Who Is the Paul to Your Timothy?(Or the Timothy to Your Paul?)

(While I was at Central Michigan Correctional facility, I was involved with the Protestant All-Faith church and with Keryx.  I was never chosen to be a leader of either group, but I was active in supporting roles.  For a while I helped run sound for the church and volunteered to read scripture, pray, and give a testimony, or a meditation from time to time.  In Keryx I was a small group leader and served on the inside team for several weekend spiritual retreats.  Prior to that I had served as the inmate leader for the church in Level IV and as a soundman for the Level I/II church at Cotton Correctional facility.

This article came from my attempts to help when there was a sudden change of leadership because the MDOC rode out the leader and a relatively inexperienced replacement was chosen.  I firmly believe that church leaders are called by God and that scripture has a lot to say about the characteristics of church leaders.  Different organizations have different organizational charts, some have individual leaders listed while others rely on leadership teams.  In reality they are all teams of one sort or another, since no one can do it by themselves and especially in prison where there is no guarantee that you will be there tomorrow.  Continuity is a problem when there are not individuals in the church willing to help in the transition or provide support to leaders who are often placed into difficult and chaotic situations.  As I have said in a previous article: Being a church leader involves the arcane art of herding cats.)

This article is also a little unusual in that it is not strictly a meditation or instructional narrative.  There is also a fair amount of commentary about my experience with the prison church looking back on my time there, which ended nearly four years ago.  The church in American prisons is a persecuted church.  There are many in prison both inmates and staff that have no respect for the Christian faith.  Those who profess faith in prison are often singled out for abuse.  Like the early church or those in non-Christian countries there is a different dynamic at work.  Many volunteers that come to worship with us commented on the differences they saw between the free world churches they attend/represent and the prison churches.  There was a unanimous acclamation that they loved to worship with us because they could feel the movement of the Holy Spirit and the earnest faith expressed by men whose freedom was only on the inside.


Timothy was a young Christian taught the scriptures by his mother and grandmother.  He traveled with the Apostle Paul on a missionary tour because the Christian brothers in his hometown spoke well of him (Acts 16:1-3).  While they spent time together Paul trained Timothy for leadership.  Confident in Timothy’s ability to do the job, Paul left him at Ephesus to deal with the issues of the church plant there (1 Timothy 1:3).  We are blessed to have two letters written by Paul to Timothy providing tremendous insight into pastoral ministry.

Paul did not do this once, but at least twice that we know of.  Paul left Titus in Crete to complete the task of organizing the church planted there (Titus 1:5).  By this we can see that it is a model for preparing young Christian leaders through training in a hands-on way and then mentoring them once they have been appointed to a position.

In modern times, training for ministry has taken on formal academic methodologies in divinity schools in the western world.  However, the old model established by the Apostle Paul still works in the third world church and in places such as prisons where it is practical, efficient, and necessary.  While every prison has a chaplain who oversees religious programming, it doesn’t mean that he actually runs any specific faith- based programs in a Clerical sense.  Prisons rely extensively on outside volunteers from the thousands of organizations from across the country and the religious spectrum to provide religious instruction to inmates.  Some of these groups may provide mentoring programs for the inmate leaders of the church, however that was not the experience at the first prison where I was incarcerated.  The chaplain there, who I worked with when I served as the inmate leader of the Level IV Protestant All-faith church, did not provide much in the way of guidance, let alone mentoring when it came to how I was to lead my flock.  I never heard him preach at any services and do not believe that he was ordained by any faith group.   At the second prison the chaplain was an ordained minister and worked with the inmate leaders, but I believe in the MDOC that this was the exception rather than the norm.

To be clear I am not referring to discipleship, I am specifically referring to leadership.  Every leader should be actively involved in his own personal discipleship with other mature believers.  As the mission statement for a church I attended stated:  “We are to be disciples who make disciples.”  Any discussion of Christian leadership must begin with the premise that those called and chosen for leadership are earnestly working out their own salvation within the body of Christ. 

