How to Beat the Devil: Try… Trust… Know! (Romans 8:31-39)

Sermon for the 1st Sunday of Lent (2/22/15)

Text: Romans 8:31-39

Theme: How to Beat the Devil:

Try… Trust… Know!

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

You see, my wife says I get “hangry.” If you feed me, I’ll work like the Energizer bunny, all day, every day. If you don’t feed me and expect me to work, I sometimes stop being the person I should be. Sometimes hunger leads to anger = hanger. I don’t always deal well with hunger, so 40 days (like Jesus in the desert) with nothing to eat at all, and the devil tempting me on top of that… if my track record gives any indication, after those 40 days the devil would say “jump,” and I’d say “how high?”

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

You see, one of the things I thank God for most is being a dad. I’ve always wanted to have kids of my own, and now that I have them it is even better than I could have possible imagined.

What I still can’t quite imagine is what it must have felt like to walk up that mountain. I can’t quite imagine what it must have felt like to have my curious son ask the obvious question, “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  I can’t quite imagine what Abraham must have been thinking and feeling as he tied his son up, put him on the altar, and looked down at the knife in his hand, knowing what he had to do next.

I don’t know how I would react, but I have to be honest… if my previous success rate with trials and temptations is any indicator, my chances of passing that test are not all that promising…

I don’t know if I could do it… I don’t know if I have it in me…

We are at war, friends. The Bible makes clear that public enemy #1 is the devil. The spoils of this war/what’s at stake is your heart. Ever since Genesis chapter 3, that slimy serpent has been there tempting and testing God’s people every step along the way. And God allows this because he didn’t create us to be robots. He created us to love and serve him of our own accord, and part of loving and serving him means hating what he hates and fighting what he fights– the devil. God allows us to be tempted and tested to give us opportunities to serve him, to show him how much we love him.

We are at war. Every day God calls us to get up and do battle against the devil – to try with everything we are and everything we have to beat the devil.

And I have to confess to you: I’m not doing very well… Continue reading

It Is Well With My Soul! (Romans 8:28-30)

Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany (2/8/15)

Text: Romans 8:28-30

Theme: It Is Well With My Soul!

            “When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll – whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul” – beautiful words in and of themselves… even more beautiful when you know a little bit of the background.

The hymn we just sang (When Peace Like a River) was written by Horatio Gates Spafford. Horatio was a successful businessman who lived with his wife and four daughters in Chicago in the mid-1800’s – successful in business that is, until the great Chicago fire of 1871 destroyed everything he had worked for.

But fire wasn’t the only tragedy to come Horatio’s way. Later he and has family bought tickets to sail to England – at the last minute Horatio was forced to stay behind. His wife and four daughters went on without him – but they never made it, at least not all of them. The ship collided with another vessel and sunk. Only Horatio’s wife survived. All four daughters drown in the icy waters of the Atlantic.

Horatio was inspired to write the hymn we just sang as he passed over the place where his daughters drown on his way to be with his heartbroken wife in England.

“When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll – whatever my lot, though hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Our purpose this Sunday is to identify for whom Jesus came – his target audience. The hymns we’ve sung and the readings from the Bible have left us a trail of bread crumbs – let’s see where they lead…

The first lesson for today brought us face to face with a familiar person – Job. As you know, the life of Job made the life of Horatio seem like child’s play. On day one of Job’s whirlwind tour through hell on earth Job lost practically every cent he owned and seven sons and three daughters – in one day! On another day the only thing Job had left, his health, was taken away from him as painful soars covered his body – it’s no wonder the words we read from Job 7 ended like they did. “My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and they come to an end without hope. Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath; my eyes will never see happiness again.”

Our second lesson for today brought us face to face with another familiar person – Paul. Paul boldly says that God is working though all things for our good – what are those “things?” In Paul’s case, those “things” that God was using are listed off for us in 2 Corinthians: Imprisonments, beatings, exposure to extreme weather, stoning’s, shipwrecks, sleeplessness, hunger and so much more.

Add in the history of the hymn we just sang and the Gospel reading and Jesus’ target audience becomes pretty clear, doesn’t it?

