May 12, 2012


Sometimes when I'm bothered by something, it takes a few weeks of rolling around in my sub-conscious to become clear as to what exactly is disturbing me and why. Once it get sorted out in there, I find it easy to put into words.

A case in point: Several weeks ago, I became interested in starting up a prison ministry at my church. There was a small bit of initial interest from a few people that had been e-mailed about it, and a few more ladies interested in an ministry to help keep kids and incarcerated parents connected. What really disturbed me was one response that basically said "Prisoners have everything they need provided for them, you should do something for the families." Frankly, that response sickened me, but I do understand where that kind of opinion comes from.

We're coming to grips as a society that it isn't cool/nice/Christ-like to go around hating on groups like minorities. gays, other religions, etc. The only group left in America that it's socially acceptable to dislike is prisoners/ex-convicts. After all, they deserve to be punished for their crimes, right? Well, yes and no. Criminals deserve to be locked away for the crimes they commit, and being locked up in a penitentiary brings an entire sub-culture of punishing de-humanization aside from the simple loss of freedom. But are they deserving of the punishment of ostracization from a church of people that are connected not only by faith and belief, but ostensibly by our common redemption and restoration? If they are, then why in the world would the Bible tell us to visit and remember those who are imprisoned?

Before you jump to the "Hebrews was talking about people imprisoned for being Christian" argument, ask yourself why Jesus said, "I was in prison, and you came to me"? Trying to explain that away as a prophetic statement only puts some severe limits on Christ's teachings, and the hugeness of the love that He showed to us, and that we strive to achieve for Him.

Ministering to those that are imprisoned is about a lot more than simply winning some wayward souls to Christ, it's about bringing His love to life today. Is it an acceptable thing to say that all are welcome at the Lord's Table to share in Holy Communion, yet not take His supper to those that can't come to the table in our churches? Is it Christ-like to speak of our redemption and reconciliation to God while having an attitude that some people, by their actions, are not good enough to be redeemed and reconciled to us as church congregations? Whenever we, in our hearts, raise a boundary that hinders other people from receiving God's (and our) love, then we tread dangerously into the territory of "Judge not, lest you be judged yourself."

Are prisoners really provided with everything they need? They may be fed, clothed, housed, and educated, but are they being provided with Christ's gospel of love and redemption? Are they seeing God's love brought to life in the actions of their fellow man? Are they getting the message that some people truly do live the way God wants us to, and gaining the desire to also live as He would have us?

Whenever we reach out to those that are considered "unclean", "wicked", or "criminal", we change inside, and we become a vessel that can bring the living waters of change to those whom Christ seeks. When we reach out to Him in His distressing disguises, He reaches into our hearts and changes our lives. He frees us from the prisons in our own hearts.

Some days I still feel like Diogenes, walking about town at noontime with my lamp and blindfold. But, more and more each day, I'm striving to grasp the depth and fullness of Christ's instruction to the Pharisees, "Go and learn what this means, "I DESIRE MERCY, NOT SACRIFICE."

And so, I keep learning and seeking as He removes my blindfold...

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