Glorious Freedom

In the Middle Ages, they had a type of prison cell called the "spitting cell." It was made for maximum humiliation. The cell was just big enough for one person to stand up in it. You could never sit down. And you couldn’t even raise your arms up they were constantly down at your side. The door on the cell only came up to your chin, so the jailors took the opportunity, as they walked by, to spit in your face. So, of course, it was appropriately named.

They also had a cell known as the "little-ease cell," or the "cell of little ease," made for maximum discomfort. This was a one-person cell where the floor was built at an angle ... and the walls were all built at an angle. You would always feel "off-center." To make it worse, this cell wasn't tall enough for you to stand up in, and it wasn't wide enough for you to stretch out in. You could never get comfortable in this cell. If you wanted to be upright, you had to squat. If you wanted to sleep, you just had to let your body collapse and sink into a corner all scrunched up. Again, it was appropriately named.

Ever felt like you were trapped in a prison cell like that maximum pain, maximum humiliation?

I know all kinds of people (some you would never guess) who are living in a prison of addiction, or a prison of regret and shame. Their past, with all their choices, has them locked up, captive to the devil, who works day and night to make them uncomfortable and humiliated. Maybe you're one of those people.

I've been digging into the book of 1 Kings in the Bible; and today I was reading part of King Solomon's prayer when he was dedicating the temple for the Lord. These words hit me:

"When [your people] sin against youfor there is no one who does not sinand you become angry with them and give them over to the enemy, who takes them captive to his own land, far away or near; and if they have a change of heart in the land where they are held captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their conquerors and say, 'We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly'; and if they turn back to you with all their heart and soul in the land of their enemies who took them captive, and pray to you ... then from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause." (1 Kings 8:46-49)

A couple thoughts:

1) I believe that God has both the desire to save us from the captivity of our sin and the power to release us. He does not want us to suffer; although He will give us over to our enemy when we continue to choose bad over good. I believe God will allow us to be held captive, in order to turn us away from that "sin that so easily entangles" (Heb. 12:1).

2) We are never so boxed in that God is boxed out. I hear people saying that God could not forgive them and would not listenthey feel they've strayed too far. The truth is, however, that whether we are captive "far away or near," it is never too far that God cannot hear and respond.

3) You do not have to live in prison anymore! Here is the good news: Jesus Christ came to rescue us from the grip of the enemy, the devil, who tortures and kills. "The Spirit of the Lord is on me," Jesus says (Luke 4:18-19), "because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners ... to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Maybe you've spent this last year as a prisoner. Perhaps it's been the better part of a decade ... or most of your life ... that you've been captive to addiction, imprisoned by your own choices and the consequences of your actions. Have you had enough of the pain and humiliation? Call out to Jesus: "Set me free from my prison, O God, that I may praise your name!" (Psalm 142:7). Cry out to heaven, where God is never far away. He WILL hear your prayer and your plea. It won't all be better overnight. But God WILL respond. And He will begin to set all things right. "Behold," says Jesus, "I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:5).

**Thank you, Pastor Dean Nadasdy, for telling me about the medieval prison cells. Your illustrations always have a way of sticking with me.**

Stepping Stone

It's pretty universally accepted that you do not want to be someone that gets stepped on. It's a sign of weakness. It's humiliating.

But my conclusion today is:  maybe it's not so bad. Maybe I should make it my goal to be "stepped on."

I was reading in 1 Kings 1 about what was going on toward the end of King David's life. David had had quite an amazing life--a man after God's own heart. Despite his own low points, missteps, and battles of many kinds, David had become Israel's greatest leader. He represented the pinnacle of Israel's whole history. Abraham had been promised a land. Moses had led Israel out of Egypt. Joshua led them into the land. But it wasn't until David that they truly controlled all that land that God had promised. David conquered Jerusalem and made it the great capitol city Israel had long-needed. He expanded Israel's territory and had such great success in securing her borders that few dared even to threaten them anymore. A thousand years later, at the time of Jesus, people still thought of David when they considered Israel's glory days.

But then, David gets stepped on. TWICE. And he seems to be perfectly fine with it. (Stay with me here.) In 1 Kings 1, the servants of King David are trying to get David to name his son Solomon as king instead of Adonijah, who had "put himself forward and said, 'I will be king'" (v.5). The plan all along had been for Solomon to be king, so David agreed to name Solomon as successor. Twice, David's servants speak up:  "As the Lord was with my lord the king, so may he be with Solomon to make his throne EVEN GREATER than the throne of my lord King David" (v.37). Again: "May your God make Solomon's name MORE FAMOUS than yours and HIS THRONE GREATER THAN YOURS!" (v.47).

I know those statements were intended as compliments--a way of saying: "Yes, what a great decision, sir! May God bless that choice, my king." But it got me thinking. Thinking about my own life and my own role as a leader, as a father called to lead ... and as a pastor, called to lead.

I've spent some time in the last couple of weeks checking out the candidates who are running for president of the United States. There's probably a ton that can be said about them; but I want to make one observation. When you're campaigning to become President in our age, you have to do a lot of self-promoting. You have to be comfortable with complimenting yourself, touting your successes. You have to make yourself known to people. That's understandable in a campaign environment, perhaps. But sadly, this is quite normal for everyone else too. JOB NUMBER 1 for most of us seems to be racing to the top, seeking to become the best, with little care or concern for others.

But I'm reminded of something I learned recently about the Pilgrims, when they came to establish a new colony in America. William Bradford wrote this about them: "[The Pilgrims] cherished a great hope and inward zeal of laying good foundations, or at least of making some way towards it, for the propagation and ADVANCE of the GOSPEL of the KINGDOM of CHRIST in the remote parts of the world, EVEN THOUGH THEY SHOULD BE BUT STEPPING STONES TO OTHERS in the performance of so great a work."

I had to ask myself ... and maybe you have to ask yourself ... AM I CONTENT? Am I content with being just a stepping stone. Not a grand, beautiful monument to myself. But a stepping stone, used by our God as a way by which those behind me advance the gospel of Jesus Christ in ways and in places I could never dream of.

I want to be a stepping stone for my kids. In God's grand plan, I want to do my part so that my kids exceed me -- so that the Kingdom of God advances in great ways in THEM (and through them).

I want to be a stepping stone for the people of our church. I want to inspire and empower them, not so they like and affirm ME ... but that they move closer to God and closer to living for HIS purposes.

In service to God and His infinitely greater purpose, I want to get stepped on. How about you?