Winter 2019 Newsletter

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

(Excerpt from the newsletter)

Season’s Greetings Brother,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Brother in Christ.

Winter 2016 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spring 2017 News Letter

(Excerpt from News Letter)

Greetings Brother,

A women took her pet duck “Fluffy” to the vet because she thought it was sick. The vet took Fluffy and put her on the exam table, pulled out his stethoscope to listen to the heart and lungs. After examining the duck he turned to the women and says, “I’m sorry, your duck is dead.”

“But doctor,” the women says, “aren’t you going to run any tests?” So the doctor leaves the exam room for a couple of minutes and returns with a Labrador Retriever that walks over to the exam table, rears ups up and puts its front paws on the table top and sniffs the duck. The Labrador then looks at the vet, shakes its head, puts his head down and walks out of the room.

The vet turns to the women and says, “Your duck is dead.” “Please doc,” the women says, “are there any other tests you can run?” So the vet walks out of the room and returns a few minutes later with a cat which he sets down on the exam table next to the duck. The cat sniffs around the duck, stares at it for a moment then looks up at the vet, shakes his head, jumps off the table and stalks off.

The vet again turns to the women and says, “I’m sorry, but your duck is dead.” He then turns to his computer and prints out a bill and hands it to the women. She looks at the bill and exclaims, “$150!” The vet says, “It would have only been $50, but you asked for additional tests. So I charged you $50 for the lab report and $50 for a cat scan.”

Pastor Bob E.

I can’t resist a bad pun, especially as the punchline to a joke or a funny story. As a sermon starter it serves to get the listener’s attention, so that they will be engaged to hear what the preacher wants to communicate to the congregation. On the evening news, the newscaster likes to start with dramatic footage of breaking news to get the viewer’s attention. Newspapers do the same thing by putting a big picture and large bold print with the title of the lead article to get the reader’s attention.

I watch the local and national news on television and read the newspaper almost every day, the USA Today and Detroit News usually. I have been taken by the number of articles I read about criminal justice and prison reform. I can’t help but notice that they are rarely on page one and hardly ever the lead story. This is a subject that apparently, while important enough to make the news isn’t headline worthy. People are hearing about the problems in the prison system and the calls for reform, I’m just not certain how well they are listening.

Like the political divide between the Republicans and Democrats, the country seems to be almost evenly divided between those who believe in retributive justice and those who want to reform the criminal justice system. However, the number of advocates for each perspective are relatively few, outspoken and highly polarized. The vast majority of the population falls somewhere in between with their personal opinion and tend to rank the importance of the issue below things like the economy, war, sports, and pop culture.

I am currently reading a book entitled “Pursuing Justice – The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things” by Ken Wytsma that has some really powerful statements about Christianity and Justice.

“Justice is the sum of many parts, with similar overlapping concepts including: love, mercy, service, charity, ethics, truth, integrity, laws, and righteousness.”

These concepts represent the character of God that we are called to emulate. The Old Testament is the story of God’s justice from Adam in the garden to Moses and the children of Israel in the desert to the kings in Jerusalem to the diaspora of Judah and Israel. The New Testament is the story of God’s redemption through Jesus Christ his Son. Together they tell a story of how hopeless, fallen man can be rehabilitated into the children of God.

In Luke 18 Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge. The reasoning of the judge is most interesting. Verse 4-5 says, “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!'” Justice doesn’t necessarily come easily, quickly or cheaply, so you must be committed to its cause. In verse 7-8 Jesus gives us God’s perspective. “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

Justice is not just the criminal justice system, there is also social justice and economic justice to name a few. Justice is the process by which those who are in need of relief from a situation seek remedial action from those in authority. It could be sought through the courts, the government bureaucracy, the legislature or public opinion. Justice is a process that must be worked through. (Except in the court of public opinion.)

“Race, gender, class, and education shape us to recognize some facets of justice and injustice more readily- and to be blind to issues that are clear to those who are different.”

