Letters to Death Row

   

Letter #15

Have you ever gotten up and felt like you just do not have the mental energy or internal strength to face the day ahead? Your mind is at war with itself and your heart has no peace. In some ways you know that you cannot escape the conflict, even by going back to bed again. Your mind rages with the vivid pictures of what has happened, what your own involvement was and the looming consequences that likely will be manifested. You wish that there was a turn off switch in your brain, and in other circumstances you would use alcohol or drugs to numb yourself out. But now, you cannot go there to hide. You are seemingly trapped in a state of hell, unable to change any aspect of your present situation and seem to have nowhere to turn. You are not the only one who has suffered through this experience. In fact this happens to everyone at some point in their life, on a greater or lesser scale. It is just that most people never talk to anyone else about going through this struggle.
We all want to look good on the outside, like we are really in control of our lives. And some of us bluff it out all the way until we die. These individuals refuse to get real with themselves and cannot afford to be vulnerable with anyone else. Like great wandering animals, they spend their lives totally alone. Only making contact with others to fill some needs in their lives (food, drink, sex, shelter). What an incredibly lonely way to live out a lifetime of existence. They often blame other people for their situations and use that as justification to avoid any meaningful contact with others. In this letter I am hoping to explain the spiritual dynamic that leads us to this point of isolation and keeps us ignorant of the free gifts of God. It is our birthright to live as free men and women. That is the heritage that was given to us at birth.
When I speak of the ongoing battle between good and evil I am not referring to an excuse for our own personal behaviors. We are and always will be responsible for our choices, but we are born into a world where Satan is the ruler and he lays before us countless temptations to influence our everyday behaviors. We see these as our own decisions, free will choices, but the fact is that we are given the resources to make our way through life and to discover the underlying truth which guides life. Even as young children we feel a twinge of guilt when we do something wrong. That is the evidence of conscience which has been implanted into each of our lives. That small tug that pulls us from the inside when we venture into choices which would bring us into conflict with God’s law. We have all felt that pull to make the right choice and we have all failed at one time or another. But we have not been born into this life alone and without resources to help us make the right choices. That resource is the essence of our spiritual beings. We do not exist on a physical, mental, emotional and social basis alone. All of these aspects of life exist within the spiritual essence of our being. We get caught up in the “physical” things that we perceive often failing to look at the force behind ”what is.” Long before science discovered that all of the “matter” which we see is made up of constantly moving atoms and sub-atomic particles, the Bible had recognized this fact. Find it for yourself, it is there. It is also a clear indicator of the truth contained in these words of life.
We make our choices….we fall down…we struggle….we are wounded by the things that we choose. And then we get up and blindly start to make the same choices over and over again. We are like blind men trying to find our way through the darkness of life. But we are NEVER abandoned to that darkness. In fact living in darkness is a choice which we make because we live in a world where light and truth are constantly revealed to us in God’s word. Here is the key to life….we ALWAYS can ask for God’s help to navigate this battle between good and evil. We do not have to stand alone in this fight. In His great love for us, God has provided us with spiritual awareness and spiritual tools to recognize the difference between good and evil. At ANY time we can ask for His protection and provision in our lives and He will graciously guide us through the storms of life. What this means in practical terms is that even if we have blown every opportunity in life and are sitting awaiting our deaths because of choices we have made, God’s grace is as openly available as it was the first days of our lives.
He will respond to a heartfelt prayer from the depths of our beings as we recognize that we have lost all. He is our Creator and always acts out of love for us. Satan hates anything that reflects the image or likeness of God, so he will do all in his power to steal, lie and kill mankind. That is why this battle between good and evil rages around us. I may not have understood at the moment of my crime that I was playing a role in this battle, but God is so loving that once I do recognize the error of my ways and ask for His forgiveness, His Holy Spirit will start to transform my life into something of beauty and meaning according to His plan. Who else in our lives can transform the trash of our individual decisions into the treasures of eternity? It is all in His word, find it for yourself. These are not rash promises, they are given to each of us as free gifts from a loving God. Will you accept the gift that He offers to you freely? Even now He will redeem what has been lost and use your life for His own glory. Please, Please do not let Satan continue to steal the hope which has been given to each of us through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ dying on that cross to atone for our sins…all of our sins, not just my own. The result of His death and resurrection is the outflow of God’s Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness which changes the entire character of our lives. Look beyond the material aspects of this life….look beyond the bars and concrete that define your existence and see the true promise of eternal hope and glory.
If we are willing to see clearly, then it is possible to examine each individual life that we encounter and see that everyone has some aspects of living a double life. By that I mean that we have all chosen to look good on the outside while harboring sinful choices on the inside. There was and is only One who has ever lived on this earth who has had a single minded purpose to Love and Honor His Father. His name is Jesus Christ and He lived a life without sin to show us the way to His Father. He understands our fragility and knows the struggles we all face in confronting daily choices between good and evil. We are not alone and abandoned to walk out this life without His help. Every choice we make in life has eternal consequences and eternal possibilities. I remember being in prison and hearing the news that one of the older guards had come down with cancer and was going to die. Now here was a grumpy man who tended to make our lives difficult, but something in my spirit was called to pray for this man. I was not called to pray for his physical healing, but rather to pray for his spiritual healing. And so I followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and went about my daily activities silently lifting up this man who was moving toward the edge of eternity. My role for a short season in that prison was to lift up another human being.
What is your role, what choice can you make today to get outside of your own needs and wants and silently bless someone else? It is a free gift that we can choose to make on behalf of those who live in our immediate environments. I have no way of knowing what value those prayers made have had in this man’s life, but I know that there was an eternal purpose. No matter what circumstances that I find myself in I am always in a position to do for others on a private and anonymous basis. No one need know that I have prayed for my victims, their families or those that have been my jailers. Yet in doing so, I am called to live out the life of a Christian man in service to others. It is a small ongoing exchange with this God who loved me enough to die for me to pay the price for my sins. In order to accomplish this goal, I need to take my eyes off of the circumstances of my own life and put my eyes on spiritual things. That is when I am filled with peace and contentment. It is in that moment that I know that my life has purpose beyond the immediate wants and needs of the moment. It is in the quiet moments that I am led to pray for others that I realize the Holy Spirit is moving in my own life and that I am filled with awe and amazement that even in my current state of life, that God would have a purpose for my being.
The only way that I can come to this state of awareness is to move beyond what my eyes and ears tell my mind. To move into a place of spiritual connection with the God of history and the God of today. It is His spirit that moves in my life and gives me the ability to make choices which are God honoring. It has nothing to do with my weak and miserable humanity. I am merely a tool and I want to be a faithful tool in God’s hands. You have the same choice to make. Do you spend your days in resentment, fear and bitterness, or do you turn to that soft loving voice that calls you to a higher purpose even as you await society’s judgment? Don’t you remember what Dismas did while dying on a cross next to Jesus Christ…..he called out…”Lord remember me when You come into Your Kingdom” and in that faith filled moment Jesus made him a personal promise….”This day you will be with Me in paradise.” That same promise is made to each of us, you see God does not have favorites. He will do for each of us what He did for Dismas on the cross.
I write to you each month because I do not want you to be alone and cut off from life. I have found that TRUE life is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ because He took on a human form to live amongst us and to share our burdens. He knows our ways and our weaknesses. He understands our human condition. And He has promised that He will never leave us. We all know what it is like to be alone and rejected by others, He will never leave us alone, nor will He reject our sincere plea for His help. I would not tell you these things, if they were not the very substances of life. Will you be deceived by what you see and hear, or will you trust the spirit that lives inside of you and that will live on throughout eternity? That inner man or woman who lives on a different plane in this life. That plane is the eternal viewpoint that motivates us to see the fullness of our existence beyond the transitory physical life. We are given very specific weapons to use for our protection as we move through this life. It is called the whole amour of God, specific weapons to help us combat the influences of Satan’s temptations. We are not alone, but in fact we are given the choice of living out eternity with the God who created us.
You can never be so bad that God would not hear your humble cry for forgiveness and mercy. It is a personal transaction between you and the God that shaped you and formed you in your mother’s womb. His word says that before you saw a single day, He already knew you and that your name was inscribed on the palm of His hand. He had already seen your whole life before you were born. He knew of all of your sins and failures before your eyes opened and saw the light of day. And yet He chose to make you and sustained you in this life that ultimately you would choose to have a relationship with Him based on His incredible love for you. He knew the pathways that you would choose in life and still created you so that you could make the choice of spending eternity with Him. That is the gift of life. He did not give us this gift with the pre-condition that we must love Him and obey Him, instead He gave us life with the purpose that we would find His love for us in the midst of the failures and sinfulness of our lives. By myself I can do nothing, but with His love and purpose in my life I can accomplish all things. It is not too late to redeem your purpose, even now you can call out softly to the God who gave you life and ask Him to forgive you and to create a new purpose and a new design in the days ahead.
Do not be caught up in the wrong belief that it is your battle against the world. Rather it is a battle between good and evil, and Satan tries to convince each of us that it is our personal struggle. We are made in the image and likeness of God, which means that it is not our own personal struggle. We have not been left here and abandoned by an uncaring Father to struggle through this life alone. But we have been given free-will to make the choice for good or evil. By myself I cannot possibly arise to the place of knowing good from evil, but in relationship with Jesus Christ the way is clearly pointed out before me. And He promises me that I will never be alone. I am not making this journey by myself, though there are times when I feel quiet alone…..like a child who is in his own room, while his mother and father are in another room in the house. When that child calls out, mom or dad will lovingly respond to the child’s cry for help. That is what God does for us.
As a retired clinical psychologist, I have always been fascinated by what lays deep within our minds and hearts. Those aspects of life that we have never shared with others, either out of an unwillingness to be vulnerable to the opinions or criticism of others, or out of an inner feeling of fear about how others would treat us differently if we revealed our deepest thoughts to them. One of the questions that I frequently ask of others centers upon this very private place deep within each of us. I often ask strangers, “Are you loved?” Not many people answer the question in the affirmative. The few that have said yes generally refer to the love of a child for its parent. They have been loved by their children in a special way. They can feel it with their hearts. They know deep within themselves that they have been given something special.
Each of us has been freely given the love of God, to accept or to reject. We all know at a very basic level what love is….and we all have a hunger inside of us that cannot be filled by material things or the things of this life. I believe that inside of each of us is a hallow place that can only be filled with spiritual things. Nothing else that exists in this world can permanently give us the continued feeling being loved outside of this spiritual experience. If you have hungered all your life for a deep and abiding love…..for the kind of love that affirms your very existence, then what you are seeking is the love of God in your life. No other love can fill that emptiness. No other love can fill that ongoing deep need within you or me.
My words are clumsy and inept….they lack the grace and beauty of His great love for each of us. Forgive my limitations. I am a mere man trying to capture the essence of truth so that I might share this gift with you and help to fill your life with His promise of eternal life to those who love Him. I am a poor workman, but my heart wants to share this truth, so that it will pierce through the darkness of your past life and shine brightly before you as you make your way through the days ahead. You are not alone in spirit or truth. There are many who stand with you as you seek out the truth. It is never too late to seek His face.
There is a spiritual battle going on around you and within you. Choose wisely and choose well; your choices have eternal consequences.

