I found God in Prison, Part 1

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“I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:36

 

There are times in our life when we are all alone. Though we may be surrounded by people, we may feel unwanted, unloved.

There are times in our life when we desire forgiveness. In a world full of shallow, cheap apologies we find the liberation that comes from genuine, deep grace to be allusory.

These are two fundamental concepts to the human condition: the desire to be in community, and the freedom that grace provides so that we can “have life, and have it to the fullest” (John 10:10).

Like you I have explored these ideas for many, many years. In my thoughts, in bible studies, weekend retreats and holiday BBQs. To answer the question of the meaning of life one will confront these issues squarely and regularly.

On this side of Heaven we may never fully understand the answers to life’s difficult questions. But an experience I had recently opened my eyes to them as wide as I have ever seen. I saw more in 4 days than I have seen in 40 years.

It was inside the walls of the largest prison in Colorado that I experienced God like never before. I have had moments in my life when I felt God’s presence – but nothing as palpable, as enduring and as real as the 4 days in April 2017 at Sterling Correctional Facility.

In 2004 I was invited to a Kairos Closing Ceremony at a prison in Huntsville, Texas. What I saw there affected me deeply and I swore that I would revisit the Kairos Prison Ministry later in life. In 2017 I felt called back to Kairos and reached out to their local chapter. In no time I was fully welcomed into the Sterling Chapter of Kairos. After some meetings, training, homework, background checks, lots of prayer and support and an all-day training with the Colorado Department of Corrections I was ready to start.

Why prison ministry? Jesus answers the question directly in Matthew 25: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

The inmates I met at Sterling have committed truly terrible atrocities. Some of the most violent criminals you have read about in the paper are spending the rest of their lives in Sterling, Colorado.

Even though their crimes are inexcusable, their stories are often tragic. Childhood stories of abandonment, homelessness, abuse and addiction are common. It’s no wonder that the first meaningful association in their life is often with a gang. Escaping the near certain fate of prison life at that point becomes all but impossible.

But even though they may have committed heinous crimes; even though they may have proven themselves incapable of civil behavior; even though we may have removed them from free society and exiled them to prisons to be forgotten; and yes even though they may have lost their way and even turned their back on God – they have a Holy Father who loves them, forgives them, will never forget them nor leave their side.

Kairos prison ministry is all about reminding them of exactly that. Kairos tells them you are loved; you are not alone; if you seek forgiveness you will have it; you can have peace and you should have hope.

If this sounds hokey or preachy let me be the first to agree – until I witnessed it. Jesus said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) God was most certainly present with us in Sterling, and he filled that place until it was overflowing with His Spirit. At the close of each day we would sing the following with the inmates:

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel God’s mighty power and God’s grace.
I can hear the brush of angel’s wings,
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place. (Lanny Wolfe)

During those four days lives were changed. Tough men broke down and cried tears – in heaving sobs – that had been stored up behind decades of hardened hearts. Hatred and animosity made way to love and forgiveness. People were reunited with the God they last encountered as a child, if at all.

And, most miraculous of all, I witnessed man after man after man stand up and confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. A satan worshipper, two wiccans, a deist and countless non-believers accepted Christ into their lives for the first time. To witness that may be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

A new friend who is a retired Episcopalian Pastor and has attended 13 of these 4-day events told me he has seen more people accept Jesus at Sterling than he did in over 40 years as a Pastor. Another new friend said, “There’s just no doubt about it. This is the most important work I do for the kingdom.”

God was working that weekend in April, and it wasn’t just the inmates He was transforming.

-Gavin

Challenged by Continual Change!

change_road_signOne of the difficulties we all deal with is continual change… a lack of permanency in work, home, family, church, school, politics, and friends. The constant ebb and flow of people in and out of day-to-day living takes its toll. Of the Top 20 stressors in life, job change, moving house, and lack of friendships made the list. If we’re honest, as guys we tend to just suck it up and gut our way through all of these.

In this ever-changing world, there are so many questions. How deep do I want to go with that neighbor? Do I even want to make an effort to plug into a church or be a part of a faith community… who knows how long and at what level I can be involved? With all my current responsibilities, I may not be able to make a difference so should I even get involved in the civic realm? Change and the dynamic, transient nature of today’s world can bring unsettledness, fear, loneliness, and even a sense of depression. Most of us as guys don’t even want to think about these emotions and if we don’t, they don’t exist… right? Wrong! We will have to deal with them sooner or later!

The good news is that God never changes. In Hebrews 13:8 it says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” But who is this one true God? Throughout time God has shown that He is a God of mercy. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. He’s also shown that He is a God of grace. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve. Even when people failed, rebelled against Him, and even murdered His Son on the Cross, he forgave them and restored them. It’s only in Him that we can get rest, have true relationships, be forgiven, experience true love, and have peace in the midst of change and turmoil. He wants that full life for you and those you know. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

More good news. God leads the way and is always with you. Deuteronomy 31:8 says, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” In Joshua 1:9, God speaks to Joshua but also speaks to you and me. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Think about this, the Creator of all things is with you wherever you go!

So how can you experience this full life in the midst of all the change and turmoil? A great starting point is to get plugged into a Christian, worshiping community no matter how much time you think you have! Let me be clear… when I say “plugged in” I mean at least weekly. God has given us community to help experience His love, forgiveness, and grace. Hebrews 10:23-26 encourages us to “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

It’s in a healthy Christian community that you can be encouraged when things look bleak, you can experience strength, support, and forgiveness when the world gives otherwise. You can find rest and refuge in a difficult world. My prayer for you is that you experience the fullness of life in Christ in spite of what the world throws at you!

