Reflections on Praying Scripture

While I was incarcerated, I spent a lot of time in prayer.  I studied prayers in the Bible and what scripture had to say about prayer.  I read many books on prayer by both classic and contemporary authors.  All for the purpose of understanding how to pray better.  I was in a dark place and needed to learn how to prayer rightly.  I needed to learn how to not just make my requests before God, but how to talk with Him. 

In prison I memorized several hundred verses from Genesis to Revelations.  As I power-walked around the track on the back forty I would recite the scriptures adding one upon another until I could speak scripture non-stop for over an hour.  I would meditate upon the scripture to understand its meaning and application in my life.  I often needed to pray about the scripture because it convicted me of my sinfulness, my failure to be obedient in this or that area of my life.

My Bible became a coloring book as I underlined and highlighted verse after verse.  Re-reading scripture gave me new insight and understanding as I connected more and more scriptures together.  I wore out several Bibles in the 8 years I was behind bars, but the tattered and worn pages spoke volumes about how I spent my time.  In a place where Satan rules God reigned over me.  My time in prison wasn’t a cake walk and it certainly had its moments of pain and heartache.  Even though I walked through the shadow of the valley of death on a few occasions, God was with me and in me.  His Word comforted me, encouraged me, guided me and sustained me.

Every year I read the entire Bible through from cover to cover.  I read different translations like the NKJ, NIV, RSV, The Message and several others.  Each time I would learn something new as I gained deeper understand about the text I was studying.  Even though the translations might use different words to say the same thing, each one I read helped to bring out a more complete understanding of scripture then I had before.  I filled journals with notes on my studies of the Word, the commentaries, and the libraries of Christian books that I consumed. 

All my education, my enlightenment, my revelations led me to one over-riding conclusion: the Christian faith is about a personal relationship with God Almighty.  The only way to have a relationship is to communicate and the only way to communicate is to talk.  But what do you say to the one who knows you better than you know yourself?  If you do have something to say, how do you say it?  What is the right way to talk to God?  While I can write well enough, I do not consider myself a public speaker by any stretch of the imagination.  I had no idea, so I turned to what other’s had to say in order to figure it out. 

There is the model of the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught his disciples.  There is the Book of Psalms, the original prayer book.  There are acrostics like ACTS; Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication that organize prayers.  There are the traditional prayers of the Daily Office, some of which date back hundreds or even thousands of years.  There are simple popcorn prayers that are spontaneous, short, and to the point.  There are earnest cries for help when all hope is gone, and words fail us.  There are songs of praise and worship that are prayers set to music. 

The Bible is full of examples of both right and wrong ways to pray.  Abraham, Moses, King David, King Solomon, Jabez, Job, Elijah, Peter, Paul, and Cornelius to name a few prayed in a way that was pleasing to God.  All saw God working in their lives as a result of their prayers.  Cain, Nadab and Abihu, King Saul, the Pharisees didn’t pray in an acceptable way and it had disastrous consequences. 

One of the most important concepts that I learned was the power of praying scripture.  When we speak to God using his own words in the correct context there is power.  The power of praise, especially in the midst of battle.  The power of repentance in the face of sin.  The power of Truth in a world of lies.  The power of forgiveness instead of retribution.  The power of God’s unmerited grace and mercy to redeem lives.  The power of hope in the face of overwhelming odds.  The power of certainty in a chaotic situation.

Praying scripture fills us with the Holy Spirit so that we can have the power of love in response to hate.  The power of joy in a time of sorrow.  The power of peace in the middle of the storm.  The power of patience in a moment of haste.  The power of kindness in a cruel world.  The power of goodness in a heartless situation.  The power of faithfulness in a faithless generation.  The power of gentleness in a brutal environment.  The power of self-control in an impulsive society.

Praying scripture gives us the power to change lives, especially our own.  The power to defeat the devil, because he can’t stand against God’s word.  The power to heal physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  The power to alter the future through divine intervention in the lives and situations of man and nature.  The power to forgive, including ourselves.  The power to overcome fear, doubt, and the lies that have been spoken at us by others.  The power to grow deeper and stronger in our faith.  The power to influence others for good.  The power to overcome addiction when all other methods have failed.  The power to obey God in opposition of man.  The power to save the lost. 

Praying scripture brought the Word to life in me.  Praying scripture taught me the ways of the ancient church.  Praying scripture connected me with millions of other people around the world.  Praying scripture awoke in me a desire to learn more scripture.  Praying scripture changed my way of thinking.  Praying scripture set my mind on things above.  Praying scripture gave me the answers to life’s questions.  Praying scripture taught me whose I am. 

Praying scripture is poetry in motion.  Praying scripture is faith in action.  Praying scripture allows no room for self.  Praying scripture leaves our souls bare before the Almighty.  Praying scripture is claiming the promises of God.  Praying scripture is a child speaking to his Father.  Praying scripture is humble obedience to our Creator.  Praying scripture is the most honest thing we can say to God.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me. Cast me not away from your presence, take not your Holy Spirit from me, restore to me the joy of my Salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. 

You have told me through your word to pick up my cross and follow you daily, to crucify my flesh with its passions and desires, to flee youthful lusts and sexual immorality.  To put off the old man that grows corrupt and put on the new man made by God in true righteousness and holiness.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart the acceptable in your sight.  You have called me to walk by faith and not by sight.  To forget what is behind and press on toward the goal that you have called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Lord I submit to you, resist the devil, draw near to you and humble myself before you.  You are the potter and I am the clay I cannot tell you what to make me into.  However, I would humbly ask that you would make me into a vessel fit for your service whether of noble or common use.

Surround me with your angels.  Put a strong hedge of protection around me.  Shelter me in the shadow of your wings.  Protect me from spiritual attack.  Protect me physically.  Guard my character and my reputation.

May your love and faithfulness never leave me that I will have favor and goodwill with both God and man.

Spirit of the living God fall fresh on me.  I thank you for your unconditional love and generosity.  For providing for me according to your riches and glory.  I knowledge that all I have comes from you.  You have blessed me beyond what I could have ever asked for or even imagined.  Thank you! Now to him who is able to keep me safe until the day of Christ’s return, I ask this in the name of Jesus Christ.

 Amen.

I have included an example of one of my scripture prayers that became like breathing for me.  I would not just recite my prayers, but rather let my prayers ascend to heaven as an incense offering filling the air like a sweet perfume.  Sometimes spoken out loud, other times whispered in my heart but always with the space for God to respond with his still, small voice.  I have observed that we often are in such a rush to pray to the extent that we don’t allow God to get a word in edgewise.  How can we have a conversation if we don’t take time to listen?

