Thursday, May 29, 2008

Be Real - Lesson Learned Series

Recently I had an opportunity to go into a local jail in my city…no it wasn’t because I was sent there for doing something wrong. I was approached by a friend of mine who leads a weekly Bible study with the “Juvies” with the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry. He goes every Wednesday, and meets with any of the young men who want to join him for about an hour in a Bible study and discussion time.

I’ve had lots of experience over the years working in and around the prison and court system, but it’s been a while since I’ve been involved in a regular group like that. So I accepted his invitation and sat in on his group. There were about 10 young men in the room and even though we didn’t get into all the things they did that got them placed in this facility, I could tell there were years and years of pain and poor choices represented in that room.

They were very open to the leading and discussion guiding of my friend, and it was a lot of fun to help answer questions and point them to the source, which is Jesus.

After the class was over, I sat in with the Prison Chaplain as he led one of his groups that day as well. His group was not the Juvies, no these guys were hardcore! I sat in a room surrounded by murderers, rapists, and who knows whatever else got them where they were. It was interesting as I watched the Chaplain interact with these guys. I mean he knew what they had done, he knew every detail but yet he addressed each guy with love and respect and challenged them with the truths of God’s word in a way that was inspiring and filled with hope.

He didn’t water it down; he didn’t make the message soothing so that these guys would like him…no he gave it to them straight up. He told them that according to God’s word because of their sin they deserved death, he told them that separation from God in hell for eternity was where we all deserve to go because of our sin, but because of Jesus we can have eternal life which is the furthest thing from what we really deserve. He was real, honest, open, tough and full of Hope with these guys who were doing time for what they did.

As he was speaking so truthfully it reminded me of the first time I took my youth group to Adventure Camp in West Virginia. It was a miracle that we were even allowed to go in the first place especially after the parents meeting I had in order to explain and convince them that it was going to be all right to take their kids rafting, rappelling, and Mountain Biking for a week in the New River Gorge of WV.

I think it was probably the “Assumption of Risk” form that they had to sign that made them a little edgy. The form said “All of the activities at Adventure Camp have an element of risk involved. You are assuming the risk for your child…If they get hurt or die you are releasing the camp, and won’t sue!”

Yeah that was an interesting meeting, but the bottom line was that I knew that if we could get our kids out of their comfort zone and challenge them with some things they would probably never get do, we would start to see some qualities like, faith, teamwork, unity and trust begin to emerge.

Well, they bought it, and we loaded up the van and headed south to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia for a week of fun and challenge through extremely risky adventures like rafting, rappelling and mountain biking.

Everything was going great; we were ready to tackle our first challenge of the week, whitewater rafting the class 3-5 rapids of the lower New River. We got our life jackets, oars and helmets on and proceeded to the waiting area where the guides were assembled to go over the rules and expectations for the day. We were really excited and full of anticipation; there were smiles galore, as we thought about how awesome this day was going to be.

Excitement abounded, that is until the head guide stepped to the front and for the next 30 minutes explained to us how risky this adventure really is. He didn’t pull any punches. He had kind of a monotone low speaking voice that would get louder and louder until he would come to his crescendo, which was also the main point he wanted to deliver to us. It went something like this…

“Ladies and gentleman it is my job to inform you of the inherent risks, and dare I say DANGERS of what we are about to partake of today. Rafting may look like a fun sport to the novice, and fun it is, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out the crucial elements that you need to abide by if you want to come back from this trip ALIVE!”

What? I sat in the back of the group, and when he proclaimed that little gem, every single one of my leaders and students swiveled their heads in my direction and glared the most hideously evil glare I have ever seen in my life. Without words they were saying to me “Pastor Brent, what have you done? Have you brought us out of our land of comfort to die here in this gorge? Dude, when we get back… if we get back, you are SO FIRED!”

