Do Christians have any rights?

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…..to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12 NLT

Do you ever look at a verse and see it differently?  That happened to me this week. I came across John 1:12 in a prayer and it just stopped me.  Let me tell you why.

If you are American, then you have grown up with the sense that you have certain rights. The Declaration of Independence mentions ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ as creator-endowed rights. At the time of our struggle against England, mentioning the creator added weight to America’s claim that no man-made government could deprive people of these gifts.

I grew up with a sense of pride regarding our country’s founding and I do thank God for all his goodness to America. But when I came across John’s mention of our ‘right to become children of God, I started to think of rights differently.  I asked myself, “Is it true that He has given all people the ‘right’ to life, freedom and lifestyle/work choices? What rights, if any, do we have from God?”

This musing over rights strikes me as ironic against the backdrop of the ongoing pro-vs- anti vaccine debates. Everyone points to their rights to do what they want with their own bodies.

John singles out a certain group of people who receive a right, those who trust Jesus. It is they who are welcomed into God’s family.

Seeing this ‘right’ in a new light, I wondered if the Bible describes other rights. I looked up the Greek word John used, ‘exousia’. This term can mean power, but it also includes the ideas of privilege and authority. Rights are a privilege that apparently come with ability to exercise them.

Looking back at the verse, I noticed something else, that this right is a gift. If something is a gift, then we, the recipients, have no ground for saying we are OWED it. In fact, God is not obligated to grant us this blessing or anything good.

Maybe a more important question to pose, rather than ‘what are my God-given rights’ is, ‘what rights does God have’? Do we, his created ones, owe him something?

That’s easy. As our creator, he owns us. He alone has the right to use us as he sees fit. He holds author’s rights. What do they involve?  Per Wikipedia, the rights of the one who creates something include property, that is economic, rights as well as moral rights.

Just thinking about God’s property and moral rights makes me want to shut my mouth about ANY rights.  You and I are simply grace-receivers.  I need help in shifting my perspective from that of a gal who assumes I have rights to that of humble child, grateful to receive as gift this right of being welcomed into the Father’s family.  I want to live with a mindset of stunned happy astonishment for having been included. It IS a privilege.

What follows next then is to ponder the responsibilities that come with family membership!

What makes you happy?

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We all want to be happy.  Even our birth announcement as a new sovereign nation enshrined the pursuit of happiness as one of the top 3 values of the former colonies.

Pursuit of happiness

But how do you define ‘happiness’?

If you look at our culture, that concept changes almost daily.  It used to be ‘choose your own sport or extra-curricular activity in school’ to ‘choose our own profession or college or place to live’.  Now it’s choosing your own definition of marriage, your own gender and even your own racial identity.

Since the definition of happiness seems to shift so frequently, are you and I even in a fixed position to judge what makes for lasting happiness?  The Bible asserts in multiple places, “No! Don’t trust your heart or your mind.”

Jeremiah, spokesman for God said, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else and desperately sick-who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9)

Therefore, in light of that truth,it makes good sense that the Book of Proverbs counsels us NOT to: “…lean on our own understanding” Prov 3:5  Rather we are to…Trust in the Lord (not us)..”

Here’s where God recently has shown me the truth of His Word.

For years I have taught French using a methodology called TPRS Here’s a link to a useful explanation.

I have worked on the skills which are more akin to improvisational theater than anything I’ve experienced.  Workshops, personal coaching, 7 national conferences, teaching blogs have all helped to train me to improve my teaching.

But early on, I absorbed ‘being a skilled TPRS teacher’ as a tool for measuring my worth.  I saw the professionals who could ‘do TPRS’ with such ease, enjoyment and results (aka – engaged students who participated without hesitation).

As a result, I instinctively started judging my school day as a ‘good day’ if the kids responded with their creative energy and focused attention.  And it was a ‘bad day’ if I didn’t feel them eating out of my hand, so to speak.  With that much self-imposed pressure, driving to school would cause me to get anxious and nervous.  My daily question quickly grew to be: Would I be able to ‘pull it off’ again?  My faithful husband prayed daily for me.

Yet, I never questioned the wisdom of this method of self-justification. And my happiness continued to wax and wane according to my ‘success’ with this skill.  And I measured success by my students’ responses to my teaching each day.  But then I realized something about my on-going ‘morning mood’ and connected it to the following truths from God’s Word.

Psalm 1a, 3a – “Happy is the man…..whose delight is in the Law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night” 

Psalm 41:1 – “Happy is the man who considers the weak/powerless/poor…..

What a different way to look at happiness!  So here is what occurred to prompt me to SEE these verses in a new light.

In the couple of months between spring break and the end of the school year, I began to notice that I actually FELT happy during my drive to school each day.  That sense of peaceful contentment had kind of snuck up on me.  As I began to analyze the WHY, I saw that I was no longer measuring my day, my worth as a teacher by how well I taught my French classes.  In other words, I had stopped evaluating my skills and my students’ response to how I taught.  That was part of it, for sure. More significant was the impact that change of focus had on my unconscious thoughts while commuting.

Bu there was another change. I don’t know when it started, but sometime I consciously decided NOT to check email or any social media before I arrived at school.  That meant from the time I arose I either listened to podcast sermons while feeding the cats, exercising, and driving to school or I was reading my Bible over breakfast.  I was feeding, meditating on Truth.  And what I took in not only made me feel happy; it also caused me to be more in tune with my colleagues and students at work. Many around us often feel weak, powerless and poor. It’s a feature of this world broken by sin that everyone is battered and suffers.  Hence, souls are more fragile than we realize.

Freed from the compulsion to ‘prove’ myself each day, I have apparently allowed myself actually to enjoy teaching students and interacting with my colleagues. Schooldays turn out NOT to be all about me and how well I teach.  I’ve stopped using my classes to measure my skills.

I do thank my good Father for this wiser and healthier perspective.  Furthermore, He has given me a contract to teach again in August.  And to top it off, this summer doesn’t quite feel like a temporary pass from the galleys, but a continuation of a life learning to put into practice George Mueller’s advice to all Christians.  That is – to make oneself happy in the Lord first thing in the morning. Link here about George Mueller.

Now if I can only transfer THAT revelation to other areas of my life where I’m still imprisoned by the need to calculate how well I am ‘doing’!

Question: What’s an area of your life where you have been ‘sprung’ from one of your former SUBTITLES and the burden of maintaining it?

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