The mere subject of taxes raises blood pressures and brings out the fighting instinct. Sometime in May, the US Government announces a "tax freedom" day. After this date, you work for yourself and your income no longer simply pays taxes. Freedom.
Less than two months later, we celebrate the Declaration of Independence of our country when we declared that everyone had the right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." We have fought wars to guarantee or protect our freedom. Freedom is important enough to us to mark, celebrate and fight. A famous bell rang to signal the decree. We call it the "Liberty Bell."
But a crack appears in the bell. Not everyone in this land lives free. Bondage takes forms far beyond the oppression of a foreign government or the collections of a local government. The strongest prisons have no fences, bars or addresses. Even in this, the freest of countries, mankind's self-centeredness holds him in the cruelest of jails. The jail of flesh laughs at attempts to escape. Government programs designed to free people from deadly addictions are miserable failures, not even exceeding the rate of natural recovery.
The jails of addiction are jails of selfishness. No one ever enters their doors for the sake of others. One can never say, "I am a drunkard, or drug addict for your benefit." Self is the culprit. However bad drugs and alcohol may be, they are minor leaguers compared to other jails for which there are no government programs.
No bars are as thick as the bars of greed behind which the wealthy are held. Escape from those bars is about as easy as pushing a camel through the eye of a needle. A man with a billion can do far more damage to mankind than a man with a gun or a drink. A famous old saying is "A man with a briefcase can steal far more than a man with a gun." Yet you never hear of any of the world's richest people begging for relief from their greed or asking for entry into a richness recovery program. So self is the cruelest of jailers.
If one achieves the fullness of wealth and power in his fleshly striving, what would the ultimate be? Surely a sense of rest and fulfillment, but no, history proves the opposite. Solomon had the ultimate in material goods and fleshly delights but still called it all vanity. Nebuchadnezzar had it all but couldnít control his rage over someone failing to worship a gold statue. Alexander conquered the world and cried because there were no more worlds to conquer. Is there any hope?
Occasionally, libraries will have engraved in marble above their door, "The Truth Shall Set You Free." This, of course, comes from the mouth of Jesus, however, if you enter and ask the librarian, "OK, tell me the Truth," you will be considered something of a nut case to one whose life is surrounded by fiction and non-fiction. The world sees truth as a gathering of facts. Unfortunately, they have to keep redefining facts.
For a moment, letís look at this often misunderstood Biblical principle of "Truth setting you free." I take the liberty to condense and paraphrase John 8:31-36:
1. If you believe in me
2. And follow my teachings
3. Then you are my disciples (learners)
4. Then you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you free.
5. If Jesus makes you free, you are truly free.
Anything less only produces a freedom to be in bondage. Anything less leaves our greatest jailer still in chargeóself. Is it any wonder that Jesus would state clearly "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63)
Is it any wonder that, once the disciples realized that He was the Messiah, Jesus could now offer the highest freedom: "If anyone desire to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 16:24-25)
So, my cross is this constant desire of my flesh to revert to bondage. So many things provide my flesh pleasure that it rarely manages to count the price being charged. I heard of one farmer at a county fair who was urged by a hawker to try a new food. The farmer replied, "No. Iíve got enough wants I canít satisfy now." He was wise.
Though in danger of violating the very principle I am preaching, the question remains, "What is the payoff for accepting this freedom from the fleshóboredom?" Quite the contrary. First, I am issued rest. No longer do I have to spend what should be productive time merely satisfying the flesh. Second, I finally find life. We all want to find our lives. That is why we are greedy and selfish. However, he who made us also knows how his product works. He who made us told us that to find our lives we must give them away.
I call that a "published secret." You can plaster that message on billboards all over the world and people will still not know it. Why? Because spiritual things cannot be discerned by our flesh. So, if one wants freedom of country, he can fight for it, and thank God for those who have. But bondage will remain until we are free from ourselves
Some wish to obtain that self-freedom by will power. They shut themselves away from the world, or deny themselves some thing as if that provides freedom or fulfills the invitation of Jesus to denial. Or whole religious systems are developed to attempt to reach a stability where one wants or needs only moderation. However, it doesnít work. One manís moderation is another manís excess. Even the billionaires will define themselves as moderate. Part of our great bondage is self-deception. That is why Jesus said to deny our self.
So where do we go? Back to Jesus! No true freedom exists before him or without him. Somebody has to save us and it wonít be us. We are miserable, selfish, greedy worms until we find and believe in the great others-centered one. With Him, itís a wonderful life.
-Gayle D. Erwin
Servant Quarters is published six times a year by Gayle Erwin and sent free in the United States to all who request it. Subscribers from other countries receive it by email.
We have 4 children, Bryan age 13, Stacy age 11, Jenny age 8, and Jamey age 6. In the past when we have gone on vacations that require a lot of driving we have always taken along "Adventure in Odyssey" tapes from Focus on the Family to entertain the kids. This year we forgot to buy some new ones.
But, my wife had purchased several of your tapes when you were at the church over Memorial Day. About an hour into the trip with 4 hyper kids, my wife put in one of your tapes. It was a hit! Bryan and Stacy were spellbound for the next few hours as we listened to "The Nature of Jesus"! They laughed and laughed. After each tape ended they would ask if we could listen to another!