For me prayer has become a special time that I cherish and savor.  Like a fine meal, each course brings its own sensation, its own unique flavor and when I’m done, I know that I have been in the presence of Almighty God.  He satisfies my hunger and thirst.  He gives me more than I dare to ask for.  He fills me with anticipation for the next time.  His infinite variety means that it never gets old, stale or routine.  It is always a balanced meal in which I receive exactly what I need at the time I need it.

Even though I had the support of my family, a prison church fellowship, and a few men I would dare call friends it was prayer that got me through my time.  Despite the overcrowded conditions of the housing unit, most inmates experience a deep sense of isolation and loneliness.  While the drone of everyday life there made it difficult to sleep and hard to concentrate at times, I was assured that God heard my prayers and that his abiding presence would never leave me nor forsake me.  He was closer than a brother and always just a heartbeat away.  I trusted Him with my life, I still trust Him, and I will always trust Him because He is faithful. 

Diamonds – The Untold Story

There is an analogy that compares the Christian life to the formation of diamonds, where a lump of coal undergoes a transformation by exposure to tremendous heat and pressure.  But as Paul Harvey used to say, “and now for the rest of the story.”

Where does coal come from originally? Coal is the remains of organic organisms, both plant and animal that have died and been buried.  To become a Christian our old natures must die and be buried. (Romans 6:4)

That organic material decomposes, losing its original shape and structure.  But not all coal becomes diamonds.  It takes a special set of circumstances for coal to be exposed to the right combination of heat and pressure for the diamond to form.  Likewise, the Christian having put off the old man must now put on the new man made in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:24) God uses the circumstances and situations that we go through in life to make us into a new creation. (Romans 8:28)

For a diamond to form, the impurities must be eliminated from the carbon.  Then the carbon itself must undergo a transformation where the atoms themselves must be aligned into a specific crystalline structure.  The Holy Spirit working in our lives purifies us from sin, sanctifying us. (Hebrews 9:13-14) As our thought processes and actions become aligned with the Word of God, we become humble, selfless, and ready to listen for the still small voice of God. (Colossians 3:12-17)

But this isn’t the end of the process, only the beginning.  The diamond is now trapped in the rock deep underground and isn’t in any position to do anything.  It takes a seismic upheaval to bring the diamond to the surface.  This upheaval can either be a natural or man-made event.  In either case the diamond must be separated from the rock before it can be collected.  In obedience to the will of God the Christian must be separated from the world.  We must leave behind anything that could come before God. (Matthew 8:18-22)

Diamonds in the rough are not all that attractive and have little value.  Only when the rough diamond is examined by a master jeweler, who can see its potential and can chip away the rough edges to reveal the beauty that lies within, will the diamond take on value.  In Jeremiah 18 God directs the prophet to go to the potter’s house to receive his message.  There Jeremiah watched as the potter took a lump of clay and with skillful hands formed it into a useful pot.  God then proceeds to compare himself with the potter and the clay to the nations and individuals whom God can shape as he sees fit.  In several different verses the prophet Isaiah also cautioned that it is the potter who decides, the clay has no choice in the matter. (Isaiah 24:16, 45:0, 64:8) The diamond also has no say in what will become of it.  God sees our potential when no one else does. (Psalms 139:13-16) He knows his plan for us, to prosper us not to harm us, to give us hope and a future. (Jerimiah 29:11) We just need to submit in obedience to his will for our life. (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

Diamonds are one of the hardest substances on earth.  Only a diamond can cut another diamond.  Diamonds are very useful both as jewelry and in industrial applications, so nothing goes to waste.  Every chip that is removed will be used in some fashion.  Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  God uses other Christians that are serving the purpose that he created for them to shape us.  Nothing that happens in a Christian’s life goes to waste.  Romans 8:28 says, “all things work to the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”

Flawless diamonds are of greater worth than flawed diamonds, which may contain impurities or imperfections in their structure.  Flawless diamonds refract light in a beautiful rainbow of color.  Flawed diamonds may crack under pressure.  They may look good at a distance, but they don’t stand up to scrutiny or hard use.  Christians may also be flawless or flawed.  Christians that most clearly let the light of God shine through them can be used by God for great effect. (Matthew 5:16) Flawed Christians have little value because they can’t be trusted in difficult situations. (1 Corinthians 3:1-4) A jeweler will often break a diamond down into small pieces in order to remove the flaw.  Likewise, God will continue to refine an imperfect Christian until he becomes flawless. (Romans 5:1-5)

Diamonds are measured in carats; large diamonds are much rarer than small diamonds.  Large diamonds will become the center piece of a royal treasure, while small diamonds find life as a wedding ring and even smaller diamonds become accent pieces.  God has called some Christians to do great things before the rich and powerful of this world, while he has called others to serve the common man.  But each of us has a place assigned to him by God, that will bring glory to God. (Ephesians 4:11-12)

Diamonds often become family heirlooms passed down from generation to generation, increasing in both monetary and sentimental value over time.  God is shaping us not just for use in this life but in the eternity to come. (1 John 2:24-25) Christians can also pass on a legacy of faith and service to their spiritual children, those who come to faith in Christ because of their obedience and testimony. (Galatians 4:19)

No analogy is perfect when you carry it out to the nth degree, but the comparison of the Christian and a diamond holds together pretty well.  2 Corinthians 4:7-11 says:

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.”

2 Corinthians 4:7-11

As Paul Harvey said in conclusion of his radio broadcast, “And now you know the rest of the story.”


While I was in prison, I had time to read, study, and meditate on scripture.  Articles like this one came from those times of quiet reflection on God’s Word and from discussions with my brothers in Christ.  For my brothers and I, prison was a time of significant growth in our walk with Christ.  We were in the fiery furnace and the impurities of our former lives were being burned away.  God was working in each of us and using each of us to support, encourage and challenge one another to grow stronger and deeper in our spiritual journey. 

My time in prison was by far the most productive time as a writer that I have ever experienced in my life.  Not because I had lots of time on my hand, but because I was in tune with the Holy Spirit.  God had my undivided attention and was able to work through me.  For many, prison is a waste of time because they fail to learn anything from the experience.  I have learned a great deal from my prison experience and tried to share it with the readers of this blog.  I have written about my experience in prison in The Warehouse of Lost Souls and I would encourage you check out those older postings.

