I’m naturally skeptical of trends. When I started seeing billboards by the interstate for something called www.iamsecond.com, I was skeptical. The website features video clips of various celebrities (both major and minor) as well as others offering a brief testimony concerning their commitment to Christ.
The site is extremely well done, worthy of attention, and will surely challenge the popular images of what a Christian “should” be.
But over time, as I saw the aggregation of Facebook status updates, I began to wonder if the site and its mission were becoming yet another victim of mass-market spirituality (think: WWJD? all over again), a concern that the group’s organizers seemed to share.
Then yesterday I logged on to see this update, accompanied by a photo album of men in orange jumpsuits:
“Chaplain Albert started an ‘I am Second’ group in one of the pods (dorm rooms) at a local state jail. Recently 25 inmates received certificates for completing 10 sessions. As they are moved to different pods or different state prisons, many are now ready to start their own I am Second groups. Anyone can be a missionary!”
Here’s a guy who turned a group of convicts into a group of missionaries. I cannot say nearly enough of what a great thing this is, and what a piercing reminder it is to all of us of the power of the gospel. And if I may be uncharacteristically gushy, I love love LOVE what I see happening here.
As I see the photo of orange jumpsuits, I cannot help but be reminded of the words of Paul to the church at Corinth – a city known in the ancient world for its lofty, metropolitan culture.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)”
When God was looking to build His organization (i.e., the Church), He didn’t hand-pick an “A-team” of winners. He chose the “low and despised.”
He chose the losers. The fishermen. The tax collectors. The uneducated. The overweight. The trekkies. The Nascar fans. The people who drive with their blinker on. The chronically unemployable. The people of Wal-Mart (and yes, there’s a site).
The ones who mess up. The ones who find themselves in orange jumpsuits and in prison.
And yes, sometimes he even chooses to use the seminary graduates.
Lately I’ve been wondering if I’ve been casting a lot of stones, whether at the political crowd or the Jonas Brothers. I really want to engage culture redemptively, but also maintain the kind of examined life that does not confuse sarcasm for genuine wisdom nor cynicism for spiritual maturity. I have degrees in subjects some people have never even heard of. I’ve studied languages that no one even speaks anymore. I read 10 books a month, and that’s not even when I’m under contract. But I can be just as easily be put to shame by the God’s chosen foolish.
John Piper writes the following to pastors, though it is quite equally applicable to every serious student of Jesus:
“We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Matt. 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph. 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps. 42:1).” (John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals)
Jesus came to make us missionaries, but He first came to transform us. He came to make us His followers, but He first came to make us His people. The prisoners in this photo can testify to an amazing grace of a sound so sweet that it can save each of us.
Even a wretch like me.