Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"I want to start giving back"

Yesterday afternoon, I got a call from Chaplain Paul at Monroe County Jail (MCJ). Paul is a chaplain with Good News Jail & Prison Ministry. He relayed a message to me from a man named "Robert." In Robert’s own words: “Chaplain, as a Christian, I’m tired of repeating the cycle of incarceration. I want to serve God. I want to start giving back what He’s so freely given to me.”

Robert wants to start fellowshipping with us at Rochester Vineyard Christian Church when he gets out in a couple of weeks. Paul says that Robert wants to meet with me so he can start getting connected. I’ll be going to see him in MCJ this week—Thursday, Lord willing. Pray for God’s protection on Robert as he prepares to get out of jail. The devil likes to work overtime with men who are about to be released—especially when those men want to serve the Lord. Pray that Robert and I can be of mutual encouragement to one another. Pray that he truly can break the cycle of incarceration.

I was just praying that morning about what specific harvest field in the city the Lord wanted us to be involved in. The jail has been so fruitful, I wondered if the jail was going to be the largest harvest field for the church I pastor? I don't know. But I especially love seeing God's redemption in the lives of those whom society sometimes sees as a lost cause.

I often think to myself, Except for God's grace, I might be wearing one of those orange jail suits, too. I'm grateful that He's redeemed me. He saved me from ruining my life. He gave me another chance. He stopped me before my foolish and sinful behavior as a teen led me to criminal activity. That's what keeps me going. Just replace the word "incarceration" in Robert's quote above with the word "pornography" or "lust" and you have my story.

What's your story?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Two in need of redemption

Last Thursday, I did a Bible study with Corey, David, Leonard, and Jerald. We had a good time of fellowship, prayer and sharing. Jerald performed gospel music before he went off the Lord’s path. "My wife and I were really used of the Lord before things took a downward turn in our marriage. After that, I made some bad choices which led me to the situation I'm in now."

At one point during our group prayer time, I felt led to pray specifically for Jerald. "Can I lay hands on you and pray for you?" I asked him. "Yeah, sure." I prayed that God's plans for him would come to fruition and that the Lord would restore him. I felt strongly in my spirit that the Lord had great plans for him.

When I finished praying, I noticed tears running down Jerald's face. I didn't ask what was going on inside while I was praying. I imagine it was a mixture of remorse over what was lost, but hope for what God could still do through him. Pray that Jerald continues down the right path, and is used of God once again. He has a heart to reach youth through his music.

Leonard believes he is called to pulpit ministry. "Instead of following that call, I followed the devil's call." Leonard has excitement, but needs depth and grounding in the Lord. Pray that he gets into strong fellowship with some other brothers in Christ.

When I told Jerald and Leonard that people would be praying for them, Corey and David asked for prayer, too.

Thanks for all your prayers for these men. It really touches their hearts to know that people care.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Prayer update on inmate "Q"

In a previous post, I wrote about an inmate whom the others call "Q." I asked Cliff how Q was doing.

"He's breaking away from the crowd he used to hang out with, and is spending more time by himself. That's a good thing because those guys were a bad influence on him."

Keep praying for Q, that the Holy Spirit would bring conviction to his heart. Pray that he would come to a Bible study, experience the love of God, and surrender to Jesus.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Restoration of homes and lives

A couple of months ago, I was at a gathering of Rochester-area pastors. The keynote speaker was the then-Mayor-elect of Rochester. Although I've never met him personally, he struck me as a man of integrity who sincerely wanted to work with the church in Rochester to improve conditions in the city.

In his speech, Mayor Duffy noted that there are about 3000 vacant homes in the city. He wanted to see these homes restored and lived in. He asked us pastors to come up with solutions to this problem. Knowing that Mayor Duffy used to be Chief of Police for the city, I thought that perhaps he'd be open to the idea of having former inmates working to restore some of the homes. The church would provide spiritual grounding, accountability, relationships, etc. for these former inmates, while they work at restoring homes. Many former inmates do not have jobs, skills and/or opportunities waiting for them upon their release. By working on these homes, they could learn a trade, and provide a very useful service to the city. There are a lot of details to be worked out on this idea, but I believe it's doable.

There have been several confirmations from the Lord about this idea. For example, God has put me in contact with a couple of other church leaders in the city who had the same idea! As another example, yesterday, when I was in the jail, I shared my idea with 'Cliff,' the inmate who currently leads the daily Bible study in the jail pod where I go every week. "Pastor Brian," he told me excitedly, "that's the same idea that me and my two friends had! Look, here are the written notes we took!" These two friends of his were the previous Bible study leaders "They've both been released," he informed me.

"Where are the other two guys now?" I asked him. "'Paul' is in the correctional facility, and 'Roger' is in a halfway house." I told him I would ask my friend, Dave, to try to find Paul, and I would get in touch with Roger. Then we prayed that God would open doors.

Today, I went to the halfway house and found Roger. I shared my idea and the many confirmations with him. We prayed together that God would make a way for this ministry.

There seems to be a conspicuous move of God here. Pray that the Lord would continue to connect people who have a heart for the city and for former inmates. Pray that God would inspire us to see this vision to its fruition. Pray that we would have favor with those in authority, and that God would provide any finances needed to make this work. As I said, there are many details that would have to be worked out and a lot of preparation. Pray for the Lord's leading in all this.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Nightly Prayer Gatherings

God is doing an unusual work in one of the modules of the Correctional Facility. Every night for the last three weeks, all 52 of the men in the module have gathered in a large circle to pray before lights out at 10:00 p.m.

