Summary: Do you hear that sound? That is the sound of...
Opening: (Keys Analogy) Would everyone in here that have keys, please take them from your pockets for a moment. Now, jingle them real loud. Do you hear that sound? That is the sound of freedom! As long as you have access to keys, you are free. Proverbs 27:17 says that as iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. In other words, who you hang with can determine your destiny. Choose wisely and your greatest of imagination can be realized. Choose unwisely and you can live a nightmare for a lifetime!
The nightmare I am referring to is Prison. A place where you have no keys.
I was making my rounds with my work, when I stopped by to visit with a Pastor friend. He made the comment that he was scheduled to preach at a local prison. The prison he referred to was Lee Arrendale State Prison. A maximum-security prison that housed “high max” male inmates. I casually mentioned that I would like to go and visit one Sunday during chapel. As God usually does when he is enlarging our borders like he did with Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4 and 10, And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, "Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, my border was about to be enlarged!
My Pastor friend told me that a former colleague at another church invited him. As it just so happened, I was scheduled to go by that particular church on business. I’ll never forget walking in and seeing this striking gentleman that exuded God and His love. He stuck out his hand and said, “Hi I am Ray Whiten.” I shook his hand and said I just left a friend of his that spoke of him being involved with prison ministry. I said that I would like to visit with him sometime. Immediately, he pulls out a pocket calendar and schedules me for the next service that month. In retrospect, I didn’t really want to go, but my casual comment turned into a commitment. So, three weeks later, I find myself walking through these huge steel doors…
As the large door clanged massively loud behind me, my heart began to race. I knew that until someone unlocked that door, I was locked in. We proceeded to the gymnasium. The Chapel was under renovation. I could not believe that at every turn were razor wire, gates and eyes watching you at every step. It is amazing how that once you step onto the grounds, you are watched intensely not just from the officers but the inmates. I reflected on how that we as Christians are on constant duty to live Christ like because of the constant eyes that watch us everyday.
Once inside the gym, my partner took me to the back of the auditorium. And then he left me! Then from the back hallway came 6 of the biggest, meanest looking inmates that were decorated with tattoos that I had ever seen. Have you ever seen a little Chihuahua shake when it is frightened? I began to shake uncontrollably like a Chihuahua! I said to myself Larry, what are you doing in this maximum security prison, when you could be at home still in the bed! The closer they came, the more I shook. Then as they got to me, I was expecting a “shank” (prison made weapon) but got a pleasant surprise. The biggest one of the group grabbed my shoulder and said, “Hi, I am Dan”. Then, after each introduction they formed a circle, grabbed my hand and began to pray!
Then after the prayer, we were led out into the gymnasium. As each inmate was busily preparing the stage, the other inmates began to file in one by one. Then after they had completed their entry, an inmate gets up and sings without music, “Eye on the Sparrow”. Let me tell you, when he got to the part about God watching the little sparrow and you know he has got to be watching me, the place erupted! We flat out had church that morning! As the service ended, Ray asked me, what did I think about the service and would I return. I smiled at him because it was as if God himself was asking me if was I coming back. I told him with out question I would visit again.
Then before you knew it, I was a regular. I became a friend with the inmates that always set the stage. We were not allowed to mingle with the ones that came to chapel for the service. Being a maximum-security prison, the rules were very strict and fortified. It was for the safety of the visitors. To be sincere with you, I was cool with the rules!