I admit I was a little concerned as well especially when the guide continued his explanation of each of the pieces of equipment that would hopefully keep us alive on the trip. Here’s basically what he said…

“Ok, if you want to come back alive, actually enjoy this day, and experience the incredible things we’re going to experience here’s what you need to know about your equipment. See this yellow plastic hat? It’s called a helmet, it belongs on your head at all times, it is a very important device because if…I mean… when you get flipped out of the raft today and your head hits a rock…if you don’t have your helmet on (Insert Crescendo) YOU’RE GONNA DIE!

See this oar? This oar is a very important tool, it will help direct you and your fellow raft mates through very treacherous waters today…if…I mean… when it gets stuck under a rock it will act like a catapult and send you flying across the river, usually headlong into a rock, which if you don’t have your helmet on and firmly fastened (insert crescendo) YOU’RE GONNA DIE!

See this beautifully adorned floatation device? It’s called a life jacket…key word…LIFE! If…I mean… when you get tossed, chucked, launched and or catapulted out of the raft, and fly headlong across the river and hit a rock, you may have a temporary reprieve since you were wearing your helmet, but if you don’t have your life jacket on and securely fastened, you’re going to find yourself swimming with the fishes and (insert crescendo) YOU’RE GONNA DIE!”
At this point those evil looks that my group was giving me had turned into some serious laser guided death glares complete with a few hand motions of clenched fists being shaken in my general direction.

What had I done? Why did I bring my group on this adventure experience only to be known as the Youth Pastor who went to camp with 20 kids and returned with maybe half of them? Why couldn’t we have just gone to “Kumbaya Camp” like every one else? I felt so bad, until the guide began his monotone caveat to his previous truth filled monologue of death.

Here’s what he said, and I am so glad he added this next part, not only because i
t relieved some of the pressure from me, but it became the theme for our week, and for many of our kids, for the rest of their lives…He said…

”You know guys, life isn’t easy, in fact it’s downright dangerous, and too many times in life people set out without knowing the real deal. Today I want you to know the real deal, but you know what, if I stopped there and didn’t tell you the rest of the story what a message of doom that would be. You know God is that way as well, He wants us to know that there are dangers out there, the devil is sneaking around ready to pounce, but if we follow Jesus’ way and obey His commands for our lives, we will experience life in a way that others can only dream of…Today on this rafting trip, I want you to obey the rules, keep alert, trust your equipment and more than anything follow the guide! You see if you follow the guide, you will not only come back alive, you will experience (Insert Crescendo) THE RUSH OF YOUR LIFE!
The Christian life is that way as well, if you keep your eyes on the Guide (Jesus) He will lead you through tough, choppy, class 5, 6, and 7 waters and even though you may not understand it at the time, you will look back on it and realize that He knew what He was doing all along, and was right there with you in your boat…That’s the real deal! Now who wants to go rafting?" (Insert Eruption and mass jubilation from the crowd).

What an incredible day we had...each adventure was introduced in a similar way, and each adventure taught us in vivid fashion what things like, faith, trials, pain, hardship, trust and Salvation are all about.
The guides gave it to us Real, and my group responded, in fact they responded so much, that for the next 12 years or so every single year we took a group to experience the life changing adventure that events like rafting and rappelling afford to those who are willing to obey and follow the lead of the guide.
So as I sat there watching the prison chaplain being authentically real with his group, and realizing how it’s so crucial for us to speak the truth in love, even when it’s hard, I was reminded again of how incredible God’s plan really is, and I was challenged to be real with the group of inmates that I’ll be meeting with each week.
You see, not only was I watching and observing that day…the Chaplain invited me to take a group of hardcore inmates who know all about the real deal of life, but now need to know the real deal about life to it’s fullest through Jesus.

My wife and I prayed about it, and the other day I accepted the invitation to go into the city jail every Wednesday (when I’m not traveling), and BE REAL with my group of guys who need to know more than anything the caveat to the monologue of death which is…

”If you follow the guide, you will not only come back alive, you will experience (Insert Crescendo) THE RUSH OF YOUR LIFE!”

Lesson Learned

1 comment:

  1. Just what I needed this week! Thanks for the encouraging words. The message that Christ is there with us never gets old! --Aaron