Jesus didn’t come to rub shoulders with the successful and wealthy. He didn’t come to give a pep talk to people who were trying really hard all on their own. He didn’t come to congratulate the people who thought they had it altogether, who thought they had life pretty well figured out by themselves.

Jesus came for the sick. He came for the destitute, diseased, and dying. He came for those shunned by society, the prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and addicts. He came for the brokenhearted – for those whose hearts had been ripped out of their chests and stomped on as they watched loved ones die and the things they held dear torn away.

This is a Sunday that hits close to home for people like us – people who have known, are knowing, and will know sickness, loneliness and broken hearts. This Sunday hits close to home for anyone with half a heart who has been watching the news in recent weeks, and years for that matter.

“This is why I have come,” Jesus said in Mark – because there are so many people in this world like Peter’s mother-in-law and those nameless people possessed by demons, so many Horatios and Jobs and Pauls, so many people who are hurt and need help – “This is why I have come.”

And this is where we might start to lose some people if this were an audience made up of believers and unbelievers. This (the teaching that Jesus came for the sick and suffering) is a big stumbling block for a lot of people – it’s what they call the Christian problem of suffering. We say that God is good and that he is capable of doing whatever he wants – so following that logic, why hasn’t God stopped all the suffering of this world? We say that Jesus came to fix the suffering of this world, but that was 2000 years ago and there are still a lot of people suffering. Logically, these people say, this means that either God isn’t good because he doesn’t care about the plight of people on this earth, or he isn’t capable of ending suffering, in which case he’s not much of a God…

You and I would never take that tone with God, would we?…

You see, we are not just here to set up a straw-man and tear down those people out there who have a problem with God and suffering. If you want to find someone who needs an attitude adjustment when it comes to the suffering in this world and God’s relationship to it, you don’t need to look any further than this room – you don’t have to look any further than the heart that’s beating in your chest.

We may not come right out and deny that God exists or that he’s good, but that doesn’t mean we are perfect at handling the problem of suffering.

Here’s the big problem that really hits home for us – if you were handling the idea of suffering the way God wants you to, you would never worry – never, about anything.

Think that through with me. Paul tells us (God tells us!) that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. In the words of John Newton (the author of the next hymn we are going to sing, Amazing Grace) that means “Everything is needful that [God] sends. Nothing can be needful that he withholds.” Think about that (think about it for the rest of your life, it will do you good).

That means that you can never rightfully worry about anything again because whatever happens, it’s all a part of God’s plan. It’s for your good. It’s something that he in is infinite wisdom decided you needed – Which means you have absolutely no reason or right to worry about it.

That means that if tomorrow you woke up and had a day like Job, the proper response would be to get down on your knees and thank God for giving you what you needed that day. That means that if today on your way home you got in a car accident, were completely paralyzed, and everyone you love died, the proper response at the end of the day would be to sing with Horatio, “Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Friends, we get in a fender-bender and we get all bent out of shape.

It’s not just the world out there that displays a lack of trust that God will in fact work all things for our good – that when Jesus said he came for the suffering, he meant it.

So, what are we going to do, not just with the problem of suffering in this world, but also with the problem of our hearts? This is where our paths do split with the rest of the world.

They run away from God (even though that doesn’t solve their problem: they run away from God because they don’t trust that he can fix suffering but all that does is leave them to suffer in this world without God and without hope that things will get better).

We run to God. We run to God not because we are so much smarter than the people out there. We run to God because he has called us, and shown us, and taught us the real cause of suffering (sins committed by people like us) and just what he has done and is doing about it.

Here again we have a trail of breadcrumbs to follow and see what God has done and is doing about suffering in this world.

Horatio, Job, Paul – they suffered an incredible amount, even the people that Jesus healed when he was on this earth would continue to suffer from different things in their lives, but do you know what else they have in common beyond the suffering? Right now, every single one of them is sitting in heaven – the heaven that God himself describes as the place where he will wipe every tear from our eyes!

God promised through Paul that he would work all things out for the good of whom? Those who have been called according to his purpose, and what is that purpose? Paul tells us.

