I just finished up the weekend at Bible Fellowship Church in Sebring, Florida, as part of the Biblical Imagination conference with Michael Card. We had 90 folks from all over the state join us for 24 hours of teaching, listening, and learning together from the book of Luke. I'm very tired, but, as my father would say, it's a good kind of tired.
In reflecting this morning at the hotel before we (the Biblical Imagination team of Ron, Holly, Susan, Mike, and me) drove to Tampa to catch flights back home, I wanted to share a little about a man named Calvin whom we met here in Sebring.
Calvin has the build of a small NFL wide-receiver: broad shoulders, wiry but strong (in fact, I grinned when he came to Mike's concert last night in a football jersey as it just seemed to fit). Though he looks young from a distance, when you get face to face, you realize he's older than he first seemed – probably in his fifties – as the lines in his face run deep and there's a depth to his eyes that makes you want to hear his story.
While I didn't get all the details, the gist is that Calvin (who has St. Louis roots) spent 22 years incarcerated before he came to Christ in the last six years of that time. He got out of prison and is now being helped through a ministry here in Sebring called Little Lambs led by John and Eileen Sala, who were also at the conference (John, a native of Brooklyn, had once been in prison as well).
All through the conference, Calvin sat with the Salas and soaked up everything Mike and I taught about Luke, biblical imagination, and responding to Jesus. Warm, kind, and with a great smile, he asked questions, interacted, and even contributed a few observations that blessed all in the room. In response to our last "assignment" at the end of the conference, he shared a parable of his life that brought tears to the eyes of many as he described growing up as a boy who never really knew love.
After almost every song that Mike played at the concert last night, Calvin had some kind of one-word verbal response – "Yes" or "Amen" or "Thank you" – that he felt free to share because of the acceptance of God and those in the room. Toward the end of the concert, as Mike was introducing "Freedom" (my favorite song from his new "A World Turned Upside Down" album), he commented that of all the people in the room, this one might mean the most to Calvin, who beamed. The lyrics are as follows:
I am lost and I am bound
and I am captive to the shame that keeps on holding me down
And all I need to be found is freedom
I am tired and I am dying
and I am trapped inside a cage I've made of hopelessly trying
But the door would open and I'd be flying if I could find freedom
All the burdens we have borne, all the losses that we mourn
Cry out for freedom, freedom
Prison walls and bolted doors
Something keeps on telling me that I was made for more
That there is Someone Who can restore my freedom
A gentle voice I can't evade
speaks in the darkness of the heart and whispers "Do not be afraid"
You can be free, the price was paid for your freedom
From the darkness of the night, from desolation to delight
The chains are broken, the door is open – He is your freedom
It was a beautiful, beautiful picture of the gospel – certainly in Calvin's life because of his story of imprisonment, but also for the rest of us whom Christ has freed from our own "cages of hopelessly trying." I was too tired to cry, but I wanted to – thanking God for what he has done in Calvin's life, in the lives of those there, and in my own as well. The weekend let me speechless as – in the words of Luke – I am both "amazed and astonished" at God's love for me, a sinner.