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6. Freedom in Christ

Chapter 6

Freedom In Christ

It is a miracle from the Lord that I can be here to speak to you today be­cause I came down with a flu a few days ago. It seems that the flu has affected many other people. It affected me badly because a flu can create serious complications for some­one who has asthma, an ailment which I con­tracted in England some 30 years ago. So it seemed that the likelihood of my speaking here today was not very high.

I wish to begin by sharing with you how God has graciously made it possi­ble for me to be here today, and what I have learned through this experience.

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur a few days ago after attending a three-day full-time workers’ conference. My physical condition was al­ready quite bad on my first night in Kuala Lumpur, and was get­ting steadily worse. My temperature was rising fast. As the fever rose to 102°, Helen and I prayed about the matter, committing the fever to God. At that time something came to my mind: what the Lord Jesus did in Luke chapter 4. The mother-in-law of Jesus’ disciple Simon Peter had contracted a fever; the account says specifically that she was “suffering from a high fever” (v.38). As I pondered about my situation, the words describing what Jesus did came to my mind: “He rebuked the fever” (v.39). The fever was an oppressing power that incapacitated Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus rebuked the fever and it left her, an act which I found remarkable. So I thought, “Well, didn’t the Lord in­struct us to follow him in what he did?” So I rebuked the fever in the Lord’s name (which means to claim his power to do it; see for example Acts 4:7). I had never done this before because I seldom get a fever. After rebuking the fever, Helen and I prayed together. It was early in the morning about 2.30 am, and I soon fell asleep.

Never use God’s power for personal gain

But before I fell asleep, a thought crossed my mind regarding another principle. In following Scriptural teaching, we have to be sure that we have correctly taken into account all the relevant principles which are appli­cable to a particular situation. I then realized that I have missed something important. And it was this: Should I have rebuked the fever in my case? What do you think? Why is there a problem? The problem lies in this: A servant of God should not use the power which God has entrusted to him in a way that benefits himself personally, that is, he should not seek to profit from it. That is why the Lord Jesus, when he became hungry after 40 days of fasting and was severely tempted in the wilderness, refused to turn stone into bread though he had the author­ity to do so. The devil’s temptation was designed to make Jesus use his power and authority for his own benefit. This important princi­ple had es­caped me and I immediately repented before God and said, “Lord, I am sorry. In my concern to drive out the fever, I had forgotten the other principle. I should not have used Your power for my own bene­fit.” I asked the Lord’s for forgiveness, and fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning, my wife, who is a nurse, took my tempera­ture and it was still well over 100°. So not­hing had changed. But two hours or so later, I said, “What has happened to my fever?” I asked my wife to take my temperature again. The fever had vanished. It was gone! The sudden disappearance of the fever sur­prised us. This was checked three more times over the next few hours, and each time the temperature was normal. The fever had indeed disappeared. As I pondered on this, I thought about how God dealt with this matter according to His wisdom and mercy. He saw that I had repented, asking Him to forgive me for using His power for my own benefit. I had misappropri­ated His great power, and only afterwards realized my error and re­pented. God did not drive out the fever at first, for when I woke up the temperature was still over 100°. But after I had learned my lesson, He drove out the fever. In other words, God was saying to me, “You shouldn’t have used My power for your own benefit, but you repented and I have forgiven you. I have driven out the fever not because you claimed My power, but because of My grace and mercy alone. I did it only because of My own mercy.”

We must understand the difference between asking God for some­thing that is according to His will and presumptuously claiming and using His power to gain something we have decided is good for us and for others. Sadly, many Christians cannot distinguish these two totally different things. Some even ignorantly call the presumpt­uous mis­appro­priation of God’s power “faith”. A faith that is not exercised in total submission to God’s will is not faith as far as God is concerned.

In any case, could God not have given me the strength to preach even without taking away the fever, if that was His will? In fact, some 20 years ago I did preach while having a fever. I was preaching in a city in western Canada at a time of the year when it was cool, yet I was drenched in sweat because of the fever. I was so focused on preaching the word of God that I didn’t even remember to ask God to remove the fever. Does it mean I had less faith at that time as compared to now, or that I was less obedient to His will? By the grace of God, I don’t think so.

Jesus, sent by God to set the captives free

I thank God from my heart that in all the years of walking with Him, I have experienced the remarkable ways of the living God. From this most recent experience, the Lord lays it upon my heart to base my testimony today on the same chapter, Luke 4, in which the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is recorded towards the end of the chapter. The driving out of the fever was one of Jesus’ earliest miracles. But chapter 4 begins with the remarkable words of the prophet Isaiah, which Jesus cites to announce the commence­ment of his own ministry. The words sum up Jesus’ whole ministry, so he read them aloud to the congregat­ion in the synagogue. This is what he read out to them:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19)

In these few brief sentences which were read out to the congregat­ion, some­thing is being repeated. This kind of repetition in Scripture signals something that we need to pay attention to, for it is repeated for the sake of emphasis (in this case, repeated with the same mean­ing though with not the same words). Notice the words, “He has sent me to pro­claim release to the captives,” and then, “to let the oppressed go free.” These two statements say the same thing even if the wording is not identical. The idea is to release captives, to set people free, and this is further emphasized by the liberat­ing of the blind from the incapacit­ating ef­fects of blindness; and further still by the proclamation of “the year of the Lord’s favor,” also known as the year of Jubilee which came every 50 years in Israel, a year in which all debts were forgiven and slaves were released. Hence all the four statements express the same essential truth: Jesus was sent by God to set every kind of captive free.

