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We all have times in our lives when we are really looking forward to some special event.  Maybe a wedding, the birth of a child, a graduation, promotion, or a vacation.  My youngest daughter, Kelly, will be three in June.  She is really looking forward to her birthday!  Her sister had a birthday in March, complete with cupcakes and pizza and a trip to Boing-Boing, a children’s play land in Oaxaca city, here in Mexico.  Her sister Sally received many gifts and Kelly cried because she received none.  We consoled her by telling her that her birthday was coming up, and then she would be the one receiving the gifts.  Since then, a few of her little friends have had birthdays, complete with all the trimmings and gifts, and Kelly knew that she just had to wait for her special day to arrive.  She is really looking forward to that day.  On any given day she can be heard singing “happy birthday” and eating pretend birthday cake and swinging a stick at imaginary pinatas.
How about you and me?  Is there anything that we are looking forward to that much?  According to St. Peter, there is a day coming that should excite us more than all the birthdays, holidays and vacations combined.  It’s called the “Day of the Lord”.

Peter writes about this Day in the last chapter of his second book.  This “Day of the Lord” is characterized by two things: one, the destruction of the heavens and the earth, and two, a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.  I think this is what Peter was really looking forward to.  In chapter two Peter describes some nasty stuff in this present world to indicate that this place is definitely not the home of righteousness.  He writes about false prophets, false teachers, destructive heresies, denying the Lord, depraved conduct, greed, exploitation, lawlessness, unrighteousness, corrupt desires of the flesh, arrogance, blasphemy, doing harm, carousing, adulterers, seducers, sinners, lovers of the wages of wickedness, lustful desires of the flesh, slaves of depravity, and people who turn their backs on God.  What a wretched stew pot this world is.  No wonder Peter says three times that he is looking forward to the destruction of this world, and the creation of a new world which will be the home of righteousness.

Me too!  I not only long to be free of the wickedness of this world, but the wickedness in me.  I know that if I look closely at my life, I can see elements in me, in my soul, of every thing Peter mentions, in my very being, and I hate it; I hate the struggle I face everyday against the world, my flesh, and the devil.  I hate it when I see on the news, or read in the paper’s of people being murdered, children being abused, the poor being taken advantage of.  I hate it when I see children with birth defects, when I hear of people dying of cancer, when I learn of loved ones suffering.

So what is God waiting for?  The world  of Noah was wicked, and God destroyed it by water.  Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked cities and God destroyed them by fire and brimstone.   The first century world and our world are full of evil, why doesn’t God go ahead and do it in?  Get it over with?

Peter answers that question in chapter three.  He tells his  readers that “the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  This verse, and the idea behind it, remind me of Paul and the  Corinthians.  Acts 18 tells us the story.  Paul went to Corinth and was preaching and teaching his heart out, giving his all to the people in the city, and what happens?  Verse six says that some Jews opposed Paul and became abusive.  I can just hear Paul screaming out in frustration, “That’s the thanks I get?!  I’m outta here!”    That night God speaks to him in a vision.  The Lord said, “Keep on speaking, do not be silent.  I  am with you and I have many people in this city.”  God is telling Paul to be patient, continue on with his good work, because God had “many people” that He had chosen  for  salvation in the city of Corinth.  Most of them had not heard the Good News of salvation, of God’s love and mercy.  They didn’t know that  God loved them and wanted them to be happy.

God says the same thing to His followers in this wicked world.  This is  not your home, you are just a passin’ thru.  You are strangers and aliens in a foreign land.  I know you long to go home and be with me forever in the perfect land of righteousness, but just wait a bit.  There are a lot of people that  I have chosen (Peter’s first letter is  addressed to the elect, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father; 1:1,2), that are the elect, that have not yet heard the message that the  Kingdom of God is near; that it is accessible to them, and that they have received a royal invitation from the King of Kings to be a part of  it.  It is your job to get the  message out, give the invitations, spread joy and grace and compassion to all around.  And then one day, the  work will be complete, and all my followers will come home.  What a day of rejoicing that will be!

One day this world as we know it will be utterly destroyed by fire, according to Peter.  A new world, the home of God and righteousness and all that is good and lovely, whole and just, peaceful and complete, will replace this bad old place, and I am really looking forward to going home.  How about you?