Before this world was even created, God foreknew you. He knew your name, how many hairs would be on your head, where you would live, what you would do, all the ways you would suffer. Before this world was even created he knew that one day you would be with him in heaven, forever.

And so, from before the creation of the world, God’s purpose (in everything he has done) was to get you from point A to point  B – from this world of suffering to his side in heaven.

Think about that for the rest of your life! That’s what it means when Paul says God foreknew you. That’s what it means when Paul says you were predestined. God thought of you before he did anything else, and he loved you enough to make sure you would be in heaven with him forever and ever.

And those God foreknew, those he predestined, he also called. When, in time, his thought became a reality and you were born, he guided this entire world so that you could come into contact with him – who he really is, what his love is really like. He guided all of human history so that when the water ran down your head and his name was spoken at your baptism, your heart would hear the calling and believe.

And those God foreknew, predestined, and called, he also justified. In time, he sent his Son, Jesus, to live in this world of suffering, to carry on his shoulders suffering that we can’t even imagine. He sent his Son to die so that you, a dirty sinner who has done more than your fair share to cause more suffering in this world, could be declared “not guilty,” cleansed, forgiven, set free.

And those God foreknew, those he predestined, those he called and justified, he will also glorify. You do not have to be afraid of tomorrow, you don’t have to have a problem with suffering in this world because you know that one day you will be standing in the glories of heaven – it’s a fact that no one and nothing can take away from you.

Friends, let’s do something today that we don’t usually do. Let’s re-sing the hymn we just sang. This time I want you think about everything I’ve just said, think about all the things that have gone wrong in your life, everything that is going wrong, and everything that could go wrong, and boldly sing of the peace that God has called you to have – come what may, it is well with my soul.

Amen.

Come and See My Jesus (John 1:43-51)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany (1/18/15)

Text: John 1:43-51

Theme: Come and See My Jesus

            It made children anxious – so anxious that even on the hottest summer days the public pools would be empty. It terrified parents – made some want to lock their kids inside all summer long. Apart from the Red Scare (fear of nuclear war with Russia), it was the number one fear for Americans in the early 1950’s. Every summer it came – year in and year out – this relentless terror. It was particularly appalling because it targeted young children. Every summer it came, and left in its wake thousands of dead children, and thousands more permanently paralyzed.

It was the disease called polio.

This fear that gripped the nation was well founded. In 1952 alone almost 60,000 children were infected with the virus. Thousands died, thousands more were left paralyzed.

Then in 1955, an amazing announcement was issued. Jonas Salk, a virologist working at the University of Pittsburg, had developed and tested a vaccine that worked – a vaccine that would completely eradicate polio from the US in just over 20 years.

And with the announcement a country collectively breathed a sigh of relief, because the end of polio’s reign of terror was in sight. It was one of those moments in American history that brought the country to a standstill. From coast to coast, in small towns and large cities, people crowded around fuzzy TV’s in living rooms, and crackling radios at the workplace or local diner. It was one of those moments that moved people all across this country to say to friends, relatives, and complete strangers, “Come here, you have to see this.”

Imagine what that must have been like. I imagine most of you have felt that before. You know, that feeling when something amazing happens – something so momentous, and life-changing – and you realize that this is something everyone needs to know about – it makes you want to stop complete strangers in the street saying, “Did you hear what happened, you’ve got to see this!”

“You’ve got to see this,” was undoubtedly what Philip was thinking as he rushed up to Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree – bursting with THE good news.

Philip had been called to follow the one and only Jesus Christ, “The one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Continue reading

Christians Cling to the Still Small Voice of the LORD (1 Kings 19:9-18)

Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost (8/31/2014)

Text: 1 Kings 19:9-18

Theme: Christians cling to the still small voice of the LORD

The final sermon in a series entitled What Do Christians Look Like? 

           Oh to be a fly on the wall on that mountain, on that day – to see the looks on the faces of thousands of people standing there in complete shock and awe – to see the looks on the faces of the prophets of Baal – to see the look on face of Ahab, king of Israel as the fire of God rained down from heaven.