Divine Order
A sparrow has the choice of landing on an alley cat’s back, but it is likely making a fatal decision in doing so. A baby lamb can wander into the midst of a pack of wolves, but it is unlikely to survive this decision. An infant can reach out to grasp a venomous snake rattling its deadly warning, but it institutively understands that there is danger in that moment. What forces guide the migratory patterns of animals, birds and fish living among us? Who guides the flow of the seasons and the order that defines existence? What does your own spirit tell you about this? The world would have us believe that these situations are governed by “common sense” which has been developed from eons of developing evolutionary processes. The world tells us that these are accidental adaptions of nature, not the results of divine interventions. The fact is that the world was created by God and His creation was designed to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in all aspects of life. The creation is groaning and staggering under the weight of sin and trespasses. This reality exists because of the sin of our spiritual parents Adam and Eve, who chose to rebel against the law of God. Their free-will choice to abandon God’s word and to choose to act on Satan’s lies led them into rebellion against God’s lawful authority.
God has created us with a sense of divine order to guide our choices. That is the presence of that small voice that speaks protection and blessing into our lives when we are confronted with choices that will harm us and others. Our free will is a gift from God and it makes us uniquely human. We can choose to obey His voice in our lives, or to live out our own personal sinful choices. God never forces us to accept His loving guidance. He allows us to bear the consequences of our sinful choices and to learn from the pain that we suffer. As individuals we can make the choice to follow the voice of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to live out the commands of Jesus Christ, or we can choose the folly of our own whims and desires which inevitability lead to disappointment, dissatisfaction and despair. That was the meaning of Jesus word, when He told His disciples that He would send them another Comforter who would never leave them. We have been personally assured of God’s presence in our lives, if we make the choice to follow Jesus Christ.
I do not have to struggle with aspects of my life, if I am truly willing to seek out His will for me. He will guide me through the divine order that has already been implanted in my soul. No matter how I have messed up or how broken I am, He stands ready to take me where I am and make a new life within me. The key to this spiritual interaction with God lays in my willingness to recognize that I have come to the end of my own abilities and the understanding that even now God can make something beautiful of the sinful choices that I have previously made. All it takes is an act of surrender to Him and a willingness to be healed. He can take the worst things that we have ever done and raise up a blessing to His own name if we are willing to trust in His word. Do you need to travel any further on the road of self-will or can you pull over and get a clear sense of the direction you have been moving? In the quiet of this moment all you need to do is ask Him to forgive you and to create a new life in you that brings Him glory and honor. After all, it is not about us, it is ultimately about the God who created us with a special inner knowledge of Him and His love for us.
There are no limits on God’s goodness……find out for yourself.

A Prisoner’s Plea
Dear Lord, my ways are known to you…all of them. My choices are laid clearly before You. Help me to find a promise in Your word that is spoken into my life. Help me to find this promise in Your word and let it be a guiding light as I live out the remaining days of my life. I trust You and I commit myself to Your care. Help me in this spiritual battle to surrender to Your will for my life. I believe that even now, You can make something beautiful out of what I have created. Please forgive me and have mercy upon me, cleanse me from my sin and restore the lost innocence of my childhood.

Have you ever gotten up and felt like you just do not have the mental energy or internal strength to face the day ahead? Your mind is at war with itself and your heart has no peace. In some ways you know that you cannot escape the conflict, even by going back to bed again. Your mind rages with the vivid pictures of what has happened, what your own involvement was and the looming consequences that likely will be manifested. You wish that there was a turn off switch in your brain, and in other circumstances you would use alcohol or drugs to numb yourself out. But now, you cannot go there to hide. You are seemingly trapped in a state of hell, unable to change any aspect of your present situation and seem to have nowhere to turn. You are not the only one who has suffered through this experience. In fact this happens to everyone at some point in their life, on a greater or lesser scale. It is just that most people never talk to anyone else about going through this struggle.
We all want to look good on the outside, like we are really in control of our lives. And some of us bluff it out all the way until we die. These individuals refuse to get real with themselves and cannot afford to be vulnerable with anyone else. Like great wandering animals, they spend their lives totally alone. Only making contact with others to fill some needs in their lives (food, drink, sex, shelter). What an incredibly lonely way to live out a lifetime of existence. They often blame other people for their situations and use that as justification to avoid any meaningful contact with others. In this letter I am hoping to explain the spiritual dynamic that leads us to this point of isolation and keeps us ignorant of the free gifts of God. It is our birthright to live as free men and women. That is the heritage that was given to us at birth.
When I speak of the ongoing battle between good and evil I am not referring to an excuse for our own personal behaviors. We are and always will be responsible for our choices, but we are born into a world where Satan is the ruler and he lays before us countless temptations to influence our everyday behaviors. We see these as our own decisions, free will choices, but the fact is that we are given the resources to make our way through life and to discover the underlying truth which guides life. Even as young children we feel a twinge of guilt when we do something wrong. That is the evidence of conscience which has been implanted into each of our lives. That small tug that pulls us from the inside when we venture into choices which would bring us into conflict with God’s law. We have all felt that pull to make the right choice and we have all failed at one time or another. But we have not been born into this life alone and without resources to help us make the right choices. That resource is the essence of our spiritual beings. We do not exist on a physical, mental, emotional and social basis alone. All of these aspects of life exist within the spiritual essence of our being. We get caught up in the “physical” things that we perceive often failing to look at the force behind ”what is.” Long before science discovered that all of the “matter” which we see is made up of constantly moving atoms and sub-atomic particles, the Bible had recognized this fact. Find it for yourself, it is there. It is also a clear indicator of the truth contained in these words of life.
We make our choices….we fall down…we struggle….we are wounded by the things that we choose. And then we get up and blindly start to make the same choices over and over again. We are like blind men trying to find our way through the darkness of life. But we are NEVER abandoned to that darkness. In fact living in darkness is a choice which we make because we live in a world where light and truth are constantly revealed to us in God’s word. Here is the key to life….we ALWAYS can ask for God’s help to navigate this battle between good and evil. We do not have to stand alone in this fight. In His great love for us, God has provided us with spiritual awareness and spiritual tools to recognize the difference between good and evil. At ANY time we can ask for His protection and provision in our lives and He will graciously guide us through the storms of life. What this means in practical terms is that even if we have blown every opportunity in life and are sitting awaiting our deaths because of choices we have made, God’s grace is as openly available as it was the first days of our lives.
He will respond to a heartfelt prayer from the depths of our beings as we recognize that we have lost all. He is our Creator and always acts out of love for us. Satan hates anything that reflects the image or likeness of God, so he will do all in his power to steal, lie and kill mankind. That is why this battle between good and evil rages around us. I may not have understood at the moment of my crime that I was playing a role in this battle, but God is so loving that once I do recognize the error of my ways and ask for His forgiveness, His Holy Spirit will start to transform my life into something of beauty and meaning according to His plan. Who else in our lives can transform the trash of our individual decisions into the treasures of eternity? It is all in His word, find it for yourself. These are not rash promises, they are given to each of us as free gifts from a loving God. Will you accept the gift that He offers to you freely? Even now He will redeem what has been lost and use your life for His own glory. Please, Please do not let Satan continue to steal the hope which has been given to each of us through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ dying on that cross to atone for our sins…all of our sins, not just my own. The result of His death and resurrection is the outflow of God’s Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness which changes the entire character of our lives. Look beyond the material aspects of this life….look beyond the bars and concrete that define your existence and see the true promise of eternal hope and glory.
If we are willing to see clearly, then it is possible to examine each individual life that we encounter and see that everyone has some aspects of living a double life. By that I mean that we have all chosen to look good on the outside while harboring sinful choices on the inside. There was and is only One who has ever lived on this earth who has had a single minded purpose to Love and Honor His Father. His name is Jesus Christ and He lived a life without sin to show us the way to His Father. He understands our fragility and knows the struggles we all face in confronting daily choices between good and evil. We are not alone and abandoned to walk out this life without His help. Every choice we make in life has eternal consequences and eternal possibilities. I remember being in prison and hearing the news that one of the older guards had come down with cancer and was going to die. Now here was a grumpy man who tended to make our lives difficult, but something in my spirit was called to pray for this man. I was not called to pray for his physical healing, but rather to pray for his spiritual healing. And so I followed the leading of the Holy Spirit and went about my daily activities silently lifting up this man who was moving toward the edge of eternity. My role for a short season in that prison was to lift up another human being.
What is your role, what choice can you make today to get outside of your own needs and wants and silently bless someone else? It is a free gift that we can choose to make on behalf of those who live in our immediate environments. I have no way of knowing what value those prayers made have had in this man’s life, but I know that there was an eternal purpose. No matter what circumstances that I find myself in I am always in a position to do for others on a private and anonymous basis. No one need know that I have prayed for my victims, their families or those that have been my jailers. Yet in doing so, I am called to live out the life of a Christian man in service to others. It is a small ongoing exchange with this God who loved me enough to die for me to pay the price for my sins. In order to accomplish this goal, I need to take my eyes off of the circumstances of my own life and put my eyes on spiritual things. That is when I am filled with peace and contentment. It is in that moment that I know that my life has purpose beyond the immediate wants and needs of the moment. It is in the quiet moments that I am led to pray for others that I realize the Holy Spirit is moving in my own life and that I am filled with awe and amazement that even in my current state of life, that God would have a purpose for my being.
The only way that I can come to this state of awareness is to move beyond what my eyes and ears tell my mind. To move into a place of spiritual connection with the God of history and the God of today. It is His spirit that moves in my life and gives me the ability to make choices which are God honoring. It has nothing to do with my weak and miserable humanity. I am merely a tool and I want to be a faithful tool in God’s hands. You have the same choice to make. Do you spend your days in resentment, fear and bitterness, or do you turn to that soft loving voice that calls you to a higher purpose even as you await society’s judgment? Don’t you remember what Dismas did while dying on a cross next to Jesus Christ…..he called out…”Lord remember me when You come into Your Kingdom” and in that faith filled moment Jesus made him a personal promise….”This day you will be with Me in paradise.” That same promise is made to each of us, you see God does not have favorites. He will do for each of us what He did for Dismas on the cross.
I write to you each month because I do not want you to be alone and cut off from life. I have found that TRUE life is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ because He took on a human form to live amongst us and to share our burdens. He knows our ways and our weaknesses. He understands our human condition. And He has promised that He will never leave us. We all know what it is like to be alone and rejected by others, He will never leave us alone, nor will He reject our sincere plea for His help. I would not tell you these things, if they were not the very substances of life. Will you be deceived by what you see and hear, or will you trust the spirit that lives inside of you and that will live on throughout eternity? That inner man or woman who lives on a different plane in this life. That plane is the eternal viewpoint that motivates us to see the fullness of our existence beyond the transitory physical life. We are given very specific weapons to use for our protection as we move through this life. It is called the whole amour of God, specific weapons to help us combat the influences of Satan’s temptations. We are not alone, but in fact we are given the choice of living out eternity with the God who created us.
You can never be so bad that God would not hear your humble cry for forgiveness and mercy. It is a personal transaction between you and the God that shaped you and formed you in your mother’s womb. His word says that before you saw a single day, He already knew you and that your name was inscribed on the palm of His hand. He had already seen your whole life before you were born. He knew of all of your sins and failures before your eyes opened and saw the light of day. And yet He chose to make you and sustained you in this life that ultimately you would choose to have a relationship with Him based on His incredible love for you. He knew the pathways that you would choose in life and still created you so that you could make the choice of spending eternity with Him. That is the gift of life. He did not give us this gift with the pre-condition that we must love Him and obey Him, instead He gave us life with the purpose that we would find His love for us in the midst of the failures and sinfulness of our lives. By myself I can do nothing, but with His love and purpose in my life I can accomplish all things. It is not too late to redeem your purpose, even now you can call out softly to the God who gave you life and ask Him to forgive you and to create a new purpose and a new design in the days ahead.
Do not be caught up in the wrong belief that it is your battle against the world. Rather it is a battle between good and evil, and Satan tries to convince each of us that it is our personal struggle. We are made in the image and likeness of God, which means that it is not our own personal struggle. We have not been left here and abandoned by an uncaring Father to struggle through this life alone. But we have been given free-will to make the choice for good or evil. By myself I cannot possibly arise to the place of knowing good from evil, but in relationship with Jesus Christ the way is clearly pointed out before me. And He promises me that I will never be alone. I am not making this journey by myself, though there are times when I feel quiet alone…..like a child who is in his own room, while his mother and father are in another room in the house. When that child calls out, mom or dad will lovingly respond to the child’s cry for help. That is what God does for us.
As a retired clinical psychologist, I have always been fascinated by what lays deep within our minds and hearts. Those aspects of life that we have never shared with others, either out of an unwillingness to be vulnerable to the opinions or criticism of others, or out of an inner feeling of fear about how others would treat us differently if we revealed our deepest thoughts to them. One of the questions that I frequently ask of others centers upon this very private place deep within each of us. I often ask strangers, “Are you loved?” Not many people answer the question in the affirmative. The few that have said yes generally refer to the love of a child for its parent. They have been loved by their children in a special way. They can feel it with their hearts. They know deep within themselves that they have been given something special.
Each of us has been freely given the love of God, to accept or to reject. We all know at a very basic level what love is….and we all have a hunger inside of us that cannot be filled by material things or the things of this life. I believe that inside of each of us is a hallow place that can only be filled with spiritual things. Nothing else that exists in this world can permanently give us the continued feeling being loved outside of this spiritual experience. If you have hungered all your life for a deep and abiding love…..for the kind of love that affirms your very existence, then what you are seeking is the love of God in your life. No other love can fill that emptiness. No other love can fill that ongoing deep need within you or me.
My words are clumsy and inept….they lack the grace and beauty of His great love for each of us. Forgive my limitations. I am a mere man trying to capture the essence of truth so that I might share this gift with you and help to fill your life with His promise of eternal life to those who love Him. I am a poor workman, but my heart wants to share this truth, so that it will pierce through the darkness of your past life and shine brightly before you as you make your way through the days ahead. You are not alone in spirit or truth. There are many who stand with you as you seek out the truth. It is never too late to seek His face.
There is a spiritual battle going on around you and within you. Choose wisely and choose well; your choices have eternal consequences.