As I am sure you can attest, spending time in prison brings you into contact with those who are so very different from ourselves, and that their beliefs about justice and injustice are a real eye opener. Jaded jailhouse lawyers who fight not just criminal convictions, but institutional issues that they don’t like just for sport. Cynics who hate everyone and everything around themselves. Sociopaths and psychopaths who have no conscience, morals, limits to their actions or an understanding of the repercussions. Gangsters who think they are slick but live in paranoid delusions that everyone else is a snitch. Drug addicts and alcoholics that will do anything for the next high. The one thing that they all have in common is the belief in their own innocence and the guilt of others.

Then there are the guards.

“It’s much easier to see someone else’s acts of injustice when they’re written on a piece of paper and disconnected from our current context.”

This takes me back to my newspaper reading. There are two types of news articles about criminals: those calling for their heads and those calling for their release. Some paint the accused as the devil incarnate, wholly unredeemable. Others question everything from the facts of the case to the motives of the police and prosecutor. However, it is the context of the reader: race, gender, class, education, and character that informs the acceptance/rejection or alteration of the truth in any given story. Notice that logic and reason are completely absent from the discussion. In the days of alternate facts, fake news, and relative truth, logic and reason cannot be relied on to reach consensus or agreement on the real truth of guilt or innocence.

I believe this is why so many people reject the Gospel of Christ. Faith isn’t faith until you accept the story as Truth. During this holy week we are reminded of this, not as a function of modern society, but the condition of man since the fall. The religious and political leaders in Jerusalem couldn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah because he didn’t fit their expectations or their own agendas.

Jesus was the victim of retributive justice. When the authorities reject the truth, innocence becomes irrelevant and that speaks to the character of the judge, jury and executioner (the High Priest, the Sanhedrin, and Pilot.) It seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Which as why after 2000 years it is the greatest story ever told. So I encourage you to continue to tell this story. I can think of no group that so desperately needs to hear a message of grace, mercy, redemption and forgiveness as those who are there with you.

You are not forgotten. Greet all the Brothers for me. He is risen!

Your Brother in Christ.

Fall 2017 News Letter

(Excerpt from the newsletter)

Here is my pastor’s latest sermon opener story:

“Uncle Cletus lived down south, back up in the hills. When he ate is favorite food his foot would swell up. He loved fried pork and his doctor told him he would have to avoid pork because it was the cause of the gout he was suffering from. When Cletus got home from the doctor’s office his wife asked him what the doctor said. Cletus took off his shoes, pointed at his feet and said, “I’m gong to have this problem about 3 times a week”

Pastor Bob E.

We are selective in our hearing and accept only the points we want to. I’ve actually read about this. People tend to accept information that backs up their beliefs. This is why some people like Fox News and others like CNN. The spin put on the news by the political perspective of the commentators either resonates with the viewer or it doesn’t and the viewer responds by saying, “Give me a break” and changes the channel.

Persuasive arguments don’t work because of this phenomenon. Compelling reasons aren’t enough to cause a person to change. They must want it first, then they will be willing to accept the information presented to them. Only by accepting that their’s is a failed system of beliefs will a person be open to accepting alternate truths. You can probably fill a phone book with the names of all the people you know who live by the phrase, “I deny your reality and substitute my own.” And some of them are pretty far out there. We live in an era of relative truth, not absolute Truth. We agree to disagree (on a good day) or simply dismiss other positions. President Trump and his alternative facts and “fake news” are a great example of this.

I think this is why some of the various religious groups attract followers in prison. Out in the world some of these religions don’t receive much attention or attract many followers but they have a much higher percentage of the prison population. When some people end up in prison it serves as a wakeup call that the way they were living wasn’t working. When they come to this realization they begin searching for another way of living.

Prison is a bit like Athens, Greece the way that the Apotstle Paul found it in Acts 17. Paul saw the large number of different religions represented in the city and even spoke to a large crowd at the Areopagus and presented the Gospel. In verse 32 it says the “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of then sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ And in verse 34 it says that “Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.” Some of the people were closed minded and rejected Paul’s message while others were more open minded.

Keeping an open mind is actually harder than it sounds because we are all closed-minded. We must make an effort to be objective and truly hear the other person out. Once we really listen to what another person has to say and carefully consider their words, only then can you have a converstion with them. Like Paul you can expect some who will be outwardly hostile and reject your message, others will want to have more information and some will accept what you have to say. Also like Paul we should use the situation to make our points by taking into account the other person’s belief system in order to reach them in a context that is more familiar to them.

