Tuesday, August 23, 2016

No Fear

A sermon delivered at Heritage Baptist Church, Wake Forest, NC on July 31, 2016

About twenty years ago, I heard a sermon on the passage I am preaching about today. I knew this passage because verse 7 was one of the first lines I’d ever memorized: Let us love one another, because love is from God. It was in needlepoint and hanging on my mom and dad’s bedroom wall—it still is, too.  But that sermon I heard one day when I was driving from Raleigh to Forest City or vice versa was the first I’d ever encountered the phrase “Perfect love casts out fear.” It seems to be an odd thing here in the midst of talking about love, God’s love, that fear should enter the picture at all.

Fear is something that is common to each of us. In fact, some fears are so great that we have to dig into the Greek and call them phobias. If you go to the website, phobialist.com, you can see hundreds of phobias—real fears. 

Barophobia- Fear of gravity

Cathisophobia- Fear of sitting

Hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia- Fear of long words

Homilophobia- Fear of sermons

These aren’t small terrors—they are fears that debilitate. I thought I had a fear of heights, but it isn’t a phobia. When I was in Petra in Jordan in 2001, I was walking with a couple of friends to a place called the monastery. To get there you have to walk along a ledge that is probably 15 feet wide, but has a hundred foot drop off on the left. And in Jordan, they aren’t worried about putting up rails like in the US. My friend Heather could not get close to that pathway. She folded up and would not move. We had to leave her to wait. And I’d always thought I was scared of heights.

Phobias are psychological. But there are many more fears that we each have at some point in our lives. As babies we are afraid when we can’t find our parents—who are probably in the next room. As children we fear the dark or thunderstorms or monsters under the bed. Will we make friends at the new school? Will I be able to find all my classes? Will I get teased? Will I say the right thing? What was that scary sound outside my window? I’d better work on this paper or I’ll get a bad grade. Will my roommate be normal? Do I have enough money this month? Those are all pretty personal. 

There is another list that reads: ISIS, the economy, terrorism, Zika Virus, failing schools, global warming, and shark attacks. These fears get the news coverage and if we weren’t afraid before, then we are now. Fears in the media can create panic, hysteria. Those fears can make us feel hopeless and defeated and scared to step outside our door into the world. The media doesn’t help. According to psychologists: 

“Watching the news can be a psychologically risky pursuit, which could undermine your mental and physical health. Fear-based news stories prey on the anxieties we all have and then hold us hostage. Being glued to the television, reading the paper or surfing the Internet increases ratings and market shares - but it also raises the probability of depression relapse.”[1]

So I guess we can add watching the news to the list of our fears as well. All the stirred up fear leads to more fear. Kind of like the way you feel when you eat candy all day. You feel bad. Just one piece more leads to that sick feeling. Stirring up fear inside of us is the spiritual equivalent of eating candy all day long.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

Fear and punishment. Not a deserved punishment necessarily, but something that is going to be bad if the fear isn’t overcome. You see the Syrians escaping from the cities they know and fleeing into refugee camps. I mean, look at the pictures of those cities like Homs. Those were modern, cosmopolitan cities. They worked in offices, had their coffee every morning. Their kids went to school, took dance lessons, played video games. The streets were safe, until war came. And fear drove them out. Stay and be killed or live in a tent in a land far away.

In our own country, a policeman pulls over a woman. Asks her if she knows why he stopped her. The look of fear on her face even though it is only to offer her an ice cream cone. She didn’t know that though. The fear and terror that I see is a look that suspects the worst and never dreams that it is going to turn out the way it does. 

A girl locks herself away for years so that she won’t harm her sister with her power to freeze things. After the secret is out, the younger one is confident that they don’t have to live in fear, that love can be the answer. And it is in the end—the love between the sisters can break the spell and save the town. Yeah, that was from Frozen, but we like our movies to have that element of love—a love that is going to save us all. It must have been on the mind of our letter writer in our Scripture passage as well. “Perfect love casts out fear.”