Discipline ≠ Punishment

(A Tuesday night Bible study meditation that I did not get a chance to present while I was in prison)

For the majority of my life I failed to distinguish between discipline and punishment.  This may in part have been due to my upbringing.  Not that I suffered from abusive treatment, but rather the lack of guidance from parents more focused on careers than their children’s lives.  Not long ago I was out jogging on a track and noticed the dedicated athletes exercising around me.  In my Bible reading that morning I had read Proverbs 3:11. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”

As I was moving around the track and meditating on this verse God spoke to my heart.  He said, “You see all these people around you exercising?  Are they being punished or are they training their bodies?”  Discipline is training.  While you are out on the track, huffing and puffing, sweating and straining, it is not pleasant.  However, later after you have recovered, you are stronger and feel so much better.

Athletes understand discipline.  Football players study the playbook, eat at the training table and the coach has them run drills until their technique is perfect.  Sports physiologists speak of muscle memory, training the body until the response becomes automatic not requiring conscious control by the mind.  When a player fails to execute a play properly the coach may have the player out running wind sprints after practice, or during the game may bench him.  Odds are the player will not make the same mistake again.  The coach has his undivided attention and in the future the player will perform as he was trained to do.

Dieters understand discipline too, when they choose the apple for desert instead of the giant piece of chocolate fudge triple layer cake.  The reward is a swimsuit body.

Parents usually do not require their children to make their beds or pick up their clothes as a form of punishment.  They are seeking to instill discipline.  Punishment is reserved for willful disobedience- when you know the right thing to do and do not do it and choose to do the thing you know is wrong instead.

Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not turn from it.”  Discipline instructs, while punishment corrects.  Both are necessary however they serve very different functions.

For the Christian, God’s discipline brings the body, mind, emotions and spirit under the control of the Lord Jesus Christ.  When we are born again, we are infants in Christ and must grow in our faith.  As children we must be educated and trained.  In Hebrews 12:11 it says that, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Discipline results in wisdom.  Our Heavenly Father loves us and like a concerned parent wants the best for us.  He loves us too much to leave us the way we are.  He knows that in our fallen nature when left to our own devices, nothing good happens.  As willful creatures we often think, in our limited understanding, that we know best.  But God in his infinite love and wisdom patiently instructs us.

Punishment is the result of foolishness, which is defined as moral corruption in the Old Testament.  Proverbs 22:15 says, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, the rod of correction will drive it from him.”  You do not punish a baby because it has never been trained to know right from wrong.  However, after a child has been trained it is appropriate to punish them for disobedience.  Punishment servers as a reminder of the consequences for misbehavior and is intended to reinforce training.

When punishment is not timely or linked to a specific deed then it does not have the intended effect.  Proverbs 13:24 says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”  Good parent know that you should not punish your children in anger and that it must be appropriate and proportional to the offense.  A parent takes no pleasure in meeting out punishment.  It should be a true statement when they say, ‘this hurts me more than it does you.’ 

Parents punish out of love because they care about us and our behavior.  Proverbs 23:13-14 says, “Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die.  You shall beat him with a rod and deliver his soul from hell.”  Corporal punishment is not intended to inflict damage to the body, rather is uses pain as a tool that will serve as a reminder to discourage future bad behavior.

It is important that the child understand the reason for the punishment and that while the parent loves the child, it is the behavior that is unacceptable.  It is no different with our Heavenly Father.  Hebrews 12:7-11 goes straight to the heart of the matter.

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.  For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us, and we respect them for it.  How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!  Or fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.”

Discipline and punishment are like the two sides of a coin.  You cannot have one without the other.  Discipline provides the context within which punishment may be used.

And finally, discipline and punishment must be consistent.  Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  Nothing is more frustrating than failing to grasp the rhyme and reason for what you are going through.  As human beings we have a strong desire to know the answers to the question: Who? What? Where? When? How? and Why?  For older children it is possible to reason with them.  Answering their question will help, but there is also an element of trust.  Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”  God has a plan for our lives, and we must be obedient and trust Him.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future.”

The Lord spoke to me a second time and gave me the key to understanding discipline.

“You exercise to discipline your body. You study the Word of God to discipline your soul (mind and emotions). You pray to discipline your spirit. You meditate to unite the three.”

Spiritual discipline is the key to the Christian life.  In John 10:10 Jesus said that the reason that he came was so that we could experience a more abundant life.  The way we experience this abundant life is through Prayer, Fasting, Reading and Studying the Word, and Meditating on it.

The Apostle Paul compared spiritual discipline to a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.  They do it to get a crown that will not last, be we do it to get a crown that will last forever.  Therefore, I do not run like a man running aimlessly, I do not fight like a man beating the air.  No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Which brings me back full circle to my jogging on a track.  I choose to exercise because I know it is good for me.  It burns calories, helps me control my blood sugar, lowers my blood pressure, strengthens my heart and reduces stress, all of which improves my quality of life.  Likewise, I chose spiritual discipline because I want the abundant life that Jesus promised.  To  accomplish this I must live intentionally every day, submitting myself in obedience, accepting the Lord’s discipline and His punishment for my disobedience.

Called to Be A Blessing

(Adapted from a presentation that I gave at a Protestant All-faith Tuesday night Bible study in March 2015)

For those of you who don’t know me my name is Tim.  In the world I called myself a Christian, but since I came to prison, I’ve learned what it means to be called as a Christian, to be a disciple of Christ.  Tonight, I want to speak to you about one of the things I’ve learned. 

As Christians we are called to be a blessing.

Psalms 103:1-5 is a Psalm of King David where he describes God’s blessings.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Verse one in the King James says, “Bless the Lord.”  In the Hebrew there are several different words for bless.  When we bless God that means we praise Him, kneeling in humble adoration.  Praise is our response for what God has done for us.  Verse two through five go on to describe how God blesses us.

  • Forgiveness of sin
  • Healing from sickness
  • Redemption from a life of destruction
  • Love
  • Compassion
  • Satisfaction
  • Renewed strength

What are the conditions under which we are blessed?  In Deuteronomy 28:1-2 Moses says, “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.  All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God.”  And then Moses goes on to list the blessings.  You see, under the Old Covenant God blessed man in response to obedience in keeping the law.  But we aren’t under the Old Covenant, we are under the New Covenant.  Hebrews chapters 8-10 describe the differences between the old and new covenants.  I would encourage everyone to take the time to read them.

Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God. Cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”  Under the New Covenant obedience is our response to blessing not the means of obtaining it.

