It had been a relatively easy day at work for Commander Dave, providing him the rare privilege of leaving early and driving home while the sun was still shining. In one of the cities on his long commute, there was a nice park with a one-mile jogging trail. Commander Dave stopped there and put on his tennis shoes. He felt revived in the light wind and 68 degree temperature. His son Buzzy was always on his case to get some exercise. "Dad, how can you teach Rangers to be fit when your belly hangs so low that you canít see your belt buckle," he would say.
"Well, I guess heís right," Ranger Dave said to himself. "But, on a day like today, exercise is a pleasure. I just wish I had more time to do it."
Suddenly, a boy who had just whizzed by on roller blades stopped abruptly and turned around to face him.
"Hi, Commander Dave." It was Chad. Both were surprised to see each other, and there was a momentary awkward silence.
"So, youíre not grounded anymore?" Commander Dave smiled.
"No, my Dad decided that it would be more productive to give me work assignments than to ground me. Iíve been helping the neighbors gather up leaves and tree limbs, washing and waxing cars, etc. Itís funny though. Even though my work is free, my neighbors are reluctant to let me do it. No one wants to trust a kid who was caught shop lifting."
"Yes, I guess trust has to be earned, and when you donít live up to it, sometimes it takes a while to earn it back. But, Iím sure you will in time."
Suddenly a park security worker confronted Chad. "Hey you. Skaters go clockwise; walkers and joggers go counter-clockwise. Either follow the rules or get off the track!"
Chad was visibly irritated. "Rules, rules, everywhere. Just when youíre having fun, someone comes up with another rule. I hate this."
"No big deal," said Commander Dave, "Iíve got some roller blades in the car. Let me go get them. Then we can move in the same direction."
"You have roller blades?" Chad asked incredulously.
"Hey, didnít you know that Ranger Commanders are just kids who never grew up."
"No, seriously," Commander Dave continued, "Iím doing this for Buzzy. I bought him roller blades for his birthday. But, I thought it would be really cool if I could roller blade with him. So, Iíve been practicing. He doesnít know about."
"Iíll keep your secret. Buzzyís lucky to have a Dad who wants to roller blade with him. By the way, thanks for the letter." Chad slowed himself so as not to get too far ahead of Commander Dave, who was skating slowly and carefully.
"Did you understand it?"
"Yes, but Iím probably not going to respond to it the way you would want."
"What do you mean."
"Iím not ready to be a real Christian. Yes, I know that makes you sad, but itís just not for me. Christianity to me is like that park security man, too many rules and too many people who enjoy pushing their weight around."
"No; wait; let me finish. Do you remember the last morning ceremonies at Powwow."
"Yes, it was hot." Said Commander Dave.
"Do you remember how uncomfortable it was to be decked out in a full, type A, long sleeved uniform, neck tie and all, in August. The air was so humid you could almost cut it with a knife. Thatís what Christianity is to me: stiff, sticky, and uncomfortable."
"Wait, Iíve got one more," said Chad. "Do you remember how we had a wonderful nice lake at Powwow but couldnít use it because we didnít have anyone certified to be a lifeguard. Christianity is like having everything you need in order to be happy, laid out before you, only you canít participate because you are a Christian."
"No, let me finish. Everything inside of me is crying to be free. I want to live, really live. I want to enjoy all that this life has to offer. I want to be free from guilt and free from rules. There are too many rules and too many people that you canít please, no matter how hard you try. Christianity is like going swimming while wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants. You long to be free, but you canít, because you are bogged down with religion."
"Thatís part of the problem, Chad," said Commander Dave, finally able to speak. "You got religion; you didnít get Christianity."
"Huh?" Chad raised his eyebrows.
"Chad, you did the Ranger thing and the church thing. Indeed, you were good at it. But, you left Christ out of it. You donít have Jesus Christ living inside of you. You donít have any reverence for God; you have no understanding that you live in daily rebellion against the God who made the universe and everything in it. Chad, you never repented of your sin and turned to Jesus Christ as Lord; and you never placed your faith in Jesus as your savior. All you have is an empty form of religion, full of rules and ceremony, but lacking in substance. Like a shiny new sports car with a tank full of gas but no oil, it was only a matter of time until what little religion you had crashed around you."
"I guess itís partly my fault," Commander Dave continued, "since whatever insincere profession of faith you made, you did just to get my approval and get me off your back. Is that true?"
"Chad, Iím sorry. Because of this you have become a modern day example of 1 John 2:19, which says ĎThey went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going out showed that none of them belonged to us.í"
"Wait a minute!" Chad shouted, stopping his roller blades and facing Commander Dave. "Commander, itís not fair for you to talk to me this way about sin and rebellion against God; I just want to be free. Itís part of being an American. Even our Declaration of Independence says that we have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How can this be wrong?"
"Chad, most men will pursue life, liberty, and happiness apart from God. But, we learn in the scriptures that true life, liberty, and happiness are only found in Jesus Christ."
"Jesus wants to give us life," Commander Dave continued. "John 10:10 tells us that Jesus came, not only to give us life, but abundant life."
"Jesus wants to give us liberty. Do you feel like a captive, sometimes? In John 4:18 Jesus says that God has appointed him to proclaim liberty to the captives. And in Galations 5:1 Paul says that it was for freedom that Christ set us free."
"And, Jesus tells us how to be happy. Most of the words that start out as blessed in the Beatitudes can also be translated as happy."
"But Chad, a man should never seek these things apart from Christ. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:29 that whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for Jesus will find it. He goes on to say in Matthew 6:33 that we should seek first His kingdom and righteousness."
"Commander, I donít see how I can be free and still have to obey Jesus. Donít you see a contradiction, here?"
"Chad, were you free when you tried to steal that tape?"
"Sure I was free; I was making my own rules and living by them."
"No you werenít; you were living out the reality of a heart enslaved to sin. Romans 6:16 is clear about this. You are a slave to whatever you obey. If you obey sin, you are a slave to sin. If you obey righteousness, you are a slave to righteousness. Chad I submit that you are not free at all, whoa!"
Suddenly, Commander Daveís feet flew out in front of him, and he crashed down on his backside. Chad respectfully tried to muffle his laughter as he helped Commander Dave back to his feet.
"Commander Dave, I guess you shouldnít get so worked up while you roller blade. Anyway, donít worry about me; Iíll be okay. But for now, Iím committed to enjoying everything there is for a young boy, and part of that is spending a little time on the wild side."
"Chad, donít tempt God!" Commander Dave warned.
"And, regarding being a slave," Chad said, ignoring Commander Daveís warning, "I hear the guys calling me over to play volleyball. I think Iíll walk over and be their slave for a while."
Commander Dave shook his head sadly.
"Commander Dave, I know we donít agree on everything, but I hope we can still be friends."
"Weíre still friends, Chad. Have fun playing volleyball. Weíll talk again; call me anytime, day or night."
Chad waved goodbye as he walked over to the sandlot volleyball area.
"Hurry!" His friends shouted as he took off his roller blades and socks. They immediately made a place for him on the front line.
"Sin is so deceitful," Commander Dave thought out loud. "Right now, Chad is the perfect picture of health, and he thinks it will last forever. He has no awareness of the chains that bind him, chains that enslave him to sin, chains of his own making, chains that will someday drag him before the judgment seat of God and finally, to Hell itself."
"Dear God in heaven I beg you, please donít leave Chad where he is. Iíve done all I know to do. Youíre the God who changes the mind of the king. Make him understand how much he needs you. Please, I pray, change the heart of this boy."