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Today is the third and final Sunday of a three-week sermon series called Removing the Ball and Chain. When I announced that I was doing this series I shared that this might be the most important sermon series I’ve given here. The AIM for this series is for each of us to experience freedom—to be able to run on our journey of faith—be and become the people God desires for us to be. What can be more important than living with this freedom? Can I get an Amen to that? God wants us to be free—to be free of the ball and chain. For two weeks we’ve looked at what Chains us down. The first week I set up the series by talking about the confusion we have between expectations and guilt. Each of us experiences expectation,s expectations that we place on ourselves and expectations that others place on us. Inevitably we won’t meet some of those expectations. When we don’t meet those expectations we feel something. Often we call that feeling guilt. That feeling is not guilt. Guilt is what we feel after we sin. Guilt has a morality to it. There’s little example, for example, for being late, or not keeping up our house, or preparing a dinner for our kids that is not what it could be. If we feel guilty about not meeting an expectation we’re going to walk around with a ball and chain. Last week I looked at how God views us. God takes a picture of us and says, “you are beautiful. I love you.” Many of us don’t believe God views us this way. We’re afraid of God because we believe God judges us or is angry with us. So last weekwe explored the anger of God. We saw that the Scriptures teach that God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Last Sunday everyone was given a card that said “you are beautiful, I love you.” I encouraged you to share this card with a stranger. How many of you were able to do that?

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Thank you. I shared my cards on Thursday. mail on Thursday I wrote how I shared this card with a waitress at Perkins. After I shared the card we started talking. Where do you live? Blaine Where in Blaine? Near Cub food Are you involved in a church? No Come to Chain of Lakes. All of this from a simple card. Sharing this card could be one of our outreach ministries. Today I’m talking about one of my favorite topics—Christian freedom. A synonym for Christian freedom is grace. Amazing grace I want to invite you to get out this brochure that is in the bulletin. I wrote a devotion this week about grace. Grace permeates the Bible. It’s practically on every page. I encourage you to read and use the devotion this week. You have a place for notes. I believe God might say something to you this week that you’ll want to write down. And you have a place for prayer requests. We have a Scripture that we’re memorizing. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 What is freedom? Brainstorm with me. There are no wrong answers. What is freedom? --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Paul talked about freedom in the 5th chapter of Galatians. Let me teach you what he meant. The word for freedom is eleutheria Often we think about freedom we think about political freedom. We might think of people shouting “USA,” “USA,” “USA.” We might think of a libertarian who wants minimal interference from the government. We might think freedom is autonomy where people can do whatever they want. T

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The apostle Paul didn’t mean any of this. What did Paul mean? Let me teach you what me meant. Let me set this up. Paul was the first new church developers. He would go into a village and live there for a while. When he got into the village he would go to the synagogue and tell people that Jesus was raised from the dead. Through his teaching and preaching a group of people would form. It was a community. Paul would then leave the village and go somewhere else. He would often receive back reports about what was happening in the community. Issues would develop. Paul would respond to these issues by writing a letter. This letter that is called Galatians was written to a group of people in Galatia. He wrote this in the 5th chapter of Galatians. SLIDE Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourself off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. Galatians 5:2-4 We can see what Paul was arguing against—circumcision. People were teaching in the village of Galatia that a person had to be circumcised to be a follower of Jesus. To be a Christian or to be a disciple a person needed to be circumcised. Why would people teach that? That’s a strange requirement to be a Christian or a disciple—to be circumcised. It’s almost bizarre. We might be a bit uncomfortable saying what circumcision is. We’re mature people, so we know that circumcision is the cutting off of the skin that is over the penis. Why would people say you had to be circumcised to be a follower of Jesus? Back in Genesis—the 17th chapter—God told Abram, who was later renamed Abraham, that all of the men had to be circumcised. This is what God told Abram. SLIDE

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This is my covenant, which you shall keep between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. Genesis 17:10-11 In the Old Testament circumcision was like a sacrament. God never said why God chose circumcision to be a sacrament. God could have chose something else to be a sign of the covenant. God chose circumcision. Let’s fast forward to the Paul. Paul was fighting a group who took this covenant literally. We can almost hear this group saying, “it says this in the book; I follow the book; therefore we have to do it.” However, this teaching enraged Paul. It was as if Paul was saying, “you missed it.” Jesus changed everything. It’s through Jesus that we are free. What happened to Jesus through his life, death, and resurrection had significantly changed the trajectory of faith. Paul was saying that Christ set people free. Paul was saying that you can’t experience this freedom by getting a piece of skin cut off. It’s grace. For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm therefore and do not submit to a yoke of slavery. It’s grace. For Paul there were two separate spheres that a person could live in. A person could live in the sphere of grace or a person could live in the sphere of law. Through grace we would experience something powerful, something monumental, something that sets us free. He was saying that if you want to have a law based faith you are cutting yourselves off from the source of power—that is the grace of Jesus Christ. The law can’t give you what grace can. If Paul was preaching today he would share the same message. Orient ourselves to grace—not to the law. .