Living in bondage

One of the most fearful things in life is the bondage or slavery of addict­ion. We are all familiar with drug addiction but there are many other kinds of addiction. I can say without fear of contradiction that every­one who has not been liberated by God is under some form of addiction. You might not be addicted to cocaine or alcohol, but every­one is under addiction or bond­age of some sort. The great tragedy is that we are often blind to our own situation. That is why in between the two statements on being freed from oppression, you have the statement, “recovery of sight to the blind.” In this context, it does not mean that Jesus was concerned only with healing the physically blind, as though it were the only kind of miracle he was interested in. The refer­ence here is not primarily to the physical but the spiritual. The problem is that we are under bondage without knowing it.

The frightening thing about the bondage of addiction is the cap­tur­ing of the will. You start out with a little bit of alcohol or whatever you consume, and you gradually become addicted to it. Some peo­ple can take wine or alcohol without problem; the French usually drink with their meals, and many drink daily without being addicted to alcohol. But there are others who cannot do that. In other words, some things are addictive to some peo­ple but not to others. In part it de­pends on the reason for using a substance. If peo­ple use alcohol to drown out their misery and problems, they could soon develop a dependency that will become an addiction.

Self-centeredness is bondage

There are other kinds of bondage. I can say without fear of contradict­ion that every human being is in bondage to himself or her­self, notably bondage to self-interest, in other words, to selfishness. Everyone is selfish until God does something with him or her. Until that happens, everyone is addicted to selfishness. The ego, the self, is always central. What that does in a societ­y is not hard to see. When everyone cares only for himself or herself, no one will care for others unless there are overlapping interests. The self-centered principle is that I will care for someone only if his or her interests happen to affect me or intersect with my interests. Then of course I would care for the other person, for his or her welfare is intertwined with mine. That is the root pro­blem of human society. Jesus came to create a new kind of society in which God’s command to love the neighbor as oneself is meant to be implem­ented. But this is impossible in a self-centered society until we are changed and transformed. That is why the gos­pel is about change and transform­ation; it can’t be achieved until we are liberated—freed from our selfishness and self-centeredness.

The gospel has to do with freedom, true spiritual freedom. Outward freedom doesn’t translate into true inward freedom. The one who is under bondage to sin is a slave inwardly, enslaved in heart and mind, irrespective of what his outward circumstances may be. In the Bible and in experience, sin is equal to slavery. To those who live un­der the bond­age of sin, the good news is that Jesus came to release the captives, to set free the oppressed.

Have you been freed?

How many truly free Christians do you know personally? If you be­long to a church, you will know how many truly liberated Christians there are in your church. Let us be honest. How many would you say are free people? The great problem is that we may not even know what true freedom is, so we don’t know that we are under an addiction. That is a consequence of spiritual blindness.

This is a pitiful situation. Does a fish in a tank know or even care whether it is free? After all, there are other fish swimming around—colorful and lively fish which don’t seem to be living in fear. In fact they look quite content. There are ornaments in the tank that look like coral but are not, though there are real plants that contribute to the beauty of the aquar­ium. The fish are given nutritious food, and they adapt to life very well in the confined environment of the tank.

If you send these colorful fish back into the ocean, to the real coral reefs of their natural habitat, can they tell the difference? The point is that when people become accustomed to, and are comfort­able with, a confined state of life, they won’t know or care that they are prison­ers. Do you know what true freedom is? Have we become so com­fortable in our confining environment that we don’t find it oppressive or limit­ing? The spiritual walls that imprison us have become the home in which we are accus­tomed to living. We find it hard to imagine life outside these walls and perhaps don’t care to know. We have enough to keep us occupied within the confines of our aquarium world. But what are the consequences of this mentality?

Freedom to grow

One time my wife and I were looking at an aquarium. You must have visited pet shops where they have aquariums, and sometimes we would walk in to take a look at the colorful fish. I once saw a small fish that I thought looked like a shark. A shark? In a small aquarium? I have seen a number of sharks in open waters, and my encounters with them can be tense when they are large. I encountered a few sharks (white tips) while snorkeling off the east coast of Malaysia. One or two got a bit too interested in me. When they reach 4 or 5 feet in length, they can take a good bite out of you (though white tips don’t have a reputation for attacking people).

But I have also seen baby sharks near beaches. And when I looked at the fish in the aquarium, I said to my wife, “That looks like a shark.” Well, it was a shark—the shop confirmed it. But how big was it? Not your five-foot variety, which wouldn’t fit in the pet shop’s aquarium. The tiny sharks were not longer than 6 inches, some even smaller. Six-inch sharks in a tank! I had never seen anything like that. I was wondering why a shark in an aquarium was not eating up the other fish. Well, for one thing, it is too small to eat the other fish. At 5 or 6 inches, it should be content that it is not eaten by bigger fish!

But how do you get a shark to live its whole life in an aquarium? Wouldn’t it grow too big for it? I later read, to my surprise, that if you take a shark out of the ocean and put it in an aquarium when it is still small, it never grows big. It will reach maturity, but it won’t get much larger than 6 inches. Well, that was a surprise to me. But if you release the same shark into the ocean while it is young, it could grow to 8 feet. In other words, in the nice yet confined conditions of the aquarium, in which the fish is safe, comfortable, and well fed, the shark is prevented from growing. It adapts its size to the aquarium and stays small like the other fish swimming around. But if it had been released into the open sea, it could have become an 8-foot shark. I was sur­prised when I learned this. “Live and learn” as they say. Being a certified scuba diver, I thought I had some know­ledge of the oceans, but obviously there is still a lot for me to learn.

