Death Sentences (Prison Life part 2)

Do you ever wonder about the depths of your person? Have you ever touched on an unnoticed part of your being that has, heretofore, never seen the light of day? I’m asking all these questions to get some internal conversation going.

I think it’s human nature to live our life in comfort and ease, especially when the things we need are so readily available. No hunting, no gathering, just thawing and microwaving. Or whatever. But if we never let God bring us into deeper waters than we’re used to treading, how will we ever know what we’re capable of? What we’re called to? Consequently, how will we ever become fully pleasing to Him if we don’t let Him jar us out of our comfort zone? Did you ever think of that? Did you ever think that the way you’re living before Him might not be pleasing? If you (or I) are not willing to think along that line, chances are, there’s an issue that God might want to address. The Holy Spirit will let you know. And before I go any further, I would like to say that God is the gentlest, sweetest individual you’re likely to know. And it’s that knowing that helps us through the hard times. Because if we don’t know that God is sweet and gentle and loving, above all else, then deep down we’ll think Him some omnipotent sadist and life will become hard and unkind and brittle. And so will we…

“For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: and His commandments are not grievous.” (1 John 5:3, emphasis mine) If we think anything contrary to this verse, we’re believing a lie. Simple as that.

“Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” (John 15:15) This statement of Jesus takes the edge off any preconceived and incorrect notions regarding obedience.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” And here’s the kicker: “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30, emphasis mine) Light as in, “not heavy”? As in, “luminescent”? Could be both, the former is more likely, but the latter works too. One of the greatest struggles I’ve faced throughout my life is that of discipline according to God’s standards. A way of life that God honors and rewards, and doesn’t merely “wink at” (Acts 17:30, meaning “allow for a season”). And when you think about it, God has some pretty exacting standards. Some standards that are downright impossible-sounding. Standards that, when viewed from the outside, might look like they’d kill you if you attempted to obey them. This is why there’s His grace. You’re gonna need it when you realize that’s exactly what the commands of God are for: to crucify our carnal nature. To “mortify the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). And the “deeds of the body” begin with the mind. “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” (Romans 8:7) Austere? Impossible? Check this out though: “But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead.” We can live from one life-source. Or the other. Ours. Which is temporary and fleeting. Or God’s. Which is sustainable and also everlasting.

“For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

There’s this industrial-strength lie loose in the world, that God is this harsh taskmaster. Enthroned somewhere in Heaven looking down on people with a judgmental eye and unwavering standard. Well, the reason it’s a lie is because this viewpoint is bereft of love. And this is where Jesus comes in. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world”. And when we don’t see that God has our best interests at heart, then we slowly desiccate (dry up) and life is miserable and so are we.

“For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)

If we’re missing something, how would we know it? Are we doing things, however ignorantly, that are grieving the Holy Spirit? Are there subtle ways that we act that run counter to the way of life that Jesus exhibited? Food for thought. I’m not trying to dredge up some deep hidden sin that you’re keeping from the rest of the world, not saying that at all. I am, however, trying to show that everyone (myself included) has blind spots that need revealing. And if we ask God the hard questions, then we might see these hard commands and hard answers in the light which they’re supposed to be seen. The light of God’s love for us. And we’ll get life in exchange for the dead places in us.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Life Sentences (Prison Life part 1)

The sunlight streams down, warming your face. You return its bright stare. It hurts your eyes but it’s the best pain you’ve ever felt. Gone is the musty smell of your 8’x8′ jail cell (though you stopped noticing the odor years ago), replaced with fresh air. It exhilarates you and fills you with wonder and vigor. It is as if you’ve been reborn into a world that’s new.

Imagine you’ve just been released from prison. Solitary confinement, even.

The movie Shawshank Redemption actually makes prison life appealing. I haven’t known (to my knowledge) many people who’ve been incarcerated, so I don’t know if it’s a wholly accurate portrayal. That being said, I have read of individuals committing crimes just so they’d be jailed, locked away in escape from the inherent difficulties of life on the outside. Neither position would I want to experience for myself, you understand. God help me. I can understand why someone would want to escape into a world where you’re told what to do and your schedule is constant. There are aspects of prison that are similar to childhood. Though they’re still outweighed by the reality of guilt, shame, remorse and repentance. One cannot escape those things so easily.

Besides, being locked up and dependent (on anyone other than God) is not the natural order of things.

“and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (2 Corinthians 3:17b)

I write about this topic from an outsider’s perspective, physically. But I have experienced the deep spiritual feeling of being locked away forever in my (less than desirable, to put it politely) circumstances. Depression, while it does have a neurochemical component, is far from an exclusively physiological anomaly. And if we feel dark and gloomy and hemmed in, then we need to be reaching for God. This too, shall pass, as the saying goes.

I did meet a man once–Larry by name–who had spent time in prison. One thing he mentioned was how being there gave him ample time to read and learn. And while any learning you engage in while in prison would be totally driven by your curiosity, the lessons to be learned while spiritually bound are compulsory. You have to learn what God would have you know while you’re there in order to be freed. Here’s a tip that’ll take you to the head of the class: Worship God. Jesus, it says in Isaiah (61:1), came to “proclaim liberty to the captives”. The natural response to pardon is worship and exultation. So why not start while you’re there! This worked for Paul and Silas. They were jailed for preaching Jesus (Acts 16). During the night, sore from a beating, they prayed and praised, and God shook the prisoners free with an earthquake. Every prisoner was unshackled though none escaped. After some formalities, including the salvation of the jailer and his entire household, they were let go. A similar thing happened in China during the early nineties. Brother Yun, a prominent house-church leader was imprisoned under similar charges. God let him walk out undetected. From his cell to the street, God miraculously opened every door and saw him safely home. Though not before God used him to bless every other prisoner in his deplorably cramped cell. Read his story in his autobiography, The Heavenly Man.

There’s a Hebrew word (two words, a concept, really) of which I’m very fond. It’s peqach qowach and it means “release from prison” with a metaphorical basis of having one’s eyes opened so as to be observant. When God takes you from the darkness of your current circumstances (assuming that’s where you are), He also gifts you with an understanding of, not only how you got there, but also how to keep from ever returning.

And I’m sure He’d appreciate it if we used our newfound freedom and liberty to help others achieve the same.