God in the Midst of a Jail Cell

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The Lord revealed important truths to me as I shared the Gospel with parolees and inmates.  One is eloquently expressed by Charles Spurgeon in “What the Farm Laborers Can Do and What They Cannot Do”  Farm Sermons, The Spurgeon Archives. (great article, can read:  here)

Let us now think of what you cannot do. You cannot, after the seed has left your hand, cause it to put forth life. 

I learned this best when working with Ms. “M”, who was on parole for manslaughter.   Ms. M was very receptive to parole and a positive working relationship was easily established.  She was also very receptive to the Gospel and was grateful to receive a Bible, sermon tapes and church invites.  Home visits were meaningful as her two children were happy to see me.  Ms. M brought her children to special church events however, while she wanted her children to learn of the Bible, she herself remained carnal and unsurrendered.

I became a bit really discouraged, it seemed that two years of counsel and prayer yielded little. In fact, things worsened…Ms. M relapsed into drug use and became non compliant to treatment.  I was very concerned as a violation for a violent felony offender would result in significant jail time, a hardship for a single mother.  After a two years of community living, would she now go back to jail?

Finally, there was no choice.  Arresting her unleashed a torrent of drama, tears, and even anger….then pleading….but the die was cast.

I transported her to Rikers Island, shut her in a holding cell, and lodged the warrant.

Normally a VFO (violent felony offender) would be mandated to minimum one year incarceration however, it seemed that an exception was happening for Ms. M.  In fact, she was released within several weeks, mandated again to a program, and reported to my office.  I was ready for the same-old same-old…..but things had changed.

Her heart erupted as she shared….

When you locked me in that cell I sat on that bench crying, my head in my hands…I was so angry and felt like such a failure…when I opened my eyes I noticed a torn piece of paper on the bench.  It was just a scrap from a Bible tract….on it was half a verse from Acts.  When I read it I broke down and gave my life to the Lord!

I was speechless.  After all the sharing, inviting, godly counsel and admonishments, a half a verse in a jail cell brought her to repentance and surrender!  I could see how the Lord moved on her behalf, expediting her release, returning her home to her children, and revealing to her His faithfulness.  She planted herself in church and opened her life to serving God.

I often share this testimony with others to encourage them (and remind myself!) that we cannot “make anything happen” but God Himself takes action when we are faithful to sow seeds, serve as He calls, and pray for Him to intervene.

I am so grateful when the Lord confounds me!

 So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  (I Corinthians 3:7)

plant growing

Only God Can Make It Happen

 

When God Keeps Us Waiting….

The work of God in us while we wait is as important as what we are waiting for…

Tremendous and miraculous works of God, the testimonies of the saints, and the glory of God’s creation all build and grow our faith…and rightly so!  The stories of ordinary men in the hands of our extraordinary God  bring hope to our challenges and trials.

But rarely does our spiritual focus point to the faithfulness of the spiritual giants while waiting for God to move, to rescue, to answer their prayers.  Who really marvels at Joseph’s patience and endurance while waiting years in a dungeon?  With plenty of days and months for discouragement and unbelief, Joseph retained God’s favor by excelling while waiting.

True faith believes that waiting is never wasted or futile but rather a prescribed time of unexpected service, preparation and testing without which God’s perfect will might not go forward.  

“for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
(Phil 2:13)

Simeon waited years, perhaps his whole life, to meet the Savior of the world and was not disappointed as an elderly man, holding God incarnate in his arms.  Did Simeon imagine that those seemingly endless seasons of God’s silence would mark him for eternity in God’s word?

Waiting often tests us and often weeds out unbelief.  Exodus 32 presents the tragic story of people who refused to wait on God….they foolishly created a ‘god’ and missed the greatness of God’s plan for their lives.

The hardest part of faith is the last half hour….Pastor David Wilkerson

Faithful- even if not always perfect- waiting upon God yields much for God’s people, whether they are waiting for urgent deliverance, miraculous healing, an open womb, or the Savior of the world.   And so I pray…

Lord, encourage those of us who are heavy hearted… dog sad

Renew our hearts with anticipation….

dog at window

Keep us steadfast at our assigned post….

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no matter how small our post may seem.

Lord, help us to study your great promises and commit to remember:

The Promiser Keeps His promises. 

 

 

God in the Midst of a Package

for you package

In my recent post, “God in the Midst of Parole”, 8/18/17, I shared the testimony of Ms. G.  This testimony is an ‘addendum’ to that.  After Ms. G entered the residential program,  I prepared a ‘package’ for her with encouraging tapes and a cassette player.  Before reaching her program, I had to make eight home visits. While I never carried anything while making visits (typically I walked through the neighborhood and needed to have hands free) I made an exception this day and carried this package to the eight home visits.

