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We shouldn’t be as concerned with the presents under the tree,

as we should be with the presence of Jesus in our hearts.

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Every Saturday morning I walk across Mexico Highway 190 from the home for needy children in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I volunteer,  to Centro De Intenamiento Feminil De Tanivet, otherwise know as the women’s prison.  Usually I look forward to this time where I teach English class and share the Gospel with incarcerated women.  Sometimes, I admit, I think of other things that I would rather be doing.  On those occasions,  Jesus words from Matthew 25 comes to mind, “I was in prison, and you visited me.”  They become a mantra for me which I repeat over and over.  I see Jesus’ face in the faces of my students, and thinking about each one of them, I repeat the phrase over and over, “I was in prison and you visited me.”

WOMAN in jail

 

I was in prison and you visited me.

woman in prison1

 

I was in prison and you visited me.

Womens-prison

I was in prison and you visited me.

jesusjail

 

This last Saturday was one of those days when I thought about all the things I needed to do at the home for needy children, and my mind changed gears from what I wanted to do, to what God wanted me to do for the “least of these” behind bars.  Once again those old, familiar words of Jesus came to mind, “I was in prison and you visited me.”    But that time I thought of those words differently.  Instead of Jesus saying those words to me, I began to say those words to Jesus.  “I was in prison and you visited ME!

I realized that long before I began to “visit Jesus in prison” he had visited me in prison.  I was in a spiritual prison of sin, pride and selfishness.  I was held captive by the world, the flesh and the Devil.  I was a slave to evil desires and the lusts of the flesh.  And then one day, Jesus came to visit.  He not only visited me, but thanks be to God, He set me free!    I was like Peter, bound by chains in the gloomy depths of the jail, and then the chains were broken and an angel guided him to freedom.  I was like the Hebrews in Egypt, tormented by cruel taskmasters, and then they walked to freedom, delivered by a gracious and compassionate God.

The next time I read Matthew 25, I will think differently about Jesus words.  He talked about being hungry and thirsty; being naked and a stranger.  Being sick and in prison.  Before I think about those I help who experience these conditions, I will remember that I too, spiritually speaking, was hungry and thirsty and naked and sick.  I was a stranger to God’s holiness and righteousness.  I was bound by sin and chained to a seemingly hopeless situation.  And then Jesus visited me, and set me free!  Glory hallelujah, Jesus set me free!

What jail cell are you in?  Maybe you are captive to an addiction, depression, anxiety or anger.  Jesus stands outside your cell door knocking.  He wants to come into your hopeless situation and not only visit you, but set you free.  Think about it.  He loves you and wants you to be happy.

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jail quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Give us this Day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those that sin against us.  Deliver us from the Evilsalvation One; save us from the time of trial.”

In Christianity we talk about salvation.  It’s not uncommon when one Christian meets another Christian for the first time, to ask, or to be asked, “When we’re you saved?”  Sometimes, when asked this question, I want to say, “Today.”

Of course we understand the meaning of the question – When did you begin to trust in Jesus with your life and experience salvation from Sin?  Some people can remember the day and hour that they were “saved”.  Other people, like me, can’t remember an exact time or place that “salvation” occurred, because we were brought up in the faith and as far as we can remember, we always believed that God loved us and that Jesus died for our sins and rose again so that we could have eternal life. That was me.  Sure I remember a time when I was about five years old and said “the sinners prayer” at Vacation Bible School, but I trusted in God’s saving grace before that, even though I had never verbalized it in such a formal way.  Later at age eight an evangelist came to our little farmhouse in Colorado and talked to my parents and my sister and I about “salvation” and once again I prayed a prayer that he wanted me to pray, which I prayed as sincerely as I could and seemed to make everyone happy.

Some people are looking for a great emotional experience when they talk about salvation.  I had one of those as well at Summer Bible Camp one year when I was about 12.  I cried and then felt spiritually “high” for about a week afterwards.  It was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.

Some years later I began attending Bible College and experienced other spiritual, emotional and mentally transforming times that had, to various degrees, an impact on my life.  In one sense or another, these were all “salvation” experiences.  I was “saved” each time.  Sometimes I was saved from Sin, other times I was saved from sins.  The ultimate Salvation is being made righteous in the sight of God.  Other times salvation is a changing of a wrong attitude, or an incorrect perspective on some aspect of life.  Sometimes we are saved from an unforgiving spirit. In short, some of us need to be saved everyday!  Especially me.

