LIVE NOT BY LIES: 7 Questions for Lovers of the Truth

Live Not By Lies, Rod Dreher Book, Truth

We have to be push-backers, Abigail. Truth demands it. That from a recent email from a friend-who-shall-go-unnamed. This post is that: a little pushback. It is not a call to civil disobedience, to wear a mask or to take it off, or even to vote.

It is a call to not live by lies—a call to be courageous and walk in the truth in love and in truth. Both. John Stott wrote, Our love grows soft if it is not strengthened by truth, and our truth grows hard if it is not softened by love; John the Beloved, Let us not love in word or talk but in action and in truth. They belong together. Believers love truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

Blaise Pascal

So when the world calls evil good, bitter sweet, and darkness light (Isaiah 5:20), those of the truth refuse. They refuse to drift along or succumb to self-righteous masquerade. Rather, because they love the truth, they push back against pretense.

They live not by lies.

1. Are You A Push-Backer?

Do you ever push back for truth? Or only ever go along?

I’m not (naturally) a push-backer and I don’t (generally) like to rock the boat. But sometimes a shift is too important to ignore. When it comes at you on multiple sides you can’t let it slide out of mind. You’d be a fool not to take note. I don’t want to be a fool.

So I took notes and now I share them. Because my friend is right. We must be push-backers. Truth demands it. Since Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), as his follower I must walk in truth. The Father commanded (2 John 4) and the Spirit guides this walk (John 14:16-17).

In fact, did you know truth is the reason Christ came into the world? For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice (John 18:37). And, at some point, everyone who is of the truth will push back for truth.

But for a some time people pleaser like me, pushing back can be hard.

2. Do You Trust God’s Truth And Doubt Your Deceitful Heart?

Culture makes it hard. For one thing, our culture cherishes moral ambiguity as an end in itself, as an intrinsically good thing; theologian D.A. Carson notes. Humble Christians trust God to be true (Isaiah 66:2) and doubt their deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9).

But the world does the reverse. Be true to your heart, it shouts. How can you be so sure, it taunts. If you trust God—if you “stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E” and believe the sum of his word is truth (Psalm 119:160)— now that, it sneers, is most virulent form of pride.

This reversal is nothing new. G.K. Chesterton described it a century ago, when he wrote,

[W]hat we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert – himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt – the Divine Reason.

Do you see? We should doubt ourselves—our feelings, desires, and ‘needs’— not God’s truth.

But believing a truth and speaking it are two different things. Gabi taught me that.

3. Do You Speak Up For Truth?

It was a Friday night in July. Maybe it was pushback to even be where we were. I’m not sure. But the after-dinner mood was light and Gabi was right across the table from me. We’d only met the hour before, but I sensed my new friend from the Czech Republic wouldn’t mind if I asked.

Truth not lies, Forward Statue in Madison, WI Capitol painted red,2020

So what was it like to live under communism?

Gabi was in middle school in 1989, when the Wall fell. Almost overnight, she replied.

That’s how fast her teachers went from denouncing democracy to decrying communism. Her school dumped the pro-communism for pro-republic curricula—taught by the very same teachers who’d spouted the party line mere months before.

How could they do that? I asked, incredulous. What do you think they really believed?

I think there was relief when communism fell and they could teach the truth. They taught what they were told to keep their jobs.

Since statue toppling and painting was big in the news, I pressed on.

So what about all these statues toppled and defaced?

Without blinking, Oh, yes. That happened in Czechoslovakia shortly before Soviet rule.

My stomach churned with the same tension I’d felt a lot in 2020 when I felt torn to like a friend’s post or affirm her position—even if it didn’t sit right. Gabi was insightful and wise, and still across the table from me. So I asked the burning question.

When do I just go along when and when do I speak up for truth?

I think—here Gabi paused and took a deep breath—you must be true to your conscience. If your conscience says it’s wrong, do not go along.

4. Do You Lower Your Voice And Close The Door?

Rod Dreher said the same thing Gabi did in Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents. The title comes from an essay by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, dated February 12, 1974 —the same day Russian secret police broke into his apartment and arrested him. He was exiled to West Germany the next day. Live Not By Lies, the essay and the book, are clarion calls to courage for those who are of the truth.

