The Cells

06/05/2004

She was locked in a prison cell five years ago.
She has three more years to serve on her sentence.
What was her crime?
The crime is not really the issue here, but the punishment is.
The punishment is what keeps her locked up, away from her family, her friends and the life she once enjoyed. She claims she is innocent, her husband claims she is innocent and so do most of her friends and family. I am more of an acquaintance than a friend, but I have heard many of the details of her case and it seems to me she is innocent also. The jury has decided otherwise, for a reason only God knows, and she is locked behind bars in a cell until her "debt" is paid.

What will this woman be like when she emerges from captivity after spending eight years of her life as a prisoner of the state? What will she carry in her heart, in her mind, in her soul for the rest of her days on this earth? Will she be able to walk away as a free woman, or will the scars from this experience always keep her locked in a cell of sorts, one she may not even realize?

How many of us live that way? Locked in a cell, after having been set free by Jesus Christ? Her cell is labeled Criminal. According to the state she lives in, she has been tried and convicted of the offense she has been charged with. Itís easy for her to see her "bars" right now. They are very visible. There are many around her who can see their bars also. They might have labels on their cells that say, Thief, Murderer, Embezzler, and the list could go on. They understand what they have been charged with, and they understand if they are locked behind bars either a judge or a jury has found them guilty of their offense. Innocent or not, they remain locked up, and they know it. They live with their "bars" in full view every day until their sentence has been served.

Writing this reminds me of the movie, "The Shawshank Redemption." An innocent man is locked up for life for the murder of his wife. When another prisoner asks him what he has done, he declares, "Iím innocent." With a slight chuckle, the other prisoner says, "Yeah, everyone in here is innocent...so what have you been accused of?" (Not exact quotes, please excuse the slight variation that comes with my memory of this scene.)

How many of us declare our innocence having been set free by Christ, and yet still live in a prison cell each day of our lives? What have we been accused of by the Enemy, Satan, or what has he encouraged us to accuse others of who are around us? How many of us are locked up behind invisible bars that carry labels such as Guilt, Bitterness, Fear, Anger, Un-forgiveness, Low Self-Esteem, Envy, Misery, Jealousy.....need I go on? How many are locked behind bars that simply say, What about me? The "prison cells" set up for us by the Enemy are endless. He is a ruthless judge who wants us to spend each day of our lives locked up tight...waiting.

Sometimes we are waiting for someone, somewhere to let us outówe are waiting for someone else to change before we can be "happy." Sometimes weíre waiting for our lives to change before weíll feel content. Sometimes we are waiting for the fear to leave so we can take a step, or for someone to tell us they are sorry for what theyíve done to us. Sometimes weíre waiting to win a million dollars so all our "troubles" will be gone. We give up our freedom to sit in a cell and wait it out, and some of us will wait a very long time.

Some of us are still waiting for our sins to be forgiven, carrying that burden around each day. We still refuse to give up the guilt of our past lives, and even our present-day offenses, and walk out through the open door that Jesus Christ has unlocked for us.

We can declare our innocence all we want, even reading Scripture to back up our claims, but it doesnít change the fact that we are still locked up behind bars if we donít accept Godís Truth as our own. We remain locked up just like the woman I have talked about, or just like the character in "The Shawshank Redemption" until we fully grab hold of Godís gift of freedom and live in it. The only difference between them and us is that we appear free--free to come and go, free to go to work, the ballgame or the grocery store. Our bodies are free, itís our hearts that are locked behind "bars."

The question then becomes, are we even aware of our entrapment? If we donít even realize we are in a cell, locked up behind invisible bars, can we fully understand that we donít even belong there? Can we recognize the accusations against ourselves, or those weíve placed on others, and let them all go?