The greatest commandments are not things we shouldn’t do, but things we should do.   “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind soul and strength.  Love your neighbor as yourself.”  If we disobey God’s commandments we sin.  Not a day goes by when I am apathetic in some way or another to those around me.  Not a day goes by but that I turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the needs of my wife, children, brothers and sisters in Christ, or strangers that cross my path.  Many times I am much more like the priest and levite that ignored their fellow man in need, than I am like the good Samaritan who showed compassion on the poor man lying naked in his own blood along the road.  By neglecting my neighbor I am also neglecting God  and disobeying his commandment to love him with my entire being.  Truly I need to be saved everyday.

Martin Luther has said that we are continually struggling against the World, the Flesh and the Devil.  That is why Jesus taught us to pray daily to be delivered from the Evil One.  Satan prowls around like a hungry lion, seeking to destroy and kill us- mentally, spiritually, socially and physically.  Our flesh and the world are bent toward sin, thus when we pray to be saved from the time of trial, we are praying for God’s power and intervention in our daily lives.  We are asking him to maintain a hedge of protection around us, our family and our community of faith.  Indeed we need salvation everyday.

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Oh, what’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
I’m still a man in need of a Saviour

Charlie Peacock

In  our Friday night Bible study last week we took a look at Matthew, chapter 8.  The whole chapter, and that of chapter 9 as well, are chuck full of miracles. You got your basic calming the storm, casting out demons, raising the dead and 7 healings, including the blind seeing, lepers cleansed, fever gone, paralyzed man walks, and a  woman’s bleeding is stopped.  Matthew writes in 8:16 that Jesus healed ALL the sick, and that this was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah; “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

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Nathan and friend

In my last post I wrote about Jill, an ordinary Christian who helps out at the home for needy children in Oaxaca,Mexico.  I also mentioned she adopted two children.  The youngest is Nathan, whom she began to care for when he was an infant.  He is now two years old.  When she began to care for him, she was told that he had hepatitis c.  His mother was a drug addict.  Nobody would ever guess Nathan had this disease.  He was the picture of good health.  I took to calling him Bruiser because he looked so healthy and was so big.  Everything went along fine until about three weeks ago when his eyes started turning yellow.  Jill took him to the doctor who had tests done.  His liver count was about a hundred times higher than normal, and he was still hepatitis c positive.  His liver was failing.

Jill and Nathan got on a plane for the States, and saw a doctor in Chicago who specializes in children’s livers.  He took two hep c tests along with a host of other tests.  He told Jill to go back to Mexico, as there was not a lot that could be done treatment wise.  Nathan was showing some signs of improvement.  His body was fighting the virus, and all they could do was to monitor his liver.  The doctor told Jill that the hep c tests would not be ready for a week or so, and that he would contact her when they were ready.  Back in Mexico, little Nathan continued to improve.  So much so that Jill was able to travel to Foundation For His Ministry  (FFHM) children’s home in Morelia, to help them with a situation of a little girl who had fallen into a coma, and needed specialized treatment in Mexico City.  While in Morelia, a lady came up to Jill and told her that God had healed Nathan.  Jill was incredulous and simply said “Thank you.”  Shortly thereafter she received the results of the U.S. hep c tests.  Nathan had tested negative.  His body was clear of the hepatitis c disease.

But, he still has an abnormally high liver count.  He was healed of hepatitis c, but there is still a problem with his liver.  He didn’t receive the “whole healing”.  Why not?  When Jesus healed people they received the whole healing immediately.  But not Nathan, and perhaps, not you or me.  Sometimes we ask God fervently for healing of our aches and pains and diseases, and we are not healed.  After beginning my study of Matthew 8 + 9, I injured my back and was in pain.  I remembered what the leper said to Jesus, “if you are willing you can heal me.”  Jesus said, “I am willing” and healed the man.  So I said to Jesus, “if you are willing, you can heal me.”  Jesus seemed to say to me, “I am not willing.”  My back still hurts.  Why would Jesus say to one of his followers, one of his disciples, “I am not willing to heal you”?  I think the answer revolves around faith.  Faith is mentioned many times in these two chapters of Matthew.  Because of a person’s faith, or great faith, or the faith of friends or family members, people are healed.  So are we not healed today because we lack faith that Jesus can heal us?  Quite the contrary.  Any Christian who takes even a cursory look at the gospels sees that Jesus healed anyone and every one who came to him asking for healing.  Most Christians have no doubt that Jesus can heal them, which makes the question even more perplexing.   The issue is faith, but not faith that God can heal you or me, but faith in the idea that God loves us and wants us to be happy. If we believe that God loves us and wants us to be happy, then, even if we are not healed physically,  we will rejoice in God our maker, because in his wisdom and knowledge, he knows what we do not know about our future, namely, that somehow, someway, we will be happier by not being healed immediately of our physical infirmity.