By the end of our trip to D.C. we had listened to about 10 of your tapes. Thanks for being a part of a great vacation. I have confidence that the seeds that were planted in my childrenís lives through your teaching will reap a great harvest in their lives (and in mine)!James Chapman
Your new book (That Reminds Me of a Story) is wonderful. Itís hard to put in the bookcase because it keeps calling us to reread. You have created a real jewel. It makes it easy to reflect on ourselves and especially how great blessings come from our Lord. Your stories and life related in this book can truly be called "For The Glory Of God."Jerry and Connie Asher
Thank you so much for your article on prayer. I read it today under the most requested reprints on your web page. Why do we always have to make so much of everything? We just need to be like little children because really thatís what we are. Sometimes I pray things over and over again like Iím trying to make sure God is paying attention to me. Thank you so much for the assurance that God hears us because he loves us not because I have my knees angled at the proper position, am in a closet or on top of a mountain.Mike Protsman
Gayle, what a life changing experience it has been for me to have been handed a copy of your book The Jesus Style by a fellow minister recently. All the answers to attitudes I did not need to have. How wrong we have all been in bringing world based leadership into the precious body of Christ.
Thank you for telling us the truth that we all knew deep in our hearts had to be, because there was no cross that bites so deep until our very nature had to change. For me it has been the death to the nature of my motivations that has become so highlighted in reading over and over your book. I have been handed many other books to read recently, but cannot find the urge to pick them up until I have fully grasped the principles in your book.Jeff Sparkes
Your humorous way of presenting the gospel reminded me of how much God wants us to be happy in him. I am sure that you have touched lives in the many places you have visited and thank God for brothers like you who prove to the world that Christians are not a bunch of somber and serious sticks-in-the-muds.
We are new as Sunday School teachers (less than 6 months) and we have contemplated new ways to make our class more enjoyable for our kids yet still convey the message of the gospel.
You gave us a lot of new ideas for our class and hope you wonít mind if we imitate some of your antics. Our kids will enjoy the humor and will probably learn a great deal more.Steve and Sylvia Woodard
Thank you for letting us use the "Tourist or Teacher" article for our trip training. The people were helped in preparing their hearts for service in a beneficial way. Steve & Arlene Davis are the missionaries on site where we went and they liked the accurate and thought provoking way that the real needs were addressed in the article. I heard more than a few times the people referring to something they read in the article when they wondered how to react to a situation on the trip.Alan Hamilton
These articles are on the web site so you can have quick access to them. We want you to use them.
Iím a 55 year old doctor, never that much interested in religion, until I had a theophany completely unexpectedly a year ago.
That changed everything. I went from a disinterested agnostic to a person with an absolutely firm belief in God ó how could I do otherwise after I had been in Godís presence?
But, and hereís the hard part, while I can easily take Jesus into my brain, Iím having an awful time getting Him into my heart. I must want Him, because I keep seeking Him! I know Heís knocking, and I keep thinking Iím opening that door, but I guess Iím really not.
In the past year, Iíve read the Bible almost everyday, prayed at least daily, and read a ton of books about the Lord. I think your Jesus Style is wonderful. And yet, despite actually experiencing "the peace of God, that passeth all understanding", Iím just not there. I would be deeply indebted if you would give me your thoughts.A Friend
The heart, in the Bible, is never your blood pump or your emotions. The heart is the innermost you. If you believe, you do it from your innermost being. If you have peace, it is in your innermost being. This is true regardless of immediate feelings. If you are believing, experiencing His peace and seeking to know Jesus more, then He is in your innermost being, your heart.
God does give us feelings, but they are a fringe benefit and not your heart. One can feel good momentarily (spring up) yet wilt in the heat of the sun if the seed of the Word is not in good soil, our hearts. Your belief, endurance, seeking and peace lead me to believe that He is indeed in your heart. -Gayle Erwin
It never ceases to amaze me how God is so patient with His impatient servants. Two weeks ago we had a young man give his life to the Lord in our Monday morning worship service. How awesome is that?
Anyway, he has been coming to church occasionally over the last few weeks and has been attending our weekly Bible studies as he is able. Yesterday he came to our Tuesday afternoon study where Iím doing a teaching on the "Sermon on the Mount." It just so happens that the teaching was on the wise and foolish builders found there in Matthew Chapter 7.
As part of the fellowship we spend time sharing with each other and by coincidence he was the only one there as the other guys that attend the study were out of town. Coincidence? I think not!
Well, God blessed my socks off. During our sharing time he mentioned that he had been visiting Jon at the Applegate and he picked up this book in the book store and was just blown away by the message shared in the book. You see, the book was titled, The Jesus Style.
I told him that I had heard of the book and that the author was of questionable repute but that I loved you anyway. Needless to say he has taken The Father Style and The Spirit Style home with him to readóawesome!
What has really blessed me is that this man is a second or third generation Jehovahís Witnessóhis wife is still involved heavily in the JW organization but my prayers are that the Holy Spirit will minister to her according to His perfect plan.
