Called to Be A Blessing

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

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

As Christians we are called to be a blessing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how can we do this?

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

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

I encourage you to bless someone today and every day.

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

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

John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist said:

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

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

Who has tried to do good and had it rebuffed?

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

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

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

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

Creed and Community

Apostles Creed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-1 Corinthians 12:12-26

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

CS Lewis worship quote

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

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

Rich Mullin quote on scripture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonhoeffer Community quote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Treasures In Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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.

The Sherpa’s Perspective

I have previously described the Keryx weekend as a mountain top experience, and having worked as a member of the Inside team I now have a sherpa’s perspective. Sherpa is actually the name of an ethnic group of people who live in the mountains of Nepal, central Asia and work as porters for mountain climbing expeditions in the Himalayas.

The Outside team members are the mountaineering guides who have dedicated their lives to leading candidates up the mountain. They lead the expedition from the base camp to the summit, instructing the candidates and encouraging them every step of the way. Their vision, planning and experience make this adventure possible.

The Inside team members are the sherpa’s. We’ve been to the mountain top before and it changed our lives. Now we have made the choice to serve, to give back in appreciation to the mountaineering guides. Enthusiasm from our own mountain top experience has caused us to invite our friends, the candidates, to experience what we’ve experienced.

Our role is to assist at the direction of the guides, taking care of the routine tasks that make the adventure possible for others. Cooking, cleaning, running messages, entertaining; all the details of camp life that go on behind the scene. I’m not saying we’re indespensible, but the journey goes smoother since many hands make light work.

The Candidates can’t make this journey without their guides or their sherpas. They don’t have the experience, knowledge, or strength to climb the mountain safely or carry the necessary supplies to reach the summit, it requires a team effort. No one climbs Mt. Everest alone, but each person’s experience is unique.

The view from the top of the mountain reveals the beauty of God’s creation. Looking down from the top, everything becomes clear. The world takes on new grandure. Now that you have a new perspective you’ll never look at things the same.

It has been a privilege to share this view with those who are no longer candidates, but rather, Brothers. We share something in common. We accepted the invitation, we made the journey, we learned from our guides, and we have been changed.

We are grateful to our guides and will now join them and our new Brothers to meet weekly to share about what we’ve learned, to continue the journey along the lowland paths, encouraging one another, and looking forward to the next expedition.


In the prisons where Keryx is active, the 3-day spiritual formation weekends are held twice a year. After completing the weekend, the candidates are invited to join the 4th day meetings. Once a week Keryx members gather together with outside volunteers for a time of worship and small group meetings. Once a month there is an Ultreya, a special meeting with an extended praise and worship time and a program with prayers and testimonies, typically attended by more of the outside volunteers and their spouses.

The newest Keryx members are encouraged to participate on the Inside team for the next spiritual formation weekend. Keryx provides an ecumenical environment where men from different religious traditions meet to strengthen and encourage one another in the faith. Keryx is open to everyone regardless of religious affiliation, however it is distinctively Christian.

During the Keryx weekend the Inside team works at the direction of the Outside team to provide a number of services including: food servers and kitchen workers, musicians and sound technicians, porters, Palanca and Prayer team members. Members that are not actively working the weekend are invited to join a Prayer Vigil where people from around the world cover the event in prayer 24/3.

As an Inside volunteer I worked as a sound technician twice and in the Prayer room once. Running sound allowed me to relive my own weekend experience as the same words were repeated, giving me chills at times as the power of the Holy Spirit was active in the room. Watching men raising their hands in worship, bowing their heads in prayer, and crying as the emotion was expressed was humbling. Listening as words of encouragement, testimonies, and praise were spoken by those leading and those following was empowering.

My weekend in the Prayer room gave me a totally different perspective. In the Prayer room Inside and Outside volunteers prayed for whatever was going on in the hall. We prayed for the speakers, the listeners, and the workers. On each table in the hall were pieces of paper and the attendies were encouraged to submit prayer requests, which we then prayed over individually. Some were simple requests or words of thanksgiving and praise. Some were heartfelt pleas for healing on the behalf of family and friends. Some were heartbreaking cries for help to restore relationships or intervention in situations you couldn’t possibly imagine. Some were prayers of salvation or forgiveness of sin. All were genuine.

They say that prayer changes the one who prays, and I was certainly changed as I lifted up requests from people I did and sometimes did not know. I added my voice to the choir of “Amens” as others took turns lifting up these faith-filled, hopeful, and urgent requests before the Throne of Grace of the Almighty God.

