Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Year of Jubilee - Freedom

Romans 5:15-23 So, since we're out from under the old tyranny, does that mean we can live any old way we want? Since we're free in the freedom of God, can we do anything that comes to mind? Hardly. You know well enough from your own experience that there are some acts of so-called freedom that destroy freedom. Offer yourselves to sin, for instance, and it's your last free act. But offer yourselves to the ways of God and the freedom never quits. All your lives you've let sin tell you what to do. But thank God you've started listening to a new master, one whose commands set you free to live openly in his freedom!
 I'm using this freedom language because it's easy to picture. You can readily recall, can't you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God's freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?
As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn't have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you're proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end.
But now that you've found you don't have to listen to sin tell you what to do, and have discovered the delight of listening to God telling you, what a surprise! A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way! Work hard for sin your whole life and your pension is death. But God's gift is real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.

There is the old story about how to cook a frog. You put it in a pot of lukewarm water and slowly turn up the heat. By the time the frog realizes something is wrong, it is too late to do anything about it – and you get the French delicacy of frog’s legs. Good for you, bad for the frog. So, what if I told you that you were the frog – that there is something all around you that is heating up? Sin captured us unawares when we were born, and jumped us as we made conscious decisions to go against God’s will; His will of love and grace. There was nothing but bad news for the frog, but for you and I there is wonderful news – and that news is simple God has done the work of setting us free. So often we try it set ourselves free. The only problem was, it is impossible. It is even more impossible than escaping a German POW camp in the middle of World War 2.

In 1943 in Stalag Luft 3, a German POW camp southeast of Berlin a plan was put into place to escape. The prison camp had a number of design features that made escape extremely difficult. The digging of escape tunnels, in particular, was discouraged by several factors. First, the barracks housing the prisoners were raised several inches off the ground to make it easier for guards to detect any tunnelling activity. Second, the camp itself had been constructed on land that had very sandy subsoil. The sand was bright yellow, so it could easily be detected if anyone dumped it on the surface (which consisted of grey dust), or even just had some of it on their clothing. In addition, the loose, unconsolidated sand meant the structural integrity of a tunnel would be very poor. A third defence against tunnelling was the placement of seismograph microphones around the perimeter of the camp, which were expected to detect any sounds of digging just below the surface.

In spite of all this, three tunnels were to be built so that some 200 prisoners would escape at the same time. The tunnels were named Tom, Dick and Harry. Dick was the first tunnel abandoned when the camp expansion made it unusable. Tom was discovered and so that option was ended. Harry was eventually finished about a year later. Unfortunately the exit was just shy of the tree line. 600 prisoners worked on the tunnels. 76 prisoners got out during the attempt, and the 77th was discovered. Of the 76 escapees, 50 were executed. Only 3 made it to freedom. A 1963 movie was made called the Great Escape starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Richard Attenborough.

Here is a list of what the POWs used to make the tunnels and all the clothes and forged papers they needed to escape: 4,000 bed boards had gone missing, as well as the complete disappearance of 90 double bunk beds, 635 mattresses, 192 bed covers, 161 pillow cases, 52 20-man tables, 10 single tables, 34 chairs, 76 benches, 1,212 bed bolsters, 1,370 beading battens, 1219 knives, 478 spoons, 582 forks, 69 lamps, 246 water cans, 30 shovels, 1,000 feet (300 m) of electric wire, 600 feet (180 m) of rope, and 3424 towels. 1,700 blankets had been used, along with more than 1,400 Klim tins.

Many people know about this “Great Escape” and some of the details, but few people know of another escape that happened at the same camp about 6 months previous. Conjuring up a modern Trojan Horse, the British RAF constructed a gymnastic vaulting horse largely from plywood from Red Cross parcels. The horse was designed to conceal men, tools, and containers of dirt. Each day the horse was carried out to the same spot near the perimeter fence, and while prisoners conducted gymnastic exercises above, from under the horse a tunnel was dug. At the end of each working day, a wooden board was placed back over the tunnel entrance and re-covered with surface dirt. The gymnastics not only disguised the real purpose of the vaulting horse, but the activity kept the sound of the digging from being detected by the microphones. For three months three prisoners, Lieutenant Michael Codner, Flight Lieutenant Eric Williams, and Flight Lieutenant Oliver Philpot, in shifts of one or two diggers at a time, dug over 100 feet (30 m) of tunnel using bowls for shovels and rods of metal to poke through the surface of the ground to create air holes. No shoring was used except near the entrance. On the evening of October 29, 1943, Codner, Williams, and Philpot made their escape. Williams and Codner were able to reach the port of Stettin where they stowed away on a Danish ship and eventually returned to Britain. Philpot, posing as a Norwegian margarine manufacturer, was able to board a train to Danzig (now Gdansk), and from there stowed away on a Swedish ship headed for Stockholm, and from there repatriated to Britain.

So much time and effort – but freedom is worth it, isn’t it? Here we were, stuck in our lives, our sin, with no hope for tomorrow, for the future. Then God took initiative and set us free through Jesus Christ. He said Himself that if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. We didn’t have to try to escape. We didn’t have to dig tunnels or file bars. We just needed to accept what God had already done on our behalf. But what is freedom? Remember what we read earlier, that the choice to use freedom to be selfish and self-consuming leaves you empty and enslaved. Sin is like the drug the addict pursues. The addict revels in his or her freedom to shoot up or inhale, but the reality is that he can’t help it. They are a slave to the drug, and it wrecks everything.  I just read a testimony this past week of a guy who was addicted to gambling. He lost his wife and family, his stuff – everything. Some people think freedom means they can run amuck over other people’s freedom, but that selfishness will consume them and lead to hurt, pain, and anguish. The freedom that God gives is about the ability to make choices that result in hope and love and things that count for eternity. If you want a life that is fulfilling and connects to the reasons why God created you, in Jesus you have the freedom to make choices that lead to that. If you want the freedom to experience the joy of life, you can make those choices in Jesus that lead to that. When you are buried and entangled in sin, you are not free to make those choices. You are like that POW walking the perimeter of the camp. You can see the trees, the road that leads to the train station; but the fence and the guards are there. You see it, but you can’t reach it.

But in Jesus you can reach it. You have the freedom to get involved in the kingdom of God. Jesus talked much of this kingdom. It is a kingdom of heroes and love and victory. You have a place in this kingdom of grace. You can become a prayer warrior and pray against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. You can be a messenger taking the message of the King to the people around you. You can be the warrior with you shield of faith and sword of truth.  You can be a healer, who by their gifts of compassion and care ministers to those down and wounded. You can pursue holiness because God has given you everything you need to do that. You can be all that you were created to be because you are free in Christ.

 A person born in captivity may not even know they are captive. All their life has been in bondage, and so they don’t know what true freedom is. They don’t know anything different.  All kinds of people have been in bondage down through the ages. The common thread through all is the bondage of spirit. Whether the person is a slave or the master in life, their soul is held captive by their sin. Some revel in it and they run to chaos and violence. We see those when we read the news of what is happening in Toronto with the protests. Others just cruise through life not paying any attention to that still, quiet voice that says they are missing something vital. They think by ignoring it, it will go away. How will they hear unless we tell them? How will they be set free unless we go to bat for them on our knees before the Father. This is part of your role in the Kingdom of God.

I like how Eugene Peterson put it in the passage above when he said, “A whole, healed, put-together life right now, with more and more of life on the way!” The message of Romans is that if you are following Jesus with all you got, you are free. There is healing for you. There life for you. There is love for you. Jesus is your All in All.

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