This testimony was submitted to the tape ministry who provided the sermon tapes.

The Lord really used this package!  Parolees whom I visited all asked, “Is that for me?”  When I said “no” they responded, “Oh…I thought you were bringing me tapes.”  The Lord really lifted my heart, seeing these rough and often troubled ex-felons actually disappointed that a package of Christian tapes is not for them.  But I always carry tapes in my safari vest to give out…

This ‘package’ became an object of testimony.  One visit that morning was a ‘pre-release’ visit, to meet with family members before the inmate is released.   This inmate’s mother, ‘Ms. B’  was very receptive to me and we discussed her son’s release and the home in general.  Unexpectedly, this mother opened up and began to speak of her troubles, hardships, and fears.

Her (soon to be released) son had been in and out of prison, never did well, then got syphilis which spread to his brain.   Her grown daughter is also in and out of prison and was recently released and has AIDS.  Ms. B is raising her daughter’s children whom I met in the home.  Ms. B is gainfully employed downtown near Ground Zero and expressed the recurring turmoil and fear she has since the terrorist attacks.

Finally she said, “I never share my troubles like this!  I’m sorry to take your time and bother you”.  (Actually, I cherish this trust and opportunity).  I gently suggested that she might come to church.  That invite opened the door to minister the Gospel.  I asked her where her daughter was living.  She said, “Such and such shelter program.”  (Which is adjacent to the residential program where I am taking the package!)

I said, “Ms. B, see this package?  I’m taking it to the residential program next to your daughter’s shelter. ”  The door opened to share Ms. G’s testimony,  how the Lord moved in her life, bringing about change and giving her real hope.  Ms. B was so encouraged.  I gave her some tapes from my pocket and she asked what our church believes.  Her countenance lifted, “Please, make sure you write down the address!”

 

Yes, God was in the midst of that package but only because He abided in my heart.  I believe it is the Lord’s presence and our zeal to share Him that can make anything special in our hand…especially when it’s gifted to others.

Unlike our culture, the Lord never needs or seeks the wealth, resources, the natural talents of people or fancy technology to reveal Himself.  Sovereign God of the universe seems to choose ordinary things like a shepherd staff, rounded stones, a basket with fish and bread, even dirt mixed with spit….His spit.

I want an expectant and zealous heart, knowing that the Holy Spirit moves through what seems ordinary, small and humble.

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”  (Romans 12:11)

“Lord, I pray for a renewed zeal for You and for the lost.  Help us to see that wherever You place us and whatever You give us has potential for eternal value.  Incline our hearts toward Your will and weigh our hearts with desire to fulfill it.  Amen.”

 

God in the Midst of the Ashes

Security Ministries in large urban churches address everything from intentional service disturbances and criminal activities to the behavior of broken and lost sheep.  I have served in this ministry for 20 years now.  In many venues of security, ‘nothing usually happens’.  However, for the expectant heart, something might surely happen.  As a Parole Officer, I had an expectant heart so when in 2013 the church produced The Cross and the Switchblade from Pastor David Wilkerson’s book, I invited many parolees and their families.  Several parolees did attend and were encouraged but I might add that many more were encouraged just to be invited somewhere!

Here is a testimony that I shared with one of the pastors on the last night of the production:

Although we had to shut the doors by 7 pm, turning away about 100 people, at 7:30 there were still determined folks in the foyer of the rotunda trying to get in any way possible.  We tried to squeeze people in every area of the church, the annex, the lower rotunda and the fourth floor but we reached the limit.

One young woman approached me with a passionate plea.  “Please, there must be one more space for us.  This young man, (she motioned behind her) must hear from the Lord!  This play was meant for him!”

I looked at the young man behind her, leaning against the wall, slightly swaying with anxiety and chewing gum ferociously.  He looked rough and  nervous and I thought, ‘he’s been in jail.’  I had to reply though, “I believe you!  But I am SO sorry, there is not one seat left…there are fire codes…blah, blah”  However, when I turned to address other folks, I felt drawn back to her.  It was as if the Lord had a spotlight on these two.

“Please”, she pleaded, “He must see this play!  He was meant to be here!”

I really felt the Lord moving.  “Look.  If the Lord really wants him here, there will be a spot for you both.  Come with me.”