Freedom to reach our potential

The point is that there are churches full of people who live in an envir­onment that is protected and comfortable. A direct consequence of this is that they never grow spiritually. They don’t even know that there is a problem because the environment is so comfortable to live in. But a shark is not meant to be 6 inches at maturity. A white-tip shark in its natural habitat can grow to 8 feet. The great white is much bigger, but we are talking about this particular species. So, too, many Christians spend all their lives in an environment in which they are comfortable but never reach the potential that God wants for them. There are many such Christians.

The open sea is a dangerous place even for sharks, esp­ecially baby sharks. There are many creatures that can eat baby sharks. Sharks are a lot harder to eat when they are 8 feet long, though even at that size they can be attacked by orcas, better known as killer whales. In any case, it takes them a long time to reach 8 feet, and many are eaten long before they grow to that length. Baby sharks are eaten by bigger fish, so they dare not venture into open waters.

I saw many baby sharks along the east coast of Malaysia; they stay very close to the shore for safety; they hug the coastline and dare not venture into deeper waters where the bigger fish live. But at least they are in the ocean, not in an aquarium, so they will keep growing in rela­tive safety among the smaller fish near the shore. They will venture out when they get larger.

Many Christians stay in the safety of their fish tanks without ever thinking of venturing out by faith into the wider world outside. They remain captive to their own fears. They want a secure and comfortable life within the social circle of fellow Christians. You can have that comfort­able existence (though life in a fish tank is not without its in­ternal problems, but they are different from those in the open sea), but it does mean that you are going to spend the rest of your life as a six-inch Christian.

What does Jesus want us to be? Why are some servants of God so extraordinary while multitudes of Christians go nowhere? The secret lies in the words, “I came to set the captives free.” Do you know that you are a captive? Captive to what? Find out the things that keep you in bondage, and call upon God to make you what He intends you to be. I hope, even if nothing else is accom­plished through this message, that at least some of you will say, “Okay, I have had enough of this nice aquarium life. Lord, set me free to attain whatever it is You want me to be.” This has always been my goal and pur­pose. I don’t want to have anything within myself, or anything around me, that will bind me into some form of bond­age, including religious bondage.

Sadly, religion can be a deep bondage, whether in the form of rigid human traditions or narrow-minded legalism which have nothing to do with true spirituality and which even hinder spirituality. We need to un­der­stand that being religious is not the same as being spirit­ual. The religious person is content to stay in his religious fish tank community though he may transfer occasionally to another similar fish tank for one reason or an­other. But the spiritual man’s life is governed by God, and he goes wherever God wants him to go, yes, even out into the sea. Let God set us free to follow Him wherever He takes us.

We can now understand another aspect of Jesus’ command to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15; v.17 says it is through “those who believe” that he will do his work; see the parallel command in Mt.28:19). We often think of this as a command to evangelize, not realizing that it is something fundamentally vital for our spiritual growth. We often think that the command to “go” is for other Christians, not for us. This is the fish tank mentality. We have failed to grasp the Parable of the Fish Tank and the Sea, as we might call it. However, going “into all the world” does not necessarily mean that we enter into the deepest ocean at the far end of the world just yet. Initially, God may want us to remain close to the shore­line, perhaps in our own city or locality. When we have grown spirit­ually, we will be ready to go further out.

I sometimes wonder how the Lord Jesus feels about us. He “came to set the cap­tives free,” but when he looks at his people today and sees that most of them are captives like those in Egypt, how would he feel? The Israelites were comfort­able in Egypt. Soon after coming out of Egypt, they started grumbling and demanded to return to Egypt. The amazing thing is that they were happy with living in bond­age, for bondage can feel secure and comfortable. To them that was much safer than going out into a harsh and dangerous de­sert for an uncertain future in distant lands. They were not keen to leave Egypt, so God had to take them out. In Egypt they were living under bond­age, and yes it was a hard life, but it was relatively safe and came with basic comforts and enjoyments such as their favorite leeks and garlic.

The mindset of the Israelites is not hard to under­stand. Consider this: You work hard at the office, don’t you? It is a hard life. You work many hours a day, sweating it out. Your boss scolds you and you dare not talk back. You talk back in church but not at the office. When you talk back in church, you don’t lose your bowl of rice. But if you talk back at the office, your lose your job. So you are well behaved in the office. You accept the bondage under your boss even if he is nasty and makes you work yourself into the ground. You accept the situation, and might even enjoy the life of bond­age. All this illustrates how we have come to be comfortable with bondage. But this type of bondage, which is basically external in nature (though not entirely unrelated to the spiritual type), is not our main concern here; I am only using it to illustrate how we can become accus­tomed to spiritual bond­age, which is a much greater cause for concern.

If you are comfortable in bondage even to the extent that you are no longer aware of it, it is time to let God open your eyes to see your true spiritual condition.

God wants to set us free

God wants to set us free from every kind of bondage. The spiritual pur­pose of the physical healings recorded in the Bible is to tell us that God can set us free from any kind of oppression, physical or spiritual. The main purpose of the healings in the Bible is spiritual, not physical. But the pervasiveness of physical disease helps us to un­derstand the seriousness of the problem. Physical illness is one of the great sources of suffering and oppression that human beings live under. In Canada where we have something like a social medical system, the cost of pay­ing for this system is mind-boggling: a few hundred billion Canadian dollars a year. Sickness is a costly and terrible oppression. People are driven by their suffering to seek relief from disease, injury, pain, and disabil­ity. In Canada every time someone sees a doctor it costs the govern­ment an average of $60. This is just for the doctor to see you, and does not include medication and other things. Sickness is a dread­ful bondage, so when Jesus healed the sick, the message being pro­claimed is that God has sent Jesus to set you free from every bondage by God’s saving power.