To all who are in the midst of change right now…

As you go on your way, may God go with you.
May God go before you to show you the way.
May God go behind you to encourage you,
beside you to befriend you,
above you to watch over you, 
below you to support you,
within you to give you peace.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen

-Gerry

June 2017 Newsletter

Parenting Quote

Parenting Quote

Father’s Day is Sunday. Happy Father’s Day to all you dads, step-dads, and father figures!

Dad’s seem to be getting the short end of the respect stick lately. From being the butt of jokes on TV and the internet to having our role marginalized and trivialized in our culture, we dad’s fight an uphill respect battle. But, study after study shows that even just being present in their kids’ lives, dads play an important role in who the kids become. You have a strong influence on what your son will be like and who your daughters will marry. So be encouraged and challenged in this month’s Whetstone Newsletter on fathers.

Read

7 Things a Good Dad SaysTim Challies

I love you. Let me kiss it better. Come with me. Please forgive me. You’re forgiven. Let’s pray. You can’t do it.

Which statement do you need to work on? Which one are you great at?

Dads- It’s Time to Lead.Dr. Meg Meeker

Your daughter doesn’t want to see you as an equal. She wants you to be her hero, someone who is wiser and steadier and stronger than she is.

That quote is taken from Dr. Meeker’s book, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters I can’t recommend the book enough. Get. It. Now. Also, read her new book, Hero: Being the Strong Father Your Children Need.

Parenting Adult ChildrenKaren O’Connor

If we do the vital inner work necessary to spiritual and emotional parenting, then relinquishing our children will be easier than we might expect. We will no longer feel compelled to use them as a means of working through the unfinished business of our past or as the focus of our future desires.

For you Dads out there with grown children, the job is not done yet. Focus on the Family has an eight part series on parenting adult children.

Watch

The Council of DadsBruce Feiler

 

Watch as Bruce discusses his cancer diagnosis and how he enlisted the help of other men to be a “father” for his children after he is gone. Just another testimony for having a close group of intimate male friendships.

Listen

A Legacy of FaithHank Parker on Family Life Today

Hank Parker, host of Hank’s Outdoor Magazine, informs moms and dads on the benefits of taking their children hunting and fishing. Fishing breaks down barriers so children feel comfortable opening up to their parents while doing something they love. There’s nothing like fishing to calm your nerves and build happy family memories.

Some of my best memories with my Dad and with my kids have been in the outdoors. There’s something about being surrounded by God’s creation and the family he put you with that make for incredible times.

Happy Father’s Day!

Stay Sharp,

Matt

Who’s Your Gardener?

master gardener

The crab apple tree in my front yard was over grown and hadn’t been pruned in years. The canopy was thick and dense and blocked the sun from reaching the grass below, resulting in a powdery mildew infecting the lawn, and providing shelter for unwelcome birds that roosted (and pooped) above my driveway. Some branches were low to the ground and others shot out at odd angles – untamed in their purpose or direction.

Long overdue, it was time to prune.

With saw and shears in hand I began to circle the tree, starting with the lower branches to make room for mowing, then moving higher to thin the canopy. The more I pruned, the more I saw need for additional pruning. Removing branches that rubbed against and entangled one another; water sprouts and suckers that were likely the result of previous pruning; large horizontal branches that would be susceptible to damage from the heavy spring snows that were sure to come.

When I finally put the saw away I had cut out much more than I had initially planned, but the tree looked much better and the lawn was getting a lot more sun light. And when the heavy spring snow came in late May, the tree survived with hardly any damage at all.

All this got me to thinking about tree pruning as a metaphor. While pruning a tree involves cutting out undesirable branches, what might that look like in my life?

– Left unpruned, trees can become a wild mess. Think of those wild unkempt branches as harmful thoughts, words, and actions that are contrary to God’s will. In a word, sin.
– Bad branches left too long can be both ugly and dangerous – resulting in broken branches and / or a split trunk. Or broken relationships and poor health.
– Pruning is an ongoing, lifelong process. As long as we’re alive, pruning and shaping will be needed.
– Pruning a problem branch early leaves a minimal scar. Nipping bad behaviors in the bud can keep them from becoming a problem.
– May need to be done in stages, or wait until the tree is strong enough to withstand large cuts. Again, a lifelong process.
– Pruning allows light and airflow into the canopy and through to the lawn below. A level of transparency and openness to our lives helps root out old habits and prevent new habits from forming.
– Some bad branches (like water sprouts) can be the result of nicks in the bark. Physical and emotional injuries can result in unhealthy defense mechanisms if not tended to.

One aspect of this metaphor that gets my attention is that the tree doesn’t prune itself. While we (unlike the tree) may be able to identify some of our own “bad branches”, we’re likely unable or unwilling to cut much on our own. “I’ll just snip this small branch and see how that works…” And we’re simply not going to see all that needs pruning, no matter how long and hard we look.

No, we’re going to need help. Trusted brothers that come along side us to help identify what needs pruning, and to hold us accountable for clearing out the junk.

But most of all we need the Master Gardener to take control of the pruning shears in our lives. God is the one who created us and knows everything about us. Much more than we know ourselves. And while the pruning may be painful, He is trustworthy and faithful.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15: 1-2)

So how about you?

What areas of your life need pruning? Got a trusted friend to help you with the dead wood? And are you ready to hand over the shears to the only One who really knows what needs pruning?

Peace!
Ken