Thursday, April 11, 2019

Freedom Found in the Most Unusual Places

When you hear the word “freedom,” what comes to mind? Some people would say it means you can do whatever you want. Others might envision a bird soaring on high, free to fly wherever it chooses to go. For centuries, freedom has been one of the hallmarks of the United States, although there seems to be a push in some quarters to redefine what that means.

When I think of freedom, an image emerges that I’ve often seen while driving on the interstate through Kentucky: A thoroughbred horse cavorting in a sprawling meadow, at liberty to run as fast as it wants to within the confines of the pasture fencing. It’s free, but not so free that it can run onto the nearby interstate highway, putting itself and drivers passing by at risk.

One reason I’ve been thinking about this is because of a segment I caught recently on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” It was about a highly successful prison reform program; I tuned in late, so I didn’t get the name of the initiative or where the prison was located. But a comment from one of the prisoners, serving a lifetime sentence, stuck with me.

Not all prisoners are behind bars.
This inmate had begun mentoring other prisoners, teaching them how to make positive changes in their lives, anticipating their day of release from incarceration. The interviewer asked the lifer what he gets out of investing in fellow prisoners, since he has no hope of becoming freed from prison himself.

His response was simple: “Redemption. I don’t want to die a waste.”

It’s interesting that someone many of us would regard as the least free of all people would essentially being saying that this program has given him the freedom to find meaning in life. Describing himself as having “a Ph.D. in wrong choices,” the inmate saw his involvement in mentoring as giving him the freedom to make a difference in the world, even from behind bars.

The portion of the segment I saw made no mention of a Christian or biblical basis for this approach, which was dramatically reducing recidivism among ex-offenders that have been released. But I suspect there had to be a spiritual element to it. How often have you heard the word “redemption” used in connection with someone imprisoned? 

Can it be that, like the thoroughbred horse given great freedom within safe boundaries, it’s possible to find freedom even in prison? Certainly Jesus Christ promised that. He said to those sincerely seeking to know eternal truth,“You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Even within prison walls, beyond any expectation of ever venturing outside them, this inmate was experiencing freedom.

Perhaps, through Christ, he had been freed of the burden of sin and its guilt, exchanging it for blessed, eternal forgiveness. He was free to discover the joys of Jesus’ promise, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). After a lifetime of making wrong, self-centered decisions that led to his conviction and imprisonment, the inmate had become free to give, to invest himself, in others. And he was freed to start building a lasting, positive legacy despite the confines that restricted his physical movement.

It's interesting that some who have never seen the inside of a prison can actually be less free than this fellow. They might be held captives by the shackles of sins they can’t seem to overcome. Maybe they find themselves enslaved to cancerous emotions of bitterness and unforgiveness. Perhaps they’re bound by the consequences of ill-advised decisions that have dashed cherished dreams.

But the Scriptures offer us the assurance that no matter who we are, no matter where we happen to go, freedom can be ours through Jesus Christ. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Are you free? Or are you – or someone you know – being held captive, enslaved, by feelings or circumstances that keep you from becoming the person God has intended for you to be all along? Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36). Do you believe that? And are you willing to act accordingly?

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