Set Me Free
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b)
I’ve have something working away within me for a few days now, and I’ve not sat down yet to work it out, partially because I’ve been working on a dozen other things (including the launch of humjah.com!) But as I read “Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic
” by Anne Jackson, something clicked with me, something I’ve known all along, but that I needed to see again, in a new, fresh way.
You see, I’ve quoted that promise from Christ before; it’s one I quote often, actually. It’s a promise I live my life by. The version above says that we may have life to the full, but other versions, other translations, such as the New American Standard and the King James say that Christ came to give us life “abundantly”. Dictionary.com defines “abundant” as “present in great quantity; more than adequate; oversufficient” or “well” or “richly supplied”. I love this idea, and it’s one I’ve staked my life on.
The problem is that I’ve often ignored the first half of the verse. This abundant life, this richly supplied life is an answer to a problem. It’s almost ironic, really, that I’d ignore the presence of the problem… as much of my life as been marked by problems, how could I ignore them? But it’s tempting to go glibly along, latching onto the promise of abundant life, wearing rose-colored glasses that function the way a horse’s blinders do, and keep us so focused on positivity that we’re blindsided by problems.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating a life marked by depression and pessimism, of always worrying and looking for the worst possible outcome; indeed, that lifestyle can only shorten your life. But I think it’s possible to ignore the basic fact that the promises of abundant life and victory don’t come without a precondition; you’ll need abundant life and victory to survive and overcome the battles that are coming.
You read that right. “To survive and overcome the battles that are coming.” And not just coming once, or once in a very great while, but constantly. That’s the first part of that verse in John 10:10. The enemy comes ONLY to steal, to kill, and to destroy. The enemy has a single-minded focus: your complete, total, and utter destruction.
“Why can’t we just be friends?” you ask hopefully, doubtful of the existence of any “enemy” or “devil” like I’ve described. “Can’t we all just get along?” The problem is, he’s counting on your hope, on your disbelief, on your optimism, on your blindness to him. As long as you remain disbelieving and blind, he can sneak up on you… and sneak attacks are so effective.
The narrator in the story sung in this song has suffered from such a sneak attack. Once, he was free. Once, he was hopeful. Once, he was optimistic. In this song, he’s literally demon-possessed… but who’s to say that can’t be speaking of anyone who’s demon-oppressed… not lost to the control of demons, but still so weighed by their presence that it marks everything they do?
Or, and here’s a radical thought: what if it’s someone who’s depressed? Or overworked, overstressed, overburdened by health-problems and the struggling economy. They’re working as hard as they can just to make ends meet, but no matter how hard they pinch, no matter what they do without, ends aren’t meeting, and they’re about to lose the house they dreamed of owning forever and bought a few years ago. Their son, the delight of their life, is seriously ill… maybe it’s a childhood cancer, or a genetic disorder, or a tragic accident that stole their baby’s health from him. The medical bills are piling up, and the time that the wife misses from work to take care of the son, shuttling him to the myriad doctor’s appointments, is threatening to take her job from her.
That’s just the bad-luck of life, right? I mean, that’s not the fault of the devil! Surely, if anything, it’s proof that if God exists, he’s neither good nor all-powerful. I know you’re questioning him. It’s OK. He’s open to your questions.
Except see, Beloved, that can be the Enemy, too. It doesn’t have to be, but it could be, coming by to find ways to kick them while they’re down. Because the enemy doesn’t play fair. He doesn’t play nice. He doesn’t play by the rules. His ONLY GOAL is to steal, and kill, and destroy. The enemy looks at this struggling family and isn’t satisfied when they curse God. He’s not satisfied until they curse God and die in so much debt that it drags their neighbors and extended family down with them, until the doctor treating the child questions why he ever thought he could possibly make a difference and leaves medicine convinced he’s a complete failure and kills himself… the enemy is looking for utter destruction AND collateral damage.
So where is the God I say is so good, and so all powerful in the midst of this? Let’s rewind a little. The family is still struggling, the son is still burdened by terrible medical problems, and mom has actually lost her job because of it. We’ll even take the house away… yeah, I’m being really ugly here. Because you might be right, and sometimes, this is just life happening. But now, let me show you how God steps in and begins to offer them victory over their problems and the abundant life over the enemy who wants nothing but total destruction and collateral damage.
The house payment was way more than they could afford; they’re forced to move into a small apartment, but because of their son’s illness, the apartment manager gives them a disabled-equipped unit. It’s easier for their son to get around on his own, and his despair and hopelessness begins to lift. They’ve lost mom’s income, but now she doesn’t have the stress of getting her son to school and to his appointments, and she can actually spend more time with him, and can focus on helping him with his physical therapy. Maybe he has some recovery. Maybe not… but she gets the quality time she couldn’t before, and in the few days they will have with him, every moment is precious. Their childcare costs go down, too, because they don’t have to worry about having someone to stay with him after school. Because their housing is smaller, and less expensive than their dream home, their housing dollars go farther… so while they’ve lost income, every dollar stretches farther than it did before.
