March 4, 2009

"Have You Reached a Verdict?"

Last week we were in prison again. And again the experience changed me.

We learned that one of the inmates—a man who’s so supportive of our ministry, who’s gentle disposition radiates Jesus, who if I met on the outside might invite over for dinner—had gone to trial and was found guilty. The verdict carries a life sentence.

Maybe he deserves the punishment delivered. I don’t know his history, the details of his crime or really anything about him. All I know is that when we gather to worship, he knows Jesus. And because of him, I know Jesus better.

It’d be so easy to go into the prison feeling superior, better than and more deserving. As hard as I am on myself, I still think I’m a pretty good person. In the scale we carry around in our heads—you know the one with people like Mother Theresa on top and Hitler on the bottom—I’d rate myself slightly above average. You’d probably rate yourself similarly. In fact, most people think they’re pretty good.

But, the question that pricks our insides isn’t if we’re good—it’s if we’re good enough. Years ago I spoke with a faithful church-attending friend on the topic of heaven and she rued, “That’s the one thing I worry about the most, whether I’m going to heaven or not. I just don’t know if I’ve been good enough.”

I’ve heard lots of people say their goal in life is to try to be a good person.

The thing is, that and four dollars will get you a latte at Starbucks. No one is good enough to build a path of holiness that leads to the God. No one. (Romans 3) That’s why Jesus came. To bridge the gap of our sinfulness and God’s holiness. The more we exchange our deficit and insufficiency for His glory, the further we travel into the heart of God.

Our goal isn’t “goodness” it’s godliness. And to reach that goal we must travel a one-way street named Jesus. There’s no other way. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:7)

This truth comes into sharp focus when we worship with the inmates. God quickly strips away any sense of superiority I bring. He reveals my good works and intentions as worthless rags. He prompts me to embrace my brokenness. My insufficiency. My weakness. And present them as a worthy offering.

When we’re in prison, we don't know the inmates' offenses and we see them with fresh eyes. I think God sees us the same way. I think when we accept Jesus and ask for forgiveness, God sees our heart, not our zip code, accomplishments, history, bank account or rap sheet. He makes us a new creation, pure and blemish-free. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

To God sin is sin. While I might want to see it otherwise, my sin is just as egregious to God as a mass murderer's. Even with my well-tended earthly resume, I’m no better or more worthy of God’s amazing gift of grace than anyone. Jesus’ blood covers us all the same.

It’s not about being a "good" person. It's not about going to church, giving financially, volunteering or living rightly. It’s not about believing that Jesus is the Son of God. (Even the devil in hell knows that.) It’s about believing IN Jesus and accepting His gift of the cross. It’s about confessing. Submitting. Obeying. Following. Loving.

It doesn’t matter how tarnished our past, when we humble ourselves enough to receive, we stand before Jesus, the judge, and he boldly declares us, “Not guilty!”


Anonymous said...

Kelli you are REALLY moving my heart for prison ministry. I LOVE reading your posts about your time in prison! Have you ever read any of Carol Kent's books about her son? I have been reading Corrie TenBoom's biographies about her time in prison and the ministry that God laid on her heart. It's all amazing, thank you for sharing.

Sue J. said...

It's one challenge to be part of a prison ministry. But then to plug into the lives there, and realize that their earthly consequences are very real and very tough....I'm sure you must have had a real emotional time of things.

Just when you think you've got you and this journey figured out....He's showing you a lot more!

Thanks for the insights today, and prayers for faith as God continues to mold and make you for His service!

Sassy Granny ... said...

Powerful thoughts, my friend. It makes me think of something I've heard: "The ground at the foot of the cross is level.", which means none of us stands higher or lower before God.

Some choices carry tough consequences. Thank God none of them, or those that make them, are beyond His reach.

Be blessed,

Anonymous said...

Kelli - This is BEAUTIFUL! Thank you! You have such a beautiful, true heart, always inspiring and leading us to Jesus.

Cheryl Barker said...

Wonderful post, Kelli. I love the ways you've said so many things here - how Jesus is the one-way street we need to follow, how God sees us with fresh eyes, how we can stand before Him one day and be declared "not guilty"... All I can say is "Praise Him!"

Lori said...

"When we’re in prison, we don't know the inmates' offenses and we see them with fresh eyes. I think God sees us the same way."

Oh Kelli, I love what you wrote here. How often do I find myself thinking I surely must look better in God's eyes than so & so... We at all times struggle with that "superiority" complex don't we.

Our prayer should always be that we see others with the same eyes that God sees them. Eyes of nonjudgment and love.

Thank you for another great post and for the work you continue to do in the ministry to prisoners!! God bless!!

JerryLyn said...

Kelli, I'm a processor, so wanted to think and pray through this before I responded. A few years ago I was involved in a letter writing ministry to prisoners. Quite by accident, I was given the address of "Son of Sam", the notorious serial killer in the NY area. His letter to me of God saving him and his amazing ministry in prison since he found Christ, is still one of the most amazing faith stories I know. He ended the letter by saying he as praying for me! And this post also reminds me that we are all held in chains and prisons of one kind or another at times. God is the only way for all the darkness I have known and I'm grateful that He has drawn me to Him to love Him more every day. And you are right, knowing we ALL sin and fall short of His glory is a humbling understanding. I remember that as I went through my divorce. God put on my heart that with all the pain that was caused by my husband, I was a sinner, too. And truly, God loved Him just as He loved me. That was the understanding that allowed me to walk the path to forgiveness. God is amazing!

Chatty Kelly said...

I'm glad God forgets our pasts whether big or small. I too am a sinner with a past, but Jesus love me just the same. Amen.

Scott B said...

I was actually thinking of posting a blog about this myself, but you did it better than I possibly could.

Of the 90 or so men that come through the doors each week, there are about a dozen that I have come to know, if not by name, by sight and by personality. Chris is one of the few that I have actually gotten to know by name. He's always in the front and he always seems more concerned about how I'm doing, than what his circumstances are.

If I've said it once, I've said it a dozen times: Sometimes I feel guilty because I walk out of the facility feeling as if I've gotten back more than I gave.

God Bless

Irritable Mother said...

Yes, Kelli, yes!
It's hard sometimes for us to imagine our "refined" sin could be as offensive to God as a criminal's deadly sin. But it is.
And we may wonder, How could God forgive "THAT"??? But He can, and He does - because it was the blood of Jesus that was spilled for all of us, and for everything. He is THAT big and THAT good and THAT powerful.
Sometimes I can't wrap my little mind around His amazing grace, but I trust Him!

Carol said...

I loved hearing about this. I can so relate to the being changed every time you visit the prison. Thanks for introducing yourself and your blog to me. I will be back. God bless! :)
Carol @ sheep to the right