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What a beautiful message. It’s hard to orient ourselves to grace. We can mess it up. I can think of two ways we can mess it up. One we can say “I’ve been given this wonderful gift of grace, now I can do whatever I want. I can sin with abandon because I know God will forgive me when I confess. Paul saw this problem and said don’t use grace as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Dietrich Bonheoffer called this cheap grace. This is using grace as an opportunity to do whatever we want. Another way we can mess this up is by believing we have to earn this grace. This is a works orientation. I see this a lot in people, especially in us hard-working Minnesotans. People believe they have to do something to receive God’s love. “God is not going to love me unless I’m nice to someone.” “I better go to church or something bad is going to happen to me.” Of course, we want to be nice and go to church. God is going to love us whether we go to church or not. Faith is not a bank account where we put in our time or deposit and then expect to receive something back from God. Our bank account is already full—and it’s full not because of what we’ve done, but because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Grace is free. God gives this gift to us no matter what we do. Self-indulgance and works righteousness are both chains that we need to remove. We can’t be free if we do either. Grace is free and through that we experience freedom. I want to close by sharing three ways this grace can help us live as free people. One is us as individuals, one is us as a church, one is for the world. The first is accepting ourselves. God loves us even though we are flawed. God takes a picture of us and says we are beautiful. God says that even as God knows every part of us. Even

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if we are frowning, or angry, or our heart is full of pride. God knows it all. There is no reason for us to try to hide from God because it’s impossible. God loves us despite our imperfections. If God can love us in this way, then we can love ourselves. Part of loving ourselves is accepting ourselves despite all of our flaws and weaknesses I’ve always been impressed with people who are not afraid to share their flaws and weaknesses. To me that is a sign of maturity. I’m not impressed when people tell me what they are good at. I’m more impressed when people are honest about themselves. When someone shares their flaws and weaknesses, it’s a sign that they accept themselves. A lot of time when someone shares their weaknesses we want to be nice and we say, “oh, no that’s not true.” I’ve told you before that I have few handyman skills. If I told you this in a personal conversation, you don’t need to tell me that I do. That would be a lie. I know that God looks at me and says “I know you are flawed. I accept you. You are beautiful, I love you.” I want us to be a church where we can share our flaws with each other. Not in a therapeutic way, but a honest and authentic way. We don’t try to change people; we’re called to accept people. The first way grace can change us is we accept ourselves. We create an environment of honesty and authenticity. The second way grace affects us is grace gives us a focus. As a new church we have a purpose statement and eight core values. Say our purpose statement with me. SLIDE We are called to be an authentic, Christian community where strangers become friends, friends become disciples, disciples impact the world. We have eight Core Values. They are

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SLIDE Hospitality, God’s Church, Relevance, Acceptance, Outward Focus, Investing in Future Generations, Healthy Disagreement and Joyful Love. Our Purpose Statement and Core Values can be tied up into one word. That word is grace. Here is where it gets sticky. When we are operating well our Purpose Statement and Core Values drive every decision. What that means is we care most about this message. I’ve been in plenty of meetings where a group is making a decision. They’ve come to a decision but then they start to doubt themselves. They think, “oh this person is going to get mad if we make this decision and we don’t want to make that person mad.” I understand that because I don’t like to make people mad. When we’re operating well we remember that this is God’s church. No individual is more important than our message. We care and love and respect individuals. This church is not about an individual; this church is not about you; the church is not about me. This church is about God—and the message God wants us to share with the community. We’ve made some hard decisions in our community—coming to Da Vinci, buying property, deciding to worship on Wednesday evenings, letting staff go. Some people have wondered if the decisions are right. Only time will tell if those decisions are right. I do know that we made them because we believed they would help us live out our message. When we’re operating well we’re sold out to grace. We know that individuals can get mad. That’s hard. But we can live with that because we know that grace is so important. Finally grace can give us an assurance in a culture that constantly evaluates us. This week my daughter Hannah started playing softball. She was excited about this because she could play with two of her friends who live on the same block that she does. She

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came home on Monday night with her uniform. As a father I had to take her picture and put it on Facebook. Here it is. SLIDE That was Monday. After her practice on Tuesday I asked her how it was going. She wasn’t as excited that day. Hannah has never played softball, so she doesn’t have a lot of confidence in her ability. Somehow she got it in her mind that two players were going to be cut. I don’t know if the coach said that or another player thought it would happen. On her second day of practice Hannah is already worried about being cut. She’s played softball for two days and already she is being evaluated. I think that’s pretty common—not only in softball, but suburban life. How often do you feel evaluated—by your family, or in your work, or by your friends. We live in a culture that has a lot of expectations. We might not be able to change this culture. But I do know we can live in it much more freely when grace permeates our heart. When we know we are free. So we try our best and do all we can. But we know that how God evaluates us not based on our accomplishments but based on our existence. We might not be able to change the fact of how our culture evaluates us. But we can live with the assurance that God always loves us. I think the world needs a church that at its core is complete with grace-filled people. I think this message can impact a lot of lives. I want to challenge us not only to orient ourselves to grace, but to share this message with the people you encounter. We talk a lot about inviting people at Chain of Lakes. We believe that we share a message that can change people’s lives. Go out this week again and share this

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message with a stranger. I want to challenge you to share with strangers that God accepts them where they are. There is a church that worships on Sundays at 10:30 a.m. that will accept them where they are. This is a place where we can let go of our chains.