Yesterday, I posted part 2 which you can read here.
The men at Florence were complete strangers when they passed through the gates of the prison. Many of them lived similar lives but never crossed paths. In the prison I met men from all walks of life and ethnicity. The men were black, Asian, white, really white, Indian, young, old, and everything in-between. I was told that in order to survive in the prison the different races did not mix. In the yard there would be a group of black men standing in isolation from a group of white men. All over the yard you will find these divisions based on race. It is interesting how racial segregation is key to survival in prison. The men stay separated and elect leaders within their own group to govern the others. It is unacceptable for the groups to mix except to fight; that is until Jesus enters the equation.
When the men checked into chapel everything changed. As soon as they crossed the red line all groups mixed with one another. Everyone was hugging each other, talking and praying. There seemed like a genuine care for one another inside the church. The love of Jesus is powerful. Jesus transforms enemies of the world to brothers in Christ.
This reminded me of the division and hatred between the Jews and the Gentiles. The two groups were so divided that the Jews could not imagine that God loved the other. And then Jesus interrupts the status quo and turns racial segregation upside down.
“Christ has made peace between Jews and Gentiles, and he has united us by breaking down the wall of hatred that separated us. Christ gave his own body 15 to destroy the Law of Moses with all its rules and commands. He even brought Jews and Gentiles together as though we were only one person, when he united us in peace.” [EPHESIANS 2:14-15]
When the wall of hostility comes down in Florence Prison something beautiful is created. These men will probably never be able to worship like this outside of the walls. No one will want to get that close, trust them with details about their life, or share in a family embrace. However, the same thing is happening within our churches. People are labeled based on their sins. “Oh, that is the woman who has slept with half the town. Stay away from him, he struggles with the bottle. She is a liar. He is a pornographer. He was arrested. She had an abortion.” All these sins separate us from one another in worship. We divide into our own little groups sharing just enough to known yet remain safe. When someone attempts to dig to deep about our struggles or our sin we dismiss them by painting an illusion. We would rather lie than expose our greatest struggles. Do we really have a church family when transparency is absent?
The family of God demands integration not segregation for survival.
When are we going to learn that we need each other? The men in Florence ended up in Prison because they went at it alone. They never admitted their weakness to another person and it finally caught up with them. You cannot go at your life alone. Addiction and temptations will overtake your life. It wasn’t until most of these men were caught that they discovered the strength of a transparent family.
Grab a hold of a friend, neighbor, co-worker, family member, or spouse today. Share your struggles and your frustrations and invite them to speak into your life, to walk through the struggle with you, and to be the church without the self-destructive divides sin creates. It is in this transparency that something beautiful is birthed – it is the church.