But courage to push back against lies doesn’t mean we refuse all compromise. Daily life requires assessing which fights are worth having. Choose your battles. Though one must guard against rationalization, prudence is not the same thing as cowardice. (p. 105)

Sometimes silence is an act of resistance. My refusal to like a popular post or parrot a trendy mantra is choosing to live not by lies. Judit Pastor, whose father was arrested for vocally opposing Ceausescu in 1968 was arrested and his life destroyed in a Romanian prison. She says, Keeping silent when you aren’t expected to be silent is also pushing back.

A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed the restrictions, “soft” restrictions, I now feel on freedom of speech. I am loath to admit that I close more doors and look over my shoulder far more often when I speak in public places. I wonder, “Can I trust her with this? Should I say that in front of him?”

This is new. It’s a shift. I never used to wonder like this.

We have not…to march into the squares and shout the truth out loud…But let us refuse to say that which we do not think.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, “Live Not By Lies,” 2/12/1974

A Primer On “Soft” Totalitarianism

I don’t fear arrest by government police. That happened in Soviet era where compliance to the Party’s demands were enforced by the state. That’s not what we’ve got. The totalitarianism we face is “softer.” It demands allegiance to a set of progressive beliefs… It masquerades as kindness, demonizing dissenters and disfavored demographic groups to protect the feelings or “victims.” I’m not worried about arrest as much as Facebook nixing my post, or a “fact-checker” blocking a link. I have, by the way, experienced both.

Compliance within soft totalitarianism, Dreher explains, is forced less by the state than by elites who form public opinion, and by private corporations, that thanks to technology, control our lives far more than we would like to admit. (p. 8-9) Anyone else second guessing your open invitation to Echo and Alexa?

But no, this is not a copy of life in the Soviet Bloc nations, with their secret police, gulags, and strict censorship. Which is precisely the problem, according to the many émigrés Dreher interviewed who had experienced “hard” totalitarianism. One Czech émigré, a professor in the Midwest, told Dreher about the shift he feels: friends would lower their voices and look over their shoulders when expressing conservative views. I grew up like this, he said, but it was not supposed to happen here. (p. xiii)

I agree with Dreher: it’s hard for us who’ve never lived through such “idealogical fog” to recognize what’s happening.

But don’t forget the frog in the pot.

Silence Doesn’t Save Us, It Corrodes Us

Part of the reason it all feels so foggy is that language is changing. Newspeak, here Dreher borrows from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, is the Party’s word for the jargon it imposes on society—it controls the categories in which people think. “Freedom” is slavery, “truth” is falsehood, and so forth. Doublethink—”holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”—is how people learn to submit their minds to the Party’s ideology. If the Party says 2+2=5, then 2+2=5. (p. 14)

We might see through the lies, but will we speak up? But if we never do, our silence will not save us but corrode us. So says Czeslaw Milosz. He would know. Milosz was exiled from his native Poland as an anti-communist dissident in 1951.

To dissent costs more these days. To even post this blog gives me pause. But walking in truth constrains me to write and encourage you to live not by lies. Because when you see someone acting courageously, you will act courageously as well. (p. 170)

5. Do You Prefer the ‘Peace’ of Conformity to the Tension of Liberty?

Dreher interviewed Vladimir Grygorenko, an immigrant from the Ukraine. He expressed concern over polls showing waning support for the First Amendment. Grygorenko sees this as a sign of a society that prefers the false peace of conformity to the tensions of liberty. He added, To grow indifferent, even hostile, to free speech is suicidal for free people. (p. 104)

I walked and talked and ached with a friend over our difference this morning. I bear witness: tension, discomfort, and hurt feelings are the price our free expression. But wouldn’t your rather bear the tension of our differences, as our Founding Fathers did, than enjoy a false peace of conformity? Wouldn’t you?

What I did with my friend—imperfectly as I apologized twice in 20 minutes for raising my voice—we must all do. We must speak up. We must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19), but we must “truth it in love” and grow up (Ephesians 4:15).

You have to live in a world of lies, Dreher concludes, but it’s our choice as to whether that world of lies lives in you. (p. 105)

The Greengrocer Breaks The Rules

One of the most gripping sections in the book was the Greengrocer story.

