Golden Key Prison Ministry
While looking through one of those “shop at home” catalogs that fill our mailboxes, I saw an interesting T-shirt with these words imprinted: “I can explain it to you, but I can’t understand it for you!” That thought came back to me as we were studying the Book of James at our weekly KeyPoint Fellowship in Binghamton. James was discussing the arrogance of the individuals who used their wealth to live an extravagant lifestyle while disregarding the needs of others around them. We looked at Nebuchadnezzar’s story in the Book of Daniel because he also had to learn a hard lesson about thinking that his temporal blessings and power was somehow his creation and had nothing to do with God. After being sent by God to live like an animal in the wild for some period of time, he finally lifted up his eyes toward heaven and again received his understanding. Since the members of our fellowship group understand addictions, someone mentioned that he had a “moment of clarity.” And that was true. His moment of clarity was not unlike the one that the prodigal son had while in the pig sty “when he came to himself” once more (Luke 15:17).
Certainly there is whole sermon wrapped up in the idea of experiencing moments of clarity, however there is distinction between human realization and godly understanding. The Apostle Paul says it like this, “Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were sorry in a godly manner…for godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10). It is not enough to just feel sorrow about the trouble and pain you are experiencing; you have to turn your eyes towards God in true repentance to have a godly moment of clarity. We will return to this subject again in our next Golden Key Blog.
In the last few weeks Americans have suffered one tragedy after another from the bombing in Boston, to the plant explosion in Texas to a monster tornado in Oklahoma. It is hard to watch the news coverage with so many tearful family members recounting their losses to the listening public. But when you look closely, just over their shoulders, you can see the first responders in the background searching for survivors and bringing vital aid to the injured. These emergency personnel become the unsung heroes in so many disasters as they leap into the midst of the debris of life to help the needy. We are so grateful that they are always standing by to come to our rescue. But where do we turn in the personal emergencies of our life?
Recently at Broome County Jail, I noticed a familiar name on the facility roster and invited him to the chapel for a one-on-one discussion. When he arrived, I let him do most of the talking as he explained the circumstances of his return to jail. He blamed a lot of his troubles on what other people had caused him to do, distancing himself from personal responsibility. As he got closer to the heart of his problem he said, “I felt myself falling, so I went and got drunk.” This began the domino effect that took him back into his addictive lifestyle and led to yet another incarceration. But what if, when he felt himself falling, his first response was to cry out to the Lord? “Call upon me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). God has endless, creative resources to help us in our time of trouble. Calling on Him should always be our first reaction as He will lead us to the best solution. He loves us and cares about our struggles. God can be trusted to see us through life’s biggest disasters.
The Book of Judges is a history of the children of Israel being rescued by God from various calamities caused by their refusal to be obedient to Him. We read chapter after chapter about how their defiant, wicked behavior results in God removing His protective barrier allowing their enemies to ransack their communities putting them into financial and emotional distress. Of course some faithful Israelites are beseeching God to intervene once more. And again and again, we find God riding to the rescue, raising up heroic leaders to overcome their enemies and restore peace and prosperity to their land.
As you read, you can’t help but wonder why, after the umpteenth time, that the Israelites don’t figure out that they should just be obedient to God and live according to His protective commands. It is very easy to accuse them of being pretty stupid especially when they receive such prosperity and safety during the times they are being compliant with God’s instructions. “What’s wrong with these people?” Well, clearly we can’t get too harsh with our criticism of Israel without considering our own tendencies toward repeated failures. How many times did we make promises to God that we have never kept? How many times have we pledged never to do THAT again and find ourselves right back at once more?
This is never truer than in the life of an addict. I have answered the calls from someone with a shaky voice asking for help again. They’ve hit the bottom and are ready to take the long walk back home to becoming normal once more. It is easy to turn away leaving them to the ruin of their own terrible decisions. But it is godly to participate in their recovery. It is what our heavenly Father would do for us.
This Bible verse, written by the Apostle Paul concerning our transformation from the “old” nature into the new person that God has created us to be, is one of my favorites. When Paul uses the word, “corrupt”, he is thinking of something that once it has infected someone will cause damage and decay. I read once that when someone has been told something really negative like, “you’ll never amount to anything!” that it will take ten positive affirmations to counter the damage that was done to their self-esteem. But imagine that mostly all you hear are negative damaging attacks on your character and behavior. How many positive encouraging statements will it take for you to recover? Like someone who is attached to an IV full of antibiotics to fight a raging infection, it will take a steady flow of affirming words to repair the damage to your soul.
In jails and prisons, I encounter lots of different people and I can usually tell in just a few minutes the ones that have been verbally assaulted since they were young. Often those destructive words have contributed to their commission of their crimes and present incarceration. The self-medicating that a large percentage of inmates have done with drugs and alcohol was, in part, to anesthetize the pain of vicious words suffered since their youth.
The other side of this issue is the power of words to “edify”, or build someone up that has been broken down through years of verbal assault. Speaking God’s grace into someone’s life can have nearly instantaneous results at times. I encourage new Christians in prison to start using their words to build other inmates up and introduce them to God’s positive words of grace, His unmerited favor. He loves us even when we have done nothing to deserve it. Practice speaking positive Biblical words into the lives of those that are hurting and longing for God’s affirmation!
"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:
to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…”
James 1:27a New King James
Recently, as I gave the Sunday morning message at Elmira Correctional Facility, I came to this verse in James. As I had prepared the sermon I thought that some of the men might exempt themselves from this part of James’ definition of pure religion because they believed they had no access to orphans and widows with whom to practice Christian charity. As I meditated on this I realized that every verse of God’s Word has application to every believer (2 Timothy 3:16-17), so soon the Holy Spirit brought something to my awareness: many incarcerated men and women are actual orphans or “functional orphans” living without benefit of loving parents. The statistics for individuals incarcerated in our state and local prisons are heartbreaking when it comes to positive parental involvement in their lives. The numbers reach to 90% of male and female prisoners who had no loving relationship with a father. Some do not even know their fathers. Relationships with mothers are divided between those who had some positive input, to those who hardly ever saw a mother who worked more than one job to support her children, and those whose mothers were practicing addicts. Life was troubled for many prisoners who grew up largely living on the streets and learning survival from other kids.
When I was a teenager, my parents divorced and my mother left us kids with our father. Try as he could, there was no way he could fill the gap left by a missing mom in our lives. Even as an adult, I missed the input of a mother in my life when I married and became a father myself. I challenged the men at Elmira to seek out the “functional orphans”, those individuals who had never had someone to build them up and to speak grace into their lives (Ephesians 4:29). We are surrounded by hurting “orphans” who need spiritual fathers and mothers to nurture and cultivate Christian character in their lives (1 Corinthians 4:15).