Monday, September 24, 2012
I am back from prison. There was a time that the thought I would ever look forward to going to prison would have been perceived as craziness. As this Kairos came to a close and it was time for us to leave I found myself wanting to stay in prison. I would have gladly accepted a prison uniform and a cell to live in. Why? Why would I want to be locked up in that prison? Because of love. The Love of God that reaches out to all those lost and in need. During these last 4 days we have watched hearts break and lives change as the seeds of God’s word were planted, watered, nourished, and sprang up in new life. When a plant is new, just breaking the surface seeking light as it sends out roots for sustenance, it is at its most delicate and vulnerable stage. Without water at this critical time it can quickly die and I have learned on my farm that these young shoots are also a favorite delicacy to the wildlife and insects that would enjoy consuming them.
I understand deeply the danger for plants at this stage and I understand also, from experience, that the same danger exists for those men whom we have had the privilege to touch. Jesus described this well in His parable of the Sower. Here is the explanation of the parable that he gave his disciples as found in Mark chapter 4.
“The farmer sows the word. 15 Some people are like seed along the path, where the word is sown. As soon as they hear it, Satan comes and takes away the word that was sown in them. 16 Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the word and at once receive it with joy. 17 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 18 Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; 19 but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful. 20 Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop--thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown."
During the 4 days we got to know the men at our table and often those who sat at some of the other tables as God guided those who were best able to relate to or help specific situations. I watched as hard hearts softened and walls built through a lifetime of pain came tumbling down. There were “hardened criminals” who broke down crying in front of others, something that normally they would never allow because of the tough guy front that is presented to everyone.
Now that we are gone I know that the enemy will work hard to destroy all the good that was planted, and that is why I wanted to stay. We will be back in a week and I am anxious to see how these men are doing. For some, the ones who grew up in church and had fallen away, it won’t be as hard because they already have a foundation of understanding things of God. But for others, the new baby Christians, it will be much harder. Jesus described the event of becoming a Christian as being “born again”. This is a true way to label what happens when we bow before Almighty God and submit our life to Him. At that moment all the old things pass away because God forgives and chooses to forget every sin committed, and all things become new. At that moment we are like a little child that needs to learn the basics of life.
A baby needs to be cared for and protected, for it is in many ways helpless. So it is for a man who has lived the hard wild rebellious life that resulted in prison, but then decides to change his direction. However it can be much more difficult for while God has forgotten his sin, he doesn’t. A new born baby has no memory of things past and the whole world is genuinely new to it but for those who have already lived a life this is not so. For them they must relearn, or reprogram how to think and react. It is not an easy process and requires much help, guidance, support, and understanding.
There is a good community of Christians in the prison, who can help with this learning how to live for God process. But, just as it is in the free world, there will be problems and conflicts within that community. This is a sad reality that Jesus often spoke about during his time here on earth. We have seen and experienced it ourselves in many ways since I returned to God. People who call themselves Christian but despise, judge, or look down on their brothers and sisters in Christ. When you look down on another it shows that in your mind you think you are better than they are.
One time the disciples came to Jesus and asked “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”. I suspect that part of the reason they asked that had to do with their individual desire to be seen as better than others, to be exalted with high position. Jesus’ response was to call a “little” child and have it stand among them. This is found in Mathew 18.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!
The reason I put the word little in italics is because in the original Greek the word is “Ta”. Translators often have a difficult time with just how to interpret a word and this is one of those instances. A “Ta” child, during this time period, was the word used to describe children who were mentally deficient or challenged. It was how a child gvc born with Down’s syndrome was described. These children, in the eyes of their society and through the teaching of the Pharisees and religious leaders, were less than human. They were considered a blight on society and not deserving the respect even given to a dog.
The Pharisees taught that these children were cursed of God and did not deserve any protection or consideration at all. They even said that it was impossible to insult them because they would not remember the insult 45 minutes later, so it was ok to treat them as awful as you wanted without any worries regarding how God would react. But Jesus, the son of God, the creator of life, and the one who will judge us all on that final day, had a different idea. If you have ever had the privilege of being around a child with Down’s syndrome you will have discovered a child without prejudice, a child that is often happy for no reason at all, totally unaware of how deficient they are.
These children were often used as slaves in the household. The job they were often relegated to was the one considered to be one of the least desirable and most demeaning of all, that of washing the feet as people entered a house. In Roman and pagan homes these children were often sex slaves, subjected to horrors we don’t want to even imagine. So in all the cultures of the time, these children were the least thought of. What was it Jesus said?
“unless you change and become like little (Ta) children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Think deeply about this my friends. These are the words of the Son of God, who will be your judge on that last day. He said that unless you become like that child you will NEVER enter the Kingdom of heaven. Understand that these children bore the insults, curses, and smacks upside the head of all around, yet remained, enduring much pain and suffering. Yet we find in church so many who are proud and defiant, confident of their spirituality and position with God as they despise in their heart those who are not as “spiritual” as they are.
