Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Truth Will Set You Free

After giving out a number of Bibles, Bible study lessons and "Daily Bread" devotionals, I sat down with a couple of guys. I knew Reed from previous visits to the jail. Billy was new to me.

"Are you a pastor?" he asked me. I told him that I was. "How can I have peace about my upcoming trial? It's all I can think about. I go to the church services they hold here. I see other guys singing, clapping, speaking in tongues--I feel a little better when I'm there. But then I leave and continue to worry about my trial."

Billy told me that he had come back to the Lord within the last week. He had grown up going to church, but fell away. (By the way, the vast majority of inmates I meet have some church background.) I had no idea--and didn't ask--why he was in jail.

"Billy," I answered him, "if you want to have peace you need to be completely honest with your lawyer and with the judge. Tell the whole truth. Take responsibility for whatever it is you're responsible for." I went on to tell him about how I had hurt someone when I was 14 years old and lied about it to protect myself. "My relationships with people and with God suffered as a result of my covering it up," I explained. "I held onto this for eleven years."

I went on with my story: "Thirteen years ago, I was hanging out with a handful of Christian guys. (This was soon after the Lord called me to be a pastor.) We were praying and sharing with each other what was going on in our lives. The Holy Spirit began to move in our little group, and one by one each guy began to confess sin to the whole group. There was a lot of heavy stuff shared. As I was sitting there, I felt the Lord's hand heavy upon me that I needed to share what had happened eleven years earlier. After I did so, I felt a huge release--like a weight I had been carrying was suddenly lifted. Not only did I confess it to those guys, but also to the people I had hurt and lied to." I explained to Billy that I no longer felt the devil's condemnation. I had finally been set free.

After listening to my story, Billy said, "As soon as you said that I needed to tell the truth, something pierced my heart. I knew that was right. I know that's what I need to do." He began to weep for the first time. "The devil is tormenting me; but I'm afraid to tell the truth. I'm afraid of the consequences, of spending a long time in prison."

"If you lie," I told him, "you may be free on the outside, but you'll be in prison on the inside. God is merciful, Billy. Tell the truth. You will experience His mercy."

"I know He's merciful; I believe that," Billy responded.

Reed and I looked at each other and said to Billy, almost simultaneously, "The truth will set you free."

Billy left soon after that. Pray for him. I can feel for him and the difficult situation he is in. Pray that the Holy Spirit continues to prick his conscience and that he finds freedom and peace with Christ by coming clean.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Back in Rochester

We got back safely last week Tuesday about midnight. (I never know what day to call it when it's how about we got back at 12:01 am Wednesday morning.) On Monday 8/8, we drove to Maryland to visit friends, got back Thursday afternoon, unpacked, did laundry, repacked, and flew to L.A. Friday morning.

The viewing for my grandfather was Friday afternoon. I wanted my kids (2 1/2 & 5) to go to the viewing for the experience. I had been talking to Hayley, my 5-year-old, about death, and I thought this was a good opportunity for her to see exactly what it means. At first, she didn't want to go in to see Granddaddy's body, but after everyone else went (including my son Isaiah), she decided to go through with it. They both did fine.

Saturday's funeral was a celebration of Granddaddy's life. I wore two hats: pallbearer and pastor. Granddaddy's pastor spoke encouraging words about his life of faith in Christ. I discovered more things for which to be proud of him. I was privileged to read Scripture and share personal reflections about him. My cousins' singing was full of the Spirit. There was hope and joy in the midst of sorrow and loss. My wife said it was the best funeral she had ever attended.

We enjoyed our time in California. We hadn't been back since Isaiah was a newborn. I was glad to reconnect with family members, and to (re)introduce Hayley and Isaiah to the Black side of their ancestry. (My kids are more familiar with my wife's family, all of whom are White.) Toward the end of our trip we saw some of her family, and I saw old friends. All in all a huge blessing. Maybe I'll throw in some specific highlights in future posts. Hope you all had a great couple of weeks.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Vacation and funeral

Hey folks,

I'm mostly out of town and out of commission for a week or so. We had a vacation planned for this week, and last week I found out my 96-year-old grandfather went to be with the Lord. (Yes, thankfully he did know Jesus!) I will be participating in the funeral this Saturday in California.