Pretty deep stuff, but it is the heart of communication theory. Think about arguments you have had in the past. Very few are ever actually won. Instead every one is a loser because friendships are broken and enemies simply dig in deeper. It is only when we let down our walls, set aside our opinions and beliefs that have reached the point of dogma in our lives that we are able to have real discussions with others and for the dialog to truly work the other person has to do the same thing.

Know that I am praying for you. Your Brother in Christ.

Winter 2017 News Letter

(Excerpt from the Christmas News Letter)

Greetings Brother,

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! The day I mailed out my Christmas cards I got a letter from a guy with a JPay about the new mailroom policy. So I tried again and at least some of the facilities that I write to didn’t like my holiday stationary. I was just trying to bring a little holiday spirit to a place where it is sorely lacking. Oh well. If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. No use for me to complain about MDOC policy, since I know you already hashed it out.

I apologize for not writting sooner. During my absence I want to assure you that you were always in my thoughts and prayers. The most important thing is for you to know is that you are not forgotten, you have worth as an individual, and God loves you. I believe that we must be life-long learners, never satisfied that we know it all, rather humble enough to recognize that there is something to learn from everything that we go through. Either we are learning about ourselves, others or the world around us. Don’t be judgemental, but gracious: treating others as you want to be treated. We all want a second chance, so we should be willing to give others one as well.

Prison may be the worst thing you have ever experienced in life, showed you the worst that humanity has to offer, the most difficult and fustrating bureaucracy, the most insensitive and incompetent authority figures. Apathy and animosity abound, but you can choose to live above the fray, not roll in the mud, and live free, even behind bars.

During this holiday season my prayer for you is that you will have peace. Peace about your past, your present, and your future. Peace over the decisions you can make, and the ones that are out of your control. Peace with yourself, your family, and those living around you. A peace that causes other people to take notice and sets you apart from the crowd. A peace that surpasses all understanding.

Your Brother in Christ.

Spring 2018 News Letter

Greeting Brother,

He is Risen! A bold statement made regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ that was echoed by more than 500 witnesses according to I Corinthians 15:6. Jewish law required 2 or 3 witnesses to give matching testimony to establish the facts in a case. At Jesus’ trial the prosecutor had to resort to twisting Jesus own statements in order to gain a conviction since the witnesses could not agree.

So what would it be like to have 500 people agree? People from all walks of life, different social casts, men, women, free, slave all saying the same thing? While some like the disciples could be said to have a vested interest, in a group this large that certainly wasn’t the case for everyone. The modern equivalent would be like 500 people agreeing on a particular UFO sighting. The evidence is hard to ignore, even in the absence of physical proof.

Sitting where you’re at you know better than most the importance of witness testimony. First hand accounts are accepted while secondhand accounts are treated as hearsay and inadmissible in court. Truth is sometimes hard to hear but can’t be denied in the face of overwhelming evidence.

So why don’t people believe you when you share the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Based on the above discussion I think several reasons are obvious. First, after 2000 years we are not even secondhand witnesses, countless generations of believers have passed on their testimony. Many skeptics are quick to discount what you say because they think it is just a fairy tale that has been somehow changed in the retelling so that the factual persons involved couldn’t possibly be responsible for such miraculous occurrences. Like the factual St. Nicholas being morphed into Santa Claus.

Secondly is the content of our testimony. Do we agree with one another? Our greatest testimony is the way we live our lives before men. How often are Christians called hypocrites because our words and actions don’t align with each other, let alone others who call themselves Christians, and even less with the Scriptures?

To be taken seriously let alone believed, we as Christ followers coming from different denominations, walks of life, men, women, free or prisoner must be united. Not just speaking the same words of Scripture, but with our own firsthand account of what Jesus Christ has done for us as our Lord and Savior.

Jesus explained this in the simplest way possible in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.” You are in the darkest place imaginable, so turn on your light so that not only you can see but those around you can see where they’re going.

The ancient church had a call and response that is still used at Easter and I will close with it: He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!

You are in my thoughts and prayers. Your Brother in Christ.

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.

