The Vault

Last of Human Freedoms

Devotional Message delivered to the Oklahoma House of Representatives on February 7, 2019.

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The Last of Human Freedoms
OK House Devotional Message
February 7, 2019

Good morning:

I want to first thank Speaker Charles McCall for asking me to serve as chaplain for the OK House of Representatives in the 57th Legislature. His confidence in me is most humbling – And I also thank every member of this esteemed body – for your generosity toward me since first launching a ministry in Oklahoma a number of years ago.

You should also know my mind on this appointment – This office is not mine, but the chaplaincy for this House belongs to you. It is a ministry of encouragement and prayer, regardless of person, position, party, or the policies you take up. It is a service based in the simple belief that before you are a politician or elected official, you are people on a journey of public service and leadership.

Each Thursday, the chaplain is afforded a brief time for a devotional message and my plan this session is to look at the last two chapters of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia – specifically looking at that well-known passage popularly called the Fruit of the Spirit.

Why are we looking at the Fruit of the Spirit, you might ask… Well, you are all lawmakers after all, and Paul concludes this list with the statement – “Against such things there is no law.” I promise, Mr. Speaker, that’s as close as I’ll ever get to commenting on policy… Of course, that’s not the sort of law Paul had in mind.

As a brief introduction, today, let’s consider how Paul leads into the Fruit of the Spirit. In Galatians 5:1, he writes, “For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Three simple truths are immediately evident:

  1. People are not free.
  2. Christ sets people free.
  3. Christ sets people free, for freedom’s sake.

The cause of freedom is ensconced in our nation’s DNA – in the opening of the Declaration of Independence, that we hold these truths self-evident, all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights… life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Freedom, though a divinely endowed right, is not the inherent reality of humanity. All around the world, we find people oppressed by forces outside themselves, governments, and institutions that limit their freedom. Within our own nation’s history, freedom is a work in progress. This passage is Biblical promise that promoting freedom is a most Christ-like and godly endeavor.

But even if a person is blessed enough to live in a free society, without external constraints, they can still find themselves in captivity and lacking the very freedom they were designed to enjoy. Earlier this week, columnist, Jonathan Merritt, wrote, “Every human is both the jailer and the inmate in their own life. We are incarcerated by our bad habits, dark tendencies, and hurtful propensities.”

You may be familiar with the story of Victor Frankl. Dr. Frankl was a prominent 20th Century philosopher of psychology and is best known for his contributions to what we know as existential therapy. In 1942, Frankl and his parents, wife, and brother were arrested and sent to the Thereisienstadt concentration camp; Frankl’s father died there within six months. Over the course of three years, Frankl was moved between four concentration camps, including Auschwitz where his brother died and his mother was killed. Frankl’s wife died at Bergen-Belsen. When Frankl’s camp was liberated in 1945, he learned of the death of all his immediate family members, with the exception of his sister who had emigrated to Australia. In the camps, Frankl and fellow prisoners made an effort to address the despondency they observed in other inmates.

It was said that while in the concentration camps, Victor Frankl could predict which prisoners possessed the “quality within” to survive this atrocity. He later developed a therapeutic practice based on Soren Kirkegaard’s concept of will to meaning, and he believed that people were not driven by pleasure or passion – as other psychologists and therapists of his day asserted – but the search for meaning.

Frankl observed, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I’ve studied psychology, philosophy, and theology… I’m not an expert in any of these disciplines, but I find this truth reverberates through scripture: this last of human freedoms is in fact a universal grace from God and compels me to believe that God designed people to live in freedom.

The message of Jesus, his work on the cross, and gospel proclaimed by his followers for two millennia is that the greatest experience of freedom happens within the human heart – no matter what happens around you.

We never stop pursuing freedom in other arenas of society and the world, but when Paul says, Christ set us free, he means us to know that God can release in me and in you, a deep freedom of the soul, the mind, the heart.

The Fruit of the Spirit is a discussion about what freedom looks like. So, what does a mind, or a heart that is set free look like? It looks like lovejoy… peace… patience… kindness… goodness… faithfulness… gentleness… and self-control.

What happens when freedom manifests in a person’s life in these ways? They find the deep meaning for their life – through work and vocation, public service and politics, to live each and every day in order to impact the lives of people they meet, and the power to survive even unbearable conditions.

People are meant to be free – and for freedom, Christ has set us free.

Please pray with me…

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Download a PDF of this transcript: Feb_7_The Last of Human Freedoms_Transcript

 

Invocation | First Joint Session of 57th Oklahoma Legislature

Dr. Harder delivered the invocation for the first joint session of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature on January 8, 2019 in Oklahoma City.

Invocation | First Joint Session of the 57th Oklahoma Legislature from Capitol Commission Oklahoma on Vimeo.

