I spend my free time on most Monday evenings at a jail, showing videos and talking with the inmates about hope and their future. If you haven’t been in a jail before, it is a different world with it’s own set of rules, it’s own culture and a definite hierarchy. Most guys have an image to either create, or keep up and it is something to watch this occur before your eyes.
This week, I spent time with nine inmates and we talked about the hypocrisy of the church, specifically the people that make up the church. There was discussion about how church goers stare and wonder about new people. Sometimes with a critical eye, other times in curiousity. There was a consensus that it’s the people in a church that make them uncomfortable, not necessarily the concept of Christianity.
So I asked the guys, what would happen if I wandered into the places and groups that you hang out in? The response was the same as the one they receive in church; Why is he here, what does he want, who does he think he is. My favourite response, “Get his money.” That might be church too if you haven’t yet learned the concept of tithe and offering.
So we face the problem of a church looking very much like the world; or the world looking like the church? It was clear talking to the guys that transparency is expected, but not so much given. I would suggest this is from a risk of being vulnerable. It’s scary to be transparent.
This is where Galatians 6: 1-3 comes back into play. The NIV says “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.”
The Message says it this way, “Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.”
Are we doing this? Are we coming along side each other to lift each other up and help them through their tough times or are we being critical of others and condemning them for their mistakes? We would do well to learn to lift others up rather than condemn them to secrecy.
Everyone has a story. Listen to them. Come alongside them and walk with them through to the end.