Carmen is a good example of this.  I mentioned her in my last post as well.  She works in the mission school and is married to Fabian, the administrator.  She shared in devotions a couple weeks ago about having bone cancer when she was 15 years old.  She said it was a painful time; a scary time; and a time that she wouldn’t trade for the world.  Why?  Because of what she went through then, helped transform her into the happy person she is now.  She told the story of the prognosis – bone cancer in her ribs.  Her doctor said they would take out a couple of ribs, and then begin chemotherapy.  Sure enough, they took out two ribs, and after recovering from surgery, she went back to the hospital to begin chemo.  The doctors prepared her for the treatment, and then discovered that Carmen had not eaten anything, and she needed to eat something, so she went to the cafeteria to get some food.  In the meantime, the doctor received some test results back from the Mayo Clinic.  A doctor there said that if one more rib was taken out, that might cure her and she wouldn’t have to have chemo.  The doctor at the hospital discussed the situation with Carmen and her family, and they decided on removing the third  rib.  After the rib was removed, she was tested for cancer, was found to be cancer free.  She was checked regularly after that for eight years and remained cancer free.

Carmen and Ollie

Carmen and Ollie

Ask her if she would change anything about that time in her life and she would tell you, “NO.”  Why not?  Because during this difficult time in her life, a lot of her friends grew distant and stopped coming around.  She said that was a good thing, because girls from her church became her new friends, comforting her, helping her, being there for her.  Later on in life, some of her old “friends” got involved in drugs and one even went to jail.  So that was one positive – New Friends, which became True Friends.  Secondly, she thinks about all the adolescents who fight and argue and rebel against their parents, especially their mothers.  If she didn’t have cancer, she could see herself going down that path, but with the cancer, her mother became her primary care giver, and they developed a close bond that continues to this day.  Because of the faith of  her friends and mom, she grew in her faith and dependence on God.  Her love for Him grew incredibly.  After high school she went to Bible College and then began serving God along with FFHM in the Baja peninsula.  Now she is enjoying and glorifying God here in Oaxaca.

Finally, the mission pastor here showed a few short video clips of an incredible man named Nick during his sermon last Sunday.  Nick was born without arms or legs.  He begged God to heal him, to give him arms and legs, as a boy.  He wanted to be normal, like all the other boys.  God didn’t give him arms and legs.  He begged God for a reason why He made him so different from everyone  else.  He tried to commit suicide in the bathtub at age eight.  He wasn’t successful, partly because he thought of the great love his parents had for him, and how bad they would feel if he killed himself.  Finally he came to the realization that God loved him and wanted him to be happy.  On the video clips he looked like one of the happiest people I have ever seen, as he travels the world telling people that God loves them and gave his Son for them, so that, they too, could be full of joy, peace and purpose.

Ultimately all Christians are healed.  Sometimes they are healed by a supernatural touch from God. A lot of times they are healed by the bodies natural healing process.   Other times they are healed by medicines and doctors.  If they die, they are risen to new, healthy lives, living in the immediate presence of our loving heavenly Father.  One way or another, we all experience healing, the whole healing, and nothing but the healing, so, thank you God!

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It is not the miraculousness of God’s acts that constitutes their significance, it is their redeeming and informing and instructing content.  God’s miraculous activity is not against nature but against sin.  A miracle is not an abnormal or unnatural occurrence presupposing the normality of nature, but a redeeming reinstatement of the normality of world and life through the new dominion of God, which stands antithetically against the kingdom of this world.  Miracles cause surprise because people have become accustomed to the abnormality of sin and its curse of death and terror.  Terrance Tiessen in Providence and Prayer

As part of Jesus conclusion to the sermon on the Mount, he says “Enter through the narrow gate….small is the gate and narrow gatenarrow is the path that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  I read those words of Christ and began to ponder what it was that Jesus wanted his hearers to take away as they headed back down the mountain to their homes.  I wondered what Jesus wanted me to learn from this statement as I was about to begin my day of work at the home for needy children in Oaxaca,Mexico.  I couldn’t quite get a handle on it, so I gave up and went outside to begin my day.