Breathless in Liverpool

One of the things that God taught me in England, after I had moved from London to Liverpool, was a new understanding of sickness and health. It was the Lord who led me to Liverpool, but it was not I who wanted to go there. There was a small handful of people in Liverpool who pleaded with me to go help them. After much reluctance, I went there as God led me. But as soon as I arrived in Liverpool, I fell sick. I had hardly set foot in Liverpool and I was already sick. I should men­tion that I was very fit and hardly knew what the word “sickness” meant. Since about the age of five, I had never been sick, and I don’t remember even having had a headache. Medicine is one subject that never crossed my mind to study; I was simply too healthy to be inter­ested in diseases. I didn’t think of such things.

But I was amazed that as soon as I stepped into Liverpool, I got sick with serious breathing problems. But as soon as I left Liverpool, the problem would disappear. My wife was working in a hospital in London at the time, so I had access to a bronchial specialist there. He examined me and said, “There is nothing wrong with you.” So I asked, “Why then do I have these problems whenever I go to Liver­pool?” He said “pollution”; there was a serious problem of industrial pollution in Liverpool, and I was allergic to it. And sure enough, when I went back to Liverpool I was sick right away.

One night I woke up after having slept only an hour or two be­cause of severe difficulty in breathing. I was struggling for each breath of air, and was wondering, “What’s happening to me? How come I can’t breathe?” I didn’t want to wake up my wife because I felt that she needed her sleep, so I struggled with trying to breathe hour after hour. I had never known that one breath of air could be so precious.

When you are well, you can just relax and breathe without giving it another thought. But when you cannot get that one breath of air, let me tell you, the feeling of desperation is terrible. In the morning when my wife woke up and saw me lying there, I was blue in the face. She was shocked. She looked at me but I couldn’t talk. She rushed off to look for a doctor. The doctor came and, of course, having been in Liverpool for many years, he knew right away what the problem was: an acute attack of asthma.

I didn’t even know what had struck me, not having any previous exper­ience of asthma. The doctor prescribed me some medication, and in a short time all the symptoms disappeared. He told me that if I didn’t want to get chronic asth­ma, I would have to leave Liverpool as soon as possible. But I had already promised the church I would come here. How was I going to leave then? I had to stay on, which I saw as my obligation.

Later on, after I had lived five years in Liverpool, the church had been built up, and I had trained up someone to take over the work from me. But by then I was stuck with chronic asthma which I would never get rid of. I felt that this was a price I had to pay for serving the Lord, a taste of the fellowship of the Lord’s suffering.

Yes, I could have saved my health. In fact my mother plead­ed with me with tears in her eyes when she saw me going through an asthmatic attack. She said, “Please, please leave Liverpool.” I said, “I can’t leave the brothers and sisters, can I? Who is going to look after them?” In fact God had made it clear to me that He had sent me to serve Him there for five years. After those five years were over, He sent me to Canada. By then the asthma had become chronic and per­manent. I was granted the privilege of having a small share in the fellow­ship of Christ’s sufferings.

Eric Chang speaking at a conference in Peterborough, Canada, 1975

I recently read up on crucif­ixion and learned an aspect of crucifix­ion I had not known be­fore: When a man is cru­ci­fied, apart from all the agony of the nails going through the hands and feet, what it does to the whole body, not just the hands and feet, is even more agoniz­ing. This is explained by a medical specialist who had writ­ten extensively on cruci­fixion. He says that as the person hangs on the cross in agony, it creates extreme trauma to the body which can cause fluid to build up in the area of the lungs around the heart. This may explain why both blood and water flowed out when Jesus’ side was pierced with a spear (John 19:34). The fluid builds up in the chest such that it becomes hard to breathe because the fluid is pressing against the lungs.

That is an aspect of crucifixion I didn’t know about, and as I was reading about it, I saw that this is exactly how you feel when you are having an asthmatic attack. You just can’t breathe; you gasp for air. Then I realized that for the Lord Jesus to say those seven sayings from the cross was in itself a wonder because you can hardly talk when you are out of breath, and it is exhausting to say anything. I realized that the suffering of asthma, of being unable to breathe, was an agony the Lord Jesus experienced on the cross. He bore our sufferings. He knows what they are like, and he did that to set us free.

The compassion of our Redeemer: Four cases of healing

So it was in Liverpool that I began to experience this matter of health and sickness, not only in myself but in at least four cases of heal­ing that I would like to share with you as examples of the Lord’s compass­ion. Why does God set us free? It is out of His compassion. What is compassion? If you have experienced it, you would know what it is. You feel for someone’s suffering, someone’s pain, someone’s agony. Now why would we selfish people care about anyone else’s suffering if it doesn’t affect us? Compassion is something that God puts into our hearts (Romans 5.5); it is not natural to the human heart.

One Sunday evening, I re­ceived a phone call from someone in our church, and he said to me, “Please, can you quickly go to the hospital be­cause my mother is there with a cerebral hemorrhage” (bleeding in the brain, commonly called a stroke). He pleaded with me, “Will you please go to the hospital to see my mot­h­er?” I said, “Yes, I will.”

