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Free Will Sucks!

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John Irving won an Oscar for best writing in 2000 for The Cider House Rules. Its theme is all about rules, who makes them, which do we choose to break and how does one live who is a rule breaker. In the cider house where Homer is living are listed a bunch of rules. None of the seasonal pickers can read them. As Homer reads them one of the workers interrupts him and complains, "They outrageous, them rules. Who live in this cider house? Who grindin' up those apples, pressin' that cider, cleanin' up all this mess? Who just plain live here, just breathin' in that vinegar? Well, someone who don't live here made those rules. Those rules ain't for us. We are supposed to make our own rules. And we do. Every single day."

The movie gives us a picture of people who do what is expedient rather than keep rules for the sake of rules. I can't help but wonder if those rule breakers aren't more like us than we'd like to admit? The rules of outsiders don't hold any weight with the seasonal pickers, or the doctor. It may be a bit like we feel when we look at God's rules. We've elevated personal freedom to an all-time high and so it sounds reasonable for people to be able to make-up their own rules.

Yet God has our best at heat. His rules aren't meant to destroy but to give life. His love isn't cheap; tacky, feel-good or anything goes type of niceness. His love is bloody, expensive and incomprehensible. Continuing down this journey toward Easter let me suggest that it is expected that we live out His Kingdom House Rules.

Elizabeth Sherrill, who wrote Corrie TenBoom's story The Hiding Place, came across a line in a book on bone loss that hit home.

"It said, 'Like all living tissue, bone is constantly being broken down and reformed.'  The words seemed to apply not only to our bodies but to the perpetual Christian emphasis on brokenness.  Repent!  Confess!  Acknowledge your sinfulness!  I grow tired of this continual retracing of steps, impatient for the beckoning road ahead.  But it was the word living that leaped out at me.  It's living tissue that is continually torn down and rebuilt.  As long as my relationship to God is alive, this biological fact seems to suggest the tearing-down process will be part of it.  The confession of sin, the admission of guilt, will go hand in hand with renewal. There can be no growth without pruning, no rebirth without death.[1]  

Human nature seeks the downhill path, the easy way out, and simple answers to life's difficult questions. Some resort to blaming while others do nothing because they’re victims. What’s more God understands this tendency in our nature. He knows that we seek a place of peace and contentment. But CSNY summarized the impact of sin in our life when they sang, “we got to get ourselves back to the garden”.

That is the essence of sin, doing it ourselves. Don’t be like that tree in Luke’s account. Don’t stagnate. God tends us like that gardener. There is digging, and heating up the soil with fertilizer, pruning and all the rest of the stuff that would test and shock the tree. All intended to get it to be what it was designed to be. The reason for this sermon title is that so few of us realize what’s at stake. Free will does suck because it means that we can walk away from God’s care and love and he’ll let us.

Gordon Dahl writes, “Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play and play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster than then can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.”[2] I believe that one reason reality TV shows have such a large audience is that we can deal with the situations on the shows without having to be actually involved in life at all.

The implication of Jesus’ teaching here and elsewhere is that there will be trees that don’t produce fruit, that don’t grow, that refuse to respond to the constant, loving care of the gardener. Those trees become part of the kindling pile not God’s eternal Kingdom. Why does that sound severe? Is it because we want everyone like us to be saved? Could it be we think it’s unfair that God does that when we’ve been a “nice tree”? J.C. Ryle, a theologian wrote, “One thief on the cross was saved, that none should despair; and only one, that none should presume.”[3]

Don’t stagnate in the wasted places of your life. Let God’s work in your life touch you down deep and start the process of change and healing. Isaiah tells us that we need to sure we don’t turn away from God. There is a pastor’s story[4] about a teacher that asked her Sunday school class what the word “repent” meant. One little boy raised his hand and said, “It’s being sorry for your sins.” A little girl also raised her hand and said, “It’s being sorry enough to quit.” She’s correct.

How many of us can trace back the problems in our lives to our own hard-heartedness about not living differently. I know I can.  Addictions, co-dependency, financial or, child rearing problems, sexual impurity, gossip, lying, laziness, and other problems are often clearly seen as the outgrowth of the choices we have made. Oh, when things have gotten bad enough they’re willing to change for a while. Most really want God to make everything okay. They want healings and blessings; freedom and joy. But they don’t want to give up the thing that put them in the first place. You’ve heard me say it before and it’s true, the best definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Charles Colson was invited by Jack Eckerd to come to Florida because of the criminal justice problems. Eckerd founded the second largest drugstore company in the world and was concerned about his community. According to the address Colson gave at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Mississippi every time Eckerd would introduce Colson he’s say, “This is Chuck Colson, my friend; I met him on Bill Buckley’s television program. He’s born again, I’m not. I wish I were.” When they headed off to the next stop Colson would tell him about Jesus. After their trip he left Eckerd with some books and then for about a year he pestered him to read what he’d given him and others.

Later on Jack Eckerd called Colson to tell him he believed in Jesus. Colson said, “You’re born again!” Eckerd said, “No, I’m not, I haven’t felt anything.” Chuck Colson prayed with him. Colson picks up the story,

“The first thing he did was to walk into one of his drugstores and walked down through the book shelves and he saw Playboy and Penthouse. And he’d seen it there many times before, but it never bothered him before. Now he saw them with new eyes. He’d become a Christian.

He went back to his office. He called his president. He said, “Take Playboy and Penthouse out of my stores.” The president said, “You can’t mean that, Mr. Eckerd. We make three million dollars a year on those books.” He said “Take ‘em out of my stores.” And in 1,700 stores across America, by on e man’s decision, those magazines were removed.” Colson writes, “I called Jack Eckerd up. I said, "I want to use that story. Did you do that because of your commitment to Christ?" He said, "Why else would I give away three million dollars? The Lord wouldn’t let me off the hook."[5]

Let me suggest that seeking God with everything one has isn’t such a bad idea if that’s the only way to find him. But let me also assure you that God doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He is available and approachable when we seek Him on His terms.

On this road to Easter let me remind you that it is not too late to seek the Lord. To turn around from the direction we’re headed and to follow Jesus into Jerusalem and up the hill to Golgotha. In fact, if we want to find God that is the only direction worth going.


[1] Elizabeth Sherrill in Journey into Rest.  Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 7.

[2] accessed March 7, 2007

[3] Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 2.

[4] Pastor story means it sounds good but there is not reference that can be cited for proof

[5] James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) pp. 46-48. (Copied from Bible Illustrator)

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