Do Not Conform—Be Transformed
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Numerous TV shows portray virtuous police officers becoming exactly like the people they’re trying to bust. This happens in real life too. We read about cops who steal the money from a drug bust and keep it for themselves. This risk of becoming like the people around us is a persistent and dangerous threat to our Christian walk. When people who scoff at God and practice sinful deeds surround us, we are tempted to become like them. It’s like swimming in a cesspool, and it’s very difficult to avoid the stink.

The apostle Paul writes about this problem in Romans 12:2. He uses the word conform to indicate the gradual process by which we take on and adopt the rules and standards of those around us. If we are not careful, we can slowly find ourselves becoming insensitive to God’s leading and His grace.

Paul gives us the formula for resisting this temptation when he instructs us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. As we’ve said before: How we think determines how we act. If our minds focus on negative things, we will behave in sinful ways. However, if we allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds, our whole lives will be transformed.

To renew something often involves stripping off the old and replacing it with something better. As our lives have been stripped of drug addiction, guilt, and shame, we apply the finishing coat of Jesus over our new minds. Then to keep our minds fresh, we need to worship—not only individually through prayer and Bible study, but also with the prison church. This will help us keep our minds focused on the right things as we fight the pressures of everyday life and the dangers of returning to lives that dishonored Jesus.

UncategorizedJim Vogelzang
Friendship with the World
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Take a look at this Bible verse from James 4…”You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” This can be a confusing verse, even though it seems pretty straightforward. Does it mean that as followers of Jesus we must separate ourselves from all the pleasures and wonderful things that Creation offers? Are we denied permission to participate and enjoy the good things of earth? No! It doesn’t mean that at all. This is not what James is talking about.

God created the heavens and the earth and pronounced them good (see Genesis 1). He is a very loving, creative God, and He desires that we, His children, enjoy what He has made for us. He feels the same way about giving pleasure to His children as we did when we took our kids to see a major league baseball game or baked chocolate brownies for them. God is delighted when we’re happy.

What James means in today’s passage by “the world” is everything that lies outside the community of God’s people. A list of those things— including adultery, greed, pride, and anger—are listed in Galatians 5. When we indulge this worldly frame of mind, we are at odds with what God wants for us. The Bible instructs us to imitate the humble character of Jesus and to live unselfish lives of service to others. When we choose the way of the world, we lead self-centered lives that often abuse others. We indulge in drugs, sex, and booze, and don’t give a rip about others. When we live by the world’s standards, it’s all about getting more money, more power to boss others around, greater status and prestige. Those things identify us and define us.

There is no accommodation of these two worldviews. There is no compromise available. We delude ourselves if we think we can have both. We cannot. It is our personal responsibility to make a choice between them. One route leads to bondage…the other to abundant life…which way will you go?

Jim Vogelzang
Kingly Character  
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An incident in the early life of David instructs us about how God sees people and how we should see them as well.

God was not happy with King Saul, so He told His prophet Samuel that He wanted to anoint another man to be king. God directed Samuel to travel to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse. When Samuel arrived, Jesse did what any man in his community would have done: he brought his firstborn son to Samuel. Eliab was tall, handsome, and strong. Samuel looked at Eliab and said to himself, “Surely this is the Lord’s anointed” (1 Samuel 16:6). But Samuel was wrong. There is an important lesson for us in his error.

We often make the same mistake Samuel did. We are attracted to things that are superficial. We look at other women in the office  and judge them according to their looks or clothes. We honor the guys who are wealthy, powerful or great looking. The timid and unattractive are often ignored. We are blind to the things that God sees. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his famous speech, I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Dr. King was talking about “kingly character.” A kingly character looks to serve others, not to use them.

As we live our daily lives, let’s not make the blunder Samuel did. Let’s evaluate men and women based on what is in their hearts, not on their looks or manners or popularity. Let’s avoid the trap that sees only people’s external qualities. Let’s look at the eternal qualities and see value where none was visible before.

