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Archive for the ‘Jail Ministry’ Category

Do All You Can Do

If I could boil all that Peter said in his first letter to just a few sentences, it would be this: First it was written to God’s elect who had been given a new birth – who had been born again – who had been called out of darkness – who had returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of their souls. Peter tells us that like newborn babies we should crave pure spiritual milk that we might grow; and that we should humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God – our faithful Creator – who will lift us and restore us, make us strong, firm and steadfast . . . all in due time.

And then how does he begin his second letter? To those who have received this kind of faith – the conviction that our faithful Creator has indeed called us out of darkness and given us new birth – that he is indeed the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, and that He is indeed able to lift and restore us all in due time . . . if you have that kind of faith it will indeed lead to your becoming strong, firm and steadfast.

Again in this second letter, in the same vein as the first where he says that we have been given a new birth – that we have been born again, he adds the thought that by all He has given us we are able to participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption that is in the world caused by evil desires. Is that not what we have all hoped for? After years of trying to do right and not being able to, and it’s not just a new ability to resist, although there is some of that, but every bit as much, and really first, it is that we can now participate in a new nature and as a result can escape the evil desires?

I like the way Peter says really the same thing in both letters, just in a little different way. He ended his first letter with, humble yourselves before God and He will lift and restore you. He will make you strong, firm and steadfast. In this second letter, he puts it this way; make every effort to add to your faith the things you learn as you humble yourself before God, and as you add these qualities in increasing measure – if you do these things – you will never fail.

His message is the same. As newborn babies, crave the pure spiritual milk so that by it you will grow up. If you do that you are humbling yourself before God. And if you do that you will never fail.

This all says what I’ve concluded lately. It takes us doing all we can do to encourage you (which is what Peter was doing by writing these letters); you doing all you can do to press towards God; and God doing all He can do to lift and restore us. If I don’t do all I can do to help you, I leave you vulnerable to an enemy that is gunning for you. If you don’t do all that you can do to press, you leave yourself vulnerable. And if both of us are doing all that we can do, you can expect that God will do His part.

Now I could stop there and many of you could say that in spite of all you do, you don’t see God doing much. That is your enemy trying to get you to quit. Take those thoughts to God and say, God, I need to see evidence that you are mindful of me. And don’t let up until you see it. We have to see evidence. God knows we need it. If we don’t see it we get discouraged and think our Christianity didn’t take; that God has neglected us. That is exactly what your enemy wants you to think.

If the greatest truth in all the Bible is that God loves us, doesn’t it make sense that the greatest lie is that he doesn’t. Anything that causes us to take our eyes off God, anything that cools our will to seek Him, even discouragement, is a lie that we must learn to press through. As we add these qualities to our faith, we will never fail.

I just mentioned that Peter was doing his part to encourage by writing these letters. There’s actually a few things he says about that in his letters. In this second letter he says this, ‘I think it is right for me to refresh your memory.’ And then specifically, and again the point that it takes us all doing all we can, he puts these things in writing and is what he is referring to when he says, ‘I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.’ And finally he says, ‘I have written both of these letters as reminders to stimulate you to wholesome thinking.’

It is good and necessary to be encouraged or stimulated as Peter just put it. That is what I was thinking when I published my first book. I wanted a written record of what I had learned so that it might help someone even after I am gone. And now I have two other books and trying to figure out how to get them printed so I can leave them with you. It is a record of what has helped me. Maybe it will help you and others. Again, it takes us all doing all we can do.

Finally, in Peter’s 1st letter he tells us to ‘not conform to the evil desires we had when we lived in ignorance.’ And later he says, ‘abstain from sinful desires which war against the soul.’ But in his 2nd letter, he addresses how some of these desires can be stirred and warns us to look out for them.

You have to watch out for false teaching. False teaching is destructive. And it is not just people like us who come in here that you have to watch out for. They/we are the obvious. It can come from anything; the music you listen to; the TV you watch; the material you read.

It is all designed to seduce the unstable. ‘By appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity.’

In Peter’s first letter he ends with the thought that God will do all He can do to restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. Here in his second, after he has done all he could do, he encourages them now to do all they can do. ‘Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’

It would do us all well to do all we can do.

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As one who enjoys working on word puzzles – choosing from all the words known to man, and then arranging those words in the simplest and clearest way possible to convey a significant thought – I equally enjoy solving the puzzles that others before me have worked out. After several readings of Peter’s first letter to ‘God’s elect’, I believe the significant thought he was trying to convey was the faithful aspect of our Creator.

