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Garza County News

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Pastor Scott Richards, First United Methodist Church, Post

It's All About God

Epiphany weekend reflections

Published March 6, 2012 @ 8:51 p.m.

We have now finished Epiphany weekend #10 at the Garza County Juvenile Facility.  It was a wonderful weekend.  Many of the young men gave their lives to the Lord.  Others found new strength for their Christian walk.  Still others simply had a seed planted in their lives and we who were on the team are praying for the day that seed bears fruit. 

There are many who are skeptical about prison ministries in general.  The popular thought process seems to be that these prison conversions will never last.  Stories abound of men and women who have had a prison conversion but as soon as they get out they get drunk and on drugs again.  I know such things do happen.  But I also know that many who give their lives to Jesus Christ in prison live for Jesus the rest of their lives both in prison and in the free world.  I have seen it with my own eyes.  And, I am not the only one.  Speak to a correctional officer at the juvenile facility and it is likely that they will tell you that Epiphany weekends make a big difference.

Sometimes, though, it is not the residents of the prison that get the biggest blessing from such weekends.  Living out the scriptures in what most people would think of as a radical way seems to have a profound effect on those who agree to be a part of the teams for these weekend adventures.  I am an example.  Here are just a few of the lessons I have learned by participating in prison ministries.

I have learned that I should not judge; not even myself.  This might seem like an odd statement but Paul himself says in 1st Corinthians 4:3-4 “Now, I am not at all concerned about being judged by you or by any human standard; I don't even pass judgment on myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not prove that I am really innocent. The Lord is the one who passes judgment on me.”  I no longer belong to myself.  I belong to God and only God has the right to pass judgment on me.  And what is God’s judgment?  Jesus says, “I love you this much”, and He stretched out His arms and died on the cross.  That death did not purchase my forgiveness.  That death purchased me.  I have no right to judge myself because I belong to another.

I have learned that God loves each of us with an infinite love.  Christ didn’t die just to purchase me.  Christ died to purchase murderers, rapist, and child molesters.  Christ died to purchase judges, prison officials, and upstanding citizens.  Christ died to purchase the saintly ladies that give all their lives to the service of God and the prostitutes who have given their lives to service others.  Christ died to redeem all of creation to Himself. God is no respecter of persons.  This means my friends, my enemies and myself.  I have learned that God loves me, them and us.

I have learned that this is love, “Not that we first loved God but that God first loved us and gave His Son to die for us as a sacrifice for our sins.”  What that means is that it is when I have received God’s love that I can give away God’s love.  But as long as I am my own god trying to earn my own way into heaven, somehow expecting to make myself good enough for God, that I can never love with the love of God for I have not yet received God’s love.  How do I know that I have not received God’s love?  I judge.  Whether I judge myself or others if I am judging I have not yet allowed God to fill me with God’s love.  Odd thing about God, He can make me do anything God wants.  But God chooses to let me have the right of refusal.  But again, that is a part of God’s love.

I have learned the truth of what Romans 5:9 says, “While we were still sinners Christ died for us. That proves God’s love towards us.”  Christ died for me not because I had become good enough for God but because I could never be good enough for God. This is true for every person.  The climax of the first argument in Romans comes in 3:10 and following which is a string of quotes from the Psalms that begins “There is none righteous, no not one.”  Whether the world’s worst criminal or the world’s greatest saint I need Jesus.

I have learned that Jesus didn’t die so I could change but that Jesus died so I could be exchanged.  Many people misunderstand what John 3:3 says.  Jesus doesn’t say you must be born again but that you must be born from above.  That is to say, we don’t just start over as a new human.  We start over as a completely different creature.  The old soul of Adam can never have any part of God.  Rather, God bears a new soul within me by His Holy Spirit that thinks, wills, and has the emotions of a child of God. 

Many Christians give their lives to Jesus and then think that it is up to them to live good enough in this new life to be pleasing to God.  We go back to Adam’s way of thinking.  We are going to take heaven by storm.  We are going to determine right and wrong for ourselves.  But what God longs for us to do is to surrender to God so that God has control over that creating process within us in order that we might become the image of Jesus Christ.  My life is no longer about what I do but about what God does through me.

I have learned that it isn’t about me, it’s all about God.  Another way I have heard that put is that God always comes to us on His way to someone else.  I picture my life in God as a conduit whose major purpose is to be an open form of transportation for God’s love from heaven and out into the world.  Do I always live up to this vision? Not yet.  But I believe that God is going to make me that perfect conduit and when God does that, I will look like Jesus.  May God fill you with God’s love. 

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