Divine Order
A sparrow has the choice of landing on an alley cat’s back, but it is likely making a fatal decision in doing so. A baby lamb can wander into the midst of a pack of wolves, but it is unlikely to survive this decision. An infant can reach out to grasp a venomous snake rattling its deadly warning, but it institutively understands that there is danger in that moment. What forces guide the migratory patterns of animals, birds and fish living among us? Who guides the flow of the seasons and the order that defines existence? What does your own spirit tell you about this? The world would have us believe that these situations are governed by “common sense” which has been developed from eons of developing evolutionary processes. The world tells us that these are accidental adaptions of nature, not the results of divine interventions. The fact is that the world was created by God and His creation was designed to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in all aspects of life. The creation is groaning and staggering under the weight of sin and trespasses. This reality exists because of the sin of our spiritual parents Adam and Eve, who chose to rebel against the law of God. Their free-will choice to abandon God’s word and to choose to act on Satan’s lies led them into rebellion against God’s lawful authority.
God has created us with a sense of divine order to guide our choices. That is the presence of that small voice that speaks protection and blessing into our lives when we are confronted with choices that will harm us and others. Our free will is a gift from God and it makes us uniquely human. We can choose to obey His voice in our lives, or to live out our own personal sinful choices. God never forces us to accept His loving guidance. He allows us to bear the consequences of our sinful choices and to learn from the pain that we suffer. As individuals we can make the choice to follow the voice of the Holy Spirit, who teaches us how to live out the commands of Jesus Christ, or we can choose the folly of our own whims and desires which inevitability lead to disappointment, dissatisfaction and despair. That was the meaning of Jesus word, when He told His disciples that He would send them another Comforter who would never leave them. We have been personally assured of God’s presence in our lives, if we make the choice to follow Jesus Christ.
I do not have to struggle with aspects of my life, if I am truly willing to seek out His will for me. He will guide me through the divine order that has already been implanted in my soul. No matter how I have messed up or how broken I am, He stands ready to take me where I am and make a new life within me. The key to this spiritual interaction with God lays in my willingness to recognize that I have come to the end of my own abilities and the understanding that even now God can make something beautiful of the sinful choices that I have previously made. All it takes is an act of surrender to Him and a willingness to be healed. He can take the worst things that we have ever done and raise up a blessing to His own name if we are willing to trust in His word. Do you need to travel any further on the road of self-will or can you pull over and get a clear sense of the direction you have been moving? In the quiet of this moment all you need to do is ask Him to forgive you and to create a new life in you that brings Him glory and honor. After all, it is not about us, it is ultimately about the God who created us with a special inner knowledge of Him and His love for us.
There are no limits on God’s goodness……find out for yourself.

A Prisoner’s Plea
Dear Lord, my ways are known to you…all of them. My choices are laid clearly before You. Help me to find a promise in Your word that is spoken into my life. Help me to find this promise in Your word and let it be a guiding light as I live out the remaining days of my life. I trust You and I commit myself to Your care. Help me in this spiritual battle to surrender to Your will for my life. I believe that even now, You can make something beautiful out of what I have created. Please forgive me and have mercy upon me, cleanse me from my sin and restore the lost innocence of my childhood.

Letter #14

We have spoken about many topics and how they relate to God’s Word in the bible. The purpose in taking time to look at these unique connections is to build a solid foundation for understanding our relationship with God. The key word is relationship and that word itself defines human life. We are made to have connections with others and our primary relationship is with God who is our Creator. All relationships with others flow from this primary connection. It is the essence of what we are and how we are made to relate to others in this world.  I choose to have a relationship with you because I see great value in your own life. My choice is not based upon your past behaviors, but rather it is based upon the fact that you are made in the image and likeness of God. Your past actions cannot become a barrier to the way that I view you as a human being. I am looking past your failures and my own failures and seeing you as a unique human being. What you do with that choice is up to you, but it will not alter my view as to your intrinsic value. That understanding comes from an awareness of God’s ultimate plan for all human life.

For many months I have written in my letters about us being children of God and recently I received a letter from a brother in Washington pointing out that while we are all created equally by God, that we do not inherent the status of being a child of God until we accept the gift of salvation which Jesus Christ won for each of us on the cross at Calvary. I stand corrected and I am indebted to my brother, because I do not wish to deceive you or mislead you with my words. The free gift of salvation is available to each of us if we accept it. It is that simple…..I blew it, forgive me for my sinful life and cover me with the shed blood of Jesus Christ. That simple step confers family status on you and me. Nothing more is required. It does not depend upon the nature of your past sins, or your current attitudes or behaviors. When you accept the salvation offered by Jesus Christ, the healing and restoration process is initiated in your heart through the work of the Holy Spirit. It is HIS job to reconcile you and transform you as a brand new creature. None of us can do that for ourselves. It is only through the mercy of God that we are given this gift. But we must accept the gift for it to become a true gift. Otherwise it is only an offer that God has made to you personally, but it must be accepted as the precious gift that it is.

I want to extend another gift to you. Most of the people that I knew in prisons had connections to some others in their lives, but largely they were a group of people without the close ties of family love. They all had families but few had meaningful encounters with those who consistently loved them and accepted them. Family is precious, but it can also be a painful reality. I do not know about the status of your relationship with members of your family, but I believe it is important for all of us to have family members who care for us unconditionally. In the coming months Dismas Project wants to become that one place where you can be accepted as family, without any questions or qualifications. Your experience with family may have been awkward in the past. You may have felt that you never fit in with the others in your own family. This is YOUR invitation to help create a brand new family in the days to come. Family members support and encourage each other along life’s journey. We all need that kind of loving acceptance in our lives.

A close friend of mine suggested that I speak to you about spiritual incarceration in this letter. He wanted me to explain to you the fact that most people on the outside has no clue about spirituality. They think it means going to church or doing some other obligation. They are unable to see with spiritual eyes, so it is easy to look at others and discard them like a pair of dirty socks. They seem themselves as far above their fellow man and therefore see themselves as saved, while others are lost. Their instead becomes deadened as they compare themselves in a world of sinfulness and wickedness. Therefore, since they have only told lies and stole just a little, they are better than the individual who has raped, murdered and robbed others. This strange blindness seems to impact most people who considered themselves to be religious. They can’t see that the blackness of their own sin, is just as wicked as the most heinous criminal’s activities. They are unable to see themselves in the light of truth, so God’s word has little impact upon their own personal lives.

I firmly believe that the men and women on death row have had an opportunity to examine their lives through the clearest light that can possibly exist. Many have come to terms with their failings and crimes, realizing that they have blown it. Most resist the temptation to make themselves feel better by comparing their own actions to those of another offender. That ability to be honest at the core of their existence is the cord that connects each of you to me and the others working at Dismas Project. I do not care about your past, we all have a past. I only care about your present and future. That is my point of connection with each of you. It is not important that I know about your crimes, what is important is that you know we are all equals in God’s sight. We have all blown it….there is no one among us who can stand before God sinless. Therefore we are all equally lost without the redemption earned for each of us by Jesus Christ on that cross 2000 years ago. That is the core of commonness between us. We are all sinners. And no one with sin can stand before a righteous God. Since Jesus Christ paid for those sins of ours, all we need do is accept His gift of personal salvation for each of us. In the final moments of life upon the cruel crosses of Calvary, three men were dying. Jesus Christ and two thieves.

One of the thieves cursed God in his dying agony. The other, a man just like you and I turned to Jesus and cried out…..”Master remember me when You come into your Kingdom.” He surrendered his life to Jesus in that brief moment and he received a promise. Jesus spoke to him the following words…”This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” He was given the gift of eternal salvation because of his simple request to Jesus. This man had never been baptized and most like did not regularly attend religious services. He was a condemned prisoner dying a felon’s death. But in that moment he was assured of eternal life by Our Savior. Jesus has a special spot in His heart for death row prisoners. According to Catholic tradition, the name of that dying thief was Dismas. That is why our outreach ministry is named Dismas Project. To honor the memory of that moment between a man who was condemned to death and His dying Savior. The same promise is available to each of us and that is why you receive these letters each month. I believe in the eternal value of your soul. If you cannot hold any other spiritual content in your life close to your heart, remember this story because it applies directly to you and me. I share this news with you, so that you and I can spend eternity glorifying God’s mercy and compassion on sinners like us.

We are all in a race called life. It does not matter what you have done previously, you can still finish this race well. Let’s resolve together to finish this race well. After all we are family. While the world spins its pathway to oblivion we can forge an eternal link that will carry us through the rest of this race together. You may be physically incarcerated, but you do not have to be spiritually incarcerated. Use your spiritual eyes and ears to search for the truth. I promise you that you will find it if you ask God for His help. And we will have eternity together to talk about this incredible salvation for people like you and me. Let me know how I can pray for you, or support you in your study of God’s word. I seek to be an encouragement as you walk through the days ahead, one who sticks closer than a brother.

I have traveled to many places around the world, from the world of Bangkok and the delights of Hong Kong to the modern world of Japan and South Korea. I have walked in small towns located in Eastern Europe that use to be Soviet bloc nations. I have played in Europe and seen the wonders of African countries. I have delighted in the islands of Micronesia and enjoyed the hospitality of Indonesia. I have looked upon the rocky lands of Jordon and prowled through North America including Canada and Mexico. But for the most part I have done so alone, looking at the gifts of God through the lens of solitary experience. I have been delighted with the culinary arts of many nations, but the truth is that I have enjoyed my best meals with my loving wife. Most often they have been very simple meals shared with love and mutual concern for each other. The difference in these experiences is that the moments shared with my wife had a special quality of love which made them remarkable. She is my family. She carries a special place of love for me that moves my inner spirit. That spirit motivates me to want to share all things with her openly and directly. That very same spirit emanates from her own spirituality. You see I know that she loves me, but I also know that she loves God more than me. God has first place in her life. It is from that love of God that a fountain of love pours into my own life and fills me with purpose and direction.    We can be thousands of miles apart but the refreshing pool of anointing waters is mine to access at any point in the day. That is the blessing that comes to me from having a relationship with Jesus Christ and my wife.