As a people belonging to Him, He calls us out of what is like a womb of darkness into His wonderful light. ‘In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope, into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.’ ‘We are like new born babies and like them we need to crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it we might grow up in our salvation.’

We were like sheep going astray, but we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. We who have been called out have spent enough time in the past doing what the world chooses to do – living in lust, drunkenness and all kinds of craziness; and maybe our old friends will think it strange when we do not plunge with them into the same flood of wasteful and improper behavior which is indifferent to moral restraints. Our friends may heap abuse on us now for not joining with them; but know this, one day they will stand before a judge and abuse will be heaped on them.

If you think it’s hard facing a judge today, think of that day. Think of today as a little trial run. If you think your judge today is unfair, imagine how unfair it’s going to seem to your friends when God says, I’m sorry; but you never turned from your wicked ways. I called you but you would not come. I gave you many chances but you would not listen.

But you have listened. You have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. Know that you are shielded by His power, ‘though now for a little while you may have to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith may be proved genuine.’ Once your faith is proved – once you know, in spite of the trials you are in, that your Creator is in deed faithful – you will be able to help others whose faith is still being proved.

‘Don’t be surprised (or discouraged) at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.’ Understand you are ‘participating in the sufferings of Christ. When you suffer, it is according to God’s will. He wants you to learn that He, as your faithful Creator, can sustain you and bring you through whatever you are facing. You should commit yourself to Him and continue to do good.’

Don’t waste your energy thinking the judge did not treat you fairly, or that God has abandoned you, or that He can’t help you. Nothing can happen to you that He does not first allow. Nothing can happen to you that He cannot handle. Consider what he accomplished in creation. Consider the impossible situations He helped His people through. Consider that He raised Jesus from being dead to life.

Now . . . do you think your situation has finally backed Him into a corner? Is God finally stumped; not knowing what to do? Saturate yourselves with the stories in this book and you will learn that He is not. Don’t reduce God to what your puny mind can think. Don’t limit His ability to what you can understand. He is our faithful Creator and we would do well to commit ourselves to Him. Commit yourself to Him and let Him show you what He can do.

Peter ends his letter with these fitting comments, ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith – faith in the fact that God is your faithful creator. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.’

He is in deed our faithful Creator. He is very able to not only forgive us of our sins, but to see us through the messes that our sins have gotten us into. But He doesn’t stop there. After we have suffered a little while, He will restore us.

Do you remember the story of the prodigal son? When he returned, all he asked for was to be forgiven and made a servant. What did his father do? He threw him a feast. God wants to throw you a feast.

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This was the first line in a note a guy handed me one night. “Pray for me to keep my oath with God.” It was exactly what I had been working on in my writing. What is it that will help us keep the oath we make to God? What is it that will keep us from easing up on the commitments we make? What is that will keep us from eventually forgetting God altogether?

It’s not so much that one day we are passionate for God and the next day we are passionate for the pleasures of the world, it is more that one day we are passionate and the next we’re a little less so; until we wake up one day and realize that we have forgot God.

So, how do we go about not forgetting? How do we insure that we will keep the oaths we make?

When God delivered the nation of Israel from Egypt, even though they saw Him do some pretty cool stuff . . . they forgot. And what did God do . . . He sentenced them to years of wandering. There are some things with some of us that can only be worked out of and in to us over time. And at the end of that period of time – at the end of the wandering – we finally come to a place where we are ready to not forget.

At the end of Israel’s wandering, they were ready. They were camped on the edge of what God had planned for them all along. Caleb and Joshua saw it 40 years ago. But the rest . . . it took a little time. And in Joshua chapter 1, once again, just outside what God had for them; they declare this oath; “Whatever you have commanded us we will do and wherever you send us we will go.”

I don’t know why it takes some of us years of wandering to reach this point of resolve when others reach it so much sooner, but I’m glad that God does not wash His hands of us. He knew how to get Israel to this place to where they could make and keep such an oath; He knows too how to get us there. Listen to part of a poem I wrote awhile back.

He alone knows where I’m bound
and how to get me there;
to follow close and listen well,
this my only care.

He knows how to get us to the place where we are willing to follow close and listen well. While we are carrying out our sentence of wandering, we follow sort of and listen a little. There’s a lot of ‘us’ that has to be worked out of us – the confidence we have in our own ability and the doubt we have in God’s; all that has to be worked out. So, to get us to this place . . . that is His goal.

