Over 10,000 ex-prisoners are released from America’s state and federal prisons every week and arrive on the doorsteps of our nation’s communities. More than 650,000 ex-offenders are released from prison every year. But what if I told you that most of them are still not free even though they are not living in a cell anymore. They are still prisoners to their addictions, their broken relationships, and their past.
So what is it that we can do to enable them to experience freedom? What are the ways that we can be a part of the life change for the men and women that have been in prison? I believe that these are a few questions that we need to be asking ourselves especially if we call ourselves followers of Jesus. Here are a few things that I have learned over the last couple of months from spending time with the men and women of our city that have been released from prison:
- SEE THEM AS A PERSON – They have already spent a great deal of time where they were seen as a number and not as an individual. They carry with them not the identity as a person but the burden of what they have done. That means we have the opportunity to see them not as a number and not as crime but as a person. Here is a quote that I have been thinking about: “Always pray to have eyes that see people, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses faith in God.” I believe that we have the possibility to be a part of the change of someone who may still see themselves as a prisoner. One of the things that I believe is important for some of us to remember is this: “The only difference between them and us, is that they got caught.” Just a little food for thought.
- TALK TO THEM NOT ABOUT THEM – I have recently had the opportunity to spend some of my time with several men and women that have been recently released from prison. It has opened my eyes to the fact that many of them still have a hard time talking with people that they feel can either do or take away something from them. They are constantly aware of what people can and will mostly say about them because of there life choices. So I make a point to talk to them, to look them in the eye and find out who they are and what is happening in their life. It is building on the first thing as seeing them as a person and then talking to them and not about them. If more people were willing to talk to returning citizens we just might gain some understanding of who they are and what is happening in their lives.
- CHOSE TO HELP NOT HINDER – This is where I am amazed at the hardness of some people’s hearts and the depth of the fear that they have for the unknown. People will unfortunately automatically think of a person that has been released from prison as the worst person they can think of in this world. But the truth of the matter is that many of these individuals are people just like you and me that have either made a choice or have been involved in a situation that has lead them to being in prison. (Think about Martha Stewart she is a felon.) So why not see how you can help them? Why not see what you can do to enable them to see that they don’t need to go back to where they have just came from. I am fortunate to be able to work and be with an amazing group of people that are doing just that, choosing to help these men and women and not to hinder them. The place and people can all be found at the Second Chance Center a place where the decision has been made to help returning citizens experience lives of success and fulfillment.
So what are you doing to help make men and women that were previously incarcerated feel free again?
7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.Romans 6:7 (NLT)
What if I told you that every day should be a little terrifying. What if I told you that if you aren’t walking through your life of faith a little nervous then you aren’t living at all. The problem with both of those statements is that they make us UNCOMFORTABLE. Something that most people in the western community of faith don’t like to hear. I mean we want to be comfortable in our chairs, we want to be comfortable with our coffee, we want to be comfortable in our groups, we just plain want to be comfortable.
Well when my family and I felt that God was leading us to start a church in Colorado we all came up with our own word, “Terricited”. Because every day we were terrified and we were excited at the same time. We were terrified that we were to move back to Colorado a place where I grew up and not as a follower of Jesus. (Dealing with your Past) But excited to be able to share with those same people about how my life has been drastically changed because of Jesus. We were terrified that we didn’t have a place to live and we were struggling to find a place. But we were excited about getting a place that would be a home base for raising our kids as the graduated from high school. We were terrified because I had never been the lead pastor of a church, but I was excited because I had never been the lead pastor of a church. In the New Testament you can read:
Mark 10:32a (NLT) 32 They were now on the way up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. The disciples were filled with awe, and the people following behind were overwhelmed with fear.
The people that were walking with Jesus the son of God in flesh, were in awe of what was going on were also overwhelmed with fear. What does that mean? They were “terricited”! So let me ask you this, where in your life are you terricited? Where are you experiencing the awe of Jesus and the overwhelming fear where you need to see him show up? Where are you terricited? Because honestly I think that more and more of us need to be less comfortable and more terricited. Let’s take some time this week to start getting a little TERRICITED.
Today is Memorial Day and I wanted to thank the families that have given the greatest sacrifice that a family can give, the loss of a loved one. You see Memorial Day is not about the current men and women serving, it is not even about the ones that have already served, it is about the ones that left this earth serving their country. So I can’t thank those men and women, but I can thank their families.
So if you are a family member of a service man or woman that has given their life in the service of the United States, THANK YOU. I know that this may not be much but from a very young age I was taught that you don’t forget about the sacrifice others have made so that we can live in this country. So today while I am enjoying a day with my wife, my kids, friends, and we are all barbecuing, I want you to know that I do this with the understanding that both individuals and families gave up so that I can enjoy my freedom. So again, THANK YOU.
If you have lost a family member or friend in the service of this country, would you please place there name in the comment section as a way of honoring them on this day.
