Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The gospel and suffering

My friend Luke is a prison chaplain. At the prison he works at, there are five different facilities that house inmates, each one with varying levels of freedom. The lowest level are men who work outside, who aren't locked into cells, and don't have gates keeping them there. At the highest level is full lockdown with double doors, double windows, gates, bars, razor wire, the whole thing. As one of the chaplains, Luke gets the opportunity to preach in each of these facilities. Though he is new, other chaplains have described to him something that he is beginning to see as well. Chaplains describe that the enthusiasm for the gospel is inversely related to the level of freedom that the inmates have. Those that have quite a bit of freedom are generally emotionless and subdued in hearing the gospel preached to them. Those that are kept under higher levels of security express much greater enthusiasm for the gospel.

I suppose this shouldn't surprise me. Jesus had crowds of "sinners" that couldn't get enough of him. Those that outwardly were probably furthest from God were the most attracted to a message of hope and grace and freedom. On the other hand, religious people hated Jesus. Those that outwardly seemed to have it all together had the least need for Jesus (or so they thought) and therefore saw Jesus words as a threat rather than a welcomed hope.

We see the same thing outside of prison walls though don't we? Why is it that the church in the United States is in decline while everywhere else in the world it is flourishing? Why is it that in some of the most difficult, painful places in the world the gospel is seeing unprecedented growth and advance? Freedom, prosperity, and consumerism can be numbing. The church in America is largely filled with affluent people who have always had everything they wanted. We have rarely been in a position where our freedom has been limited. We have probably never gone without a meal - except by choice. If we don't like Church A, then we'll just go down the street to Church B. Or maybe we'll just stay home.

While the reality is that the church here is in decline, I am hopeful for the church. I believe that our best days are still ahead of us. The church in the western world has unprecedented opportunity. But we need a desperation for God. We will never change the world by being comfortable. We must be willing to step into brokenness, to embrace the suffering, and to learn from our brothers and sisters around the world who are poor and marginalized. Our freedom and our prosperity must never be allowed to numb us to the power of the gospel. Jesus said that he came for the sick. He came to set the prisoners free, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry. I want to be part of a church that is full of sick, naked, hungry prisoners. I want to be surrounded by people who are desperate for God, aware of their own failures, and eager for more of Jesus.


Great post man. I'm seeing a trend on blogs I read today about this and that's kinda cool. Maybe God's trying to speak into us about something here.

I just came across your blog and had no idea you wrote about this...Very cool! I like the connections you made with the western church. I will have to share your thoughts with the other chaplains. Good stuff!

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