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.

January 2015 Testimony

(Presented at the Protestant All-Faith worship service)

They say that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. I tutor for the GED program and on several occasions my students have introduced me to their people in the visiting room as “the guy who’s helping them get their GED.” Now I’m proud of that because they recognize that I want them to succeed, but that is nothing compared to what happened to me recently.

I’ve been walking the yard with a guy who introduces me to his home boys as “the guy who helped him get through the death of his mother.” We used to lock together in the same cube over on the east side of the prison and he knows that I’m a Christian. Not because I preach at him but because I lived my Christianity in front of him. And when his mother died I made myself available to him immediately. I didn’t have to say much, but rather walked the yard in silence with him and listened, like Job’s friends who were of the most comfort when they sat and mourned with him in silence.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:13-16 that we are to be salt and light. We are going to have an impact on those around us when we make ourselves available and show others that same love of God that we ourselves have experienced. Francis of Assisi said that “we are to preach the gospel and if necessary use words.” Our actions really do speak louder than words. My friend is not a Christian yet, but I’ve sown seeds into his life that one day may bear fruit. I take every opportunity I can to encourage him, watering the seed and trusting in the Lord of the harvest.


Update November 2019: I’m still in contact with my friend. We are both trying to put our prison experience behind us and move on with our lives. We are both off parole now and have successfully transitioned back into society. We are both working and have family obligations. The first time we met in the free world we hugged, drank coffee and spoke for several hours. He shared with me that during our time in prison I was responsible for helping him keep his cool on several occasions when his emotions were running high which kept him from busting several guys heads who were getting under his skin. He’s a big guy who can hold his own but a fighting ticket would have cost him his parole, elevated his detention level and would have sent his life in a totally different direction. He told me about his experience going to his mother’s grave site the first time after he got out, eight months after her passing. His mother was a believer and he is convinced that she is looking down from heaven and watching over him. At the end of our get together I gave him my pastor’s business card and told him that if he ever needed to talk to a clergyman, I highly recommended this guy. (I’ve quoted his opening sermon stories several times in my news letters.)

Before I went to prison I had difficulty expressing empathy, situations involving death made me uncomfortable and I was always at a loss for words. In a place where men purposefully toughen their hearts and shedding tears is a sign of weakness God worked in me to soften my heart, gave me peace in the midst of the storm, and loosened my tongue and my pen.

Farewell Address to the Church

(Presented at the Protestant All-Faith Worship Service at STF in October 2016)

I’ll be going home on Tuesday, so I wanted to take one last opportunity before I leave to encourage you my Brothers in Christ.

God is faithful, He “will never leave you or forsake you” (James 1:5). I have learned this lesson well during the last 8 years. I have been in some tough spots and have been roughed up a couple of times, but I was protected from any lasting harm. From these experiences I have also learned that “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). In every case I have grown closer to God, stronger both spiritually and emotionally, so I can say that “I consider it pure joy when I face trials of different kinds, because I know that the testing of my faith has developed perseverance” (James 1:3). And God will do the same for you.

In order to succeed, I have learned to make spending time alone with God my number one priority. I read and study the Word every day. Through it God has revealed to me my purpose and how I can live a victorious Christian life (Psalms 119:105; James 1:25), so that I can testify that “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

Meditate on God’s Word, allow it to marinate your heart and you will be “like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Psalms 1:3). Through meditation on Scripture I have seen myself in God’s mirror.

Pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). Prayer is like breathing, when you stop you die. Pray about everything (Philipians 4:6): your meals, your cubemates, your family and friends, your enemies, your future and yourself. Make prayer the first thing you do and not your last resort (James 5:13). And if you aren’t sure how to get started, start with “Help!” and end with “Thank you Jesus.” And know that the Holy Spirit that dwells inside you will be praying on your behalf (Romans 8:26-27). Prayer has been my lifeline, a way to speak with the one who knows me better than I know myself.

As I leave here I am taking my Bible and my beliefs with me. I know that these are the only true source of rehabilitation. No MDOC program can transform you the way God can when you allow Him to renew your mind (Romans 12:2). In closing I leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul from II Corinthians 3:11, “Finally Brothers, goodbye. Aim for perfection, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Restoration and Renewal Testimony

(My personal testimony presented to my Keryx Brothers shortly before I was paroled by the MDOC in 2016.)

My name is Tim and I attended Keryx 10 here at STF and I sat at the table of Timothy.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.”

John 3:16-17

God reached out to me, to each one of us, in an act of sacrifice beyond our comprehension, to save us from ourselves and our self-destructive acts of sin. A free gift with no strings attached, but He knew that if we accepted it our lives would never be the same.

I gave my life to Christ when I was a teenager at an alter call at the end of a Christian music concert. Once I became a Christian God promised that “He would never leave me nor forsake me” (Deuteronomy 31:6), that He would be my Shepard if I would be His sheep (John 10). But I was young and immature, and I failed to develop and grow in my faith, so in the course of time I wandered away as sheep are prone to do (Isaiah 53:6).

