Prison Was The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me

Those words echoed in my ears just as soon as I heard them at church a few months ago. They were spoken by a guy that was a drug dealer, got busted and sent to prison. ([Check out his story][1], it’s pretty cool. You can jump to 41:45 to see his part in the video.)

[1]: Ink&md=02-27-11

There’s so much about the world and about God that I don’t know or understand, but if there’s one small part I feel pretty safe in saying, it’s that God redeems. It’s a churchy word that gets thrown around by preachers a lot, but I think we’ve lost some sense of what the word means. It means to buy back or to recover by making a payment.

What are the things God redeems? He certainly redeems people. From Paul, who started out as the greatest persecutor of the Church, he eventually became its greatest advocate. Not for riches or fame, he traded his safe leadership with the local religious establishment for shackles and chains. But only because of the redemptive power of God could such a thing happen.

For Christian (in the video), God redeemed him from being a drug dealer into a father and leader.

He also redeems circumstances. I know plenty of people who have been victims of abuse, rape, illness and cancer who have overcome so much. They embody Proverbs 24:16: “The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again.” He redeemed Christian’s circumstance, turning it from the worst moment of his life to the best thing that had ever happened to him.

He redeemed the Crucifixion of Jesus. There’s a reason the day He died is now called Good Friday, even though we would think that there is nothing remotely good about that day.

What is most amazing is that this redemption is impossible to see as the situation is happening. Even Jesus, who was well aware of the game plan and the fact that Sunday was coming cried out asking why God had forsaken Him.

How often in difficult and draining circumstances do we just stop and wonder, God, where the heck are you!? We think God has left us, when in reality, if we let Him, He may just be using this impossible situation to do the greatest good in your life you could never imagine or even ask for.

And here’s the really cool thing about being a part of the global movement God is doing in this world we call the Church: you can be a part of it.

As the Church, I think we’ve gotten too comfortable becoming the religious establishment of our day. We think our job is to shout at the world, to condemn it of its many sins and wrongs.

But the world does not need condemnation, it has that already. (John 3:18) What the world needs is redemption. Yelling at the world for what it’s doing wrong is useless and worthless. We need to spend a lot less time judging and condemning and a lot more time connecting people with the redemptive power of God. To throw a party, with Jesus at the center of attention, and all the sinners as invited guests. (I love that the religious establishment always accused Jesus of partying too much!)

How can we be a part of God’s work in redeeming (recovering) the good from even the worst bad situations? Well, only God can redeem, but we can put ourselves near God’s redemptive work.

Get uncomfortable. If you want to see cancer redeemed, you’re going to have to befriend cancer patients. If you want to see prisoners one day say that prison was the best thing that ever happened to them, get to know prisoners. If you want to see how child abuse can be redeemed, get to know abused children.

This is exceedingly uncomfortable. You won’t know what to say. (And throw out anything even vaguely preachy, it won’t help. Please don’t do that.) Too often we exclude ourselves in our Christian ghettos, Churches, Christian private schools, Christian universities, Christian small groups, Christian music. Ad nauseum. (and it is rather nauseating)

If all the people you know already have all their crap together, you can’t be the witness to the great redeeming work God wants to do with abuse victims, cancer patients and prisoners.

Secondly, you can’t be the instrument God uses to help redeem people. God does all of the redemption work, but He can use us to point the way to Him. Unless you prioritize staying comfortable over being a part of something amazing.

This also means that we need to de-ghettoize our Churches. Jesus likened himself to a Doctor. It’s not the well that need a doctor, but the sick. If Jesus is the doctor, our Churches are the hospitals. Who is attending your Church? The healthy or the sick? The religious people who have all their stuff together, or the sinners that are still trying to figure all this stuff out?

One of the many reasons I love my Church Flatirons. I have been to a lot of Churches, and none felt like they were more desperate for Christ than the people of Flatirons. This isn’t a country club, it’s a hospital… and enormous things are happening.

Don’t discount what God can redeem. The Church has been fairly narrow minded in what it believes that God can redeem. It may not be said exactly this way, but the Church has long held legalistic views on what God will do and what He can’t. There was a time when church people thought technology was of the devils doing. God redeems it and opens it up as the greatest new mission field in history. People once thought that music shouldn’t be part of the Church. God redeems it for His glory. Some thought rock and roll, and guitars and everything but harps was heresy. God redeems it, and now Christian music is one of the top music categories.

Some now think that churches should always have crosses, and stained glass, and pews. God redeems it still. Some also think that “secular” songs have no place within a church, but God still redeems all music and all creative expression for His glory.

If you think God can’t redeem something, your God is much smaller than the actual God who redeems all things.

The Church is God’s instrument of work in this world. And God’s work in this world is to redeem it. To do with the absolute worst things what we thought was impossible: to recover the best things out of them.