Monday, June 27, 2005

Inside the Gates

I spent Saturday night inside the gates of a prison. First Colony put on a Christian concert for the inmates and it was quite an experience.

It was such a strange feeling to have the high security outer gate to the prison close and lock behind me as I walked towards the auditorium where the concert was going to be held. I expected to walk in with others from the church waiting for me, but I walked in alone only to have 4 inmates dressed in all white open the door to the auditorium for me. I don't think I have ever been more nervous in my life. I went inside and found the group from First Colony and sat with them. As I looked around, I realized that there were about 200 empty chairs waiting for inmates that would be all around us. As the men in white walked in, I began to realize that there would only be 172 people present without restraint (20 First Colony members, 2 prison guards, and 150 inmates with untold crimes and histories).

An incredible thing happened this night. I sat beside many inmates and got to shake their hands and learn a bit of their pasts and about their homes and families. These were men like any other you might meet. Maybe even more grateful and gracious. All had sinned and committed crimes, but we all needed to know this Jesus and how he could save us from the bondage we all knew too well. They praised God and prayed out to him in a way I had never seen before in all of my years in churches and youth rallies. These were broken men who couldn't even conceive of their own righteousness without the blood of Jesus. It's too bad that many of us out of prison have misconceptions about how good we are. If we could only see our sin like these inmates, maybe we could praise God and thank him as much as they.

As the concert ended, these men were so grateful for us just coming to spend time with them. They applauded loudly for the band and could not stop saying thanks to us. As they filed out, I stood in the hallway shaking each of their hands and looking into their eyes. Each one of them looked at me with a gratitude I had never seen before and with words of love. Now I know why Jesus came to free the prisoner and not to brush shoulders with the spiritual elitists. He did so because the sick know they need him and will get on board to do great things.

It was an experience I will never forget. As I showed my ID to the lady at the gate and walked out to the freedom I know so well, I felt strange about walking out for these men were no different from me. We all are in bondage and wanting to be free, yet I was able to leave the gate. It made me long for the day when the judgment comes and God sees my ID and reads the words, Christian: paid by Jesus' blood. That is what I long for and what I hope to never forget.

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