Through a series of bad life choices I found myself in a dark place, cut off from everything and everyone I knew. But God was faithful and found me in my cell at the county jail. He reminded me how much He loved me and I renewed my vow and earnestly repented. For the first time in years tears flowed as I poured my heart out to God, surrendering every area of my life, confessing every sinful habit and committing for faithfully serve Him.

One of the first Bible verses God gave me to memorize was Psalms 51:10-12, and for the last 8 years I have meditated daily on this prayer of King David:

“Create in my a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast (right) spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me by your generous Spirit.”

Psalms 51:10-12

This passage clearly identified for me that after my act of confession and repentance it was God who must act to bring restoration and renewal to our relationship. It wasn’t something that I could do, because only God has the power to make things new (Revelations 21:5).

According to Webster to restore something is to put it back in its former position. And to renew means to make new again, to start over. Only God could restore that feeling I had first experienced at the alter call so many years ago. Now I have that experience of Joy in my heart every day. God has given me a fresh start, a clean slate, a new spirit within me. He is growing my faith and continues to reveal Himself to me in His Word and miraculous works on my behalf.

I have been transformed by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2). And as a result God has given me new strength (Isaiah 42:31), a new attitude (Ephesians 4:23), and a new sense of purpose (Jeremiah 29:10).

Not only has He worked in me, but He has worked through me to share God’s love with others, to serve the church, and to encourage and disciple my younger Brothers in the faith. God has also been restoring my relationship with my family, and this prodigal son will be going home Tuesday. I can’t have back the life I had before and don’t want it if I could. Instead I am looking forward to my new life in Christ, and the plans He has for me.

In closing, my prayer for you my Keryx Brothers is:

“Do not lose heart. Even though your outward man is perishing, your inward man is being renewed day by day: for the light affliction you are dealing with will last but for a moment and is working for you a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. Do not look at the things which are seen, rather at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Until

(An original poem I wrote in prison based on the promises of Scripture and inspired by reading “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren in April 2016)

Until I realized I couldn't do it on my own,
God could do nothing for me.
Until I asked for direction,
God couldn't show me the way.
Until I confessed my ignorance,
God couldn't teach me.
Until I laid down my burden,
God couldn't carry it for me.
Until I searched for Him,
God couldn't reveal Himself to me.
Until I died to self,
God couldn't bring me to life.
Until I emptied myself,
God couldn't fill me.
Until I surrendered,
God couldn't give me victory.
Until I submitted to His authority,
God couldn't free me from my bondage to sin.
Until I hungered and thirsted for righteousness,
God couldn't satisfy my appetite.
Until I obeyed like a child,
God couldn't treat me like a son.
Until I admitted my weakness,
God couldn't strengthen me.
Until I walked by faith,
God couldn't prepare me to run the race.
Until I acknowledged my purpose,
God couldn't use me.

Christian Community

(A talk presented to my Keryx Brothers in 2016)

Since my Keryx weekend in 2014, in addition to my faithful attendance at church and the weekly Keryx grouping I have read and studied about what it means to live in Christian community. So as my time draws near for me to go home I believe it was by divine appointment that I’ve been asked to present this talk summary and what it means to me.

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 and how it relates to Keryx.

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.” When we come together on Sunday nights for Keryx how many times have you been uplifted by the worship music, a testimony, or simply the enthusiastic greeting of a Brother? I know I have.

Secondly, “we need to recognize that as Christians we need other Christians in our lives to speak God’s Word into us.” We need our Brothers when we become uncertain and discouraged to speak God’s Word into us to provide certainty and courage. In our Keryx small groupings as we share our Christian walk together we have the opportunity to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. To encourage others and be encouraged ourselves.

Third, we 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 can not 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.” Keryx creates a unique opportunity for us to get to know one another for who we are in Christ and how we can best serve each other in brotherly love.

Fourth, Christian community requires forgiveness. “We must forgive each other 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.” We close every Keryx meeting with the Lord’s Prayer, reciting the words “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Reminding us forgiveness is not a natural action but the key to working out our salvation.

Fifth, in the Christian community, “thankfulness is just what it is anywhere else in the Christian life. Only he who gives thanks for little recieves 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. 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 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 Jesus Christ.” Like many of you I’ve been tempted to quit Keryx, but I stuck it out, got involved and worked to make our community a better place. I thank God daily for what we’ve got, confident that the best is yet to come.

And finally, “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. We are summoned from the outset to combine as creatures with our Chreator, as mortals, with the Immortal, as redeemed sinners with the sinless Redeemer. His presence, the interaction between Him and us, must always be the overwhelming dominate factor in the life we are to live in the body.”

Romans 12:12-14 says, “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts: and though all its part are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one spirit into one body, and were given the one Spirit to drink.”

Keryx provides us with a unique opportunity to live life in Christian community. To be the hands and feet of Jesus, ministering to one another and witnessing to the lost and wounded souls on this compound. Individually our lights may not seem like much shinning into the darkness that surrounds us, however, when we come together we are like a city on a hill that can not and will not be hidden.