            Elijah, the faithful prophet of God, stood on top of Mount Carmel vindicated. He had spent his entire career beating his head against the stone hearts of King Ahab, Queen Jezebel, and the rest of that stubborn nation called Israel. He had spent his entire life trying to convince them that worshipping the false god Baal was wrong. As a result, he had spent most of his life hated and persecuted because of stubbornly sinful hearts. And now there could be no doubt, right? There was no way in the world that Ahab and the rest of these Israelites could deny that Elijah’s God was the only true God.

            Elijah, the faithful prophet of God, stood on that mountain and he saw a light at the end of the long dark tunnel of his life. Elijah stood on that mountain feeling the relief that comes when you finally make it over the hump. He stood there confident that it would be relatively smooth sailing from here because God had done it – he had proved his existence and his power in an indisputable way. Staring at that black crater in the ground where just moments before stood an altar of twelve stone and an ox, all soaked in water, Elijah felt happy and proud and confident and committed.

            To say that Elijah’s faith in his God was strong that day wouldn’t do justice to what he was feeling. I mean even the stones were burned up by that fire that fell from the sky! His God of power and might had given him a stunning victory that day, and his faith was riding high on that awe-inspiring display of authority by his God.

            As he gave the command and watched the Israelites round up and kill all the prophets of Baal, some optimism must have sprung up in his otherwise pessimistic heart. For years he had failed to break through these people’s thick skulls, but here they were, finally listening to him, finally taking steps to rid themselves of their terrible, sinful idolatry.

            As the temperature started to drop, the wind started to pick up, and the storm clouds started to gather on the distant horizon – signaling the first rain in 3 ½ years – Elijah’s face must have hurt from smiling so much. How many times had he told the Israelites to repent of their sins, turn to God, and they would see just how much he could bless them? And now, finally, they were listening, they were crying out together their confession, “The LORD – he is God. The LORD – he is God,” and the long withheld thunderstorm of blessings were on the horizon.

            Elijah, the faithful prophet of God stood on that mountain and he believed. He believed in his amazing God. There wasn’t a shred of doubt in his mind, standing on that mountain, that his God was God, his God was in control, and his God could and would work all things out for the good of those who love him.

Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal is one of those great moments in history when God reached down from heaven and proved, unequivocally, that he is everything he says he is. It’s a moment we would expect would create a lasting impact on everyone who witnessed God’s amazing supremacy that day. It’s a moment we would expect would create true and lasting faith – faith that could carry those witnesses through the toughest of times because they had seen firsthand that there God was in control.

That’s what we would expect. We, who love a good fairytale ending, would expect that this moment of victory would be the “happily ever after” stamp on the end of Elijah’s life, but that’s not what happened… not even close. Continue reading

A Christian Keeps His Ears Open to the Word (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23)

Sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost (8/3/14)

Text: Matthew 13:1-9,18-23

Theme: The Christian Keeps His Ears Open to the Word

Part 3 of the Sermon Series What Does a Christian Look Like?

                I think it was in sixth grade, or sometime near that. I was sitting next to one of my best friends, and the teacher was lecturing on something – what it was I don’t really remember because as sixth grade boys are apt to do, I wasn’t really paying attention.

Well this friend and I, noticing that neither of us were really paying attention, started having our own little whispered conversation with each other. We thought we were being sneaky, we thought we were being quiet enough that the teacher, Ms McKenzie, wouldn’t notice – again displaying a little of that ignorance and lack of common sense that sixth grade boys are apt to display.

Needless to say, Ms. McKenzie did notice. Now what made this occasion memorable is what Ms. McKenzie did next. She didn’t yell at us. She didn’t call us out. She didn’t immediately dole out discipline… She just stopped talking. Right in the middle of her lecture, she just stopped talking.

Now all the other kids, who were paying attention, realized right away that something was going on. But my friend and I, so engaged in our own conversation, didn’t notice right away. But little by little, what our ears were hearing (or in this case, not hearing) started to sink in. We looked up from our little conversation and realized that every eye in the classroom was fixed on us.

Chalk one more up to Ms. McKenzie… she had our attention for the rest of that class…

There are different ways that we humans go about communicating to people that we want their attention. If Gideon is running toward a busy street, I’m going to yell. If Molly is playing with a toy and I want to tell her to do something, I ask her to look me in the eye. If Laura has something to discuss with me on a Sunday afternoon in the fall, she will ask me to turn the tv off before beginning the conversation.

