Publication: Pastoral Letter, August 2013
Dear Friend in Christ,
I am writing to you this month to encourage us together to exercise what Christ died to give us: freedom. As Christians and as citizens of the United States, we can boast that we are free, but if we fail to exercise it, then we will not know its blessings and will eventually lose it. If we exercise it, life can be a joyful adventure.
I recall that it was 1965, when I was praying with a small group of fellow Christians. We had all been baptized in the holy spirit but were concerned about what was going to happen in our denominational church and our denomination’s response. As we prayed, I had a vision. I saw a corral, a pen for holding livestock. But inside the pen were people who were tied with ropes and tied to the fence. They were bound.
I believed that The Holy Spirit spoke to me, “Look closer.” As I did, I saw that the ropes had been cut, but the people remained as though they were still bound. I understood the vision to be the condition of the church. In many ways it is the condition of people in the world as well. They have freedom, but act as though they do not.
Sin is Bondage
Bondage takes many forms. It can be physical, mental, or spiritual, but in each case it restricts our movement. Israel was bound by Rome, by law, and by corruption. Sin is bondage. When we live for our own pleasure, we are bound to our flesh-addicted to the desires of the flesh. The mind set on the flesh is death (see Romans 8:1-11).
The enemy of our souls is a tyrant who desires to enslave us; to keep us in the corral. He is a python who tightens his death grip and squeezes the life from us. He will use whatever appeals to us to accomplish his purpose and make us every much a slave as Pharaoh did to Israel.
Yes, Christians can be subjected to bondage also. Galatians was written to followers of Jesus who had again fallen under the yoke of legalism. It still happens. Whatever the source of bondage, it only gets tighter.
“Security” can be a kind of bondage in that it can reduce our faith to fear, and cause a caution that prevents the exercise of obedience and risk-taking. Many of us who seek security in a business or craft find ourselves bound to a security which in fact becomes insecurity. To exchange our highest hopes for some notion of security is a bondage. It robs us of who we really are and reduces us to someone we never wanted to be.
The real issue behind bondage is that we trust something or someone more than we trust God. Whatever that is, it is an idol. Israel trusted Egypt. Later they trusted Babylon; they trusted in their status; they trusted in the law (which they failed to keep) and they often trusted in idols. None of that worked out (see Psalm 20:7-8.)
The U.S. national motto is, “In God we trust.” I wish that we truly did as a nation. The truth seems more like, “In our nation we trust.” But now trust is evaporating with good cause. This would be a good time to renew our motto.
Is Your Rope Cut?
There are multitudes whose ropes have not been cut. They need the Gospel of liberty in Christ; but too many Christians are restricted from declaring Jesus because they still act as though they are bound and gagged. Silence in the face of danger is criminal.
If you have received Jesus Christ and the atonement that He made for our sin, then you are free from condemnation, free from death and hell. If you remain bound, it is because you have chosen to ignore His liberty. Your ropes have been cut. It remains for us to set our minds on the Holy Spirit who will show us how to exercise our liberty. If we have received Christ, we have received His Spirit (see Romans 8:1-11). The Lord is calling us to follow the Spirit and obey His leading out of the corral. The ropes are cut and the gate is open!
When our ropes are cut and we become aware that we are no longer in bondage, exciting things begin to happen. I recently read a book written by a friend that told his journey. My friend is a blue-collar guy who worked at many good jobs including a paper mill. But he came to realize that he was not bound to past expectations or limitations. In the following years he went to many nations, prayed for thousands of people, and made disciples in his hometown. Along the way he was offered the “security of position,” but chose instead the freedom to obey the Holy Spirit. What would happen if millions of Christians chose freedom to obey over the “confines of security”, as the early Church did? If we fail to do that, in what way do we make the precious blood of Jesus to no effect?
I cannot release us-Jesus did that-but I can encourage us to exercise our freedom. The best antidote for what troubles us is the release of the Gospel.
Who is Free?
The Apostle Paul was on trial before King Agrippa. He stood before Agrippa and gave his story of how he had been a persecutor of Christians-“enraged against them.” He then told how he met the Lord on the road to Damascus (see Acts 26). At the close of his trial, Agrippa was almost persuaded to become a believer; but he did not.