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Our present purpose is inseparable from God’s stated eternal purpose for us to rule the  earth forever as his children and heirs.  That is at the core of  the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s defining statement:”Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”  We will glorify God and  find joy in him as we do what he has made us to do,” serve him as resurrected beings and carry out his plan for developing a Christ centered, resurrected culture in a resurrected universe.”       Randy Alcorn in his book Heaven

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Next blog – The Ruler and the Shepherd

In my last bog post I wrote about going to the prison across the street and teaching English.  As I was writing a bunch of thoughts came to me, things I thought about writing but that didn’t seem appropriate to that entry.  So here I am to write about life I’m general in that particular prison that I go to every Tuesday afternoon.

First, a little about the history of that prison.  It is a relatively new prison, built about ten years ago.  It was originally built as women’s prison.  When I arrived at FFHMs Home for needy children, in 2005, the new prison across the road had about 12 women incarcerated there.  In 2006-2007, violence and rebellion broke out in the city of Oaxaca,Mexico,  First the teachers union took over the city because their demands weren’t met by the governor of the state, whom they hated. They were soon joined by various communist and radical socialist groups, which plunged the city into turmoil for over a year.  Finally the president of Mexico sent in the troops to rescue the capital city of Oaxaca, and made hundreds of arrests.  The question was, where do we put all these new arrestees?  The answer was at the New, near empty prison just outside of Tlacolula.  The new inmates were landed inside the prison in military helicopters, and the population jumped from 12 to over 200.
Soon after that our mission pastor began making regular trips to the prison, preaching the good news that even though their bodies were behind bars, their spirits could be free.  A few months after that, I began teaching English there.
I mentioned earlier that I am going to write about General life in that prison.  First I am going to write about my general life or experience there and then about what I see or have learned about the inmates General experience living there.
It takes me about 15 minutes to walk from the children’s home to the prison.  Outside the prison is a state police outpost.  The officer on duty wants to see my identification and asks me who I am going to visit.  I tell him I am an English teacher and that I am going to my class.  After all these years most of the police know me and just wave me on.  I proceed to the main gate, arriving about 3 pm.  The prison guards are supposed to start letting the public in at 3pm, but they normally don’t visitors in until 5, 10, or even 15 minutes past the hour.  There are usually a half dozen or so family members waiting to be admitted.  Almost all of the visiting families have a bag or two of food to bring in as well as a big bottle of Coca Cola, Mexico’s unofficial national drink.   At some point the guard will open the huge metal door, and let people in, three at a time.  Finally I am allowed in.  I give my special teacher identification to the guard, and then another guard, almost always a female, goes through my bag to make sure that I am not trying to smuggle in contraband, like weapons, drugs, or photos.  Once my bag is cleared, I need to be cleared.  First they make sure I am wearing the correct clothes.  Black, navy blue and camouflage clothes are not allowed, nor are hats, shorts or erotic clothing. If I am alright in the clothing department, a male guard escorts me into a tiny room and closes the door.  He pats me down, checking for knives, guns or the always dangerous cell phone.  If he decides I’m not a risk to myself or others, he opens another door and I retrieve my bag and make my way to checkpoint number two; Control.
It’s called Control because the two or three guards there control who goes from one side of the prison to the other.  One side consists of prisoners who are still on “trial” (see my last blog).  The other side consists of convicts.  My classroom is on the convict side.  I greet the guards, who always seem to be good natured and are friendly.  Some call me James Bond.  One guard likes to be called after the actor Van Dam.  I ask permission to pass, and ask them to unlock my classroom.  I always stop by to say “hi” to my ex-student Tony.  We both used to live in Santa Cruz, California.
When I get to my classroom, it is almost always locked, so my two or three students and I begin class sitting on a bench outside.  Eventually a guard will show up and we go inside.
The classroom has a huge white board and about 30 desks.  My first class is basic English, and my second class is do advanced students.  We finish about 5:30 and I make my way out of the prison and back to the mission.  Thus, my life at the prison.
The average inmates life at this prison is like nothing you have seen in movies regarding American inmates in American prisons.  In the movies, and in prisons in the U.S., like Alcatraz, there are bars all over the place.  In this Mexican prison, I have never seen any bars, although I have never been to see their cells, which probably have bars.  I have been in a couple Mexican prisons, and they are like little villages.  They elect a president.  They have little kiosks where they make things to sell, like belts, little boats, pictures, wallets, sandals, baskets, and lots and lots of soccer balls (receiving about 80 cents for each ball they sew together).  Some inmates tend gardens, make tacos, sell fruit and vegetables, or cut hair.  Generally there are families eating together and children playing on swings or teeter-totters.  There is a basketball court that also serves as a soccer play area, and there is almost always a spirit game of basketball or soccer going on.  Usually I forget that I  am in a prison,  because the atmosphere is more like the downtown plaza than a prison.  Most of the prisoners have a spouse or children on the outside, so they work at some kind of trade or job and sell their products to fellow prisoners, visitors, or their family members take the products out of the prison to sell.  There is a big wood shop where some inmates make furniture or frames for video games.

