In his book, The Easy Yoke, Doug Webster retells a great Wil Willimon story about a young, idealistic college student who ended up in one of the worst-looking housing projects in Philadelphia.
A brand-new Christian, this wide-eyed urban missionary didn’t have a clue how to evangelize in the middle of the city. Frightened and anxious to share his new faith, the young man approached a very large, intimidating tenement house. Cautiously making his way through the dark, cluttered hallways, he walked up a flight of stairs and heard a baby crying. The baby was inside one of the apartments. He knocked on the door and was met by a woman holding a naked baby. She was smoking, and she was not in the mood to hear about Jesus. She cursed at the boy and slammed the door. The young man was devastated. He walked outside, slumped down on the street curb, and cried. »Look at me,« he said to himself. »How in the world could someone like me think I could tell anyone about Jesus?«
Then the young man looked up and saw a dilapidated old store on the corner. It was open, and he went inside and walked around. It was then that he remembered the baby in the tenement was naked and that the woman was smoking. So he bought some diapers and a pack of cigarettes and headed back to the woman’s apartment. He knocked on the door, and before the woman could start cursing him, he slid the cigarettes and diapers inside the open door.
The woman invited him in.
The student played with the baby. He put a diaper on the baby—even though he’d never put a diaper on a baby before. And when the woman asked him to smoke, he smoked—even though he’d never smoked before. He spent the whole day playing with the baby, changing diapers, and smoking.
Late in the afternoon the woman asked him, »What’s a nice college boy like you doing in a place like this?« He told her all he knew about Jesus. Took him about five minutes. When he stopped talking, the woman looked at him and said, »Pray for me and my baby that we make it out of here alive.« He prayed.
This young man’s story is a freedom story. Because of his freedom in Christ, he was led by the Holy Spirit to change diapers and, well...smoke. If this young man were in your youth group and gave this testimony, I have a strong feeling many Christians wouldn’t be celebrating his freedom in Christ—they’d be asking you what was going to be done about his »indiscretion.«
Trouble is, what he did was a Spirit-led indiscretion. Paul said it best: »Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom« (2 Corinthians 3:17). And in this situation, he was free to smoke.
Uh oh. When Jesus says the truth sets us free, he isn’t kidding.
The trouble with modern Christianity is that we’ve tried to de-fang the truth. Freedom in Christ does have fangs. Sharp ones. That’s why, when Christ was around, people weren’t afraid to tear roofs apart and let little children run out of control. The freedom Jesus is about isn’t a nice, religious concept or a cute idea—it’s a wild, dangerous, shocking, upsetting, uncomfortable, daring, threatening truth. Freedom in Christ means we are free to fail and free not to fail; we are free to follow Christ and free to run from him; we are free to obey and free not to obey; we are free to sin and free not to sin.
Freedom in Christ makes us all extremely nervous. It should! Because freedom in Christ isn’t a youth ministry issue, it’s a soul issue. Although the Spirit of God calls us to freedom, many of us have allowed our bosses, our churches, and our parents to quench the Spirit and kill the life within us. Then, instead of following Christ, we start following policy, parental expectations, and staff directives. And suddenly we find ourselves exhausted, burned out—our souls lifeless and dead.
Freedom in Christ is very hazardous to our jobs, too. It means we’re more afraid of disappointing Jesus than we are of being fired. Freedom in Christ means we have the courage to ask why our staff meetings are about church business instead of about Jesus.
Freedom is a wonderfully risky consequence of listening to the wild whispers of Christ’s Holy Spirit and sharing those whispers with our students.
»Are you tired?« Jesus asks. »Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me, and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly« (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message).
What is Jesus whispering to you? Are you too busy? Then slow down. Quit programming so much. Quit trying to fix everybody. Take time to savor Jesus’ love for you—and let him run freely in your soul.