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sermon 2018-11-11 Geoff Follas

Matthew 6:7-13

THE FREEDOM TO CHOOSE

7 “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. 8 Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! 9 Pray like this: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. 10 May your Kingdom come. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today the food we need, 12 and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. 13 And help us not to yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one.

As I look out over our world today the one thing that grieves me more than anything else is man’s inhumanity toward man. We think that the human race has advanced and progressed over the years and we have in the fields of technology, science, education, etc. But socially and relationally there has been very little progress. In fact when I look at what is happening in places like Syria, Yemen, Myanmar, North Korea, Africa, Latin America I wonder if anyone has learned anything from history at all.  

Sometimes after hearing about atrocities being committed in by the Burmese government or the Syrian Russian forces or those carrying on the sex  slave industry I pray to God, “Lord, please bring an end to all this suffering.”

The question that many people keep asking is, “If there is a God, why does He allow people to treat others so terribly and shamefully?”

In fact there was a man named Charles Templeton. He was a close friend of Billy Graham’s and they used to work together preaching the Gospel. But Charles had a problem he couldn’t resolve: “How can a loving God allow people in our world to suffer as they do?” Charles could never come to terms with this and sadly he gave up preaching and went away from the Lord.

This is a real issue that we believers all struggle with whenever we are faced with man’s inhumanity towards man.

Why does a loving God allow people to cause so much suffering and sadness in our world? The answer to that question is found right back at the beginning. When God created us He gave us an ability that everyone of us in this room considers very important. The freedom to make our own choices.

The gift of a free will.

The freedom to choose is very much a part of what makes us human. If we did not have that freedom we wouldn’t be human, we would be machines, robots.

Can you imagine living in a world where you were forced into doing everything, where you were unable to make any choices of your own, where your thinking and behaviour was completely controlled by someone else?

Throughout history various leaders and political systems have tried to do that to others and the results have been horrific. Slavery, oppression, fascism, communism, apartheid were all intended to take away people’s freedom to choose and force them to behave and think the way others wanted them to do. North Korea, China, some Muslim countries.

During the years when Russia was under communism, 2 Russian airmen flew their jets to America and asked for asylum. The American people hailed them as heroes. A year later, one of the Russians begged the US government to let him go back to Russia and he returned. When his friend was asked why he wanted to return to Russia he wrote an article entitled, “Freedom is frightening.” All his life he had never been allowed to make decisions for himself, the government controlled his life, even his thought life and now that he was free to make his own choices he couldn’t handle it.

And yet for us who live in a free country, the freedom to choose is something we prize and something our parents and grandparents fought for and even died for. For us life without the freedom to make our own choices would not be living.

The freedom to make our own choices is one of those values we prize probably more than any other. If you took that away from us we would cease to be human, we would cease to really live. We would be reduced to robots or machines.

The risks of a free will.

When God gave us the freedom to make our own choices, He took an enormous risk. He knew that we could use that freedom to make wise, loving, right choices or we could use that freedom to make unwise, unloving, wrong choices.

It is a risk He took when He created us human beings with free wills. In fact when God created the first human beings He did not force them to obey Him, He did not take away the choices, but like any responsible parent He encouraged them to make good choices and warned them of the dangers and consequences of making wrong choices.

God knew that in giving us the freedom to choose we might not only make wrong choices but suffer the consequences of those wrong choices as well.

The only way God could protect us from experiencing evil and suffering would be to remove our freedom to choose and force us to do what He wanted.

I see so many parallels in this with parenting. When our children are young we make most of the decisions for them but it would be really sad if when they were adults we were still making all their decisions for them. If they are to develop into mature human beings we have got to give them more and more freedom to make their own choices.

When our children reach teenage years they need to have more input into the decision making process. Telling them what to do is not going to encourage them to take responsibility for their lives. We need to negotiate and work out agreements with them to prepare them for the day when they will need to make all their own decisions.

Sure we can give them a good foundation of moral, spiritual and ethical guidelines, but at the end of the day they need to be given that freedom to choose for themselves. And in doing that we parents can only hope and pray that they will choose wisely.

Many parents have watched with sadness as their children have made bad decisions and suffered the consequences of their wrong choices.

And God has given us the same freedom, but sadly we have all used that God given freedom and chosen to do what is wrong and the results have been the spread of evil and suffering throughout our world.

The abuse of a free will

When we see the tragic results of man’s inhumanity to man, that is not an act of God, it was not even the will of God, it is people using their God given freedom for evil purposes. It is a terrible abuse of the freedom of choice.

When we look at the suffering that is brought about by the abuse of peoples freedom we might say, “Where was God in all of this?”

Like so many parents He watches as the people He had created use their freedom of choice to bring suffering upon themselves and others and it breaks His heart. In fact we read in Isaiah 63:9 That God suffers with His people when they suffer. Isn’t that the same with us parents?

During the Rwanda massacre in 1994 the Hutu tribe slaughtered 900,000 Tutsis. At one point a huge crowd of Tutsis sought refuge with foreign military personal and journalists in a Catholic mission compound. When the Hutus came for the Tutsis they told all the foreigners to leave the compound because they wanted to execute all the Tutsis in the compound. There was one French Catholic priest who refused to leave. He didn’t want to desert the Tutsis in their hour of need. As the Foreign personnel got into their vehicles to leave, they pleaded with the priest to join them and escape the slaughter, but he wouldn’t. One of the journalists called out, “Where is your God now?” The priest answered, “He is right here suffering with these people.”