One more story though: A boy is 8 years old when he and his sister are brought to the United States by their mother and father. They overstay their visas and live under the radar. The parents work. The boy keeps his sister quiet after school and out of sight of the neighbors. Even as he grows into his teenage years, there is a signal that his parents work out to warn him that they have been taken by immigration officials. He lives in fear, every day, that their lives in this country will be turned upside down. Yet to go back to his country, a place where he does not even understand the language, where martial law is in place, is an unthinkable fear far greater than the daily one he faces. When the boy is grown, he falls in love and at some point has to tell his girlfriend that he is undocumented, illegal. But that girl knows that their true citizenship is in heaven and it doesn’t matter to her either—cause she is in love with him, too. In their first year of marriage, she applies to get him permanent resident status. She also hears a sermon on the radio that is the first time she has ever encountered “perfect love casts out fear.” She takes his wedding band and has the words engraved because it is true.

Now the words actually say, “Love casts out all fear” because that girl was theologically smart enough to know that perfect is something only God can do. 

That’s the key, isn’t it? We can’t ever create a perfect love ourselves. In our relationships, there is always some hurt, some disappointment, some betrayals that keep love from being perfect. Perfect love isn’t something that we as humans can do ourselves. Only one human ever had perfect love, and he was divine as well as human—which is the only way that Jesus could ever have perfect love: a perfect love for those children, those misguided disciples, that woman who was an outcast, the Pharisees that wanted to entrap, the Roman soldier who came to arrest, his own murderers shouting “Crucify Him!” And through it all, perfect love was all that Jesus ever showed us. Jesus is our perfect picture of love. 

When this letter of First John was written, Christians had not yet been under persecution. It was coming in the next decade or so, but the tiny little sect of Christians were still under the radar of the powers that be. The writer of this epistle really wants to have those early Christians understand the nature of God’s love. And it was a foreign concept to the early converts around Ephesus—the place that most scholars believe this letter was intended to be read. Ephesus has a Greek culture—as most places in the “known” world of that time. The religion was based on the Greek gods and later the Roman variations of those gods. Greek mythology was lacking an understanding of a deity that loved humanity. Sure the Greek gods interacted with humans in the stories, but it was for short-lived affairs and nearly always went on to explain how something in the world worked—which is the point of a mythology.  
The culture in the first century was new to the concept of one Supreme Being who loved humanity. Even the hints that are in the monotheistic Jewish religion still were developing a God who loves. Christianity pushed that idea into the forefront primarily with those stories of Jesus—both divine and human—who loved everyone he met. Jesus is the model for those early Christians in how to act toward their neighbors. Jesus is the model in dealing with enemies and friends. Jesus is the model for when we are content and agitated, happy and sad, calm and fearful. The stories of how Jesus was calm in the Garden of Gethsemene at his arrest. How Jesus was silent before Pilate. How Jesus went to his death at Golgotha. The divinity of Jesus lets us know that sure he must have known the outcome. But Jesus was human as well. And we know Jesus felt the range of emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear. Yet Jesus’ death was one where we can see perfect love in action. 

Jesus has been our model throughout the years. As the persecutions of Christians began in the decades after our text was written, there are stories after stories about Christians going to their deaths yet they are elevated to sainthood because they didn’t show fear. Later, during reformation, the Anabaptists were tortured and burned in much the same ways. Yet they all seem to go to their martyrdom willingly. 

We are not being called to lay down our lives here in this country where we have free worship of God. But we are still called to be like Jesus. To create relationships with others. To love our neighbors—indeed everyone—and offer them respect and understanding and compassion and justice and mercy—just as we have been offered by God. It sometimes takes a lot of work to see past our prejudices and the stigmas we attach to certain situations. We cannot automatically think terrorists when we see a woman in a hijab. We cannot automatically think thug when we see an African-American boy walking down the street. We cannot automatically think loser when we see the homeless man with a sign at the intersection. We cannot automatically think pervert when we see two people of the same gender holding hands in public. Terrorist, thug, loser, pervert are not in Jesus’ vocabulary; and Jesus is not fearful of the people he encounters on our streets today. Our call is to get to know our neighbor: to see their humanity, to understand their situations, to have relationship with one another. That is the job of love. 

Perfect love is what connects us to God. Our imperfect love is what connects us to one another.

