I went to jail today and saw a fellow church goer. I guess it is easy to assume that everyone who ends up behind bars is hardcore. That is what I used to think anyway. I always tell the women there that I watch way too much Locked Up Raw. But get this… there are ordinary people in jail. There are mamas, daughters, sisters, and aunts in there. There are real live people we run into on a daily basis at the grocery store, in social circles, and even church!
One of the jailers favorite lines to us used to be, “They didn’t get here by going to Sunday School you know”. Well, last week a girl that goes to my church just happened to be there and I thought about that jailer’s comment. I wonder what he would have said if I had replied to his usual remark of “They don’t get here by going to Sunday School” with “well one of em did”!
The first time I went into Prison to do ministry I met a nineteen year old that was serving close to twenty years for vehicular homicide. She looked like one of my daughters. I just had to thank GOD that has never happened to them or me for that matter! I am so ashamed to say I drove under the influence at that age and thought I had it under control. Looking back I think what an incredibly stupid choice that was! I was immature and thought I was invincible. When in reality I was just plain lucky. I can’t forget that girl even if I want to now. I had the opportunity to mature and realize the error of my ways. She has the next decade and then some to think about it. I’m not debating her sentence but do we just write her off? JESUS says to go after her. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn't he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” Luke 15:4
The nineteen year old I just mentioned is easy to justify not giving up on. So what about the others? The reality TV material? The murderers and the thieves? What about them? Matthew 5:44-47 says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.... If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” We are called to love even when it is hard to love.
My friend Sue was in Prison for eight years. She is mid fifties now. She lived hard, sold drugs, and committed arson. She definitely wasn’t in for going to Sunday School! People feared her. She was a presence and had respect in prison. Maybe not for the right reasons but she had a following... THE LORD had plans for her... “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared in advance that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) GOD changed her! Sue had a miraculous conversion, and because of the reputation and respect she had, women followed her to CHRIST. GOD knows what HE is doing! 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely”. We just have to follow HIS instructions and LOVE! LOVE them like HE loves us! “Three things will last forever--faith, hope, and love--and the greatest of these is love.”(1 Corinthians 13:13) Ironically, Sue did lead a Bible study in prison before her release. Now she works in a Transformation Home with women coming out of incarceration, addiction, and other broken situations. She is the perfect person for the job because she gets it! She can relate in a way that not everyone can.
Colossians 3:23 tells us, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” We can’t look at people and their offenses. Whether they deserve mercy or not. We have to keep our eyes on JESUS. Because HE changes hearts just in time. Just like HE did in HIS final moments, hanging on a cross between two criminals. One hurled insults at HIM and the other, even though he had nothing to offer JESUS, asked forgiveness saying, “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answered him, Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”(Luke 23:41-43)
It would be awesome if everybody “got it” right away. If we all came out of the womb as these perfect beings that never messed up. If we were all pristine and our lives played out perfectly like a Norman Rockwell painting. Yet we have this enemy, who “comes to steal, kill, and destroy.” (John 10:10) We want instant gratification, we chose the wrong path, we take the apple straight out of the serpent's hand. BUT GOD in HIS sovereignty, In HIS life giving blood poured out for us, washes us clean and uses our mistakes for HIS glory. So maybe everyone didn’t get where they are by going to Sunday school, but it doesn’t mean they can’t find their way there. With GOD all things are possible! “When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”