I pray that the message you share in your books about the character and nature of Jesus just touches every area of this brotherís life and that he has patience with his wife and just loves her into the kingdom.Ted Zimmerman
What a pleasure it was to hear you teach Godís Word in Bowling Green, KY, June, 1997. I am one of the three that "walked out on you" that Friday night, BUT we came back to Living Hope Baptist Church on Saturday night all the way from SCOTLAND...Praise the Lord! Even if I did have to borrow $20 to buy those fantastic tapes of yours. I have been so blessed by your ministry. I have lent my pastor 2 of your tapes, so far, I know heíll want the others too.
The most amazing thing that has happened is my life has changed because you asked those of us in the audience to say Numbers 6:24-26 to bless as many people as we could. There was a young man there that said it to me (as he held my hand) and then, ever so lightly, kissed me on the cheek. He was so sincere and full of joy I knew this was an extra special blessing from the Lord. I could hardly sleep that night wondering what the Lord was trying to convey to me.
I have been so excited regarding those verses I could not keep that blessing to myself. It has been so wonderful to pass this on to others...many tears have been shed as this takes place. I am probably more blessed than the people God leads me to.
One of my sisters-in-Christ told me she wants me to sing these verses at her wedding! The Lord lead me to sing them to my SS class last week. I am overwhelmed! Iíve been told I now have a "Blessing Ministry"...and God used you to begin this in my life. Yes, indeed, God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.Mary S. Morrow
By Mike Nelson
Proverbs 8:13 "If anyone respects and fears God, he will hate evil. For wisdom hates pride, arrogance, corruption and deceit of every kind."
The religion of my childhood was almost completely colored by a deep fear of God. My childhood concept of God was of a huge, angry man who loved me when I was good but was enraged when I misbehaved.
Because of this twisted view of God, I embraced the message of a loving God of grace like a man finding water in the desert. Yet, I have always been a bit unsettled by the references of scripture to "fear God." This verse has been a great help to me through the years.
The fear of God is literally the hatred of evil. It is the mature recognition that God loves us too much to forbid us anything that is not destructive to us and others.
One of the things that I recognize in myself is how comfortable I am in the presence of evil. I cannot say that I hate evil in the Biblical sense. Tolerance is the great virtue of our society.
We are constantly being exhorted to accept the choices of others. Then we are enraged when our courts seem to have no sense of justice. We are enraged when we discover companies taking advantage of workers in disadvantaged countries or laying off people merely to increase the profits of those who are rich.
We cannot have it both ways. We must become a people passionate about excellence. We need to push hard for excellence in our lives on a moral and professional level. One mark of our business leadership should be as great a passion for ethical choices as for profitable choices.
We often read that loving and moral positions are ultimately profitable, but I believe that is a hard position to prove. I have seen situations in which persons have conducted themselves immorally and unethically only to sell their businesses or go public and walk away with a huge profit.
Though there are exceptions, it seems that most of the worldís wealthiest men have been marked by a cold-blooded ruthlessness. The fact is an ethical value system cannot be based on pragmatism but must be based on faith. If we believe in God, we must make ethical choices because He demands them of us and because they are right, no matter the sacrifice. We must never forget that the ultimate bottom line is not measured in a stockholdersí meeting but at the throne of God.
It is amazing how easily we accept companies having to pay millions and billions of dollars in fines for ethical and moral failures. We must be heard in the companies in which we have been placed by God. Whether it is price fixing at Archer Daniels, sexual harassment in the US Army or racial prejudice at Texaco, the verdict is clear: the corporate world must find a different basis for its decisions than that which is profitable.
I am in the midst of a difficult hiring decision that is being watched all the way to the top of our corporation. Since I am new to the company, I am aware that the way I handle this decision could shape my immediate future. I found myself thinking I should make the "hard" decision to prove myself capable of that kind of decision.
Two things became clear to me over the weekend as I prayed about this decision: First, I must set aside concerns about my ambitions to make the right decision. As long as I am motivated by my self interest and self preservation, I cannot move in divine wisdom. Second, to make a hard decision would be hypocrisy. My value system calls for me to make the most loving choice I can make. Whatever value the company places on my value system, I am not going to pretend to be the leader I am not.
The worst memory of my life in business is a day I call "Black Wednesday" when I fired ten sales people that I did not believe were being treated fairly. I pushed the CEO until he finally exploded, "If you are too soft for this position, it is time for you to resign." I wilted and dismissed people who had looked to me to protect them. I am not sure what I would do in that position again, but I hope I would not move just to try to prove I was "hard" and not "soft." Jesus said that if we feared God we would be released from our fear of people.
The truth is that in that situation I feared my CEOís power to fire me more than I feared God. Had I ascribed to God ultimate power, He might have been able to help me find a way to protect my people. The irony of that day is that I am still convinced that keeping the majority of those people would have produced a bountiful harvest of revenue for the company.
We are not called to an easy, simple life of discipleship to Jesus in the business world. We must constantly struggle to work in the real world in genuine obedience to God.
Mike Nelson and his family live in Atlanta, GA.
Please take note again that our new area code is 760