Saturday, February 25, 2006

In need of a place to stay

I mentioned yesterday that I visited a family--a mom and six children--at the request of an inmate named Carlos. This family is Carlos' girlfriend and children. The mom "Tawny" and six children (7 and under) are due to be evicted from their rented house in less than a week.

Rochester is pretty cold this time of year. Pray that they find a place to stay.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Lost and Found

I lost my wedding ring yesterday. Thursday afternoon, I and one of my deacons went on a pastoral visit to a family in the community—a mother and six kids. The mom is the girlfriend of Carlos, whom I met in the jail a few weeks ago. That was the last time I remembered seeing the ring. After that, I went to the store to pick up some groceries. I noticed it was gone as soon as I got home. I was inconsolable! I searched my car, my pockets, the ground around my house. It was nowhere to be found. ‘Could it be at supermarket? At that family’s house?' I had been playing with the kids at the house. Crazy thoughts were going through my mind—like, maybe one of the kids slipped it off my finger while we were holding hands praying.

This morning I asked my kids to pray that Jesus would help me find my ring. My son prayed. When I arrived at the church building this morning, I retraced my steps back to my office. Nothing. Then, I reached into my computer bag with my left hand to pull out my Bible. (This is the black bag that I carry around with me everywhere I go. It’s generally never more than six feet away from me.) I noticed that the inside of the bag rubbed against my ring finger as I pulled my hand out. I thought, ‘Maybe the bag pulled the ring off my finger.’ I opened the bag and there it was.

Do you know someone who is lost? Separated from God? In a dark, black place? Perhaps yourself? The lost person is of extreme value to God—more valuable than my wedding ring to me. The Lord is not far away. Make that phone call. Send that email. Invite them to church. Give them a ride. Ask Jesus to forgive and restore that person—especially if it’s you.

“And when [he] finds it, [he] calls [his] friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost [ring].’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:9–10).

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Additions in the Correctional Facility

My friend Dave reports that two guys, Joe and Jason, prayed to receive Christ a few nights ago.

Jason has 12 years of history behind bars in New York state. Dave noted what a wonderful breakthrough occurred when the Lord opened Jason's heart to receive Him.

Bob had been under a cloud of depression for some time. Dave saw a new person in Bob as the Lord has lifted this depression from him.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Lord is adding to the number

I sat down with a group of seven guys yesterday. We all held hands and opened with a time of prayer. The men are really growing in their walks with the Lord. Steve, who used to be very hesitant about praying out loud, really poured out his heart.

A young guy, who goes by the name "C," came next: "God, I've never prayed in public before, but I ask that..."

After the prayer time, C asked, "So what do we do during this time?"

"Well, we talk, pray, read the Bible, encourage each other," I answered him.

"OK, I have a question. I've never been to church in my life. I mean, I could tell you what the inside of a church looks like. But my family never went to church. I don't know anything about this stuff. About two months ago, when I was still out on the streets, I picked up a Bible and started reading in Genesis. I've always known there's a God. I mean, you look around and you see all these 'coincidences.' You know God has to exist. How do I know if I'm Christian or Catholic or what?"

I explained the gospel to C. "All of us are born separated from God because of our sin. We all deserved God's punishment: hell. But God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus took the punishment that we deserved. He rose from the dead proving that He was God. Now we have to repent of our sins--be truly sorry and desire to change--and put our faith in Jesus as Lord."

"That makes sense to me," C said.

While C was talking, Mark approached the circle of guys and sat on the floor next to me. I encouraged him to join us.

"What did I do to deserve this trouble I'm in," Mark began. "I've got type-2 diabetes, and that's basically a death sentence. I finally found the woman that I want to marry. Neither one of us have ever been married. Now I've got this terrible disease. What did I do wrong?"

I had Mark open to John 9 where Jesus' disciples ask Jesus with regard to a man born blind: "Who sinned: this man or his parents that he was born blind?" The disciples thought that all sickness was directly related to sin. Jesus answered the disciples that no one had sinned in this case. The man was born blind so that God could be glorified in his life. Jesus healed the man.

"Mark, can we pray for you that God would heal your diabetes?" I asked him.

"Yeah, please."

We all joined hands around the circle and prayed for Mark. When we finished, I noticed tears running down his face as he thanked us. He was supposed to have a blood test later that day. Pray for total healing for Mark.

Robert began speaking words of encouragement to Mark based on the Scriptures. I was really impressed by how Robert was using the Word. (In my previous post, I mentioned that Robert was to be out of jail by now, but it looks like he'll be out in a few more weeks.) Robert later asked Mark if he was saved. Mark said he wasn't sure. Robert encouraged him to get saved. I asked him if he wanted to pray to receive Christ right now. He said that he did, so I led him in a prayer of repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord. Pray that Mark's faith is firmly rooted.

We asked C if he wanted to be saved, too. He said he wanted to take some time to think it over. Pray that the Holy Spirit would get a hold of C, and that he surrenders to Jesus.

Just after that, it was about time for lock up. We closed in prayer, and everybody began heading back to his own cell. Robert pulled me aside and told me he was now in a Life Transformation Group with a guy named Frank. I'm glad to see that he's taking accountability seriously. Pray that Robert continues to grow as a man of God.

"And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (Acts 2:47).