They also receive different types of education.  A prisoner who was soon to be released was joking with me that he didn’t want to be released.  Here at prison he was receiving free cooking classes, English classes, a computer course and Tae Kwon Do training.

A few times a year they have special celebrations, parties or fiestas.  When I was there last Tuesday, they were dismantling a circus like tent where they had had a special Mothers Day celebration.  During the Christmas and Easter season, different churches come in and provide meals, music and ministry to the prisoners.  In Mexico they have a Day of the Prisoner, and those confined within the concrete walls receive extra good  food and drink, along with bands playing their favorite tunes.

So there it is, life in a Mexican prison; my life for a few short hours a week, and what the inmates experience for months or years on end.  All things considered, it could be a lot worse.  Thank God for those who visit the imprisoned and help make their stay a lot better – life changing for those who  choose to follow Christ.

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Next blog – Looking Forward to Going Home

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Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you, yourselves were suffering.  Hebrews 13:3

I was released from prison last Tuesday at 5:43 pm.  A prison guard walked me to the main gate, put his key in the lock,opened the huge metal door and let me out.  I was a free man.  It felt great to be free, to be liberated from the iron bars and concrete walls.  But I was also thinking of the friends that I had left behind.  Bernardo, Aries, Guillermo, Armando, and Marzalino to name a few. I was sad that they were still doing time.  Oh well, I thought, I will be able to encourage them next Tuesday.
Your see, I teach an English class at a prison that is across the highway from Cristo Por Su Mundo, (Christ for the world), home for needy children, where I live with my family, and participate with God in helping “the least of these” as Jesus referred to the oppressed and downtrodden of the world.  These include the children and prisoners that most of humanity forgets about and leaves behind.  Every Tuesday afternoon I walk across the highway and enter a whole new world.  I get to leave after a few hours.  My students, my friends, have to stay.

One day I was walking alone in the hills that surround this mission.  This was about five years ago.  I was talking to God about my life.  I was thanking Him that he allowed me to cooperate with Him at the home for needy children.  I was thinking how fortunate I am to be participating in the Divine Nature that Peter talks about in 2 Peter 1 (see my last blog).  Part of participating with God is to make beauty; to  make the world a more beautiful place everyday, and I am able to do that by planting and maintaining the gardens here at the mission.  But I was thinking, what else could I do?   God, what else do you want me to do?  What else can we cooperate on in helping this hurting world?   Then the verse from Matthew 25, “I was in prison and you did not visit me.”  The words of Jesus on the last day, judgement day, convicting me.

The mission already had a couple of preachers and teachers who would go to  the various prisons in the area to minister in word and song, and I felt like I could and should do something different, to reach out to other prisoners and help them in a way that they could get a sense of  the love of God, without a Bible preacher or teacher.  The idea came to me that I could teach an English class.  Before I came to Mexico, I had never taught English, but I realized that the most important thing about being a teacher of anything, is to simply know more than your students.  So I decided I was qualified and at the request of some people here at the home for needy children, I began teaching English.  That was going well, so now I would be going across the highway to the prison to see if anyone there wanted to learn English.  There was- and I was there to stay, at least for about three hours every Tuesday afternoon.

All my students are great.  I can’t believe any of them have done anything to deserve prison.  I have never asked any of them why they are, or were, there.  I don’t think  it is any of my business.  When I see them, I don’t want to see them as murderers, thieves, rapists, drug dealers or extortionists.  I want to see them as people who were created in the image of God, people who have made mistakes in life, as I have.  People who want to learn English, but more important people who want a friend, people who want to hear the Good News of God’s love, even if it is in the context of an English class.  The students come  and go, both to class and to and from prison.  Two of my students were released, and within months were back in prison, back in my class.  Most have been released and are leading productive lives.

