Winter 2018 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

This is the 3rd annual Christmas letter.  I can’t believe that time has gone by so fast for me.  I pray that it has gone quickly for you as well.  As always you remain in my heart and prayers.  This year has seen 2 more of my pen-pals parole.  I recently had the opportunity to visit one of last years parolees.  He is doing very well and is working in church ministry.  It was a great afternoon spent catching up.  Even after leaving prison I continue to pray for and correspond with men who need a friend or counselor.  I will try to do anything within my power to help.  Unfortunately receiving a parole and leaving prison doesn’t guarantee success while on parole.  In response to a request I have written an article about surviving parole which will be coming in January when I have time to finalize it.

The other day I made 10 dozen Christmas cookies for a local rest home where my church held a Christmas carol and cookie evening.  I used a store-bought sugar cookie batter that I rolled out and cut into various shapes with cookie cutters.  The cookies looked good going into the oven but many of them looked misshaped when they came out.  They lost their distinct shapes and did not closely resemble the molds they were made from. 

Then I spent hours meticulously applying frosting.   Candy canes, Angles, Gingerbread men, Snowflakes, and other forms emerged as I carefully drew in colored icing.  In a process opposite of a young child I colored inside the lines with a boarder of cookie around the edges.  Candy canes with red and white stripes, angles glowing radiantly, stars shinning, and many other now recognizable shapes emerged.  Some of the cookies were plain sugar cookies, some were gingerbread and others were peppermint.  The icing was flavored like cream cheese, peppermint or plain and paired specifically with the dough to compliment the flavor. 

When I was done, they sat in straight rows on my kitchen table as the icing dried.  Hours later they were packed in boxes awaiting delivery.  The people at the rest home raved about the look of the cookies and helped themselves to lots of cookies.  But it wasn’t the look that brought them back for seconds it was the taste.  Those misshaped cookies were not too soft, not too hard, but just right to give a good chew.  The flavors were strong enough, but not too strong to deliver a satisfying compliment to a cup of coffee or tea.  These homemade cookies were chosen preferentially over the store-bought varieties.  They were the hit of the party.  One of the pastors even asked if I could make more for her to take to another church event next week.

Now I did not tell this story to brag about my cookie baking (which is legendary) or to tease you with food porn.  Rather I want to draw a comparison to life and the true meaning of Christmas.    Life does not always turn out the way we expect it to.  While we were shaped uniquely sometimes under the heat of life’s events, we come out looking nothing like we did before.  Unattractive and unadorned most people would not find us appealing at all.  But the baker who formed us, shaped us, watched over us while we were in the oven and when the time was right brought us out, wasn’t finished with us yet.  We serve a higher purpose.  The baker took us in his hand and began to bring out our character much like a sculptor works stone.  We become little masterpieces.  Each one unique, yet all have an overarching theme- the birth of Christ, the savior come to earth who has changed us.  We are no longer misshaped and unattractive but our lives now reflect the intent of the God who made us.

Jesus our Savior has come into our lives and our past has been overwritten by a new and glorious future.  We become the center of attention for those around us who see in us something that is so different from the world.  We aren’t Oreos, Vanilla Wafers or Fig Newtons we are something that can’t be bought in any store.  We are made to serve others with our lives.  We give ourselves selflessly to bless others.  We don’t choose who we will bless but rather by making ourselves available God will lead us to those who need us.  The fragrant aroma of our lives living out the will of God will attract those who hunger to know God.  

Christmas cookies are only around for a short while each year, but we as Christians keep alive the spirit of the season all year long.  We live our lives just the like the cookies, not for our own selves but for the good of others.  No cookie wants to be left on the tray to be discarded when they get stale.  We also fulfill our purpose when we give ourselves away as we reflect the story of the one who made us. Like the angles that appeared to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-15, we point the way to Christ so that others will seek him for themselves. 

My prayer for you this Christmas is that your life will reflect the message of salvation to those around you.  “For unto you is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” 

Your Brother in Christ

Spring 2019 NewsLetter

Greetings Brother,

Paraphrasing my friend Daniel at Daniel and the Lion’s Den ministry who sends me daily text messages of encouragement:  My goal in these letters is to uplift by giving you something positive to meditate on and think about, something that draws you closer to GOD.  I try to be led by the HOLY SPIRIT with prayer.  My formula, to use a math metaphor, starts with an idea or even a dream.  I first divide the problem or thought into smaller pieces and then address or find ways to overcome them one by one.  Then I multiply all the possibilities I can think of.  Next, I subtract the negative thoughts.  Finally, I add together enthusiasm, the Bible, and my faith in order to proclaim GOD’s truth.  My desire is to give and for you to attain hope, to help you have true joy and peace in life.  E=mC2 (Enthusiasm = my Christ squared).  It’s not meant to bore but to enlighten, not to preach but to share what I’ve learned.  After all, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread” – D. T. Niles.