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Heavenly Father,

As we pause in this moment, filled with anticipation for all that lies before us, specifically before these elected leaders and the work they will do on behalf of the State of Oklahoma, I ask that you would quiet their minds, still their hearts, and let them count the cost of what will be required of them each day over the next four and half to five months. Let them be both inspired with the convictions that led them to seek their office, but also make them aware of their own limitations and needs.

The book of Proverbs goes to great lengths to teach us that no one person has it all figured out, that all of us, even the best of us, still see only partly what is good, true, and right. That we need one another. These leaders will need each other’s perspective, knowledge and wisdom. They will need each other’s strength at times, and mostly, they will need each other’s grace.

Most of all, they will need something that no person can give them. Our nation was founded upon the belief that even in the greatest of human endeavors, humanity depends upon a sovereign and holy God, for wisdom and protection, for grace and mercy, and for justice and good government.

So it is my humble honor to invoke God’s blessing, and His presence, and His strength upon each member of the Oklahoma legislature. For their families and homes. For the work they will do together.

God, you have led me to pray from this well time before and I know you will do so again, to confess that Oklahoma’s leaders are chosen servants. Democratically chosen, but also sovereignly chosen by you. These are the individuals you have called forth to step out of their districts and into these chambers, to reason together and lead our state.

In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, he reminds the Christians gathered there to be subject to the governing authorities over them – because they are instruments of God. The government is not the same thing as the Church, but the Bible still calls those who lead in government, servants of God. So Lord, let us be obedient to the Scripture that commands Christians, and I invite all people of prayer to join us in this spirit of intercession:

For each one – may their time in office be marked less by political wins or legislative accomplishments and marked more by an encounter with the divine God of the universe, marked by a deeper understanding of their role as a public servant with greater reverence for things that are on the Heart of God – peace, joy, patience, kindness, self-control, preferring the good of others before themselves, justice and mercy, ministry to the marginalized, visiting the widow and orphan in their affliction. With such wisdom, they will lead us well.

In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, Amen.

Invocation, OK House Swearing-in Ceremony (VIDEO)

Invocation | 57th OK Leg Swearing-In Ceremony from Capitol Commission Oklahoma on Vimeo.

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Thank you, Mr. Speaker,

We gather together this morning, first of all with a heart of thankfulness. We are grateful for the many ways we are blessed in this nation and in our state. May we never take for granted the extraordinary privilege of freedom, our resources, our heritage and our faith, and our families. Please pray with me.

Heavenly Father:

We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us as well as those who stand beside us. We give thanks for the people in each of our lives whom we love, who sacrifice much, and those who love us. God, we are thankful for the individuals who stand in this chamber, poised to begin their task as legislators, as members of this – the people’s House of Representatives – God I give you thanks. May we who live under their leadership and authority pray for them and encourage them with a heart of thanksgiving and intercession as the Bible commends.

Your Scripture teaches us that these leaders standing before us today are, in fact, chosen servants. Democratically chosen by the people of Oklahoma, but also of Your sovereign Will. Each one comes to their office and to this legislative body from a myriad of backgrounds and experiences, and varying perspectives. They possess a diversity of skills and knowledge. And you have been at work in each of their lives leading to this moment. They are the individuals, the men and the women, called out of their communities and districts from across Oklahoma, representing diverse communities with different challenges and needs, but also with different talents and resources to share. These are the women and men who step into this chamber and reason together, with conviction and compassion, to lead our state forward.

As they take the oath of office, for each one I pray:

Give them your spirit: of truth and not of fear, but of power, love, and sound judgment: The ability to respond in love, when the circumstances are driving them toward bitterness. The ability to do what is hard and what is right, when the temptation is to do what is easy or may seem popular.

Give them strength and endurance: When the days grow long and they discover the limits of their own strength, remind them of the Apostle Paul who writes, “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” And as Isaiah writes, “if you are their God, then you will be with them and will help them, God will uphold them with his righteous right hand.”

Give them humility and grace: May they do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility look to the interest of others first, and then themselves. Call to their mind the simple yet profound power at work in this world, to “humble yourselves before the LORD, and He will lift you up.”

Give them protection for their families: You love their families better than they can, so may they rest in your loving-kindness and protection, especially when their duties take them away from their homes.

Give them wisdom and discernment: Wisdom that is first of all pure, then peace-loving, gentle, easily entreated, full of mercy and good fruits…”

Bless the work of this House and this legislature in the years before them, so that all of Oklahoma may thrive, and every community across our state may flourish.

In the name of Jesus Christ, I pray, Amen.

