Friday, July 29, 2005

Fellowship at the table

Most of the time, my interaction with guys has been one-on-one. The positive side is that we can get into deeper conversations about spiritual things. On the other hand, it can be very draining.

Which is why I was glad to sit around a table with four other guys yesterday. Dee is a follower of Christ who just wants to get the basics down. Reed is a believer who has been in church music ministry, but "took a wrong fork in the road." Harp is an older gentleman with several teeth missing, an endearing smile and Baptist/Pentecostal background. Stan is the youngest at the table. He is not yet a follower of Christ, though he intellectually believes the truth of the Christian message. He had told me earlier that he has some fears about surrendering his life to Christ.

The five of us talked and laughed about life, relationships and church. Reed joked how his grandmother, an elderly saint, could not accept all the "new" music in the church. "Although that Kirk Franklin is alright," she would say. The interaction was good for my soul. And it seemed as if the feeling was mutual.

At one point, Reed looked at Stan and said, "I think I know what you're afraid of. You're afraid of not being able to live up to the standard of being a Christian." "You know," Stan replied, "you're right." Unfortunately, we got sidetracked and didn't pursue the issue with Stan.

Pray that Stan comes to understand that his salvation does not depend on his measuring up to a standard, but on faith in Christ and His righteousness. Pray that Reed will follow the Lord's path and be used in music ministry. Pray that all of these men would have deep fellowship with other believers when they get out.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"Can I beat the devil?"

Today, there seemed to be a lot of spiritual hunger. Normally when I go into the jail pod, the majority of the guys hardly notice I'm there. They're content to play cards or chess, or watch "Jerry Springer"-type shows. Today when I walked in, there was a steady flow of guys who wanted Bibles, daily devotionals, reading materials, anything I had to offer. I had had a really emotionally draining couple of days, and didn't feel like I had anything to give. God demonstrated again that it's all about Him not me.

One young man came up to me with a very anxious demeanor. Right away "Chris" asked me, "Can I beat the devil?" I asked him what he meant and he explained that he struggled with alcohol and cocaine addiction. "I want to be able to go to parties where there's drugs and alcohol and not give in to temptation. I want to be social; I don't want to live like a hermit. But every time I go to one of these parties, I give in." He was convinced that not being able to be in those kinds of environments was an indication of weakness.

I told him that not going to such parties is not a sign of weakness, but of wisdom. We talked about how in our own strength we can't beat the devil, but with Christ in us we can. Chris had a difficult time accepting that Jesus was the only way to salvation. He told me, "A Jewish friend of mine, who is a Vietnam vet, once said, 'I've seen a lot of horrible things in my life. If Jesus took the sins of the world, why is there so much evil around?'"

"Chris, what if Bill Gates said to you, 'I'm going to connect your bank account to mine. You have complete access to my money'? Now what if you never wrote a check in your life? You would die a poor man because you never took advantage of that which was freely given to you."

The analogy made sense to him. I explained further how no one is good enough to earn God's salvation or forgiveness, and yet God freely gives it through the sacrifice of Jesus.

"What do I have to do?" he asked.

"It's quite easy," I told him. "Confess your sin to God. Confess all the things that come to your mind. Tell God you're sorry for them. Acknowledge that Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross for your sins and rose again so that you could have eternal life. Ask Jesus to be Lord of your life. He will put His Spirit in you and give you the power to live a life pleasing to Him."

Chris had his sins washed away today by the blood of Jesus! Pray that he reads and understands the Word. I gave him a Bible study lesson to go through on his own. Pray that the Lord delivers him of his addictions, and empowers him to help his dad and others who struggle with addictions as well.

All in the Family

Small world. I just found out today that Tristan and Jake are cousins! Tristan's aunt and Jake's mom are the same person. So if you were praying for both, you can combine your prayers into one. By the way, I did visit her in the hospital yesterday. She has difficulty breathing from her emphysema, but she told me she was doing better. Keep praying!

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Diamond in the Rough

Dave reports the following:

"Kevin" approached me and immediately entered into a lively conversation. Kevin is a young man completing a short sentence for drug-related charges. He had worked in a legitimate field of work. This establishment at which he worked also "blended" in some illegal activity as part of their overall business.

After a time, Kevin got down to some serious talk and said that he really needed help with his life as his release was just several weeks away. His concern was that although he had some serious training and certification working with jewelry and was in a business he loved, he was not right with God and certainly not OK with the illegitimate part of the business. The big question he posed was, "What should I do about my situation?" Wow what an opening! I told him first that certainly the Lord had good intentions for his life, but there is the problem of him continuing down the road he was going. The answer was to repent of his sins and receive Jesus as Savior and Lord of his life. Praise the Lord that he did this sincerely! His next question was, "What should I do now for employment using my skills?" I consulted him to totally trust the Lord for direction, do what is right and that his need for an honest job in his field would be resolved.

Brian's comment: This reminds me of when crooked tax collectors came to John the Baptist and asked what they should do now that they were turning their lives over to God. John told them simply, "Don't collect any more that you are required to" (Luke 3:12-13). Pray that Kevin finds honest work in the jewelry business, and that he stays on track with Christ.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Orphan in Distress

While talking to Landon today, I noticed another young man sitting with a decidedly aimless look on his face. After Landon left, I motioned to the young man to come sit with me.

"How are you doing?" I asked him.

