Points to Ponder: An inside view of the outside world

Points to Ponder
An inside view of the outside world

I go to prison every other month. The men there are within two years of their release date, so the composition of the 40-50 man gathering changes constantly. I remember Harold, who always sat in the back. White hair and glasses, a warm smile; he fit the image of a professor or a corporate manager. Maybe he was; I never asked. There was Joe, an upbeat energetic young man who had a big grin and a devotion to the Lord and his fellow inmates that was readily apparent. As the years have passed, new men come, both young and old. New leadership rises from within their ranks, as the former leaders went home.
The ascending theatre-style seating allows me a full-faced view of every man in the room. I am in this room, with doors usually closed, and no guard inside. I feel totally safe and have to remind myself that I am in a room full of "criminals." And I do that to remind me of the basic nature of all human beings. The hurts, scars, and struggles my congregation at home lives with, are the same as what these men endure. The sin nature, with the temptations and destructive desires with which these men wrestle are similar to the ones you and I face; it's just that their poor choices in handling them landed them in jail. A simplistic generalization? Yeah, but I am struck by what I observe in that classroom.
I see men. They don't "look like" criminals, or "bad people"; whatever that means. They look like everybody else. I enjoy their company. I get into some deep conversations and well-thought out exchanges of ideas with them. I find that they are in touch with the outside world and share the same heartaches and hopes most citizens in the surrounding community hold. There is patriotism and love of country. There are prayer requests lifted up for people in other states and even in other countries whose suffering has come to their attention. I am simply describing the "normalcy," the humanity of these guys. This observation teaches me to check my beliefs.
First, to not believe that someone has no hope. Yes, many ex-convicts will never learn, will continue to make bad choices, and will keep law enforcement officials busy. But there are many who do actually regret their past choices and are actively pursuing repentance and restoration, and striving to be men of character.
Second, I have to check my beliefs when outside the prison; to not think anyone (including myself) is above being capable of doing evil. Define evil anyway you want, but the point is that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory (the standard) of God" (Romans 3:23); and that "none (are) righteous, no not one" (3:10; see also Psalm 14 and 53). Even David, the model leader and the "man after God's own heart" committed two capital crimes in one event: His adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband to cover it up (2 Samuel 11).
Some people are simply devastated by the revelation that their hero or mentor, or a parent, had done some awful deed. It is a big problem and a time bomb that will eventually blow up in your face, when you believe in the inherent goodness of a person, or people, more than the goodness of God. He bore our evil and died to pay the penalty for it. That's why God became a man (John 1:1-5, 14, and 29-35; Philippians 2:5-11) and He "Himself bore our sins in His body on the (cross) ..." (1 Peter 2:24a). We can be encouraged to know that God initiated this sacrificial action on our behalf long before we were aware of it.
"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
He didn't wait for people to straighten up and fly right. You can't, on your own, be that good.
Being in prison among men whose sins have cost them their freedom and have hurt a lot of people, makes me examine myself. The Bible warns:
"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
We should never think that we are "so good" because we are not "that bad."
"For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another" (Galatians 6:3-4).
Your righteousness is not founded in comparison to the weaknesses of others. It's granted to you according to how closely you are walking with the Lord.
"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, 12624 Trinity Church Drive, Clear Spring, MD (1/4 mile east of Clear Spring on Rt. 40). Listen to Pastor Dennis on WJEJ-1240 AM, Tues and Thurs, at 10:45am and 7:50pm, both days. www.hilltopchristianfellowship.com.