The grocer posts a sign in his shop bearing the well-known slogan from the Communist Manifesto, “Workers of the world, unite!” But the grocer doesn’t believe in it. He hangs it in the store to signal conformity. He just wants to be left alone.

But his action is not meaningless. As Dreher explains, the grocer’s act, “not only confirms that this is what is expected of one in a communist society but also perpetuates the belief that this is what it means to be a good citizen.” Then he quotes Vaclav Havel, one time Czech political prisoner who became the Czech Republic’s first President.

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really things at political meetings. And he even finds the strength to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game…His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth. (p. 98)

And Shatters the World of Appearances

But this act is costly. He loses his shop, his salary is cut, and he can’t travel abroad. Maybe his children can’t get into college. People mock him. If not because they disagree with him, then to keep the authorities off their back. By refusing to mouth a lie, the man suffers.

But there is a deeper meaning to his gesture,

By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. The grocer has…demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie…He has said that the emperor is naked…He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. (p. 99)

Maybe you’re shaking your head, saying, Get off it, Abigail. Lighten up.

Last year I would have agreed. But now I say, The kind of Christians we will be in the time of testing depends on the kind of Christians we are today. (p. 204)

What are you willing to risk—to sacrifice—for the sake of truth?

6. Will You Choose Comfort Over Your Soul’s Health?

Because if you live by lies and never push back for truth, your spiritual health will suffer. A person who lives only for his own comfort, said Havel, who is willing to live within a lie to protect that is a demoralized person. (p. 99)

Havel’s words remind me of something J.I. Packer wrote. Packer sets up the analogy by describing first how our bodies are like machines, that need the right routine of food, rest, and exercise to run efficiently. Conversely, if they’re filled up with “the wrong fuel—alcohol, drugs, poison—they lose physical health and ultimately ‘seize up’ in death.”

Then, to our point,

What we are, perhaps, slower to grasp is that God wishes us to thing of our souls in a similar way. As rational persons, we were made to bear God’s moral image—that is, our souls were made to ‘run’ on the practice of worship, law-keeping, truthfulness, honesty, discipline, self-control, and service to God and our fellows. If we abandon these practices, not only do we incur guilt before God; we also progressively destroy our souls. Conscience atrophies, the sense of shame dries up, one’s capacity for truthfulness, loyalty, and honesty is eaten away, one’s character disintegrates. One not only becomes desperately miserable; one is steadily being de-humanised.

J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, 102-103

Simply put, believing one thing and doing another will ruin your spiritual health. Living by lies will enslave your soul. It might seem like a liar is strong, and his lie is a victory over his victim. But in reality, a lie is an enslaving act.

Because, as Ayn Rand wrote, one surrenders one’s reality to the person to whom one lies, making that person one’s master, condemning oneself from then on to faking the sort of reality that person’s view requires to be faked.

Maria Wittner said, We live in a world of lies, whether we want it or not. But you shouldn’t accommodate to it. She would know. Her refusal to go along with the Party lies landed in a Hungarian prison. It’s an individual decision if you want to live in the freedom of the soul. If your soul is free, then your thoughts are free, and then your words are going to be free.

Refusing to live by lies isn’t always comfortable, but comfort is overrated. The idol of comfort will disappoint. C.S. Lewis observed, If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth—only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

If you refuse to live by the lie, whatever it costs you, you will gain a spiritual victory. And this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith. (1 John 5:4) But God doesn’t mean for us to conquer alone.

7. Are You Walking Together And Alert?

Blogger Trevin Wax thinks LNBL is too pessimistic. Maybe so. In an interview with Eric Metaxas, Dreher himself said his book is not optimistic, but it is hopeful.

I read it and I agree. It’s hopeful because it says we are not without options and because it is a call to be alert.

That call to be alert and watchful so we’re ready for the Bridegroom is not new. Jesus urged us, Peter urged us, Paul urged us: be alert, stay awake, be watchful (Matt. 24:42, 1 Pet. 1:13, Eph.6:18).

