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.

Winter 2016 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

Wishing you the best during this holiday season. Knowing first hand how difficult holidays are for those incarcerated, I encourage you to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas in your heart. Keep watch like the Shepherds, follow the signs like the Wise Men, worship like the Angels, be fearless like Joseph, and humble like Mary. Then you will experience God’s gift of grace and peace, the true meaning of the season.

Things are going well for me, but everything is taking longer to get organized than anticipated. Please note the return address and feel free to write. Getting the ministry up and running was a major milestone. CCP Ministries stands for Christ, Crime and Punishment. Its mission is to encourage those behind bars, educate the public regarding prison conditions, and seek discourse with those in government about the importance of religion in the rehabilitation process.

On a personal note, God has continued to bless me beyond my expectations for reunion with my family. I have plenty of work to keep me busy helping out around the house, as my mom is dealing with knee issues. For the first time in years I decorated the house for Christmas. It was just like getting my driver’s license. Yes I passed the test, enough said. I put up my grandmother’s motion sensitive singing Christmas tree on my dresser and her wreath on my bedroom door. These were her Christmas decorations during the last year of her life when she was in the nursing home. I’ll be baking Christmas cookies next week to take to the local nursing home. Wish I could send you some. I’m not trying to rub it in.

I had dinner with my other grandmother the other night. She is 96 and still kicking. Her stories about hospitals, rehab centers, and convalescent homes sound an awful lot like prison, except for the ritual sacrifices. I think she imagined those. There are some universals when dealing with institutions of all types.

I’m attending a small church with a good worship team and a pastor that brings a good sermon every week. Still looking for a small accountability group. I’ve been re-reading Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline.” This was the book that first exposed me to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I highly recommend this book as a great read if you want to take your walk with Christ to a deeper level.

Know that you are not forgotten. I pray for you every day. Your Brother in Christ.

Winter 2018 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Brother in Christ