I hear the phrase “Bless you brother” all the time.  What does this really mean?  According to Jewish understanding a blessing between people is something promoting or contributing to the happiness, well-being or prosperity of another.  Not just wishing somebody well, but more like a prayer on their behalf.  It is a sacred promise, an obligation you are committing yourself to aid that person.

1 John 3:16-18 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.  If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person.  Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”  I believe that Christian love and blessings are related.  Love is the motivation and blessings are the works.

James 2:14-17 says, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food.  If one of you says to him.  “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  No empty words or worthless platitudes, but actions from the heart.  God never gives his blessings to us simply to be hoarded.  He gives his blessings to us so we can share them.  So how many of you have truly blessed someone else today?

I want to take this a step further.  Matthew 10:5-8 says, “These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

Freely you have received; freely give.”  Besides looking out for our brothers in Christ what is the #1 thing we as Christians are supposed to do?  As we just read Jesus empowered the 12 disciples and sent them on a missionary trip to preach the gospel, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who had leprosy and drive out demons.  Christ does the same for us today, empowering us for service, so we can bless others the way we ourselves were blessed.

So how can we do this?

  1. Preach the gospel– St. Francis of Assisi said, “Wherever you go preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”  When the opportunity arises, all we have to do it tell others what God has done for us.  Remember Psalms 103, we all have a testimony.
  2. Heal the sick– When someone asks you for an aspirin give it to them and pray for them. We know what James 5:13-16 says about the prayers of a righteous man.
  3. Raise the dead– We are surrounded by the walking dead. People who are dead on the inside.  They are spiritually dead with seared consciences, who need life breathed back into them.  God told the prophet in Ezekiel 37 to prophesy to the dry bones and so should we.
  4. Cleanse the leapers– Modern day leapers are the social pariahs, outcasts from society. In prison these are the outcasts of the outcasts.  We know who they are.   Lonely, friendless people who need to see a smiling friendly face and hear words of encouragement.
  5. Drive out demons– Demons are things that keep people from knowing peace. Alcohol and drug addicts and those with mental disorders have demons.  We need to be their support group.

The lost, sick, dead, leapers, and demon possessed surround us and we choose to interact with them or avoid them on a daily basis.  It takes a conscious effort on our part to not shy away, but rather to bless those who are most in need of our blessing.

I encourage you to bless someone today and every day.

  • Give a kind word to those who are lonely or discouraged.
  • Perform simple acts of kindness such as holding the door for the guy with the cane or in a wheelchair.
  • If you’re not going to eat a meal, give it to someone who is hungry.
  • Count the cost for befriending the social outcast.

Then those who are around us will know that we are Christians by our love.  Actions speak louder than words.  Love them until they ask why.  Paul told the Ephesians in Acts 2:35, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist said:

Who has tried to do good and been taken advantage of?

Who has tried to do good to someone who was ungrateful?

Who has tried to do good and had it rebuffed?

1 Peter 3:8-9,14 says, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”   “But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’

  • We need to value the welfare of others more highly than our own self-interest.
  • Give without expectation of return or reciprocation.
  • Give because it is the right thing to do.
  • Have compassion.

Compassion is one of the blessings we received listed in Psalms 103.  According to Webster, “compassion is the deep awareness of the suffering of others, coupled with the wish to relieve it.”  I’m not talking about sympathy, and compassion is more than empathy.  God through Christ has given us the means, but until we have compassion for those around us, we won’t be able to win this prison compound for Christ.  So, who are you blessing?  Just your Christian brothers? Close associates?  The lost and truly needy?

I would like to close with a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi:

Creed and Community

Apostles Creed

(A word of encouragement presented at an All-faith Protestant service in August 2016)

“I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven. And sitteth at the at the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.  I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Christian church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen”

How many of you recognize these words as the Apostles’ Creed?  This is a statement of the main Christian beliefs whose earliest versions can be traced back to the A.D. 100’s.  It is likely that the creed grew out of the life of the church.  It was probably derived from an earlier creed, which was a baptismal confession.

Rich Mullins, the Christian singer/songwriter once said about the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe what I believe.  It’s what makes me who I am.  I did not make it.  No, it is making me.  It is the very truth of God and not the invention of any man.”  He was echoing the words of the Apostle Paul recorded in Galatians 1:11-12.   “But I make known to you, brothers, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.  For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The Creed touches on the central issues of the Christian faith, but there is much it passes over.  It says nothing about Satan, angles, demons, predestination, baptism, church government, or the details of Christ’s future Second Coming.  It gives us the big picture of what Christians believe.  We may believe more than what the Creed says, be we don’t believe less than that.

At its heart, the church is a community of believers who are joined by their shared faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s why the church for 2000 years has affirmed the Apostles’ Creed.  It expresses our common faith in Christ.

Dorothy L. Sayers in her essay ‘Creed or Chaos’ wrote in the 1930’s that “the Creed – that precisely formulated and clearly defined set of Christian beliefs – is our only defense against chaos.”  The Creed reminds us that Christianity has a doctrinal basis.  Although we talk a lot about a personal relationship with Jesus, that more than a feeling or personal experience.  It’s a relationship based on the truth revealed in the Bible.

In this room we represent a wide range of denominational backgrounds: Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Mennonites, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Adventists and Fundamentalists.  A real all-faith worship service.  We come together in Christian unity where we focus on what we have in common rather than what makes us different, an Ecumenical Movement.  Psalms 133:1 says, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.” And verse 3 goes on, “for there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

The oneness of the church is the basis for true Christian unity.  Paul explains the basis of our unity in Christ by using the word “one” seven times in Ephesians 4:4-6.  “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”

When Jesus prayed in John 17:21 that “they may be one,” he was asking the Father to help believers demonstrate on earth the perfect unity that exists in heaven between the Father and the Son.  We are never told to create unity; God has already done that in Christ.  We come together from different backgrounds, different levels of education, different places in our spiritual walks; we bring with us different preferences in worship style and different understanding of the spiritual gifts.  But we are all members of one body with Christ as the head.  And as a result, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many are one body, so also in Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.  For in fact the body is not one member but many.  If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not the hand I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body?  If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?  But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as he pleased.  And if they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now indeed there are many members, yet one body.  And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’  Nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’  No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.  And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need.  But God composed the body having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but rather that the members should have the same care for one another.  And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it, or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

-1 Corinthians 12:12-26

According to C.S. Lewis, “We as Christians are not called to individualism but to membership in the mystical body.  By ‘members’ St. Paul meant what in the Greek are called ‘organs’ – things essentially different from and yet complementary to one another.  In modern usage, such as in logic, you find the expression ‘members of a class’ where the items or particulars are homogenous.  We would call members of a club merely units.  A row of identically dressed and identically trained soldiers set side-by-side.  So, when we describe a man as a ‘member of a church’ we usually mean something different from the Apostle Paul.  How true membership in a body differs from inclusion in a collective may be seen in the structure of a family.  The grandfather, the parents, the grown-up son, the child, the dog and the cat are true members precisely because they are not members or units of a homogenous class.  They are not interchangeable.  If you subtract any one member, you have not simply reduced the family in number you have inflicted an injury on its structure.  Its unity is a unity of unlikes.”