All relationships ultimately flow from our primary relationship to God. I cannot change places with you, but I can accept you like my wife accepts me with all of my faults and flaws. I speak about relationship with you because I have discovered that in my own life, joy comes from the ability to share all things with someone else. Someone who wants to spend time and know about you as a unique individual. I am well aware that trust, or the lack of it, becomes a barrier to sharing with others. I have wrestled with the same obstacle in my own life. Because I have been in the same place I can understand what a gift I have been given in my marriage to my wife. I can share all things without incurring judgment. She knows and accepts my limitations and weaknesses. That is a unique gift. Because I am a deeply flawed man who has a long history of failure and sinfulness, I can openly accept others who have traveled the same pathway. I could waste our time together by concentrating on the supposed successes of my life, but the truth is that I only started to realize any inner sense of peacefulness when I recognized my very nature. As I came to recognize that I am broken beyond repair I also became desperately aware that I needed a SAVIOR. I could not bring about meaningful changes in my life by myself. If I have the disposition of a rattlesnake, I cannot change that part of my being from within. It must come about as a result of something occurring from outside of me. It is a simple but profound lesson in my life that I needed to have a relationship which would fill me with a new purpose and focus in living. I could not make that happen on my own. It was impossible and when I realized that I was trapped by my own sinfulness, then I finally came to a place where I recognized that I was completely powerless.

In that dreadful moment of realization I remember the feelings of despair and depression that filled my thoughts and my very soul. It was a crystalized moment of aloneness. The starkness of being apart from anything of meaning in this world. All things that I had engaged in became worthless in that momentary view of eternity. I was reduced to nothingness and I fully realized that I was incapable of changing on my own. That moment caused me to fall on my knees and cry out for God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness. I saw the utter selfishness in all the things that I had attempted to do on my own. It was in that moment of sorrow and regret that I came to understand that I needed a relationship with God to make sense of my life. Without that ongoing contact with Him and the acceptance of the gift of salvation and redemption, I would continue on my lonely pathway by myself. The meaning and purpose that I had been seeking for so long became apparent to me as I explored the spiritual significance of life itself. All the other realms of life are transitory and will pass away, only the spiritual dimension of life passes onto eternity.

I had to question myself closely. Would I spend eternity without God, without meaning and purpose? Would I throw away this one opportunity to live a meaningful life here on earth by staying committed to my restless and elfish search for self-gratification, or would I man-up and see the glory of having an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ. Now just like I have found a new dimension of living in my relationship with my wife……something I could not have imagined before it came into my life……I have found a unique purpose and fulfillment in establishing a relationship with you. I am passing onto you what I have discovered in my own life. It is a free gift. Just like it was freely given to me. My hope is that in these letters you will find a point of connection with someone who does not want anything from you. There is nothing that you can do that will enhance my willingness to extend myself on your behalf. You cannot extinguish my interest in you as a human being or my desire to befriend you in the isolation which is imposed upon your life. You can choose to be alone and reject these words of comfort and concern. Just like I could have rejected the comfort of God’s love for me. I write these words because God has shown His great love for me and my whole being is impressed with sharing that love with you and others. I could not keep it to myself any more than a bird can keep their cheerful morning song to itself. It spills out of having the experience of being loved. Once we have truly experienced that love which flows out of a relationship with God, it is impossible to keep it to yourself. That is what I mean when I tell you that all relationships flow out of our basic relationship to God. It energizes our being and transforms our lives.

So now I do not know of your current family situation, but I do extend my hand to establish a different kind of family relationship. I do this for you, because it is exactly what was freely done for me. I am passing along to you the very thing that brought joy and delight into my own life. I am not asking anything of you…..or expecting something in return. We all deserve to be treated with kindness, mercy and compassion. For some who read my words they will be baffled by this expression. They will try to understand how I can do this by using their minds to try to figure it out. It is not a mind thing…..it is a heart thing. And that is why I write to you each month. I believe that we all hunger for the same basic things in life, though we choose many roads to try to get those basic things satisfied. Let these words resonate in your heart…..let them get past the barriers you create in your mind and filter down to the core of your being. That place inside of you that hungers for acceptance, meaning and purpose in your life. We all have that place in common, no matter how we try to hide it from others. It is the most essential human part of our beings. If we have traveled through a lifetime of pain and failure we are likely to do our best to keep this special place hidden. We do not want to experience any more pain or personal defeats.

The very fact that I can write to you about this personal and sensitive place will tell you that I know it well. It is familiar ground to me as I routinely deal with my own vulnerability in this area. My experiences have helped me to understand the significance of spiritual healing in this aspect of my life. I cannot undo my sins or crimes, but I can give new meaning to what lays ahead by coming to an understanding about God’s great love for me and you. Only He is able to take the failings of our past and turn them into victories for His kingdom. He truly has turned my trash into treasure and that has become the source of great comfort in my life. He has done the impossible. It does not matter what others think of me….that is insignificant. It only matters what I do with what I have from this point onward. So I share my meager words and spiritual excitement with you, knowing that God can do the same work in your life that He is doing in my own. That makes us family…….His family.

I find words to be helpful, but I also struggle with the limitations which words bring to expressing my innermost thoughts. But words are all I have to bridge the gap of time and space between us. So please pardon my poor attempts at trying to add color to a black and white picture. I am a poor workman when one considers all the gifts that I have been given in my life. But my heart desires to build a relationship of meaning…..not just words. So while words are my principle tools to reach you, they are also extremely limiting in sharing what I want to say. My words are like my travels, they only have value if I can share them with someone else. Otherwise they are just meaningless gestures incapable of producing awareness in the lives of others. So please pardon my obvious limitations as I seek to bring alive a new dimension in your own life. It is like starting a fire with a piece of flint. I hope that some of my words spark the dry tinder deep within your own heart, and that God will fan the flames into a consuming fire of relationship between you and Him. I am an unprofitable servant and a poorer messenger of His word. But my heart yearns for your salvation and redemption through the completed work of Jesus Christ.

       MANGER LIVING

In a world fraught with an incredible number of choices available to guide our lives it is a tough sell to plead the case for spiritual simplicity. Yet the exquisite assortment of choices which shape our daily lives are laced with the hooks and barbs of painful experiences, trauma and meaningless existence.  To establish our sense of personal worth based upon ownership or relationship is to invite an ever growing negative awareness that our sense of emotional balance is constantly in a precarious state of instability.

Knowing this and being able to detach from the illusions of stability are two separate pathways. Believing in the safety of these illusions eventually leads to crisis, loss and despair. While negotiating the pathway of detachment provides an enriched life experience and tools to negotiate the toughest challenges in life.  One pathway leads to the existential anxiety of aloneness and uncertainty. The other pathway yields a sure knowledge and certainty that there is a divine plan for each life and meaning in every encounter we have with others.

The King of Kings chose a manger as His first earthly throne.  To those who could grasp the significance of this gesture, Jesus Christ invited them to seek out a relationship with His Father that was based upon simple truth. There is nothing complicated about the life of a Christian; which is not to say that we are not often faced with complicated situations.  The essence of His message is summed up in a life committed to the concepts of Faith, Hope and Charity; three elegant concepts for transforming lives.

How to personally operationalize these concepts is the subject of this article. It is strictly an inside job which depends on the individual’s ability to be honest with themselves. The ability to transform our lives does not depend upon our religious fervor, nor does it rely upon our beliefs. The change starts with the realization that our efforts have not yielded a consistent sense of peace and joy. Somehow what we seek and obtain never yields the satisfaction we have been seeking. Instead we just continue the search in a different relationship, acquisition or arena of life.

If our current efforts have not produced the desired results, what direction should we pursue to obtain such a treasure and why should we negotiate a new life strategy? In other words if what you are doing now does not work, stop doing it. It is that simple. In stopping the endless motions and attempts to create a new life, we come to a complete stop. We discard all that we have accumulated and go back to the beginning. It is never too late to begin again.

If the Lord of Life could begin His earthly ministry in a manger, then we can abandon the pretexts of our lives and focus on the simple truth that we are all spiritual beings. We were not created for wealth, lust, greed, pleasure or vindication. We have been created to know Him, serve Him and love Him in this life and share eternity with Him. So where I start this journey makes little difference, a mansion on the East Coast or a death row cell on the West Coast.

In seeking out a relationship with the King who lived like a servant, we acquire the privilege of son-ship with that King, even while we are living in the squalor of a prison. The mind is incapable of embracing the radical notion of this concept. We can only spiritually apprehend this reality by engaging in a relationship with Jesus Christ. If the Lord could come a dwell among us, do you really believe that He would reject a soul that humbly came and confessed his/her sin and asked for forgiveness. It is that simple, coming to Our Creator in faith like the blind man who called out for Jesus as he walked by. This blind man knew that if He could just get to Jesus his whole life would change. That is the kind of faith that moves mountains. Mountains of despair and regret. Mountains of sadness and sorrow. And mountains of humiliations and losses.

Trusting is the act of putting faith into operation. As I read the words of scripture my inner man is renewed and transformed. I start to catch the vision and the spiritual reality starts to manifest in my life no matter where that home may currently be. Knowing that the Holy Spirit is responsible for changing my heart, I stop fretting and worrying about things outside of my personal control. I start to embrace a day to day walk with Jesus Christ as He shows me the divine plan for my life. Nothing I have done previously will keep me from living in His presence. That is the free gift of the Lord, the same God who came and started His life in a lowly manger. Consider what you have now in life, what you have accumulated and accomplished, would it ever match the forgiveness of Our Risen Savior and the everlasting love of God? Doesn’t some small precious part of you hunger to be loved and accepted as a member of the family?

SINNER’S PRAYER  

Lord I have blown it in every area of my life. No matter how I kind myself with bluster and lies, I know deep down inside that I am a sinner unworthy of Your mercy and forgiveness. I draw strength from the promise of Your word, that if I come to You and confess my sins, that You will be faithful to save me from my sin. I believe that Your Son, Jesus Christ suffered and died for my sinfulness. I come to You and confess my sinfulness and ask for Your forgiveness so that I may spend the rest of my life in relationship with You.

Letter #13

For some individuals reality is about their apartment, house, cell or the quiet corner off a busy street. They relate their personal reality to the place where they are currently residing. Others see reality as a function of status or wealth, with those at the lowest end of the rung on the ladder of economics having a twisted reality or merely being unfortunates who cannot make the long climb to the top. The notion that I am in a better place, or have more status, is evidence of our strange ability to routinely delude ourselves based upon the law of appearances or materialism. I am in no way more of a person because of the things I own or the place I live. If that thought shades my perceptions than I am truly on a fool’s errand. In God’s providence we ALL share the same value and potential for eternal life with Him.

We are all residing on borrowed time and will end our human existence when we draw our last breath. Strangely many people miss the fact that the ultimate reality in life is the ongoing battle which rages between good and evil. It is the only manifest ongoing reality that continues to shape our lives with each new decision that we make. The amazing thing about this largely unseen battle is that it expresses its influence in every aspect of our lives, but is crafted as a super-ordinate sphere of inspiration in the midst of our very thought lives. Once choices are exercised by individuals we act as though those are the only choices with which we can shape our destiny. Locked in like a guided missile we often continue to pursue the very things that bring us pain and harm to others. We are blinded to the notion that there is an alternative to self-destruction.

That choice seems to diminish in the distance as we roll down the highway of self-satisfaction. But the truth is that throughout our lives we glimpse tiny visions of another way. Many dismiss these small windows of hope believing themselves to be too far gone, beyond any likelihood or opportunity of salvation. Others focus their worldly hatreds upon the person of God since they believe that it is Him who has failed them. Recently I have been working with someone who is severely wounded in this way. He is unable to even approach a rational discussion about the possibilities of as a caring Creator. I see his horrible pain yet I am powerless to dress his wounds or care for his soul since he has laid the full extent of his lifelong sufferings at God’s doorstep. The most appalling thing about this situation is the fact that Satan has him blinded to the truth. He is unable to distinguish the wicked voices of the past that urged him to vent his fury upon others violently, completely missing the soft sweet voice of His Savior calling him into relationship.