We humans do all sorts of things to communicate the fact that we want someone to pay attention to us.

In our gospel for today we see Jesus doing just that. Jesus says to us today, “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” And while this phrase may seem odd at first glance, because it’s not the kind of language we use today, Jesus is doing the same thing Ms. McKenzie did – the same thing I am doing when I yell at a toddler running toward the road. He is telling us that what he is saying here in Matthew 13 is important. He’s telling us to look him in the eyes and listen to what he is saying because this matters and we need to hear it. “Whoever has ears, let them hear.” Continue reading

Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession

 

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“So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given. He works faith, when and where it pleases God, in those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.

Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.”

Anabaptists: Taught that the Holy Spirit comes without the Word but through their own devotion

 

Which relationship would you rather be a part of?

 

1)      Your significant other tells you that she will remain with you as long as she feels like it. As long as you make her feel warm and tingly whenever your elbows brush, the love will remain. As long as you make sure that she feels happy around you more often than sad, she won’t go anywhere.  As long as the first thing she feels when she sees you for the first time every day is what Hollywood would describe as true love, you can count on her. As long as she feels some ambiguous, indescribable feeling of love, she will love you. But if that feeling ever leaves, so will she. If that feeling ever starts to lose some of its luster, your relationship is in jeopardy.

 

2)      Your significant other tells you that as long as you both live, neither of you will ever be alone. As long as there is breath in her body, she will love you. No matter how she feels on a given day she promises before God and anyone who will listen that she will never leave you. Love isn’t something that she has to feel, but a decision – a choice she willingly makes.

 

I haven’t conducted any official studies, but I think it is safe to say that the vast majority of people would say relationship #2 is the better option (unfortunately, real statistics – i.e. the divorce rate – do show that the majority of people apparently don’t do what it takes to make their relationship look like the second option. But that’s another blog for another day).

 

What does this have to do with Article 5 of the Augsburg Confession? Continue reading

Stop Doubting and Believe (John 20:24-29)

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (4/27/14)

Text: John 20:19-31

Theme: Stop Doubting and Believe!

            Have you ever done something or said something that you later came to regret? You know, the kind of thing that you just don’t live down. For instance, there is a sweater on my shelf at home that I have never worn. It’s not because I don’t like it, it’s not because it didn’t fit me when I got it. I’ve never worn it because the high heat of a dryer took a perfectly good, new Christmas gift and shrank it… Why do I still have it, you ask? Well, every once in a while I like to teasingly remind the love of my life that there are some shirts that shouldn’t go in the dryer J.

I imagine that if you could have interviewed Thomas years after the account we have before us today, he would smile and shake his head when you brought up the day he doubted the other disciples. John 20 was a day that Thomas would never live down. His name is synonymous with doubting to this day.

It’s an easy thing to do, isn’t it – to pick on Thomas for his stubborn disbelief? From our perspective it is easy to wonder, “How could he?” How could he be so stubborn? How could he doubt like this?

How could he doubt the word of his closest friends? He had been around the other disciples and followers of Jesus for years. Couldn’t he tell by their obvious excitement that what they were telling him was real, or at the very least, worth listening to? I mean, the last time he saw them they were as scared for their lives and as devastated over Jesus’ death as he was, but now they are bubbling, excited, different, and this drastic change still doesn’t convince him? Continue reading

Article 4 of the Augsburg Confession

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Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By his death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in his sight. (Romans 3:21-26; 4:5)”

** I believe and the confess the truth of the Augsburg confession because it’s doctrines are the teachings of the Bible. For every point that is confessed in the article above, I have linked a Bible passage that clearly teaches what the Augsburg Confession states. **

This should be an easy one. This should be an article that anyone with a basic understanding of the Bible gets. This is after all, what Church Fathers for centuries have labeled as the article on which the church stands or falls. The Bible is clear, when it says, “It is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this NOT FROM YOURSELVES¸ it is the GIFT of God – NOT BY WORKS, so that no one can boast.”