CS Lewis worship quote

We come together with our rich diversity of religious backgrounds to form something that is both unique and organic in nature.  That’s why no two prison chapels are the same and why if you are here long enough, you’ll see changes in the style of our worship.  For example, forms of music come from the gifted musicians and singers.  These are not permanent groups but simply the amalgamation of the individuals presently participating.  We are blessed to have who we have and should rejoice that they are willing to share their gifts with us.  It may not be your personal preference for worship style, but it gives glory to God and lifts the spirits of others in the group.  There is no place for criticism simply because that is not how you worshipped at your home church.  If you want a say in the worship style, get involved with the worship team.  Then we will all be able to benefit from your background and perspective.

The volunteers who bring us a message come to us from a number of different denominational and non-denominational churches and sometimes they speak on areas of belief that are outside of the Apostles’ Creed and that’s okay.  In order to grow we need to progress from spiritual milk to meat and meat requires chewing.  Bring your Bible, pen, and paper.  Take notes.  Take them home and study them carefully.  You may not agree with everything you hear in the service but don’t discount everything a speaker has to say.  It may be a matter of understanding the translation utilized, scriptural context, and/or theological perspective.  We only grow stronger when we exercise our muscles and the same is true of our Christian walk.  The Bible contains no inconsistences, no errors, but it is full of mysteries that can not be fully understood from our finite human perspective.

Rich Mullin quote on scripture

The word of God is Truth that towers over our personal experience and stands in judgment over our personal opinions.  So, let the Holy Spirit be your guide.  The Bible is full of statements on the importance of and power in reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on the scripture:

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” -Psalms 119:11

Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” -Psalms 119:105

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of thoughts and intents of the heart.” -Hebrews 4:12

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” -2 Timothy 3:16

Be diligent to present yourself approved of God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” -2 Timothy 2:15

We also have the word of the prophets as confirmed beyond doubt. And you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” -2 Peter 1:19

After all this you may still not agree with everything you hear.  However, Paul warns in Titus 3:9, “Avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law, for they are unprofitable and useless.”   Just let it go.  It’s not good for us to be arguing amongst ourselves over a theological point.  One day it will be revealed.  Better minds than ours have wrestled with some points of Scripture from the time they were first written down without reaching consensus on the exact meaning.  It is just a trick of the devil to separate us.  We should simply agree to disagree and then move on without diminishing our love or respect for one another.

Don’t forsake the fellowship of the body even when it rubs you the wrong way.  We must look past the messenger to receive the message God has for us.  A mature person should be able to do this.  Rick Warren in his book “The Purpose Driven Life” says that we must passionately love the church in spite of its imperfections.  Longing for the ideal while criticizing the real is evidence of immaturity.  On the other hand. Settling for the real without striving for the ideal is complacency.  Maturity is living with the tension.

Other believers will disappoint you and let you down, but that’s no excuse to stop fellowshipping with them.  They are your family, even when they don’t act like it, and you can’t walk out on them.  Instead Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:2, “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”  Not only should we remain in fellowship for the sake of our brothers, but also remember that the world is watching.

They’ll Know We Are Christians(also known as “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” or “We Are One in the Spirit”) is a Christian hymn written in the 1960s by Fr. Peter Scholtes.  It was inspired by John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  The title of the hymn originates in a phrase that non-believers used to describe Christians believers of early Church: “Behold, how they love one another.”

People become disillusioned with the church for many understandable reasons.  The list could be quit long: conflict, hurt, hypocrisy, neglect, pettiness, legalism, and other sins.  Rather than being shocked and surprised, we must remember that the church is made up of real sinners, including ourselves.  Because we are sinners, we hurt each other, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally.  But instead of leaving the church, we need to stay and work it out, if at all possible.  Reconciliation, not running away, is the road to stronger character and deeper fellowship.

Bonhoeffer Community quote

Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book “Life Together” had a lot to say about how we should live together in Christian community.  I would like to bring out a few points from the book that are especially true for us here in prison.

First, we should not take for granted the privilege we have of openly living among other Christians.  Visible fellowship is a blessing that not all of our brothers and sisters around the world get to enjoy.  The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.

Second, we need to recognize that as Christians we need our brothers when we become uncertain and discouraged to speak God’s word into us to provide certainty and courage.  God puts the word into the mouths of men in order that it may be communicated to other men.

Third, our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done for us.  The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.

Forth, we must realize that in a Christian community each individual is an indispensable link in the chain.  Not only do the weak need the strong, but also the strong cannot exist without the weak.  As a body we are only as strong as our weakest members.  Therefore, we must do all that we can to strengthen all our members.  Romans 15:1-2 says, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not please ourselves.  Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

Christian community involves service to one another and that starts with listening to one another.  Listening is by far a greater service than speaking.  Once we begin listening only then can we be truly helpful in performing service.  The greatest service we can perform is to bear one another’s burdens.

Fifth, Christian community requires forgiveness.  We must forgive one another on a daily basis, and it occurs without words as we pray in intercession for one another.  C.S. Lewis once said that “to believe in the forgiveness of sin is not so easy as I thought.  Real belief in it is the sort of thing that very easily slips away if we don’t keep polishing up on it.”

And finally, in the Christian community thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life.  Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things.  We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us, because we do not give thanks for daily gifts.  We think we dare not be satisfied with the small measure of spiritual knowledge, experience and love that has been given to us, and that we must constantly be looking forward eagerly for the highest good.  Then we deplore the fact that we lack the deep certainty, the strong faith, and the rich experience that God has given to others, and we consider this lament to be pious.  We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary small gifts.  How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measures and riches which are there for us all in Christ Jesus.

Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification.  It is a gift of God which we cannot claim.  Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification.  What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God.  Just as a Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature.  The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.