I arrived at the hos­pital and there was this middle-aged woman, Mrs. Tung Lau, ly­ing there, para­lyzed from the neck down with a stroke. I looked at her and asked, “Would you like me to pray for you?” She blinked her eyes, nodding slight­ly. She was ly­ing on a trolley (called a gurney in North America), a stretch­er with wheels, wait­ing to be put on a hos­pital bed. But they had already done some tests on her.

The normal proced­ure is to extract spin­al fluid, which used to be a pain­ful proced­ure (the ultrathin needles used to­day were not available at that time). A needle would be inserted be­tween the vertebrae and into the spinal co­lumn to extract fluid; the pre­sence of blood in the fluid is the evidence of a hemor­rhage or stroke.

They confirmed that it was a stroke. The tests had been done, and she was lying on this trolley. That was when I prayed for her. After the prayer, she experienced immed­iate release.

This photograph of Mrs. Tung Lau (刘冬) was taken in Liverpool several decades ago at around the time she was healed of a stroke. Recently, in March 2017, four church workers, including a pastor, paid her a visit at her home. Auntie Lau, who by now was in her eighties, showed them this photo and confirmed to them that that the healing recounted by Eric Chang had indeed taken place.

Imagine being paralyzed by a stroke such that you can’t move. Can physical bondage get much worse than that? If someone shac­kles your hands behind your back, you still can move, at least the rest of your body can. If some­one tied your feet, you can still move the rest of your body. But to be para­lyzed is to lose all freedom of movement. When I had prayed to God for her in Jesus’ name, she had immediate release. In other words, she was healed.

But did the doctor believe it? “It can’t be! We just did a test and confirmed that it was a stroke. In fact she was par­alyzed.” Yet she wanted to sit up. Can you imag­ine the scene at the hospital? The doc­tor said to her, “Don’t move, just lie there.” So the poor lady had to lie down. After a while she said to me, “I’m hungry. I would like to have some food.” I asked the hospi­tal staff, “Can you get her something to eat?” “Sorry, she is not allowed to eat.” So I got back to her, “Sorry, no food. The doctor doesn’t allow it.” So how long will she have to lie there? From Sun­day night to Wednes­day! Her back got sore from lying there. She was not allowed to move even though she could move.

So what happened on Wednesday? Because this was a big teaching hospital, on Wednesdays the professor would come with his students in tow, and they would go from bed to bed to examine the patients while the professor explains things to them. When they came to her bed, they looked at her, examined her, and huddled together for a long discussion. They called in the doctor who was in charge and asked, “What is this woman doing here? There is nothing wrong with her.” “But we did all the tests on her; she had a stroke on Sunday.” So they looked at the test results which confirmed what the doctor said. Well, you can imagine that this was a real mystery to them. After further discussion among them­selves, the poor woman, who had to endure several days of lying on her back, was finally told to go home.

All this happened a long time ago (over four decades ago as on this date of publi­cation, 2017), and this dear sis­ter in the Lord is still living in Liverpool today, now in her eighties. She had experienced God’s compassion and God’s power to set her free. That was one of my first experiences of healing. It was for me a remarkable example of God’s mercy and kindness.

There is another case where a woman in our church, a restaurant owner, called me and said, “My mother is in agonizing pain with a large tumor in her abdomen in the area of the womb, and she is due for surgery next week. The pain is unbearable and the painkillers don’t help much.” Many of you know that there are certain pains that not even the most powerful painkillers can suppress. Her mother was in terrible agony, so she asked, “Would you please come and pray for my mother?” I went with my coworker and we saw that she was suffer­ing intense pain. She was not a believer at the time, so we explained to her that we would pray for her but she must put her trust in God, because it is He who heals, not us. We prayed for her.

A few days later she came to our Sunday church service, full of joy. She was still scheduled to return to the hospital because it had been arranged for her to have surgery about two days later. It turned out that after we had prayed for her, she had no more pain. When she returned to the hospital, she was X-rayed and thoroughly examined, but the huge tumor found in her womb had disappeared into thin air, nowhere to be seen. They looked at the previous X-rays, and com­pared them with her new X-rays, and saw what had hap­pened. How marvel­ous are the ways of the Lord, how great His mercy.

The third case has to do with a nurse in our church. In her hospi­tal we had a Bible study for nurses, and she was one of the nurses who attended the Bible study regularly. She called me and told me that she had terrible pain in her upper lip, from a tumor that was growing in that area. There was a long list of people waiting for surgery, but because she was a member of the hospital staff, the hospital arranged for her to have an emergency operation the next day. But she told me, “The pain is driving me crazy. I can’t wait until tomorrow. And the painkiller is not working.” I asked her, “What does God tell you? Have you prayed about this?” She said, “Yes. I looked at the pass­age in the gos­pels where a leper said to Jesus, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean,’ and Jesus said, ‘I am willing,’” so the leper was healed” (Mt.8:2-4; Mk.1:40-42; Lk.5:12-13). I said to her, “If Jesus’ word is speaking to you in your present situation, I will come now and pray.”

I went to the hospital and prayed for her, and the pain disap­peared in a flash, gone in an instant. Then the same thing hap­pened as in the previous case: On the next day when she was to undergo surgery, they found that the tumor had vanished! Tumors are unpleasant and poten­tially dangerous lumps or growths of physical material. Anyone who works in a hospital would know that tumors don’t just vanish into thin air. Tumors are not psychological or emotional states that can come one moment and vanish the next. How can tumors disappear instantly except by the power of God?

