Violent men make the headlines daily, and many people consider them deserving of banishment or death. God has called me and many here at Tierra Nueva to seek for, find, bind up, love, pray for and in various ways minister to violent men and womenboth inside and outside jail.
God is calling the entire church to reach out in love to violent men and women, inviting them into a life filled with adventure, love and meaning as agents of transformation in the company of Jesus.
Every week I have the privilege of seeing hardened, violent men profoundly touched by God’s affectionate embrace. When people in our weekly jail Bible studies come to truly realize God adores them, they respond to God’s call and become disciplesoften 12-15 at a time .
Sinners’ attraction to Jesus should come at no surprise. In Luke 15:1 “all the tax-gatherers and [all] the sinners were coming near him to listen to him.” Jesus was known as a “friend of sinners” (Matt 11:19). “The Son of Man has come to save that which was lost… It is not the will of your father who is in heaven that one of these little ones [lost sheep] perish” (Matt 18:11,14).
I often tell people in our jail Bible studies: “take it as a compliment that you are harassed and targeted by the Enemy. He’s trying to take you down as he knows what a threat you’d be if you were an agent of love for the Kingdom of God.” This is not empty flattery but a conviction repeatedly supported by Scripture.
Throughout Scripture we see God highly valuing violent men, calling them as his choice ministers. Moses was called after murdering an Egyptian to be Israel’s liberator. David was anointed after years of violence defending sheep and attacking Philistines. Jesus met the Apostle Paul in the midst of his violent campaign against the first Christians. Paul writes powerfully about God’s choice of himself:
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate his perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in him for eternal life (1 Tim 1:12-16).
Violent offender types like Paul and many others were targeted and attacked both by enemies of flesh and blood and spiritual enemies. I believe that those most involved in violence today are at the top of God’s list of people God is seeking and callingand should be our highest priority in a different kind of Jesus-inspired war on terror. God calls the worst as an example for those who would believe. So who and where might these big, bad “little ones” be?
Our county jails are filled with people charged with violent crimes and others labeled “felons” with violent convictions. Rather than demanding harsher prison sentences and fines that increase shame and violence, our incarcerated neighbors need much more love, respect and the honor of being invited to follow Jesus to bring life and liberation to the world.
Al-Qaeda and Taliban combatants and people who strap explosives on their bodies need to be placed at the top of our prayer and outreach priorities, and certainly not destroyed. We must stop excluding enemy combatants from those for whom we grieve, as if their deaths are less important than those of innocent civilians or US troupes. This grieves the Holy Spirit, who comes to comfort and defend.
The world’s many orphans definitely need to be sponsored so their needs are provided. But let us not forget that most violent men are usually grown-up neglected and abused children or orphans in need of love, healing and spiritual adoptionwhich includes a calling. Rather than letting them be easy prey for the military recruiters, drug dealers and other forces that would rob, kill and destroy, join us in recruiting them as workers in God’s harvest fields.
We have learned that loving our enemies is not an easy or natural taskbut it is at the heart of our calling. This kind of extreme love can only come directly from God. We at Tierra Nueva are constantly humbled by both our weakness before the powers of violence, addictions and death and by the bigness of God’s love. Saying “yes” to the call to seek after lost sheep until we find them requires more of God’s abundant love and the anointing of the Holy Spirit than we yet have. Thankfully, God is rich in mercy and full of love and goodness, and is eager to show up and to fill us up so we can “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with Good (Rom 12). Let’s join Jesus, who says “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mk 2:17). As more and more violent bad guys get recruited into God’s service as agents of love, the Kingdom of God will certainly be drawing closer.