I’ve always loved watching a live performance of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
Years ago, I had the opportunity to see it at the Omaha Community Playhouse and it was wonderful.
The story, set in England during the early 1800s, is about a miser named Ebenezer Scrooge.
This selfish, old guy hates Christmas and has little regard for his fellow man.
But one Christmas Eve, he is visited by three spirits. The spirits include the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, along the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.
All four work in tandem to show Scrooge where’s he’s gone off track — and how vital it is that he change his ways.
I was thinking about that story recently, when a scene came to mind.
It takes place early in the story.
By this point, grumpy Scrooge is sitting in his dressing gown, eating his gruel before he plans to go to bed.
That’s when Marley makes a spooky, late-night visit. Scrooge doesn’t believe what he’s seeing and, at first, attributes the sight to food poisoning.
But Marley is going to make his case.
Marley says he’s been wandering the earth with a chain as punishment for his sins.
And this is one unusual chain.
It’s made of cash boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and heavy purses wrought in steel.
Marley says this is the chain he forged in life — link by link of his own free will.
This is mystifying to Scrooge who tells Marley that he was a man of good business.
Marley roars that mankind was his business. His trade dealings were just a drop of water in the ocean of his business.
Those are great lines and something that should make us all think about how we spend our time and resources.
But this isn’t a column designed to produce guilt. Quite the contrary.
I was thinking about Marley’s chains, because I believe — figuratively speaking — many of us carry around our own chains.
Our chains may not consist of cash boxes and ledgers, but they are a burden.
We may carry chains of guilt, regret, unforgiveness, bitterness, fear, doubt and despair — all as sad and wearisome as what Marley’s ghost hauled around.
Yet here’s where we can learn something precious from a Biblical situation that occurred centuries ago.
It happened in a city called Philippi.
At this point in time, the Apostle Paul and his sidekick Silas are busy spreading the Gospel when a female slave — who earns lots of money for her owners by fortune telling — shouts that the two men are telling people the way to be saved.
Why would Paul and Silas mind the extra publicity?
Probably because they know this poor woman is a slave in more ways than one. Not only is she being used by her owners for profit, but she’s got a spirit in her.
Paul commands the spirit to come out of the woman.
Realizing they’ve lost an easy way of making money, the slave’s owners drag Paul and Silas into the marketplace before some magistrates.
The slave owners claim Paul and Silas are throwing the city into an uproar by advocating unlawful customs.
A crowd joins the attack and the magistrates order that Paul and Silas be stripped and beaten. Once they’re severely flogged, they’re thrown into prison.
The jailer is ordered to guard them carefully. So he puts them in the inner cell and fastens their feet in stocks.
Can you imagine being severely beaten and thrown into a dark prison that probably smelled horrible?
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In the midst of such misery, who could blame Paul and Silas if they became sad or discouraged?
But at about midnight, the men are praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners are listening.
Suddenly, there is such a violent earthquake that the prison’s foundations are shaken.
The prison’s doors fly open and everyone’s chains come loose.
Wait a minute.
Did you catch that?
The chains came loose.
With all the commotion, the jailer awakens — and when he sees the open prison doors — pulls out his sword and prepares to kill himself because he thinks the prisoners have escaped.
“Don’t harm yourself. We’re all here,” Paul shouts.
The jailer calls for the lights, rushes in and falls trembling before Paul and Silas.
He brings them out.
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” he asks.
Paul and Silas have a ready answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved — you and your household.”
The jailer washes their wounds. He and his household are baptized. The jailer brings Paul and Silas into his own house and gives them a meal.
Then the Scriptures record that: “He was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God — he and his whole household.”
As I read this, I’m amazed by Paul and Silas, who could have succumbed to despair as they sat in that prison.
Yet they were the freest people in the whole place.
Because they’d found a freedom in Christ that far exceeds anything else on this earth.
Christ died a brutal death on a cross to save us from our sins. The Scriptures record that we are no longer slaves to sin and death. Those who believe Jesus died and rose again, repent (ask forgiveness and turn from their sins) and ask Christ to come into their hearts can go to heaven.
After that, I encourage people to read their Bibles, pray daily and start attending a scripturally sound church where they can grow.
I was 16 years old when I prayed that prayer and began serving Christ. I later fell away, but I found that the Lord has a way of bringing us back as we seek him.
Life on this earth can be rough — whether you’re a mean, old miser or someone who could use some financial generosity.
And any of us — Christian or not — can find ourselves carrying chains forged out of pain and hardship.
But that’s where I believe we can find encouragement through stories like the one about Paul and Silas.
They saw Christ as their source of strength and amazing things happened when they began singing praises to God.
Last week, I had some loved ones on my mind when I realized that one of the best things I could do was to pray for them — and sing.
As I did, I could picture Bible stories like the one about King Jehoshaphat sending singers out before a battle — which God won in a mighty way for them.
I imagined what it must have been like for Moses as Aaron and Hur held up his arms, while the Israelites were fighting their enemies. God helped the Israelites win an astounding victory.
And I pictured Paul and Silas — two peaceful guys who fought pain and discouragement and ended up with earth-shaking results.
God really can rock our world in wonderful ways and, as we seek his help, he can help us drop those miserable chains and find peace.
It’s enough to make even a once-crabby-old man smile.
Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly spiritual column.