Tag Archives: prison

Are We Goats Thinking We’re Sheep?

I’ve got Haiti on my heart this morning. Partly because I’m headed back in a few months and partly because we watched a video from Richard Stearns from World Vision last night. He reminded us of the scripture in Matthew 25:35-40 where Jesus told of the day where God will separate the sheep from the goats. Jesus said that He will turn to the sheep and say, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.’ (MSG)”

What stood out to me last night as he read that scripture was the response of the sheep. They said, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ (MSG)”. They didn’t even realize it was Jesus they were doing it to. They were doing those things because God’s love compelled them to.

That’s a stark contrast from where the Church is today. The Barna Group released the results of a study yesterday. They interviewed over 700 self-professed Christians and asked a series of 20 questions about attitudes and actions. In the end, only 14% of self-professed Christians were found to have the attitudes and actions of Jesus. Another 14% had the actions of Jesus, but not His attitude. The results show a lot more and if you like, you can see it here.

If we add those numbers together, barely a quarter of Christians act like Jesus. He spent His time in ministry to the poor, the hurting, the outcasts, the leppers and the unwanted. He spent very little time with those who were looking for power and prestige. He made it clear that He wanted us to do the same. You can see that in what He said in Matthew 25. The ones who made it to Heaven were those who fed the hungry, gave drinks to the thirsty, sheltered the homeless, gave clothes to the poor and visited those who were sick or in prison. When is the last time we’ve done any of those things?

We’ve spent millions building bigger, more stylish churches and only thousands on taking care of the poor. I look at those results of the Barna group and ask myself, “What area do I fall in? Do I have both the attitudes and actions of Jesus? Am I in the 28% or in the other 72%?” Those are tough questions that God and I are going to work through. I encourage you to ask the same questions. If you’re not in the 28%, what can you start doing today to move in that direction? How can you be one of the sheep instead of a goat?

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Praise in Prison

Our associate pastor was talking this past Sunday and brought up Paul and Silas. He was referencing the time when they were in prison and were shackled down. At midnight they began to praise God and to sing. During that time of praise that all the other prisoners could hear, an earthquake hit under the prison and freed all the prisoners from their shackles. Instead of leaving, every prisoner stayed put. The pastor then said, “Sometimes God will free you from your chains, but leave you in the prison in order to minister.”

That has stuck with me this week. We’ve all heard sermon after sermon about praising God in your midnight, but I never heard anyone talk about what he mentioned. We’re so eager to get the chains off that when they do fall off, we run out of the place God had us. We never stop to think that just because we’re free of the chains it doesn’t mean we’re necessarily free from the prison. There may still be work to do there.

The prison guard heard the chains fall off. He knew the prisoners were free and that he was no match for them. He assumed they had gotten away or were going to. If that was to occur, he would be killed. As his mind raced through every negative scenario, he decided to take his own life. As he drew his sword and held it up to kill himself, the very men that were set free called out to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We’re all here!”

The guard called for lights and went down into the dungeon where Paul and Silas were, fell on his face before them and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” The quake that night wasn’t about freeing the prisoners, it was about saving a soul. Paul and Silas were in tune with God enough that they knew not to run in their freedom. Instead, they used their freedom in that dungeon to minister to someone who wouldn’t have listened to the Gospel any other way.

The guard got his family so they could hear the message. They too were saved. Then he took Paul and Silas into his home, cleaned their wounds and fed them. The next morning they were freed from the jail by the city. Even though the chains that bound them had been released, they were still prisoners until the night was over. Had they fled when the shackles fell off, they would not have been legally free and would have been considered fugitives. The story would have had a different ending.

How is your story going to end? We’re all prisoners to something. When we’ve learned to praise in our prison and we’ve been set free, we shouldn’t be so quick to run out of the prison. There may be others who need to be set free as well while you’re there. God can set us free from the things that bind us in order to minister in the place He has us. Where does God have you now? Are you so concerned with getting your chains off that you haven’t noticed others who need your help? Ask God to teach you to open your eyes in the prison you’re in and then start to praise.

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Freedom Through Perspective

A co-worker of mine has a drawing on his desk of a bird eating a frog. You can’t see the frog’s head because it’s in the bird’s mouth. With one of his legs that is still outside of the mouth of the bird, the frog grabs the bird by the throat to prevent it from swallowing him. The caption reads, “Never give up!” It’s a funny drawing, but there’s a great message in it too. Most people in that situation would have given up. They can’t see the light of day. They’re being swallowed by their problems. All hope seems lost.