"I'm stressed, ya know what I mean?" "Tristan" went on to tell me how the system was unfair, life wasn't going his way, and he didn't know how to deal with it. "My aunt's in ICU and I have no way of seeing her. She's all I got--except for my cousin, her son, who's locked up in here with me."

"I'm trying to stay out of trouble," he continued, "I've got a bullet an inch away from my spine, and I can't afford to get into a fight." Wow, I think to myself. "It's been a hard life for me. When I was six, I was hit by a car going 90 mph on a residential road." He showed me the foot-long scar starting at his ankle and going up his leg.

"You're blessed to be alive, Tristan. God has protected you for a reason. He has a plan for your life." He explained to me that he used to go to church with his family. "My mother died when I was 10. I lost my father at age 12. After that, I stayed with my aunt. I got baptized when I was 13, but I went down the wrong path after that."

"Did you repent of your sins and make Jesus Lord of your life before you got baptized?" I asked him. He said he had not.

I had to leave the jail, but before I left I explained the way of salvation to him. "God wants to be your Father. That's why He had me talk to you." I also told him I would pray for him and his hospitalized aunt.

Scripture says that Christians are to "look after their distress" (James 1:27). Twelve-year-old orphans eventually become 20-year-old orphans who still need to be cared for. Pray that Tristan finds the heavenly Father through a personal relationship with His Son Jesus. Pray for healing for his aunt.

"I'm ready to be a man."

I saw Landon again today. He told me that he talked to his girlfriend, the mother of his child, the same day that I spoke with him.

"I told her I was sorry for deserting her and our daughter. I told her that I'm ready to be a man, get married and start providing for them. I also told the other girl that it was over between us."

"That's great, Landon," I responded. We talked some more, and in the course of the discussion Landon assured me that he had given his life to Christ. I knew the next part was going to be difficult for him to hear.

"When you get out of jail and before you get married, where do you plan on living?"

"With my girlfriend."

"Did you ever consider living elsewhere until you got married?" I asked.

"Oh, she would never go for that!" he said emphatically. "She already doesn't trust me as it is. If I didn't live with her, she would think I was cheating on her."

I explained to him that if he wanted his future marriage to be blessed, he needed to start things out right. "My wife and I were overly physically intimate before we got married," I confessed, "and that caused problems in our marriage which we have had to work through." He admitted he couldn't live with her and not have sex. "You need to take the lead in this, Landon, even if it's hard for her to hear it."

He thought about it for a while. Finally he said, "I'll talk to her about it." Pray for courage for Landon. Pray also that he is able to get into a work program to support his son.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

"What the..."

I get into the jail through Good News Jail & Prison Ministry. They offer individual Bible study lessons for inmates to work on while they're incarcerated. The Bible studies take you through most, if not all, of the New Testament books. After an inmate finishes a lesson, he turns it in to be graded by a volunteer, and receives the graded work back. He then moves on to the next Bible study lesson. If a person goes through the whole curriculum--not a small feat--he will receive a brand new leather Bible.

When I walked into the jail today, I saw a young man sitting down and went over to talk to him. He introduced himself as "George" and asked me if Good News still handed out the Bible study lessons. I told him that they did.

"I've been in here a couple of times before," George said, "and both times I did the Bible study lessons."

"Oh, really."

"Yeah. In fact, I earned two leather Bibles from when I was in here before."

I'm thinking to myself that this guy must hold some kind of record. So I ask him what his story is.

"Some guys start praying and stuff when they go to jail, and then forget about God when they get out. I just do these lessons to kill time while I'm in here. I'm not really religious or anything."

"Do you think you'll work through the lessons again?" I ask him.

"Yeah," he says convincingly, "What the f***; it can't hurt anything."

That last line sort of hung in space for a few seconds. It was sort of a comedy and tragedy moment for me. I didn't quite know what to say after that, so I just shook his hand, smiled and bid him farewell.

Looking back on that incident now, I'm reminded of when Jesus said, "'You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life'" (John 5:39-40). I pray that if/when George goes through the Scriptures again, that his eyes would be opened to see the beauty and majesty of the Lord Jesus, that he would repent of his sins, and put his faith in Christ. May he no longer study the Scriptures in vain.

If He Can Forgive Me, He Can Forgive You

I sat with "Jake" today. He wanted some Christian literature to read. As we talked, he told me about some of the things he's done for which he felt guilty. "I haven't loved my family the way I should. Besides that, I'm in here because I stole some money to buy drugs. I want to change my life." I told him the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection and that He took our sins upon Himself.

As we continued to talk, I could tell that he didn't see a way that *he* could be forgiven. "Jake, do you feel like you don't deserve to be forgiven?" I asked. "Yeah," he replied. I told him that none of us deserves to be forgiven, and that we all deserve hell. I shared with him Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." He agreed that a "wage" is something you earn, but a "gift" is something freely given and received. I shared with him how when I was 14 years old, I hurt a relative of mine terribly. "On top of that," I told him, "I lied about it and carried the guilt for many years. After the Lord called me to be a pastor, He told me I needed to go back to the relative, repent of the hurt I caused and repent of lying to cover it up." I continued: "God forgave me, Jake, and if He forgave me, He can forgive you, too."

I kept urging him to receive the free gift of salvation and avoid the judgment to come. "I want to surrender my life to Him," he said finally. "Would you like to do it now?" "Yeah." Jake confessed his sins and acknowledged Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Pray that Jake would get grounded in the Word. Pray for healing for his mom who is currently in the hospital. Pray that God strengthens and comforts his family.