So while I was looking through my Facebook feed the other day this is a video that was posted by Larry Leith from Tokyo Joe’s. (By the way I love their food and I love the culture that they have created for their business.) It is a great little coffee shop that is located down in Colorado Springs just an hour from where we live here in Aurora. The whole idea of the video is that people would go and visit other coffee shops in the area because of the community that has embraced them and by doing so end up with a free drink at Loyal Coffee. They are calling it the “Dis-Loyality Card”! What an amazing idea!
Here is where this video took me though – the church community. Isn’t this what we should be doing as the church? Letting people know that the community of faith is here for each other and build a community that is for the city not just ourselves? I was recently a part of a conversation about two churches in a community coming together for an event that helps grow leadership for both the city and the communities of faith. It was going to be an exciting opportunity to see the KINGDOM of Jesus respond in a way that would be a huge influence in the city. Well unfortunately one of the churches was not willing to partner in this endeavor because the building where the event was being held was not good enough for their people. Are you serious? The building is the reason that these two churches couldn’t come together to make a difference in the city like never before?
What if we decided to have “Dis-Loyalty” Sundays where we encouraged the people of our churches to go and support another church in the community? What if we called them BIG KINGDOM Sunday’s and we showed support for the big kingdom of Jesus?
What do you think about the coffee shop idea? What do you think about the BIG KINGDOM Sunday idea?
Over the last 20 years I have spent working in churches I have always felt that students have ben looked up on as just an add on to what we do as the church. I was always asked as a pastor to students to make sure that we had something for the students to do on Sundays and then something to do during the week. It always felt a little like we were just to add something on for them. Just to keep people happy or keep the students out of the way.
Well when we started Elevation here in Aurora we felt that students shouldn’t be an add on but a big part of who we are as a church team. So this is what we did:
- Students are included in the main times on Sunday. We try real hard to make sure that we have communication that will involved them and encourage them as followers of Jesus.
- Students are asked to serve on our Dream Team just like the adults. The middle school students need to serve with an adult. The high school students can serve any where as an adult. (Sometimes better just because they can grasp technology quicker and they are quicker to reach out to new people.)
- Students are invited to be a part of the church as Team-mates just like everyone else. They are not just an add on they are team-mates.
- Students still need some time with there own age so we do that in Community Groups. Just like we do the adults.
Students are not the church of the future they are the church of today. So why not let them be a part of the church instead of just being an add on. Let’s help them identify as being a part of the body of Jesus not just something in the back hall that as long as there are no stains on the carpet or holes in the wall we are doing something good. What can you do to help make sure that students are a part of the church? How can we do things differently to enable them to grow as the body of Jesus?
(This is not a judgement on any church or any type of ministry. Just a process
of thinking through how we are integrating the students in our care.)
As you read this I will be in our truck driving my son up to his first year of college and college football. It is has been an interesting week for both Michelle and I as we send number two off to school. But I have to be honest I am so proud of Tyler and his dedication and drive. As he seeks to make his dreams come true to play college and then eventually professional football.
Ever since the days of Pop Warner Football in AZ, then high school football that got him going in Benicia, CA, to the great team and coaching staff at Rangeview in Aurora. They all prepared him for this day. As he has dreamt of playing football.
Here are some things that I want to encourage other younger dads to think about when it comes to encouraging your kids to dream.
- Encourage them to hear from God about their dreams and goals.
- Let them dream while they are young. (Don’t beat big dreams out of them because you didn’t get your chance.)
- When it comes time encourage them to evaluate dreams and goals. (5’2″ and wants to be the outside hitter for volleyball in the Olympics, for my daughter Dani.)
- Enable them to see the dreams and possibilities else where if things change.
- Be their biggest Fan but don’t be the obnoxious parent thinking of a signing bonus. (I coach high school football and there are those parents.)
- Help them to be disciplined if they want to dream big. (Going to bed on time, doing homework, and actually working out not walking around talking in the gym.)
- Turn them loose.
By the way UNC starts this years season playing against Utah on ESPN. I dream that Tyler will be on that field at some point and time in the game. Tyler I am proud of you and I know that you are going to rock the house!
What are some things that I missed and that you would add to the list? Make a comment below.
I recently read an article that was posted by a local news channel on twitter. It disturbed me!
Here is the cliff notes of the story (Read it here). There is a woman who has been a part of a movement of people who are trying to keep a local building from being torn down. So in an effort to save the building from being torn down this woman with the support of the people around here decides to marry the building. Now at first I thought this is interesting. But the more I thought about the more bothered I became that marriage today has become more of a punchline to a joke then a commitment that is to be made between a man and a woman to God.
Michelle and I will be celebrating 20 years of marriage in May. I don’t want one the best things in my life, my marriage to my best friend to be a punch line in a joke or a way to save a building from being destroyed. It is my hope that for the many of those of us that have had marriages that are a powerful statement to commitment and to marriage before God will continue to encourage those around us to see marriage as important. It is my hope that as we lead in our homes and in our commuities that people will see the joy that comes from a marriage that is based in God’s love for one another and a commitment to live together through the good and bad is important. Just a little fired up!
What do you think?