The Larger Legacy

Frank Mickes was an inmate at Marion Correctional Institute when Christine Money became its new warden. Until that turning-point, the place was “drug-infested, gang-infested and on the verge of rioting, a bad situation to be in as a young man,” he recalls, now a few decades older and free. But Mrs. Money brought to MCI a new approach from a heart “driven by God,” in Frank’s words. She invited inmates to attend a Kairos Prison Ministries weekend, 42 men at a time, and the population soon began to see change—“a feeling of inner freedom,” is how Frank describes it—in Kairos participants. The new warden also lived out her Christian faith inside the prison, listening, caring, acting and building trust. Over time, MCI became known among Ohio’s incarcerated community as “God’s house.”

Over the past few weeks, we have celebrated a Samaritan woman made new by grace before the compassionate Christ—hope dispelling disillusion, honor replacing shame, joy overcoming pain. Yet her personal change was only the beginning of a larger and lasting legacy, for her story surpasses herself. Made new in the power of grace, she returned to her people in the boldness of freedom: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did,” she beckoned, “Could this be the Christ?”1 John narrates their precious response: “They came out of the town and made their way toward him.”2 No dialogue needed, the remarkable scene speaks for itself. “I tell you,” Jesus said to his disciples as they watched, “open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper … harvests the crop for eternal life.”3

Does anything demand our notice as much as a life made new? It trumpets a triad of good news in gentle decibels to the soul: Jesus is real; He lives today; there is hope! So it was that the Samaritans of Sychar came and heard for themselves this man who claimed to be the Christ. To the woman they said, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”4 From one person’s change a community was transformed. Then who knows our impact when we tell of our own encounters with Christ? We may think our testimonies to be ineffective, but the Spirit of God works through them to spread grace, stir hope and speak life all around us. People will be changed, and God will receive the praise. Be willing, be eager; speak, and watch.

Lord God, change us for a purpose—to trumpet new life and glorify you. May people see you in us and come before you to see for themselves. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 John 4:29
2 John 4:30
3 John 4:35, 36
4 John 4:42

An Honest and Good Heart

There is good news we welcome; there is exciting good news we share; and then there is teeming good news, the kind that rises up and spills over our deep, polished containers of propriety. What, though, hastens us as heralds of good news even to our antagonists, those who exclude us with cold shoulders, judge us with pointed fingers or dehumanize us through indifference? What raises us to a place higher than pride, purer than resentment, and stronger than fear? Grace does.

Her destination was a well—a pit, she called it—perhaps an apt metaphor for a life of deepening failures and darkening hope, and she was there to draw still more, yet again. This noonday, though, grace awaited her there, an appointment set before the beginning of time. She, like so many through the ages, had awaited the Messiah—“When he comes, he will explain everything to us,”1 she said—and now He was here, seeking from her a drink from the pit and offering living water from an inner well—a spring, He called it—sourced in Himself and rising up to eternal life. She came to the well defined by her failures and left as one renewed by grace. Teeming with good news and unable to contain it, she returned to her villagers, including her detractors there, saying, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”2 What confidence! What purpose! Such transformation!

Grace is like that: it sends us spilling over with good news of undeserved favor. Freedom is like that: it releases us in relief with the proclamation of pardon. Jesus is like that—He flows from us like streams of living water, even to those who don’t love us. He rises up in hearts made new in Him—in people “who have heard the word in an honest and good heart … hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”3 And if fruitfulness is its measure, I think we can safely say the Samaritan woman went back to her people with a new heart, “an honest and good heart.” For as John writes, “They came out of the town and made their way toward him.”4

At times, we don’t feel new, but if in faith we drink from the “spring of water welling up to eternal life”5—Jesus Christ, himself—we are new and our failures define us no more. Ours is to embrace what is true, rest in Him who makes us new, and with honest and good hearts, persevere. The fruit will be there; He will see to it.

Father in heaven, you have given me a new heart, and your Spirit lives in me through faith in Christ. Grace me to go and bear fruit with an honest and good heart. Amen.

1 John 4:25
2 John 4:28-29
3 Luke 8:15 NASB
4 John 4:30
5 John 4:14

It Is What It Is, or Is It?

It was yet another family member trip to the hospital, which, of course, portended more medical bills in the mailbox. His circumstance unchangeable, my friend sighed in disgust, “Oh well, it is what it is.” Overhearing him from the other room, his wife called back in a more optimistic tone, “But it’s not what it will be!” Pithy and profound, her rejoinder was the just the encouragement he needed to hear. They’ve re-told the story often in the ensuing years.

For woman at the well, “It is what it is,” was well-known at the time and remains well-chronicled today. By her own account, her very existence had begun two social rungs below that of the tired and thirsty stranger seated before her and seeking her help—“You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”1 Living with a man not her husband, a fact she tried to conceal, dropped her another step down toward defeat in a frustrating life-game of Chutes and Ladders. Surely this was not the “happily ever after” of her earlier dreams, nor was it the fullness of Jesus’ plan for her. Of all people, it was this woman, mired in her “It is what it is” to whom He first revealed Himself as the Messiah—“I who speak to you am he,”2 Jesus told her. And from unsearchable depths, He offered her “living water,”3 a quenching of the soul from which she would never thirst again, a “spring of water welling up into eternal life.”4 “Sir, give me this water,”5 she accepted. Her “is what it is” was no longer; her “what it will be” had come.

We tend to view the Samaritan woman as she was on her way to the well that day, but this is not the same person who returned to her village, nor would it ever be again. Messiah changes things, and not merely so, for He makes us new. “If anyone is in Christ,” proclaimed Paul, “the new creation has come: The old has gone and the new is here!”6 Our sin patterns no longer define us—this is true of the woman who left the well, and it is true of us. We have met the Messiah, and we, like she, are new; we are different than when we came. Let no one persuade us otherwise.

Father, thank you for making me a new person in Christ. Help me to trust your faithfulness, your goodness, and your eternal care as you continue to make me like Him. In His name I pray. Amen.

1 John 4:9
2 John 4:26
3 John 4:10
4
John 4:14
5 John 4:15
6 2 Corinthians 5:17, 21