When I read Luke 16:1-13, I am forced to think about the state of American politics today, where we find certain political families who have never once planted a crop, offered a legitimate service, traded a single good at market nor invented or assembled one widget. Yet somehow they were able to amass a fortune worth hundreds of millions of dollars. An impossibility for a career in public service, making it more than obvious that they are selling the favors of their positions much like the steward in this reading. These sorts are always in the press, going form one scandal to the next, lying their way to higher and higher offices, with no end in sight.
Psalm 71 is one of my very favorite psalms. In fact, there was a time in my life when I recited this psalm three times each night before bed, from memory. To me, this psalm speaks to the plight of not only the prisoner, but anyone who finds themselves ensnared in our criminal justice system. The first five verses alone sum up the majority of my most common prayers as a prisoner.
What person who has ever been at the business end of criminal prosecution cannot relate to verses 9 through 11? I know that whenever I read these verses I cannot help but to visualize the three prosecutors assigned to my case, sitting around a long conference room table like the Bond villains of SPECTRE, saying things to each other like, “This God-forsaken dirtbag! Let’s do whatever we have to do to put him away for as long as we can. Who can stop us?”
Every person serving an extended sentence thinks about and worries about how old he will be when or even if he is ever released. For instance, if I am forced to serve all of my current sentence, I will be over 65 when I am paroled What sort of life will I have left? How will an old used up ex-con ever find gainful employment? Even if I am somehow able to keep myself up to date on the current technologies and the swiftly changing demands of contemporary employers, what sort of physical condition will I be in after so long a period of forced inactivity, eating sub-nutritious foods, under sub par healthcare? Most at that age would be unable to get out of bed and get around to go to work.
What of my other needs? What sort of family support can I expect to still have? Will anyone even still be living? These thoughts are constant stressors that plague the minds of those subjected to long-term incarceration. Countless times I have prayed that the Almighty will not forsake me in my old age when I am grey-headed. Every incarcerated believer knows that our Heavenly Father is our only means of support we can be sure of. Thankfully, He is also the only means of support anyone ever needs.
During times of heightened danger the administration at this institution will declare a Level 1 Lockdown to be in effect. During such a lockdown, all prisoners must be handcuffed behind their backs before opening the doors at their cells, no exceptions. This procedure helps keep everyone safe until the time of heightened danger passes.
The Book of Acts begins with Messiah teaching his Apostles for forty days after his resurrection and commanding them not to leave Jerusalem until the promised Holy Spirit is sent to them. He then ascends up to heaven from the Mr. of Olives. Two men in white, who we are lead to believe are actually angels, tell the Apostles that the Messiah will come back to Earth in the same manner they saw him go up to heaven.
Revelation 21:10-22; 22:1-5
There I was at the Commissary window, a friend of mine, an inmate worker who is himself a self-proclaimed Christian was there helping the cashier by bringing everything I had ordered to the register to be rung up. I noticed that instead of my usual order of 24 spicy vegetable ramen noodles he had brought me 24 of the new Cajun shrimp. A substitution that he made of his own initiative. I politely objected to this change in my order. I asked my friend to please replace these shrimp ramen with any other flavor. I did this because I observe the dietary laws of Scripture. My friend does not.
You can’t really plan the time, method or place the Lord chooses to use you, as this reading from Luke 19 correctly illustrates. I’m sure that the owners of the that donkey never expected in a million years that it would be called into service that way on that day. After all, that same donkey had never in its life carried anyone before. So how could anyone expect that it would be asked to carry the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords? And on the Shabbat no less! A day that according to Jewish custom no work is to be done by human or beast.
Sometimes you can be just as surprised as the owners of that donkey when the Lord calls on you. You could be in the bull pen waiting to go “up top” for a visit and feel the calling to share a word or two of the gospel with the prisoner locked in there with you. Or you could be walking in the chow line when you are called to say a kind word to the man ahead of you.
When these “callings” come don’t worry about how awkward this encounter is gonna be or that this might make you look like a lame. Instead, remember what the owners of that donkey did when they found that the reason the disciples were untying their colt was that “the Lord hath need of it.” Did they argue? Did they protest the Shabbat or make excuses? No. They obeyed and the Lord rode that donkey into Jerusalem in triumph.
