18 Jul 2018
To many people, the suggestion that worship and religion unite us is absurd. They point out that millions have been killed in the name of God through religious wars, the Crusades, and the Inquisition. They argue that religion has been a great source of division and suffering in the world—and in some ways they are correct.
Religion focusing on “do’s and don’ts” kills the spirit. It is a set of rules and regulations that people use to show God that they are acceptable to Him. By keeping a set of rules and regulations, they mistakenly feel they have done something good—and God is obligated to accept them. They count on their performance to earn God’s love. Jesus had harsh words for rule-keepers—people like the Pharisees—because they missed the Gospel message: God loves and accepts us, even though we are sinners who offend Him. Jesus paid the penalty for our sin. While we were still sinners, Jesus came to die for us (see Romans 5:8). When we fully understand this undeserved gift, we respond by doing good things and avoiding sinful acts. Religion tied to regulations leads to arrogant self-righteousness.
However, a relationship with Jesus leads to a life of service to others in love.
When we worship together, knowing that our sin has been covered, our worship unites us. It deepens our sense of brotherhood and sisterhood by pointing out our common needs. True worship reminds us that we are all sinners, making it difficult to point a finger of accusation at someone else. The fruit of the Spirit grows in each one of us, resulting in unity and loving attitudes.
Jesus came to abolish religion and replace it with a relationship with Him. We cannot earn His love; He gives it to us for free.
04 Jul 2018
Music contains great power both to soothe us when we’re anxious and to stir up our emotions. Dentists’ offices play soft music. NBA pre-game music is loud and piercing. Advertising companies work overtime creating catchy jingles to remind us of their products.
Music plays an important role in our walk with God too. It can either help us combat evil, or it can lead us into evil. Like a rudder on a boat, music can set our frame of mind and steer our attitudes and actions toward something good or evil.
Music that degrades male or female dignity and glorifies drug use will poison our minds. Music and words create images in our brains. We visualize shameful stuff in our heads. And what we think is what we do. Bad stuff—wrong direction!
The opposite is also true. Rising from our beds with the words to “Awesome God” running through our heads makes it easier to sidestep the devil’s assault in the office. Quietly singing “Amazing Grace” as we walk to lunch with a friend focuses us on God’s gift instead of our worries. Martin Luther, who wrote “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” felt music was not our invention but rather a gift from God. He taught that the devil hates it because music drives evil out of us. Luther was right.
We must be extra careful about the music that goes into our ears and into our brains. We don’t eat garbage, so why feed it into our heads through our ears? When we put wholesome spiritual food into our bodies, we can expect good spiritual health as a result. We need to discover the power of music and its effects for good or evil in our lives. After we start the day in prayer and in God’s Word, let’s add His music to our souls.
23 May 2018
The Holy Spirit promises to grow the Fruit of His Spirit in our lives. But what does that actually mean and how do they manifest themselves on our daily walk, at work, with our families? Lets look at the list in Galatians 5:22-23:
Love: This fruit encompasses them all. When we love because God first loved us (see 1 John 4:19), it shows that we understand grace and have accepted God’s love for us.
Joy: When we know our names are written in the Book of Life, because of His grace, we will be joyful in the way we act and conduct ourselves around other inmates.
Peace: When we have “made peace with God,” we will cease to be anxious. Our fruit will be a calm, untroubled spirit.
Patience: “Passive” love shows itself in a spirit of tolerance and endurance around any type of personality we meet.
Kindness: “Active” love is the most convincing evidence of God’s love for us. When we are kind, people will be attracted to the Word and to us.
Goodness: Generous and good people do the right thing, even when it hurts or pricks our pride.
Faithfulness: Integrity—doing what we say we are going to do—means we walk the talk.
Gentleness: This fruit makes the weak strong and the strong gentle.
Self-control: When we show this fruit to others, they will respect us and be convinced that we have changed.
When we bear this kind of fruit, we will live the abundant, fruitful life and lead others to it, as well!
09 May 2018
Famous scientist Albert Einstein was asked what he believed was his greatest discovery. He replied, “Compound interest.” Loan sharks know about compound interest and how it works. A person borrows $1,000 from a loan shark at 30% interest per week. After the first week, the person owes $1,300. Without a payment, after two weeks, the victim owes $1690. After three weeks, $2,197, and on and on.
Sin compounds too. C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. And apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”
Every day at the office, on the road or in our neighborhood tavern, we make decisions. Swearing, bad-mouthing the boss, our wives or boyfriends are just a few bad loans we take from Satan, the ultimate loan shark. Macho trash talk sows a negative seed. That seed grows, and a plan emerges. Once the action plan is in place, it takes only a moment of madness for our world to blow up. On the other hand, when we attempt to love people as Jesus commands, we find ourselves liking them more. As we practice good feelings toward people, we find ourselves liking more people…including those we could never imagine liking.
Walk with Einstein and give Compound Interest a try!