Friday, February 17, 2006

From the jailhouse to God's house

This past Sunday at the church I pastor, we received eleven new members and baptized three men. One of them was a former inmate named Mark. I met Mark in the downtown jail almost a year ago. Here is the story of me meeting him.

I had kept writing Mark while he was finishing up his time. In early October 2005, a few weeks before I knew he would be getting out, I encouraged him to come check out the church. I didn't really know whether I would see Mark again. Many guys have great intentions of coming to church once they get out, but so few do.

Well, Mark was there the first Sunday he was able to go. It was such a blessing to see him in regular clothes rather than the orange jumpsuit he wore as an inmate. I don't think he's missed a Sunday since. He completed the 4-week membership class, and shared his testimony on Sunday of Christ's work in his life. Mark is a guitarist and recently started practicing with the worship team.

Praise God for Mark's life! Pray that God would use him to touch many lives and to bring many more people to Christ.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Salvation, healing of lungs

Sorry it's been so long since I've posted. Things have been a little hectic around here.

Here's a story from Dave, one of the elders of the church I pastor:
I first met "Shawn" a while back, and he received the Lord. As per my normal custom: I asked if there was anything that we could pray about Shawn said that his daughter "Donna" had been admitted to the hospital that day with a serious lung infection that resulted in some respiratory complications. The doctors did not understand why and how these complications were progressing. We prayed that the Lord would heal Donna of this medical condition.

Two weeks later, I met with Shawn again and asked how his daughter was doing. He responded that earlier the week before, his daughter got better, and was released from the hospital. So we had a good time of prayer thanking the Lord for providing for his daugther's need.

I'm really excited to see how the Lord is using Dave in praying for others' healing. Not long ago, God healed an inmate's lungs through Dave's prayers.

Friday, February 03, 2006

"I want to be held accountable."

"Can I talk to you privately for a few minutes?" 'Carlos' inquired


We pulled up a couple of seats away from the other guys who were about to have a Bible study.

"I'm a Christian and I really want to start living my life for Christ. I was picked up for a parole violation. I'm tired of life behind bars. I've got a wife and a bunch of kids who need me. I keep falling back into old patterns when I'm on the outside. What I really need is accountability."

"Are you really serious about that?" I asked.

"Yes! I want to be held accountable, but I can't seem to find anybody who will do it. When I don't have accountability it's too easy for me to head down the wrong path. I don't mean to pass the blame on others. I can't fault everybody else for not being willing to hold me accountable. I just know I can't make it without accountability."

"Be careful what you ask for," I told him. "Accountability is a serious thing. But if you really want to be held accountable, I know of a great tool to do it. It's called a Life Transformation Group (LTG)."

In a LTG, two or three people of the same sex get together once a week. During the week, they all read the same passage of Scripture—for example, the book of Matthew. They also pray for unsaved friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. During their weekly meeting, they confess sin to each other, pray for each other and share what God was showing them through the Scripture they read that week.

"We use LTG's as a means of accountability and spiritual growth in the church I pastor."

"Well...," Carlos began, "I have to tell you that the woman I'm living with is my fiancée, not my wife. We're planning on getting married in late spring."

"Why are you waiting so long?" I asked.

"Because technically I'm still married to another woman. She's gone on and had children with another man, but the divorce isn't final yet."

"Carlos, you can't live with your fiancée anymore. You have to move out."

"You know, I thought about not even telling you all this. But I knew I had to." He continued, "But if we're not doing anything, why do I have to move out? Where will I stay?"

"Well, first of all, you're still married. Your living with this other woman, even if you're not sexually intimate, is the 'appearance of evil.' It could easily become a stumbling block for a weaker Christian. Second, you're putting yourself into a situation of high temptation. Third, you need to think about your children. You need to do the right thing now so that when your son is sixteen and he wants to know why he can't have sex with his girlfriend, you'll have the moral authority to exhort him not to fall into sin."

"Wow, that's heavy, man."

"I don't say all this to condemn you, Carlos. You wanted to be held accountable. You have the opportunity to be responsible, make the right choices, and be an example for your children. Trust God that He will find you a suitable place to live. I'll pray with you for that."

"I hear what you're saying."

"Is your fiancée a Christian?" I asked.

"No, she's not. And if I move out, what will she think?"

"She'll either be convicted by your Godly example because you're taking your faith seriously, or she'll be absolutely turned off. If she's turned off to Jesus, do you really want to marry her?"

This was all very difficult for Carlos. He said he needed to go to his cell to think and pray. I went and gathered a small group of men for a Bible study.

After a while, Carlos sat down at the table and joined the Bible study. There were six of us gathered around. When Carlos sat down, he openly repented to another man at the table for a bad attitude he had had toward him. Right after that, he confessed to the group that he needed to move out of his house because he wasn't married to the woman he was living with. I was amazed at his honesty and vulnerability.

Pray that Carlos can follow through on what he knows is right to do. Pray for alternative housing for him. Pray for the salvation of his fiancée and his children.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Still going after five weeks

The nightly prayer meeting is still going strong in Mod B of the correctional facility. Even though some guys have gone and new ones have come, the new inmates have joined in praying.

"Lord, not only infuse these men with more passion and zeal for Your Name, but let us outside the jail be moved with holy jealousy and be provoked to pray with fervor."