Summer 2018 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

It is officially summer so it is time for my summer letter. As the weather heats up I pray that cooler heads will prevail and that there will be peace where you are. The last thing I am sure that anyone wants is to be both hot and bothered by others who aren’t dealing well with the heat. Stay frosty my friend. Staying cool even under pressure never makes the situation worse, only better for everyone.

I just celebrated my 54th birthday. I blew out the candles in one breath. However, there was probably more wax than frosting on the cake. My annual physical finds me in good health. Praise God! I’ve ridden my exercise bike so much this year that I had to replace the ball bearings in the crank shaft and the tension wheel. The bike was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think. It sounded like nuts and bolts in a blender and it got louder the harder I peddled. Now it is whisper quiet. I find great satisfaction in being able to take things apart, successfully repairing them, and then putting it back together.

How often in life have we found ourselves in a place where we can’t fix what we’ve broken? Why can’t relationships be as easy to fix as a toaster? Is it because there is no manual? Actually there is: the Bible. The problem is we don’t study it enough. We also fail to understand that it’s not about fixing others but our own part in relationships. Sure, you can lead others to Christ but you can’t save them. They must enter into relationship with Jesus of their own free will.

The same is true in our relationships with other people. We are only responsible for our part. Whether it is our parents, siblings, spouse, children, friends, coworkers or anyone we interact with, we can’t control them. Control is an illusion. Only God in in control. We have to accept others with the same unconditional love that we ourselves desire.

For Believers prayer is the key to relationships. Every situation and person looks different when seen in the light God’s mercy and grace. So if your cell mate is driving you crazy or you’re having problems on the home front, set the issues before the throne of the Almighty and let Him reveal the answer. Persevere in prayer. The answers may not come automatically. Keep on praying and seek the direction of the Holy Spirit to make sure that you are praying for the right thing. In other words, ask for direction to ensure that what you are seeking is in God’s will. The Bible will provide direction for many things in general and for specific issues listen for the still small voice. The one that can only be heard when we stop talking and truly listen for the voice of God.

Know that I am praying for you and you are not forgotten.

Your Brother in Christ

Fall 2018 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

We have reached the dog days of summer. Around my house the cicadas are buzzing in the trees, the grass is brown and if I wasn’t watering every couple of days the flowers would be dead. With the Labor Day holiday upon us serving as the warning that summer is almost over. Or for your sports fans football season starts!

It’s funny how we use events to mark the passage of time in our lives. Some are trivial like sports, others are earth shattering like the death of a loved one, or the one that we are all most familiar with is going to prison. The important thing is that the events must have a personal meaning. The times in our lives that are a blur are the ones that don’t have any memorable events to provide a time frame. As I heard it expressed once, “Life isn’t measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away.”

The question becomes what are you doing to create those all important milestones? In a place where the daily routine is monotonous by design what can you do? My friend Daniel would say you can do an in-depth Bible study or book by a classic Christian author like C.S. Lewis, Bonhoeffer, or Wigglesworth. Spending time to study word by word, line by line, concept by concept until you have absorbed it. Savor the time spent with the material, take notes, meditate on it, memorize passages that have special meaning. Let it permeate your being and it will transform you.

I always recommend doing something for others. Whether it is for someone cl0se to you or a stranger. By serving others you not only make a milestone for yourself but also for the other person. This may or may not require you to get outside your comfort zone. There doesn’t need to be a financial cost. Most times it is just our time that we can give to help another person. I like to say that we are “blessed to be a blessing.” It doesn’t take much to look around and see the needs of others. The key is this only happens when we aren’t focused on ourselves.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “For every thing there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Every season will end. Life moves forward whether we want it to or not. Life is change. Whether for better or worse is often how we interpret it, either optimisticly or pessimisticly. If life gives you lemons make lemonade, otherwise the sour look on your face has no up side. Trust God to be faithful. He is in control even when we feel like life is out of control.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.” E.M. Bounds says, “Trust is faith that has become absolute, approved, and accomplished.” So I encourage you to keep the faith, and make the most of this season in your life. Know that you are not alone and not forgotten. I’m praying for you.

Your Brother in Christ

Winter 2018 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Brother in Christ