Christian community helps us does that. That came through loud and clear in all of Dreher’s interviews with Christians who kept the faith under communism. To stay alert and remind ourselves of truth, Dreher prescribes the Christian dissident form small cells with fellow believers with whom she can pray, sing, study Scripture… (p. 18)

Rod Dreher wasn’t the first to note the connection between living in loving relationships with other believers and being alert. John praises his readers for “walking in the truth” (2 John 4), then reminded them “to love one another” (v. 5), expressed by “walking according to his commandments” (v. 6). Those words probably don’t surprise us: truth, obedience, love.

But it’s the connection in verse 7 that grabbed me, the reason we must not let our love grow cold (Mtt. 24:12). Love one another, John writes, For many deceivers have gone out into the world. Walking with others in love is a protection against deception.

When we walk side by side we gain strength to live not by lies.

The Final Word: Touchstone For Truth

None of this is easy. Lies aren’t always obvious. The conscience is pricked at different points. But the Christian, as J.I Packer described, is the one, who acknowledges and lives under the word of God. She says with the Psalmist, The sum of your word is truth.

He submits without reserve to the word of God written in ‘the Scripture of truth’ (Dan. 10:21)…since the Scriptures tell him that all things work together for his good, the thought of God ordering his circumstances brings him only joy. He is an independent fellow, for he uses the word of God as a touchstone by which to test the various views that are put to him, and he will not touch anything which he is not sure that Scripture sanctions.

J.I., Packer, KNOWING GOD, p. 104-105

But we need to the Spirit to illumine and help us apply the word. I feel my need acutely. My sin is ever before me.

Solzhenitsyn, for all his calls to resist totalitarian rule, knew well his own sinful heart: “the greatest totalitarian ruler of all—myself.” We are not gods. We never will be gods. But we can know the true God.

I know him. I don’t know him as well as I want to know him, but I know He is the Truth. By grace, I will press on to know him, whose truth is a fount of perfect wisdom, my highest good and my unending need. His name is Jesus Christ and you can know him too.

For only when we know him can the truth set us free— free from slavery to deadly self-rule and free to live not by lies.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

1 John 5:20

AFTERWARD: If You’re Still Wondering What It Means to Live Not By Lies

Even if, Solzhenitsyn wrote, we do not march into the squares and shout the truth out loud… let us refuse to say what we do not think…let us each make a choice: whether to remain consciously a servant of falsehood…or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect from one’s children and contemporaries.

Such a person, Solzhenitsyn wrote, will not:

  • sign, write or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth;
  • utter such a phrase neither in private conversation nor in public, neither on his own behalf nor at the prompting of someone else, neither in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, nor as an actor;
  • depict, foster or broadcast a single idea in which he can see a distortion of the truth, whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science or music;
  • cite out of context, either orally or in writing, a single quotation to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not completely share the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue;
  • allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations and meetings if they are contrary to his desire;
  • remain in a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda;
  • subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.

While these are not “all possible and necessary ways of avoiding lies,” wrote Solzhenitsyn, “whoever begins to cleanse himself will easily apply the cleansing pattern to other cases.” Learn more in John Stonestreet’s probing 4-minute Breakpoint podcast.

How will you resolve to live not by lies? I’d love to read your comment.

A Raspberry Love Story On Mom & Dad’s 50th

Some say love is spelled T-I-M-E. I say it’s spelled R-A-S-P-B-E-R-R-I-E-S and it’s measured in thorny scratches and mosquito bites.

It’s funny how they come together: mosquitos and berries, scratches and sweetness, the bramble and the rose.

Picking that bucket of berries this morning—with the mosquitoes buzzing and the sweat dripping and nearly hyperventilating as I blew the pesky insects off my nose— reminds me of a fabled 50 year-old story.

A story without which there might not be me.

Once Upon A Time…

A fair maiden named Darlene met a strapping young man named Mitchell on the high school debate bus.  At once Mitchell knew he’d found his mate. It took the cheery, Darlene Sunshine just a little longer.

Soon high school let out for the summer. And the field looks different come summer.

Mitchell must have known too, about teenage summers and how other fellas work the fields. So one July day a lot like today, along came young Mitchell.

