January 8, 2018

Ridge Reading Challenge: Devotional Luke 6:37

Luke 6:37 NLT

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.”

“What would it be like if you were known for the worst thing you’ve ever done?”

When I first heard Catherine Hoke, the founder of the Prisoner Entrepreneurship Program (PEP), speak at Willow Creek,  I remember she opened with that question.

All of us sat in silence, probably terrified by the idea. She continued. “That’s what’s happening every day to people who are incarcerated. They’re labeled, marked, and branded forever. The difference between some of us in the audience and those that are in prison today  is just one little thing - that they were caught.”

That day I left church challenged and curious about my own prejudices against people who are or have been incarcerated. I think if I was to put my finger on it, most of my thoughts were fear driven. When I was younger, my family had been victimized by an attempted burglary and also a murder, which claimed the life of my step-brother.

For years after, I had anxiety when I would walk outside alone. Despite these feelings, I felt God very clearly impress on me a desire to visit prison. About six years, two babies, and a white picket fence later, my husband and I boarded a plane to go visit the PEP Program in a medium-security prison based out of Cleveland, Texas. We sat eye-to-eye with 25 men and listened to their stories, then tried to help them create business plans that would help them post-release.

At one point, I sat down to consult with this guy who was completely tattooed, bald, and totally huge – the kind of guy who would have had me pulling out my pepper spray if I saw him on the street. I felt my old prejudices and fear start to creep in. I said a silent prayer and we started talking about his goals for his business. By the end of our conversation, I was so moved by his faith in God, his gentle and loving spirit, and his kind smile that I actually started to cry. I told him that I was crying because I realized just how big our God is – He isn’t contained by these prison walls or separated from us by the things we’ve done. He’s everywhere – even in the places that we think are hopeless. As I continued, he started to tear up. We shared an unexpected moment and a few Kleenexes that day.

That interaction and experience became a beacon of sorts for how I want to live my life – seeing people as God created them to be, not for their mistakes, rap sheet, or outward appearance. Because I couldn’t imagine if I were only known for the worst thing I had ever done. Could you?

Who do you have prejudices against? Ask God to open your mind and heart this week to be curious about why you feel this way as you continue this reading challenge.

We hope you’ll continue to make daily Bible reading priority, as we all see how God wants to move in our lives as dive into the New Testament together.