Granddaddy was/is an inspiration to me. He was the son of a sharecropper who moved his family from Mississippi to California in the 1930's. As a Black man with a junior high education living before the Civil Rights era, he didn't use his "disadvantaged" position as an excuse for why he couldn't succeed. He worked hard to provide for his family and to give them a good standard of living. He raised his children to fear God, and was an example to many. I am proud to be a grandson of C T Andrews.

I mourn the loss of him and will miss him terribly. However, I do not "grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13). I am confident that because "Jesus died and rose again...God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him" (1 Thess. 4:14). I will see him again at the resurrection when the Lord will have transformed "our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Philippians 3:21). Praise God!

"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?

"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God!
He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ"
(1 Corinthians 15:55-57; emphasis mine).

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Spiritual Potpourri

Dave had quite a variety of responses from the inmates to whom he talked last night:

Last week, Dave had been thrilled to share with Muhammed, a Muslim, about the Lord Jesus. The issue of "forgiveness of sin" really hit him. Dave had given Muhammed an assignment to find "forgiveness of sin" in Islam (the Koran), so the next time they met, he could show Dave where it is.

Last night, Dave met with Muhammed again. He had not been able to find any references to forgiveness of sin. Pray for Muhammed and his fellow Muslim inmates that the Lord Jesus would break through.

Neal outright did not want to receive the Lord as "he was making good progress with his life and God via AA." I believe AA can be used by God to help people, but AA can't save people; only Jesus can.

He definitely and sincerely confessed his sins, but did not think it necessary to receive Jesus into his life or make him Lord of his life.
The apostle Paul, however, said: "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:21, emphasis mine.)

Received Jesus as Savior and Lord!

After several years of lukewarm Christian faith as a teenager, he decided to rededicate his life to the Lord!

This is a good reminder to us of the truth of the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:1-8). Some people hear the Word (seed), but the enemy snatches it from their hearts. Some respond immediately with joy, but quickly fall away having no root. Others hear the Word, but are choked into unfruitfulness because of the cares of this world. But some hear the Word, take it to heart, and produce a bountiful harvest.

Pray that those who have responded to the gospel will bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Too sick to see the doctor

"Rod" clearly understood the message of salvation that my friend, Dave, shared with him. In every point he agreed that what they discussed was totally correct and it all applied to him. When Dave asked him if he wanted to repent, receive the Lord, and to live his life for Jesus, Rod said "No, I want to wait until I am more right with God before I make that commitment."

That response is unfortunately all too common. It is the belief that says, "I have to work myself to God--at least halfway--and then Jesus can take me the rest of the way." This is so contrary to the gospel message and minimizes the magnitude of the death of the Son of God. It makes about as much sense as trying to heal yourself of terminal cancer before going to see the oncologist.

Jesus paid it all. There is nothing we can add to His death on the cross that will make us worthy of salvation. Jesus said, "'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance'" (Luke 5:31-32). This radical statement flew right in the face of the religious leaders who were incredulous that He could accept the outcast of society. And it's good news for you and me. It means we don't have to get our act together before we approach God. God reached down to mankind while we were yet sinners.

He reached me almost 13 years ago. I had grown up in the church. I sang on the worship team. I knew all the right answers to the Sunday school questions. But I didn't even know that the weight of sin was on me. I didn't realize the depth of guilt. Until the Lord came and revealed Himself to me late one night as I lay in bed. My room was filled with the presence of God. I was undone by His holiness. I wept deeply over my sin. And in the midst of it all, God spoke, "This is why I sent My Son Jesus--to die for your sins." It was like I heard the gospel for the first time. It finally sank into my heart. I believe it! I believe it! I kept saying quietly to myself. I literally felt a heavy weight lift off my chest. I knew--really knew in my "knower"--my sins had been forgiven.

My life was radically and forever transformed that night...