He could intervene and stop us. He has the power to do that.  He could control us so that we don’t carry out their sinful plans, and I know He yells at us through our consciences when we go to do what we know is wrong. But God will not take from us the freedom to choose, even when we choose to do evil.

All evil and suffering is the direct or indirect result of people abusing their freedom to choose. When the first human beings chose to rebel against God and follow their own selfish desires they abused that gift of freedom and brought upon themselves and others evil and suffering. And you and I have been doing it ever since.

There are moral laws operating in our universe just as there are natural laws. If I choose to jump from a 4 story building the natural law of gravity comes into effect. Splat on the ground below.

If I choose to go against God’s moral laws, I will end up in deep trouble. God’s moral law declares that if I rebel against Him, I will be punished, I will suffer. Probably in this life and definitely in the life to come.

There is some really good news in all of this. God could have said, “You have made bad choices and you will just have to suffer the consequences.”

But do you know what He did? He chose to suffer the consequences of our bad choices so that we could be forgiven and restored to an eternal relationship with God.

God has made it possible for us to escape the consequences of our wrong choices. He came in the person of Jesus and allowed Himself to be executed for the wrongs we have committed so that we could be forgiven and set free from the tragic consequences of our bad behavior.

But you need to choose to accept what God has done for you and ask His forgiveness and commit yourself to Him. He will never force you to make the choice. You can choose to give your life to Jesus and receive God’s forgiveness and eternal life or you can choose to reject Jesus and suffer the consequences. It is a matter of choice.

God will not override your free will and force you into His Kingdom and His heaven; He still respects our freedom to choose.

The proper use of our freedom to choose.

God has given us the freedom to choose in the hope that we will choose what is right and just and good and loving and pleasing to Him. God’s greatest desire for mankind is that we would love Him above all else and choose what pleases and blesses Him above all else. That is not hard when you really love someone.

I love Lois very dearly and because of that I want to do the things that I know will please her. When I cook the dinner at night I know the kind of things she likes and I know how she likes them to be cooked, and I try to do it right for her. Sometimes I don’t get it right, but when I do, she tells me and it blesses me to know I have pleased her.

It’s the same when we really love the Lord. We want to please Him, not because we have to, not because we are forced to and not because we afraid of displeasing him. We do it because we love Him and choose to do it. And choosing to do what God wants brings the greatest joy we can know. The Psalmist said, “I delight to do your will O Lord.”

In the Lord’s prayer that we read this morning, Jesus said we need to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” There is so much packed into that little sentence. 

In heaven, God’s will is perfectly carried out and everyone in heaven chooses to embrace Gods will. Everyone in heaven chooses to do what God wants because they love Him. The inhabitants of heaven are not a community of robots or reluctant slaves. Their greatest joy and fulfilment comes from choosing to do what God wants.

The Kingdom of heaven/God comes when people choose to do what God wants above all else. When human beings use their God-given freedom to choose and decide to do what God wants, it is the nearest thing to heaven on earth.

Imagine if each one of us here this morning seriously prayed, “Lord I want more than anything else to do what pleases you. In every situation I find myself, with every decision I have to make, with every response I am about to give, I truly want to please you above everything else.”

This is how Jesus lived on earth. He said in John 4 and John 6 “My very food is to do the will of God and complete the work He sent me to do. I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me and not to do my own will.”  

In the garden of Gethsemane, He chose God’s will over His own, “Not my will but your will be done.”

For the first time in human history, there was a man who used His God-given freedom of choice to put aside what he wanted in every situation and to always choose what God wanted. And because Jesus always chose to do what God wanted God’s Kingdom was manifested in His earthly life.

Luke 17:20 when the religious leaders asked Jesus when would the Kingdom of God come He said to them, “The Kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is already among you.”  

Imagine if every one of us here this morning deliberately and seriously made the decision to do only what pleases God. The Kingdom of God would be manifest among us as it was in Jesus day.

Matthew 12:28 Jesus said to the religious leaders, “But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” The proof that God’s Kingdom is among you is seen in the power of God being displayed.”

If we are serious about doing God’s will we need to:

  • Want to do it.
  • Know what pleases God – Jesus showed us by word and example what pleases God. [Read the New Testament]
  • Put it into practice.

Let’s just look at how we react or respond to others. We need to ask the Lord, “How would you respond to this person or this situation?” How do you want me to respond? What would Jesus do?

Read Charles Sheldon’s book, “In His Steps”.

Just recently someone was a bit sharp with me and I got annoyed. But I prayed to the Lord about it and He showed me that I was not to hold any resentment, but to release the hurt and just love and accept the person.

If we are to please God it will mean treating others the way you would like to be treated. Forgiving them, serving them, blessing them.

Those who enter the Kingdom are those who choose to do what God wants.

We know that we are saved and enter the Kingdom of heaven by the grace of God through trusting in Jesus, but the proof that we truly belong to God’s Kingdom is seen in that we sincerely want to and seek to please God. Matthew 7 “Not all who call me Lord will enter the Kingdom, but only those who do the will of my Father.”

If you say you are a Christian and yet are determined to live as you please, get your own way and pursue your own selfish ambitions and interests you are fooling yourself.

You need to use your God-given freedom to choose and decide seriously who you are going to serve. Yourself or Christ.

What you become as a person and where you end up will be the result of your choices. You can’t blame your upbringing or your circumstances. God will hold you accountable for the choices you have made.

If you have chosen to reject Christ and His truth and continued to pursue your own self-centred ways in life, your very choices have determined the consequences.

I urge you in Jesus’ name to make the choice that will alter the whole course of your life. “Choose this day who you will serve. As for me and my household we will serve the Lord.”