As we entered the rotunda, heading toward the sanctuary, the young man went ahead of the woman.  She quietly shared with me, “He just did 13 years in prison for setting a fire.”

I asked, “Is he on parole?”  She said yes.  I shared that I am a parole officer and was so glad that they had come.  Then I asked, “Are you a relative of his?”

With a slightly pained look she said, “Ah, no….It was my father that was burned in the fire he set.”

I planted them in the back of the sanctuary, she was so grateful.  He did not say a word. 

I really sensed the Lord’s burden to pray for this young man.  When I resumed my lobby post, everything was quiet and peaceful.  I was able to quietly cry out to God while on duty.  Occasionally I peered into the sanctuary (parole officer that I am) to see how things were.  This young man seemed more relaxed, totally riveted by the play.

At the end of the play, when the actor comes out for the final narration, the whole church was silent and attentive.  I watched through the glass door.  While not a soul stirred, this young man slowly started walking down the aisle.  As the actor cried out to the audience with passion, this young man continued a lone walk to the stage, no one stopped him  It was as if chains were falling from him and he was surrendering.

The play ended with an altar call and both the young woman and man came up to me full of joy.  The woman hugged and kissed me.  Pastor, this young man was truly changed.  There was a peace over him and he had real joy.  He hugged and kissed me also.  I asked his name and told him mine and said, “Please come back!  Please make this church your home!”

I do not know what happened to these folks after this night but I do know that the Lord had them on a journey toward Him.  I am so grateful that He allowed me to peek in at the work of His hand, touching the lives of broken people.

My ‘joie de vivre’ was parole, where God put a love and burden in my heart, an assurance that He assigned my cases, and an expectation of His presence in the midst.

I am no longer at Parole but a place in life which seems to me more like barren Patmos.  For more on that click here:   (Ever Find Yourself in Patmos?) But even Patmos has divine purpose.

And the Lord is here as well….I anticipate a post, ‘Testimonies From Patmos’.  🙂

“Lord, thank you for Your faithfulness through all the seasons of our lives.  You remain the same even if the season painfully changes.  Help us Heavenly Father to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.  Incline our hearts toward You. I sincerely pray that You renew our passion and grant us that burdening love that compels us to share Your Gospel with great expectation.”

Amen.

 

God in the Midst of Parole

During my years as a parole officer, the Lord opened many doors to share the Gospel with parolees, their family members, and others in the community. It was such an exciting part of my work. I journaled a few of the many testimonies to share with a ministry at my church. They still move me and encourage me, even now as I wait upon the Lord.

Perhaps one will encourage you…

‘Last year I received the case of Ms. G, a female with a long history of violence, prostitution, and drugs. I prayed but initially found no open door to share the Gospel – in fact, I saw the door quite closed. As a lesbian, she was living with her female partner who was Muslim. Within weeks of her release to Parole she proudly presented a marriage certificate from the Domestic Partnership Office of City Hall. Ms. G was so happy but my heart sank – she seemed so unreachable. I kept praying, often adding, “…Lord, I have no idea how you can reach her.”

Shortly thereafter her life began to unravel. She became difficult to find and unstable. In her last office report it was apparent that her life was undone….there was violence in her home, relapse into drugs, and total despair. I hardly recognized her, she looked like a wild woman. Before I could intervene with any real help, she absconded.

Ms. G was soon arrested on drug charges. With a warrant and violation charges, I planned to see her at Rikers Island the next day. That was the day I committed to the Lord to wake up early for devotions and prayer. At 4:30am I prayed for Ms. G and truly believed in my heart that the Lord was going to do something.

I always liked to have encouraging things to share when an opportunity arises…a booklet, tape, or small New Testament. But while on the train I realized that I had nothing special to share with Ms. G, should she be receptive. I sat back and began reading my Billy Graham magazine, ‘DECISION’. The first article explained salvation, how to be born again. The second article was about obedience to the Lord. The third article was a powerful testimony about a lesbian prostitute who became a Christian. The Holy Spirit washed over me with confidence that this was for Ms. G.   I was so excited I could hardly wait to get to Rikers Island!

I arrived at the facility and waited a long while…but so full of anticipation knowing with confidence that the Lord is working. Finally correction officers brought Ms. G to the Counsel Room, a tiny room where thick glass separates the inmate from the P.O. I took the violation papers and magazine out of my brief case. Ms. G still had that wild look and when she realized I had a warrant she lashed out with fury…

She was demanding and angry, blaming me for her failures and woes. My heart sank, I thought, ‘Lord, how could I have been so wrong?…No, I’m not wrong! I know what You spoke to my heart!’ After her tirade, I delivered some forceful pointed truth to Ms. G about her destructive behaviors and bad decisions. At the end I added, “…and don’t lie about no one helping you! Didn’t I do such – and – such…” I slowly began putting the magazine back in my bag but for some odd reason I blurted out, “…and on top of that, I brought you this magazine!”