The first thing that I encountered was a big mess of fruit and vegetables that needed to be cleaned up.  Somebody made a mess and I needed to clean it up.  I was upset.  Inwardly I began to grumble and complain.  It’s not right.  It’s not fair.  I began to think bad of the brother who had made the mess.  I began to judge him.  Then it hit me.  I was not entering the narrow gate that leads to life, but was trundling down the broad road that leads to destruction.  My negative attitude had destroyed my peace and joy.  In a way I had destroyed my brother in my mind.  I felt God saying to me, “Get with it and go through the narrow gate!”

Doesn’t Come Naturally

Now I was beginning to understand.  Entering the narrow gate means going against what comes naturally, and following the principles that Jesus had been laying down in his sermon.  Principles of having a kingdom heart.  Principles like not judging; forgiving; loving those who do wrong.  Jesus was saying that it is easy to follow the flesh and do what comes naturally – that is what the crowd is doing who enter the wide gate and go down the broad road that leads to destruction.

The last story he gives us in his sermon is the well known story of the wise builder and the foolish builder.  In his introduction to this parable Jesus says, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock.”  Jesus could just as well as said that everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who entered through the narrow gate.

What are some of the other words that Jesus said that we need to put into practice?  Other things we need to do to enter through the narrow gate?

Jesus said don’t be angry with your brother.  Don’t lust.  Don’t do acts of righteousness to be seen by people so that you will be honored.  He said his disciples are to love their enemies and pray for those that persecute you.  He said to turn the other  cheek and give to those that ask and go the extra mile. He said we are to treat others like we want to be treated.  These are not easy things, but are marks of a true disciple with a kingdom heart who strives to enter the small gate and go down the narrow path.

Does God Really Want Us To Be Happy?

If we really believe that God is good and that He loves us and wants us to be happy, then we needn’t worry about anything.  At the end of Matthew chapter six, Jesus teaches his disciples that not worrying is part of what it means to enter through the narrow gate.  Jesus said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.”  He goes on to say that your Heavenly Father feeds the birds and dresses the flowers and you are more valuable than they are.  People without Christ in  their lives worry about many things; get stressed out at work and home, and are headed down the broad path toward destruction.  Worry and stress destroys a persons health, mental outlook, happiness and relationships.  Trusting God to meet our physical and spiritual needs leads to health, happiness and life.

Everyone wants to be happy.  C.S. Lewis writes that God desires our happiness more than we ourselves desire to be happy.  God has provided explicit, written instructions on how to be happy in the Manual of Life called the Bible.  Those who enter the wide gate that leads to unhappiness and destruction disregard God’s Word.  Those who love God and trust him and put into practice His principles found in the Bible enter through the narrow gate that leads to life.  C.S. Lewis writes, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to  go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.”

Jesus put the question to the crowd and to his disciples, are you going to be wise and put what you have just heard me preach into practice, or are you going to be foolish and ignore what I have just said?  Are you going to enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, or continue going down the broad path that leads to destruction?

I ask in the vain of C.S. Lewis,  are we going to happily make mud pies the rest of our lives, or are we going to make sand castles by the sea?

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The narrow  gate is not, as so  often assumed, doctrinal correctness.  The narrow gate is obedience – and the confidence in Jesus necessary to it.  We can see that it is not doctrinal correctness because many people who  cannot even understand the correct doctrines nevertheless place their full faith  in him.  Moreover, we find many people who seem to be very correct doctrinally but have hearts full of hatred and unforgiveness.  The broad gate, by contrast is simply doing whatever I want to do.        Dallas Willard in The Divine Conspiracy

FOCUS ON GOD

It seems to me that because God loves us and wants us to be happy, that when we go to church we should focus on Him. We should thank Him, glorify Him, and honor Him.  Our attention should be on God.  But if you think about the words in most of the songs we sing, the attention and focus is mainly on us.  Particularly me, myself and I.  “Here I am to worship”.  “I surrender all.”  “Above all, He thought of me.”  When I go to church, I don’t want to think about me.  I want to think first of all about God and His mercy, grace, love, power, kindness, compassion, gentleness and presence.  Secondly, I want to focus on the community of faith around me, the called out ones.  God brings us together as the family of God, and its proper for us as a community to worship and adore Him with songs and words that reflect our togetherness; words like “us” and “we” and “our”, rather than “me”, “myself” and “I”.