I've been praying for revival in Rochester to begin in the jails. Who knows what the fruit of this nightly prayer meeting will be!

Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon these men, that those who aren't saved will turn to Jesus, and that revival fires will spread to other areas of the facility and to the downtown jail.

Friday, January 13, 2006

"Holy Hit List, Batman"

Fellowship is rather difficult to establish in a jail setting, as you might imagine. Not only do the men deal with trust issues, but there is also a high turnover rate. Just when you're starting to connect with someone, he (or you) gets released, relocated to another jail, or sent upstate.

There were only three guys at the table for Bible study when I went in yesterday. "Pete and Sam have both been released," they said. "Tony hasn't sat with us in a while."

Misunderstandings can quickly lead to breakdowns in communication. That's no different than life on the outside. In fact, the more time I spend in the jail, the more I realize that people behind bars are no different than those of us who have never spent time incarcerated. We have the same hang-ups, habits, fears, sins, weaknesses, addictions, insecurities--and potential to be used by God if we surrender to His purposes for our lives.

I don't usually share heavy prayer requests with guys in jail. Not for lack of trust, but because I genuinely don't think about it. Yesterday was different. Steve is a young man who is somewhat quiet, but very perceptive. "Is something bothering you, Pastor Brian? You don't look yourself." "Yeah, there is, actually," I answered him. I told the guys some of the things that had been weighing on me. I asked them to pray for me. It was good for all of us. I got free prayer (which I never turn down!), and they got a chance to practice praying. A lot of the guys are new in the faith and feel uncomfortable praying out loud in front of others. But they always do a great job, and I was blessed by their prayers.

We all went around sharing prayer requests and talking about the Scriptures. They were feeling discouraged because the number of men at the table had shrunk.

"Have you ever prayed specifically for men to join the group?" I asked them.

"I pray every night in my room," David said.

"How about all together?"

"No, we haven't."

On Sunday at the church I pastor, I'm going to be talking about the value of praying as a group for people to get saved.

"Who's on your 'hit list' to get saved, Corey?" I asked.

"Actually, there's a guy they call 'Q' who walks by the table every day. Sometimes I catch him looking over here, like he wants to join us. But something stops him."

"I've noticed that guy, too," said Steve. "I think he's interested, but he might be afraid."

I suggested we all pray specifically that 'Q' would come to the table and that he would get saved. When the last man at the table prayed for 'Q,' I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in our group. It seemed to me sign that God had heard our prayers. Will you add your prayers for Q's salvation? I'll keep you updated.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

New Year, New Creation

I walked into the jail pod and saw the now-familiar faces of the men sitting at the table having their Bible study. (If one is "at the table," it means he is in fellowship with the other men who are gathered there. The others may be Christians or God-seekers. Coming to the table is sort of like going to church.) The group is gelling more and more. They meet daily--reading the Word and a couple of daily devotionals, praying and sharing.

As I looked past the table, I saw an older gentleman who got my attention and asked for a Bible. I gave him one of the NKJV Bibles I had in my supply. It turned out that "Larry" was a recent addition to the jail. "Would you like to come to a Bible study?" I asked him, pointing to the group of guys sitting at the table. After a slight hesitation, he decided to join us.

I introduced Larry and sat down. "Jay" was the only guy at the table I didn't know. He was very agitated. Jay had been arrested two days earlier, and had gotten saved two days before that on New Years Day.

"What do you do when your own family hates and rejects you?" Jay asked with frustration. "I come from a 'perfect' family. My parents and siblings are all successful, but I'm the black sheep of the family. I've struggled with a drug addiction for years. There was a time in my life when I was doing well, succeeding in school--all the things I thought my family would approve of. But all they said was, 'It's only a matter of time before you mess up.' The holidays came and things got really tough emotionally. I got high to deal with the pain. One thing led to another, and I got picked up on a drug charge. When I got arrested, my father said, 'I disown you as my son.'"

"Jay, I want to encourage you that the best thing you could have done was give your life to Christ. The Bible says that you're a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17); what better way to start a new year. The Bible also says in Psalm 27:10 'Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.' God is your Father now, Jay. He will never leave you or forsake you. And He has given you a new family of brothers in Christ." After a couple more people spoke, I prayed that the Father's love would envelope him, that the Lord would set him free from his addiction, and that he would be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Afterward, we continued with the Bible study and sharing. Meanwhile, Larry had been quiet this whole time. I wondered what had been going on his mind. Finally, he said, "You know something, Jay? You remind me of myself many years ago. I'm 54 years old and I've been doing drugs since I was 15. I've tried everything to fill the emptiness in me, but nothing has worked." He picked up his newly-acquired Bible and continued: "I know that the only answer, our only hope is found in here."

Larry continued to exhort and encourage Jay to trust in the Lord and His Word and to forsake all else. He was very convincing! "Larry, have you given your life to Christ?" I asked him. He hadn't. And though he knew the truth about Christ, and could even preach Christ to another, he could not surrender his own life to Jesus. "Larry," I told him, "you'd make a great lifeguard...if you could only get into the pool, yourself."

Pray that Jay would be comforted and strengthened in the Lord. Pray that the Lord would set him free from his addiction. Pray that Larry would forsake his old life once and for all, and fully surrender to Jesus.