The apostle then stated that he wished Agrippa would become like himself except for the chains. Paul was in chains, yet free to tell his story. Agrippa was a king, free to choose Christ, yet bound by political fears. Who there was free? Spiritual freedom trumps political freedom. That truth is evident in the lives of untold thousands of martyrs then and now. Who is free? Is it not those who, in the most difficult of circumstances, are willing able to tell their story of how Jesus set them free from death and Hell? (See John 8:31-36.) The question that I pose is this, “How long shall we continue to be merely “educated Christians” before we become “activated Christians”? Why is it that new believers share their faith more freely than those of us who have been believers for a long time? Is it that the Church has become a corral?
There was a time not so long ago, in the small community where I grew up, that it took courage to be an atheist or a non-conformist. Now the times have changed; the courageous person is the one who tells his story of how he or she met the Lord.
Recently a close friend told me how he had shared his story with others. I have known him for many years. Now he is a very successful businessman. He and his wife are members of a very prominent country club where he was sitting with Jewish friends. Somehow his Jewish friends had heard that my friend had many years ago been a pastor. So they began to ask how he had become a successful businessman. He kept trying to give the short versions, but they kept asking for the details. As he talked and answered their questions, the group became larger and others gathered around. They wanted to hear it all.
My friend had been a Psychology professor at a major Midwestern university, and a communist, and then a friend led him to Jesus Christ. In the course of things, he became a pastor. After several years, problems developed in the church and so he went into business. He was good at it, and the Lord helped him. It was a fascinating story and he told it to a most unusual group of people. He took the opportunity. His ropes have been cut and the gate was open.
We stay in touch with a wonderful family, Mike and Erin Spinello, whose young son, named Cade, has battled both a brain tumor and a stroke. This brave young man, his parents, and his grandparents have great faith and perseverance, and they have also been faithful to testify of God’s goodness to them throughout their ordeal. Because of this, Cade has had a huge influence in raising awareness and support for many others who are suffering. He has met politicians, entertainers, sports stars, educators, and doctors across the country. Cade has a story to tell, and his story is encouraging and influencing many. (For more information: www.caringbridge.org/visit/cader)
When I was young, it was about doctrine and doctrine remains important. But now, most people do not care much about our doctrine, but they will listen to our story because they too long for freedom. It beats in every human heart. Our story is not an argument, it is what happened and can happen to them if we tell it. Just look to see if the gate is open; if it is, walk through it. Blue collar or country club is irrelevant. What is relevant is our freedom to obey the Holy Spirit!
I recently brought a message to a large congregation, “Freedom is not free.” As I closed, I gave a short version of my story; how I met Jesus as an unsaved church member. After I concluded, numerous members of the congregation received Jesus. I think that the story may have had a greater impact than the rest of the message.
In the 1960’s and 1970s, I traveled in the United States and abroad telling my story. Yes, I preached, but the story reached their hearts and I saw thousands come to Christ and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Sometimes I was asked to just give my story. To me, it wasn’t spectacular, it was just what happened. I gave it so often that I came to wonder how it had such an effect. I preferred to preach; that is what I am, a “preacher.”
In recent years, I have come to realize that the Gospel, in fact the entire Bible, is a story-many stories. This generation loves a story and we have one if we will just tell it. They may not want to hear you preach to them but they will listen to your story. I have heard people downplay their story, failing to realize its power. I urge you to recover, rediscover what Jesus Christ did in your life. Then tell it. Write it down. Meditate on the grace of God in your life. It can save someone else’s life. The release of our stories will add stories to the Kingdom library and I believe that part of our occupation in eternity will be rehearsing our stories of God’s amazing grace. Remember, the rope has been cut!
P.S. Please remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month. We face many ongoing needs and opportunities for telling the Gospel story worldwide and to offer support for many other ministries, including the Hidden Treasures Children’s Home in Costa Rica. For more information, plus updates on helpful ministry resources, please see visit csmpublishing.org.
Scripture Reference: Romans, Psalms, John