These two people know they are in prison, one is experiencing it in real life, and one is merely in a movie. All they have to do is open their eyes and see the bars that they live inside of each morning when they awaken, or listen to the sounds that Iím sure most of us canít imagine, or smell the smells that only a prisoner would know. But what about the so-called freedom we live in? What about the cells, the bars, the chains, and the locks we put on or around our own lives? Do we really see them? Do we hear the accusations, do we smell the stinkiní lies of the Enemy? Could it be as simple as opening up our spiritual eyes to catch a glimpse of those barsóthose things that keep our hearts locked up tight each day?

The Apostle Paul knew what it was to be locked up in a prison cell. He spent time locked up because of preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ. He wrote much of the New Testament locked up in some fashion or another.

I, Paul, am a prisoner of Christ Jesus because
of my preaching to you Gentiles.
Ephesians 3:1

And I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters,
that everything that has happened to me here has
helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here,
including all the soldiers in the palace guard, knows
that I am in chains because of Christ.
Philippians 1:12-13

Paul was in chains, he was locked up, and yet he was free! His heart was free and he continued on with Godís calling on his life because it didnít matter where he was, he could still serve the Kingdom of God. Paul was probably freer in prison than many of us are on the outside of prison walls. It was a matter of his heart, not his location in this world.

Godís desire for our lives is freedom in Christ. He does not want us living out that freedom as "prisoners" of the Enemy, Satan. What a waste it is to live as prisoners after all Christ died to give us.

So we praise God for the wonderful kindness he has poured out
on us because we belong to his dearly loved Son. He is so rich
in kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of
his Son, and our sins are forgiven. He has showered his kindness
on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.
Ephesians 1: 6-8

Before we even realized we needed help, God was there to help us. He sent His Son to set us free--now all we have to do is realize we actually need this help and come to the realization that without it we are bound in the chains that keep us from the life God has prepared for us. We have to choose to live out our full and abundant life in Christ.

I have been given the unique opportunity to slow down my life right now--to spend time in prayer and studying Godís Word, and to get a good look at life from a perspective many may never see. I donít know why I have been chosen for this, and at first I was not even sure what to do with it. How can spending each day with God in prayer and study and writing be truly useful? Perhaps one of the biggest things I am discovering is the amount of light that it allows God to shine into dark places in my life because I am being still. With this there seems to be a much greater awareness of the lies and deceptions that the Enemy uses to keep our hearts and minds locked up and in the dark. I believe the last thing the Enemy wants me or any of us to do is to slow down long enough to see him clearly. If he can only stay hidden in the chaos of each day, then he remains the great deceiver in each individual life. By being still with God, we can continue to learn and grow in ways we never imagined.

As I am reading through some of the Old Testament now, I have been learning about Jonah (See "Jonah and the Big Fish" message). When Jim comes in at the end of the day from work, Iím excited to tell him why Jonah was running away from God, why he was totally against warning the city of Nineveh that they should repent...Iím excited about these things! Then I read on through Nahum, which a year ago would I have even known Nahum was a prophet or even a chapter in the Old Testament? Anyway, in Nahum it is 150 years after Jonahís experience with Nineveh and guess what happened? After they repented when hearing Jonahís warning, they once again turned their backs on God and God ended up destroying all of them! (The actual ruins of this city were discovered in 1845!)

In a small church we attended here in Fallon last Sunday, the minister said that repenting means turning, and in the turning it is 180 degrees, not 360 degrees...we must turn away from, not fully around and back into our sin. Nineveh did the 180, but within 150 years, they did another 180 and were right back where they started! Godís patience had worn thin, and even though He is slow to anger, He was angered and they were finished!

Now why am I so excited to learn these things? What possible good can come from understanding all about Jonah and the big fish story, and Nineveh and their destruction? Right now I really canít see the full picture except that I am excited to be learning more and more about the Word of God and through that learning, I am learning more and more about how this world works, what Godís intentions are for His children, and the freedom that we have all been called to in Christ. Maybe thatís enough for now.

In one of Paulís prayers in Ephesians he prays:

I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of
our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and
understanding, so that you might grow in your knowledge
of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so
that you can understand the wonderful future he has promised
to those he called. I want you to realize what a rich and glorious
inheritance he has given to his people.
Ephesians 1:16-18

If we are locked up in "dark prison cells," if our hearts are hardened and shutting out the goodness of God, how can we possibly "understand the wonderful future he has promised to those he called?"

