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Prison Perspectives  

Recently, my wife and I visited a friend who is in prison.   If you've never been to one, it's a sobering and sensory exercise.  There's an unmistakable institutional smell—a fragrant bouquet of floor cleanser, window dust and the faint odor of new paint,  There's the sound of doors buzzing, keys jangling, radios squawking...along with the thud of your own pulse.

Faces around the room bear a sad and anxious presence.  You wonder who they have come to visit....what the crime was--and you know that they're wondering the same about you.

As we chatted in the official visiting room with my friend, we did what everybody else there did: pretended the gray grimy place was the setting for an ordinary conversation in an ordinary place on an ordinary day. 

My friend talked about the “Property Room,” where inmates pick up magazines, and care packages sent by loved ones.  The objects are treated so cautiously, that  harmless gifts often never get to the inmates because of security concerns. But the worst thing is the sign that officials have posted outside the property room: “Leave your feelings at the door.”

The experience got me to wondering.  Why must we add insult to a prisoner's injury with a sign like that? Why must the walls be a depressing gray?  Can't something be done?  And if so, what should I do, as a follower of Jesus, to make a difference?

Guess I'm probably best off supporting the ministries already doing effective work in this challenging arena.  But I had better do something.  And so had you.

If we claim to love Jesus, we can ill afford to ignore his haunting word picture in Matthew, “I was in prison...but you did not visit me.”

Surely a visit means more than merely showing up . 

Surely it means stepping up...and lifting others up—even if they reside in a prison.

 
Great Expectations  

Expectations.  And prayer meetings.  If your experience is anything like mine, they rarely go together.  Our prayer meetings are almost entirely predictable.  To the point of....dare I use so harsh a word.... boredom?   Expectations and prayer meetings don’t go together in the same sentence, let alone the same gathering room at church.    In my opinion, this is one of the biggest reasons our prayer meetings are attended by handfuls—rather than “room-fulls.”

Sure, we know that Scripture calls us to prayer.  But on a chilly winter night, with a warm supper settling in our gut, there’s little motivation to go out to prayer meeting—where we can reliably expect pretty much the same requests every week.  Monotony dressed up as ministry.  We don’t expect God to show up, so we don’t either.  

But what a difference it makes when expectation is in the atmosphere.  Twice, it has been my privilege to visit the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York and attend their Tuesday night prayer meeting.  If you’ve never been there, you’ll have difficulty believing my assessment.  The auditorium is jammed before the prayer meeting begins.   And when it does, instead of jumping into requests of the Almighty, it’s an intense time of praise.  Songs of praise.  Prayers of worship.  This is what they do most. 

They pray for the world…for missionaries…for persecuted Christians in a specific country.  They pray for lost people.  And—most refreshingly of all—they pray with expectancy.  These people fully expect that when they return the following week, they’ll hear a report on how God intervened in a situation—perhaps supernaturally—to work His will. They expect to hear testimonies from people who’ve just come to faith…and they do!

Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that?  Who could possibly stay home and turn down a front row seat to the arena of the Almighty, doing what only God can do?

Every church, of course, has its own culture, its own flavor and style.  But to the extent that our prayer meetings continue to lack a sense of expectation—great expectations—we will continue to see a lack of participation.

I, however, am hoping for more.

 
Second Most Important Book  

The second most important book on your shelf.  What would that be?  When it comes to living a consistent Christian life, a world atlas might just be the second most important book on your shelf. Right next to your Bible, of course. Did my suggestion surprise you?  Give me a moment to explain.

You see, there's a problem with our evangelical worldview.  For many of us, there's very little “world” in it.  While on paper, we agree to the urgency of what we call the “Great Commission,” most of us suffer from a great omission.  We simply do not know—or much care—about the rest of the world.

I have had repeated conversations with otherwise intelligent believers who assume Africa is one big country.  There is no concept of the fact that Africa contains 54 independent nations.  No grasp on the fact that Africa is so massive, that inside its borders, you could easily fit the United States, China, all of Europe...with plenty of room to spare.