In the 1960s, there was a song, most popularly sung by Dionne Warwick, that says:

What the world needs now is love sweet love,
It's the only thing that there's just too little of.
What the world needs now is love sweet love,
No not just for some but for everyone.

I happen to be a big fan of music from the 1960s. And it seems like this world is in the same kind of chaos that it was in those 50 years ago. No matter how this decade, or even this year, is going to end; we still need love to overcome fear. Love to cast out all fear. For Perfect love to cast out fear. We here in this place know the secret is holding fast to the love of God and following the example of Jesus’ life. It is our call to live out loud in full knowledge of that Love.

There is no fear in God. Fear and the realm of God are complete opposites. Our hard work is to stay hopeful.  To keep setting aside the unnecessary fear, taking a deep breath, and returning ourselves to peace, patience, and an open mind.  
This day, may grace keep opening our ears to each other, and making us deaf to stirred up fear. May hope keep our hearts alive, to God and each other.  May love keep us attentive to the realm of God among us.  
Let us pray:

God, builder of new connections and unseen gifts,
teach our hearts to respond more deeply 
to your purposes, we pray.
Make us calm before the voices of anxiety, panic and rage.    
Settle your Spirit to brood within us and among us,
forming us in wisdom and compassion, 
immune to false fears and alert to grace. Amen.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/two-takes-depression/201106/if-it-bleeds-it-leads-understanding-fear-based-media
[2] Mary Austin in “False Fears” at http://us3.campaign-archive2.com/?u=c0807dddec356f1ff98667d7c&id=310ca9655b

Friday, July 23, 2010

What do you say?

This sermon was preached at Wise Baptist Church, Wise, NC on June 27, 2010; and at my home church, Heritage Baptist Church, Wake Forest, NC on July 11, 2010.

I attended Meredith College for my undergraduate degree, and I majored in religion because I knew that I would be going to divinity school for my masters. If I had it to do all over again, I would choose a different major, maybe English or more likely history. You can blame my parents for the history buff I am. For as long as I can remember, they took my brother and I to various historical sites all over the country, and so many museums that I can’t begin to name them all. There were even two cross country trips to California to visit my grandparents; and if there was something historical to see along the way, we saw it. And it was fun. It was interesting to me. Couple that with all the PBS I watched since our television only picked up 7 channels—2 of them PBS; and my brain was so full of stuff, I don’t know how I ever sorted it out or kept it all straight.

But there is a trick to learning history that I picked up in my US Government class in ninth grade—it is all related. For every event, there is something that came before: a movement, a trigger, a revolt. And as my classmates in that Government class struggled to write every word out of the teacher’s mouth, I just kept track of the whys and hows and I did just as well on the tests without injuring my hand.

The whys of history. Do you know why you are attending a Baptist church today? I am Baptist because my mother is Baptist. And her parents, and their parents. It’s what I know, even if I never knew the history of Baptists—what they stood for and how the beliefs came into being—until I was in my early 20s in divinity school at Gardner-Webb University. There must not be very many Baptist historical sites for my parents to seek out. I only knew the obvious belief that separated us from other denominations—we dunked not sprinkled like that Methodist church down the road.

So this sermon is about the all-so-important Baptist belief of soul freedom. And it is part history lesson—maybe you won’t fall asleep on me. Even if you are not Baptist (and that’s fine! I am very ecumenical these days) there is the story of decision and confession that is something that all Christians have in common. And for that story, I direct your attention to Matthew 16, verses 13 through 20.

13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

14 They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

15 "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"

16 Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

17 Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, b]">[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death c]">[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be d]">[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be e]">[e] loosed in heaven." 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Imagine this scene: a young man is working in his parent’s business. He is a young man, about 21 years old. I’ll call him Bill. When he was a young boy, Bill thought that he would become a teacher. This was due to his fourth grade teacher, Mr. Roberts who was the first male teacher that Bill had ever seen. But that year in Mr. Roberts’ class made a strong impression on young Bill, and from then on Bill told everyone that he was going to become a teacher. But fourth grade isn’t all that difficult, and by the time Bill got to high school where the learning was more difficult, he was an average student. Bill managed to get into one of the state universities, but college is a lot different from high school. Sometimes Bill had trouble completing assignments and managing his time, he sometimes got the words all mixed up when he read—possibly dyslexia that went undiagnosed. Some concepts were too difficult for Bill to learn. After a year, Bill was frustrated with being in college. He managed to get Cs, but it had taken a lot of work.