And all of that is without considering if other people come into their lives to help out, or to ease the burden. All of that is without considering if Mom meets someone who offers to stay with the son once a week so that Mom can go out and just have a good cry to cope with the idea that she’s losing him. Or maybe someone offers them a vehicle. Or someone gives them money. Or groceries. It happens. God works in small ways to make big differences in lives every day through small gestures of kindness.
Christ came to give us victory, to give us life abundant. He came to set us free of all the chains the enemy would sneak onto us, the worry, the debt, the heartache. He promised us that we would have problems. He told us there would be trouble. He warned us that the enemy would come with one purpose in mind: to steal and kill and destroy us. Ignoring the enemy doesn’t make him go away; it just lets him pull the sneak attack and tear you down… until one day, you no longer recognize the face you see in the mirror. You’ve forgotten where your joy went. You forgot when you stopped saying “We’ll be OK, we’ve just got to make it to payday” and started saying “How am I going to tell her we’ve lost the house?”
So how do you go from chained to set free? The song answers the question beautifully, as did Christ. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” and, “the truth will set you free” and “you will be free indeed“! Paul told us that it is for freedom we were set free, and not to burden ourselves again with a heavy yoke (or chains). You turn to Christ.
You may, at this point, be objecting to what I’m saying. You may have some experience with christians or with christianity that has left you soured on the entire concept of God and Christ as you know it. Considering some of the things I’ve seen, I can’t say that I’d blame you. I’ve seen some things that turn my stomach, that make me ill. There are people who claim the name of Christ but have nothing to do with who He is at all. There are people who act in the name of God who would be shocked to find that God has nothing to do with what they are doing. (Jesus even tells us about those folks, too, warning that there will be a rude awakening).
But ask yourself this: If you’re right, what do you have to lose from reading some passages in a book? If you’re right, and there is no God, or He is unknowable, or He isn’t good and all-powerful, then reading the passages in a book… well, what can it hurt? Even holding a discussion with mid-air… if you’re right, the worst that can happen is nothing at all, right?
But what if I’m right? What if I’m not like any of those other “christians” you’ve met? What if the things I say are right, and the God I describe is real? What if there is an enemy as terrible as a describe… but a God as good and as powerful and loving as I describe? What do you have to gain if I’m right? You lose nothing if I’m wrong… but Oh, Beloved… what if I’m right?
Almost all of the links in this post will take you to Biblegateway.com. You can read the passages in context there, and if you have questions, email me. Even if I can’t answer them right away, I’ll FIND you answers. Read the book of John. Choose the translation that reads easiest for you (just tell me which one you were reading so I know what to reference), and learn about the man called Christ. Don’t take my word for it. Don’t take anyone else’s word for it. Read it for yourself. And the discussion with mid-air? I want you to talk with God. I know, you may not believe that God exists, or that we can know if he exists, or if God is knowable. But go into this with an open mind, and expect some sort of answer as you read John. Ask whatever you want. “Why did you let my great-aunt Mary die? Where is my cousin Sarah? Who are you? Do you exist? Are you the God that Heather claims you are? If you’re so good, why does hunger still exist? Can you make a rock so big even you can’t move it?” I don’t promise He’ll answer all of them… but I’m believing that if you open an honest dialogue with the God who created you to know you, and if you learn about the Christ who came to redeem you… well, you might be surprised at what you find out.
I’ve suffered from too many sneak attacks, and it’s time I remembered that I have an enemy out to destroy me. Chains are awfully heavy, and I’m not about to let them weigh me down. But what kind of “christian” would I be if I knew an enemy was out to get you, and I never warned you? If I am convinced that there is an enemy set on total destruction, isn’t it my obligation, my duty, to warn you? Isn’t that what love demands? As one of my favorite entertainers, a man I highly admire and greatly respect, and who happens to be an atheist and is utterly convinced there is no God, Penn Jillette said (speaking of a man who gave him a Gideon Bible), “…If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life, or whatever… how much do you have hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe it, that that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you, and this is more important than that…”
So you see, I have to ask you to try. Because I honestly believe that something much worse than a truck is coming for you, and I honestly believe that everlasting life is waiting for you, and I don’t hate you. Besides…
All you have to lose is your bondage.
*Note. As of the posting of the video, Penn still hadn’t changed his mind as to the existence of God, and the inclusion of his quote here is in no way meant to demonstrate that he supports the views or opinions, or even knows of the existence of this blogger. I think my quote keeps it entirely in context, and if he, or his lawyers, disagree, they can contact me by email and let me know and this post will be edited to remove it immediately. If you’d like to discuss your reading of John and your discussion with the “air”, and any questions you have, I’m also open to those, too… because you’re right… this is way more important than a truck (and I’m not quite built right to knock someone well over a foot taller than I am out of the way of a truck, but for the sake of your family, I’d surely try, and I don’t just say that to be nice. 🙂 )