Many think that they have to change their lives completely before God would hear their cries. Others give up at the overwhelming task of trying to make things right. All of these beliefs are simple ploys of the devil who does not want you or I to know of the sweetness of God’s love for us or the promise of redemption from all of our past sins. I do not have to make myself ready for an encounter with the God of the universe. I merely need to acknowledge Him and ask for His forgiveness. My entire sin debt has already been paid in full. There is actually noting more that I can do to make things right, than to ask for His forgiveness. Like an earthly father who gives good things to his children, Our Father desperately wants to bless us in all we do. But like my friend, if we keep pushing His hand away from our lives, He MUST honor our choices and allow us to go along our chosen pathways. That is the paradox of free will. When God loves each of us so much that He would allow us to reject Him and choose eternal condemnation.

We all know individuals from our pasts that treated us in some special ways no matter what kind of reputations that we had developed. They choose to see the best in us, not the worst and when in their presence they treated us with compassion and as equally human in all respect. They managed to see past the wicked deeds and manifest evil which ruled our lives and they saw us with a vision of what we could become. They were rare and special people in our lives, given to us to catch hold of another way of living. That is exactly what Jesus Christ did for each of us on the cross at Calvary. He saw the best in us and through His sacrifice swept our futures clear of the consequences of our sins. All that remains is for us to accept His gift of eternal life and the comfort of a life restored in Him. You see it is not all about the bye and bye, the promises of Jesus Christ apply to the lives we are living right now. While it has been a long time since I have worn prison garb, I remember those days well. I was unable to see past my own ideas of what happiness would be and as a result God was forced to allow me to pursue those things that I thought would bring me joy.

Inevitably I found that the very things that I had been seeking for so long were causing me incredible pain and depriving me of my life. I was the direct cause of my own pain, but I blamed God and others for the state of my life. So I can understand my friend very well indeed. But it is like we are talking two separate languages. He does not understand the basis for my concern for his spiritual life. He can only see my actions as abrasive and insensitive. I recently had a friend commit suicide because of his extreme isolation from others. He saw no alternative but to shoot himself to stop his pain.  I grieved his death, but decided at that point that I would not be slack in telling others about the truth. So my friend who has no knowledge of this event can only reflect upon my words. I do not want him to be focused on anything else, but the truth of God’s Word. What I have to say is immaterial and unimportant. What God has to say to each of us in the ultimate reality. I am nothing, He is all.

I believe that most people hunger for imparted righteousness. They want to stand clean before God, but have no idea how to get to that point in their lives. They spend an incredible amount of time and energy attempting to ascend to God in their daily struggles to be worthy of His love. The inherent problem with this type of thinking lies in the simple fact that there is NOTHING we can do to elevate ourselves. We are all sinners and therefore are unworthy of anything but eternal condemnation. But God is not a human being, we are created in His image and likeness. Nevertheless His ways are far higher that our ways. In His incredible love for each of us, He has made a way for us to reach out to Him. That way is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Talk about having an inside track on life, this is the real thing. And all we need do to access this salvation link is to call upon Jesus Christ and ask for forgiveness for our sins. It is really just that simple. In that moment of quiet confession, our lives are covered by His righteousness and our sin debt is paid in full. Christians should not boast of anything, but the love of Jesus Christ in their lives. Given that His mercy and compassion has enveloped our lives, we should be the first to forgive others and share this great love with others freely. My sins are scarlet and festering, Christ is the healing oil that restores my spirit and fills my life with purpose and joy.

Before I came into this relationship, I remember that when I heard these kinds of statements uttered by others, I would think that these claims were just too fantastic to be true. Like the taste of vanilla ice cream, if you have never tasted it then you have no idea what ice cream is or what vanilla might taste like; it is no different with understanding the grace of God. If you have not tasted of God’s goodness and mercy, then you have NO reference point by which to gage His promises as they apply to your life. You can only go by what others have had to say about God and that includes former “religious” experiences. Religion can never get you to where you want to go. God is spirit, the only way that we can ever relate to a holy God is in spirit and in truth.

I must come to Him as I am; a sinner….a hopeless and helpless sinner. In spite of all my good intentions, over and over again I find myself at odds with what God has spoken into my life. That is everyone’s reality. We all are engaged in the daily battle between good and evil. Only those who are totally blinded by Satan’s ploys and lies, refuse to see the repetitive cycle of events which dominate our lives. In the act of surrender I reach out to God and place the struggle into His hands, asking Him to guide me along my future pathway. It is that simple. God is love, and when we want to have a relationship He will make that possible by the grace He pours out onto all lives. You see all human life is precious to God, it is Satan who hates us and seeks to destroy us by getting us caught up in his trap of deception and deceit. Satan’s hatred of us is based upon a simple concept. We are all made in God’s image and likeness. When Satan looks upon any of us, he is revolted by the indelible mark of our Creator’s love, present in all human life, past, present and future. If Satan can get us to renounce our Father’s love, then he can claim our eternal souls by default. In other words he can trick us out of our eternal inheritance as a child of God.  Don’t take my word for it, pray about these statements and search the scriptures of the Holy Bible. You will find the truth if you truly seek it. Truth is eternal. It never varies. It is a light to your path throughout life.

*****

There will always be people in your life that kick you when you are down. And when you manage to stand up tall, they want to pull you down again. But the challenge of living is to give them room to vent their anger and still be a loving witness of God’s work in your life. I recently had a similar experience with family members that was a painful reminder of my own limitations in healing the wounds of others. Sometimes the only recourse that we have available to us is to place those individuals in God’s care. Given the fact that we each have free will, we are powerless to impact the thought life of another human being. I recently saw a news piece in which the mother of a man killed by another individual waited until the noose was placed around the killer’s neck and he was standing on the edge of eternity. Moving around in front of the prisoner, she slapped him across the face and then publicly forgave him for his actions. They happened in Iran, in a nation that has been billed as hostile to Western values. I was inspired by her actions since no one would have condemned her for allowing his execution to go forward. Yet in the midst of her turmoil and pain, she was able to remember the value of a human life and meet out justice with an overwhelming sense of compassion. She must be a remarkable person and one that I would have enjoyed getting to know. The reality of her pain did not her ability to impart mercy to one who did not deserve this consideration. What a tribute to her lost son, to have a mother with such integrity. In the U.S. we lose sight of an individual’s worth with the pronouncement of the death sentence. God never loses sight of our worth to Him. He is not a person like us, but rather Our Heavenly Father who pours Himself out upon us in loving forgiveness and everlasting mercy. This is an important reminder to me as I start to heal from recent events which occurred in my own life. It is a matter of choice to forgive those who have injured us. To let go of the pain and anger of hatred and exclusion and to make a point to live out each day with a fresh vision of God’s love for us. It takes work to keep this reminder before our eyes, it does not take any effort to hate someone blindly because they have hurt us deeply.  When I hate I lose this day and every day that I am consumed with these feelings.

In the battle between good and evil, there are few lulls in the struggle. An internal battle rages in our thoughts which expresses the state of our hearts. I cannot be phony in my attitudes toward others, when I am in deep pain I can only ask God to soothe my discomfort and to strengthen me for the days ahead. I am often powerless in my ability to help myself, but I know that there is One who will always respond to my cry for help. He is faithful and loving. So one day at a time I choose the road that I will follow. My reality changes as I make those daily decisions. I find the strength and focus to stay committed even when I have stepped off of the pathway to life. I am never on my own, there is always a Presence in my life to help me through those moments when I cannot take the next step by myself. Hope does not stem from a governors commutation of sentence or from a pardon. It comes solely from the knowledge that there is One who totally understands the challenges and sins of your life and this One will never abandon you. People will always fail us, but God never fails us at our point of need. He has a different viewpoint concerning our lives and seeks to promote our wellbeing if we are willing to trust our lives to His care. If you come from a background of having no trust in anyone else, then it is a very difficult thing to reach out a trust an unseen God with the only thing that is yours…..your own life. I do not expect you to grasp this challenge on my word alone. Ash Him yourself to revel Himself in your life. He knows everything about you and will respond to an open and honest prayer request for His help. He also knows about your doubts and fears and is in the best possible situation to respond in a way that only He could give to you as an answer to your prayer. In your life you have tried many things that did not work out so well in the end. In this simple suggestion you have nothing to lose in asking for His help and everything to gain.

I would encourage you to think clearly about the message of this letter. There is an ongoing battle between good and evil, it is all around us. Take a long look at the world and ask yourself if you can, to explain how these things happen if there is no spiritual warfare at work in our lives. Share with me any other explanation which you might embrace, because it seems to be incredibly evident that we are caught up in this battle throughout our lives. Our solitary role is to make a decision which side of the battle we are going to join. If you have previously made the wrong decision, you can change that choice even now. That is what God’s love is all about, forgiveness and mercy. He is not our enemy, rather our Creator who understands every aspects of our lives. That is why He sent His son, Jesus Christ to pay for the complete sin debt that we each owe. Would you choose to die in your own sin, rather than accept a heavenly pardon? It may seem bizarre, but some are so deluded by the lies of Satan that they go to their deaths believing that they cannot be forgiven. Please remember that in the Scriptures, Satan is known as the Father of Lies. Think about people who have lied to you, were they seeking your best interests?

If you take the time to study Scripture you will find that it contains a story about the struggle between good and evil. It is not my story, it is God’s love letter to us to warn us and help us as we go through our days. As you take the time to read and understand this love letter, pieces which have been missing throughout your life will start to fall into place. You will come to an understanding about things that you never previously understood. As that happens you will be filled with the knowledge that you are the one that this letter was written about and that God’s love is for you and me. It is not something unreachable, it was given as a divine gift to all those who reach out and accept it. You see a gift is nothing until it has been accepted by the one to whom it has been given. If the governor offered you the gift of a pardon on the date set for your execution, would you refuse to accept it? Most would accept it joyfully and look forward to the days that remained in their lives. That gift would bring a whole new vision of life. Closed doors opening to you because of an unexpected gift. That is the same way that the salvation which was earned by Jesus Christ works in our lives. It is a precious gift just waiting to be accepted by us. None of us can earn this privilege on our own. We are all sinners standing before a holy God. Because of His great love for us, He has made a way for us to live in peace with Him because of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for each of us. It does not matter what YOU have done in the past. All that matters now is what you do with the truth that you have been given. Explore the gift, ask for guidance, share it with others and watch what God starts to do with a life that has been written off by the rest of society. I am older now and I have seen the hand of God work in the strangest of ways in lives of believers. I cannot stand by myself, I am merely a human being riddled with faults and failures, but my Creator is able to take my willingness to be changed and shape it into something that is valuable and precious to Him.

He has promised to do this for all of us. There are no exceptions to this rule of life. The only condition attached to this promise is the fact that we must accept the gift and act upon its promises. Nothing else is required. There is nothing else you can do in your own power. That is what makes this promise of redemption so powerful, because on our own initiative we cannot do anything to change our situation. But God comes along side and offers us a free gift out of His great love for us. If I look around at others I see nothing to recommend by belief in a loving God, because all of the others that I see are struggling with their own issues in this battle of good versus evil. We are all like blind men who cannot offer others any real sense of direction. We are the blind leading the blind. But there is One who has the power to heal that lifelong blindness if we are just willing to ask Him to heal us. As our Father He wants to bless us, it is only Satan who wants to use us into deceiving others and spending eternity in hell with him. Like crabs in a barrel, as one starts to climb out on top of the others, the crabs below will grab the one on top and pull it back down into the barrel. You have seen this happen in life with people that you know personally. Do not let this happen to you, take the hand that has been offered to you from above. It is a hand that you can trust.

This period of time has contained high points and low points in my life. But I know that I am His and will move through this rough time into a green valley where my peace is restored. I know this because it is the story of my life since coming into relationship with Jesus Christ. I have had to learn how to be silent and know that He is God. When I am willing to calm the storm that rages in my heart, He always manifests His presence in the events of my life. Already today I have seen how my recent family experiences have helped me to understand the plight of others who are wrestling with pain and shame in their own lives. That knowledge helps me to understand that I am not here by accident, but rather to reach out to others in love and compassion. That knowledge gives me great strength and direction. I pray that you will find the same knowledge within yourself

A PRAYER FOR WISDOM: Help me Lord to know Your truth for my life. Help me to act upon Your great love for me and help me to bless others in Your name. I trust in You.

