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Posts Tagged ‘Jail Ministry’

 

Have you ever wondered if there was another reason that God had to forsake Jesus during His final hours?  I’ve wondered lately if He simply couldn’t bear to watch what was happening to His Son.  If it had been my son, I couldn’t have watched.   

 

I wondered at what point God had to ‘forsake’ Him; at what point He could no longer bear to watch.  Was it while Jesus was being beaten?  Was it while He was carrying His cross?  While He fell beneath the weight of it?  Was it when they laid Him out on it?  Did He make it all the way to the nails? 

 

I’ve heard preachers over the years say the reason God had to ‘forsake’ Jesus, was that He could not look on the sin that Jesus had taken on Himself.  Maybe that was part of it, but I also believe God might have had to ‘forsake’ Him for the same reason I would have; He just simply could not bear to watch.

 

Sin effects people in varying degrees; some slip now and then while others are consumed, driven and destroyed by it.  Jesus could have stopped everything after a few lashes of the whip.  That would have been good enough for those who slip up now and then, but He went all the way to the nails.  He made sure He covered those who were destroyed by it.

 

Jesus knows how destructive sin can be – how it can beat on you till you can’t take it any more.  He knows what it’s like to be laid out by it . . . just laying there waiting on the nails to finish you off.  God didn’t bring Jesus back to life after a few lashes of the whip; He brought Him back from the worst.  By going all the way to the nails, He proved that no matter how far down sin has beat you, He can bring you back to life.

 

There was a point when Jesus was hanging on the cross that He said, “Enough! It is finished.”  I think part of what He was saying was that the price has been paid, but I also think He was saying, “I have covered the worst”. 

 

You have to reach the point where you say ‘enough’.  Whether you have just felt the sting of sin’s whip, or it has beat you down, or laid you out.  Maybe you’ve even seen the nails coming to finish you off and you’re just laying there waiting.  At any point you can say, ‘Enough!  It is finished.  That is all I will let sin do to me’.  Say it and He will forgive you.  Mean it and He will bring you back to life.   

 

  

 

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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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I work with guys who, as a result of some bad decisions, have ended up in jail. One is in for the first time because he didn’t control his drinking. Another is in for making and selling meth. Some are in for a short time while others await longer sentences.

I get to work with the ones who have turned to God. One who was in for drinking commented that he couldn’t believe how far off track he had gotten. He was a new person. Soon after getting out though, he is back to uncontrolled drinking.

The one who was in for selling meth, was in at least once before for 2 months. He said while he was in he was on fire for God. Within 4 hours of his release he was making meth again. So here he was, in again, telling his story.

I realize as they tell their stories, that they are not unique. We all struggle to keep from going astray; they just have more trouble with it than some of us who have gained in the fight. They have dug some deep holes for themselves and it will take resolve like never before to break the cycle that grips them.

God is doing His best to help them break it. Psalm 78 says, “Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again. They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. But then they would flatter him with their mouths.” I can relate to that.

Is there not that same cycle with all of us to one extent or the other? We forget God; He slays us; we turn back to Him; He helps us. Then we start the cycle over by forgetting Him again.

I’ve been reading Paul’s letters lately. I’m amazed at the going astray he dealt with. His entire ministry was about sharing the gospel, people coming to God with sincere devotion, then falling away after he moved on. His letters addressed the issues.

I like the way he puts in 2 Corinthians 11:3. It reflects not only the potential for the Corinthian people to go astray, but Paul’s concern for it. “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

It troubles me when I see the guys sincere and pure devotion to God, knowing they will soon be thrown to the wolves and be deceived by the serpent’s cunning. Most of them don’t have the roots to stand strong. I have struggled enough in my own life to know the cycle very well. I tell the guys this one thing that has helped me.

Jesus was getting ready to leave His disciples. He was getting ready to pass the baton off to them. The gospel would be on their shoulders. He knew they would need what He was getting ready to give them. Even He depended on it.