Her face froze, as though I had said, “…a million dollars!” She became so deflated and meek, “You brought me a magazine?” Something happened inwardly, the Holy Spirit was moving. I pulled out the Decision Magazine and began to cautiously minister to her. ‘Well, I don’t know if you believe in God…’ She cut me off, “Yes! Yes I do! I was praying all day yesterday for God to get me out of jail!” I slipped the magazine under the plexiglass opening. ‘This is one of Billy Graham’s magazines…’ Ms. G blurted, “I know Billy Graham!”

Everything I shared seemed to touch a hunger in her. I was so amazed. I asked her if she believed in Jesus. “Yes I do! But I don’t know how to pray or what to do…I need SO MUCH HELP!” For the next hour she shared with me all her brokenness and despair. Ms. G said she was in the Rikers Island infirmary because she had a heart attack from cocaine abuse. I encouraged her that the Lord was able to heal her, that He loved her and could give her a new life…wash away the old. I spoke about being born again, surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ. Ms. G exclaimed, “That’s what I want! How can I do that? How can I be born again?”

Just then, at that exact moment…the door swung open to the counsel room. A cheerful female Correction Officer asked with joy, “Did I hear someone wants to make a decision of Jesus Christ? Praise God! I’m a Christian too!!” By this time, all my hair is standing on end.

The magazine and the Christian C.O. proved to be a great encouragement to Ms. G. Her parole was violated, she was sent upstate for a brief period, and mandated to a treatment program.

Upon her release she returned to my office but I hardly recognized her. She was dressed with modesty and had an inner calm. I had never seen such a transformation. Ms. G was so eager to tell me – to testify – all that the Lord was doing. During her 4 month incarceration, the Lord had godly C.O’s around her and she attended the prison church. She learned about worship, prayer, and scripture. The C.O. assigned to her (by the State and by God) brought her into Bible study and foundational truths.

“The first place she brought me,” Ms. G explained, “was to Leviticus. I didn’t know homosexuality was so horrible to God. I had so much to repent…” I was truly amazed with her expressed love for the Lord and her knowledge of scripture as a new believer. Ms. G was full of joy describing how she was baptized while at the prison.

I visited Ms. G at the residential program some days later. She had given her testimony to the groups there, speaking strongly about the power of sin to destroy and the power of Jesus to save. She wrote a song, ‘Jesus Gets You Out’, it was wonderful!’

That was the end of the journal entry. I know Ms. G was transferred off my caseload as the program was out of my assigned area….that was several years and hundreds of cases ago.  It was a season of open doors during the early years of my walk with the Lord.

When eligible for retirement, a personal matter arose in my home and the Lord made the decision clear. It was, however, a deep loss for me. People thought I was crazy when I said, “I really love my job!”  A season of brokenness followed with unexpected loss, betrayal, and disappointment.  Crushed By God came forth from this season.

Whatever the season, may we move forward, press on, keep the faith….

“Lord, thank you for all Your faithfulness throughout every season. Help us to be faithful, regardless of our assigned station or place that we may fulfill the call to,

“Do your best to present yourself  to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  (II Tim 2:15)

Lord, I pray for all those who have heard the Gospel through our lives, no matter how small the seed.  Water every seed, fan every ember and encourage us in our daily walk.  Open our eyes Lord to every appointed encounter.  In Jesus name, Amen.”

 


Inviting Jesus Makes the Difference

But I am going to the Mets game at Citi Field on Saturday. Be it corny or weird, I am inviting Jesus to go with me, not just to be with me but as a guest that I might honor.

That excerpt came from my post before the game, Jesus on the Guest List, 8/3/17.

There may well be a difference between asking the Lord to be with you and inviting the Lord to be your honored guest.  “Be with me Lord” usually initiates a prayer for favor, help, courage, provision or resources.  “Come with me, Lord, let me honor You as my guest”  creates a different priority of honoring Jesus.

I prayed before going to the game, asking the Lord to open my eyes to any encounter where I might honor Him and touch others for Him.  I imagined bumping into someone who needed the Lord and sharing the Gospel.  And oddly, I added, “show us what to do with the money we’ve saved.”