I don’t understand a lot about the Mexican judicial system, but it seems that you are guilty until proven innocent, and you don’t get a trial before a judge.  What happens is you are accused, sent to prison, and then your lawyer writes to the judge, explaining your side of the situation, then the other lawyer answers with a letter, and it goes back and forth like that until the man is declared not guilty and gets out of prison, or is found guilty and continues to live behind bars.  This process can go on for years. There are two sections to this prison; one for people who have been conviction, the other for dozens of men and women who are “on trial” in their cells.   One of my favorite students, a very intelligent man, who speaks remarkably good English, has been in prison for the whole time I have been teaching, waiting for his case to be resolved.

I have had some students who have been in prison in the U.S. and in Mexico.  I ask them what is the major difference.  They tell me that if you are in prison in the U.S., you are probably guilty.  If you are in prison in Mexico, there is a good chance that you are innocent.

The situation for many in prison in Mexico is tragic.  Many prisoners feel helpless, and that their situations are hopeless.  I thank God that He  reaches out to those men and women behind bars and concrete walls, and reaches into their hearts with hope, mercy, love and grace.  While many suffer injustice from the system, they receive joy and peace from God.  While the government says “You are to live incarcerated in prison”  God says, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”

I thank God that I am free, on the outside and the inside.  I also thank God for setting the captives free; free in spirit; free in heart; free in soul.  Those whom the Son sets free, are free indeed.

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Stone walls do  not a  prison  make, Nor iron bars a cage ;

Minds innocent and quiet take that for an heritage;

If I have freedom in my love, and in my soul am free,

Angels alone, that soar above, enjoy such liberty.

Richard Lovelace (1618-1658), from To Althea, from Prison

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Next blog – Life in One Mexican Prison

I have been stuck In 2 Peter chapter one for a couple of weeks now.  It is a rich chapter and also a bit difficult to understand in certain places.  I don’t like to leave a chapter until I have sucked all the meat out of it that I think is possible .  Thus I am still I this chapter.  It’s amazing how you can spend so much time in one portion of scripture, reading it and rereading it, and about the time you think you are ready to leave it, something jumps out and surprises you. That happened a couple of days ago.  I was surprised by divine nature.  Peter tells hos readers that God has promised we are participants in God’s nature.  I had read that verse a dozen times and never thought much about it.  This time it stunned me to think that God wants me to participate in his divine nature.  To be his servant , sure , that’s obvious.  To obey his commands, of course.  To be a part of his kingdom and to work for it, I think all Christians understand that.  But to participate in his divine nature?  That is definitely out of this world.  I can much more readily identify with Paul when he says that he is the worst sinner (I thought I was);  I know where the guy is coming from who said “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief”;  it is easier for me to understand King David and his foibles  then to imagine God wants me to participate in his divine nature.

So what on earth could Peter possibly mean about participating in God’s divine nature?  Peter says in the previous verse that God has promised us this.  I have been reading the bible for at least 45 years, and I couldn’t recall any promises to this effect.  I was mentally seeking out these promises and was drawing blanks.  One promise I do remember is that those who seek will find.

The next morning, during the regular devotion time we have at the home for needy children where I participate here in Oaxaca,Mexico, the person that was speaking had us look at the gospel of John, chapter 14.  There they were, a whole bunch of promises from the very lips of Jesus.  He promised his followers that the father would dwell in them, Jesus himself would be in them, and if that wasn’t enough, they would be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The whole trinity is in me! How’s that for participating in the divine nature?

John 14 promises – I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever…

                                        I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.

                                         If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.

Also John 15 – If a man remains in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.

                               If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in His love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

So there it is – God has decided that us frail, mortal, weak, humans can participate in His Divine Nature.  God certainly loves us and wants us to be happy!  Enjoy God and His Divine Nature, today and everyday!

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Jesus was now in charge; he was already, now, calling the nations to account.  And he was going to do so through his followers, those to whom he had given his Spirit.  This, whether we like it or not, is where we come in.”  N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus

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Next blog – Released From Prison