25 Apr 2018
For most of us, if we had the history of our problematic behaviors printed out it would resemble “rap sheets” similar to criminals arrested many times. Many us would have long “rap sheets” that probably don’t begin to detail our entire sketchy history of activity. Our “rap sheets” most likely began with petty stuff. We stole a little beer from our parents, lifted a few bucks from Dad’s wallet, but soon found ourselves wanting and doing ever more dangerous and serious stuff. Temptation is an escalator…it moves us from minor to more difficult indiscretions. Take Rachel’s true story as an example.
Rachel was eleven when her parents split up. She was angry with her parents and angry with herself since she mistakenly blamed herself for her parents’ divorce.
The rage got worse when her mom’s new boyfriend started making sexual moves on her when she turned thirteen. It boiled over when her mother didn’t believe her when she told her about the advances. Rachel decided to run away.
Once on her own, Rachel needed food and began stealing it. Then someone offered her some weed, which took the pain away temporarily. Money was always a problem, so Rachel traded her body for food and drugs. That led to numerous arrests. After getting out, Rachel hooked up with a pimp who was also responsible for a large cook of meth. She started to use and then agreed to sell it. She was busted and sent away for eight years for distribution.
The devil is never satisfied with little temptations. His goal is to lead us up the escalator to “bigger and badder” sins. Remember: King David’s adultery with Bathsheba started with just a peek and ended up being first-degree murder.
We need to understand temptation. We need to know where it comes from, what it looks like, and how it works so that we can identify it, prepare for it, and deal with it. Temptation is ultimately a test. Will we do the right thing, or will we give in to the temptation?
When we realize that each temptation leads to greater sin, we need to stop and think. We must recognize the path that we’re on. Never be deceived into thinking temptation is a one-shot deal.
Jesus was tempted too. Jesus did not give in. He did not sin in the face of temptation. He won the battle. We serve a Savior who faced the same temptations we do every day. Jesus went into the wilderness for a showdown with Satan, the enemy of our souls—and Jesus won!
Let’s be on our guard. We can be confident of God’s strength to give us victory over temptation.
28 Mar 2018
Many of us know bondage. Some of us were (or still are) in slavery to drugs. We know fear and what it feels like to be really afraid. Many of us were abused and are now held hostage by feelings of abandonment and rejection. We still feel the pinch of the shackles of hopelessness around the wrists and ankles of our lives.
We carry around the chains of pride and self-centeredness that prevent us from asking God to unlock the manacles of hopelessness. Some of us are afraid to trust Christ because we don’t really believe He will get our lives right. We fall into the trap of thinking that a life in Christ is all about rules and regulations. It isn’t. Anything that stresses rules and regulations as a way to God may be a religion, but it’s not a relationship. It is not true Christianity. When Jesus saves us, He saves us for a life of freedom—not freedom to sin, but freedom to do the right things.
Our Savior’s keys unlock our chains. Our old lives—with their bondage and negative patterns—are gone. A process of change begins. Our old lives are like polluted fish tanks that smell up a room when the water filter is broken. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, He places a new water filter in the water tanks of our lives. He drops chlorine tablets into the reservoir of our hearts. The result is pure, sweet water that promotes life and health and hope.
14 Feb 2018
Many of us are in prisons without walls. Those prisons are self-made places of confinement that we have constructed in our minds. Built over time, we believe that because of some of the things we have done in our lives, God could never love us. The devil whispers to us, “God could never love someone who has had an abortion, abused drugs, gotten divorced or hooked up on a regular basis.” As usual, the devil’s got it wrong!
One of the amazing things about God’s love is that He loves us despite who we are, not because of who we are. That is radical grace. We all have spent too many years trying to be someone who was worthy of another’s love. We’ve tried to earn love from our parents, our boyfriends, the people we work with, drug dealers, and our bosses. We’ve worked hard to be rich enough, pretty enough, or tough enough to deserve their attention and love. God’s love works differently. God sent His own Son to die for us while we were still sinners. (See Romans 5:8, But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.) Even when we were selling dope, cheating on our income taxes or worse…God loved us. He doesn’t say to us, “Straighten yourself up and clean yourself off and then I’ll take a look at you.” No. He loves us as we are—period.
Another amazing thing about God’s love is that it’s extravagant, over-the-top. God doesn’t skimp on love. He shows His love by sending His own Son—not some low-level flunky—to die for us. He sent His own Son—His only Son—to die for us. Most of us have never experienced that kind of unconditional love.
That unconditional love is life-changing. It offers forgiveness and gives us value, hope, and peace. When it seems dark in our bedrooms are 3 A.M., we can hear His voice calling our name, saying, “I love you just the way you are. Come to Me. Accept My love. My Son has covered your sin.” Who wouldn’t want to say yes to that kind of love?