My hope and prayer is that this letter finds you well.  I pleased to say that I had the opportunity to meet with another one of my brothers who recently paroled.  We spent a wonderful afternoon together catching up and renewing our friendship.  It is amazing the work that our Lord Jesus Christ is accomplishing through his servants whether bound or free.  It has been proven over and over that the Lord stays faithful to those who stay faithful to Him.

A Familiar Story

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is a central tenet of the Christian faith.  Everyone knows that the Easter story presents an account of the events leading up to and following the darkest day in human history and the brightest day in God’s history.  What follows is an analysis of those events from the prisoner’s perspective.  This is not intended to be a theological discussion but rather a paraphrase using language from modern criminal justice.  Simply a way of looking at the parallels that can be drawn between what Jesus went through and what a convict goes through.  Jesus was said to be both fully God and fully human, that He experienced all aspects of life, including temptation, yet never sinned.  Only by both living and dying could He fully experience the human condition.  In an act of selfless love that fulfilled the holy writ Jesus became the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins.  

Beginning in Matthew 26:3-5 and John 11:57 the Prosecutor and the Grand Jury determine that a warrant for Jesus’ arrest was merited because He was disturbing their peace and was a threat to the establishment.  An APB was issued and a reward for information regarding the whereabouts of the suspect was posted.  From Matthew 26:14-16 and Luke 22:1-5 Judas Iscariot decides to become a snitch in order to claim the reward, since he didn’t like the direction this Messiah’s kingdom was heading.  As the treasurer for Jesus’s organization he liked to take a little off the top for himself and all the talk of giving everything to the poor and Jesus predicting his own death was bad for business (John 12:1-7).  According to Luke 22:3-6, the authorities concerned about public relations and their ability to control the message sought to arrest Jesus away from the public eye.

Judas knowing that Jesus would be with only his inner circle of disciples in a secluded location after dinner led an overwhelming force of armed officers to arrest Jesus. Matthew 26:47-56, Mark 14:43-50, Luke 22:47-52, and John 18:8-12 describe the scene as one of barely controlled chaos, with fear and confusion on all sides.  Officers sent by the authorities behaving like a small mob of thugs, seeking to intimidate and overpower any resistance, wait for Judas to positively identify the suspect.  Once identified, they move in to arrest Jesus.  As they take him into custody the disciples flee into the night, running for their lives.

Jesus was taken to the Sanhedrin for a preliminary hearing.  Matthew 26:57-68, Mark14:53-65, and John 18:12,13,19-24 recount the hostile encounter between Jesus and the High Priest who served as prosecutor.  Witnesses are brought in, yet none could agree on the facts in their testimony.  In the end the exasperated prosecutor seizing on one statement from 2 witnesses confronts Jesus about his true nature and identity.  Up until this point Jesus has remained silent choosing to not say anything, but now breaks his silence to answer the prosecutor’s final question.  Jesus cannot deny who He is.  It causes a near riot as the Sanhedrin serving as the Grand Jury erupts in a frenzy over Jesus statement.  They pronounce him guilty of blasphemy and call for the death penalty.  There was no defense attorney brought in to act as public defender for Jesus, no cross examination of the witnesses, and no council to avoid self-incrimination.

Now Israel was subjugated by the Roman Empire and as such the High Priest and the Sanhedrin could not impose the death penalty themselves.  They had to take the death penalty case to the Roman governor for final judgment and sentencing.  Matthew 27:11-26, Mark 15:2-15, Luke 23: 2,3,18-25, and John 18:29-19:16 contain the accounts of this hearing.  Pilot, the governor was a shrewd politician and could see the politically motivated nature of the charges and did not find that the charges brought against Jesus merited the death penalty.  He tried to avoid making a ruling in the case by initially determining that the prosecutor had brought the case to the wrong court.  Since Jesus was from somewhere else, Pilot ruled that he should be tried in Herod’s court.

According to Luke 23:8-12 Herod was initially interested in hearing from Jesus, since he had heard of Jesus reputation as a miracle worker.  But he quickly tired of listening to the prosecutor pressing his demands for a death sentence while Jesus stood silently, refusing to answer any questions.  So, Herod and his officers mocked Jesus by dressing him up as a king and then returned Jesus to Pilot’s court in a classic perp walk.