Bill had always helped his parents in their hardware shop. He could practically run the business himself—even down to the bookkeeping—he was always good with numbers. So, Bill decided that he would just drop out of college and help his parents. After all, they were getting older, and Bill had a girlfriend that he was planning on marrying. But in the back of his mind, Bill wished that he had a second chance at being a teacher.

One day a man showed up in the store. He was dressed in a suit—and his face reminded Bill of Mr. Roberts who had moved away some years before. Even before Bill heard the man explain he was a teacher to another customer in the store, Bill had already had this guy pegged. He knew he was a teacher. As the man came up to the cash register where Bill was working, he stopped and looked Bill square in the eye. He said, “I know you’ve always wanted to be a teacher. Come with me. I’ll teach you what you need to know.”

And just like that, Bill removed his work apron and stepped from behind the counter, and left the store with this man.

Now put this Bill in first century Palestine and change his name to Peter. Peter started school like all the other Jewish boys in his community—at religious school, being taught by a rabbi. Peter and his classmates learned about God and the history of their people and the law. It was fascinating stuff to young Peter as he finally realized why they made sacrifices and kept the Sabbath holy and celebrated festivals. Peter looked at his rabbi and knew there was no other thing he wanted to do with his own life. But it was not to be. The rabbi only took the smartest of his scholars into more difficult teachings beyond the pre-teen years. So Peter finished religious school and went out to learn a trade instead. Along the way, Peter got married and worked to support his family.

Peter was a fisherman, and no one knew the waters of the Sea of Galilee better than Peter. He hated for anyone to tell him how to do his job. Peter was good at fishing. But in the back of his mind, Peter wished he could learn more about the God of his Fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Was there something new he could learn?

One day, a man comes up to Peter, and Peter realizes that this is a rabbi. Rabbis were always walking around Palestine with a group of followers, but this man, this rabbi, had no followers with him. The rabbi looks at Peter and says, “Follow me. I will help you fish for people.” And Peter sees his chance. He immediately gets up and goes with this man; the man that we know is Jesus. Here is Peter’s second chance. And from the gospels, we know that Peter sure did learn a lot in those few years with Jesus.

Jesus called the common people of his day to follow him—not the rabbis, not the Pharisees, not the ruling Roman leaders. Jesus called his disciples from their ordinary lives. Those disciples learned a whole lot more about God that is for sure. Who would have ever guessed that a group of common men and women would walk with the greatest rabbi of all time? Not the brightest, not the smartest, not the richest, but everyday people. Those are the ones Jesus called.

Jump forward a century and a half to the 1500s; there was a man by the name of William Tyndale. Tyndale was an Oxford educated scholar and one day he saw “at first hand the ignorance of the local clergy.” It is reported that Tyndale declared to the ignorant priest, “If God spare my life, ere many years pass, I will cause a boy that driveth the plough [to] know more of the Scriptures than [y]ou.” And Tyndale’s life’s work was to see that the bible was translated into English. You see, before the invention of the printing press a century before Tyndale lived, there was no chance that an individual outside of academic institutions would have read the bible in their own language. All bibles were hand-printed in Latin. The priests in the churches all used Latin for the mass. Sometimes the common people in the church during service would only know parts of the bible from the artwork they saw in church or what their priest told them after confessing their sins. In school we would call that kind of learning “not from a primary source,” and it would be frowned on in our research papers. Tyndale changed that.

After the bible was translated into English, a literate person could understand its words. An illiterate person could learn to read from that bible. And so, a whole new world was opened to the common people. Men and women, boys and girls could read the stories and lessons of the bible and learn about God. This let the boy think about spiritual ideas while driving the plow. Suddenly, the bible was not just a book that only a priest or scholar could use.