Treasures In Heaven

(A word of encouragement presented at a Protestant All-Faith Church service in October 2015)

In the October 16th 2015 Daily Bread devotional written by Lawrence Darmani, the key verse for the devotional was Matthew 6:20 NKJV, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”   I’ve probably read that verse a hundred times and understand that earthly treasures and heavenly treasures are not the same.  But at the end of the devotional were two thought provoking questions that stopped me dead in my tracks.  The first question was, “In what ways are you storing up your treasures in heaven?” and second, “How might you change and grow in this area of your life?”

After thinking for a few minutes, the answer to the first question seemed obvious.  I would like to think that every time I:

  • Pick up my cross, crucify my flesh and deny myself;
  • Love my family, neighbors, and enemies as I love myself;
  • Visit the sick, orphans, widows, and prisoners;
  • Bless my family, friends, strangers, and those who curse me;
  • Give my time, talents and gifts to benefit others;
  • Give out of my riches and my poverty – tithes, freewill offerings, and monetary gifts without conditions;
  • Serve others by giving a cup of water, washing their feet, and seating them in a place of honor ahead of myself;
  • Humble myself, turn the other cheek, walk the extra mile, give both my cloak and tunic;
  • Walk by faith and not by sight;
  • Pray, praise, and give thanks to God, and;
  • Trust and obey rather than having to ask forgiveness, I was storing up treasures in heaven.

I thought that every self-sacrifice I made, every good deed I did, every act of devotion was like the old S&H Green Stamps I earned and could trade them in for crowns or a bigger mansion in heaven.  It was the answer to the second question that showed how shallow my thinking was.

How might I change or grow in this area of my life?  What more could I possibly do!  As I began to meditate on this question the Holy Spirit reminded me about the Rich Young Ruler from Mark 10:17-31.  Could it be that I was being proud of my works?  Jesus told the young man to “‘sell whatever you have, give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow Me.’ At this, the man’s face fell.  He went away sad, because he had great wealth.”  To be a disciple of Christ we cannot put any conditions on our service, the only way is complete obedience.

Then it became clear to me.  As I live my life in true righteousness and holiness my every time must become all the time.  As I mature in my faith- my eyes, ears and heart must become more sensitive to both the heavenly call on my life and the pitiful conditions surrounding me.  I must come to the realization that my righteous acts are like filthy rags.  How could my works hope to buy anything in heaven, which is a city paved with streets of gold?

2 Corinthians 4:7 tells us that we are treasures housed in earthly vessels, and John 3:16-17 says that Jesus came than none might perish.  The truth is that the treasures we store up in heaven are people, those who come to know Jesus because we were salt and light, the hands and feet of Jesus, a living testimony to the reality of our God.


Shortly after I presented this word of encouragement to the church one of our regular preachers, Jim Jones from Rock of Ages came and preached a sermon that confirmed my conclusion that the treasures we store up in heaven are the people that we reach for Christ.  Over and over my insights into prison life and spiritual life have been confirmed by a variety of sources.  Some of these confirmations have been of a more universal nature showing that some things never change over time and distance like books, newspaper articles or television documentaries from all over the country and around the world.  Others have been very specific such as this instance where Rev. Jones’ language was almost verbatim of my own. 

Since I am neither an expert in criminal justice nor theology, I tend to be widely read to better understand the subjects.  However, in prison there is no access to the internet and unless someone sends you a book from out in the free world all you have to read are books in the General Library or Chaplin’s library. Until preparing this blog post for publication I had never heard “The way you store up treasure in heaven is by investing in getting people there” quote by Rick Warren.

That being said, most of my blog posts are essays written to help me process and share information based on my own experience, perceptions and insights.  Meditation features prominently since to me the leading of the Holy Spirit is a crucial component to how I gain understanding and wisdom.  My friend Daniel once called me a ‘wise man’ and my response was to say that I was only a ‘wise guy.’  I humbly acknowledge that I am free and forgiven only by the grace of God, that all my words are from Him, and are intended to give Him praise and glory.    

Winter 2019 Newsletter

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:11-12

(Excerpt from the newsletter)

Season’s Greetings Brother,

Another year is coming to a close and it feels like there is so much left to do and so little time left to do it in.  I’ve been so busy working, shopping, decorating and baking cookies that I find myself up against a firm deadline to publish this newsletter and I haven’t begun to think about what I’m going to write.  I had to stop another project completely because I just don’t have enough hours in the day to spare.   Life at times like this can get overwhelming, but I’ve learned that I’m not a superman.  I can’t do it all.  I’m not a machine.  I must accept that not everything will get done.  While I don’t have to be okay with the idea, I still need to acknowledge my limitations.  I shouldn’t beat myself up or complain about my procrastination or lack of organizational skills.  When I get to the heart of the matter, I know that I did my best and that things don’t always go according to plan.

I once read a quote that said, “If you don’t have the time to do it right, you certainly don’t have the time to do it over.”   In the long run doing things right the first time makes more sense than hurrying through and making lots of little mistakes.  But the world we live in doesn’t tend to see it this was.  The pressure is on to be ‘good enough’ not perfect.  Why is it then that in our walk with Christ we often strive for perfection and then beat ourselves up when we fail?  In Romans 3:23 it says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Even born-again Christians sin.  When we are saved, we don’t automatically become perfect, just forgiven of our past mistakes.  Instead with the help of the Holy Spirit we become conscious of our failings so that we can with His help address them in a continual process of improvement. Philippians 2:12 says that we are to “work out our salvation.”  We won’t be perfected until we get to heaven and have exchanged the corruptible for the incorruptible (1Corinthians 15:53-55).

Busyness, multitasking, schedules, deadlines in themselves are not bad things but how they use us is.  We become distracted, our focus is divided, keeping on track and finishing on time become an obsession.  We lose sight of the things that are truly important.  Christmas time more so than any other time of year has a reputation for this type of insanity.  We can’t enjoy the holidays because we rush around trying to get things done.

“Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht” in its original German) is one of the most well-known traditional Christmas carols sung around the world. 

The song is about an event that is described as peaceful, calm, and tranquil, yet majestic, other worldly and glorious.  Having been in the delivery room for the birth of my daughter I can tell you that giving birth would never be described that way.  If a modern birth is at best described as stressful, chaotic, and exhausting, what would it have been like to give birth to your first child far from home in a barn 2000 years ago without the assistance of anyone other than a local midwife?

