CHAPTER ONE FINDING TRUE FREEDOM
HOW PAUL FOUND TRUE FREEDOM Paul knew what it was like to be trapped in a prison without the freedom to go and do as he pleased. He also knew what it was like to have a past that could have tormented him day and night, with memories of what he had done and the people he had hurt. Paul had destroyed people’s lives. Those types of memories, and the guilt and sorrow that come with them, can continually bombard a person. They can replay over and over again until a person feels helpless, with no way to escape. It can be like living in an internal prison day after day. This can happen to people in and out of prison. In fact, there are so many temptations in the “free” world that it often doesn’t seem so free. Pressures and temptations constantly draw people back into the lifestyle that put them in prison to begin with. Yet Paul found freedom from all of that through the power of Jesus, God’s Son. No matter what you’ve done, Jesus can completely wipe away all the mistakes in your life and help you start over in a new direction. It doesn’t mean that the consequences of past actions will go away, but it does mean that you can have peace with God and the personal pain and sorrow will be able to subside. It also means that a relationship with Jesus can keep you from falling back into the life you led before coming to prison. He can help you see things in a new way, and he can give you the strength to stay on the right path. Paul talked about this when he wrote, “But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless. Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ.” So, while you can’t change the physical prison that you are living in right now, Jesus can offer you freedom from the internal prison that may have you trapped. He wants you to live a life of hope and joy, not of sorrow and pain. He’s just waiting for you to respond to him like Paul did.
! Philippians 3:7-8
CHAPTER FIVE HOPE FOR TODAY
THINK ABOUT IT
Jesus came to give people freedom and forgiveness from their past. He came to show people how to start over, even when society labeled them or turned their backs on them. Jesus doesn’t care what a person has done in the past, what group they belong to, who they are related to, or what they do for a living. What Jesus does care about is you. It doesn’t matter how insignificant or worthless you might feel about yourself right now—you matter to God. In fact, you matter a lot. God is like the shepherd in the story who lost one of his sheep. Even though he had 99 others who were with him, what mattered to him was finding the one that was lost. God is pursuing a relationship with you. He will never put a label on you, turn his back on you or give up on you. He doesn’t define you by the things you have done. All you have to do is believe in him and receive what he has to offer. 1. How would you describe some of the people Jesus hung out with? 2. Were there any people in these stories that you feel you could relate to? Why? 3. What did Jesus know about the woman he met at the well? 4. What occupation did Zaccheaus have? Why did that matter in the story? 5. In Luke 4:18, Jesus read from the Bible where it said, “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.” What things did Jesus free the people from in these stories?
CHAPTER ONE FINDING TRUE FREEDOM
I got released from prison, but the effects of my sentence were short lived. After a couple of months, I went right back to the same behavior that landed me in prison to begin with. Eventually, I ended up homeless and selling drugs out of a cheap motel in Florida. Then one night, everything changed. While I was high from snorting cocaine and smoking weed, this deep sense of emptiness overwhelmed me. I couldn’t explain it, and I felt like I was going to die. Then within me, or somehow almost audibly, I heard a voice saying that it was time to get help, and that if I didn’t, I was going to die. I had heard of a faith-based organization in Florida that helped men get out of the kind of lifestyle I was living. I was reluctant to go, because of all of the rules. That night, however, I knew that there was no other hope for me. The very next morning, I left all my friends and took three buses to get there. That is where my walk with God began. I was radically transformed. As I prayed, read the Bible, and fasted, God spoke to me. I could tell that he wanted me to tell other people on the street about him. I had started rapping when I was younger. I ended up meeting a friend who did production work, and I started rapping again. Through that, I have been able to share with others what God has done for me. During this time God changed the meaning of my old rap name C.H.R.O.M.E. that used to stand for Causing Havoc Regularly On My Enemies to Christ Has Really Opened My Eyes. Things were not always easy for me, though, even after I graduated from the Christian program. For a while, I was homeless with a family and on three years of probation. I slept on the floor of a church, and would take a bath with baby wipes that were warmed in the microwave. I faced many other trials that caused my faith to be tested, but also to be proven. By God’s grace and the freedom he gave me, I never went back to the lifestyle that caused me all the pain in the first place. Because of God’s grace, I have been able to share God’s goodness and love with many adults and teenagers through rap and youth ministry. I am now married with four girls, and my wife and I are both leaders in our church. God helped me find the freedom I needed from my past and the life I was leading. Now things are better than I could have ever imagined.