As a church, we’ve been talking about a good many things recently. Our rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love with God. I think that all of these center on building, maintaining and strengthening our relationship with Him.
When we experience re-introduction to Him as often, and as passionately, as possible, our faith is renewed. When we have an opportunity to experience this renewal regularly – it is easier for our hearts to remain open to both the pain in the world around us and to God’s immense ability to provide grace – to heal the wounded, the broken, the hungry. Being open to these situations helps us invite Him into our lives – invites Him to work THROUGH us to bring His message, His Grace, His Peace, His Joy to those around us.
This evening, I want to share with you two very special ways in which I experience this “re-introduction” to my Lord consistently.
I go to prison once a month. I go as part of Epiphany Ministry – a group of Christians who bring the message of Christ’s love and grace to young men and women who made choices which put them at odds with the law…and got caught.
We go to tell them that they are loved. That second chances are possible. Even for them. No matter what they’ve done. We don’t ask. We offer second chances to many teenagers who never even had a first chance.
George told us on Sunday that 2/3 of the world doesn’t know Jesus Christ. I’m pretty sure most of us thought that those people live outside the United States but I can tell you from experience that some live in South Carolina. Some live in Aiken County.
Some of our youth have heard the NAME “Jesus Christ” but have never witnessed His work in the world. For many, the three-day walk they share with us, the two-hour “reunions” we hold once a month and the letters they receive in reply to their own are the first tangible evidence they have that someone, anyone, loves them and is glad that they live.
I started working with this ministry believing that, while I hadn’t figured everything out yet, I was somehow going to bring healing to these wounded and broken children. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
What I didn’t realize is: I was still empty inside and my heart was hungry for something I didn’t have a name for yet. I was still broken. I was still living within a prison of my own making and there were cavernous spaces still empty.
To begin with – the very thought of me being in a position to “minister” was laughable. I mean, look at my life! Without going into detail…I spent years just “being”…demonstrating no faith other than that which gave me permission to do whatever I wanted to do. And I’m here to tell you that I made bad choices. I have a lifetime strewn with things unfinished and examples of not living up to the plans God made!
Yes, I am now a woman of faith but, still…what qualifies ME to help these hurting teenagers find God?
Nothing. Nothing qualifies me except my willingness to become the hands and feet of God – and listen to the call to go where He sends me. And I have no doubt that He sent me there. I quickly figured out that I needed these hurting teenagers as much – or more – than they needed me. Their stories, their pain, their love, have helped me crack the walls of the prison I have built around the emptiness in my heart.
As I look around the room during an Epiphany event, I see the face of God in each of those hurting faces –each set of eyes daring me to be different from what they’ve known before. I meet God again, for the first time, in each wounded, broken child…I want to give them hope. I want to show them the possibility for joy. True, soul-deep joy that transcends any kind of “happy” the world has to offer. It isn’t going to happen overnight and we won’t be sure-footed at first; we’ll slip and fall. We must persevere. As Hebrews 3:14 reminds us “If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we’re in this with Christ for the long haul.”
Before I followed God’s call to work on an Epiphany team, I was living in a prison of my own making, never dreaming that the way OUT of that prison led INto a physical prison. In offering the message of a second chance in Christ to these prisoners, I found it myself.
I mentioned earlier that there is another place in my life where I meet God regularly. The People of the Second Chance Movement. Our website describes us as a “global community of activists, imperfectionists and second chancers committed to unleashing radical grace everyday, in every moment, for everyone.” We are encouraged to “Overthrow Judgement, Liberate Love” and practice radical grace. Every day. For everyone.
Practicing that ideal is nowhere near as easy as it sounds. In fact, in some cases, it’s downright difficult. We are challenged to think about Grace in a new, more complete light. We are charged with bringing Grace to those in our spheres of influence who need to be told or reminded that God is there for them – and so are we. No matter what they’ve done.
Our current campaign is a series of posters, each containing a silhouette, of sorts, of a famous villain – some past, some current, some fictional, others real. Each one asks “Who would you give a second chance?” I can assure you that the discourse has been eye-opening. The premise being, of course that we are “NEVER BEYOND” a second chance.
Most of us, as Christians – believe that.
Until we’re faced with the image of, for instance, a klansman’s hood, or a child molester. Forgiveness gets a bit tougher then…second chances are harder to come by.
By encouraging us to face these issues, POTSC allows us to open up those dark parts of ourselves. The parts that we don’t see every day. The parts we haven’t let God touch.
As a result of my involvement and the honest, pointed discussion, I’ve examined my life and been able to forgive people in ways I never thought possible. Grudges and the weight they brought to bear on me for years, decades, have fallen away. It’s easier to see God without all that weight.
When we “mob” someone with Grace; when we try to tell someone else how special they are in God’s eyes; when we open up the dark parts of our hearts and our lives, we are afforded opportunities to see Him again.
I have shared Epiphany and POTSC with you. These are just some of the things in my life where I continue to meet God with fresh eyes. When I see His power at work in individuals, in the world, in me…I am continuing to build, maintain and strengthen my relationship with Him. I am ‘Staying in Love with God’ and allowing Him to satisfy the hunger in my soul.
I challenge you to find ways in your life to meet God again, to see Him in a new light. I can promise you it will help fill the hunger in your soul.