Elizabeth was talking with an administrator in the prison office. Suddenly, she heard a bunch of guys screaming. She ran outside and saw a prison van rocking wildly back and forth. She was told these are new prisoners who just pulled up and are screaming and getting violent because it is now dawning on them that they are about to leave society and enter this horrible place for their future for many years to come.
If you’ve never seen a third world prison, you can’t imagine the horrible condition of these places. Filthy, overcrowded, stench, terrible and little slop, crying and screams throughout the night, cold dripping called showers, no washers and dryers, dirty stinky clothes, rare recreational time and all this for years and years and years.
So many prison cells we walk by with hands reaching out, hoping to be touched. They go for years without ever being touched or touching anyone. Jesus was touched by everything that touches us but remained untouched by sin. He was both God in His power and a Man in His weakness and identity.
Men touched His hands and feet with nails. He touched men’s feet with a wash basin and a towel. Men touched Jesus with a whip. He touched men with healing, deliverance and food. A woman touched His cloak and instantly He was touched by her faith. A woman touched the face of Jesus with a cloth. He touched her with His blood. He told John, at the cross, to touch His mother and John held her in his arms.
Of all things John could have written, he says of the beloved Son “what we have looked at and touched with our hands” (1 Jn.1:1). It was the specific moments he remembered of touching the Person Jesus. You may want to love someone but don’t know what to say. Start with a touch….your touch. It starts with extending your arm. A pat on the back…a warm handshake. It will happen if you will start. Don’t know what to say in a situation? Walk in and use your hands…let them be His hands.
On the cross Jesus opened wide both arms and hands. He had touched mankind and had fully allowed them to touch Him and consider our horrendous response. Imagine this picture in His Father’s eyes. There would be no excuse for any one of us to say “Oh but God you don’t understand me”. You may not believe it but God did it. Jesus touched every space in this universe of man and every single part of us that sin inhabits and rules. There is nothing the Lamb did not touch and does not understand because He was there. (below is a photo of a mural behind us where we performed this morning).
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize (Greek literally “be touched”) with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted (touched) in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy (be touched) and find grace to help in time of need (to touch others)” (Heb.4:15).
The question is, will you let Him touch you? Will you touch Him? Will you touch others? Your life is flying by. Take a chance. Five fingers on two hands are there so you can literally touch people with the Father’s love. We can take the extended arms and hands of Jesus and extend them through us to a world reaching out in desperate need, like the prisoners sticking their arms through the bars of prisons cells.
Touching does not begin or end with physical contact. It is born in a broken heart. At the end of every road you’ve traveled is the nothingness you don’t want to face. How many times and ways that you thought would end in something new and different but all you found was nothingness. It is here in the desperation of desperation where His touch is waiting for you. When you are finally over and done with your ways, there is a hand from above waiting for you to grasp. “All day long I stretch out My hands…to someone who walks in the wrong way” (Is. 65:2). When you truly have been touched by Him the only response is to want to touch another’s hand.
We can go the extra mile to shake an extra hand, touch an extra shoulder, slap someone’s back, touch a nose with a finger and a smile, put our hand gently on the side of a face, use both hands to take two hands, just place one hand on someone’s back, point a finger at and then touch someone on their heart, use a fist to pump someone’s chest to signal ‘be strong’, and so many other creative ways. All this because we ourselves have been touched by the Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world. Let us be bold, to touch someone.…to love someone craving to be loved.
There are so many scores of people barely existing in this wicked world. They live in such sad loneliness and crave a loving touch. But would never admit it. So many homeless people whose lives you can comfort without a penny, just a touch. The same can be true of anyone around you. So don’t be afraid to do something that may seem awkward because the gospel is carried and spoken through mouth and touch. It is love. It is God touching men with Jesus through you. Wouldn’t you love to be the one that someone else tells others about how they were touched by you?
So many who crave what I have in my possession and can give to anyone at any time if I will be bold enough to do so. Knowing this truth helps us share the gospel with crowds who may initially seem intimidating. They are laughing and acting happy but because the Word of God tells us that it is misery in all men’s hearts we know that we can appeal to them as to how they really feel when they are all alone. We CAN come into their presence and touch them. We can give them the touch of the living Jesus.
Above is a photo of moment in our presentation when we ask the prisoners to participate in a movement symbolic of focusing their lives and in such a place of thought and focus beginning to seek Jesus.
This morning we were in a prison and a guy had only one arm. It was cold during our time there. I had an extra coat I gave him. He was very grateful. He told me a Lion had eaten his arm when he fell into it’s cage at the age of 12. It happened right here in the local zoo. His parents just let it happen. The lion ate his ear, part of his other arm and the back of his skull. It was as if the incident happened yesterday. He was still traumatized. He was like a little boy and just wanted to be held. We touched him. And he touched Jesus. His name is Louis (below).