Yet having traveled to more than 30 countries, I myself still struggle with a myopic view of the world.

“So what?” you say.  Why the big harangue?

The big deal is if we hardly even know where people live, we'll hardly even care about them. Out of sight...out of mind.  

But it was Jesus Himself who told us “Go into ALL the world and preach the gospel.”  Jesus went out of His way to remind us to go out of OUR way and care about “the uttermost parts of the world.”

In a day of Google Maps and Google Earth and GPS screens, there is no reason—and certainly no excuse--for being a geographically ignorant American.

Though Christ's concern is primarily about people, we cannot—and must not—ignore their place, whether Judea, Samaria, or the uttermost parts of the earth.  Their place, after all, is inextricably linked to their plight.  And the plight of people—wherever they live—is always at the heart of Christ.

 
Lessons from a Hospital Stay  

Hospitals.  They're no fun when you're sick—but remarkably instructive if you're healthy.

Recently, my wife went into the hospital for kidney surgery.  So I spent four nights sleeping out in the waiting room, and countless hours observing.  I've come away with three lessons I'm trying to hang on to.

Lesson #1: Everybody is hurting—from something.

Hospitals, of course, are filled with the sick, the broken, the bleeding.  There isn't a hallway you walk down that doesn't offer some kind of evidence of intense personal pain. 

Yet this is also true of life, itself. Everybody's hurting over something.  The problem for most of us is that because life isn't labeled a “Hospital” we often fail to see the pain in front of our face...in the face in front of us.

Lesson #2: The best care is team care.

I'm intrigued at the clusters of doctors and nurses in the hallway, talking about this or that patient and what they've attempted so far—and what they think might be most beneficial next.  These very smart people have learned that the smartest among them is not sufficient for the mystery of human hurt.  It takes a team.

Same is true in the body of Christ.  Galatians 6:2 calls us to “Bear one another’s' burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Lesson #3: There is indescribable beauty in the humility of serving.

Over the past five days, I have witnessed countless acts of kindness from nurses and doctors and technicians.  There is little glory in cleaning up human waste...or changing bloody dressings. Frankly, I was caught off guard at the beauty I saw in the humility of this selfless service. 

I now hear Christ's statement in Matthew 5:7 with fresh ears:  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

There's no glory...and certainly no fun—in visiting someone in the hospital.  Or someone shut in.  But it's the lifestyle we've been called to.   That's mercy.

With a view from a hospital corridor, those are my thoughts .

 
Spared  

The Waldo Canyone Fire.  By the time it was finally put out last July more than 300 Colorado homes were destroyed.  One person was killed, with nearly half a billion dollars in damages.
 

Like any disaster, it's one thing to see it on the web...or watch it on your flat screen TV.  Quite another to be there.

On a recent trip out west, my wife and I decided to visit the ruins.  The scent of burning is still in the air, months after the last of the flames were silenced.

What we saw was beyond sobering.  Block after block of burned down homes, many concrete foundations entirely cleared of even a hint of blackened sawdust.  The sense of nothingness was oddly gripping, inducing an almost sacred sadness.

 Yet oddly, we saw random homes that were somehow spared the fury of the fire.  You drove down the street and a list of the houses went like this: Destroyed, destroyed, destroyed...spared.  

How?  What could possibly have prevented these places from lighting up like torches as the monster fire gobbled up entire neighborhoods like prawns on a platter?

Then...it hit me: this is exactly what judgment day will some day be like.  The majority of people whose names you've known and whose lives you've touched--their souls: destroyed.  Destroyed, destroyed, destroyed.  And then—miracle of miracles...this one spared.  Destroyed, destroyed, destroyed.  And then wonderfully, gloriously...that one...spared. Spared the fire and destruction of hell, an agony that will not cease.

And the questions again: How?  Why?

There can be only one answer: Grace.

There can be only one response: Go.  Go and share what Christ has done...and what Hell will do unless one is rejected and the other recieved. 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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