So, what do you do when you find yourself in a situation as a young inexperienced leader selected for a position for which you have received little training?  Do you assume that based on your previous life experience and knowledge that you will be able to figure it out as you go?  Do you try to model your ministry based on a TV preacher adopting the affectations and mannerisms you admire?  Do you assume because you’ve been appointed as leader you must act the part by being large and in charge?  We all like to think we’ve got some new, innovative, or powerful concept we’d like to implement to put our signature on the ministry to mold it to fit our vision and personality.  There is no doubt that a lot of thought and prayer goes into the process; but just as there are no Lone Ranger Christians, there can be no Lone Ranger Christian leaders.

As a young leader in the church, who are the Christian brothers you are receiving mentoring and advice from?  Even Billy Graham had an inner circle of prayer warriors who he often turned to for guidance.  They were always free to speak their minds and faithfully held him up in prayer for every decision in the ministry.  If Billy Graham would not operate without a support team, can any Christian leader believe that they don’t need one?

In Exodus, Moses literally needed the support of Aaron and Hur when the Israelites fought the Amalekites.  While Moses held up his staff, the Israelites were winning the battle; but when he put his arms down, the Amalekites would start winning.  Aaron and Hur made a place for Moses to sit down and then they held his tired arms up to ensure the victory (Exodus 17:8-16).

Moses couldn’t do it on his own.  Moses who is listed among the great people of faith in Hebrews 11 needed help.  Joshua was in the thick of the battle acting as Moses’ general.  Aaron who was high priest and Hur was one of Moses’ aides had accompanied Moses up onto a mountain that overlooked the site of the battle.  Aaron and Hur are the ones who diagnosed the problem and came up with the solution to Moses’ dilemma.  By supporting Moses’ arms, they ensured that God’s power flowing through Moses would continue until the enemy was defeated.

Even with God’s power flowing through him Moses got tired.  The same is true for any Christian leader, after all they are only human.  No matter how filled with the Holy Spirit you are, you can’t do it on your own.  Burn out is the top reason why many clergymen quite the ministry.  Leaders need their strongest laypeople to come alongside them to support them.

These mature believers, operating out of Christian love, prior experience, and guidance from the Holy Spirit are a resource provided by God.  They may be former church leaders themselves or possess a lifetime of experience sitting in the pew.  These counselors, having a sense of the congregation are able to provide young leaders, especially, with insight or information they themselves may not perceive or possess.  Leaders make decisions and these counselors may provide confirmation of a course of action before implementing it or suggest alternate possibilities for consideration.  The counselors are not presently called to be leaders but are pillars which support leadership while living in the body.

Everyone, especially those in positions of authority need to be actively engaged in accountability relationships.  They must be willing to place themselves into a situation where those who are capable can speak truth to power.  These counselors must be able to pray intelligently for the leader by getting to know this person, not in a casual friendship type relationship, but in a strictly confidential, deliberate, honest, spiritual way.

Leadership tends to be an insular position, so it is not recommended that a leadership team serve exclusively as the support team for each other.  Experienced members of the leadership team should be actively engaged in mentoring the new members and assist them in establishing their own support teams.  This multi-layered approach should ensure that leaders remain in touch with and accountable to the church body which they oversee.

I attended a church for many years near my home where the denominational organizational chart for each congregation called for both a Pastor’s Cabinet and a Leadership team.  The Pastor’s Cabinet was comprised of the elected delegates that represented the church at our annual conference.  They would meet with the pastor to talk about issues facing the church and served as the team that would work with the conference superintendent when conducting a search for a new senior pastor.  These people would serve for several years and would then be replaced by others voted into the position by the church membership during an annual election.  The Leadership team was also elected by the church membership to serve for several years to discuss and plan for local church issues and events.  There were even several other small groups such as a Worship committee that provided input on specific areas of ministry.  With all of these dedicated people advising the pastor you’d think that he would have all the input necessary to make decisions, right? 

One wise pastor who served there did something that many of his predecessors didn’t, he put out a call to the congregation for a prayer team.  He wanted people to commit to pray for a specific member of the pastoral team.  The pastors would then communicate to their prayer partners areas of specific needs both personally and in the life of the church that they needed others to lift up to the Throne of Grace.  Like Billy Graham, this pastor got it.  It’s not about technical, financial, or theological expertise, it is about the power of prayer.  When we follow the admonition to “Be still and know” only then are we able to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. 

