Why We All Need To Be Put In Prison

One of the unexpected blessings of this past year and a half of waiting has been the opportunity to serve at the local prison as a volunteer. It basically has consisted of talking with the guys on Monday nights about whatever is on their minds or some passage of Scripture that they are confused about, to preaching some Sundays during their church time. These men have been such a blessing to me--to see how the Lord has used their sinful choices to bring them to a realization of their need for the Gospel and how they are so faithfully living out of the reality of that Good News in the most difficult of places.

This past Sunday was my last opportunity to spend time with these men. When we first got there we were delayed a little bit. We were immediately hurried to an out of the way break room. One of the officers explained that they had a medical emergency on the sixth floor and were in the process of transporting the man to the hospital. We waited about fifteen minutes and then were allowed to go up to our floor. When we got up to the fourth floor, we found out that the man who had just been taken to the hospital had tried to hang himself. Thankfully, he was not successful. It was a reminder of the difficulties these men face in prison and the miracle it is that there can be any hope for anyone in a place like that.

However, as we were waiting to go upstairs, one of the other volunteers shared an interesting testimony with us. He shared with us about the church service at the prison that he had led during the previous week. To begin the service he had asked one of the gentlemen to pray before they began. The man stood up and looked visibly distracted and hesitant. He then turned around and walked back a few rows to another gentleman. He gave this man a manly hug and proceeded to ask for his forgiveness for some offense that was between the two of them. As the volunteer described it, the two reconciled and there was a tangible heaviness that left the room.

What were these two men doing? They were living out of the reality of the Gospel and its implications. They were actually living what they read in the Gospels:

"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

"And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25)

This man could not pray with a clean conscience until he obeyed what the Lord has said by going and seeking the forgiveness and reconciliation of the one he had offended. Amazing!

Let me share one more story and then I'll make my point. Once we got up to the floor, I had the opportunity to preach. I preached from Mark's account of Jesus' life, specifically Peter's denial of the Lord. I made two points from this account in Peter's life. First, was the truth that we are more wicked than we can ever imagine. Secondly, God's grace is more amazing than we can ever comprehend. One of the applications that I made concerning the second point was to look at what was Peter's solution to his failure/sin of denying the Lord.

I made it clear what it was that Peter did not do. On the heels of his denial, he did not attempt to do more for the Lord to make up for what he had done wrong. Upon realizing his sin of denying the Lord, just as Jesus had told him he would, he did not immediately attempt to get back into the Lord's good graces by running around and telling everyone that he was a follower of the Lord. He wept bitter tears. The solution to his sin as a believer was not to go out and do more to be approved by God, but rather his solution was to rest in what the Lord was about to do for him on the cross--bearing that sin of denial in Peter's place.

Often times when we sin and disobey the Lord we make the wrong move of immediately getting up and "doing more" to "get back right with God" and in doing so completely bypass the Gospel. And so if we have sinned by not sharing the Gospel like we should, we start sharing it like crazy, thinking that our obedience is what will please the Lord and solve the problem of our disobedience. However, our immediate action should not be to go out and do more, but rather to rest in what the Lord has already done for us in his death and resurrection. The solution for our sin as a believer is the same as the solution for our sin as an unbeliever--the Gospel. It is that truth that guards us from drifting into legalism and keeps us living in the Gospel of grace and faith, the fruit of which is the good works we do.

Well, after I finished preaching, one of the younger men came up to me to let me know how much he appreciated the message and he then shared with me how the Lord used His Word to minister to the needs of his heart. This young man has a sad story at first glance. He is in prison because of the sin of revenge. A friend of his was murdered by another group of people. In a fit of anger, seeking justice, he attempted to get revenge on those who had taken the life of his good friend. In attempting to do so, he ended up getting shot and almost dying.

The Lord used this tragedy and sin in his life to bring him to the point of seeing his need for a Savior and the Lord graciously saved him through the Gospel. His life has radically changed and he is hungry for the Word. He shared with me after the preaching that he found out the week before that he was getting nine years in prison for his crime. He explained how he had been struggling with the sentencing. He was expecting a lighter sentence. The reason he was expecting a lighter sentence, in his own words, was because of how his life was so much better than it had been. He was "doing" all the things that the Lord expected him to do. And he felt like it was the doing of those good things that would please the Lord, the evidence of which would be something less than nine years in prison.