Once we reached Citi Field we joined the pregame worship outside the stadium.  As families ‘tail-gated’ and played catch, the Times Square Church band played songs of praise.  “Here Lord I will honor You by praising Your name for all to hear.  May You be high and exalted!” 

During this time I happened to stand near a Filipino family, a young couple with small children.  Unlike everyone else, they did not wear Mets T-shirts, Faith Day shirts, or any other baseball day attire.  The entire family wore bright yellow T-shirts with  #CareforCandize; when I asked, the mother shared about their six year old niece suffering  from cancer in the Philippines, lacking affordable health care.  While the band played on and everyone sang praises, this woman held her toddler and shared the story of Candize.  While I knew the grief of watching a loved one suffer and die, I did not know the great burden of unreachable medical help.

“Are you raising donations to help?” I asked and just as she shared the fund my husband called out, “C’mon, it’s time to go get our seats!”

With all the distractions of crowds, cheers, and junk food, I could not forget the family with the bright yellow shirts.  They came to honor God yet their suffering loved one, so far away, could not be forgotten.

The Mets are not having a good season and this game reflected it. They lost.

The great victory through, took place after the game where stands and platforms were immediately erected and a worship service commenced.  Jesus was the honored guest, as songs of thanksgiving and worship filled the stadium and the jumbo-trons.  Christ loving Mets players testified of their faith and walk with the Lord before Pastor Carter Conlon preached a message of salvation and hope.  Many attendees came to Christ and received salvation and the promise of eternal life.

faith day II

 

I believe the Lord was honored.    But what about…

Later that night I shared with my husband about Candize’s cancer, her pictures and family story.   When I asked, “What should we give?”  he responded with the same amount I had in my heart.

I knew my ‘Guest’ was honored when we ministered to Him…

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  
Matthew 25:40

 

Jesus on the Guest List

In Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 14:15-24 Jesus powerfully describes, through parables, a wedding feast and banquet with elaborate preparations and personal invitations. The intended guests of these extravagant affairs dismiss the servant messengers and worse, abuse and kill them. While representing the tragic rejection of Jesus by the Jewish people, the Lord affirms the offer of salvation to the Gentiles.  The Kingdom of God is available to all who come by faith in Christ as Savior.

God is determined to fill His banquet hall. There is no mistaking His personal invitations, His outreach to the byways and country roads and neither is there uncertainty about the fate of those who reject Him.

However, the wedding feast in Cana recorded in the second chapter of John is an actual wedding, most noted for Jesus’ first miracle of changing water into wine. There is great significance in the wine and wedding and much is gained from studies therein. Yet an important point seems neglected in this passage. Unlike the Jesus’ portrayals of God’s invitation to man, here Jesus is the invited guest. The parents of the betrothed decided, let’s invite Jesus and His disciples to this wedding (John 2:1-2).

If it were only Jesus and Mary one might conclude that the invitations were familial but the varied backgrounds of the disciples lead us to conclude otherwise. Perhaps the anointing and authority of Jesus became evident and so, when planning a most important life event, Jesus and His disciples would be on the guest list. And undoubtedly they accepted.

It is paramount for us to accept God’s invitation of salvation and the promise of eternal life. But aren’t we greatly remiss if we neglect to personally invite Jesus into the everyday events of our life whether great or small?

Would we invite Jesus as guest to our wedding or how about on that date, would Jesus and His followers join you at that movie? Is there any rendezvous or event that we would not invite Jesus?

Being sovereign and omnipotent is not the same as being invited. We are right to consult the Lord with all our plans and submit to His will. But a consultant is not an honored guest.

I believe that if we decidedly make Jesus our guest of honor – even at church – we will see change. His divine presence may not be evident to all, perhaps only ‘servants’ will see His glory. The wedding party and guests all enjoyed the supernatural wine but God’s glory was revealed to the servants and disciples, “…and his disciples put their faith in Him.”

I am not planning a wedding or other significant event. But I am going to the Mets game at Citi Field on Saturday. Be it corny or weird, I am inviting Jesus to go with me, not just to be with me but as a guest that I might honor.

faith day

“Lord, I pray that we welcome and honor Your presence wherever we are. Give us real desire to ‘introduce You’ in every encounter with others and open up the way.  Soften our hearts to express Your love in word and deed and invite You, “the Truth” into every conversation. As the world never cowers to present an honored guest, let us present You, our King, with joy and reverence. I pray for Faith Day Lord, that You may be invited and honored by many. Let Your glory be revealed and give birth to redemption and new life. As You are invited, King Jesus, I pray that Your wedding banquet greatly increase!”