I can tell you from hearing the testimonies of the Outside volunteers that they experienced the same life changing power that I did as an Inside volunteer. In fact many of the Outside volunteers have served in Keryx for 10, 20 or more years across multiple prisons around the state. They don’t keep coming back because of the food, the accomodations or the scenery; rather they come both humbly and boldly to share the Gospel with those who need it. The have responded to a call on their lives to participate in the work of the church serving the “least of these” both the lost and those who have found the light.

Mountain Top Experience

A mountain top experience is a time in your life when you experienced God in a deeply profound and meaningful way. A time when you felt closer to God than any other time in your life. It is the pinnical of both emotional and spiritual awareness. It is a life altering encounter with the Almighty. While the euphoria of the emotional component made fade over time, the power of the spiritual component should grow and increase.

The mountain top is not the culmination of the journey, but is in many ways the starting point of the next. You can’t live your life on the mountain top, as much as you would like to. Life is really lived out on the hills, valleys, and plains.

They say that lightning never strikes the same place, in the same way twice but mountain tops are a frequent target. We need to take the energy we absorbed on the mountain top and channel it into action. This may be to prune away the old dead parts of our lives and burn them up. It may be in stepping out in obedience to follow a call into ministry. Or it may be to return to our daily lives with renewed purpose and vigor.

Mountain top experiences are something that every Christian has at least once in their lives, when they are born again. But God wants us to continually seek him and when we do we will continue to have new mountain top experiences. Each one a unique and personal encounter with the living God, who loves us and wants our undivided attention, so that we can clearly hear the message He has especially prepared for us.


I wrote this meditation after I participated in a Keryx spiritual formation weekend while I was incarcerated in the MDOC.  This is a three-day short course in Christianity modeled after the Cursillos in Christianity.

Cursillos in Christianity (Spanish: Cursillos de Cristiandad, “Short courses of Christianity”) is an apostolic movement of the Roman Catholic Church. It was founded in Majorca, Spain, by a group of laymen in 1944, while they were refining a technique to train pilgrimage Christian leaders.

Cursillo is the original three-day movement, and has since been licensed for use by several mainline Christian denominations, some of which have retained the trademarked “Cursillo” name, while others have modified its talks/methods and given it a different name. In the United States, Cursillo is a registered trademark of the National Cursillo Center in Jarrell, Texas.

The Cursillo focuses on showing Christian laypeople how to become effective Christian leaders over the course of a three-day weekend. The weekend includes fifteen talks, called rollos, which are given by priests and by laypeople. The major emphasis of the weekend is to ask participants to take what they have learned back into the world, on what is known as the “fourth day.” The method stresses personal spiritual development, as accelerated by weekly group reunions after the initial weekend.

Today, Cursillo is a worldwide movement with centers in nearly all South and Central American countries, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand Aotearoa, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and in several African countries. The movement is recognized by the Holy See as member of the International Catholic Organizations of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in Rome.

This retreat is also used by Episcopalian/Anglican Cursillo, Presbyterian Cursillo/Pilgrimage, Lutheran Via de Cristo, Mennonite Way of Christ and various interdenominational communities as Tres Días.

Analogous retreats: The Cursillo method is used by ACTS, Encounter, Antioch, Search, Awakening (college students), Cum Christo, DeColores (adult ecumenical), the Great Banquet, Happening, The Journey (United Church of Christ), Kairos Prison Ministry, Kairos (for older teenagers), Emmaus in Connecticut (for high school age teens), Gennesaret (for those living with a serious illness), Koinonia, Lamplighter Ministries, Light of Love, LOGOS (Love Of God, Others, and Self) (Lutheran teen), Teens Encounter Christ (teen ecumenical), Residents Encounter Christ (REC) (a jail/prison ministry), Tres Dias, Unidos en Cristo, Via de Cristo (Lutheran Adult), Chrysalis Flight (Methodist Youth), Walk to Emmaus (Methodist Adult), The Walk with Christ (interdenominational), Anglican 4th Day (Anglican Adult), The Way of Christ (Canadian Lutheran adult), Tres Arroyos (Charismatic Episcopal Church). and Journey to Damascus (Catholic hosted Ecumenical with weekly reunion groups for alumni) in the Corpus Christi, Houston, and Austin, Texas, areas.

