Editor’s note: This column is an excerpt from Stan Moody’s newest book, “Let My People Go! Following Jesus Into Our Jails and Prisons.”
Missing in some Christian circles is a firm grasp of the doctrine of the Kingdom of God, after which we are commanded to seek (Matthew 6:23) ahead of our needs and wants.
If you are not seeking the Kingdom of God, you are not fulfilling your citizen responsibilities.
The Christian life is not a mere part of our existence, the spiritual piece. It is not the completion of a holistic lifestyle, rounding out the American dream. The Christian life is all of our existence. Everything else flows from our relationship with Christ.
We who claim Jesus Christ as Lord and the Kingdom of God as our homeland have stood by while America became “Incarceration Nation” with more prisoners even than the People’s Republic of China.
Have we contributed to this condition by priding ourselves in our moral standing with God? To assume our assigned roles as servants to the “least among us,” what calamitous action will it take on the part of God to get our attention?
Old patterns do indeed die hard. It is easier to save souls than to disciple. It is easier to conduct Bible studies than to apply the Word of God to daily life. It is easier to pass judgment on the morality of others in the quest for moral certainty on earth than relentlessly to pursue the spiritual kingdom of God.
If we are to change course – and we must – every facet of our life of worship must come under intense scrutiny. Some dismantling may be required of us; certainly, the least required of us will be painful prioritizing.
With our governments running out of money for social programs, the church of Jesus Christ is being called to answer the need in a way not seen for most of our lifetimes.
The need is urgent.
“Let My People Go!” addresses two basic questions through 12 small-group studies: What are we as Christians supposed to be doing, and in what way does what we are doing interfere with what we are supposed to be doing?
We get our marching orders from the judgment scene of Matthew 25, where the distinguishing feature of the life hidden in Christ is service to the poor, the hungry, the sick and the prisoners.
Yet, much of our church experience is avoidance of the detailed, dirty business of being Christ to the exiles. Through fear and cultural provincialism, our churches have become insulated against people we don’t understand or those who have nothing to offer to our church culture except deep needs often beyond our capacity to address or solve.
Jesus called Christians to embark on a life of interruptions, sacrifice and rejection – the messy business of touching a life. There are two preparations to become immersed in service to others: a desire to follow Christ wherever He may be and an eagerness to be ready to respond when the call comes.
This study addresses both preparations and encourages us to face our fears head on.
Your calling is unique to you. To be alert and ready is to be willing. To be too busy or too overwhelmed to respond to that calling is to go through the motions of worship without sacrifice. That is not Christianity. That is religion.
To seek, to prepare and to be alert all come together to bless the life of the committed. God wants you and your church to come alive, to recapture the ministry to the exiled that we have left for so long in the hands of a government now running out of money and interest beyond the vote.
The church of Jesus Christ is the most cohesive force for change in our culture. In order to rise to the challenge, however, one believer at a time must step out of our defensive, defeatist persecution complex.
The size of the congregation, while measured in the standards of the American dream of prosperity and success, is incidental to the victory promised through the Kingdom of God.
Our jails and prisons, the primary focus of this study, are destined to become a future target of civil rights in America. The overriding principal of church relevancy being ministry to the least among us, we truly have a captive audience of those caught in the criminal justice system and those of their loved ones reeling from despair.
That ministry comes in a myriad of shapes and forms, yet it comes. It is not a mere part of our religious programming; it cuts across the entire gospel and measures our faith and practice.
It is our hope and prayer that you, the reader, will be stirred to seek, to prepare, to be alert and to act through this journey.
Stan Moody is a former state legislator and prison chaplain. He is senior pastor at Columbia St. Baptist Church in Bangor, Maine and is the author of five books. His newest book is available on WestBow Press.