ONE DAY LESS
It seems to me that everyday we should thank God for one day LESS.  A lot of Christians thank God everyday for one day more.  One day more to enjoy God.  One day more of life.  One day more to live for God.   While that is all good, I think it’s better to think about the best – and the best thing that will happen to us is that one day we will see God face to face.  We will be in His immediate presence, engulfed in His love, free from this world and its sin and pain and  suffering.  Each day we live is one day less until we are with God.  Paul says in Philippians one, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain….I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.”  In the second chapter of Peter’s second letter, he describes the awful wicked world that we live in.  In the following chapter, Peter writes, “You  ought to live holy and godly lives as you LOOK FORWARD to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise, we are LOOKING FORWARD to a new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells.”  Sounds like Peter and Paul were thanking God for one day LESS.

IT’S IN OUR HANDS

It seems to me that everyday we should thank God for putting the day in OUR hands.  I hear a lot of Christians telling God that they are going to put the day in His hands.  I don’t quite understand that because everything is in God’s hands, including the days.  As far as I can see, the real miracle, the real special thing, is that God puts the day in OUR hands, and gives us the freedom to use it as we see fit.  We can use it for good or bad; for blessing or cursing; for making the world a better place or worse place; to bring beauty and productivity into the  kingdom, or ugliness and destruction.  God has put the day into OUR hands, and it seems to me we should thank God for that and seek His guidance for the best way to use the day to glorify and honor Him.

LIVE IN THE CHURCH

It seems to me that Christians should not live in the world and go to church, but that we should live in the Church and go into the world.  God calls us into a community of faith, into the Body of Christ.  We best flesh out our “personal relationship” with God, within the framework of fellowship within the Church.  God doesn’t want no “Lone Ranger” Christians who don’t participate in a Christian Community.  “Lone Ranger” Christians who want to live in the world and occasionally go to church.  No, God calls us to follow Him as a body, as a group of disciples whom He sends out into the world to be salt and light; to be healers and helpers; to be pro-claimers of the Good News that God is inviting people into the Kingdom of God.

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In the plan of the Great Dance plans without number interlock, and each movement becomes in its season the breaking into flower of the whole design to which all else has been directed.  Thus each is equally at the center and none are there by being equals, but some by giving place and some by receiving it, the small things by their smallness and the  great things by their greatness, and all the patterns linked and looped together by the unions of a kneeling with a sceptred love.  Blessed be He!       C.S. Lewis in Perelandra

When you think of a ruler, a  person of power, who comes to mind?  How about when you think of a shepherd?  What images come to mind.  The thoughts that come to mind when we think of Rulers and  Shepherds are normally at both ends of the human spectrum.  When we think of Rulers, we think of kings, presidents, dictators and prime ministers.  When we consider what a Shepherd is, we think of humility, kindness, gentleness and meekness.  Not normally qualities found in most Rulers.

Wouldn’t it be great, if a ruler governed like a shepherd, or if a shepherd had the power to rule?  I think so, and thankfully, the combination of the two is not just wishful thinking. I have started to read the book of Matthew recently.  In chapter two we have the story of the Magi, the Wise Men, traveling to Jerusalem in search of the one “born kind of the Jews.”  This gets King Herod’s attention.  He doesn’t like the idea of any competition to his vaulted position.  He calls together the religious leaders and teachers together and asks them where the Messiah, the Anointed One, the  great King, is to be born.  They tell King Herod and the Magi, that the scriptures prophesy that the New King is to be born in Bethlehem.  The prophet Micah had foretold hundreds of years earlier that out of Bethlehem will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.

When I read that, I smiled and thought “Wlhat a great idea.  A Ruler who Shepherds.”  Then I thought about Bethlehem, otherwise known as the City of David.  David was born in Bethlehem.  David was a shepherd who became a great ruler.  David wrote the 23rd Psalm describing the LORD as a shepherd, who leads His flock to green pastures and still waters.  Who protects His flock with His rod, much as David had done when he  killed a lion and a bear who tried to harm his sheep.  This Shepherd David became the great King David, a man after God’s own heart.

Now we hear the good news of a  King which is to be born who will rule his people like a shepherd. King Herod had no intentions of ruling his people like a shepherd.  Hearing the prophecy of Micah, he was plotting to kill the new born king.  He sent the Magi on their way to Bethlehem with the instructions that when they found the baby king, they were to send word to him, so that he too could go and worship the newborn king.  The Magi found the child, were overjoyed and worshiped Him.  They did not, however, tell King Herod, as they were warned in a dream not to.  When the Magi did not report back, the wicked King Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem.  Not much gentleness and kindness in that act.

