JAIL BREAK!March 29th, 2012
Can you believe this statistic? The April 2 issue of TIME magazine ran a column that reported on prisoner-to-population ratios in some of the developed countries of the world. Japan, for example, has 63 incarcerated individuals for every 100,000 citizens. In Germany there are 90 prisoners for every 100,000. France has 96, South Korea 97 and Britain has 153 prisoners per 100,000 of their population. And what about the United States? In this nation for every 100,000 citizens we have 760 prisoners! Am I the only one that finds that number astounding? In this hemisphere Mexico has 208 per 100,000 and Brazil 242—but we have 760? Someone has calculated that while American has 5% of the world’s population, we make up 25% of the world’s incarcerated.
To the place that in 2011 California spent $5.7 billion on its University of California system and its state colleges , but $9.6 billion on its prisons. In fact since 1980 California has built a single college campus but 21 prisons—with a per college student cost of $8,667 per year and a per prisoner cost of $45,006 a year. (TIME, 4-2-12, p 18)
Social scientists suggest numerous explanations for the high U.S. incarceration statistics. Some say it is America’s “Wild West culture” and tough legal system. Others note that in reality in 1980 we had only 150 prisoners per 100,000 citizens—so what could be driving the numbers so high? These analysts conclude it must the ramped up “war on drugs” with its get-tough clean-the-streets policies. Who knows for certain?
What is sure is that in the realm of the spiritual our incarceration rate is 100%. The ancient prophet Isaiah described “the prison house” of sin in which every inhabitant has been “jailed.” But quick on the heels of that abysmal statistic comes his stunning promise of the Messiah whose mission will be “to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house” (Isaiah 42:7).
We gather on this glorious spring Sabbath to commemorate (to celebrate) the jail break that Jesus on the cross achieved. No matter the ball and chain of that particular sin that binds you and me (and each of us knows it all too well)—whatever the habit, the guilt, the past that enchains our lives, our minds—the One who died for us at Calvary still declares, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Which is why today we can approach His cross in holy communion with joyful penitence—“penitence” because our hearts grieve and repent of the sins that cost Christ His life and death on our behalf, and “joyful” because there is no greater joy than walking out of the prison house that has held you.
The incarceration rate is 100% for us sinners. But the liberation rate is 100% for those who walk through the open prison door to the Savior. And good news—the cell door is open today!
THE TORNADOMarch 8th, 2012
The tornados that swept through, to the south of us a few days ago, leaving vast swaths of devastation and death, also left behind a collection of stories for the ages. Like the one about Latonya Stevens who heard the thunder and lightning in the distance, ran for her four children, but mysteriously passed out—and when she came to, the roof was gone, and so were three of her children—who were found up to a hundred feet away, with only cuts and bruises and a story to tell for the rest of their lives!
Not so fortunate another young mother, Stephanie Decker, who was at home with her two children when the deadly twister struck their three-story brick house in Marysville, Indiana. Her husband, a high school math teacher, had been texting her to get the children into the basement. She texted back that the whole house was shaking. And then no further messages. Turns out Stephanie had spotted the tornado moving across their acreage toward the house, had tied both children to her and each other with a blanket and then instinctively threw herself on top of the children as the tornado exploded into their home. When the mayhem passed, the house was collapsed. The young mother was pinned, her legs crushed by the fallen debris. Neighbors called for help, a deputy sheriff applied tourniquets, she was rushed to a local hospital, then airlifted to the University of Louisville hospital, where it was determined she had lost both legs, one above the knee and the other above the ankle. And the children? Unscathed. Saved by their mother’s sacrificial action. Said her husband, “‘I told her, “They’re here because of you.’” (South Bend Tribune 3-6-12)
Which, as it turns out, is true of all of us, isn’t it? We’re here because of the sacrificial action of One who threw His body over us, “who loved [us] and gave Himself for [us]” (Galatians 2:20). We’re here because of Calvary, where Christ Jesus lost more than His legs in saving this world.
But the tornado? The ancient narrative of Job describes how the adversary of the human race (ha satan) harnesses the fury of the wind to destroy human possessions, human life—“and suddenly a great wind came” (Job 1:18, 19). The great winds of a tornado offer precious little time for preparation—sometimes only split seconds. Moments earlier life was copasetic—and then suddenly the world is upside down.
The point, like a tornado, is inescapable. Those who survive the fury of the wind are the ones who monitor the signs, who in a time of storm maintain heightened alert, who have in place emergency preparations for the eventuality. Through ancient Ezekiel God issues this fourth watch alert: “Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘A disaster, a singular disaster; behold, it has come! An end has come, the end has come; it has dawned for you; behold, it has come!’” (Ezekiel 7:5, 6). Like a tornado!
Which, of course, is the other point. Because “like a tornado” means you never really know. If you live in Tornado Alley (as all of earth’s inhabitants now do), you must live in prepared expectancy. To live unprepared is to spurn the gift of the One who lost more than His legs to save us from the impending storm.