Ten years ago, God was doing some amazing things in our lives. (He still is!) Branches had just been born. We were given a building to use rent free while we got off the ground. God was already bringing counselors to us that are still with us today. Doris and I were watching this amazing miracle of recovery. I had written a book. Josh was married to beautiful Jennifer. It was just a great time.
One afternoon Doris called me in tears, the good kind. She had been playing the piano at home and God had given her a vision. Now, we grew up Nazarene. We don’t have visions. If we have a vision it was usually bad pizza the night before. But in this instance, God gave Doris a vision. She saw men and women praising God in wonderful worship. Their hands were raised, the music was powerful, and then several began telling their story of how God has set them free from addiction, depression, shame, and their past. As some were telling their stories, others were being set free, chains were falling off, hearts were being healed. It was a clear and incredible picture. Doris got up from the piano and went into my office. She picked up her current devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest and read Oswald Chambers, “If God gives you a vision, you must act on it.” That’s when she called me in tears and said, “God wants us to do this thing.”
We came up with the name Simply Free because it was about being testifying to, and being, set free. And because it was supposed to be free. (Man, I wish God would give us a vision called, You Are Going to Be Filthy Rich!) The building that we were using had a room that would hold forty people or so. We decided to send out an email to everyone we knew, inviting them to Simply Free. Within a few days, SIX HUNDRED people had registered to come to the first Simply Free. We had a conference with a place not big enough, no speakers, no program, no musicians. God began to work. We started to meet people that had amazing stories. Mike Bivins was in my Bible Study group. He and his wife, Debby, told us their story of healing from the past. We met Robert and Joan Collier who had a glorious story of how God healed them from pain and despair. We met Jonas and Anne Beiler who talked about forgiveness in ways we were not used to. On and on, people began to connect with us. Before long, there was a list of speakers and break-out leaders that was mind blowing. And until Doris said yes to this vision we knew almost none of them.
I stopped one day at a church around the corner from where we lived. We had never attended there. I had never met the pastor. I sat in his office and asked if we could use his building for a whole weekend, bring in six hundred people we did not know, and not pay anything. He said, “Sure.” (By the way, that is the same building where we attend church now and it will host Simply Free this year! Cool, huh?)
Then God began to send people. A couple called from Texas and said they had heard about Simply Free and needed to come. They were a great help that first year, greeting people at the door, helping to set up chairs. They went home after Simply Free, praising God for what He had done in their lives. A few months later, he had a massive heart attack and died. He was in his early 40’s. We got an email from a lady in England that was going to be in the States. She heard about Simply Free and wanted to come. The best phone call was from a young adult woman in our town. She had seen a flyer, knew nothing about it, but felt like God was telling her to get in touch with us and come. She was a Licensed Professional Counselor in town. (Do you see where this is going?) Her name was Tracey Robison. It still is. She is our Clinical Director at Branches and oversees twenty-five counselors in four offices. Pretty neat, huh?
Simply Free has been a passion for Doris ever since, and God has done miracle after miracle, both to bring it about each year, and while it is taking place. At the beginning of each year we have no program, no speakers, no musicians. And each year God brings new and different people into our path. Doris and I will look at each other and say, “This is a Simply Free story.” This year Mike Torres, from my Bible Study Group is going to tell how God delivered him from drugs and prison and set him free. Our pastor, Eddie Turner, has preached many times about how God helped him overcome depression. Doris and I said from the very first, “Simply Free.” And, our own son, Jacob and his beautiful wife, Allison, are going to tell how God helped then get through grief and great loss to find each other, and to give meaning to their sorrow. It will be an amazing weekend.
Simply Free starts tomorrow night at 6:30 at Family Worship Center in Murfreesboro. The music will be uplifting, the testimonies will be out of this world, the break-out sessions will change you. And the whole thing will be Simply Free. If you can’t make the whole weekend (it ends Saturday at 3) then come for whatever part you can. If you can’t make any of it, pray hard for us. God is still doing amazing things in our lives, and in yours. We want to celebrate together.
Oh, by the way, what did Jesus say? Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:30-36) That is pretty much it. Simply Free.
Thank you for all your very kind words and comments over these 40 Days. You ALMOST make it worthwhile to get up at 3 every morning and write. ? Actually, you inspire me and your stories help shape mine. Tomorrow we will wrap this up. I am thinking about a quick advent series but first I’m going to sleep in for a few days.