadow of death, He breaks the gates of bronze that imprison us, why? So that we will give thanks to Him! So that we will praise Him!

What does it mean to be truly free? There are at least two words that don't go with the idea of true freedom. Anybody have any idea what those two words are? Verse 17 – Foolishness, that's the first word and affliction, that's the other word. Foolishness - remember the 'I know better than You, God!' way of thinking we mentioned earlier? Fools, thinking they know better than God, transgress, they step outside of the boundaries God set forth for them. Fools, daring to kick God out of their lives, commit iniquity, they end up twisting and perverting all God meant for good in their lives. Fools, who think they are so wise, are, in fact, as blind as can be. They can't see, maybe choose not to see, where their foolishness is leading them. You see where it leads, don't you? Remember the second key word from verse 17?

Foolishness, 'I'm smarter than You, God', “I don't need You, God!' takes everyone who walks that path in one direction, and in one direction only, and it isn't the pathway to true freedom! No! It is the pathway to and through affliction.

But isn't our God so very gracious? Can I get an 'Amen' to that?

Do you understand why I say that a season of reflecting on the nature of true freedom ought to be also a season of Thanksgiving? Fools, at the end of a thorny, pot-hole-filled, booby-trap laden, way called 'affliction', if, like the prodigal son, they come to themselves and turn back toward Daddy's house, what does Daddy do?

Verse 20 – He sends forth His word and heals them, He commands deliverance toward them when they are on the brink of destruction. Verse 19 – He does what they though they could do without Him! He saves them out of their distresses. He rescues them from the affliction their pride and foolishness caused. Ever been there? A traveler on that pathway that began with your foolishness and ended with the affliction God said it would bring?

Maybe you are still there, now. Verse 21 - “Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!” If you've been there on a path that began with your foolishness and ended with it's terrible 'destination', affliction, but have been rescued by the hand of the mighty and merciful God, that's what you're to do! “Sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving and joyfully tell everyone what He has done for you!”

But, if you're still there, here's what you are to do: verse 6, verse 13, verse 19, verse 28; cry out to the Lord, His ears are open to your prayers. Cry out to the Lord, He's listening, been waiting for you to call on Him for years! Cry out to Him, come to Him, through His Son, the Liberator and His 'statue of liberty', the Cross! Cry out to Him, and when you do, listen, help is on the way! Help is on the way!

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