But Mitchell was wise and wasn’t empty-handed when he came courting fair Darlene. He came bearing the crown jewel of mid-summer treasures. For it, the smitten young man had endured fierce summer sun, fought many a thorn and attacks by mosquitoes.

Mitchell was so taken with Darlene that those hours in the bramble seemed like seconds at the junior prom. Such was Mitchell’s love for the sunny and smiling Darlene.

The Cost of Love

So now, with the fields ripening fast in the middle of a Mukwonago summer, here comes Mitchell, bearing the costliest of gifts for a princess.

Darlene opened the door. Maybe she saw Mitchell’s scratches and welts and his strong juice-stained, thorn-scratched hands.

Then those bright hazel eyes locked on the pail. Oh, that pail!- glistening, laden with the finest of July. 

And with just one look at the amethyst gems in that brimming-full pail, Mitchell and Darlene’s deal was sealed. (At least that’s the story I tell.)

Mom and Dad have been married 50 years today.

Afterward: Freedom and Love and Raspberries Aren’t Free

I could leave it there, with the raspberry love story.

But I can’t. Because the analogies are so clear. And, honestly, I think Mom and Dad wouldn’t mind. Because they value this truth too: important things are costly.

So on this raspberry picking day two weeks after Independence Day as our country struggles through massive decision about Covid-19, please remember: freedom is not free.

Our founders pledged their lives, their fortune and their sacred honor to declare this nation free. Brave men and women still give their lives to preserve our liberty. It is effortful still, holding freedom up by tolerating different ideas— even ideas about wearing masks and virtual school plans—and by living virtuous lives.

Oh, do I know this is hard. Holding my tongue and listening, trusting good motives not despising others with different conviction… Is. So. Hard. It costs me comfort and much energy.

But spiritual freedom is costly too. It cost God the Father the death of his Beloved Son and it cost Jesus Christ his life. He gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness; we are not our own, we were bought at a price (Titus 2:14, 1 Corinthians 6:20). His blood-stained, nail-pieced hands bought us out of sin’s bramble.

Lately, I’ve been telling my teenaged son, None of the good stuff is free. Those ads and popups promise it. But you get what you pay for. Or what someone else paid dearly for.

So, no—love is not without cost and freedom is not free.

Neither is a bucket of raspberries.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

1 John 3:16

Confirm Thy Soul In Self-Control

“Confirm thy soul in self-control,

Thy liberty in law.”

Do you recognize those lyrics? Can you name that tune?

In case you’re drawing a blank on that line- it’s from America The Beautiful, near the end of verse two.

Whether you’re more ashamed at the state of our nation or  “proud to be an American” this post is for you.

Despite the twin truths that peace and righteousness do not reign in this land and that the Christian’s citizenship is in heaven, it wouldn’t hurt to listen to Catherine Lee Bates’ lyrics today.

Confirm thy soul in self-control, thy liberty in law. 

What One Ought To Do

Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom, Benjamin Franklin wrote.

A nation’s soul can’t be stronger or more free than the sum, or soul, of its parts. And without individual ability to self-govern, without willpower, national government has no hope. A nation of souls enslaved to their sinful ways will not a free nation make.

Michael Novak explains that true freedom is not being able to do what what desires at the moment or is impelled by passion to do.

To be free as a human being ought to be is to be able to discern, not only what one desires to do or is impelled by passion to do, but also, and even more clearly, what one ought to do…In short, in “the American ideal”… is not the capacity to do what one wishes but the capacity to do what one ought. It is, in short, to be capable of self-government, self-mastery, and self-control.

Paul knew this too.

For he knew that true freedom is not found in following our hearts and acting out our selfish desires. Rather, it is found in subverting our desires to serve one another. Paul knew how easy it was stay slaves to sin:

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? (Romans 6:16)

Confirm thy soul in self-control. 

Strong (Joyful) Souls Are No Accident

Add to the self-control mix, this common refrain I keep hearing as I talk with strong Christian friends. Can you hear the repeating theme?

Believe me, I could definitely down that whole pan of brownies tonight. I could. That’s why I can’t even sneak a bite. I’ll share them Friday.

It’s hard to get to bed by 11. There’s so much I can do when the kids are asleep. But when I stay up so late I overeat. Then I’m short and grumpy come morning.

