One of the most notable escape stories during World War II took place at the German POW camp, Stalag Luft III and was memorialized in the 1963 film “The Great Escape”. Of the 76 who escaped through the elaborate tunnel, 73 were recaptured and 50 of them were executed on Hitler’s orders. Yet, many are unaware of a previous escape story which was equally heroic, considerably more outlandish, essentially more effective, and from the very same German camp.
Flight Lieutenants Eric Williams, Michael Codner, and Oliver Philpot plotted an escape that Lieutenant Philpot initially discounted as “crackers”. These three effectively tunneled to freedom under the cover of a gymnastics vaulting horse.
The vaulting horse had been constructed from scrap wood and designed to conceal up to two men inside. Every day their fellow prisoners would move the horse to the same spot near a perimeter fence and get some exercise by practicing gymnastics. What an ingenious way to entertain the guards while the men hidden inside were digging a tunnel right under their noses! At the end of exercise time the tunneling men would cover the entrance with boards and dirt. Other details aside, the plan worked and the three escaped to safety.
Don’t you just love a good escape story? Especially when it’s the good guys who find freedom. But what compelled them to endeavor such extremes and take such risks? I believe their desire for freedom exceeded their fear of death. Their longing for liberty proved stronger than the barbed wire fences, and their dogged determination greater than the guards who sought to hold them captive.
How about you? Have you found yourself captive and longing for freedom? You might be thinking, “Captive? What do you mean by that? I’m not a captive!” That’s the response Jesus got when He began teaching others about gaining freedom.
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” John 8:31-33
Their perspective of freedom was skewed to say the least. The Roman Empire had occupation of Palestine when Jesus spoke those words, not to mention their history of captivity to the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Grecian occupation of Palestine, and their most notable Exodus from captivity in Egypt. Yet that was not the kind of captivity Jesus was trying to teach them about. They missed the spiritual perspective that Christ came to reveal.
Is it possible that His words might apply to you and your situation? Could it be that you are blind to your captivity, or complacent about it, or worse yet comfortable in it?
Many people are escaping today but not from bondage to freedom, they are escaping from reality to a life of virtual captivity. They have been taken hostage through the subtle lure of today’s amusements and diversions. This generation has become captivated with TV, Facebook, texting, video games, pornography, YouTube, Twitter, and more. Generally speaking our culture has become captive to a need for constant digital stimulation.
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8
But often times this kind of captivation is cloaked in deception that leaves the victim paralyzed and without awareness of the true circumstance. Like the sting of a spider that numbs its prey yet keeps it alive until all the life is sucked out of it.
The real freedom comes to those who see the chains they are in and find the way of escape. I believe that many are awakening to the reality that they are living in a cage even though they can’t exactly define what it is. Like a captive bird longing to fly, deep down inside they sense there is something they are missing.
Defining freedom from a Biblical worldview
What is true and authentic freedom defined by God’s word? Here is an insightful Scripture to open our eyes.
“But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness… But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life.” Romans 6:17-18, 22
True freedom does not mean doing whatever you please or whatever gratifies you personally. That is the deceptive philosophy of the world that has taken the masses captive. Authentic freedom is about being set free from sin through Christ in order to live a holy life that glorifies God. Freedom is escaping sin’s penalty, it’s power, and ultimately it’s presence to be a slave of God and servant of righteousness. This is where life to its fullest begins!
How do you break free and STAY free?
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the WAY OF ESCAPE, that you may be able to bear it. Therefore, my beloved, FLEE FROM IDOLATRY”. 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 (emphasis mine)
One “way of escape” is to flee from idolatry. Now, if you only think of idolatry as people showing reverence and making sacrifices to statues of false deities, then you have a narrow view of idolatry.
“Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.” Colossians 3:5
Have you allowed today’s entertainment and the constant distraction of media to become an idol in your life? If you don’t know, here’s a simple test that might help… are you willing and ready to let go of it? If the thought of that causes a reaction inside and you find yourself building a mental defense as to why it’s not an issue in your life and how there’s no need to let anything go then it might be an indication of idolatry.
This is what really hit home with me over 20 years ago as a young believer still in my teens when my heart was challenged with the issue of entertainment. I had heard a powerful and convicting sermon about living for Jesus and the Holy Spirit began to confront me about entertainment even though the message wasn’t distinctly addressing media choices.
A bell rang and I sprang out from the corner to the middle of the ring for a mental boxing match with the Holy Spirit about media. I threw my first punch, “but God, it’s not an issue”, then another jab, “my music choices don’t affect me negatively”, now a left hook, “You really aren’t concerned with these issues are You?” Yet every wild and frantic swing failed to connect.
I wasn’t ready to dodge the following question for me, “Phillip, are you willing to give it up if I asked you?” With the wind knocked out of me, my honest and wretched answer was “No.” The knockout punch hit me square between the eyes when I was confronted with my own kneejerk reaction. Hadn’t I died to myself in order to take up a cross as a disciple to follow Jesus? Shouldn’t I be willing to give up anything for Jesus even if it was something good, much less something that might be a stumbling block?
What was I beginning to discover that night? That media had become and idol in my life. I decided to break free from this captivity and put away all unnecessary distractions for two weeks. No music, no TV, no video games, no movies. If it had been 2010 instead of 1990 then it would have also been no Facebook, no Twitter, no texting, no e-mail, and no internet.
What happened? Well, I didn’t die. In fact, not only did I not collapse in a fit of electronic withdrawal, I discovered a new found freedom. As my polluted heart began to detoxify and my mind became less cluttered I discovered that I had been mistaken when previously thinking that none of these things were impacting me negatively. I also found that when my life was not so full of noise it became easier to discern the voice of God speaking to me through His word and by His Holy Spirit.
Most importantly, I felt so free to serve God with all of my heart because this one issue had held such a grip on me. Now that I had let God speak into my life in this particular area and was willing to follow His leading, I found myself no longer afraid to let Him poke into other previously safeguarded areas.
By the way, that media fast went longer than two weeks because I was reveling in my new found freedom and did not want to jeopardize what I saw God doing in my life. It was a simple yet profound change of direction that has impacted me to this very day.
Do you want real freedom? Are you desperate enough to take some risk and make a move? Are you ready to get past the prison fences and run for your life and gain a new identity? Are you wondering where to start? Well, it’s not as difficult as finding a way to tunnel under prison fences under the watch of Nazi guards. You can start where I did and take a disciplined break from the unnecessary distractions for a time.
Use the time you’ll gain to seek the heart of God about entertainment and media use in your life. Ask Him for wisdom and help to discern how to live your life unfettered by unnecessary and unhealthy choices and habits.
This is not for the faint of heart but for those whose desire for Christ has become greater than the blockades and distractions of this world. Run for freedom and don’t look back. Let your motivation come from a focus on Jesus and let your passion and practice be consumed with pursuing Him and following in His steps.
“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…” from Hebrews 12:1-2