By: Joe Stowell, Strength For The Journey
“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
I remember one commute when I ended up following a busted-up pickup truck that sported a bumper sticker proudly announcing, BORN FREE. As I thought about the announcement on the bumper, it seemed to me that whoever was sitting behind the wheel was speaking for a lot of us. For some strange reason, we feel that personal freedom is a birthright. As Eric Clapton sings, “I was born with a raging thirst . . . a hunger to be free!” And it’s that hunger that fires up the celebration of our own independence and the crowning of “me” as final authority. But not all hunger is good hunger. Our hunger to be free is why we end up, as Clapton admits, down so many dead-end streets, lonely and disappointed.
Think for a minute about people who are addicted to things like drugs, alcohol, or pornography. If you asked how they ended up in bondage to their desires, they would tell you that it started as a need to be free to do whatever they wanted to do. Don’t miss the point: If all we have is the right to be free, then our thirst for freedom may end up making us slaves. Beware! A life guided by the “I’ll-do-whatever-I-want-to-do” formula inevitably ends up not being free at all. Left to ourselves, we make a lot of lame choices that end up leaving us in the chains of regret, guilt, and brokenness.
But that doesn’t mean we’re not supposed to be free. The great news is that God wants us to be free. It’s just a matter of how and where we can find true freedom.
Becoming free starts with deleting the thought that you and I are born to be free. The reality is that we are born sinners already in the grip of Satan, the cruel master of our souls. David admits, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). And Paul adds that before we came to Christ we were “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:17). So we need to get it right. We were born slaves of sin. In order to be free, we need someone to overthrow the regime that enslaves us.
That’s exactly why Jesus came. He came to set us—the captives—free! Jesus Himself said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). He taught us that freedom is not an inherent right of birth after all but rather the result of obeying the truth: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
In one sense, we are born to be free—born again to be free. And that freedom is experienced when we commit our lives to living by God’s truth and following the guidance of Jesus. When we forgive, as He has taught us, we are free from the bondage of bitterness and free to move into the future instead of being stuck in the past. When we manage our relationships according to God’s Word, we are free from the regrets and brokenness that comes from using others instead of serving others. When we let Jesus direct our desires and passions, we are free from the bondage of guilt and addiction. His truth is the path to true freedom.
There is a great hymn that proclaims, “My chains fell off, my heart was free! I rose, went forth, and followed Thee!”
Jesus died to set you free. Those who follow Him are free indeed!
Scripture Reading — Mark 5:1-13
When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. — Mark 5:6
Jesus met a man who was deeply conflicted, a madman. The local community had tried to restrain him with shackles and chains. But nothing had worked. Now he lived outside the community in caves where the people buried their dead. He could often be heard crying out among the hills and tombs, and he “cut himself with stones.” His situation seemed hopeless, with no one to help.
Can you relate to this man? Have you had dreams and aspirations that have been dashed? Is your internal pain so great that you have thought about harming yourself? Has your community tried to help, only to restrain you in some way?
Jesus came to help this man, and we can see that even a Gentile madman mattered to him. The message is clear. In the midst of our madness, Jesus cares about us and is willing to bring healing. We all matter to Jesus! Everyone does!
This man, who was teeming with demons, saw Jesus coming. “He ran and fell on his knees in front of him.” Shame, defilement, guilt, and uncleanness are not able to keep anyone from Jesus.
Jesus helped him, saying, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!” And the man was freed, restored to his right mind. Has Jesus freed you from the madness of overpowering sin? Run to him today!
Called to Freedom
FEBRUARY 8, 2018
“He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NIV)
Labels are awful. They imprison us in categories that are hard to escape. Maybe you are familiar with labels too …
I am a wreck.
I am a people-pleaser.
I am unglued.
I am an insecure mess.
And the list goes on.
With all the struggles my family has been through this past year, it’s hard to look at social media and not feel the weight of life looking so different than I thought it would.
I labeled our situation as a mess and then resigned myself to never feeling normal again.
But one day, I found hope in an unexpected memory that came to mind.
I don’t often visit museums. However, I’d read some fascinating facts about Michelangelo’s David,and made it my mission several years ago to go and see the original at the Accademia Gallery in Florence, Italy.
Sources say the artist never left his David. For more than two years, he worked on and slept beside the 6-ton slab of marble whose subject called to him from inside the unchiseled places. When at last the 17-foot David emerged, Michelangelo is reported to have said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” When asked how he made his statue, Michelangelo answered, “It is easy. You just chip away the stone that doesn’t look like David.”
After a two-hour wait in a long line of tourists, I was about to see it for myself. I stopped just inside the narrow corridor, still 30 feet from the David. This was not where everyone else wanted to stop, and so I caused a bit of a traffic jam.
I understood why everyone rushed past me. Why would anyone stop to stare at the unfinished sculptures lining the hallway? Why attend to blocks of stone with roughly hewn, half-completed figures when sculpted perfection stands just a short walk away? Who would stop?
A woman captivated by seeing her interior reality vividly depicted in stone, that’s who. I stood in the shadow of one of the unfinished sculptures that’s part of this collection aptly titled Prisoners. And I stared.
I tilted my head and let it soak in. This less-noticed sculpture was me — an unfinished prisoner locked inside my self-imposed labels.
Then, I turned and looked down the corridor at the David, the statue fully chiseled by a master artist. As I walked toward it, I whispered, “O God, chisel me. I don’t want to be locked in my hard perceptions forever. I want to be all that You have in mind for me to be.”
It is beautiful when the Master chisels. God doesn’t want us to label ourselves and stay stuck. But He does want to make us aware of the chiseling that needs to be done. So, instead of condemning myself with statements like, I’m such a mess, I could say, Let God chisel. Let Him work on my hard places so I can leave the dark places of being stuck and come into the light of who He designed me to be.
God is calling us out — out of darkness, out from those places we thought would never get better, out of being stuck. And with His call comes His promise that He will complete the good work He began in us. (Philippians 1:6)