I’d sure love to sleep in, but I make myself get up and work out early. There is some value in exercise. I’ve learned it won’t happen if I wait.

It seems a little over the top, I know, but I add my husband whenever I text or email another man. It’s just a safeguard. I’ve watched affairs start.

I try to practice giving others the last word, especially when we disagree. It’s hard to bridle my tongue and resist setting the record right. But it’s good.

In short, my faithful, fruitful Christian friends didn’t get that way by accident. They had all learned to exercise self-control. 

No One Drifts Toward Self-Control

There was quite a lot of Spirit-powered, self-control happening behind the scenes. They don’t toot their own horns, but day after day, they discipline themselves. Oh, sure, they stumble and fall sometimes. Then they get back up because they know the joy of self-control.

Do you know that joy? The joy of going to bed on a hungry stomach? Or of leaving a well-deserved zinger unsaid?

It’s counter-intuitive, the joy of self-control. Because the pleasure of Spirit borne fruit is way deeper than the fleeting joys of giving in to sin. Knowing that you didn’t cave, but by grace overcame- now that feels great.

Confirm thy soul in self-control. 

Like a city with walls broken down

Like a city with its walls broken down is man who lacks self-control. Proverbs 25:28

Cities with broken down walls will crumble. They are open to enemies and become slaves to invaders.

A person without self-control is like an unprotected city. When we don’t exercise self-control, when we don’t say yes when we should and no when we shouldn’t, we are vulnerable to our soul’s enemies. In time, our city-souls will crumble.

Self-control matters. In this age of distraction and endless temptation to drift online and through social media, we so need self-control.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, President Lincoln said, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

Soul-strength or city strength depends on walls of self-control. When we lack-self control we destroy our city from the inside, as individual and as nations. But exercising self-control confirms and bolsters the soul.

Confirm thy soul in self-control. 

Foundational, Not Flashy

Being self-controlled is central to what it means to be a Christian.  With love and holiness, self-control is used to describe the essence of Christian conduct (2 Timothy 1:7; Titus 2:6, 12; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 1:6).

When Paul was called to explain the Christian faith to the Roman Governor Felix, he summed up the Christian gospel and worldview as “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25). He didn’t tack on peace or patience or kindness with Felix. He talked about self-control.

Not surprisingly Sir Secular Felix didn’t drop to his knees and convert. No- he was alarmed. “Go away for the present,” he said. Self-control is not flashy or flamboyant or fun. In the moment, anyway.

Author David Mathis describes self-control as not terribly attractive, but, frank and functional. And difficult.

It doesn’t turn heads or grab headlines. It can be as seemingly small as saying no to another Oreo, French fry, or milkshake — or another half hour on Netflix or Facebook — or it can feel as significant as living out a resounding yes to sobriety and sexual purity. This is the height of Christian virtue in a fallen world, and its exercise is quite simply one of the most difficult things you can ever learn to do.

Self-control is not easy. But it is possible.

Not only is it possible, but if Christ’s Spirit dwells in you, His fruit will come. And self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.

But as with any fruit, tending the soil can help it grow. So, the really difficult thing might be to take Jesus at his word and take time to abide in the Word. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, Jesus said. We must abide to be self-controlled.

But even then- I won’t kid you- it’s still a fight. Reining in my tongue, my stomach, my controlling appetites.

By the grace of God, self-control is possible.

And America, you listening? God has shed his grace on thee.

But America? The grace God shed on us is one and the same as the grace that confirms our souls in self-control, our liberty in law.

So, yes, America: Happy Independence Day!

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
Titus 2:11–13

AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

-Catherine Lee Bates

America The Beautiful

After The Memorial Day Parade

It will never be lawful simply to ‘be ourselves’ until ‘ourselves’ have become sons of God.

-C. S. Lewis, “The Sermon and the Lunch”

See you at the parade tomorrow?

‘Spose so. We’ve got a house to clean and a lawn to mow, but we’ll be there. 

Yeah. We need to get our garden in soon, but it seems like the right thing to do. 

Nine o’clock?  Same place?

Yup. Corner of Lincoln and Kane. 