The next case involved my mother who was prone to migraines, which are extremely painful headaches that can last for days. I was visiting her at the time, and one day she had a mig­raine attack. When I looked at her, my heart couldn’t take what I saw: a large vein on her fore­head stood out. Tears were flowing from her eyes, and she sat down in agony. I said to God, “Lord, surely You don’t expect me, Your servant, to sit here and watch my mother suffer like this and do nothing? I now call out to You that You in Your great mercy will be pleased to release her from her pain.” I asked her if she would like me to pray for her. She nodded.

At that time my mother hadn’t yet known the Lord; she was still an unbeliever who hadn’t shown much interest in spiritual things. In fact she seemed to be a hard-core unbeliever with whom it was almost impossible to talk about anything spiritual. But now she needed to be released from this indescribable pain that was holding her in its agon­izing grip. I prayed for her, and the pain went away instantly. It was gone in a flash. I still remember the astonishment on her face. I guess she thought I would pray for her as a formality to express comfort or sympathy to someone who is sick or in pain. What she didn’t expect was the instant release by the power and mercy of the Lord. That was evidently the reason for the look of utter surprise on her face. One moment she was in agony, the next moment she was free. I think this was one of the things that had led her to come to God later.

I wish to make it clear that although I have exercised God’s power to heal people by His grace, I am not a faith healer. What is the differ­ence? A big difference! A faith healer is someone who makes healing the central element of his ministry. Healing is not the central element of my ministry; it has only a relatively small place in it.

The gospels do not give the impression that Jesus went around looking for people to heal, but that many who were suffering from all kinds of illness came to him for healing. His ministry was to pro­claim the gospel and to teach the word of God; but out of compassion he healed those whom he met or who came to him as he was going from place to place in the course of his ministry. These acts of compassion served as signs or messages from God, to announce that His salvation is now made avail­able in Christ to all men. For Jesus, the acts of heal­ing were secondary to the ministry of preaching the message of life. And given human nature, some­times the working of mir­acles can even have undesirable results. When Jesus fed 5,000 hungry people in the wilder­ness out of compassion, the result was that they wanted to make him a king by force (John 6:15).

Bondage to insecurity?

Let us continue with this matter of being freed from all forms of op­pression. Many things oppress us, including fear and insecur­ity. There is a long list of things that hold us in bondage. Fear, for example, is a very powerful element. Life insurance is a multibillion dollar industry. Without fear in the world, insurance companies would have almost no business. Of course “life” insurance cannot guaran­tee you protection from death. It only assures you that when you die, your family may get a million dollars or whatever it is you are insured for.

Fear of death can be a powerful presence in people’s hearts, as also the fear of losing the things precious to us. We insure our property; this is even compul­sory in many countries. You have to insure your car, though the level of insurance (com­prehensive or third party) is up to you; we usually prefer to buy higher insurance for an expen­sive car. If you drive an old car as I do, there is no point in going for maximum insurance; you take the minimum insurance required by law.

Losing my car

One Sunday evening in Liverpool after the church service, I went to the church center to do something for a few minutes, and parked my car just a few steps from the entrance. Ten minutes later I came out and the car was gone! I have already told you about the theft of my motor­cycle but that was in London. By now I had grad­uated from a motorcycle to a car, and although it was old, it was in good condition. Ten minutes in the church center and the car disappeared! Now, how would you feel? Oh, the anxiety of having lost something! There is the fear that you might lose something, and when you have actually lost it, you feel great turmoil. But what bothered me was not the car but my Bible in the car. You may be puzzled because a Bible doesn’t cost very much in a bookstore. Well, my Bible was price­less to me because it contains literally thousands of notes. On any one page, there could be dozens of hand­written notes. All the notes were num­bered, linking them to Bible verses. It repre­sented many years of hard work. They can take the car but give me back my Bible!

Eric Chang with his wife Helen and their daughter Grace, 1972

I still remember my daughter’s surprise when she heard me say that. She was a little girl about 4 years old. When the car got stolen, she was shocked. How could anyone steal a car? To her, if somebody stole your teddy bear, it would be a heinous crime, but a car? It was simply mind-boggling to her. But when I told her, “Daddy is not concerned about the car but about the Bible,” she was even more astonished. How much does a book cost in a bookstore? This kind of situation gives us an opportunity to convey to our children the things that are of value to us. The Bible represented years of hard work. I had written so many notes in it over the years that there was no more space in the margins. So I had to get a separate expandable notebook. This note­book in its protective cover was almost as thick as the Bible itself. Since these external notes were linked to my Bible by numbers, you can see that if I lose the Bible, my notes would lose some of their usefulness. On this occasion my notebook was left at home.

I said to my daughter, “Let’s pray that Daddy gets his Bible back, all right?” She saw that in prayer I was more concerned about the Bible than the car. Children’s prayers are effective; the Lord takes delight in listen­ing to their prayers. They are uncomplicated, and much purer compared to grown-ups. They seem to have a more direct access to the Father. Their angels stand near to God our Father, as Jesus tells us (Matthew 18:10, cf. v.5).

A few days later I received a call from the police who said to me, “We have found your car. Come and collect it.” I rushed to the police station looking for my Bible. To my great joy the Bible was there. The car had sustained minor damage but there was nothing serious.

