For the past two weeks the guys in the jail Bible study have brought up how they don’t want to go back into their cell after our time together. It’s as if the Bible study is an oasis for them to take a deep breath and receive peace, an all too quickly passing moment of rest, before having to face the other more unruly men sharing their cell with them.
This peace and rest they were feeling wasn’t exactly what the topic of discussion was for the day but I thought it worth while to follow it through for a minute. I told them, “In a sense being in here (jail) isn’t any different than being out there (the world).” Everyone needs a place to go from time to time in order to regroup, think, breathe and receive peace. The good news is, while a physical place on a map is good, God’s Word tells us He is our peace and resting place.
Throughout the Old Testament we are told how God communicated to the Children of Israel through Moses and his teaching them by way of the Tabernacle, the Ten Commandments (Sabbath rest), sacrificial system, dietary laws, etc. But the truth has always been God wants us to come to Him for real rest. The rest and peace God intends to give us is only found in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus did say, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” So you see it isn’t simply a day the Jews see as the “Sabbath”, being Saturday, or to most Christians, “Sunday” that is a day of rest.
In the letter to the Colossians, Paul wrote “No one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day–things which are a mere shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” So you see the “Real thing” is Christ!
In the Gospel of John, Jesus told His disciples “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” The world’s version of peace is a peace that can only come when war has ended and the guns have stopped firing. Jesus’ version of peace isn’t based on this at all. His peace is a peace that we have based on His Spirit dwelling within us whether there is noise and turmoil all around us, such as these men are dealing with in the cell, or if we are in a room that is quiet and still such as our time of Bible study.
As we wrapped up our time together I prayed for them and the men in their cell. I prayed that the men would be a light to those back in the cell. I asked that God would shine through them so the others might see the peace and rest and be drawn to want the same for themselves. One thing is for sure, when you’re in jail you come to appreciate the little things in life such as the ability to find a place to simply sit still, and enjoy a bit of peace and quiet. Have you taken Jesus up on His offer of rest?
There is a young man in the Bible study group in jail who has been blessing my socks off lately. He came for a week or two without saying a word then he spoke. He shared how he seemed to always have a short fuse, so anger and violence has been a mainstay throughout his life, until now. He said, “The other day in the cell I was having a conversation with someone and another guy came up and just started talking and butting in, so I felt disrespected.” Here’s where it changed. He said, “Instead of reacting in anger I looked at this guy and just said, ‘I’m gonna pray for you’ and walked away.” These types of things are why I look forward to sharing the Word in jail.
This same young man has had an encouraging word each week ever since. The week after his victory over anger he told the group he had been called to ministry. He said, “My grandfather was a preacher and my uncle was a deacon.” He said, “when I was little I wanted to grow up and be a preacher but I went the wrong way.” His pastor came to visit him from Indiana and told him, “I’ve never visited anyone who was incarcerated before. My own son is in jail and I have never visited him.” It seems this pastor had seen God doing something in this young man way before he did. Isn’t that how it usually is though? Others seem to know God has a calling on our lives long before we do.
The most recent story this man told me was how God has reconciled him with his family. He told me, “My mom came to visit me and we had the best conversation we’ve had in probably 17 years.” This guy is only twenty seven mind you so his relationship with his mother has been strained since he was ten. He told her of his calling, and he said, “I saw a look on her face I haven’t seen since I was a boy.” He had been indicted that very morning but he said, “when she told me she was proud of me none of that mattered anymore.” This young man is a good sized fellow. He said, “I went to state four times in football and had weight lifting tournaments and my mom never came to any of them.” He said all this with a giant grin on his face and told me when he and his mother ended the visit she told him “I’m going right now to tell the preacher!” There are also signs that his brother is coming around because the brother told mom, “I think he means it!”
As our time together ended, I shared with him how God was in the business of reconciliation. The Bible tells us “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” It then goes on to say, “He has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” I told him it looks like God is doing a miracle in your life. You didn’t even have to work at it you simply began trusting Christ to work all these things out. Another inmate, who was standing by, chimed in saying, “It’s Mathew 6:33, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. If you put God first all the other stuff will fall into place.” With that the door popped open and we walked down the hall parting ways as they went into their cell and I went down the hall to booking to leave.
My wife just left. It’s probably not what you’re thinking though. She actually did just leave but it was to share Jesus with some female inmates in our local jail. She always wants me to pray with her before she goes and tonight was no different.
It’s funny how God speaks to you sometimes while you’re praying for someone else. One time as we prayed it dawned on me how the story of Jonah fit in with being in jail. Think about it for a minute. Jonah was running from what God had told him to do and he found himself in a dark, cramped, uncomfortable place. For Jonah it was the belly of a whale but for the men and women in jail and prison maybe it’s a cell full of people they don’t know or even like. Either way they are there and have no way of getting out until it’s time, just like Jonah. The hope is that, like Jonah, when the time comes for them to get out they will go and do what God tells them to do.