Election Day | Three Ways to Pray

The midterm election is almost upon us. For many in the political arena working feverishly in the final hours, November 6 couldn’t come soon enough. Much is yet known about how things will go on November 6, but one thing is certain, November 7 is just one day later. On November 7, we will know who the people of Oklahoma elected to send to Washington and to 23rd and Lincoln in Oklahoma City to serve as their representatives to lead our state and nation.

God calls Christians to engage in the political process of our state and nation at various levels. Some are working on campaigns, others are running for office, and Christians should, of course, vote. But of all the ways God calls His people to participate in the political process, none of them come before the biblical command and call to pray for our leaders. I had the great opportunity to participate on the So We Speak podcast, talking with Cole Feix about the ministry of Capitol Commission Oklahoma and specifically how Christians can be praying in these final days before the election, and in months that follow.

Three Ways to Pray

  1. Pray for Yourself – Pray for God to help you adopt a genuine heart of thanksgiving and intercession for elected leaders, as 1 Timothy 2:1-4 directs us to. Recognize that there are attitudes in our own heart, often influenced by a myriad of messages in the culture, that actively attempt to prevent us from praying with thanksgiving and intercession. So, ask God to help you identify those things in your own heart and lay them down so you can pray as God teaches us to pray for leaders in scripture.
  2. Pray for All of the Candidates – Pray for every candidate on the ballot. Some of their names you know, others you might not. But all of them need strength and endurance to finish this race. Campaigns can be ugly affairs, so pray for their families and ask God to protect them from the toxicity that can often infiltrate campaign rhetoric. Ask God to make His presence especially evident to them. If they are a Believer, pray for God to encourage and strengthen them. If they are not a Believer, ask God to use the process of a political campaign to create a new awareness and sensitivity to the truth of the Gospel and God’s love for them.
  3. Pray for Those Elected – On November 7, begin praying faithfully for those who are elected, whether you voted for them or not. They are the individuals, in God’s providence, chosen to serve. Pray for them to be influenced by heavenly wisdom, such as that described in James 3.

When you have time, click here to check out our conversation at the So We Speak Podcast!

 

 

For Election Day: An Old Command

Living in a representative democracy is an extraordinary blessing. As citizens, we each get a vote and we each have a voice. It’s not the case everywhere and wasn’t true in many nations throughout history. It wasn’t true at the time when much of the Bible was written. What can the Bible teach us about using our voice at times of political elections?

We’ve been studying the letter of First John in the Capitol Commission Bible study this fall. It is a letter rich in wisdom and the calming assurance of our salvation and identity as the children of God. And what do all children do? They grow. As a father of two young daughters, I can see them grow each and every day.

In this letter, John the Beloved Disciple of Jesus Christ is helping the reader to grow and move from child-like faith toward becoming a maturing, godly father and mother in the faith. All the while growing in a personal relationship with God. Something we can learn a lot about from John is moving from a saving knowledge to an experiential knowledge of God.

In this letter, John writes: “This is how we know that we know him:

  • if we keep his commands 2:3
  • if we remain in him 2:28
  • if we purify ourselves as he himself is pure 3:3
  • by doing what is right, especially loving our brother and sister 3:10.”

In essence, a growing and maturing child of God will grow to desire being in God’s presence and trusting what Jesus said is true and best for our lives. This harder than it sounds because there are so many good things we experience in this life and near as many important decisions we have to make, including how we vote, that we become distracted. We have to make a decision each and every day.

The Christian has decided that it is better by far to dwell in the presence of God than any other pleasure, passion, or purpose. When that is your decision each day, you will begin to desire holiness over sin, the needs of others over selfishness, and you gain clarity about the important decisions you have to make. God has a lot of things in mind for you, for your life, and for your talents and abilities. But, none of them are more important to God than you, growing closer to Him and becoming more like Christ. He loves you too much for anything else to happen in your life.

John is also very practical. There is very obvious evidence that we are growing in the faith, that we love others. There is a story that is shared by the early church historian, Eusebius, about John’s life in his old age. It was said that whenever the church would gather, they would ask, “Father John, father John, do you have a word for us?” John would always answer that he did have a word for them. They would carry him to the front where he would simply say, “My little children, love one another.”

Of course, there are other things God says to us, has for us, and leads us to do. But, all of them fall subject to this one command. It is an old command. That we love one another. Is it any wonder, then, how easy it is to fail to keep this command? What better way can the integrity and authenticity of the Christian faith be called into question?

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the word you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother or sister is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother or sister remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him.

1 John 2:7-10

We cannot accomplish this on our own. That’s why in 2 Timothy, Paul writes that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power. Not just of power, but of love and self-discipline. When all the circumstances and all the noise flooding our social media feed is driving us to hate, God gives us the power to respond in love.

The election is just two weeks away. Emotions are high and so are our sensitivities. Pray that God gives you his power to respond in love today. And don’t forget to vote on Nov. 6!