Some sat in darkness and deepest gloom, miserable
prisoners in chains. They rebelled against the words
of God, scorning the counsel o f the Most High.
Psalm 107:10-11

Itís not an actual cell we put ourselves into, and those around us in the world might not even see our "bars" because we can hide our "imprisonment" from many that are not close to us--but those closest to us will know something is wrong...they will know, even if they canít quite put their finger on what it is. They will know because we are angry, or we are depressed, or we are putting up walls to keep others awayóthere will be many indications that our hearts are locked up tight. Sometimes it will even appear as an illness, a physical reaction to our dis-ease.

But it doesnít have to be that way! That is not the life God has called us to when we are willing to take a 180-degree turn back to Him and keep our focus on God alone!

"Lord, help!" they cried in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress. He led
them from the darkness and deepest gloom; he
snapped their chains. Let them praise the Lord
for his great love and for all his wonderful deeds
to them. For he broke down their prison gates of
bronze; he cut apart their bars of iron.
Psalm 107:13-16

I donít think many of us live a "set free" life on this earth. That might be a bold statement to make since we are promised that in the Word of God, but the problem is not with Godís Word, it is with our willingness to believe it and follow it. In all the world, God found Noah to build the ark. Noah and his family were saved from the great flood...was there no one else who loved God so much? In the entire world, David was a man after Godís own heart...in the entire world--and look at all the struggles even David had with sin and disobedience. His one saving grace was that he always turned back to God, time and time again. Even Paul said he was always doing the things he didnít want to do, and that was after Jesus had appeared to him on the road to Damascus.

The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just
opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the
Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the
sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly
fighting each other, and your choices are never free from
this conflict. But when you are directed by the Holy
Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.
Galatians 5:17-18

See, thatís where weíre set free! We are set free from the law, and weíre supposed to be following the Spirit, but we donít always take advantage of that great freedom! More often than not, we find ourselves back under some sort of law that we set up for ourselves and others, and we lock our hearts up tight with self-condemnation and/or condemnation toward others. Thatís not what God wants for us, He tells us over and over in His Word not to be under that law anymore, but those "two forces are constantly fighting each other."

When we put ourselves back under the old law and we donít follow the Holy Spirit, we end up in chains. The sad thing is, those chains feel normal. We are not surprised when we are unhappy, angry, confused, distraught, stressed-out, or fretting. Isnít that normal in this life? Isnít that just the way it is? Doesnít everybody we know live like this? I mean, we all have troubles, trials and burdens that bury us each day! God is fine and good, but this is real life here!
But God says:

The Lord frees the prisoners.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts the burdens of those
bent beneath their loads.
Psalm 146:7b-8

So is Godís Word true or not? Will God really do this, and if Heís not doing it in our lives, whatís the problem? Is it with the reality of Godís Word, or the reality of God in our own lives?

Listen! I, Paul tell you this: If you are counting
on circumcision to make you right with God,
then Christ cannot help you.
Galatians 5:2

Wow, thatís a very powerful statement! If we are counting on "circumcision," meaning if we are counting on our own goodness to save us, to make us whole or to be what God responds to, then "Christ cannot help" us! We are turning our backs on the very gift God has offered us through His Son, and weíre trying to live this life on our own strength. No wonder we are so tired all the time! No wonder we feel the weight of the chains that bring us down each day, and the locks on the doors of our hearts that keep out anything more that could possibly add to our burdens. We are running scared, we canít handle anymore, and we canít stop long enough to even see if God will really help us!!

So...He canít, and He wonít!

Weíre on our own!

Weíre just where the Enemy wants us...how sad is that?

Just a few minutes ago I received a wonderful e-mail from my brother, Howard. It was a note of encouragement because I had responded to a request from him to pray for a toddler who is now suffering with leukemia. Of course, you know my story and you know this is so close to home, and there is nothing I would rather do than to help this family in any way I can through prayer or words of encouragementówhatever they might need. I sent this family an e-mail offering help and prayers.