There are some things in the Bible that require some thinking – some digging – because they make me scratch my head the first time I read them. This is not one of those areas. God could not have been any more direct and straight forward than he is on this one point: being saved – getting to heaven – has nothing to do with ME, and everything to do with HIM.

A gift is not a gift if I worked to earn it. Salvation is a gift, which means I did not earn it.

I did not DECIDE to let God love me; he just did and does love me.

I did not come half way, a quarter of the way, or even a millionth of the way. God came all the way, grabbed me by my shoulders, shook me, slapped me, raised me from spiritual death, and made me believe when there was no spark of faith in me.

God did not bring me to faith, and then leave it up to me to make the appropriate changes so that my salvation would be complete. God did it all – one sacrifice, by one Man, for all people and every sin I ever have committed, and ever will commit.

This should be an easy one. Continue reading

This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine! (Matthew 5:13-20)

Sermon for the 5th Sunday of Epiphany

Text: Matthew 5:13-20

Theme: This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine!

            What would happen if you bought a car, parked it in your front yard, and just left it there? What if you never drove it, never changed the oil, never protected it from the elements? What would happen if that car just sat there, never used, and never cared for?

Well, eventually it would turn into a pile of useless, rusty car parts, right? When you own a car, a certain amount of responsibility comes with that. When you have something as precious and expensive as a new car, it is common sense that you need to take care of it. You need to let it run on a regular basis. You need to perform basic maintenance on it. You have it, so you do something with it…

What would happen if you had a child, and God forbid, you just put that child in a crib, and left him there? What if you never fed that child, never picked him up, never changed his diapers, or gave him the love and attention he needs? What would happen if you had a child, and you never took care of him?

Well, that child wouldn’t last very long, right? When you have a child, a certain amount of responsibility comes with that. When you have something as precious and important as a new baby, it is common sense that you need to take care of him/her. You need to feed him every couple hours. You need to change his diapers so he doesn’t get a rash. You need to give him the love and attention he needs. You have that child, so you do something with him…

Well, what do you think would happen if you owned a Bible, put it on a shelf at home, and just left it there? What would happen if you were given faith in Jesus as your Savior from sins, and you just buried that faith in one of the corners of your heart, and left it there? What would happen if you took your faith (which is naturally supposed to make you salty, make you different – which is naturally supposed to make you a light, make you stand out), and you didn’t use that faith to be the salt and light of the earth? What would happen if you had faith, and you never cared for it, or used it? Continue reading

Take Heart, Jesus Is Who You Believe He Is (Matthew 11:2-11)

3rd Week of Advent: Prepare the Way for the Lord!

Text: Matthew 11:2-11

Theme: Take Heart, Jesus Is Who You Believe He Is

            Have any of you ever been to prison? I have…

No, this isn’t some true confession where you find out that your pastor is a convicted felon. You see, when you study to become a pastor, it turns out you get to take fieldtrips just like you do in grade-school. Only, instead of visiting museums and zoos, seminary students visit nursing homes, hospitals and maximum security federal prisons to get a flavor for the different places being a pastor can take you.

Even though many of you have probably never set foot in a jail, I’m guessing you have at least some picture in your mind of what prison is like. With the passing of Nelson Mandela, pictures of his jail cell have been all over the news. Plenty of movies and TV shows depict life in prison.

This morning I want to ask you to bring up that mental image you have of a prison. Try and imagine what it is like to be ushered through a series of security check points and have the gate slam shut behind you at each point. Imagine what it is like to see and smell and feel the cold darkness imposed by bare cement floors and cinderblock walls.

Picture the other people in prison, with their filthy, defiant language shouted at you from behind their tiny cell doors. Picture them, if you can, shuffling down the hall, single-file in their prison scrubs. Picture the violence and danger that they endure on a daily basis.

What does that jail cell look like? A cell that is just long enough for you to lay down in and just wide enough for you to stretch your arms out and touch each wall. Imagine what it would be like to call this cell your home, the place where you spend 22 hours a day, day after day after day.

Are you with me so far? Ok, now take it one step further and imagine that you are in that jail cell not as a visitor or fly on the wall, but as an inmate. Continue reading