Have you ever thought about what it would be like to spend over half of your life in jail? Most of us can’t fathom the thought of even visiting a jail, much less having to live in a jail cell. But, that’s just what over 154,000 inmates did at the former Ohio State Reformatory of Mansfield in it’s 94 years as a working prison.
Recently, Ben Snyder and a crew of CedarCreek folks visited the now vacant Mansfield reformatory to witness its history and gaze upon its Chateauesque features. Interestingly, the architect specifically designed the prison as a means to encourage inmates back to a “rebirth” of their spiritual lives and to inspire them to turn away from their sinful lifestyle and to turn toward repentance. Perhaps some inmates experienced this “rebirth” that the architect hoped for, but it’s likely that a number of them never quite recovered from their “imprisoned” state.
The 1994 movie, “Shawshank Redemption,” which was shot entirely on the Mansfield Reformatory grounds, did a great job of depicting the horrific and somewhat unsettling challenges that inmates likely experienced. Yet, it also displayed the triumphal victory that hope and true freedom can bring. In the movie, there was a scene where Brooks, who spent his entire adult life in prison, was finally released. Most would think that would be the greatest day ever, but not Brooks. After being released, he felt alone and fearful and scared most days because for most of Brooks’ life, he was told what to do, when to do it and how to basically live his life. He became what’s termed “institutionalized”; that is living life conforming to a basic set rules defined by a systematic way of living.
The opposite was true for Shawshank inmate Andy Defrasne. He said we all have to make a choice “to get busy living or get busy dying.” Andy chose to get busy living and abolished any thoughts of living institutionalized. Andy then inspired Red, another life-time inmate, to live the same way. When Red was finally released from prison, he realized that fear can hold you prisoner but hope can set you free.
A lot of us can likely relate to the prison that Brooks found himself in when he was finally released. While we haven’t gone so far as taking our own lives like Brooks’ did, we find ourselves living imprisoned and shackled by the shame and guilt of the terrible things we’ve done in our lives. And so we follow this “institutionalized” thinking that if we do certain works, perform certain tasks, overly commit to service activities that somehow this will act as payment for all the wrong we have done in our lives. Or, we become blinded by our own “self-righteous thinking” that we have earned God’s approval by all the work that we have done. And so we try and try. Then, we fail. Miserably. And the cycle continues.
This institutionalized thinking has no merit or bearing on the grace that God freely provides. We don’t have to pay for it, we can’t earn it and we certainly can’t obtain it by performing works or certain acts. If you are living in this type of “works” jail, there’s hope for your release. But be cautious: true freedom and hope that Red ever so eloquently inspired us with in the Shawshank movie can only come from God’s underserved and unmerited grace. Do you accept God’s free gift of grace?
Fear can hold you prisoner.
Hope can set you Free!
– Shawshank Redemption
MONDAY — Criminal Minded
Big Point: Freedom comes when we realize that sin causes us all to become criminal minded and we can’t do anything to earn God’s grace.
The latest neuroscience research is presenting intriguing evidence that the brains of certain kinds of criminals are different from those of the rest of the population. The research shows that most people with these criminal minds have what’s called an “antisocial personality disorder.” The Mayo Clinic says these people “typically have no regard for right and wrong. They may often violate the law and the rights of others.” Criminals like Joseph Kony, the head of a Ugandan guerrilla group responsible for an estimated 66,000 children becoming soldiers and displacing two million people. And individuals like Osama Bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh.
But, when you lay that research down in the eyes of God as we view sin, we all could be termed “criminal minded.” We know right from wrong yet we still sin. We disregard right from wrong in God’s eyes when we fight and argue with each other and go to sleep when we are still angry. We disregard right from wrong in God’s eyes when we gossip about each other and violate the rights of others. We disregard right from wrong when we subtly manipulate others to get what we want. Yes, we are all criminal minded sinners.
And, you could also say we become criminal minded to believe that when our sin is exposed, that we can earn God’s grace by doing a whole lot of work to earn His favor. God says to you, and even to the criminals listed above, that He will extend grace to those who believe and trust in Him. Often times we feel the need to do this extra work and we become these “self-exiled” prisoners believing that God can never love us since we can never do enough to earn his love. We just have to get over that. Andy Stanley describes grace in his book, The Grace of God as “the offer of exactly what we do not deserve … grace can only be experienced by those who acknowledge that they are underserving.” There lies the tension. The bottom line is we are all criminals underserving of God’s grace, but God still extends this free gift of grace to us—all of us, even the most heinous criminals who call Jesus their Lord and Savior. We simply need to get out of our own way of trying to earn it and freely accept it
Grace acknowledges the full implication of sin yet does not condemn
– Andy Stanley
Read and Think….Find Answers in the Bible
What does the following verse tell us about mankind, including ourselves?
1 John 1:8 (New Living Translation)
If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.
In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul writes about our poor choices as sinners. What is the response that we deserve from God?
Ephesians 2:1-3 (New Living Translation)
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
What does the following passage say about mankind’s sinful nature?
Romans 7:21-25 (New Living Translation)
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.
LIVE…What will you do now?
Who comes to mind when you think about the worst criminals from history lessons or in today’s news? How do you feel knowing that God would extend His grace to them upon their repentance?
In Ephesians 2:3, it says that we are all subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else, including the criminals you listed. How does this change your thoughts regarding this gift of grace from God?
Is there a sin that you cannot seem to break free from? How has this affected your view of God’s grace in your life? In Romans 7:21-25, what hope does Paul reveal?
Pray … God what do you want me to know & do?
Pray and ask the Holy Spirit to release the mindset that God’s grace is performance based. Praise God for this generous gift of grace in Jesus Christ who has already suffered and sacrificed his life for all of your sins, regardless of what you have done.