Later on in His life, Jesus lamented the lack of shepherding qualities in the secular and religious leaders of Isreal.  In the jesus shepherdGospel of Mark, chapter 6, we read that  “when he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.” One of the most important things that Jesus taught the people in the Gospel of John is that He is the Good Shepherd.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father;                                                                                                                                         and I lay down my life for the sheep.                                                                                                                                                                        And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.                                                                                                                                                      I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.                                                                                                                                  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.                                                                                                                                                               For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.

Jesus, the  King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the ultimate, supreme Ruler, gave His life for His sheep.  The Good Shepherd died, so that we might live.  Then He rose from the dead, rose to heaven in glory, and now rules His people with the heart of a shepherd, because He loves us and wants us to be happy.

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The picture of God as Shepherd demands a God who cares.  Being a Shepherd is about caring.  The motivation for God’s care is his goodness.  Allan Coppedge, from his book, Portraits of God

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

 

 

Last week the Family Schwab went on a little vacation to Puerto Escondido, our favorite sea-side city.  There is a tiny cove we like to go to.  Normally the waves aren’t so big and Sally and Kelly can play in the water.  Last week was strangely different though.  The waves were huge, and it wasn’t safe for my little ones to go into the ocean, so they contented themselves playing in the sand on the beach.

 

playa carrizalillo

playa carrizalillo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There was an elderly man that was not content to simply lie on the beach and just take things in.  He was in the water sitting  among some rocks.  One wave crashed into him and down he went.  I was concerned that he had whacked his head against a rock.  He looked a bit discombobulated for a few moments, and then returned to his original position among the rocks.  I settled into a comfortable position to read my book, occasionally looking up to see how the octogenarian was fairing.  He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.

 

At one point, an unusually large wave hit the beach, and down went the old man, tumbling wildly, flailing away helplessly, as the surf did its best to pound the guy into submission.  His wife noticing what had happened, jumped from her beach chair and rushed, as fast as an old lady can rush on sand, toward her husband.  I wondered how she could possibly help him.  Then I realized she wasn’t going out to help him.  She was going out to laugh at him.  Making her way to the waters edge, she was busting a gut, she was laughing so hard.  Her spouse finally got to his feet, got stabalized once again, and then he too, started laughing.  It was a wonderful sight to behold.   An elderly couple, laughing like children, at the beach, thoroughly glorifying God by enjoying Him and His creation.

 

Later that evening, Anita, the kids and I were at our hotel, which has a large, common balcony overlooking Puerto Escondido and the bay.  I enjoy relaxing on the balcony, looking at all the night lights reflecting off the water.  One light was from a light house.  It was flashing and rotating, warning sea captains away from the jagged cliffs.  Another light that caught my attention was a great search light, moving back and forth in the night sky, probably inviting tourists and townsfolk alike to some kind of grand opening or special event.

faro de puerto escondido

faro de puerto escondido (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course there were thousands of normal lights fringing the bay, illuminating houses, and making the streets and walkways visible and safe.  The main highway through Puerto Escondido runs right in front of our hotel.  Looking out from the balcony, I can see a fairly constant flow of traffic.  Lots of taxi’s, trucks, buses and motorcycles.  At one point I saw a motor scooter coming down the way.  It carried a what seemed to be a family of three.  The driver stopped his scooter at a wide spot in the road, right in front of our hotel, under a street lamp.  The lady and child got off the bike, and then the man parked the motorcycle as far to the edge as he could.  The lady opened her backpack and proceeded to take out some food and something to drink.  It seemed they were having a little picnic, under the street light, on the edge of the road.  There was a small ledge there for them to sit on.  They seemed not to mind the traffic flowing by.  They had a light to see their food, to see each other, and the cars speeding by could see them.  What could be better?

 

Thinking about these different lights reminded me of Jesus.  He said he was the “Light of the world”.  I thought his light as a lighthouse, keeping people from making shipwreck of their souls on the rocky cliffs of sin, bad-gunky, and evil.  I thought of his light as a search light, spanning the world, inviting people into the kingdom of God, into a right relationship with him, into community.  I thought of His illuminating light that offers people a safe place to enjoy communion with him, to enjoy peace, while the mad world whirls by.  His light that shows me the truth of his love, mercy and grace.

 

I am so happy for His light in my life.  His protecting light.  His inviting light.  His illuminating light.  And I know that He wants me to reflect this light in a dark world.  He wants me to shine a protecting light, an inviting light, and an illuminating light.  God wants all of us to make this world a brighter place.  Let’s do it.

 

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“Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16

 

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Next blog – Participating in the Divine Nature