Freedom has an intoxicating ring to it. Freedom contains memories of past shackles that have fallen away like a used, unneeded chrysalis. Just saying the word makes me breath more deeply and experience the wonder of a mono chromatic world explode with thousands of colors. Freedom’s cry reveals roots embedded in the soil of all human existence, a root whose blooms more frequently experience the burn of an early frost than the fragrant peddles that reach for the sun in an undying effort to wring all of the life-giving power from its rays.
Freedom speaks of a cost.
“Give me liberty or give me death.”
“Don’t tread on me.”
“I have a dream that one day …”
“I have looked over the mountain …”
Freedom often speaks of rebellion from an oppressor or a refusal to remain silent in the face of society that invests more in chloroform to restrain those at the margins than to find ways to share freedom with those not like us. Defense systems, prisons, and home protection budgets out pace education and care for the poor.
Wow. That sounded quite liberal.
Why does freedom seldom ring in a way to give up personal prerogatives for the benefit of others? Why does following Jesus to walk in both holiness and care for others get split into opposing camps named conservative and liberal?
As I walk through the frozen images in Acts 21, and pause long enough for the scenes to thaw into moments filled with fresh sights, sounds, smells and emotions, I marvel at the kind of freedom Paul lived. I think the chapter reads like the farewell tour of a beloved family member. Beach ministry looks like gatherings of disciple families who want one last glimpse of the favored uncle. If cell phones were available, then selfies with Paul would rule the day. Instead they had to settle for one more prayer meeting. Those in attendance would never forget those shared moments kneeling by the docks as the Spirit blew more powerfully than the ocean winds.
The Spirit spoke at every stop on the farewell tour. The tenor of the Spirit’s words sounded differently to Paul than it did to others. At every harbor, in every hospitable home, in every conversation the Spirit said bondage awaited Paul at the end of his journey. Jerusalem, the city that loved tombs of dead prophets more the words of living ones, awaited with chains.
The Spirit spoke in Tyre and in Caesarea. He spoke through Philip’s four daughters and through Agabus. Some used object lessons to make the words more concrete. Evidently the Spirit’s words left room for interpretation. The well-wishers used the Spirit’s words to deflect Paul from going to Jerusalem. They punctuated their words with sobs. They broke Uncle Paul’s heart because he understood the Spirit’s words differently. Paul heard the Spirit asking if he was ready for prison or even death.
Paul expressed his freedom in saying yes.
The family members grudgingly stopped asking for a different itinerary and acquiesced to the Lord’s will.
Frequently freedom’s bell sounds differently than what we anticipated.
Paul freely went to Jerusalem. He freely met the brothers one day and the elders the next. He freely gave an update and heard the concerns of the HQ Jewish church – concerns based on rumors that he worked to get Jewish Christians to stop following their traditions. He freely refrained from defending himself. He even went beyond paying for his vow in the temple to pay for four other’s purification rituals as well.
Paul was truly free. He and already met his Defender on the Damascus Road and accepted the offered freedom three days later. He taught liberty from Jewish traditions when preaching to the Gentiles, and he lived the liberty to bring peace to a nervous Jewish church in Jerusalem.
He got beat up for his freedom.
Luke gives no evidence that he blamed James of the nervous rule keepers. He was free.
He was free to walk in chains.
He was free to accept momentary deliverance at the hand of pagan soldiers.
He used his freedom to testify one more time.
The Spirit speaks again. I think I need to kneel with Uncle Paul and my family and pray by the beach.
Thank you for doing all You did to make my freedom possible. You led the way on Freedom Trail by choosing to drink from the cup, resisting the urge to beckon thousands of angels who gazed with astonishment as You left bloody footprints up that hill, and by letting love hold you to the tree.
You freed me from wages of sin and death. You freed me, so I could hear Your voice and live as a freedom witness.
Forgive me of the times I’ve used freedom to satisfy my desires, try to get even with someone, or doubted when Freedom Trail takes me through rugged places. I deeply value the example uncles Paul and Peter posted on Freedom Trail. I’ve seen signs left by many other travelers as well. Because of them I walk today.
Lord, I treasure your love for me and my big family more than ever before. Could you speak to us again? Could you give us the strength to face tomorrow freely? Can You help us respect and value those who can only muster a whispered “God’s will be done”?
Finally we want to pray Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven by respecting both rule keepers and new converts from different cultures. Be glorified as we walk freely toward one more testimony opportunity – even when we do so in chains.
In Jesus’ Name,