May’s rite must go on. So we went to the parade today. Because we must remember.

My forbears were farmers. None of my near kin fought for physical freedom. No names or faces come to mind when bands and flags go by. 


What if we don’t have an Uncle John who died in Vietnam or Cousin Jack who served in Iraq? What’s to remember then? 


If we’re Christians, plenty. 


Jon Bloom says that of all people believers are a “memorial” people. Only when we remember the gracious past can we forge free into our glorious future. With or without a parade, Christians remember the high cost of freedom. 

So stand up, boys, when the flags go by. Clap your hands, or salute. We rise, guys, and remember.

Remember Freedom’s Cost

But God shows his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

We don’t often make it to that third stanza of America, The Beautiful. But it’s a good one for memory. O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life.


There were and still are, heroes who love mercy more than life. There are still soldiers who fall on grenades. There are still heroes who lay down their lives. 

So guys, remember that real moms’ sons and real boys’ dads and real uncles and friends laid down their lives. Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Hundreds of thousands gave their lives, if not to death, then precious time in their life’s prime, to preserve the freedom of the country they loved. All gave some, and some gave all. 

We are not our own. We-our lives, our blessed hope and our freedom-were bought with a price. 

Remember What Freedom’s From

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Romans 6:6-7

We’d all would be free from tyranny. No taxation without representation and free to speak our minds and hold up signs. Free to roam about and buy what we want and work where we will. We’d all be free from oppressive government, though we might argue the line where protecting oppresses.

But for what do we want it? Freedom to follow my deceitful heart, wherever it might lead, is no real freedom. In fact, obeying my every desire- following my lusting eyes and boasting heart-is not freedom at all. It is bondage. Paul called it slavery to sin.

Freedom to “be myself,” is not what this day is about. At least not for the Christian. George Bernard Shaw offered a definition of hell, in his play Man and Superman, which was, “having to do what you want.” This, writes Fr. Stephan Muse, leads to total depravity, and it happens a little bit at a time. 

We must remember that real freedom always means free from and free for

Remember What Freedom’s For

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 1 Peter 2:16 


The Corinthians thought they had freedom all figured out. To them Paul wrote, though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant of all, that I might win more of them (1 Corinthians 9:19). That remarkable statement of freedom from and freedom for that led Martin Luther to write,

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none, a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one. 

Our freedom is for love. Christ set us free to serve. Freedom that means only free to, as my boys and my niece said driving home today, do what you want to do. This is not freedom. Freedom that overcomes what the flesh would like, and does what love would do-this is true freedom.


Fr. Stephan Muse explains,

True freedom is gained by coming to love Christ more than we love our own pleasures, likes and dislikes-by encountering God, and by coming to love the world more than we desire to possess and use it and others for our own ends. By praying “Thy will be done on earth” instead of our own, we begin to be instilled with a willingness to offer ourselves for the life or the world. We discover that we no longer have to do what we want; we are free and willing to do whatever God…wills. 

This morning from my same spot with our old friends, on the corner of Lincoln and Kane, I saw someone else. Someone from a former church. We didn’t always see eye to eye and I hadn’t we hadn’t spoken in a year at least. I saw her when the band played Mine Eyes Have Seen.


But I pretended my eyes had not. The band played on and my friend and I talked on. And I saw the estranged one when the unicycles and stilted clowns and all the scouts went past. But on I talked, pretending my eyes hadn’t seen. Free not to feel awkward. Free to ignore. Free.


But not really free.

Freedom After The Parade 

So rise, boys, and remember the high price of freedom. Stand silent, salute. Honor our freedom fighters. Let’s don’t let this parade be just a frenzy for the living. 


Count yourselves dead to sin. And alive in Christ to love. 


You know where this is going. You know just where I went. When the last red fire truck rolled by, I ambled 30 feet to the right. There she was-collecting Crunch bar wrappers, corralling her kids, folding their chairs.


True freedom overcomes what the flesh would like, and does what love would do. 


So I smiled at this estranged friend my eyes had seen. I stretched out a hand to help and asked her,

How have you been? 

And that is what freedom is for. 

For you were called to freedom brothers. Only do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. 


Galatians 5:13