I always had passion for God; but I allowed that passion to cool. I justified the cooling . . . all the way to it being just plain cold. But at the end of my wandering, I quit justifying it. I learned how important it was to guard it. When I sense that it is cooling, I take steps to rekindle it. If you can guard against it cooling for a day, you can be assured that it won’t eventually get cold.

When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, His answer puts it all about as simply as it can be put. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” If you are Loving God with all your heart you will have passion for Him; and if you have that passion, be careful to not let it slip.

Maintaining passion for God will guard against distractions from God. Passion will help us keep the oaths we make. Passion will keep us from easing up on our commitments. Passion will keep us from eventually forgetting altogether. When we have passion, we can, as Peter puts it, “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires”.

It’s not about concentrating on the elimination of our evil desires; you can’t do it. There is a nature that rolls and crushes everything in its path. God has set us up that way. He has, as Paul puts it, “bound all men over to disobedience”. Until the end of our wandering, try as we may, still we are bound.

But at the end of it all, when we’ve proven to ourselves without a doubt that we can’t do it, when we simply just come to God; He does for us what we could never do for ourselves – He changes our nature. As we come and continue to come, He changes us. Little by little, the tentacles of hell are cut. As He takes up more and more space in our heart, He rids it of all that is set against Him.

Our part is just to come. To come and not quit coming – to not let up on our coming – to let Him do for us what we could never do for ourselves. That is without a doubt, the difference.

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In the movie The Aviator, Leonardo Dicaprio, playing the character of Howard Hughes, is trying to produce a film that contains a dogfight – an airplane battle in the sky. After watching the first take on film, he commented; ‘We’ve gotta have clouds. Without clouds there is no perspective.’

I thought of that in relation to grace; without the backdrop of sin, grace can lack perspective. Brennan Manning has a new book out – All Is Grace. If you know anything about Brennan Manning, you know his life is that good backdrop.

Philip Yancey, in his forward, says that Manning could hold and audience of thousands spellbound while telling about a Maker who loves and forgives; but then could end up in his hotel room drinking himself senseless. Each time he begged for forgiveness. Philip writes that he ‘progressed not by always making right decisions but by responding appropriately to wrong ones’.

I can relate to Brennan Manning – progressing not by right decisions but by responding appropriately to wrong ones. After doing things I swore I would never do again . . . over and over and over, sometimes I would make myself go without eating; partly to prove to God that I was sorry and partly in hopes that it would make me think a little more the next time.

I like what Manning says on the front end of his book:

This book is by the one who thought he’d
be farther along by now, but he’s not.
It is by the inmate who promised the parole
board he’d be good, but he wasn’t.
It is by the dim-eyed who showed the path
to others but kept losing his way.
It is by the wet-brained who believed if a
little wine is good for the stomach,
then a lot is great.

Some will not be able to relate to this. Some might even disagree with it. But for those of us who have struggled in the battle against evil – winning sometimes but also losing sometimes – where would we be without grace. I like the way Max Lucado puts it; “Mercy forgave the prodigal. Grace threw him a feast.” Grace doesn’t stop at forgiveness. When we come to our senses, no matter how many times, grace offers us an opportunity to start over.

Without this backdrop of sin, grace can end up like items in a store, just another item we associate with Christianity. But with this backdrop, it becomes the window display that catches the eye and makes people want to stop and come in.

Today is December 22. We are getting ready to celebrate the birth of the One who made this grace possible. It is an undeserved gift no matter how you look at it; but if you’ve been the repeat offender, it is the gift. Against that backdrop, grace has perspective.

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Just to let you know . . . I intend to begin a new emphasis with my blogging. It will be geared mainly to the inmates, who when they get out, would like to continue keeping in touch. In addition, it will be for the wives, girlfriends and otherwise significant people, who might have an interest in what the guys are hearing. Lastly, but certainly not least, it will be for other jail/prison ministry workers. My hope is that the posts would stimulate good dialogue that would be real and helpful to all who participate.

In some cases my initial posts could be longer than the typical blog post as it will be the actual presentation that I give to the guys. Down the road, guys who get out, if interested, can read the latest presentation. There wives, etc. can hear the current ones.

I have enjoyed coresponding with them through the old art of letter writing. I tell them that if they will write me, I will write them back. Quite a few have taken me up on it. I see this as a means by which others can benefit from the corespondence.

I write this today to forwarn any who are already a blogging friend, why my posts may be longer than normal. If it ineterest you to follow along I would love to have you. If not, as I am the worlds worst at bypassing long posts, I will understand. Right now, it is just an idea. It may not work but you never know til you try.

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