God’s Word: The truth that sets us free

I share this with you because the main secret of my ministry is the word of God. I don’t worship the Bible, I worship God. But if you wor­ship God, you will listen to His word. And to obey His word you will need to know what it teaches. Many Christians dare not launch out into the world by faith because they don’t know God or His word. Jesus said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). I have spent many years of my life studying the Bible, and I mention this because many Christ­ians, even if they have been in church many years, have a pitiful (and indeed inexcusable) lack of knowledge of God’s word; conse­quently they are ineffective and fruitless in His church.

I recall three important periods in my life when the Lord put me aside to study His word. One was a time in China of at least two years when I could do nothing but study the Bible. I delighted in the study of the Word. But initially I couldn’t understand it. If you are a young Christian, you would know what I mean. You read the Bible and you don’t know what it is saying. I was given a King James Version Bible which, because it was translated many years ago in 1611 and uses the English of that time, did not help to make things clearer. Although my English was not that bad, and I understood King James English not too badly, there were certain important points where the mean­ing did not make much sense to me.

I knelt before God and said, “Lord, I don’t under­stand what Your word is saying, will You please open my under­standing?” During those two years, a lot of time was devoted to studying the word of God. One of my joys is that after all these many years, I still have some of the notes I wrote at that time when I was a young Christian; and when I read them much later on, I could only say, “Surely I did not discover all that by myself. Clearly God was already teaching me in those days.”

The second period was at the Bible Institute in Scotland where for two years I studied the word of God every day. We had classes in the standard subjects a Bible college would teach, but frankly I did not feel that I had benefited much from most of them. What I found most beneficial was the time I spent in my room studying the word of God for myself. That was another two years.

There was a third period when God put me aside in Lon­don to be quiet. This was after my time in a Bible college in London and the university years of academic studies. The Lord granted me three years after all those studies to again focus and meditate on the word of God day after day. During this time I added many more notes to my Bible as God led me deeper into His truth. The importance of the Bible, the word of God, lies in the fact that in it we find God’s truth. And Jesus says, “The truth will set you free” (Jn.8:32)—the spiritual freedom which is experienced by those who follow him.

Read the testimonies: God can do the same for you

Let me share with you someone else’s testimony which testifies to the same truth. I love to read testimonies because from them I learn about what others have experienced. I find it wonderful and refreshing to see what God is doing in the lives of other people.

I recently read the testimony of a Chinese brother who had gone through a lot of suffering in China for the Lord’s sake. I am humbled when I read his story because I have not suffered as much for the Lord as this dear brot­her has. He had gone through many years of beating, abuse, and starvat­ion. He was in his late twenties when he was first arrested and im­prisoned. There was a pattern to this: He had been go­ing from place to place to preach the gospel, and this led to a cycle of being arrested and released, only to be arrested and released again—and beaten and humiliated.

One day God did something amazing for him: setting him free from prison. He had been locked up many times, but during this part­icular imprisonment, he had endured so much that I think God had decided it was enough, for he had endured as much as he could bear. Paul says:

God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted (or tested) be­yond what you can bear. But when you are tempted (or tested), He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1Corinthians 10:13)

In this brother’s case, God literally provided “a way out”. This brother had been put in solitary confinement most of the time; that was because every time they put him in a prison cell with others, many of his cellmates got converted. Do you know what happened one day when he was alone in his cell? The chains suddenly fell off his wrists. God opened the doors, and this brother walked out of prison through seven sets of gates. They all opened up in front of him! So he exper­ienced what the apos­tle Peter had experienced when the Lord did something similar for him, freeing him from his chains and opening the prison gates so that he walked out to freedom (Acts 12:7-10).

Yes, the Lord came to set the captives free, literally, physically and spiritually. In fact I spoke to this brother on the phone recently when he was visiting our Liverpool Church. The coworkers told me, “He is here in Liverpool. Would you like to talk to him on the phone?” I said yes. So we had a conversation, and he invited me to visit him.

The liberation of Doctor Satorius

God saves us not only from external or physical bondage but more importantly from inner bondage. There is the case of a Swiss medical doctor whom I had come to know. When I visited him in Switzer­land, he said to me, “I would like to tell you my story. I used to be an alcoholic. Even though I was a medical doctor, I started with a little bit of wine. But I turned out to be one of those who could easily get addicted to alco­hol.” He be­came addicted and couldn’t stop drinking. He drank more and more until he was spending most of his income from his medical practice to pay for his addiction. In Switzerland, as in many countries, alcohol is heavily taxed and expensive.

One day he had no money to give his wife for the children’s daily needs. His wife said to him in the morning, “The child­ren have no break­fast. Do you have money some­where?” He said, “No, I don’t.” She said, “In that case, they will go hungry today.” He became very depressed because he felt that he was a complete failure in life. His three children were growing up, and all they could see was a father who was constantly drunk. He only barely managed to do his medical practice. Half the time he was unable to function properly, so his income was reduced while his expenses increased.

He said, “You know, the last straw came one day when my son came to me with a small cut on his hand. I looked at it and said to him, ‘That’s nothing. Go away. Don’t bother me with trivial things.’” The next day his son came down with a fever, and he realized that his son was suffering from septicemia (blood poisoning). The little cut was not as harmless as he had carelessly supposed. It had become infected, and now the boy was fighting for his life. So Dr. Satorius sank into a deep depression. He looked at his son and he said, “I can’t even look after my son; I can’t provide food for my children; my life is a complete mess; yet this bondage is something I cannot break.”