Releasing Hate

Jesus loved all people, not judging them for their gender, occupation, or race. When Jesus rose from the dead, He announced His resurrection to Mary. Jesus worked through a woman to bring Peter and John to Him. This was radical. Women had no status in first- century Jerusalem. Women couldn’t offer testimony at a trial, and men rarely spoke to women in public.

Jesus also did not discriminate on the basis of occupation.

He chose Matthew, a Jewish tax collector, to be His disciple. Tax collectors could charge whatever they wanted, as long as Rome got its share. As a result, tax collectors were considered traitors. The Jews hated them, yet Jesus chose a tax collector to be a disciple.

On another occasion Jesus went to Samaria and spoke to an adulterous Samaritan woman—an unthinkable gesture. Not only were Samarians considered to be trash, but He—a Jewish male— spoke to a woman who everyone in the town knew was sleeping around. His love reached beyond social barriers.

When we follow Jesus, we cannot hate others because of their skin color, political affiliations, job, chosen religion, or sexual preference. If we say we believe in Jesus, we give up any thoughts of revenge and feelings of contempt or disgust that we felt before we knew the Lord. Our unity with Christ through His sacrifice for our sins makes it unacceptable to hate others.

If these words irritate us, we have a problem. Are we mentally scrolling through the directory of our church or business or country club and mentally naming those we hate because they are people of color, Democrat or Republicans or gay? Then the love of Christ is not in us! We shouldn’t be fooled or misled. We cannot hate those who are different and love God at the same time. To think otherwise is a delusion.

Worship Unites Us

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.

The Power of Music

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.

Obey…Don’t Delay?

 

Someone said, “The real disasters in life happen when we get what we want.” We can relate to that. Some of you women readers wanted a man in your lives so badly you would have done most anything. Then, you got one, he verbally abused you, ignored you and treated you with contempt, all the while expecting you to cook, clean and sleep with them! You soon discovered you were better off without him.

Although that statement is true in some human circumstances, it’s not true in our relationship to God. Sometimes the problem is that when God speaks to us, He says things we don’t want to hear. Our idea of what we want God to say is different from what He says. We pray that “Thy Will be done,” but really would like to know what God’s Will is BEFORE we agree to obey and follow. This is not surrender to God but our attempt to keep control over our lives, while asking God for directions.

Our plan may be for God to give us financial security so we can mentor young men and women to help them avoid the mistakes that could send them to prison. A worthy and noble aspiration! But what is our reaction when God speaks to us and we hear Him plainly command us to minister to the homeless community that resides in a tent city a block from our house? Whoa! We immediately think, God must be mistaken. We turn it over in our minds, looking for a sign that we didn’t hear correctly. This is wrong!

Oswald Chambers writes in his book “My Utmost for His Highest” about trying to rationalize that we didn’t hear God correctly. “When I have to weigh the pros and cons, and doubt and debate come in, I am bringing in an element that is not of God, and I come to the conclusion that the suggestion was not a right one.” Our unwillingness to pay attention to what God says may very well lead to disobedience that disappoints God. But obedience leads to a richer and fuller faith. When we hear God’s voice, we must move on it and begin to obey. Let God’s hand be played out on His card table. When it’s over, we may be privileged to witness the results of His work through our efforts. If so, we’ll finally see that He was correct.

In closing, ask yourself, what attitudes lead you to discard your ideas of what you think God has planned for your life and really hear and accept His leading

Out with the Old Life

Going to a funeral isn’t high on any of our lists. Funerals mean we’ve lost someone we know or love. We experience pain and sorrow, along with tears and crying. Not a very good time, usually.

Yet for us to get right with God, we’ve all got to attend what Oswald Chambers would call our own “white funeral”—the burial of our old lives. We call it a white funeral because our old natures—the accepted wisdom that we’ve relied on has gotten us nowhere—must die. Most of us who know Jesus Christ as our personal Savior remember the exact time and date when we attended our own white funeral. Our needs changed from craving success, status, and material pleasures to craving a relationship with Jesus. It is as if we became captivated by God. The Holy Spirit pulled at our hearts like a magnet. We became new persons on the inside.