Almost 500 years ago—a decade or so before William Tyndale, there lived a German priest by the name of Martin Luther. As you may know, Luther challenged the medieval theology of Roman Catholic Church—a theology that said that God’s grace was only accessible in the church and mediated through the sacraments by the priests—a little clearer stated: you had to go to church and take the sacraments given to you by the priest in order to have salvation. However, Luther said that grace is gained by an individual’s coming before God directly and personally and voluntarily. While this idea began the Protestant Reformation, if you add the translated bibles, it was a radical idea—suddenly the saving grace of God was personal, an individual act from an individual heart because the common people could read the Bible for themselves.

When Baptists came around a century later in the 1600s, they affirmed the individual over the institution, the personal over the sacramental, and direct access to God over an earthly mediator—the priest. This belief is still one of the foundations of the Baptist faith, and it is called by any number of titles: individual competency, the competency of the soul before God, personal faith, soul liberty, spiritual religion, believer priesthood, etc. It is Freedom of the Soul. Soul Freedom. And it gives you the right to answer Jesus’ question in Matthew 16:15, “’What about you?’ [Jesus] ask[s], ‘Who do you say that I am?’”

The writer of Matthew had a purpose in this gospel. The book is written to create a link between the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah and this Jesus of Nazareth who is responsible for the New Testament. That is why we have the genealogy as the preface to this gospel so that we can link Jesus to the history of the Israelites. Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16—that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” is the key to the entire gospel. It is the hinge upon which the gospel swings; in artistic terms, it is the focal point. The reader of the gospel is supposed to say, “Aha! There it is!” After all, don’t you look for the writer’s purpose when you read? If you were a first grader, I would say yes because my son’s first grade Tuesday night homework was to read a children’s picture book and figure out the writer’s purpose—that is something I don’t remember doing until I was in high school, if then.

Anyway, Peter knew how to answer Jesus because Peter had been learning. Peter had followed Jesus. He heard the lessons taught—you know, the ones Jesus taught on the mountain—the Sermon on the Mount with all of those Beatitudes I had to learn as a teenager, and the stuff about loving your enemies, and being the salt of the earth, and how to pray to God, and storing up your treasures in heaven. Also, Peter had seen Jesus heal the sick, the demon-possessed, the paralyzed, the leper, and Jesus had brought a girl back to life. And Peter heard the stories—the parables that Jesus taught. Boy, those stories just suck you right in and then hit you upside the head with what you are supposed to learn from them. Also, Peter had been sent out to preach in the towns by Jesus, and Peter never took a preaching class and been critiqued by his peers. Oh the things Peter had witnessed! Peter had seen a whole crowd of people eat from one person’s lunch—and not just once—that had happened twice in Jesus’ ministry! Peter had even seen Jesus help a Canaanite woman, a person any other rabbi would have shunned. We won’t even mention all that Peter learned from the walking on water incident. I think that Peter would have learned by chapter 16 of Matthew’s gospel that Jesus was limitless. Jesus was divine. Peter confesses that Jesus is “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” For all of Peter’s rash statements later to come in this gospel: the fussing at Jesus when Jesus says he is going to Jerusalem to be killed, the whole misunderstanding of the transfiguration in the very next chapter, and even the denial of Jesus during Jesus’ trial—it didn’t change the significance of Peter’s answer to Jesus’ question. I guess this moment of Peter’s answer is the moment of his salvation— when he declared Jesus as the Son of God, Peter was saved.

Baptists like to use that word “saved” an awful lot. I’ve been in Baptist churches all my life, and I wish I had a nickel for every time I have heard it in a sermon—I would already have a couple of nickels here now. Yet, being saved is not the same experience for all Christians. Some have direct and dramatic encounters with God like Saul did on the Damascus Road. But not everyone. Some may sit in a congregation in a worship service and suddenly understand that they need to belong to God. But not everyone. Some may not know the exact moment they were saved. But not everyone. The common denominator in Baptist life is that our salvation is something that we choose—no one chooses it for us. My experience of salvation at age eight was of understanding that I needed to make a decision to follow Jesus. I walked down the aisle at the close of the service on the last night of the week at South Mountain Baptist Camp near Morganton, North Carolina. I later went down the aisle in my small country church as a demonstration of my decision—what Baptists usually call the public profession of faith. And I was baptized a few weeks later. What can a child of eight understand about salvation? I understood as an eight year old and as I matured physically, emotionally, mentally; so also I grew spiritually to understand better what it meant to follow Christ. But I think that my own decision was just a part of the journey of my faith. I think that I had decided to follow Jesus long before that—it was more of a process in my life. And so I am a bit unsure of the exact moment salvation came to me. Never believe that you have to know the exact minute and place you were saved—cause some preachers use that line. I’ve heard that and seen the reaction, and it just isn’t a Baptist principle to force a person to have the same experience of salvation.