My brotherís e-mail has once again reminded me how important it is to not be caught up in the chains of the Enemyís lies. He once again reminded me what God considers most important in this life and how easily we can get distracted away from it because of the "cells" we are tempted to lock ourselves intoómine might be cells of misery or despair or the What about me God? Why didnít You save my son? These "cells" would keep me in darkness and gloom and away from whatís most important--taking time for others, and offering my life to them, as Jesus offered His life for me.

We donít have to go to the Cross for those in need--Jesus was the One and Only One to do that for all mankind, but we can offer others the Cross and the Hope that is found in it. We can offer them the Cross if we, ourselves, have allowed Christ to help us in our own struggles and release us from our own bondage. We must allow Him to carry our burdens, to shoulder our pain and to lift our loads each day. If we do not, then He "cannot help" us and we wonít live in the freedom He is offering us.

We may think this is a selfish act, asking for help--that we should be able to carry our burdens alone, work out our own situations, heal our own hearts--but then when someone else needs our help weíll be too weighed down with our own burdens and pain to help them carry theirs. Now, thatís a selfish act!

All praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He is the source of every mercy and the God who comforts us.
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.
When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same
comfort God has given us. You can be sure that the more we suffer
for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through
Christ. So when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your
benefit and salvation. For when God comforts us, it is so that we,
in turn, can be an encouragement to you. Then you can patiently
endure the same things we suffer. We are confident that as you share
in suffering, you will also share Godís comfort.
2 Corinthians 1: 3-7

We are sometimes weighed down with troubles for others to benefit from. Kind of a crazy idea isnít it, but itís all in Godís perfect plan. When we see others carried through their trials by the hand of God or living a forgiven life through Jesus Christ, then they inspire us and help us realize how good and great God really is! When we watch God comfort those who are hurting or restoring a life that was drowning, we receive comfort from them because it encourages us in our own walk with God.

When we have been through our own great trial and felt the comfort of God, or when we have been set free from a sin that was wreaking havoc in our lives, we can then turn to another who must walk in similar shoes and encourage themóit is our responsibility and privilege as brothers and sisters in Christ!

But!!!

It can only be done if we have allowed ourselves Godís comfort first. If we have learned to depend on Him in our own trials and if what we are offering them has been true in our own lives first!! It is not a weakness to depend on God, it is a right, a privilege and a responsibility on our part as Christians! Others are watching and waiting to see God in our lives! Everyone will have trials, struggles and great difficulties at some point in their lives. To know that others have gone before them and that God has truly been a source of strength and hope is what fellowship is all about.

Just yesterday a young woman pulled her RV in across the way from us. I witnessed her set the whole thing up by herself--she was alone. She inspired me. When Jim and I pull in, he has his jobs, I have mine, and we donít usually mix them up but I often wonder if I could do it all by myself. She showed me that I could, just by watching her!

As I talked with her later, she shared with me how her boyfriend lost his son four years ago. Of course, I know a similar pain, I know what he is enduring and I wondered how he is getting through each day. I shared with this young woman how God is bringing me through my own grief, and in doing so, I compared it to her setting up her own RV and the way she inspired me. I told her that I hope the healing God has done in my own life inspires others to know that God can do it for them too.

These were two totally different situations--one of independence with an RV, one of total dependence on a God who will carry our burdens, but both were stories that can inspire us to be more than the world might expect. God calls us to live above this worldís thoughts and ideas, and to live in His ways.

The Lord has said to me in the strongest terms:
"Do not think like everyone else does."
Isaiah 8:11

Paul says in Galatians, "Because of that cross, my interest in this world died long ago, and the worldís interest in me is also long dead. It doesnít make any difference now whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we really have been changed into new and different people." (Gal. 6:14-15 NLT)

If we stay locked in cells with labels over them like fear, misery, anger, rebellion or unforgiveness, to name just a few, then we are not allowing Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to fully do what He came to earth to do for all of us. We are negating Godís greatest gift and throwing it back in His face. Jesus "cannot help" us if we will not allow Him to change us into new and different people--and in turn, we will not be fully prepared to help another. Our burdens will be too great, our troubles will be too many, and our attention will be distracted inward, instead of outward towards those in need.