I fear and pray for them every day. So many are blinded by their pride and a confidence that is false that they not only are unaware of their sin but when confronted with even a hint they are wrong react with indignation and anger. Just as the Pharisees plotted to kill Jesus these people, often leaders in the church, plot to kill those who dare to challenge their sin. Oh, they don’t plot to physically kill them but to kill their reputation, their ministry, or anything else that can be done to reduce their influence to reveal the truth.
But it is not only those who challenge and threaten to expose the hypocrisy that receive the brunt of this disdain shown by those who are impressed with themselves but it is also all who don’t “measure up” to their standards or march along in step with them. Those in church who have weaknesses and visible faults are also targets of the spiritual elite. It is an unfortunate truth that those who find it important to be seen as spiritual leaders often find it beneficial to build themselves up by tearing down others. In the process of doing so they are unaware that instead of pleasing God they have actually become enemies of God and are doing the work of the devil as they proudly thump their chests and say “Look at me”.
So let us carefully consider the rest of what our Lord and judge said. "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 "Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!
Jesus said that if we welcome a “Ta” child in His name, we welcome Jesus. In Mathew 25, starting at verse 31, Jesus describes part of what will happen on Judgment Day. He said “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was naked and you gave me clothes, I was in prison and you visited me”. Those He was telling this to said “When did we see you hungry and feed you?” and repeated all the points Jesus made with the question of “when?”. Jesus said that whenever they did it to the LEAST of His children they did it to Him. The same held true for those who were found to be unworthy of entering the Kingdom, only their judgment was that they did not feed the hungry, visit the prisoners, provide clothes, or do anything for the LEAST of God’s children.
Jesus said “But if ANYONE causes one of these “TA” children to sin, or in other translations to “stumble” it would be better if they had a millstone hung around their necks and drowned. Think about this. What does it mean to cause them to sin? To be angry with your brother can be sin, to hate is sin, to not forgive is sin, and we know that there is a long list that qualifies as sin. If we, through our actions, cause someone else to sin then we bear the blame for that. What often seems to be forgotten in church is that our job as Christians is to lift up and help our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our duty before God is to build, not to tear down. If someone is in sin we are supposed to go to them in private and try to gently lead them in the right direction. Jesus is pretty clear about that in many places. Always He promotes communication, going to them and talking, showing the truth in love. Always our goal should be that when they stand before the Living God on judgment day they would be found pleasing to the Lord.
In this picture you can see the wheat I planted and weeds that are growing in the midst of it. Thus it is in the church
But there is the cold hard reality that this often doesn’t happen. It is nothing new. Mankind has always had this sin nature that raises its ugly head at every opportunity. There has always been the competition of brother against brother and the first murder in the Bible was a religious murder. Cain was jealous and angry with his brother, Abel, because God accepted Abel’s offering but wasn’t happy with Cain’s. Jealousy is an evil that runs deep, and it’s root is pride, the source of all sin. And thus it is in the churches of today. There is this undercurrent of competition, this pride in ones level of spirituality and of course a big part of that has to do with making sure everyone else can see how good and religious you are. Those who are caught up in this trap are blind to just how evil this is in the eyes of God. Remember again, Jesus said "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
I have work to do so must finish this. Had started out just to write about what has been going on and as often happens it turned into a Bible lesson. Ezekiel was a mighty prophet of God and as such was able to record many of God’s words. Those words are powerful and apply to not only the day they were given but even now, thousands of years later. In Ezekiel chapter 34 there is a prophecy specifically regarding the shepherds, those who are responsible to care for God’s people, whom we call pastors these days, but also it addresses those within the church, the sheep in the congregation so to speak.
" 'As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet? 20 " 'Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.
Why do I write these things? I am a watchman on the wall and write to give warning. I was raised from the dead and granted life again for this purpose, among others. God made it clear to me that if I do not blow the trumpet in warning then the blood of others will be on my head. It is never my desire to point fingers of blame but it is my desire for all to come to repentance and be washed clean of all their sin. There is no easy way to do this as no one likes having their faults exposed. In the parable of the wheat and tares Jesus made it clear that the wheat and tares are going to be growing up together in the church and the weeds (tares) would not be removed till the last day. There are reasons for this and one of them is to show who is true and who is not. I encourage all of you to be like a child, innocent of sin. I encourage you to work to build up those around you, to love them as much as you love yourself, or even more. And I remind all of you that there are no secrets with God. You may hide what you do and think from others but God knows your deepest thought. Purify your hearts, seek forgiveness and go to those who have hurt you, as well as those you have hurt and mend what has been broken. I love you and God loves you so much He sent His Son to die so that we can have life.