In his depression, he felt it was better to end it all. In Switzerland, all young and healthy men do military service (as in Singapore). Since he had been an army officer, he had a service pistol in his office. And he decided to use it, being unable to live with him­self anymore. He simply could not overcome his addiction. He said, “I tried again and again to make resolutions.” He tried every technique he knew in medi­cine to break his bondage to alcohol, but he couldn’t. So he said, “The situation is hopeless; the bondage is unbreakable. I will take out my pistol and end it all.”

Dr. Satorius opened the drawer to take out his gun, and he saw a Bible lying on top of the gun. Switzerland has a state church and everyone is expected to be a Christian. If you are not a Christian, you will have nowhere to be buried, so you had better become a Christ­ian, at least on paper, because it’s a serious problem to have no burial place when you die. As a member of the state church, you would go through a ceremony called Confirmation at which you are given a Bible. So he had a Bible which he hadn’t read. It was lying on top of his gun, so he had to remove it before he could get the gun. But since he was now holding the Bible in his hand, he thought, “I might as well read a verse before I pull the trigger.” So he opened the Bible. And since he didn’t know where to look, he flipped it open at random and took a look. There the words of the Bible hit him right in the eyes: “I am the Lord, your Redeemer” (Isaiah 60.16, “I, Yahweh, am your Savior, your Redeemer”). God was speaking directly to him through these words.

The word “redeemer” doesn’t mean much to English-speaking peo­ple because it is a rare word in everyday English whether written or spoken, though it is found in most English Bibles. But the German term is very significant. In German, “your Redeemer” means “Your Liberator, the One who sets you free”. His mouth dropped open in astonish­ment as the power of the words, “I, the Lord, am your Liberator,” sank in. God was speaking straight to him through the Bible. He exclaimed, “That is exactly what I need: a Liberator.”

He fell on his knees and said, “Lord, liberate me. Set me free from my bondage. I am destroying my family and now I am going to destroy myself unless You set me free.” It was a cry from the heart. Remember, he was not religious. He didn’t know how to pray; he only knew how to cry out from his heart. God spoke to him, “I am your Redeemer,” and he responded, “Lord, redeem me.” That is all a person in bondage has to do, indeed, that is all he can do. God doesn’t need you to make a speech; prayer is a cry from the heart for liberation; and God removes the chains and sets you free.

He said that something happened immediately: he felt the chains falling off. He said, “Suddenly I was free. I didn’t understand what was happening but I was free. I had struggled for months with this bondage and had always failed, yet in that split second I was free.” He doesn’t know how to understand it medically, for addiction requires a long treatment. How is it possible to be free in an instant? That is humanly impossible; yet he was now truly free. He said he stood up on his feet a new person; God had removed his addiction in one stroke!

But he got more than he had expected. He now had no desire for alcohol. In fact he was changed even more than that: God changed his life so fundamentally that he became a preacher. He didn’t quit medi­cine as far as I know, but wherever he went he testified to God. When I was visiting him, he took me almost daily to various meet­ings where he testified to what God had done in his life, and preached the gospel.

Some years later, I was in a town in northern Switzer­land, and there I saw the name “Pastor Satorius” on the notice board in front of a church. Satorius is a rare name, so I thought, “Is there a connect­ion between this Pastor Satorius and the Dr. Satorius I met many years ago in eastern Switzerland?” As it turned out, this Pastor Satorius was his son who had blood poison­ing. I later heard that he was a well-known pastor in Switzerland. Not only did God set Dr. Satorius free, He also set his family free. The whole family was redeemed. How wonderful are the ways of the Lord!

Dr. Satorius told me that the liberation was so complete that a glass of wine could be put in front of him and it would not tempt him. The desire for alcohol had gone completely. As a medical man, he under­stood what it meant. As a general rule, even if someone breaks free from addict­ion, he is still strongly tempted and is in constant danger of falling back into addiction. A drug addict is still drawn by the old addiction even after he had gone through the lengthy process of rehabilitation. He is always in danger of being tempted back to drugs. But the doctor said, “I have no more desire for it whatso­ever; it has no attraction for me anymore.” Not only does God liberate us, but the liberation is complete—unless, of course, we choose to go back into bondage even though it has lost its power over us.

Eric and Helen Chang with the children of coworkers, Hong Kong, April 2009

Will you let God set you free?

Today I have shared from my heart about this wonderful God who has called me to Himself and given me the privilege of knowing Him, a God of wonders and miracles. God does all these things not to impress anyone but to set us free. Today I hope you will think about the things that hold you in bondage. Bondage is a strange thing. Take our habits, for example. There are many bad habits from which people need to be released. One could say that a bad habit is a form of addict­ion. Some people, for example, habitually respond to certain situations with fiery anger; they are easily provoked and they provoke others to tension and conflict. Moodiness can also be habitual, and it can result in con­stant misery. Negat­ive mental attitudes become habitual, and it is essential that we be freed from these destructive habits—destructive to ourselves and to others.

I go back to the story I began with, of the shark that never grew beyond six inches—the king of the ocean that ended up being a mid­get in a fish tank. What kind of a per­son are you? Are you content with the comfortable bondage in which you live? And with your com­fortable routines? Are we so comfortable with our self-serving lives that we don’t care about the multitudes of people who also need to be set free from bondage and misery? Or will we say, “Lord, I want to know You more. I want to be set free from the habit of doing things my way; I want to attain the maxim­um of what You have called me to, so that on that day when I see You, I will not be ashamed but will rejoice; and then Your son Jesus would not have died for me in vain.”

(c) 2021 Christian Disciples Church