He told me that the Lord used His Word that morning to remind him that it was the Gospel that was what pleased the Lord and nothing that he did or ever would do. He could never do enough to please the Lord. It was the Gospel that he needed at his conversion and it was the Gospel that he needed now as a believer and that was the ground of his acceptance before the Lord and what made him pleasing in the eyes of the Lord.

So, what's the point of this post besides the amazing testimonies of the Gospel and its implications actually being displayed in God's people? The point is this: Why does it take going to prison to actually see followers of Christ living out of the realities of the Gospel? Why is it that the Gospel is being displayed in some cases much more profoundly by a group of men who are in prison for murder, manslaughter, theft, and a host of other sins than those of us sitting in the pews of our nice comfortable church buildings each week?

Is the answer really that when we pray at church on Sunday mornings that there is never a person praying who has some unresolved sin between himself and another brother or sister in the Lord? Is the answer really that we sit under such anemic preaching that there is nothing about the message to discuss and encourage one another with at the end of the service or throughout the week?

Or is the answer something much more embarrassing and shameful then we want to admit? The best case scenario is that we are just too busy, more concerned about getting to lunch than getting into each others lives with the Gospel. The worst case scenario is that it may be that we just don't really understand the magnitude of the Gospel, much less live lives that have actually been changed by it.


Getting the Grace We Need, Not the Grace We Want

Paul Tripp in What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage:

"I really do think that there are moments in our marriage when we are crying out for grace, not recognizing that we are getting it. We are not getting the grace of relief or the grace of release, because that is not the grace we really need. No, what we are getting is something we desperately need, the uncomfortable grace of personal growth and change. With the love of a Father, your Lord is prying open your hands so that you will let go of things that have come to rule your heart but will never satisfy you. With the insight of a seasoned teacher, he is driving you to question your own wisdom so that you will find your understanding and rest in his. With the skill of the world's best counselor, God is showing you the delusions of your control so that you will take comfort in his rule. With the gentleness of a faithful friend he is facing you toward the inadequacies of your own righteousness so that you find hope in his."


Relieving Your Spouse's Burden of Living With You

Paul Tripp writes in What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage :

"There is probably never a day when we don't sin against one another in some way. So, it is vital to recognize that your spouse has to live with a person like you--still struggling with temptation and sin and still failing in some way. And you should find joy in relieving the burden of living with you by seeking your spouse's forgiveness whenever he or she has been impacted by your failure."

Husbands, let's be sure to lift the burden of living with someone like us for our wives today.


Why Global Missions Is Good For Local Saints

John Piper gives a good reminder/challenge as to why a global passion for the lost is good for us in our local churches. Be sure to read the post here.


Wave #4: Persuading pastors that a passion for the global glory of God is good for the saints at home.

If the light of your candle can shine ten thousand miles away, it is burning very bright at home. What kind of Christians do we want our churches to breed? Consider: Apathetic Christians, who spend most of their discretionary time in worldly entertainment, seldom pray, weep, or work for the reaching of the perishing peoples of the world. Do not coddle them. Confront them. Tell them to get a life. PG13 videos every other night leaves them spiritually powerless and empty. They need a cause big enough to live for. And die for. Wave #4 would make world missions the flashpoint for thousands of awakened Christians.


Living Psalm 50:15

"...Call on me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me."

For the past two years we have been calling on the Lord in our "day of trouble." Now to be very honest, compared to what others in this world are going through--some of whom we know personally--our day of trouble has not been that bad and could have always been worse. But two years of unemployment is a troublesome time and two years of being a pastor without a people to shepherd has it's difficult moments to say the least.

And by God's grace we have been calling on the Lord for these past two years. And I do mean "by God's grace." We take no credit for any faithfulness on our part these past two years. We know that just like Jesus prayed for Peter that his faith would not fail and it didn't, so He has been praying for us--that our faith would not fail and by His grace it has not.