Paul the Apostle was in a similar situation. He was in jail often. His life was always being threatened. He was beat up, stoned, ship wrecked and had to face judges. When things seemed at their worst, he still found a way to praise God. One of my favorite stories of him was when he was in the dungeon of the prison. He was shackled with no hope of getting out. At midnight, he was singing praises to God.

If you’ve never been in a prison before, I can tell you there’s not much reason to be happy. There’s no joy there. Our prisons today have power, sewer, water, air conditioning, TV, food and more. Back then, prison was prison In every sense if the word. There was no hope for anyone that was there. Paul’s hope didn’t rely on his external circumstances though.

He understood that the things that happen to us are only temporary. As he sang, an earthquake shook the prison and the shackles that held him physically released him. His physical body became as free as his spirit. Not only did his shackles come off, but so did those of everyone in the prison. Praise is powerful enough to not only free you, but to free those around you who do not have the strength to praise.

We studied in church this week from the book “Love & Respect” by Dr. Emerson Eggrichs. The chapter we studied was called, “My response is my responsibility”. Even though the book deals with marriage, the principle that was shared applies to all areas of your life. Other people do not control your response. You do. You choose how you respond to situations created by others. They can’t make you do anything. How you react is your responsibility.

Paul’s response to troubles, persecutions, prisons and trials was never one if despair. It was always of hope. In II Corinthians 4:16-18 he says, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without His unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times.” He understood, as we should, that the thing we are going through right now is temporary even though it doesn’t feel like it.

When you compare the situation you’re in with eternity, it’s small potatoes. When you compare it to your life and what is temporary, it’s huge. God doesn’t want you to compare your struggles to the things of this world. You’ll lose your perspective and ultimately your joy. Keep your eyes on eternity and what is to come. Your perspective will change and your praise will rise to free you from those chains.

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Hope for Your Dream

I have been thinking a lot about Joseph, the son of Jacob. I have committed to do a study on him to see what I can glean from his life. We know how his father gave him a coat of many colors and how his brothers despised him, but I want to know who he really was and how we can apply things from his life to ours. I’m sure you’ll be seeing more posts about him soon. His story is found in Genesis 37-45.

Today, I want to focus on him in prison. Many years had passed since God had given him a dream that his family would bow down to him. I can imagine Joseph sitting in that prison wondering about that dream. I wonder if he wished he had never told his brothers about the dream God gave him. After he told them, they threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery where he was falsely accused and now sitting in a prison to rot.

I think a lot of us are at that point right now. God birthed a dream in you and you began to share it. You then noticed that when you shared it, things in your life began to fall apart. When things in our lives fall apart, we begin to seclude ourselves. We pull back from others. It may be because you don’t want them to catch your bad luck, because you want to protect them from anything bad coming your way or you could just be embarrassed from everything that’s happening.

When we seclude ourselves, we build walls. When we build walls, we find ourselves in prison like Joseph. You may not be in a physical prison like he was, but you are still secluded and alone making you feel like you’re in prison. It’s easy to sit in that prison and think that the dream is dead. It is not! Just like a seed planted in the earth grows dormant so that it can grow, the dream God placed in you may be dormant before it can grow.

I personally know the pain of thinking that a dream is dead due to circumstances. God’s promises are not bound by the circumstances in your life. He is not unaware of what you are facing today. You cannot let your circumstances dictate that the dream is dead. If God has planted it, He will grow it no matter where you are or what you’re going through. His Word never returns void. It’s in the depths of our prisons that our dreams can grow. In those dark places where we think there is no life, God is there cultivating you and that dream.

It often takes us getting to the end of our rope before the dream comes back alive so that we will always know that the dream was realized not by our own strength or doing, but by God alone. He is the one who gave it to you and He is the one who will fulfill it. You, like Joseph, are simply being put into position for the realization of your dream. If Joseph had never been in prison, no one would have known he could interpret the Pharaoh’s dream and his family would have been lost.

If you’re in that dark prison today, don’t despair. Keep hope with you. Know that God is putting you into position so that dream can be realized. God is working in your life through the good and the bad to bring about what He promised. He works all things together for your good. You are not alone. You are not forgotten in your prison. You have a God who sees you, loves you and is working for your good. Continue to trust Him and be patient.

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