For those of us who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus, we need a white funeral—to be born again. We may scratch our heads, not really knowing what that means. What it means is this: When we come to that place where our hearts cry out to God and we open them to the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ enters into our hearts. If we truly appeal to God to change our lives in a transforming way, our old natures die and our new natures are born. We gain freedom from guilt, fear, anger, and an unforgiving heart. In its place is a heart that acknowledges sin and comprehends Jesus’ amazing sacrifice on our behalf. We become newborns—new creations in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). Our sinful selves die; we bury it at our “white funeral” and begin a new life in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

 

 

Fruit of the Spirit

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!

 

 

 

Compound Interest

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!

 

 

The Escalator of Temptation

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.

God’s Repair Shop

Some days we feel broken. Shattered. Useless. We wonder if God could ever find us useful to Him.

We need to remember that even if our lives are completely blown up, they can be repaired. God is a repairman who fixes shattered lives and makes them whole again. His tools are conviction, confession, repentance, and forgiveness of sin. These are the tools of deep, permanent, personal change in our lives.

One of the dangerous facts about sin is that the more it increases, the more our awareness of it often decreases. We become numb to our own inner rebellion. We need the touch of the Holy Spirit—or friends who are willing to be honest with us—to make us aware of our sins. Conviction is the first great tool in God’s repair shop.

Once convicted, we must confess our sins to God. When we confess them, we are agreeing with God that we are not in tune with His plan for our lives. Our confessions to Him tune the radio of our hearts to the exact frequency, bringing clear music into our souls.

When we repent, we turn away from our sinful behavior. We admit that the problem lies in us. When we repent, we give God permission to begin His repair work.

God’s forgiveness is like the finish coat of paint on an old toy. It makes it look new again. Forgiveness helps us begin to feel worthwhile again. Our spirits are made whole. We can begin to perceive ourselves as worthy because we are worthy in God’s eyes.

 

 

New Life

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we become totally new persons. Our old life of bondage is gone, and a new life of freedom begins. 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.

Point Them to Jesus

Taking our faith in Jesus to work or out with our friends is an intimidating thing. We are considered wimps or worse for believing in Jesus, and we get confronted with tough questions. People want to know why a “loving” God allows starvation in Africa or massive earthquakes in poor countries or a gunman killing six-year-old kids at school. They consider us extremist, arrogant and intolerant for believing that Christianity is the only way to God.

While we should and can validate their questions and exhibit Jesus’ sympathetic and understanding heart, we must avoid the devil’s trap. Don’t let those taunts and questions intimidate us and prevent us from proclaiming the truth. So how do we avoid that ambush and share our faith? Point them to Jesus!

Jesus is not a religion—He’s a person. That makes all the difference. He the foundation that must be addressed before any other issues are talked about. As any builder knows, the foundation is the most important thing to get right. It does no good to discuss kitchen cabinets until the foundation is squared away.

People must decide who Jesus is. They must be given the chance to examine His life and ministry so that they can decide if He is a liar, a nut-job, or Lord of the universe. If they reject the claims of Jesus, then discussing God with them is a waste of time. If they come to accept Jesus as Lord, then the tough issues are put into context of a loving Lord who gave His life for us.

If the hub of a wheel is true to form, the whole wheel performs correctly. When we take our faith to the yard, we must take our searching sisters and brothers to meet the risen Lord. Everything else will fall into place once they get Jesus right!

How Do We Mature?

When we discover something for the first time and like what we’ve learned, we usually get excited about it. We can remember the excitement of skateboarding, fly fishing or putting on makeup for the first time. Similarly, many of us recall our excitement when we first came to Christ. We experienced His forgiveness and acceptance. We wanted to shout it from the rooftops.

Many new believers are on fire for evangelism and may impulsively walk into the coffee break room at work and declare the Gospel to every bleary-eyed coffee drinker in the room. Or we take the microphone at a family reunion and preach a ten-minute sermon when all they asked us to do was open with prayer. We buttonhole our team at the bowling league and drive them to distraction with our over-the-top testimonials about Jesus! Ugh! Even seasoned Christians might get tired of this type of over enthusiastic evangelism!

