Friday, May 10, 2019 -
When I first met “C”, and he found out I was a believer, and why I was in prison, he quickly used me as a sounding board to ask questions he has about Scripture, and to run by me issues he’s dealing with. It wasn’t long after I came that he asked me, “When you’re out, you are going to keep up with me, aren’t you? You’re not going to forget about me, are you?” “C” has felt completely abandoned by his family, and truly grieves over that. And he grieves over their salvation. “C” became a believer in 2014 after hitting “rock bottom.” I’ve shared his testimony previously.
Another thing “C” asked me, shortly after I arrived last December, was what my impression of prisoners was now that I am one of them. He’s asked several times, “We’re not such bad people, are we?” “C” is here on a probation violation for keeping a gun in his mother’s home. For that, he got a 15-year prison sentence. Yet, he’s grateful, for it easily could have been a life sentence.
“C” has just been cleared to go to a camp until his sentence is up in 2028, and should be leaving this prison within six weeks. It will be hard to see him go.
He’s received one visit since 2014, and no birthday or Christmas cards or letters. It is so sad. But I wonder, even though his life has totally changed, how welcome will he be in our churches when he gets out of prison.
I say this with great concern. Chuck Colson, in his book Who Speaks for God, tells the story if a prisoner, like “C,” who came to Christ in prison. A pastor nearly 40 miles away from one of the most miserable penal institutions in the nation, where he was incarcerated, became interested and aided this formerly hardened con in his discipleship. The inmate became a spiritual leader in the prison and was granted sudden, unexpected release.
The man’s first call was to the pastor, his mentor, to whom he thought he was so close. The pastor exclaimed, “You’re out! Well, good luck – hope I’ll see you sometime.”
The inmate quickly got the message; he wasn’t welcome in that pastor’s church. It was one thing to be ministered to when tucked away in prison, but it was another to be welcomed into a “respectable” congregation. Colson said, “The church is the visible presence on the earth of the living, although invisible, Christ. But it is harder to tell inmates about the living Christ when they are confronted with locked doors or rebuke and rejection by Christ’s people.”
Colson spoke of another young man, who did just a short stint in prison after coming to the Lord, but his church also rejected him. His only recourse, he thought, was to go back to his old friends, and he soon was drawn back into the drug lifestyle.
I truly fear this same thing could happen to “C,” but I feel he is too far grounded in God’s Word to fall away. However, it may be up to the church, for he has already had so much rejection in his life. He asked me once, “What was the very worst thing that’s ever happened to you?” I thought for a while, and said, “Probably ending up here.” He thought that was incredulous, and so I asked him, “Well, what was the worst thing that ever happened to you?”
He said, “When I was 10 years old, one of my sisters, but not the youngest who was raising me at the time, came home and asked me to take a ride with her to visit someone. She took me to a guardian’s home and just left me there and walked away without saying a word.” The way he told me the story was heartbreaking.
I spoke with another man here in prison whom I shared Jesus with. He’s here for 10 years for having pornographic images of women on his computer; he claims he didn’t know they were under 18. He’d been very involved in church and ministry, but after his arrest, he was abandoned by the pastor and everyone else in the church. They all walked away from him, so he walked away from the Lord.
These people will be faced in eternity with their creator who will tell them, “I was in prison, but you did not visit me.” And they will inquire, “When, Lord?” and the Lord will remind them of their rejection of the prisoner who truly needed their help.
A month or so ago, I wrote about the revelation I believe God gave me after much soul-searching for solving the enormous recidivism rate – that being for churches or Christian ministries becoming responsible for rehabilitating prisoners in long-term residential programs in exchange for reduced sentences. But now, I wonder how many churches will really want to involve themselves with prisoners? They will ignore the fact that we as the church are to be like Jesus – to get out of our comfortable pews and go out to the highways and by-ways and call the worst of sinners to repent. That’s what Jesus did! But most churches today don’t want those people coming to know the Lord – because they might want to join their church – God forbid!
Colson tells of another incident many years ago, when New York City had 36,000 homeless people, but only shelters for 3,500. And so Mayor Koch suggested every house of worship in the city take responsibility for just 10 homeless people. There wasn’t a good reaction! The consensus was that the religious leaders needed “more time to study the proposal.” On that same day, will those same religious leaders respond to Jesus when He says in Matthew 25, “I was a stranger, and you did not invite me in,” “But Lord, you didn’t give us enough time to study the proposal!?”
As I’ve said before, the church tragically gave up its responsibility to care for the widows, orphans, and downcast of society to the government during the New Deal. Now, we all seem to be in favor of reducing the size of the government and cutting back “entitlement” programs and fixing the problem of recidivism. Yet the church seems reluctant to take back the role God gave them in the first place! The church is ready to pass off their responsibility to big government, yet most within its pews preach against that same big government. This is hypocritical! And not much different than the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees Jesus condemned.
It is time the church shows those in need we truly care for them, and when these desperate people learn that it’s genuine, they will listen to the gospel message. As Chuck Colson said, it should challenge the church to “spill out of our church offices, get up out of our pews, and go into the places of human need and respond as Christ commands.” With as little community outreach to truly down-and-out people we see today, it is no wonder the church has stagnated and completely lost its influence on our culture! The only solution to our national problems of decadence, crime, and other moral rot is Jesus Christ. But where is the church? How is it being salt and light today? Or has the salt completely lost its effectiveness because it has become too much like the world? The church today needs to repent of its sin and compromise and get on with the task of healing the ills in this nation through the gospel of Jesus Christ, beginning with those we would normally thumb our nose at or run from. It makes me wonder if Christ today would echo the same words He used in Matthew 23:23 with the church today: “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin; and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law; justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”