Back to history, and I’ll tell you another Baptist thing that happened because of soul freedom. In 1609, John Smyth, the founding father of the Baptist faith, introduced a radical concept to the world--it was that baptism should be administered to believers only. Not many people of Smyth’s day would go that far. You see, baptism was something done at birth. The Catholic Church had infant baptism. The Church of England kept infant baptism after splintering away from the Catholic Church. Even the Protestant Churches of the Reformation kept infant baptism. Only a handful of Anabaptists believers—a sect in central Europe—had rejected infant baptism as a tenet of belief. John Smyth did a radical thing when he defined believers’ baptism and baptized himself and other members of his congregation in the early 17th century. It was a dangerous thing to do, too. You see, when a baby was baptized into a congregation, that boy or girl was placed in the church rolls, their membership. The church had a record of everyone since all had been baptized at birth, and those records were a great resource for the tax collectors who came around. If a congregation decided to not baptize infants, well that is pretty threatening to a government. This new-fangled Baptist faith had already messed enough with the status quo when it let its members call for freedom from the Church of England. The Church of England and the ruler of England were one in the sense that they controlled people’s lives. The King of England was even considered the head of the Church of England. These early Baptist affected the king’s treasury AND demanded freedom from the state—the king of England—which sounds all too familiar this time of year—last week was the 4th of July. And once again, these Baptists were standing on the principle of soul freedom. They felt they had a measure of authority about their religious life. And no other person on earth could take that from them.

Declaring our salvation in Christ does give us authority according to our passage in Matthew 16. After Peter’s confession, Jesus said:

Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of death will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

Authority—Peter’s got it. The Catholic Church uses this passage to show that Peter was the first pope, as if Peter is the rock himself because Peter mean “rock.” Although it could just mean a rock—in the Holy Land where this exchange is reported to have taken place there are a lot of rocks and there is a church there. What “this rock” means, I don’t know. However, I do know that the intention here is to say that this confession of Peter comes with authority. The early Baptists would have said that it is an authority to share this message—that Jesus is the Messiah the Son of the living God. Perhaps it also gave them that authority to defy the spiritual leaders of their day—maybe even defying the King. That kind of defiance can mean imprisonment and hardship and torture and maybe death. Those are some strong beliefs from this little minority of believers called Baptists.

There is authority in your story—your story of salvation. It may not seem impressive, maybe a simple declaration, a little push from the Holy Spirit. Your story doesn’t have to be Baptist. But it is the story of how you answered this question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” Your answer is your authority.

One of the best things I have done recently was last October when I went on the Heritage Baptist Church ladies’ retreat to Emerald Isle. As the mother of three young children, I can honestly say that a full night’s sleep is a wonderful thing. And being responsible for just yourself—no one else—is a great feeling from time-to-time. During the retreat at our last devotional time together, we were asked to say what we were thankful for—not including family (because that is the obvious choice). Now being an introvert, I just can’t come up with answers so quickly. I had to think about that one for a while—even beyond our devotional time. But the answer that came to me was freedom—probably because I experienced some freedom that weekend. I am thankful for freedom. I have the choice to believe in God, to serve God, to worship God as I want, to read the bible and interpret it myself. I don’t know why that thought popped into my head that day. But I have remembered it. And today, I’ll say that I guess I am thankful to be Baptist because to be Baptist is to be free. No one is forcing me to believe in a certain way. No one is forcing me to preach today. No one is forcing me to worship God in a certain way. No one is forcing me to give up my TNIV bible in favor of a King James Version. As strange as it is to say this in church, when it comes to salvation, it is all about me...and God. I have to make up my own mind. My faith is an individual decision as I answer the question of who this Jesus is to me.