As admirable as this enthusiasm is, the Bible teaches us that we need to mature, allowing older Christians to counsel us. Just as sixteen-year-olds need driver’s training to go along with new driving privileges, newborn Christians need mentoring. Mature believers in our church have the responsibility to recognize that new Christians need help. In their passion for Jesus, new Christians may be judgmental. They may rightly identify sin but could harshly condemn it in others, without the love and gentleness more mature men and women of faith might exercise. Baby Christians can be quite demanding in their desire to be fed. Just as newborn babies demand feeding, baby Christians insist on getting attention. Full-grown believers must teach and offer loving suggestions for contemplation, personal Bible study, prayer, and corporate worship. Allow new believers to mature before electing them to positions of leadership (see 1 Timothy 3:6).

The body of Christ in our world today has many members, and each must nurture the other. New Christians must submit to the authority of the mature members, while the mature saints must not smother the ardor of the new ones. In unity, the work of Christ moves forward.

Prisons Without Walls

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?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping Good Company

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.

How Valuable are You?

A little boy found his father’s old collection of comic books in the basement. There were old Superman and Archie comic books alongside the Fantastic Four and Batman comics. All were sealed in plastic sleeves to prevent mold and dirt from destroying them. The son asked his father what these old comic books were worth. What was their value? The father replied, "They are worth what one person is willing to pay for them."

What is a person worth? What are we worth? What are you worth? Do you ever sit alone after a tough day or in the midst of a busy life and ponder the question, "What am I worth?" Most of us do from time to time. The problem is that we look for the answers in the wrong places. In secular society the answer to "value" question is wrapped up in what our jobs are, or how much money we earn or how beautiful we are. Sometimes we flash the Rolex we wear to garner value from others. Sometimes we brag about the vacation spots we have visited or the new cars we are driving. In a world driven by advertising these are the answers put forth.

Big problem is all these things never satisfy. There is always someone with a more expensive car, flashier watch and bigger house. It is a fool’s game that leaves us feeling like we are hamsters on an exercise wheel. So what is the source of true value and significance?

The answer is found at the Cross of Christ. Remember, the power of the cross is that although we were more sinful than we ever dared think…God loved us so much that He sacrificed His Son to pay the penalty for our sin. God wanted relationship with us…valued us so much…that Jesus laid down His life voluntarily so that we would be in relationship with Him forever. This ultimate gift of love cannot be equaled and is the immovable rock that stands with us when times are good…but more importantly…when times are tough. God demonstrates our value to Him and His love for us on the Cross of Calvary.

Cannot “Earn” God’s Love

The writer Helen Wodehouse said, “We think we must climb to a certain height of goodness before we can reach God. But He [God] does not say, ‘At the end of the way you may find me’; He says, ‘I am the Way; I am the road under your feet, the road that begins just as low down as you happen to be.’ If we are in a hole, the Way begins in the hole. The moment we set our face in the same direction as His, we are walking with God.”

Many of us wake up each morning feeling that God could never love us. People we trusted sometimes sexually abused us as children and then afterward angrily told us we were worthless. As adults, we often stayed in abusive relationships, hopelessly searching for love. We misguidedly thought that if we treated our abusers better, we could earn their love.

Many of us view a relationship with a loving God in the same twisted way. We mistakenly feel we must “be good” to earn His love. Nothing is further from the truth!

God does not care where we have been; He is concerned only about where we are going. He searches for us and meets us where we are. God comes alongside us at the most depressing moment of our lives and whispers that He loves us, forgives us, and believes in us (see John 3:16; Jeremiah 29:11). We can trust those words!

We can experience God’s redeeming love. We can cop to the sin in our lives and turn away (repent) from it (see 1 John 1:9). When we confess and change direction, we will be on the right road. His genuine, authentic love will flood our hearts as we walk in His direction.

 

Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

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!