Pastors and other church leaders tend to be some of the busiest people I know, and it can be a challenge for them to truly be still.  Don’t assume that because they have the title and responsibility that they don’t need specific prayer support.   Prison is one of the noisiest places to live.  There are only a few hours of the day when it is truly quiet in the housing unit, generally in the dead of night after lights out or during count time.  There are also no places where when can go to be alone.  Jesus set the example of retreating to a lonely place to pray and in prison it is hard to follow that example.  I would use count time, the forced periods of inactivity that happened several times each day to read the Word, meditate and pray.  These regular daily times provided me with the power, clarity of thought, sense of purpose, and direction that I needed to write what became the basis for many of the articles posted to this blog.  It is what allowed me to redeem my time in such an evil place.

The secular model of leadership often paints leaders as strong, decisive, charismatic, and knowledgeable in their field of expertise.  That is not how the Apostle Paul described Christian leadership.  Below I have listed 12 characteristics from Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus.  I have paraphrased them into modern language with the goal of making them practical in a prison setting.

Suggested Qualities for Leadership Team Candidates

  1. A mature believer- knowledgeable in the Word and grounded in prayer – 1 Timothy 1:18-2:4; 2 Timothy 3:10-17.
  2. Sensitive to the needs and concerns of the people – 1 Timothy 5:1-16
  3. Wise enough to know when to get out of the way and let others speak – 1 Timothy 1:3-7
  4. Always seeking to encourage and develop talent- grooming others for leadership – Titus 1:5.
  5. Has a good reputation both inside and outside of the church – 1 Timothy 3:7.
  6. A track record of involvement in available ministry activities; more than consistent attendance – Titus 3:14.
  7. Humble- has a real servant leadership mentality – Titus 1:6-9.
  8. Able to control his tongue – 1 Timothy 3:2-3.
  9. A passion for seeking the lost and teaching those new to the faith – Titus 2
  10. Willing to accept criticism, seek guidance, and work toward consensus as a team member – 2 Timothy 2:14-26.
  11. Willing to place himself into relationships where he can be mentored by those more senior to him in leadership, to develop his leadership skills – 2 Timothy 1:13-14.
  12. Willing to place himself into relationships where he can mentor those more junior to him in leadership, to develop their leadership skills – 2 Timothy 2:2-7.

There are many other characteristics that could be mentioned, but the point I’m trying to make is that God uses us whether or not we feel that we are ready, if we are willing to make ourselves available to be used as a vessel for the Holy Spirit, which is the one doing the work through us.  We will make mistakes, but the best leaders are the ones who can admit their mistakes, learn from them, and continue to move forward. 

The last observation I want to make is that Christian leaders have a bullseye painted on them by Satan.  He works extra hard to bring down those who are in authority, because he thinks it undermines the message of the Gospel.  All throughout Paul’s ministry he encountered opposition.  An example is recorded in Acts 19:23-20:1 where there was a riot in the city of Ephesus, because the local silversmiths felt that Paul’s preaching of the Gospel was hurting their business of making idols of the local goddess Artemis.  Paul had to leave Ephesus where he was having a tremendous ministry because of this and left Timothy to take over the ministry.  Which takes us back to the beginning.  A young leader finds himself in the position because the previous leader was ridden out.  The very issues that the previous leader was dealing with will become your issues.  Satan will come at you hard right out of the gate in order to stop you even before you’ve had a chance to get started.  Paul reminded both Timothy and Titus about this in his letters.  It will happen and you’ve got to be aware of it.  The only protection you’ve got is prayer.  James 5:16 says that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”  So, find some prayer warriors to go into battle with you because “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).

In closing I want to mention the second half of the title for this article.  ‘Who is the Timothy to your Paul?’  If you are a seasoned ministry leader, who are you bringing along to lead after you’ve gone?  Moses had Joshua to lead the children of Israel into the Promised land.  Eli the High Priest mentored Samuel. The prophet Elijah mentored Elisha to be his successor as prophet to the nation of Israel.  Jesus had the 12 disciples to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.  Don’t get so caught up in the daily struggles of ministry that you forget the future.  Use the talents God has entrusted you with to multiply.  Invest in the individuals whom God brings to you to grow and expand the ministry by teaching them the ropes and when the time comes delegating authority so that they can experience leadership while there is still someone there to guide them and answer their questions like Paul did.  

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.

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)

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.