Pilot now faced with a dilemma tried to bargain with the crowd that had gathered to watch the court spectacle.  He offered the crowd, which had been whipped up into a mob by the High Priest, the choice to either release Jesus or Barabbas who had been convicted of murder and insurrection.  The prosecutor and the crowd shout for Barabbas’ release and for the death of Jesus.  Pilot concerned that the situation was rapidly getting out of control, acquiesces to their demand.  In a final theatrical gesture Pilot washes his hands to signify that Jesus blood was not on his hands.

Now of course things would never get this far out of hand in a modern American courtroom, but the Roman Empire was a vastly different place, held together with brutal oppression of the forces seeking to tear it apart.  Crucifixion was an integral part of this policy.  In today’s society it was the equivalent of mass incarceration, but far more cost effective than locking people up for years.  Death by crucifixion was slow and painful, it was also very public.  In some places, crucifixions were carried out by the thousands to send a message to the populace that resistance was futile.

Matthew 27:33-44, Mark 15:22-32, Luke 23:33-43 and John 19:17-24 contain the accounts of the crucifixion.  Pilot ordered that Jesus be flogged and then crucified.  Many people would have likely died from the flogging alone.  Because of the brutal, savage beatings he had already received and then the flogging Jesus was unable to carry his own cross to the place of execution. A random stranger was taken out of the crowd and forced to carry the cross for him.  No appeals process, no ACLU, no Innocence Project, no reprieve, no last meal, no option for an alternate form of execution.

Most of Jesus disciples had run and hid.  Peter had denied him, three times! (Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, Luke 22:55-62, and John 18:16-18,25-27) Jesus felt the weight of the entire world on his shoulders as he was raised up on the cross.  His accusers continued to mock him, the officers gambled for his clothes, the crowd watched expectantly to see if God would save him.  Even with his own impending death he offered eternal life to the thief dying on the cross next to him.   At the end he cried out “It is finished” (John 19:30).  When he died there was an earthquake and the veil in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in half (Matthew 27:51).  Even the Roman officer moved by the scene exclaimed that “surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54)

On the darkest day in human history an innocent man was convicted and executed for the petty motives of jealousy, political expediency, and betrayal for 30 pieces of silver.  But death isn’t the end of the story.  Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark, 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, and John 19:38-42).  He was wrapped in a burial shroud and the tomb was sealed to prevent anyone from taking the body and officers were posted to keep watch (Matthew 27:62-66), but on the third day he arose.  Death could not keep him in the grave.  Jesus overcame death and sin to rise victorious over Satan (Matthew 28:1-8, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-10, and John 20:1-8).  On the greatest day in God’s history his son Jesus defeated Satan once and for all.  Not just to end the war between heaven and hell, but to provide a way for man to once again commune with God, as he had so long ago in the Garden of Eden.  Jesus became the High Priest and now he sits at the right hand of his Father in Heaven interceding on our behalf (Hebrew 4:14-16).

Jesus Christ experienced the Criminal Justice system of his day and went from a free man to a dead man in 24 hours.  Never once did he complain about his treatment at the hands of abusive officers, a prosecutor with a political agenda, a judge that didn’t have the courage to follow his convictions, or a fickle populace that in one week went from a joyous throng hailing him as a king to a blood thirst mob demanding his execution.  Instead he said, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” even as his life was ebbing away (Luke 23:36). 

Looking at Easter from this perspective should first of all show that criminal justice has always been dysfunctional.  The MDOC did not invent nor has it cornered the market in inhuman treatment, unfair rules and regulations, or bureaucratic officials.  Jesus endured the suffering, even though it had been within his power to end it, in order to give us an example to follow.  By his suffering we have a Savior who can relate to our situation.  We can see that he was willing to place himself in our position to show us how to live by God’s grace and mercy.  He showed us the true meaning of forgiveness and that there are no exclusions to the command to forgive others.  With his dying breath he trusted his Father and so should we.  John 3:16-17 says it all, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

I welcome your letters to talk about my meditations on scripture or what is going on in your lives, or anything else.  I pray for you daily and I want you to know that you are not forgotten. 