The song was originally a poem written by pastor Joseph Franz Mohr and composed by his friend Franz Xaver Gruber in early 19th century Austria. Pastor Mohr desperately needed a carol for the Christmas Eve midnight mass that was only hours away, and he hoped Gruber – a school teacher as well as the church’s choir master and organist – could set his poem to music; he composed the melody in just a few hours on that Christmas Eve.  This sounds more like the world we live in.

Jesus came into this world as a baby in the humblest circumstances imaginable.  But while the birth of most children receives little notice, he received a royal welcome.   A heavenly choir announced his coming, heralds spread the word of his birth, his earthly parents were presented with kingly gifts by foreign dignitaries, both prophets and a prophetess saw his future and a tyrant feared him.  God who created man became man in order to redeem His creation.  This act of love, sacrifice, and salvation in a few short years would turn the world upside down.  But for one night there was quiet expectation with hope, faith, joy and peace abounding.  This is why we celebrate.  This is why we take time to remember the birth of our Savior.  This is why we need to cut through the distractions and focus on the true meaning of Christmas. 

Please forgive me for not sending my newsletter sooner.  You are important to me and at this time of year more than most others I know how isolated and alone it can feel being in prison.  That is why I pray for you.  That is why I write to you.  That is why I want you to have a word of encouragement.  While your daily routine may not be as crazy as mine gets at times, I know you can still fall into the same traps.  Don’t be distracted from practicing and perfecting your faith, but don’t beat yourself up when you fail.  Remember that no man is perfect except for Jesus.

Your Brother in Christ.

Eulogy for Pops

I recently learned of the passing of an old friend.  His name was “Pops” to those of us who knew him in prison.  Pops and I lived in the same housing unit for the last year and a half I was incarcerated.  When we met he was in his late 70s.  He had been an upstanding member of his community, an active church goer, and after retirement he made one poor decision that resulted in him being sent to prison for the first time in his life.

In prison he was active in the Protestant All-faith service, chaplain programs, Keryx, and led a Bible study almost every day in the housing unit dayroom.  He was not shy about sharing his faith with those he came in contract with.  He was a mentor to me in my own Christian walk.  It was Pops who gave me the title “Warehouse of Lost Souls” from the poem on the front page of my blog as a way of describing prison.

Prison was not easy for him.  Being a senior citizen meant that he was a frequent target by those looking for an easy victim.  He regularly showed the Christian characteristics of turning the other cheek, forgiveness, and loving his enemies.  He sought to live in peace with all men, including the young kids who showed no respect for their elders.

Pops wasn’t in bad health for a person his age, but he did have the usual aches and pains.  Prison medical being what it is didn’t do much for him.  He was deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other, so after years of waiting the MDOC gave him one hearing aide.  Then he found out he could have had hearing aids sent to him from an outside source.  His greatest fear was of dying while in prison.  Fortunately, he did make parole.  He was received into the home of a friend where he lived until the time of his untimely death.

When I started my ministry of writing letters of encouragement to prisoners, Pops was on the top of my list.  Even though he said he wasn’t much of writer we did correspond back and forth.  After he paroled, I continued to write to him.  I was able to talk with him on the phone a number of times and even managed to spend a day with him.  It was good to see someone who came out of prison with a thankful heart instead of bitterness.  He fully intended to live his remaining years as a free man walking by faith.

He was not one to minimize his crime, but fully accepted responsibility for it.  In his testimony he spoke of how God worked through his situation to not just save him but transform him into a new creation.  In prison his life was a light shinning in the darkness.  Pops was well educated and well spoken, and he could talk to anyone.  He boldly proclaimed the Gospel of Christ in both words and deeds. 

Pops truly enjoyed mentoring young believers by opening up Scriptures using an inductive bible study style that encouraged them to read the Word for themselves in order to grow in their faith.  He prayed boldly but spoke gently.  He modeled Christian character and lived a lifestyle that was beyond reproach.  He did his time by helping others use theirs wisely. 

He touched many lives including mine and we are all the better for it.  He is gone but not forgotten.  I know that Pops is in heaven singing with the heavenly choir.  While I grieve for the loss of my friend, I know that some day I will see him again and will rejoice in that meeting.

Sharing a meal with my friend Pops. It was the last time I saw him.

The Prayer For Joy

(Presented September 2015 at the Protestant All-Faith Worship service)

We as Christians are known as peculiar people. I believe this is in part because of our response to adversity. (Titus 2:11-14) James tells us “to consider it pure joy whenever we face trials,” not because we are masochists who enjoy pain but because we know that “the testing of our faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2)

God told both the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah that the sorrow and mourning that the people of Isreal were experiencing would be replaced by joy and gladness. (Isaiah 51:11, Jeremiah 31:13) We will experience mourning, sorrow, crying, and pain while we are in this life. (Revelations 21:4) But Solomon wrote, “To everything there is a season. A time for every puirpose under heaven.” (Ecclisiates 3:1) Those struggles that we go through are only temporary and we must fix our eyes firmly on God.

Joy is not produced by the absence of conflict or struggle, rather it is what results from those trials when we understand them from God’s perspective, and when we experience His presence in the midst of the storm. (Isaiah 55:8-9, Daniel 3:25) King David rejoiced when God answered his prayers to rescue him from the hands of his enemies, “I will shout for joy,” he said, “and sing your praises for you have ransomed me.” (Psalms 71:33)

Joy is somthing we experience in spite of our circustances. It is a gift we receive when we stop trying to get it. It comes when we surrender fully to God and let His Holy Spirit work in us and through us. The Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth about the experience of the churches in Macedonia. How during a time of severe trial they experienced an overflowing joy that caused them to give generously, even though they were extremely poor. (2 Corinithians 8:2)

Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22) The fruit of the Spirit are not for our consumption. The fruit produced in our lives goes to feed others, so that the seed of God’s message may be planted in them.