God places the lonely in families;
he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.
But for rebels, there is only famine and distress.
Psalm 68:6

Troubles come, sorrows come, trials are many, God understands that in our lives. He tells us to expect them, to not be surprised by them, but He never leaves us alone in them. Even if we are locked up in a jail cell like Paul was, we can still have joy and experience the freedom of Christ. The sad thing is that many of us who are physically walking around free leave our hearts in a private cell, not allowing the open door of Christ to set us truly free.

The day will come when the great deceiver will suffer in the very chains he tries to keep us in now. On that day, Godís justice will be served!

Then I saw an angel come down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit
and a heavy chain in his hand. He seized the dragonóthat old serpent, the Devil,
Satanóand bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into
the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the
nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he would be
released again for a little while.
Revelation 20:1-3

God knows the Devil is hard at work here deceiving everyone, but one day, it will come to an end. Even though he is let out of the bottomless pit after a thousand years, there comes a time later on when he is then thrown into the lake of fire and tormented there forever and ever. (Rev. 20:10) Our torment, our chains, our struggles will be over thenóhis will have only just begun!

For now, the challenge is, what will we chose? Will we chose freedom in Christ, or will we chose to remain locked up in cells of our own making while we live this life? Will we let the enemy inhibit the freedom weíve already been given, or will we give our hearts fully to the only One with the key, Jesus Christ, and walk through His open door of forgiveness towards ourselves and others--experiencing joy, love, peace, purpose, and true hope for each day?

Our eternity has already begun when we accept Godís gift of His Son, we donít have to wait for heaven to experience these things. They are ours for the taking right here, right now--we must believe our innocence!! When the enemy comes to remind us what weíve done and why we deserve to be locked in his prison, we can rightfully claim we are innocent because Jesus Christ already paid our debt in full! When the enemy comes to remind us what others have done to us, we can know that God is a Just God and He will have the final say. We can leave the problem with Him and rest in His peace.

If we chose to dwell on it, we choose to dwell in it.

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus
from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses could not save
us, because of our sinful nature. But God put into effect a different plan
to save us. He sent his own Son in a human body like ours, except that
ours are sinful. God destroyed sinís control over us by giving his Son as
a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the requirement of the law would
be fully accomplished for us who no longer follow our sinful nature but
instead follow the Spirit.
Romans 8:1-4

Will we still sin?

You bet we will, we do so every day! Itís not that we want to, or that we try to, itís that we are still flesh and blood and we make mistakes, as others around us still will.
Will we be condemned for it?
Not if we belong to Christ Jesus!

Our only job now is to believe and to understand that although we still sin, God "destroyed sinís control over us" by giving up His Son as a sacrifice on our behalf. Our hearts donít belong in prison, even if some of our bodies do because of our fleshly, sinful nature. Our hearts are innocent in Godís eyes, when our eyes are turned towards Him in repentance and asking for forgiveness, the same forgiveness we must offer to others. When we condemn others, we condemn ourselves. They arenít living in a cell because of our unforgiveness towards them...weíre the ones locked up and it feels horrible!

You have forgiven the guilt of your peopleó
yes, you have covered all their sins.
Psalm 85:2

He is so rich in kindness that he purchased
our freedom through the blood of his Son,
and our sins are forgiven.
Ephesians 1:7

Being set free is instantaneous when we accept Jesus Christ.
Living in that freedom is a process of growing, learning and believing fully what we have been given. Itís a freedom we must reach out and grab hold of each day!
Letís not let the Enemy steal what is rightfully ours!! It might be a tug-of-war, but we have the strength of Christ to win the battle within!

Learning to live in that freedom,

Diane