And so by God's grace we have been calling on the Lord for these past two years. And He has been faithfully delivering us. But as is always the case, He uses means. He has been faithfully delivering us through unbelievably loving and self-sacrificing parents, for which we are thankful. He has been delivering us through loving and generous family members, for which we are so appreciative. He has been delivering us through long-time friends who have seen a need and reached out to meet it, for which we are humbled. He has been delivering us through the most loving and generous church family (led by a one of a kind pastor) we could have ever asked to be a part of this past year and a half, for which we do not know how to express our gratitude and whom leaving will be more difficult than we could have ever imagined a year and a half ago.

And now He is delivering us through answering the prayers we have been praying for over two years. This past Sunday, Cross Roads Baptist Church, voted unanimously to call me as their next pastor. And so in just a few short weeks, our family will be moving to Georgia and beginning a new chapter in our life, a long awaited chapter. And we are very excited to see what the Lord has in store for us, the church family, and the wider community in which we will be serving. We can't wait to get more attached to such a loving congregation that is already being so kind to us and whom we are already growing to love and appreciate.

But as I think back over these two years, I think there was something greater still that the Lord was delivering us from and it took these past two years to "learn" it. It was through this "day of trouble" that the Lord was delivering us from ourselves or more specifically me. He has been delivering us from the idol of self, from looking to ourselves as the answer to our problems. He has been delivering us from the pride of not casting all our anxieties upon Him because He cares for us. That is exactly what anxiousness is--pride. Humility is casting all your anxieties on the Lord and trusting Him to work them out in His time and His way. Pride is being anxious, worrying about all that you are faced with and trying to figure out how to work it out in your time and your way.

But, if your idols are like mine they tend to come back to life. Those idols--especially the idol of self-sufficiency--are constant battles we must face every day until that day when we will no longer walk by faith, but by sight. And so as we move into this new chapter of our life there will be a daily temptation with the issues we face to put our confidence in ourselves and believe the lie that we can handle and solve whatever trial we face. There will be the temptation during this time of "Oh, I can breath easier now, this trial is over" phase and beyond to look at myself and see me as the reason things are "going so well." There is pride and self-sufficiency rearing its ugly head once again. I can no more maintain the relative times of ease than I could solve the relative times of difficulty. To believe otherwise is simply the fruit of a justified, in the process of being sanctified, still waiting to be glorified soul.

And so I pray, that as we have lived Psalm 50:15 over these last couple of years, repeating this pattern of crying out to the Lord and experiencing His deliverance, we have also brought Him glory in both our perseverance and in response to His deliverance. I pray that we have shown His value, worth, and weightiness. I pray that our lives and the trials He has gifted to us have been used by the Lord as His telescope, through which others could look through and see the beauty and magnificence of our God.

But, as I mentioned above, I know my own heart. And I know that over these past two years there have been more than a few times where my heart has been faithless, full of anxiety, trusting in self instead of trusting in the Lord. And I know that in the future there will be more than a few times where my heart will be faithless, full of anxiety, trusting in self instead of trusting in the Lord. And for those times in the past, now, and in the future we cry out to the Lord for forgiveness and cleansing. And there is no doubt that He has, is, and will deliver us. He will deliver us because His Son carried the sin of my anxious, prideful, self-sufficient heart to Calvary and nailed it, along with His flesh to a rugged piece of wood. There His blood has covered my sin of pride, anxiousness, self-sufficiency, and so much more.

But He did not stay dead. He walked out of that tomb of death. And in walking out of that tomb alive from the dead, He proved two things. First, He was a suitable sacrifice. He was spotless with no sin of His own. He was never anxious. He was never prideful. He was never faithless. He was perfect. He is my perfection. He is my righteousness. And secondly, because He was a perfect, sinless sacrifice, His death in our place for our sins has been accepted by the Father. We are now righteous and accepted because of His righteousness and acceptance. It is the substance of this truth, this Gospel, this Good News, that we cry out to the Lord in faith, trusting that He will deliver us because of this Good News, and the result will be that He receives the glory.

And so I pray, that as we have, so may we continue to call out to Him in the day of trouble (whether it be the trouble of our trials or the trouble of our sin) with full confidence that He will deliver us and we will glorify Him.