31 Jan 2018
Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” 1 Corinthians 15:33
As we were growing up, we always knew the girls who knew how and where to shoplift the coolest lipstick. We also knew the guys who could hot-wire a car so we could take a joy ride. Those same guys were the ones who tried to get us drunk! We were attracted to their “badness” and power. But when we remember their evil impact on our lives, we can appreciate the role that bad character plays in our lives and why the Apostle Paul wrote: “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character.”
Have we learned our lessons from our experience with the losers in our lives? Or, are we still drawn to the “bad-asses” who know how to manipulate the system? Do we admire the women who can manipulate and get away with murder at work and influence events for their own benefit? Do we overlook the lies and the cover-ups it takes to operate in this fashion? If so, then our companions will lead us into sin.
The people we hang with will definitely have an effect on what we think about life. Friends who seem attractive to us and flatter us may not be the best influence on our attitudes. Our attitudes toward our families, our wives or husbands, our bosses, and ultimately, our own sin, determine how we act.
We must not be seduced into thinking we can keep bad company and still retain good character and a healthy relationship to God. Light and darkness do not go together; one chases the other away. Like the old proverb says, “You lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.”
As the new year starts, we need to evaluate our acquaintances and determine if they have a positive or negative effect on us. Do they promote sinful actions or encourage us to stay close to Christ? We need to find other believers who will have a godly influence on us. Good company promotes good character.
18 Dec 2017
Christmas is a happy time! Christmas is a time when trees are decorated with lights and ornaments, gifts are bought, put under the tree and families gather to celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world. The popular Christmas songs we play create a mood and atmosphere of playfulness and warm feelings. The popular song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Yet, while it may be true for us, for those souls in prison, it is the very opposite.
The Holidays, especially for women in prison are a period of aggravated loneliness and severe self-loathing. Self-loathing and self-hatred flourish during the holidays for the incarcerated because they cannot be with their families…and, they know the reasons why. They have been convicted of a crime where the penalty is separation from society. They understand that, but recognition of their mistakes does nothing to alleviate the pain of their not being able to hug their babies, or press their noses against their child’s neck and inhale the sweet smell of their young child’s skin. They understand their actions and mistakes have caused their pain, but that makes them feel even worse about themselves. Christmastime, rather than being a time of family celebration and warm feelings, becomes, for women in prison, similar to being on a merry-go-round that has stopped dead. Life is no longer moving and all they can do is wait, pray and cry themselves to sleep. It is a very rough, tough and relentlessly cruel period of time for those in prison.
As followers of Jesus, we are not told to open up the prison doors and let everyone out regardless of crime. We are not commanded to ignore personal consequences and individual accountability. To be sure, Jesus would not advocate for a quick fix.
Rather, Jesus calls us to visit those in prison (See Matthew 25). To clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. He instructs us to love and visit them, and in doing so, love and visit Him, by proxy.
How can we do that? Several ways:
- Give a Gift: Prison Fellowship sponsors a program called Angel Tree. Angel Tree (pfm.org). PFM works with local churches and organizations to provides the names of the children of those incarcerated to people who are willing to buy a gift and have it delivered to the child in the parent’s name (google Angel Tree in your town).
- Write a ChristmasCard: Every prison has a Chaplain that can receive Christmas cards, even written anonymously, and distributed to inmates who wish a card. Look up a prison nearest to you on the Internet for specific facility information.
- Google “prison ministry (your city’s name): You will be astounded at how many small boutique prison ministries exist to help you connect with those hurting this Christmas Season.
All it takes is the willingness to help and the awareness that there are women and men who need to feel Jesus’ love through you and your efforts. Let them know, during this Christmas season, they are remembered! Do it today!
12 Dec 2017
We all have a need to feel connected to another human being. Good marriages thrive on communication. Without daily sharing, one partner feels disconnected and alone. Suicides occur when people lose all loving contact with another human being. In our daily friendships, we require connection to each other. The people with whom we eat lunch or work out with, offer us a sense of community that’s vital to mental health and happiness.
But sometimes spouses or friends abuse that connection by using us for their own selfish, personal advantage. Some of us have been ripped off by a “friend” who stole from us to feed her habit. Perhaps we’ve done it to someone else. Any betrayal damages trust, but it also makes it less likely that we’ll offer that gift of connection again. Think about how we treat God and the connection He offers us through the intimacy of prayer. Don’t we often bring our own selfish wish list to our prayers? Don’t we often consider God a sort of Santa Claus and try to make deals with Him? And then we wonder why our prayers never seem to get an answer! Consider what James said about that, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4:3 Prayer is not a way to get our wish list completed. Jesus is not our gofer who is just about giving us what we want!
Rather, and more important, prayer is a direct link to the Creator of the universe. He has a plan for our lives, but like most plans, He needs to share them with us. Without our willingness to put aside our selfish concerns and really be quiet and listen to God speaking to us, we’ll never learn what He wants to say to us.
When we pray, let’s connect to God by using our ears first and our mouths second. Let’s keep our motives pure and ask God for the things we need so that we can serve Him.