Golden Key Prison Ministry
“…and the base things of the world and the things that are despised God has chosen…
that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
1 Corinthians 1:28-29 New King James
As a teenager, I remember singing a hymn in church that said that “Jesus’ blood could make the vilest sinner clean.” I wondered whether the word, ‘vile’, was being used poetically because I couldn’t think of anyone that was really that despicable. The dictionary uses words like disgusting, wicked, entirely unpleasant, and completely worthless to define a vile person. If you add to that definition “to regard with loathing and contempt” you have the meaning of “despised”. Amazingly, these are the very people that God chooses to populate His church according to the Apostle Paul. And Paul knew something about being despised as he went from “breathing out threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1) to becoming “a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1).
This is certainly one of the times when God’s ways of doing things are far above ours (Isaiah 55:8). I’ve lived through enough “schoolyard picks” to know that the captains of the teams pick the strongest, fastest, and most talented players for their side. God picks the weak, the unwise, those of inferior quality and worthy of contempt and loathing for His team. He does that so that when His team accomplishes great things it is clear that it was Him working through them and not because of their personal abilities. It’s like the movie “Bad News Bears” where the kids from the wrong side of the tracks and with little athletic ability win the ballgame. We cheer for the underdogs. I find myself cheering for the ex-prisoners as they slowly but surely start putting their lives back together with God’s help and the support of Christian mentors. Mentors are often criticized for spending time with the “despised”, but God is the one who chose them for His team so coaching them to victory is the least that we can do!
“Go, therefore and make disciples of all the nations…
teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;”
Matthew 28:19-20 New King James
Recently I was conducting a study in the Book of James with some men that I met while they were serving time in jail. While we were fellowshipping the thought crossed my mind that a couple of decades ago I would have never imagined that one day I would feel such camaraderie with cons, addicts and ex-cons. Because I responded to God’s invitation to join Him in reaching individuals impacted by crime, I have been walking through prison doors, gates, sliders and sally ports for about twenty four years to visit those incarcerated. I count many of these individuals as dear brothers in the Lord.
Going to prison really moved me out of my personal “comfort zone”. You know – that place where you feel safe, comfortable, and well within the perceived range of your spiritual gifts and abilities. But I have learned that it is hard to be a disciple of Jesus Christ from the comfort of my recliner. In the verse above that we call the “Divine Commission”, Jesus uses the Greek word, “ethnos”, when He refers to “nations”. That is the word that we get “ethnicity” from and certainly Jesus was encouraging the largely Jewish early church to evangelize and disciple the people of all nationalities in the world. But I think that Jesus had in mind a much broader definition of “ethnos” that included “every people group” – the elderly and the young, the single and the married, the poor and the wealthy, the white and blue collar workers, the homeless, the addicted, and the prisoners.
Every time we set out to fulfill Jesus’ commission to His disciples, trust me, we will be drawn out of our personal comfort zones. And that will be true whether you visit the local hospital, nursing homes, volunteer in a women’s center, at a soup kitchen, with a group of at-risk teenagers, in a homeless shelter or in a prison chapel. If you really want to discover the range of your spiritual gifts and callings, just say “yes” to the Lord’s commission and step outside your comfort zone.