Your Brother in Christ

Summer 2019 News Letter

(Excerpt from the Summer News Letter)

Greetings Brother,

Yesterday I took my girlfriend and her brother to the local park to see the fireworks display.  We showed up and saw the signs everywhere, the barricades and porta-johns, but no people.  It turns out the website that I had read about the fireworks on had the wrong date published on it.  The fireworks were launched the night before.  It contained second-hand information that was inaccurate.  If I had gone to the city’s website, I would have found the correct information.  This could be a metaphor for our lives as Christians.  Many preachers talk about and many authors write about the Gospel.  Their observations and insights might sound good and may even be close to the truth, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.  We must always check with the original text, God’s words recorded in the Bible to find out if what we heard or read lines up with the truth.  In I Timothy 4 the apostle Paul warns young Timothy (and us) to beware of false teachers that teach things that are contrary to scripture.  Further, we must study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15).   We must be able to rightly understand the scriptures so that when something fishy comes along we don’t swallow it hook, line and sinker.  (Or show up a day late for the second coming.)

Your Brother in Christ,

Fall 2019 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

The summer is nearly over.  Hot days and warm nights will soon be replaced with falling leaves and frost.  2019 is two-thirds over already.  Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.”  The seasons change and so does life.  As much as things appear to be the same day after day, forming endless routine, change happens, often without our notice and certainly without our permission.  People come and go from our lives, jobs change, housing situations change, finances change, health issues, family issues.  Often, we have no control over change and that leads to stress.

When you live out of a footlocker, you’d think life would be simple, yet somehow it isn’t.  Anything lost, stolen, or broken can’t be easily replaced.  When you don’t have much to start with, anything you lose becomes a big deal.  How often does your reaction to a situation become an over-reaction?  Are you a control freak?  To quote Dr. Claire Lewicki from the Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder, “Control is an illusion you infantile egomaniac.  Nobody knows what’s going to happen next: not on a freeway, not in an airplane, not inside your own body and certainly not on a racetrack with 40 other infantile egomaniacs.”  Or do you complain about something even if it might be better in the long run simply because of the “unknown” factor?  It could be better; you just don’t know.  It is true that we would rather deal with the devil we know. 

I have a different suggestion on how to handle change.  First, start by trusting the one who doesn’t change.  Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever.”  You will always know where He stands.  The red letters don’t change and apply today the same as they did 2000 years ago.  Jesus understands what it means to be human, yet He sees a much bigger picture.  We suffer from tunnel vision and need his perspective.  He is the rock upon which we can stand.  How much better can we handle the storms of life when we have our feet firmly planted on solid ground.

Second, we don’t have to go through anything alone.  In Deuteronomy 31:5 God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  He is always with his children.  Jesus told the disciples in John 15:26 that the Heavenly Father would send us his Holy Spirit to be our guide and companion.  In John 16:33 Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  Furthermore in 2 Kings 6 is the story of the prophet Elisha and his servant.  They were in a city surrounded by the enemy and the servant was in a panic.  The prophet’s response was “Don’t worry.  Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  Pray to the Lord to open your eyes like those of the servant so you can see that you can see the chariots of fire all around us.

Third, no matter how bad it seems, God has a plan.  Romans 8:26 says, “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Our good and his purpose are the issue.  When we are going through difficulties, we rarely think about how this might be good for us.  Like building character or learning patience, our good will only be revealed later.  God isn’t out to punish us; His purpose is to see everyone saved.  As hard as it may seem to believe, our difficulties might be for the benefit of others and we are God’s messenger.  We might be there simply to tell someone else about Jesus because we were the only one who could reach them.  Like Peter we have to get out of the boat in the middle of the storm.  The key to success is keeping our eyes on Jesus. 

Lastly, Obey God’s Word and the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Psalms 18:30 says, “The Lord’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him.”  Even when it doesn’t make sense.  In Isaiah 55:9 God reminds us that “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  We don’t have to understand everything.  In fact, the older I get the less I understand.  Wisdom is knowing enough to realize I don’t know it all, accept that God does and be willing to learn from Him.

This summer has been a challenge for me.  Instead of getting my dream job I spent the summer as a care giver for my mother and my girlfriend.  It wasn’t the change I was looking for, and I definitely wasn’t in control of the hiring decision or the medical crisis’s that required major surgery.  I brought in a little cash by doing odd jobs but had to put my goals aside to make sure that my family was taken care of.  Now that they are able to function again, it’s time for me to look for work.  I simply praise God that I could be there for them and that He provided exactly what I needed to get by.

I have learned by experience everything that I write about before I write it.  My words to you are lessons that God has taught me.  It is humbling to think that God would use me, but I pray that my words encourage you to keep the faith. 

I continue to pray for you, seeking God’s favor on your life and that he will open doors for you.  God hears and answers prayers, especially our cries for help.  That simple four-letter word means more to our Heavenly Father than the best speech, when it comes from the heart.  Because he already knows what we need, He just wants us to reach out in faith and ask.

I always enjoy hearing from you.  If you need anything, I’ll do what I can to help.  You are not forgotten.

Your Brother in Christ