Letter #12

I had made plans to write a bright letter about the blessing of redemption, a sort of encouraging way to look at the precious gift of God, but then I ran into my own sinfulness and the wretchedness of my own condition. I found out that I am a spiritual armadillo with a tendency to jump high when there are great evidences of God’s blessings, but to sink low in shame and grief when my actions fail to measure up to God’s standards for my life. So I have been fighting a battle of grief and misery over the carelessness of my own spiritual condition. I assumed that I was well in charge of my own life and therefore able to assist others from that secure position. What I found out is that I am neither in charge nor in control of my own unpredictability.

So this letter comes addressed to you from the level of my floor as I try to stand back up and pour out my guilt and pain to a Risen Savior. From this experience I have come to understand the helplessness of my own spiritual condition and can embrace more fully my need for the forgiveness of Jesus Christ in everything that I try to undertake. So in this letter I more fully approach you as a brother or sister in need of His tender mercies and ongoing encouragement. It is very easy to tell others how to fix the wrongs in their lives, and society seems to give an exaggerated for of importance to those of us who arrive beyond the year 65. It is all selfish nonsense to assume that any of us is in a position to criticize others or to make judgments about their spiritual integrity.

So this letter is written from a new understanding of God’s word in my own life. It is a continuing attempt to lift those who have fallen and become the target of society’s kicks and rejection. Seeing my own unworthiness so sharply defined against the holiness of God has been an event which I cannot explain in words. I am left with a greater level of intensity to be a witness and a friend to those in need of comfort and support. If I did not have this letter to write to you, I suspect that I would have lost my own sense of purpose after recent events. So I am humbled to be able to pour out my limited understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness. Perhaps we can assist each other down this road of life and celebrate the redeeming work of Jesus Christ together throughout eternity.

My day started with a breakfast meeting with a close friend. I define this as a closer friendship because there is nothing between us which bars the most intimate of conversations. Today’s conversation focused on the private effects of sin. I sat with him and poured out the recent events which have led me into the experience of disconnection with God. I was able to freely discuss my personal vulnerabilities and the ways that we try to hide from God after sinning. My behaviors were no different that those of Adam and Eve after their act of disobedience.

They hid out of shame from their loving Creator. I am no different, even though my wounds were self inflicted. The primary difference lies in the fact that through the mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ I was able to return and seek His forgiveness and restoration into relationship with Him: For me that is the essential message of redemption. The right to acknowledge my wrongs and ask for His forgiveness and mercy:  There is no such thing as easy absolution from sin or cheap forgiveness. It cost Him his life, horrible torture, the rejection of society and burial in a borrowed tomb. That is a pretty hefty price to pay for my wrongdoing.

As I ask myself the questions about why He would be willing to do this for me, I am left with only one obvious answer. Why would anyone die for someone else, especially someone caught up in their own personal wickedness? It was the act of Supreme Love for a wretch like me. How can a Holy God descend to pay the price of my selfishness, in fact how can He even look upon me when I have made an instantaneous decision to do things my own way? Why would He not cast me aside and discard me like a broken tool of no use? This only answer is the true nature of His love for you and me.

I have sought his forgiveness and mercy and am comforted that out of the wicked experience He has allowed me to put these words down to share with you. I am indebted to His glory and majesty that even in the midst of my fall He can catch me and turn something repulsive into an act of fellowship with others who struggle with their own issues. Only God who walked the face of the earth like you and me could personally know the pain we endure when we cut ourselves off from His grace and goodness.

So my Easter defeat has become an Easter victory as I see His goodness and glory working in the shameful events. Like Peter on the sea shore after Jesus resurrection, I can personally understand the intensity of the questions which Jesus asked Peter. DO YOU LOVE ME, Jesus asked Peter three times. Three times Peter had to look at the shamefulness of his betrayal of his Friend and Savior. But hat experience of confronting his sinfulness in the presence of Jesus Christ was a time of healing and spiritual restoration. My personal confrontation with my own sinfulness while shameful and painful has become a touchstone of spiritual renewal and has strengthened me for the days ahead.

Do you need Him to renew you soul and refresh your spirit? Do you need to be washed in the blood of Our Lord and Savior. All you need do is ask for His forgiveness and He will pour out that blessing of restoration and redemption upon your request. I took several days before coming into a right relationship of repentance with Jesus Christ. During that time there was no spiritual comfort, only despair and personal humiliation over my wicked choices. Satan is an expert at encouraging us to sin and then when we go for I, he is the first to ridicule us before God’s heavenly throne. In that time immediately after sinning, he skillfully attempts to get us to believe that we could never be forgiven for our actions before a loving God.

What he does not want you to know is the fact that God never stops loving you and only waits patiently for us to acknowledge our sinfulness and ask for the restoration of fellowship with Him. That is the core of Christianity, our relationship with a tender and loving God. A God who was willing to have His Son die in our place. A God who would rather His Son suffer for us than to see any of us slip into hell based upon Satan’s lies. So if you are in that place of spiritual isolation, all you need to do is cry out for mercy and forgiveness. He will always hear His child’s desperate cry for help. My sinful slip may serve you well in ripping away the mask of spiritual exclusion which Satan craftily puts into the minds of those who have violated God’s law of love. But with that masked snatched away, his attempts to cut us off from the grace of God will always fail. Could you look upon a helpless child and not have any feelings about its vulnerability? That is the way that Jesus Christ looks upon us as we stumble through his lifetime. Always present and always a friend. So I would ask you to let my painful stumbling be a source of freedom for you no matter where your body may be housed. I was sorely troubled by my actions and wrote the following prayer calling out to the mercies of God. I share this with you out of a deep and abiding affection toward each of you, in the hopes that it will refresh and restore your own spirits.

THE SADNESS OF SINFULNESS

The dark garden of despair….

I wonder at the love that has restrained Your hand from smiting down. I am saddened by my sinfulness and betrayal of Your love. Oh Lord have mercy on me as I grasp the awareness that I have sinned against You, the One who has eternally loved me. There is a place of despair inside of me that feels it could never be restored to fellowship with You. I know that is a lie of the evil one, the same one who has urged me to make destructive choices. I cannot lift myself up, my burden is too great. Please have mercy upon me. For without Your mercy, grace and forgiveness I cannot take my next breath. My body must refuse the gift of the air that I breathe as it presses in upon me and reminds me that You care for me and love me in the most divine ways possible. I am repelled and filled with self-loathing that I would take Your sweet offer of friendship so lightly. Please Lord, hear my cry just one more time, let me hear the sweetness of Your comforting love. I cannot bear to remain apart from Your presence and I esteem myself as nothing in Your presence. If I lose You and Your love than I have lost everything with any meaning. So long, too long I have taken Your graciousness for granted. Always believe that I could enter Your throne room at any time and make things right with you by calling upon your mercy and forgiveness. My sin is not yesterday’s, but a lifetime of taking You for granted. I cannot bear to look at myself and the harm my actions have engendered in my life and the lives of others.  The fact that I would choose to pursue a moment of distraction and to close my mind off from conscious contact with Your Holy Spirit disgusts me. I can see why hell becomes a personal choice and an absolute punishment. For to be cast away from Your presence is the greatest tragedy which could await any man. I have long known the words, without having the experience of this moment. God forgive me, I feel like nothing will ever be right again, yet Your word comforts me even at this grievous moment. I am an abject failure who has pursued my own understanding, which has been dimmed by my failure to pursue You as a light to my path. If you will grant me a brief moment of redemption and hope of eternal salvation, with Your grace I will live out my life in the grateful service to Your Holy Name. I have no claim upon Your Grace, I can only petition at Your bloodied feet for Your promise of compassion. Please Lord guide me out of this deep, dark garden of horrors, all of my own making and wash me in Your precious blood. Jesus I trust in you with all my heart.

Forgiveness, true forgiveness and redemption, is a gift of God. I can do nothing in my sinful condition to restore relationship with God. It is an act of incredible compassion and mercy that moves me from the clutches of sin and guilt into the Throne Room of My Father. I can do nothing to make things right, the gift only flows out of His great love for you and me. Most of us have no reference point in our lives to try to start to understand that kind of love. But the truth is that it is available to each of us as a free gift. Just for the asking. Please do not let your eternal life choices hang on my words alone. Ask Him yourself and experience His healing love for you. He will never fail to answer that simple prayer of a contrite heart.

Peter grieved his sinfulness and I have grieved my own. But that pain and shame has been washed away in the outpouring of God’s love for each of us. Continued stumbling in the darkness of life is a choice. Why not step into the light of His love and put that spiritual burden down. A spiritual advisor suggested that I seek counsel in Psalms 139 to allow the healing grace of God to restore peace to my soul. I want to share that short message with you.

O Lord, you have searched me

And you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise

You perceive my thoughts from afar

You discern my going out and my lying down

You are familiar with all my ways

Before a word in on my tongue

You know it completely, Lord.

You hem me in-behind and before

You have laid Your hand upon me

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.

Too lofty for me to attain

Where can I go from Your Spirit

Where can I flee from Your presence?

If I go up to the heavens You are there

If I make my bed in the depths, You are there

If I rise on the wings of the dawn

If I settle on the far side of the sea

Even there Your hand will guide me

Your right hand will hold me fast.

If I say surely the darkness will hide me

And  light becomes night around me

even the darkness will not be dark to You

The night will shine like the day

For darkness is light to You.

For You created my inner being

You knit me together in my mother’s womb

I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made

Your works are wonderful

I knew that full well My frame was not hidden from You

When I was made in the secret place

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth

You saw my unformed body

All the days ordained for me

Were written in Your book

Before one of them came to be

How precious to me are Your thoughts Oh Lord

How vast is the sum of them

Were I to count them

They would outnumber the grains of sand

When I awake

I am still with You.

If only You would slay the wicked Oh God

Away from me you bloodthirsty men

They speak of You with evil intent

Your adversaries misuse Your name

Do I hate those who hate You Oh Lord?

And abhor those who rise up against You?

I have nothing but hate for them

I count them my enemies

Search me O God and know my heart

Tst me and know my anxious thoughts

See if there is any offensive way in me

And lead me in the way everlasting.

The pridefulness that slips into our lives in the moments before we act on our anger, selfishness, greed or lusts blinds us to the danger in the moments just before we sin. It is only later that we look back and see how wrongful our actions were, but by then we are often left with the consequences which we must pay and the guilt we bear. This is true of everyone, not just those on death row. It seems to be the slippery slope leading to detachment from God’s ever present love for us. I hope that my words bring you a sense of comfort, rather than feeling condemned by another person. You see we share the same spiritual battle. Sin is sin and there are no grades to sinfulness. There is no such thing as a white lie, each event is evil and causes suffering for a loving God. But it is only with His grace that I can move toward living a different life. By myself I cannot do anything to change my own wicked ways.

Dearest Child,

Your current situation troubles my heart more than you could know. It pains me to see you struggling with choices that I know will harm you and leave you wounded for a lifetime. Yet I know that unless I let you move ahead and discover these things for yourself, then you will never come to understand how much I really love you.

When the steel cell door closed behind you it left a ringing sound in my memory that has echoed through all of my thoughts about you. Just as you suffer now behind walls and barbed wire, I also suffer to see you in such pain. It seems that you cannot hear my voice anymore saying I love you. You have forgotten the quiet moments we have shared in the past. Your very being calls out for care and comfort, but when I seek to bring you into fellowship with me, you push away and distance yourself.

So I am left with watching you destroy yourself and others. My only way to reach you is to stand apart and allow you to exercise your own free will. Perhaps in some future season your pain will become unbearable and in your anguish you will call upon me to come to your aid. That seems to be the way that many of my children find their way back into a loving relationship with me. I am waiting patiently for your invitation to come to your assistance. It is my great love for you that keeps me waiting patiently in the shadows of your life.

