“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly, there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains fell off.”
– Acts 16:25-26
Dear Friends of Atonement,
A red haired Wisconsin teen is kidnapped, her parents shot dead. The 911 call leads police to the house, but less than a minute too late. She is gone, with no major clues as to who took her or where. First neighbors and relatives are shocked, then it’s our turn as we follow the newscasts day after day until our hearts give in to the growing likelihood that little Jayme Closs was dead. And then one day, there she is. A sudden opportunity, and she’s running through the cold and the snow into the arms of freedom.
Jayme’s story hit us so powerfully because it shows us that God can set us free even when we have almost lost hope. Deep down we know that all things are possible for God. And yet we often live our daily lives with a dim, flickering lightbulb of faith when it should be as bright as the Florida sun.
Paul and Silas had such a bright hope burning that night in the jail cell singing their first century equivalents to “Amazing Grace” and “Shine, Jesus, Shine.” Arrested for healing a young slave girl whose owners were exploiting her disease, Paul and Silas had been grabbed, stripped, beaten, and thrown into the darkest cell in the local prison, their feet locked in stocks. They had no idea whether or not their captors would execute them in the morning, but there they were, singing. Somehow they were just as free after they walked into that cell as they were before. Goes to show, the world can’t take away what God puts into your heart.
Could this be what Paul was driving at when he wrote that in Christ we are called to freedom, and “for freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). The world wants to take us captive and put us in chains. It wants to tell us that even after God gives us all things, we still need the world’s stuff. We need to keep acquiring things, to get the latest this or that, to buy into this plan and get that paid subscription, to make sure we have insurance for everything and access to anything. The world would have us stay too busy to rest, too fearful to love, and too worried to think. The world wants us investing in the world rather than the kingdom of God. But then, along comes Jesus.
Jesus lived a life of pure freedom. Yes, he was obedient to his Father God, going down in the Jordan and up on the cross. But in everything he did he was free, freely choosing God, choosing love, choosing you. When that earthquake hit and Paul and Simon had their chains shaken off, their cell door came off its hinges and fell to the floor. They were free. But instead of walking out, they chose, of their own free will, to stay in that jail cell so they’d be there in the morning. They knew the jail keeper would be punished if they escaped. By freely choosing to stay, they saved more lives than their own that night.
Giving your offering is like that. You are free to give or not to give. You could choose to spend all your money on worldly things, eating out more, and buying extra clothes, taking extra vacations, or slipping more into your 401(k). But you also know that it would only be investing more in a kingdom which is already passing away. Christ has made us God’s people and citizens of heaven. Because of him, we feel free to invest in His eternal kingdom, and to freely live our thankfulness for all God has done for us.
Giving to God is an act of faith, a protest against the false voices that tell us that our worldly worries are more real than our salvation. Being generous stands in opposition to the mindset that we need to worry about tomorrow, about what we wear, about keeping up with the neighbors. Each dollar in the offering plate refutes the idea that having lots of things makes us secure, and that we can’t be happy without the newest, shiniest stuff.
In Christ, your chains are gone. Your bills and debts do not define who you are or what you can do. Yes, you should pay your bills and manage your debts, but also live reflecting the life of Jesus, who lived simply, loved deeply, and gave generously. Thank you for sharing your offerings with Atonement, for having the courage to give as your heart longs to, and as your faith calls you. And if you’re not quite there yet, remember that you are a chosen and beloved child of God, no matter what. The door is open and your chains are gone. Feel free!