Tonight as we prayed Tracey prayed that the women would be receptive to God. As she said that what came to me was, “How could they not?” Of course we all have had our times when we didn’t want to hear about God or from God but I think it’s only because we hadn’t seen Him as He really is. The truth is if we get a clear picture of the loving God described to us in the scriptures we can’t resist. He’s irresistible! After Tracey finished praying I prayed and my prayer basically consisted of asking God to show Himself to these women in a clear and personal way because I know if He does that they will be drawn to Him like a moth to a flame.
The Bible tells us to “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8a). Once you draw near to Him we are told to “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8a).
I realize not everyone is called to minister to men and women in jail and prison; but I challenge you to pray for them. I ask that you would simply pray that they would come to see Jesus Christ really is the answer to their problems no matter what their charges are or how long they have to be incarcerated. God can do miraculous things through them even though they are behind bars.
“I went to church on the outside, and even read my Bible, but it was only after coming to jail that I started depending on God. While I was on the outside I depended only on myself.” This is what one man said to the group last night in Bible study.
With all the talk in Christian circles about how we should read our Bible’s more, go to church every-time the doors are open, pray more, give more, witness more etc. It all still comes down to one thing. Are we depending on God?
We have been making our way through Romans and last night we were in chapter 4. This chapter is all about Abraham and what we can learn about being justified, or made righteous, with God from what we glean from his life. The Bible tells us “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.” It wasn’t anything Abraham did himself it was all about God giving Abraham a promise and Abraham believing Him.
God’s promise to Abraham was that he would have an heir and not just any heir but an heir by which the whole world would be blessed. For those that know the story you know that Abraham, and Sarah his wife, attempted to help God out at first by coming up with a plan that involved Abraham and Sarah’s handmaiden, Hagar. Seeing how Abraham and Sarah were so old, Sarah suggested that maybe the way God would fulfill His promise would be through the union of Abraham and Hagar. Well, this of course didn’t turn out so well because while it did in fact produce a son, Ishmael, he wasn’t the one God had promised.
Without retelling the whole story here let me just say what God was promising Abraham involved something that was absolutely impossible apart from God himself performing it. You see Abraham and Sarah were well passed child-bearing years and yet God was going to give them a son. The scripture tells us Abraham “Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken…” In other words even though Abraham couldn’t see how in the world he and Sarah could have a child, he simply believed God. We are told Abraham “being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.”
It seems God simply wants us to believe Him and yet more times than not it requires us to get backed into a corner before we will. As we talked about faith, and how God is the God of the impossible, I had the guys turn to Psalm 139. As we read through the Psalm we stopped for a moment to let verse 5 soak in. It says, “You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me” (NIV). Wow! God wants us to believe Him; because He wants what is best for us, so much so He will even back us into a corner so we might finally look to Him. This is what God wants from us and exactly what these men in the jail are discovering and it lights up my spirit to hear them tell of how they are trusting God now like never before.
I realize many think this is what is commonly known as jailhouse religion but for me it is God speaking. While many want to discredit the people in jail saying, “just wait till they get out again, then we’ll see if it was real or not.” All I can say to them is okay. When it comes right down to it most of us are foxhole conversions in one way or the other aren’t we? I mean for me it was addiction for you it may be a lost job, a sick loved one, a death in the family or any number of things. The truth is the gospel is a message for the desperate and if you haven’t found yourself desperate yet more than likely you aren’t ready to receive Christ. Just as this man said, even though he went to church and read his Bible, he never really depended on God until he was locked-up and hemmed in by God.
One of the guys at the jail Bible study asked about the burning of incense and it’s significance in worship. I had to admit I didn’t have much detailed knowledge of the practice, but I am sure it points to Christ.
Throughout the Old Testament God was attempting to reveal himself through various means and methods one of them being the Tabernacle. I shared with them how there was the Minorah, or candlestick, the bread of presence, the Ark of the Covenant etc. Then I told them Jesus said, “I am the light of the World” and “I am the Bread of life.” In fact in Romans 3:25 we discover he is our propitiation for the remission of sins. The word “Propitiation in Greek is the same word for “Mercy Seat.” Wow! So Jesus is represented throughout the Tabernacle and all of its utensil’s and materials.
As we talked about the types and shadows found throughout the Old Testament I shared a story with them about music. Years ago I used to hang out in a music store, one that sold cassettes and albums. It was about the time CD’s were starting to catch on and eventually lead to the demise of cassettes all together. To this day I still have hundreds of cassettes just sitting in a closet I will probably never listen. Why, you may ask? Well, CD’s superseded them and now it seems electronic methods such as MP3 players, I Pads, I Pods etc. are pushing them out as well. What I was trying to get at with the guys is the Old Testament was full of rituals and symbolism that was meant to point us to Christ. Now, since we have Christ, we have no need of all the pictures anymore. Since we have Christ himself why spend our time and effort going through all the pointers? Why settle for less than the real thing?