Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Freedom - Part II

Sunday night a group of people parted ways whose lives will never be the same - ever!

A bunch of people from "the outside" left the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility to head back to their families, to their friends, to their jobs as people whose hearts were changed and lives will never be the same.

They got to go home to their wives and children waiting up for them. They got to go back to work on Monday morning, to their golf leagues and vacations and all the other stuff that "free" people get to do - but I contend that none of those things will ever look the same, that they will never be enjoyed the same as they were last Wednesday prior to entering the prison.

On the contrary, the inmates at FDCF said goodbye to their brothers on the outside and returned to the prison population, full of the Holy Spirit with hearts changed and burning for Jesus Christ. At least many of them were.

They were thrust back into their cells, their units and the yard - where the reality of their environment is anything but freedom - at least the way the world would define freedom - to live the life that Christ is calling them to live. They were hurtled back into prison life, many of them free from the chains that have bound them for years, but also free from the love of the guys on the outside who were there for three-and-a-half days to share Jesus Christ with them.

Well, maybe.

If the other guys that left those prison walls on Sunday night are at all like me (and I know that they all are), they haven't been able to get these guys out of the minds or off their hearts. The move of the Holy Spirit inside those walls this weekend was an amazing thing to see.

The power struggle, signs of infallibility and toughness that Thursday afternoon showed were replaced on Saturday night by 40 inmates, 15 volunteers from the inside and the 15-20 guys from the outside - arms around each others shoulders swaying t0 the music and praising God.


It's an image that will never be replaced. So is the healing service for Rob. So is the testimony of the 33 year inmate who has done time for 15 years who stood before his brothers in blue and told them that their story doesn't have to be his - that Jesus Christ is the way to freedom, to staying out of prison once they get out of prison. Baring his soul, this inmate was a sign of hope, of freedom for us all.

Simply stated, I am blown away at how amazing our God is.

On Thursday afternoon, God put two inmates in particular in my sight. Two guys that he wanted me to keep my eye on, I guess. The first left Thursday night and didn't return, but the other inmate (who had just spent three weeks in the hole) stuck it out.

We only have one chance to make a first impression - and his was not a particularly strong one. But he remained, and was in my line of sight all weekend long. I confess that I steered clear of him when I probably should have approached him, but I managed to pray for him on a couple of occasions, and watched as the walls continued come tumbling down from around him.

From a stone cold, mischievous appearance to one of softening in just four days.

On Sunday, during the final talk of the weekend, my friend Joel had everyone's attention - including mine. He was preaching perseverance, telling his own story and his own struggles and what it looks like to live for Christ.

I was a bawling mess (surprise, surprise for those who know me). Ten minutes after he was done and the guys were discussing the talk, I was still a basket case. Rob comforted me with a pat on the back and I tried to pull myself together, but was going back over the piece Joel read at the end of his talk when I got a slap on the knee.

"You all right?" I was asked.

"Yeah, I'm OK."

"Life's hard sometimes, isn't?" I was asked.

"Yeah, it can be, I guess."

- pause -

"My daughter was born since I've been in here and my mom was killed in a motorcycle accident since I've been in here. I didn't get to go to her funeral."

It's him, the guy God placed in my way the first minutes I stepped foot into the prison.

HE is comforting and ministering to ME!


"I'm so sorry," I said. "I am so sorry."

"But wait," I said. "What are you doing? God put you in front of me at the very beginning of this weekend and now YOU are ministering to ME? That isn't how this is supposed to work."

I actually said that.

But that is how cool God is.

It's the moving of the Spirit blessing people. Those from the outside blessing those from the inside and vice-versa.

It is so awesome that the God of the universe, the maker of heaven and earth, gives us a glimpse into his power and might by blessing us in while in willing service in His name.

I can't get those guys out of my mind or off my heart, and so while we will likely never see one another again this side of heaven and we have been thrust back into our individual environments, we have not parted ways.

Ecclesiastes 4:10 tells us "If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!"

Petitioning Christ Jesus on the behalf of those on the inside is something that will continue for a long, long time. God has joined us together - offering all of us FREEDOM!

Friday, June 12, 2009


Today was an incredible day inside the walls of the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility.
I haven't blogged in recent weeks, and it is not because I was incarcerated since May 5, it just hasn't happened.
Tonight, however, I write to share with you a message of freedom.
Thursday afternoon, roughly 20 clergy and volunteers from the "outside" ventured into the medium security prison to conduct a lay-led short course in Christian living weekend known as Brothers in Blue.  This is a ministry that follows the Cursillo method, for those of you familiar with Cursillo.  It is also known as Via De Christo in the Lutheran world.

