ZADOK PUBLICATIONS MONTHLY NEWSLETTER
September 1, 2003
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE FREE
In 1978, while in a series of campaigns across Sweden, my ministry was working with a Baptist church in Karlstadham. The location is central Sweden, and the "ham" on the end of a city name indicates "port."
The Lord put into the heart of the pastor to take me to a little national shrine some hour or so journey south. This was on a Friday afternoon, not so much as an "outing," as a Holy Ghost trip to enlighten my understanding of freedom in Christ. The pastor withheld his true intention, which was to introduce me to a historical ingredient that would change my life.
Pastoral Sweden surrounded the white picket fenced farm house. Having expected to see tour buses and parking lots, I was greeted with a grass yard and no commercial amenities such as bookshops, gift centers and souvenir stands. As we entered the small two story house built in the early 1800's, I was still "in the dark" regarding the events connected to this humble dwelling. Upon entering, my imagination envisioned a winter scene with snow covering everything and what it would be like to peer out through the wavering visage of "bottle glass" windows, and see the smoke from the chimney of a distant neighbor. As we stepped from the small porch past the front door, I was greeted by a rudimentary display shelf on which many small photo frames encased translations of a handwritten document in the center. My eyes transversed to the English version, which to the best of my recollection read something like this:
You ask, am I Lutheran, my answer is, " I am free," You ask, am I Anglican, my answer is, "No, I am free," You ask, am I Catholic, my answer is, "No, I am free," You ask, am I Presbyterian, my answer is, "I am free," You ask, am I Anabaptist, my answer is, "I am free," You ask, am I Congregationalist, my answer is, "No, I am free," In Christ Jesus, "I am free." Although there were other groups mentioned, which I don't recall, the truth is garnered from the repetitive answer, "I am free." Now this was a strange greeting for me and even though I asked the guide and pastor, they did not reveal the "the story of the upstairs," until later. Instructed to look at the furnishing of the 19th Century, with its huge ceramic heater in the center of the house, the modest furnishings of a farm family and the kitchen-dining area, I was impressed with not only the low ceiling but the open floor plan of the structure.
Finally, I was ushered toward almost vertical steps leading to what was more than an attic, having the vaulted ceiling which followed a snow-shedding roof line. It was here the mystery was unraveled, and my astonishment has never ceased. In this room, the significance of the handwritten statement of freedom was made clear. Here in this "upper" room with no partitions, with windows side and rear, I learned one of the strongest lessons of my life. A simple farmer had read the word of God on his own and that word had penetrated his soul, bringing him to salvation and finally to personally experiencing every miracle and blessing afforded a believer. What was the visual evidence that so affected me?
Along the walls of this room was nailed a wooden rail and on that rail--every inch of it--was a crutch, a walking staff, a wooden eye, walking sticks of all varieties, artificial arms, legs of every size and make up. Before me was the physical evidence of a simple farmer who, without connectivity to man, but with great connectivity to God, was responsible for miracles available to all who truly believe. My theological education was blown away in a moment. In this room, degrees, officialdom, church institutional structure, ordaining councils, denominational papers, and man's methods of circular approval, lay in ashes. I was reluctant to leave this most holy of sanctuaries, reluctant to climb down from the presence of the Most High, reluctant to enter the pulpit that evening and seek to express any knowledge of the word of the Lord. My real world was shattered. I was not free!
Since that time, I cannot glibly pass by the Scriptures of Jesus and his teachings on freedom. Faced with the a gaggle of lawyers, Pharisees, and Jewish leaders--He heard from His Father, "Tell em they can be free." John 8:21-30 was His message, which ended with a rebuttal, "We are Abraham's Descendants and have never been slaves." To those few who believed His message, they understood the meaning of the Swedish Farmer, to those who did not have a clue, "We be Abraham's descendants."
Again, Jesus touched on freedom in Matthew 17:26. Again, it regarded the institutionalized religion of His day, in the matter of a temple tax. He divided the sons from the servants, "the sons are free."
Paul met similar circumstances and made a pronouncement so cogent to today that thousands yet tremble at its impact:
Gal 5:1-5 5:1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.The farmer in Sweden knew a freedom that few know today. He knew that alignment was not connected to assignment.
The next to the last Friday in August, 2003, I was invited to meet with a few ministers in a private gathering away from all their posts of duty. There were only 10 men present. They were gathered to just "hang out" with one another and to bathe in the non-critical atmosphere of the group. I was stranger to all but one (my inviter). In the hour and half drive home, there was plenty of time to reflect on what I experienced. My only prayer for them was that they might meet a Swedish Farmer and an itinerant Paul. They knew Jesus, but they had not come to the place of freedom He preached.
Coming on the heels of a meeting with a family out West who had been devastated by their connection to a mega ministry and seeing their lives torn apart by circumstances and issues which should be foreign to the gospel, the minister's meeting affirmed the need for Jesus' freedom.
Yes, the issue is institutional. Yes, the problem is universal.
In the heart of the Swedish Farmer, freedom reigned. In the hearts of thousands of Christian workers and 501 3c leaders, there is no freedom. Bound by a thousand ties, the giant lays victim to the Lilliputians. Should there be an enumerations of the binding forces? Shall it be necessary to list them all in order for someone to say, "well, my situation is not on that list--it must mean I am excluded." Balderdash! Let the Spirit- List be sufficient.
How long will a world languish while a board decides? How long will lost souls perish while a minister makes a required visit? How long will the cripple hobble before he meets a Swedish Farmer?
God has no rewards for years of service to the group one decides is most closely aligned with his or her beliefs. There is only reward according to Revelation for "deeds of righteousness." These are done by the likes of the Swedish Farmer and those who are FREE.
Until Next Month,
Dr. C. R. Oliver, PhD.