Wikipedia

A Meditation on the Aspects of Prayer

(An attachment to the Summer 2018 News Letter)

I don’t often get distracted from listening to the pastor’s sermon while sitting in the church service.  I take notes and engage as an active listener to hear what God has for me as the Word is preached.  However, this week it was the congregational prayer that got me thinking.  As I listened to Pastor Sheila bringing forth specific needs and then leading us to the throne of grace, thoughts began to coalesce and take shape in my mind about the nature of prayer.  In my recent devotions I have been reading the collected works of Andrew Murray on prayer.  According to him prayer is every Christian’s responsibility and that regular, routine prayer is both the sign of a healthy spiritual life and the source of a believer’s power.

Meditation for me is the process by which I take information gathered from various sources and my life’s experience and organize them into a coherent form by which I can understand a topic by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order to incorporate the concepts into my life.  As the concepts came to me I jotted them down in the back cover of my sermon notebook.  They came in no particular order and as with all meditations have needed some time to organize and flesh out from bullet points to complete statements.  My initial meditation lasted only 20 minutes and while it was very productive in laying out my thoughts, I know it is nothing compared to those like Andrew Murray who are far wiser than I and have spent their lives contemplating prayer.  But I share it as an exercise to stimulate your own contemplation on what prayer means to you.

As I wrote my reflections I identified 3 major aspects that describe the relational nature of prayer as I’ve experienced it.  Prayer is often intercessory, it is an act of two-way communication, and incorporates both the attributes of humanity and divinity.  For each of these aspects I identified characteristics to describe them.  I am not talking about the actual parts of a prayer, the mechanics of how to pray, or the different types of prayers.  Rather this is a look at the relational aspects of prayer between us and God, us and man, and God and man.

We pray to God on behalf of others (and ourselves), God speaks/acts towards us, and God also speaks/acts towards others.  We have concerns for others and others often ask us to pray on their behalf.  This reflects the way Jesus taught the Disciples in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6.

Prayer is…

A.     An Intercessory Act that encompasses the:

  1. International, national, and local communities we live in.
  2. Public and private aspects of life.
  3. Secular and sacred circles in which we interact.
  4. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual dimensions of individuals.
  5. Expression of both spoken and unspoken needs, wants, and desires.
  6. Time frame for actions that are both contemporary and eternal in scope.
  7. First act of hope and the last act of desperation in times of trouble.
  8. Passionate desire and compassionate intent to see God’s kingdom.
  9. Action of man in reaction to situations beyond our control both in the reality of today and our expectations for tomorrow.

B. Two-way Communication:

  1. Between humans and the Divine.
  2. Involving a call and response.
  3. Whether it is cried out loud, spoken in a whisper, or uttered in silence.
  4. That is occasionally eloquent but frequently tongue-tied.
  5. Regarding things asked for and received.
  6. Often asking questions and seeking answers.
  7. In which we remember the past and envision the future.
  8. Of ideas hidden in our hearts and yet already known to God.
  9. Best described as a child speaking to a parent and a parent speaking back to a child.
  10. Acknowledging our weakness and God’s strength.
  11. Expresses our heart broken condition and our heart-felt plea.

C. The intersection between Man’s attributes and God’s character:

  1. Man is broken and downtrodden by the cares of the world. God’s joyful response heals and uplifts us.
  2. Man’s desperate cry for help is heard by God whose peaceful Spirit comforts us.
  3. Man is powerless in his situation and reaches out to an all-powerful God for assistance.
  4. Frequently faithless man needs the reassurance of a faithful God.
  5. Man’s foolishness is often the source of his trouble and wisdom from God is the solution.
  6. Finite man is impatient for answers from the infinite God who is perseverant in responding.
  7. Uncertainty is the way of life for man while God is confident in all his ways.
  8. Man’s ignorance is far from blissful and only God’s knowledge can bring a state of contentment.
  9. Isolated and lonely man craves God’s familial relationship.
  10. Man’s sinful nature can communicate with a perfect God only by His grace.

Prayer is a personal experience, no two people will have exactly the same encounter with God.  Our own experiences change over time as our spiritual health and maturity are not static.  Only God never changes.  Periods of spiritual dryness and silence in response to our prayers is a well-documented fact for even the most devote believers.  But Scripture is clear that this is only our perspective.  God will never leave us or forsake us.  We just need to trust and obey the admonition to pray without ceasing.