There are people you encounter whom you can touch. Last fall I was holding a sign about Jesus and sharing with the crowds outside the University of Tennessee football stadium. A guy who had been in Iraq came up to me really angry. He told me had killed many men. He told me I had no idea the evil he had done. He was so amazingly honest. He said today’s churches are full of phonies and have no answers. He couldn’t believe it when I agreed with him. I just put my arm on his shoulder and listened.
Think of when you may have used the term or heard it used; “That was very touching”. It reaches deep within. It penetrates all your walls. This is our goal as children of God; to be “very touching”. Sincere. Alive. Compassionate. A Samaritan woman (a pagan) thought the issue of God was about going to a certain place, as do the majority of “Christians” today. But Jesus told her God had nothing to do with going to any place or doing anything. He touched this woman with truth and revelation. He told her that God wanted to make her suitable for Him by recreating her into “spirit” (Jn.4:24). How loved she must have felt. Could you not see Jesus holding her hand while talking to her?
The response of this woman filled Jesus with His Father’s joy to such an extent it was like he ate a delicious supper (Jn.4:34). They thought He meant physically but Jesus made it so clear that His whole desire was to do the most simplest and basic thing of touching souls with His Father’s love. That’s it.
Likewise, that guy at the Tennessee football game gave me my supper. He broke down and told me he would read anything I could give him. He asked what specifically did he need to do. I told Him everything is done. Talk to Jesus. Ask Him to save you. We both knew God had visited us right there in the middle of all that drunken madness in front of the stadium.
It was so awesome to be in Santiago, Chile for so long. Wow. God did so much over that time. There is a organization from France who ran this prison we went to last week. They saw our ministry and told us they would pay for us to go to a bunch of their prisons around the country. It was like music to our ears “They would pay for our gas and lodging?!”.We were planning to leave the next day and had made plans at another prison so we couldn’t change it. Finally someone actually offers to help us financially and we have to leave. Such a bummer we couldn’t do it.
These people were really amazing. This was a secular organization but welcomed the gospel because they saw it’s power to change men’s lives. Jesus is so awesome. Now if He would just get us that kind of support from someone over in Brazil. They reminded us of people from Colombia. We really miss Colombia.
They triggered a thought of this one guy when we were working in Colombia. He was the equivalent to a Navy Seal. He was in the front lines of the war on drugs. Every time we met he would tell me about how he had to kill so many guys over the past week and how he did it. It was unbelievable to try to comprehend that this is what he did on the weekends. Went and sought out the FARC. Sometimes he used a gun. Sometimes it was by his own hands.
Anyways he couldn’t get over how I could keep talking to him knowing that he was constantly killing men. God just gave me the grace to deal with him. I always sought to shake his hand and hug him. He was an Arab who despised Islam from his days in Saudi Arabia. He was very interested in Jesus. I told him about the Roman soldier Jesus talked with. Surely he had killed many men. I shared how we often went to Army camps and shared with Generals, Captains and tons of common soldiers who had done horrible things. This is what Jesus is all about; touching the untouchables.
This is one reason my greatest desire is to reach men who admit they know nothing. They are not “religious” nor do they want to be. I would rather do whatever I can do in order to talk to or be with someone who openly admits not believing in God than a hundred guys who say they do believe.
Whether it’s on the street, at colleges or in prisons we gravitate to the “sick” not the “healthy” (Mk.2).
Sometimes the guards allow us to just walk through the different prison patios and share personally with guys. One older guy was lifting “weights”. A bunch of plastic pop bottles full of water tied together on each end of a broom stick. He was about 55 years old and a stocky build. Abe and I lifted with him and shared some pointers. Most of all we just held the guy in an extended hug. We gently put our fist on his heart and said “Animo”. Be strong. Fight on.
He had no visitors because he was from Italy. He didn’t have any warm clothes so we gave him what we had. He had been in prison many times for drugs and armed robbery, also murder. But he was getting out in a year and half. We were able to really get down to nitty gritty salvation and talk about Jesus. We gave him a Bible and told him how to read. He was so, so grateful. He name was Walter.
The other day there was another guy named Walter who was completely blind (below, dancing with Ruth). As I was talking with him, he took my two hands. He put one finger on one side of his skull and one from the other hand on the other side. I touched the actual hole in his skull where one of many bullets had passed through his head and destroyed his optic nerve. As awkward as this may sound, I put my hand on his head as if a father putting his hand on his child.
So many times when I think guys won’t like this, they welcome it. They are touched. I know if someone did it to me, I would love it. They hurt. I hurt. There are place within me of great pain and sorrow (Is.53). Places no one knows and I don’t know what to do with. But they are highly valuable because they are what help me learn to touch others. Walter was eighteen then and has been in prison since then. He has fifteen more years. He showed me five other bullet holes in his neck, back and stomach. Imagine being blind in prison.