Some of the Lord’s greatest triumphs are on the backs of the most unexpected callings of a believer to obey.
Psalm 126 bring me great joy every time I read it. I am reminded that even though I am in bondage now that not mean that there will not come a time when I am an old man sitting in a comfortable highbacked chair near a fire nice and warm, remembering the “bad old days” when I was a lousy prisoner and everything was hard and horrid. How back then it seemed I would never make it here and back to the love of my family.
I’m sure I would sigh at the memory and with my loved ones surrounding me in love and luxury I would entertain them with the tall tales of my prison days. Relaxing in quiet freedom and thanking the Lord for all he has done to carry me through those terrible times and restoring me to these real fortunes and riches.
I know that the above vision is an accurate portrait of my future and I have a hard time containing my excitement for its fulfillment, like a small child anxiously awaiting his parents to awake on Christmas morning. That anticipation of a better future helps me survive a horrible present.
Too often in times of trouble we forget that trouble passes and what is hard now is harvest later.
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Paul is writing to early Christians of a first-century Greek church but he might as well be writing to contemporary believers on my own prison gallery today. It is of the utmost importance that we understand that once we know Christ spiritually and claim him as our Lord our lives are no longer our own, but his. Bought with a price. Too many of my fellow inmates who claim to be followers of Christ never really follow him anyway or in anything consistently.
In verse 20, Paul states that we are “Ambassadors of Christ.” We need to act as such. Our old self is dead. We are New Creatures in the Lord. It does us no good to be claiming Christ and still be doing the same old things and acting the same old ways as before we accepted him. This is an important concept for all believers the world over, but it is even more vital in a prison environment where everyone watches everyone else, at all times.
Anyone can talk the talk but people in here want to see if you walk the walk. Our Christian walk is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. I personally must always be mindful that the eyes of those who would do the will of our infernal adversary are always on me. Watching and waiting with baited breath for my stumble and their chance to advertise it as an argument against the veracity of the Gospels.
In a place of abounding darkness such as this the Christian prisoner must be the light in dark places. Only by our good example will others be drawn to ask us about our Lord. As believers in Christ, the whole world holds us up to a much higher standard and rightly so, for if gold rusts what should iron do?
Psalm 63 is almost an identical recitation of my nightly prayers. David was in the wilderness of Judah when he composed this psalm and as anyone who has ever served a minute of time could tell you, prison is very much a spiritual wilderness. David speakers of searching for God and seeking him out as a priority in the first verse. I myself must seek God that way. In my environment a person can very easily be pulled further and further toward debauchery and away from God by the unending siren’s call of immoral distraction. Without earnestly searching for God, minding and renewing ourselves of that effort each and every day, a person will become lost and worse yet may lead others astray as well.
The image David invokes when he describes his thirst for the water of God in a dry and thirsty land, is one that is relatable to any Christian prisoner in any cell house in America. But, like David I too have seen the glory of God and I too praise him with all my body, mind and soul.
In verses 3-5, David understand that just by praising God he is nourished and his soul is satisfied. If I have nothing else I have the ability to praise and worship god. That thought always brings shalom to my bone and peace to my anxiety.
When I read verses 6-8, I am reminded of the countless times when I am kept up at night by the noise and chaos of the cell house. I am forced to pray myself to sleep and I am grateful for it. “For what?” you might ask. No matter how clamorous or vexing the assault on my sanctuary of serenity may be, the Lord’s peace is equal to the foe. It’s a form of spiritual warfare. Night after night, spirits of torment manipulate tortured souls to draft others into their ranks. I lie on my bunk and like David meditate on the Lord in the night watches. I pray for those poor unfortunate souls who are so agonized nightly and it forces me ever closer to God each night. And for that I am extremely grateful and I rejoice.
“I am 34 years old and I have accepted Christ in early April of this year . I am very dedicated to learning all I can about the Word of God, including our faith’s Hebrew roots.”
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