At the beginning of John 16, Jesus makes this statement. “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.” The ‘all this’ was the importance of ‘staying connected’ that He spent most of John 15 telling them about. When I look back on my walk with God, I see times I was connected and times that I was not. When I was, I was on fire for God. When I wasn’t, I went astray. This will be true if you’re in jail or out, if behind the pulpit or in the pew; there is no easy road. Staying connected is the only way I’ve found to break the cycle of going astray.

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A few months ago, I joined a jail ministry team.  I really didn’t know for sure what to expect.  I guess I’ve always thought you would go in and try to convince a group of guys to believe or accept something they had no interest in. 

It has really been quite the opposite.  For the most part, the guys that come on Tuesday nights realize God has put them there to get their attention.  With few acceptions, they all believe, but realize their believing has not been sufficient enough to change the way they live. 

God knows how to get our attention doesn’t He.  Just this last Tuesday night, I told them that I may not have bottomed out in a way that landed me in jail, but I bottomed out in  my Christianity and He stopped me to get my attention.  Not to punish me, but because He had something good for me that He wanted me to find. 

I tell them that I am not a preacher, which I guess I really don’t have to mention.  (Some things go without saying)  We talk.  I tell them what has changed my life and the part writing has played in it.  Occasionally I leave a story or a poem with them. 

We have some good discussions.  They are honest and real.  A few weeks ago, one guy, who had a good way with words, expressed both belief and unbelief.  He believed but he was hesitant to just jump on the wagon.  Like all of us, he wanted it to be real.

Last week he came up to me afterwards and said he had written a couple of poems and wanted to know if I would read them and let him know what I thought.  I have decided to post one here today. 

 

My Cage

 
My addiction is a cage;
it wants my life.
It’s filled with confusion,
pain, guilt and strife.

It’s cold and it’s lonely,
regret my only friend.
Is this a life’s sentence?
When exactly will it end?

I weep for my family.
On this journey I’m lost.
I long for freedom;
can you tell me the cost?

I search for answers;
they must be the key.
My will is my bond;
my faith sets me free.

Yet I remain a prisoner
and console myself each night.
I’m still locked in this cage
but at least now it’s filled with light.

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I had a piece I had written that I was looking forward to posting this morning. But that was before last night happened. Last night was jail ministry night; it went pretty well. I thought it would be better to describe the evening.

In my study of the writings of Luke I had written a couple of pieces, When Jesus Passes By, and Stopping to Even the Odds. In my preparation for the evening, I felt I was supposed to talk about those two stories. As I was reviewing them, something stood out about the pair – a distinction I had not previously noticed.

In When Jesus Passes By a blind beggar is sitting by the roadside when Jesus and the crowd that followed was passing by. When the blind beggar found out that it was Jesus, he called out. Because he called out and would not stop calling out, Jesus stopped. I emphasized the point that we all know Jesus is what we need . . . if He would just pass by – if He would just stop when He does.

But in the other story, Stopping to Even the Odds, Jesus stops to heal a man who was mute – a man who couldn’t call out. It says that Jesus drove out a demon that was mute. Though we may not be mute, our enemy can use things in life to keep us from calling out. Maybe we’ve called out before and He didn’t help.

In the same setting, Jesus talks about a man who was once strong who guarded and protected his house until one that was stronger attacked and overpowered him. I believe the man who was mute was once a strong man that was attacked and overpowered. Jesus stopped to even the odds.

I asked the guys how far back they had to go to remember a time when they were strong – before they were overpowered. I told them that Jesus wanted to stop and even the odds – that He wanted to open their eyes so they could see – that He wanted to drive out a few demons so they could call out to Him.

Several stood. One in particular told how the stories fit his situation perfectly. He said he felt like we had come just for him. Last night he was able to see. Last night he called out. He had never done that before. Another rededicated himself to God. I sensed many were encouraged.

Isn’t God just too cool?

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