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.