It’s easy to take our liberty for granted. Recently, I was reminded how very precious my freedom is to me.
A few months ago I presented “Christ in the Passover” at one of the most famous prisons in the United States: San Quentin. I have to confess that I felt uncomfortable when I was first approached with the opportunity. To me, San Quentin was a place where, at best, criminals are kept away from society and at worst, some are executed for their crimes.
As the day approached, I grew anxious. Finally the appointed Sunday morning came. I arrived at the prison, entered through the main gate after a couple of security checkpoints and realized that in this place, my freedom was limited just as the freedom of those to whom I would minister was limited. The chaplain informed me that the first service was for newly arrived prisoners. Many would be unbelievers and that service would be more evangelistic, whereas the second service was for the regular Christian congregation.
I awaited the arrival of the prisoners. It turned out that men from two of the three cellblocks were unable to attend—possibly due to a riot or other problems. Still, there were approximately one hundred men present. As I gave my message, most seemed attentive. At the end of my message, I gave a challenge to those present to surrender their lives to Messiah if they hadn’t already done so. I was surprised when seven men raised their hands and acknowledged that they wanted to experience the freedom that Christ has to offer.
At the second service, we worshipped the Lord freely through song and prayer and it seemed no different from most other church settings. For an hour, these inmates enjoyed the freedom that only Jesus can give. At the end of my presentation, two men received Christ and twelve others rededicated their lives to Him! Following the service, many inmates came to shake my hand, express gratitude that I came and tell how they were blessed. Whereas I had felt hesitant about the opportunity, it was a wonderful time of ministry and I was thankful to the Lord and the chaplain at San Quentin for allowing me to come. Before I left, the chaplain who had invited me explained how, when prisoners are released, they receive $200 to help them out, and that a world full of drug dealers, loan sharks and prostitutes awaits them right at the bus stop where they are dropped off. Even after restitution and restoration are made, there are those ready to prey on the men who have been in bondage and are now set free.
As I left the prison, I remembered how we were all in bondage to the evil one until our Lord Jesus came into the world to purchase our freedom. We must continue to pursue His righteousness as various temptations are close at hand to draw us away from God. The temptations might not be in the areas of substances or sexual sins— but it is possible to be bound up by so many things: the opinions of others, a kind of religiosity that stresses our works rather than God’s grace, the dream of a bigger, better house—anything that claims our attention and affection to the point of distracting us from God, becomes a kind of bondage.
The Apostle Paul once wrote, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). I am reminded that freedom can be ours anywhere . . . as long as we are in Messiah Jesus. And likewise, we need to guard our hearts from entanglements that would hinder the freedom we have when we surrender our hearts to Him.
Here you see Rob Wertheim, who was falsely arrested for distributing gospel literature at a local campus. After we tried numerous times to work with the school to lift their restrictions on free speech, they still insisted on having him arrested. Rob was detained for five hours (not in San Quentin!) and while it was not a pleasant experience, it is sometimes necessary to show that we value our constitutional rights and will not be intimidated into giving them up.