02 November 2006
A Joyful Prisoner of War
What follows was my first letter as pastor to Trinity Road Chapel, the dear folks under my care as their pastor. May we in leadership see ourselves more and more in the light of Ephesians 4--only servants.
I vaguely recall hearing as a boy the radio and television reports of the last years of the United States involvement in the war in Vietnam. It was a tumultuous period in the history of the country, with antiwar demonstrations and draft dodging common in the news. Yet, even though protests were being made against the war, in the town where I lived, just outside a military base, nothing but the strongest support was given. Of all my boyhood memories of the early 1970s, one thing that distinctly stands out is the interest that town showed for prisoners of war and those missing in action.
As the war ended, the men who had been held captive, the prisoners of war, were released. Images of these men walking off planes, falling to their knees and kissing US soil, even before hugging and kissing family, are indelibly imprinted in my mind.
In time, many told their stories, sharing their accounts of imprisonment and torture under the control of their wartime enemy. I read and listened with keen interest as each related their struggle to survive, their will to live and longing for freedom from their harsh conditions. For them, liberty could only come by being released from the control of their captors.
Hearing the experiences of those prisoners of war instilled within me a strong will to live in freedom. Even death was preferred to any sort of captivity. That is, until I became a believer in Jesus Christ.
No one had to tell me before I was converted that I was an enemy of God—I knew it instinctively. There were things I wanted to do that He disapproved of—my conscience told me that—but I did my best not to allow guilt or any fear of judgment to invade my freedom. I wanted to do as I pleased and for a season, I felt the freedom to seek out my desires without restraint. I was free, or so I thought.
Thankfully, at the age of twenty-one, the Lord demonstrated His conquering grace in my life. I was brought to see myself as a sinner and under condemnation. And in broken, trembling words, I begged God for forgiveness. Instead of receiving the punishment I deserved, the Lord mercifully forgave me and changed me.
Ignorant as I was of the scriptures, it took time to discover what all had actually happened to me. In reading the Bible after becoming a believer, especially in the sixth chapter of Romans, I discovered something that startled me—I had been living my whole life in captivity as a slave to sin!
Even more startling, I learned that being saved meant continuing life as a servant, under captivity to Jesus and His will. I discovered I was now His, and not my own. But there is something completely different about this captivity—this captivity is freedom! Galatians 5:1 says that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” And in this freeing captivity, I found a life of joy and gratitude in fistfuls. Never would I have thought myself to be so glad a captive!
Understanding these metaphorical connections of our sin and salvation to slavery and freedom has proved a rich experience for me, and I look forward to declaring to you those truths more deeply and to our rejoicing together in the liberating life of service we have in Jesus Christ.
In this month of beginning my service (there’s that word again!) as pastor of TRC, there is one more captivating passage I wish to share with you. It is a passage that has become central to my thinking about my role as a pastor and it is a fitting introduction for this, my first article in “The Witness.”
Ephesians four is a familiar place of study for church leaders as they understand the Lord’s framework for congregational life and growth. I’ve examined the passage many times and will soon embark on a detailed study of it here at TRC. But as with many, I typically began my study at verse 11, “It was he who gave some to be apostles…”
It wasn’t until I looked at verses 7-8 that I understood the context of God’s gifts to the church of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers. The image presented in those verses is of a conquering Jesus who has proved victorious at war. His victory came through the ironic shame and suffering of the cross and was made manifest in His resurrection and ascension. Though once despised and thought defeated in death, He is alive, exalted and reigning over everything!
The warrior imagery continues in verse 8 with an allusion to Jesus taking the spoils of war. The warriors and wealth of His enemy are now His, and under His will to dispense. And that is precisely what He has done. As a good king, He has taken His captured captives and sent them out into useful service to provide help and development to His people.
That is why verse 11 says Jesus “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” These men, gifted as they are, are in essence, prisoners of war, captives set aside for service. These servants are given to the church so that it might develop in the grace and knowledge of Jesus and thus, serve also, bringing about growth and unity within the body of Christ.
In my boyhood imaginations, I feared ever becoming a prisoner of war. Nothing other than death could have been dreamed worse. Now I gladly own that role. It is with great joy that I assume this month my active duties as pastor—prisoner of war—of Trinity Road Chapel. I am at your service in tribute to our King Jesus.