Jesus told his disciples, “If you keep my commandments you will abide in My love… These things I have spoken to you that my joy remains in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:1011) Joy is the reward for odedience when we stay faithful and continue to trust God during adversity. However, when we sin, we disrupt our relationship with God and the fruit withers and dies. We must like King David confess our sin and seek God’s forgiveness. “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me…Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me.” (Psalms 51:10-12)

When King David wrote the 119th Psalm he was meditating on the value of scripture. He said, “Your statutes are my heritage forever, they are the joy of my heart.” (Psalms 199:11) The writer of Hebrews says that, “The Word of God is living and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit.” (Hebrews 4:12) That is why in the book of Nehemiah when Ezra the priest read the scriptures to those who had returned from captivity in Babylon, they wept. But Ezra told them, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) We can prepare ourselves to face adversity by spending time in the Word. We draw strength from reading about how God has been faithful to those who came before us. We believe the promise that “He will never leave us or forsake us” in our times of adversity. (Hebrews 13:5)

Even without adversity we should be joyful. Isaiah said that “we should go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” (Isaiah 35:10) Even creation is filled with joy and if we won’t speak out the very rocks will cry out. (Luke 19:40) The psalmist said, “Shout with joy to God, all the earth!” (Psalms 66:1) “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad…Then all of the trees of the forest will sing for joy.” (Psalms 96:11-12) We are commanded to “tell of his works with songs of joy,” (Psalms 107:22) because “You, Oh Lord, have filled my heart with great joy.” (Psalms 4:7)

The Apostle Paul told the Thessalonicans to be “be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16) When we realize all that God has done for us in the past, what he is doing for us in the present, and what he will do for us in the future how can a Christian not help but be joyful? “The Lord is my strength and shield I trust Him with all my heart. He helps me and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” (Psalms 28:7) No wonder King David was a man after God’s own heart.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew words for joy refer to gladness and mirth. The general usage was applied to the state of the mind in any pleasurable experience. In the Psalms it appears as a natural consequence of the individuals fellowship with God, who is the source of joy. In the New Testament, the Greek words for joy refer to exultation or delight.

Joy should not be confussed with happiness, which is an emotional state that like all feelings is highly influenced by our present experience. Joy is not an emotion, but a characteristic of the Christian life. It is a conscious response we make on a daily basis, made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Lastly, when Christians live in right relationship with one another our encouragement and humble service can impart joy. Paul wrote to Philemon, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement because you brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” (Philemon 1:7) We can cause others to experience joy by “being like minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.” (Philippians 2:2)

My prayer for you dear Brothers in Christ, is that you will be “filled with inexpressible and glorious joy as you receive the goal of your faith, which is the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

November 2019 Letter

(Excerpt from a letter)

Greetings Brother,

Mama says, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  With all the negativity going on in the world around us it is clear to me that people don’t listen to their mamas!  From the president on down shouting rude, derogatory, inflammatory rhetoric has become the norm.  From two-bit, tin pot dictators shouting “Death!” to their enemies to hate groups of every color and creed preaching doctrines based on imagined superiority or persecution to self-justify their acts of terror, the world has reached the brink of a new age.  An age where civility and reason no longer have the power to persuade, and arguments are won by the person with the loudest voice.  A world were lone gunmen strike without warning after posting diatribes on the internet; police kill unarmed suspects simply because they perceive every response as hostile; teachers are trained to carry guns and shoot to kill, even if the attacker is their own student; and candlelight vigils end in further tragedy.

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving.  A day of remembrance for an intrepid group who fled religious persecution in Europe to start a new life in the new world.  While we tend to focus on the feast, it was what led up to it that was important.  The Pilgrims were a religious sect of Christians that held different beliefs than the state sponsored church in England.  They spoke kindly when faced with insults.  They acted with dignity when faced with angry mobs.  They lived lives of simplicity in a complex society.  They were the victims of hate crimes, state sponsored terrorism, and socio-economic discrimination just because they wanted to live free in peace to worship God in their own way.  So, the Pilgrims chose to go to a land which few people had seen and of which little was known.   They were entering a new age.

An earlier attempt to carve out an outpost in the new world at Jamestown by others had mysteriously ended in failure, so they were heading into the great unknown.  The journey was difficult, and some did not survive.  All that was waiting for them was hard-work, deprivation, and unimaginable suffering.  The land was full of dangers and the process of building a community in the wilderness was difficult.  If it wasn’t for the fact that they made friends with the natives of the area they wouldn’t have survived.  Through it all they held strongly to their faith in God.  They trusted Him for their provisions and did not curse Him when another person died.  After their first successful harvest they chose to give thanks to God.  They didn’t claim victory in God’s name.  They didn’t pat themselves on the back and congratulate each other for a job well done.  They humbly acknowledged that God was faithful and had supplied what they needed to live.

As Christians living in this era, we don’t have a new world that we can travel to so we can start over.  Until Christ returns to lead us home, we must live in this world.  In his high priestly prayer Jesus prayed:

“My Prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be sanctified.  My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

John 15:15-21

The writer of Hebrews said our focus in this world must be to run the race of life with patient endurance, to keep our eyes on the prize (Hebrews 12:1).  The Apostle Paul described the importance of having self-discipline in order to win and not be disqualified (2 Timothy 4, 1 Corinthians 9).  The Apostle Peter wrote to the members of the early church encouraging them to be like-minded, sympathetic; to love one another; to be compassionate and humble; to not repay evil for evil or insult with insult, instead repaying evil with blessings (1 Peter 3).  To be a “peculiar people” using the old King James version of 1 Peter 2:9.  As Christians we are called to be the modern-day Pilgrims living a lifestyle that distinguishes us from the society around us.  We are to be strangers living in a strange land.

Our speech is one area where we can distinguish ourselves from the world.  James the brother of Jesus cautioned about the power of the tongue, noting that praises to God and curses to man can’t both come out of our mouths (James 3).  We must speak the truth in love to everyone and use words to build up not tear down others.  Ephesians 5:19-20 says that we are to “speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  We are to create a soundtrack of praise to accompany our lives.

During Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem the Pharisees asked Jesus to silence his disciples and the others who were shouting “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” But Jesus replied, “if they keep quiet even the rocks will cry out” (Luke 19:37-40).  As Christians it is our role, our responsibility, our mission in life to give praise to God the Father and Jesus Christ his son.  We need to acknowledge that everything comes from God, even in the midst of our darkest circumstances.  Sitting in jail Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns at midnight, and then God moved in a mighty way not only saving them from their situation but also saved the souls of the jailer and his entire family (Acts 16:25-34).  It was because of experiences like this that Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  You never know who might be listening to your testimony of praise and the effect it will have on them. 

In Psalms 106:1 it says, “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good, and his love endures forever.” This is what the Pilgrims did that first Thanksgiving.  They declared a day to acknowledge what God had done for them, giving thanks for the harvest, their religious freedom, and their lives.  Here we are 378 years later commemorating that first Thanksgiving and adding our voices to theirs, praising God for what He has done for us.  

You are in my thoughts and prayers. You are not forgotten. Your Brother in Christ.