quarta-feira, 22 de fevereiro de 2012

Seeing and Believing By Ronald W. Nikkel

I tend not to take things at face value. If something sounds too good to be true – it probably is. Behind the ideas and claims of other people I suspect and often find hidden motives and meanings. God forgive me for being so sceptical.

Almost every time I visit prison and talk with inmates I find the same scepticism coming back at me. What can I possibly say in response to their unbelief – their disbelief? The gospel sounds like a fantasy, too good to be true, out of touch with the gritty stuff of reality. How can I even begin to prove the existence of God or persuade them of God’s presence in the filth and over-crowding of cell-block “B”? "I don't believe in anything, except myself," mutters one inmate; “can’t trust no-one.” "Show me God, and I’ll believe it! Where's God been hiding when everything is so [messed] up?" I tried the God thing and bummed out," interjects another prisoner. "I gave it a chance, and it didn't do nothing for me. If God is so great, why doesn't he show up right here and now?”

I listen to their challenge and respond with the stories of men and women who have “found” God in prison. I recount the true stories of people whose experience of God has opened their eyes to a greater reality than their present pain and physical circumstance, and stories of forgiveness and transformation and reconciliation. Miraculous stories of faith that is “out of sight.”

"You've got to see it to believe it!" barks the hawker in front of a circus sideshow. "Unbelievable, but true—the incredible unexplainable mystery of the horse-cow. Half cow, half horse—a living breathing scientific mystery—the body of a cow with the head of a horse. Come see for yourself and believe."

I chuckle to myself as I watch the curious and the sceptical pay their admission fee and enter the tent. “You’ve got to see it to believe it,” shouts the hawker once again. Meanwhile I think of my words to the prisoners – “you’ve got to believe it to see it,” I say to them.

A few years ago I was in Africa where a visiting evangelist from North America had brought his miracle-healing crusade to one of the large cities. All over town, signs and billboards featured a huge photo of the evangelist proclaiming "claim your miracle tonight . . . see the miracle-working power of God heal the sick!" One evening I went to the stadium and joined the thousands of sceptical, curious and hopeful people who were streaming in. I wondered if the people around me were coming because they believed in miracles, or if they were coming out of curiosity or a hunger to see and be convinced. Would seeing be believing, or would believing be seeing?

"Show us a miracle," the Pharisees demanded of Jesus, even as the lame were walking and the blind from birth were seeing for the first time. "Show us a sign so that we might believe," they challenged. Yet Jesus refused to perform on demand, citing their unbelief and chastising them for having neither eyes to see nor the ears to hear the great things God had done through the ages and was doing among them even now. Ever sceptical, they refused to believe that the things Jesus was doing among them were real, of God.

"Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us!" cried two blind men as Jesus walked by. The crowd accompanying Jesus tried to quiet them down and keep them on the sidelines, but they cried out all the more. Calling for them to be brought to him, Jesus asked, "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord, we want to see!” they cried. Moved by their simple faith, Jesus touched their eyes and immediately their blind eyes were opened. Again and again, the gospels recount stories of Jesus being amazed by the faith of unlikely people who simply and profoundly believe that He will meet them in their need. The two blind men who called out for Jesus couldn't see a thing, they had never seen him and they had never seen a miracle with their own eyes. But they had faith, perhaps a faith born in desperation, hoping and believing that Jesus could give them sight. Jesus touched them and they began to see.

They believed, they saw, they followed Jesus!

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd. By faith, we see the world called into existence by God’s word, what we see created by what we don’t see…There are so many – Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets….Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies…we have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless – the world didn’t deserve them! – making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.
(Hebrews 11:1, 2, 32-38 as translated in “The Message”)

*Adapted from a September 2006 Conversatio Morum
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Ronald W. Nikkel, PFI President & CEO
Ron has served as PFI's president since 1982. Widely recognized as an expert on criminal justice issues, Ron has visited more than 1,000 prisons in every region of the world and met with church and political leaders, as well as criminal justice officials.
Ron's new devotional book Radical Love in a Broken World, featuring daily meditations, is now available on Amazon.com as is his previous book Your Journey with Jesus.
To Learn more about Prison Fellowship International, visit www.pfi.org
Conversatio Morum is brought to you weekly by Prison Fellowship International. To comment on Conversatio Morum please email conversatiomorum@pfi.org Reprints permitted with acknowledgement

Prison Fellowship International
PO Box 17434
Washington, DC 20041

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Mensagem de boas-vindas

"...Quando um voluntário é essencialmente um visitador prisional, saiba ele que o seu papel, por muito pouco que a um olhar desprevenido possa parecer, é susceptível de produzir um efeito apaziguador de grande alcance..."

"... When one is essentially a volunteer prison visitor, he knows that his role, however little that may seem a look unprepared, is likely to produce a far-reaching effect pacificatory ..."

Dr. José de Sousa Mendes
Presidente da FIAR