This morning when we were performing, a guy died somewhere else in the prison while we were there. Suddenly the administrators ran out and we didn’t know why. He might have been murdered, they didn’t know. Just like that; death comes. It’s very tough being in prisons because the gospel always brings conviction and awkwardness with those in charge. I speak of sin and hell and people just don’t like to hear this. So they take out their hatred against us. Sometimes it is quite bad and very difficult for us. But every time Jesus is Lord and gets us through and beyond.
Down from Walter there was a cell with only one guy in it because he had killed seven people JUST SINCE HE HAS BEEN IN PRISON. It would take so, so much work to get through to him. Three guys next to him were like vegetables. Not mentally ill just gone crazy from being in a cell, with no out time, year after year. They just stared at me. Could hardly communicate.
There were a couple young men, named Christopher, who were about 27 yrs. old. But they had a disposition like I can’t explain. I felt like I do with my sons at times. They were young and had an attitude like “everything’s gonna be ok” but you could just see the depths of sadness in them because their lives were over. They had 18 years to serve. You hold em. You look into their eyes with all the love you can. But more than anything, you beg them to talk to Jesus. To ask Him to for salvation. It is a custom here in Argentina to kiss each other on the side of a cheek, so it makes it easier for the guys to get the hug they so desire. When we first got here it was awkward but now it is automatic. A worker this morning noticed how the guys were giving us hugs as if to their family members and she was touch by our love for them and their response to us.
Salvation is not about what Jesus can do for me or what I can do for Him. It is about HIM and what He HAS DONE for mankind. It is about expressing the fullness of our body, soul, mind and heart to touch others with He Who lives in us. It is about having your thoughts occupied, not with yourself, but with how to express the prize possession of the wisdom of the ages. Paul says this wisdom “is not of this age…or none of the rulers of this age has understood for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor.2:6ff).
He equates the word wisdom with salvation. Paul is trying to say there is a practical, usable, formidable, fathomable composition of truths, ways and insights of a wisdom that we can possess and express to others. Then as if to nullify any grounds for our boasting (“Ya I got that”), he says this wisdom comes only if a man willing to be foolish (1 Cor.3:18ff). Paul says it is not about proud “persuasive words” but of God’s “Spirit and power” (v.4). This wisdom is power.
This wisdom is an ongoing, life-long comprehension and fascination with the one and only God-Man-Son-King-Lord-Shepherd-Messiah-Captain-Lion-Brother-Jesus. I am constantly in awe of Him and His ways so far beyond mine. It is so exciting to touch the lives of others. To have the gift of wisdom with which to be an agent of the Most High. Wow.
Two days before we left Chile we went to that prison I mentioned and we asked the Warden if he would give us the worst of the worst. Oftentimes, they think we want the good behavior guys because they will be better behaved. He said he would decide after he saw how we handled our first performance who he would bring. After he saw it, he told us he would bring out the worst guys: 400 of them! Sure enoug,h they walked into the gym with no intention of letting us in. Hard, cold and distant. A lot of murderers and armed bank robbers.
It was very tough to get to them at first. I just thank Jesus that He has touched me deeply so as to break me. So I don’t rely on myself or I wouldn’t have a chance of breaking through to such guys. I just have to be who I am in Christ. He is my only hope. I can’t strive or give up. We do this thing called the Ladder where we talk about how each crime has two victims. The guy who commits the crime is a victim just like the one who the crime was against.
We deal with the sin of it all as Paul shares in Romans 7. Paul says we do the very thing we do not want to do. So many guys are victims of one horrible moment of terrible reaction. This is not to take away their accountability, only to say God sees things in a much bigger perspective. One guy killed his brother by accident when he was drunk. So many guys rob places for families when they’re on drugs. They can’t get jobs. No excuses, just a fact.
Anyways slowly, we broke through. At the end it was amazing. So many guys came up so grateful. One guy came up to take the microphone and just thank us from all of them. The Holy Spirit came and did His work. Set the captives free (Is.61:1). They made us these beautiful leather wallets and actually wrapped them as gifts. No one has ever done anything like this for us.
God so touched the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever touches Him will have eternal life (Jn.3:16)!
Jesus asked “who touched Me….and as many as touched were made whole” (Mt.14:36/Mk.5:31).
Here’s a video David recently made to share with us on my birthday. The song isn’t ours, it was just a song he found that had a cool sense and the theme “magic” in it.
There are 500,000 prisoners in Brazil. So we will have to translate everything into Portuguese. They are some of the worst conditions in the world. It’s going to take a lot of work.