As you look at the cold starkness of the world that now surrounds you, it is difficult to remember loving moments and the warmth of someone who love you. While the cold prison environment embraces your body and limits your mind, please let your spirit reach out and be touched with my love and care for you. You are my precious child; how could I ever fail to remember you as my own. Come home sweet child, to the One who truly loves you and waits to welcome you back home. We will have a feast to welcome you home and you will truly be loved as one of the family.

Your Loving Father..

*****

Every aspect of our lives is known to God, and in spite of all of our wickedness He never gives up on us. It is not your crimes or offenses that will determine where you will spend eternity. For mine are equally black, and my sinfulness haunts me. The only thing that will be asked of you on that day will be a single question about “Did you make Jesus Christ Lord of Your life?” If you can reply in the affirmative, then it is essential to know that you are RESTORED to fellowship wherever you are right now. There is no waiting period, it is an instantaneous transformation. A gift from The Holy Spirit: Only in eternity can any of us look back and see how God used all of the events of our lives to work out His divine plan.

That does not mean he allowed or encouraged our sinfulness. That is solely the realm of Satan who wants to see us in hell with him for eternity. Anything that reminds him of God’s holiness, he is intent upon destroying. Remember that each of us…thugs, murderers, rapists, thieves and liars were made in the image and likeness of God. WE each carry the indelible mark of God’s creative workmanship. If Satan can capture our soul then he delights in bringing his victory before the throne of God. Remember to read Job in your Bible.  It will help you to come into an understanding of Satan’s role. It is always best to know your enemy, so you can guard yourself when he attacks. And he will attack you when you least expect it. I know because I fell down recently and have used that experience to create a shield of prayer and truth about you. Was my fall painful, yes, but it has taught me to remain ever watchful and to be on my spiritual guard at all times.

*****

LORD, PLEASE FORGIVE ME

IN spite of my best intensions I continue to stumble and fall. When I am down on the ground again, I feel that I am so far from Your loving hand. Please Lord, reach out Your hand and catch me, like You caught Peter when he began to sink because of his doubt. Fill me Lord with certain knowledge of Your presence in my life. Help me to surrender all of my wickedness and the trash of my life. I believe that You can restore what the locust have eaten. I place myself in Your care. Jesus I trust in You.

Letter #11

Every human being has a need to connect with others in some kind of meaningful ways. Those living on death row are not exempt from these feelings, but for these men and women lack of trust may be the essential barrier to communicating with others. We all need to experience a sense of restoration and acceptance in order to be nourished and sustained. My letters always contain a spiritual focus because I believe that there is no other relationship which can sustain us like a direct link with God. People will always disappoint us and leave us empty as we seek out relationship with them. The primary purpose of each of these letters is to forge a connection with those who have no other outlet for being fulfilled and sustained in their daily lives.

Today is a gloomy day with intermittent storms passing through South Louisiana. It has also been a time of soul searching about the Dismas Project ministry. I received the art work today for the cover of the second book (written for offenders). I liked one of the items that were offered. I am struggling with my ability to continue to embrace a positive and motivated outlook about this work. I am at this place for many reasons, but the one that seems to be most apparent is the fact SO many people talk about the value of this ministry, honestly it is a struggle and major effort to continue moving forward. I frequently hear the voices of people who encourage this effort, yet they are unwilling or unable to come together in an organized fashion to change the face of isolation for offenders and their family members. So I am left wondering if I am carrying this message for God, or if I am pushing forward because of some unrecognized need of my own.

My head and heart tells me that there are millions of people in America who are hurting and wounded by events stemming from an encounter with the criminal justice system. My intellect tells me that these souls are hunkered down in communities’ across the country, trying to make themselves small and unnoticeable.  Pain does strange things to people. One of the most consistent things that I hear from death row offenders is the lack of contact with family for any number of reasons. I believe that Dismas Project can be an effective resource in helping to re-establish and restore contact with loved ones. This is a practical outreach which is offered to you to help ease the pain of isolation and condemnation. Every human being has inherent value and dignity and even the smallest steps can be helpful in easing the pain.

I struggle with my own spirituality just the same as you. I long to be able to do the “right thing” but more often than not I fall flat on my face. I often feel like I am laboring in a long field that is covered with large rocks and boulders. My wife has interpreted that this dream and has told me that I must move the boulders and rocks before I can sew any seeds into the land below the rocks and boulders. She also told me that any harvest is a long way off. Now I can certainly agree with her assessment based upon the slow growth in this ministry outreach. By the way I do not like struggling with rocks and boulders, but that seems to be my lot at the present time. I share these things with you because I believe that perhaps these efforts may give you an understanding about the underlying thoughts that we have for each of you.

At this particular time, I have been experiencing a surge of gratitude. What that means in practical terms is that I find myself considering the past – my personal history- with a sense of newness and pleasure. The nuns that took the time to educate me as a student at St. Joseph’s elementary school: assisted in building the grounds to my monthly outreach to you. The gift of learning that they passed onto me is the basis of my ability to write to you each month. I think that more than a few of them would strongly approve of this ministry. The gift of helps that I received today from a laser printer repair man who came to my home to repair our new printer was astonishing. : After he finished his work he told me that I should take the money I would have paid for his efforts and use it for this ministry and the gift of encouragement that I received from the cheerful and helpful young woman at Walgreens.  There are times when I struggle with the meaning to this ministry that God has given to me, but it is these private encounters that seem to restore my spirits and strengthens my resolve to continue this outreach. It is my hope that these simple messages strengthen each of you.

Today I received a letter from a death row prisoner who asked me to take him off the mailing list. Of course I will honor his request, but will continue to pray for him and others who find my letters a burden rather than a comfort. Today I also received a letter from a man in Arizona who is doing hard time in lock down or protective custody as the system calls it. His pain was discernible in his words. WE have all offended others in our earthly walk, some more offensively than others. But what I have come to understand is that God’s forgiveness covers all kinds of sins.  So, I am not willing to engage in the judgment of others instead, it is my hope to restore others to human relationship by showing mercy and compassion to my brothers and sisters in chains.

Perhaps the words that flow as I write to you are part of my ancestral heritage having been born of Irish Catholic parents. They say that Ireland is the land of writers and poets and its offspring has traveled far and wide scattering the seeds of knowledge and discernment. Maybe a little of that heritage has rubbed off on me. I know that the American culture has morphed my viewpoint toward unwise tolerance and acceptance. Somewhere between these diverse viewpoints the bridge of Christianity has transformed my understanding and revitalized my vision of brotherly love and service. One thing that I am certain of at this point in my life is that personal spirituality is the key to restoring a meaningful relationship with God.

For me to speak of personal spirituality means the attitude shift that has encompassed my view of life. Somewhere in my early prayerful engagement the Holy Spirit began a long term transformation which has introduced me to the Love of God.  It was out of that experience with love that I have been able to come to understand the majesty of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection in very personal matters. This does not mean that I have not stumbled in my thoughts words or deeds instead, it means that no matter how often I fall. Jesus is always standing by and saying I’ve got you covered Kevin! What a friend indeed. That reality feeds my desire to know Him better, so reading the Holy Bible is not a task, but a time to spend with a dear friend. It also becomes a time of refreshment and encouragement. My hope is that you find similar comfort. My words have no value in themselves; they merely point the way toward the One who loves us with such passion that He was willing to die for each of us. He NEVER gives up on any of us don’t give up on Him.

What I have noticed in my personal life is the strange reality that often, very often my best attempts to communicate with those close to me ( or those I perceive as close to me) triggers a cold and rejecting response. My spirituality has led me to a place where I now understand that the response informs me about their own personal struggles during their life journeys. That shift in awareness has helped me to continue to express mercy and compassion to them rather than to withdraw into a protective barrier of isolation. That renewal of spirit and focus toward others is directly related to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. I could not produce that response on my own. It also serves well in writing various books to expand the understanding of others regarding the value and dignity of all lives.

In the early months of this year I wrote about rejection, despair and devastation, a range of topics which could touch every reader’s life if they cared to be honest with themselves. In fact I received a handful of requests for death row prisoners requesting that I take them off of our mailing list. I imagine that my words had a profound effect upon their lives in terms of revisiting sadness and regrets. I am not one to put a happy face on the truths of our lives I rather used that background of reality to paint a clear understanding of the absolute value that reconciliation and restoration has in determining the ultimate meaning in each of our lives. I trust in your ability to find value in having someone relate to you as a truth teller. The same principles that I have written about to you apply to my own life. That is why I have a passion to share with each of you a new way of looking at your life and the choices that you still have the ability to make.  I believe in your value and dignity in spite of your earthly struggles.

Tonight I went to dinner at Cracker Barrel and received the third gift of the day. The young waitress who waited upon me has the unusual ability to be spontaneously honest with others. I asked a question which puts people in an immediate state of conflict with their personal accomplishments and she responded from the heart. What a wonderful gift to find another truth teller, even in one so young. It has been a red letter day, having encountered so many quality people. This is what replenishes my spirit and allows me to extend my hand to others. Sometimes I go a long distance without this kind of refreshment, but when I find it, it is so refreshing and rewarding. I write to you in the same hope of developing a relationship of caring and truth that underlies all of our correspondence. I can’t ask you for it, it has to be freely given and received. That is the nature of true human interaction. You will not find any entertainment value in my writings they are meant to touch a hallow place in your life that has gone a long way without any refreshment or care. That is my way of restoring a quality of humanity to your lives. It probably seems foreign to you that someone would want to humanize your experience of life. But that is who I am and what I am about as I move toward the finish of my life’s journey. Isn’t this what the meaning of life is all about?

While I am trained as a neuropsychologist, my views stem from the reality of God’s love in my life. I understand the structure and function of the brain, but it is my experience with the vitality of the human spirit that funds my desire to reach out and share a different viewpoint with you. It is not over till it’s over. That is the most dynamic aspect of having a soul. Things can be transformed in a moment of understanding and acceptance. There is no separate article this month it just felt right to share recent events in my life and offer them to you as a way of deepening your own understanding. If you and I could spend a few hours together, these are the things that I would most desire to share with you: The true experience of living. Then no one could ever take this away from you ever again or deprive you of living out each day to the maximum.

I am sitting here waiting for a call from a friend in Canada who was released from prison in October. He is having a very difficult time adjusting since his name and record was published in the newspaper upon his release, urging the public to protest themselves from this man. He served over 35 years in prison and somehow is still viewed as a serious threat in a wheel chair. Oh how Satan loves to use fear as a principal weapon to keep us from recognizing the humanness inside each of us. During our last conversation he told me that he was on the verge of re-offending so that he can go back inside. At least in that environment he would be accepted and have meaningful dialogue with others. His other choice was to commit suicide. What a tragic set of choice to live your life between. Few people have a true understanding of Christianity, and fewer try to live out its principles in their daily lives, yet they all think that they are going to heaven! That is pride and arrogance. God hates the proud, but He will sustain the humble hearted. I strongly believe that Jesus Christ has a special affection for prisoners based upon His actions.

Everyone who receives this letter has something of great value to share with me and others, a color, music, thoughts or memories. I need to encourage you to reach beyond those bars that confine you and share the slightest of treasures. They will have meaning to me personally and to those who are learning about your humanity.  I believe that the way that we change things happens by building connections one person at a time. I attended a conference at Delta State University in Mississippi this week where I was a speaker. Before I started my talk, I gave a short pre-test to understand the scope of knowledge that those in the audience had regarding the plight of mass incarceration in America. Only five percent of those attending were able to identify the accurate number of people currently caught up in the criminal justice system. With your help the number of uninformed individuals can steadily be challenged. As they come to real understanding of this political and economic situation they can be a voice for change. So your voice matters and I will amplify it by thousands or more, if you share your words.