Some 40 men have stuck through the first day and a half of the Brothers In Blue (BIB) weekend, and I praise God as I share this evening about the movement of the spirit inside those walls today.
A fairly structured event that is full of worship, talks by both lay people and pastors, the BIB weekend is one that follows a pretty tight schedule most of the time.  Unlike Cursillo weekends, BIB weekends are even more schedule-driven to coordinate with prison requirements for the inmates - thus schedules matter.
At about 1 p.m. today, the BIB team lost control of the schedule and God took over.  Now, he is always in control of the schedule - working and flowing right along with the movement - but today he grabbed ahold and no one will be the same.
Last Wednesday, our brother Rob learned he has retinitis pigmentosa (unsure of the spelling and I am too fried to look it up right now).  As I received his email last Wednesday morning, I didn't really know what it all meant - but another friend explained that he is losing his sight.  It might be a year, it might be 10 years.
It was quite a blow to Rob, his family and those who love him and call him brother.  This afternoon, Rob wove this story into the end of his talk and proclaimed that he will boldly praise God, tell his story and give God all the glory, honor and praise.  He also said he will be back in December, whether he can see or not, to testify to God's blessing in his life.
As the talk ended, a time of prayer for healing was called for by our spiritual director.  Another brother, Scott, stood their with Rob and two pastors when Rob's brother and brother-in-law made their way to the front.  The team and I made our way their too - and pretty quick the entire room was standing there, prisoners and free people from the outside, laying hands on Rob and praying specifically for healing.
Tears stained the prison gym floor, people were visibly moved and emotionally drained as the Spirit of the Lord filled the room.

Freedom reigned in this place for that hour - freedom from everything but what God wanted to share at that moment.
Another young man, one of the inmates of the prison, asked Jesus Christ into his heart today and went with his table leader to the spiritual directors asking to be baptized into the body of believers.
On the outside - even at Spirit-filled and Spirit-led movements like Cursillo weekends - the church often looks for reasons to send new believers to a series of classes or some such thing so as to get someone mentally prepared for baptism - to somehow see to it new believers are spiritually fit for baptism.
Today, I witnessed II Corinthians 3:17 first hand:  
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.
Our Spiritual Director, one of the founding pastors of Brothers in Blue dating all the way back to 1974, led the proceedings while the pastor of the Church of the Damascus Road (the church inside the prison walls) baptized this inmate into the body of Christ.
As I stood in the back of the room, tears streaming down my face, I was struck by the numbers of grown men - prisoners and "free" people alike - who were visibly moved by what they saw God do today.
Prisoners sharing their lives with people called by God to minister to them - to share the love of Christ - is a beautiful thing.  One of those amazing afternoons of my life.  I have listened to a number of inmates share their struggles, express what finding Christ means to them and how badly they want to get things right.
One inmate I knew from 10 years ago when I lived in another Iowa community.  It was amazing to me that we would meet inside the prison walls, but getting over myself, I finally approached him to ask where I would have known him from.  
I don't know what he is in for, though I know he has been in for a while and is not getting out anytime soon.  But we talked about things we love, like music and Jesus.  While he is behind these bars, he is free.  
"No one can take that away from me," he told me yesterday.
There is a lot of crap in this world.  The people who have been sentenced behind these bars are dealing with it, and so are those of us on the outside, aren't we?
Sin does not discriminate.  It grips felons and "free" people alike.  The Good News, however, is that Jesus Christ has overcome the world.  The chains that so easily bind us - prisoners and civilians alike - are shattered and torn by God's selfless act of sending Jesus to die on that cross for your crap and mine!
Are you free?  Are there chains binding you tonight?  Are there things in your life that have a hold on you - that are keeping you from enjoying the freedom we all have available to us in Christ Jesus?
I would encourage you to get real and vulnerable with someone close to you.  Matthew 18:20 tells us:
"For where two or threecome together in my name, there am I with them."
(No lie - as I finished typing the two sentences above I was approached by one of my closest friends about getting real with one another)
That Matthew scripture is an amazing reality.  So is II Corinthians 3:17.  
If we want freedom - true freedom - we will come together in Jesus' name - cuz the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Even in a prison.