One of my hopes for the coming year is to start a family group via Google or Skype so that families of those in prison can have a free resource that speaks to their needs.  As I drove home through the Mississippi delta, I passed MSP at Parchman and I thought of the men living just outside my reach in that environment. My thoughts go out to them and to the others across the US. I noticed as I traveled that things are beginning to bloom. The colors of Spring are a treat and of course they vary by the region that I happen to be visiting. For my spirit they are an evident sign of renewal and hope in new beginnings.  Currently I am working on my third and fourth non-fiction books. One is being written for professionals who work with offenders and their families to open their eyes to the need for mercy and compassion. The other is being written for the general public as a way of informing the average reader of the experience of incarceration, particularly life on death row. The words are my own, but the awareness I am hoping to share with others has come about in part through the letters which have been shared with me over the last several years. Each writer has blessed me in some tangible way and I thank you for what you have entrusted to me. I believe that WE can change things, one person, one day at a time.

During that drive and others like it, I have been given reason to think deeply upon the many circumstances of my own life. At times I find myself reflecting upon those situations which seemed to envelope my life, refusing to let me go. While none have proven fatal each have shaped some aspect of my life, I am sure that I am not alone in these deep personal encounters. So I include the following paragraphs as an invitation to reflect upon your own experiences. So much of our personal experiences occur in the silence of our own persons. I believe that there is a substantive quality to each of these life encounters and when they are shared with others freely they provide a window into the soul of a human being. My thoughts here are nothing more than a window on my personal struggles with fears real and imagined.

The most difficult place that I have ever been trapped is deep within me, far from the comfort of those who truly know me and even farther from the reality which is pressing in on me. My eyes and ears are monitoring data, but my senses can scarcely compete with the excessive head noise that continually distracts me. My mind goes from the extremes of relief to grief as I try to sort my way through a wilderness that I thought I knew so well. There is a battle raging between my head and my heart and the conflict rarely abates. The fury of this struggle causes me to lower my head and block any thoughts or feelings which disagree with what my pain is telling me. Somehow I have become accustomed to the pain of the moment and if I do nothing else, it will just remain the same or it might ease a bit. Nothing I am doing seems to bring actual relief from my on-going pain and as the walls of my protective castle start to fall around me, I am once again starting to wonder where can I flee to next? Inside I feel as if my heart has melted and my mind is permanently stuck in the on position. My taste is gone, my faith is broken, my hungers go unrecognized and my thirst is beyond satiation. I am a form which everyone can reflect upon, but few truly see me these days for who I am. I avoid the mirrors because the image they cast back has no common points with the person that I was at one time.

In my haste to abandon pain and threats of exposure I have left behind a world of people, places and things. Somehow I have exchanged that reality for an illusion of safety and personal peace. It is not distance which feeds my spirit, nor will safety be found in exchanging one role for another. Inevitably wherever I go, there I am, the same person carrying the burdens that I sought to leave behind me. You see I am your soul, I see all, hear all and more importantly I know all: That little voice, that troublesome nudge from conscience, that dull reminder of damaged ties fill the soul with the laments of distress that cannot be extinguished in the absence of truth. If truth is our guide, then I can always return to the dream I have been pursing, only this time with the soothing balm of healing love, rather than the turmoil of ongoing pain. I can repair & restore the damage which has been created by defusing the terror which has pervaded the lives of those who love me. Then I am free to choose whatever course suits my present & my future. In giving love to those who treasure me, I can recapture a sense of intimacy we have shared & move past the demands my fears make.

PRAYER FOR FAITH

Lord only You know the pathways of my life and the things that I have done. When things continue to kick me when I am down it is hard to even imagine that someone really loves me. I have few options and one of them is to shut you out and pretend that You do not exist. The options seem bleak and beyond belief. If I am ever going to understand the way You see me, then I desperately need You to fill my life with purpose. I need something that only You can give to me. And the worst part of it is that I do not even know what it is that I need. Perhaps I am horribly broken and unable to recognize or accept myself as I am. Lord I truly need the gift of self-understanding so that I am able to draw some meaning from the journey of my life. But here I am on the edge of eternity and I really have no reason to believe You have any conscious thought of me or my life. But I am taking the only small step possible and asking You to accept me as I am and come into my life. I surrender it all to Your loving care and direction. Thank You.

Letter #10

RECONCILATION

Last December I made a list of four topics that I wanted to focus upon in these monthly letters. You have received the first three letters already; rejection, despair and devastation. To me, they appear to be a capsule summary of the way that many of us have lived our lives up until now. These topics have provided a foundation upon which I have hoped to build a mutual understanding of relationships with you. You see those previous topics have provided contrast, so that when I speak of reconciliation and restoration it now has visible structure and form that cannot be diminished by prison walls, barbed wire or threats of execution. No longer can those elements of society dictate your future. They are only links to a past, long forgiven and a reflection of what it took to provide you with a personal understanding of your redemption and salvation. These are not words in a holy book, they are words that speak to your present and your future. They are now words, spoken into YOUR life by a Savior who died for the privilege of saving you from eternal damnation.

One of the most condemning activities which humans inflict upon each other is to embrace a spirit of personal withholding which maintains distance from each other. You have offended me so I will withhold fellowship from you. It is a way of punishing others by refusing true fellowship and love. The problem with this approach to communicating with others, is that we eventually isolate ourselves in the process of excluding others. As men and women on death row I would expect that your spirits are sensitive to this type of isolation and distancing. These are the rules by which society places value upon our lives. Death row prisoners may have the least value in a societal maelstrom of competition for limited attention and precious little affection. The very concept of individual worth and dignity which led the state to seek a criminal conviction in your case, is the substance which makes YOUR OWN LIFE incredibly valuable.

This concept of value did NOT start with the law. It started with God’s valuation of YOUR life. He has made His word plainly known, you are His precious child. That is where all value stems from, not from the abstraction which we call law. It is the essence of our being. It cannot be voided or discarded because we have made mistakes, committed crimes and sinned over and over again. It is the bond which links up spiritually to Our Creator and it can never be extinguished or terminated by the actions of man. It is the essential aspect of His love for us, the continuing aspect of His love for us that can never been diminished by others. We remain His children, His precious children even if we resist that gentle loving call to our spirits to come home. We all have that urge to respond to the inward desire to be loved and at peace with others. One of the family, just one of God’s kids.

The world would do its best to wipe out the hope of reunion and reconciliation, but the fact remains that at any time we can take a step toward home and we will always be welcomed back into fellowship. That is the result of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. He paid the eternal price for our sins; all we need to do is accept his sacrifice as total payment for our sins, our transgressions and our failures. Reconciliation means you are part of the family, you have always been part of the family and you will be welcomed as one who is truly loved. No longer do you or I have to make a way to distinguish ourselves either by accomplishment or failures. The depth and breadth of our actions are nothing besides the victory that has been won for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At the same time, nothing that we have done in the past can exclude us from eternity with Jesus if we are willing to cast it all at His feet. There at the foot of the cross we bring all of that personal wreckage and place it in His care knowing that our sin debt is paid in full. He takes that incredible burden as His own and lifts us up in a loving manner, saying welcome home. Many of us spend a substantial part of our life efforts trying to lift ourselves up from the dirt and mire of the street. Trying to undo what we have done, but only making the situation worse with each new effort. Until we feel that we are doomed and beyond any help. When we run up against this belief, we are directly confronting Satan’s lie. He would have us believe that we have no hope for the future, but the reality is that when we recognize our plight and our inability to help ourselves, we come to the point of understanding that only God Himself could have provided a way out of the traps of sin and condemnation. That way out is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus His Only Son, paying our sin debt in full. WHY WOULD HE DO THIS FOR YOU AND ME?

We are made in the image and likeness of God. Satan hates anything that resembles God’s character and will do everything in his power to lead up onto the continuing pathway to damnation. With every soul that he can dupe into believing his lies, he again can offend the holiness and righteousness of God. If he can destroy each of us through sin and temptation, then he has a double victory. First we are lost to redemption and salvation because we refuse to believe in God’s word and trust in His faithful provision to sustain us. Satan than can taunt our loving Creator with the eternal loss of a soul who was loved as a member of God’s family.

God’s justice and mercy and compassion cannot overrule our own choice if we have decided to follow the road to perdition. GOD WILL ALWAYS HONOR OUR CHOICE, even when we make the choice to destroy ourselves. It creates incredible pain for Our Loving Father to see us make that choice, but like the Prodigal’s Father he will allow us to make our own choices, hoping that his incredible love for us will draw us back into relationship with Him.

Word picture help me to understand concepts. Many years ago I was in Bangkok and witnessed a younger man with only stumps for arms and legs, pulling himself along a sidewalk. People were hurrying past him and stepping over him in the rush to whatever destination that they had been seeking. People were stepping around him and over him without any evident awareness of his humanity. He was just an inconvenience to be momentarily dealt with, an uncomfortable distraction. There was no discernible value to be detected in his life or his presence. He was a sore upon the consciousness of society. Best avoided and dismissed from any further thought or consideration.

That nameless man touched my life…over the years I have thought about him frequently as an anchor on the scale of human value, on the worthless end of the scale. He seemed to have nothing that distinguished him as worth the life which seemingly indwelled him.  What was it that kept him holding onto his life? Why didn’t he just give up the ghost and flee this life at the first opportunity? Something that was invisible and intangible existed inside of this man’s life. So that even crawling along a sidewalk without any evidence of compassion from others had meaning in this individual’s view of life. That is the same raw drive that helps someone condemned to death to awaken each morning and pursue whatever the day may bring. This man, sliding along on his belly on a piece of cardboard, touched my heart with his mere presence. I instantly understood that there was little if anything that I could do to manifestly change his life. More importantly he seemed to be put into my path, to change my life. Few experiences have lasted so long over the years, but I think of him and still try to draw meaning from that brief encounter. In God’s great economy he has as much value as the rest of us. Though society has condemned him to live at the barest edge of existence, somehow he manages to draw meaning and strength from his circumstances. How much more so should you and I challenge any notions about limitations or defeats in our lives and use the Grace of reconciliation to drive us forward on a daily basis? Our challenge is to move forward and openly demonstrate a large spirit of life in the midst of indifference and social contempt. The only way to achieve such a personal victory is to come to a full understanding of your true worth in this life and beyond into eternity. Right now there are crowds of heavenly witnesses who are cheering us onward in this life’s struggle between good and evil. If you have fallen down, get up and continue the race. You are racing against your own past, into a new future. With every step forward you grow in your understanding and trust will grow out of that process. While we are all trying to move past those things that would bog us down and keep us in rejection, despair and devastation, it is the promise of reconciliation that empowers our spirits to trust in God’s word….His promises. Listen for the welcoming cries…they are not far off for any of us. The victory is ours, do not let Satan snare you in his web of defeat and disbelief.

So as the nameless man has touched my life and transformed my thinking about the value of life, let my words nourish your spirit and challenge you to lift your head on a daily basis. We are not defined by our pasts;, we have the ability to change direction at any point in our lives. Because YOUR life has great worth and value, I am committed to affirming the dignity of your life. These may sound like strange concepts to discuss with individuals facing the ultimate rejection of society, but it is in the face of such rejection that my words take on a special significance. Do not let anyone, especially the unnamed voices of society, strip away the essence of your humanity. That value was established for all time by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to pay for your sins/crimes and mine. Easter is around the corner. This is an excellent time to consider the reality of life beyond the domains of space and time.  I have used the example of the disabled man that I met in Bangkok to challenge your notions about the meaning of life. Without exception we are all loved as precious children of God, no matter what value society may place upon our lives.

So this is an excellent season to come back to life and make a decision to live out each day before you to the fullest. That is your birthright. I do not encourage the practice of busywork, in fact I find it personally demeaning. So I am not encouraging you to engage in a series of distractions, but rather a well-reasoned approach to developing your spiritual nature. You are far more than a body and mind; spirit is the very substance that knits you together at the most basic level. It is that combination of characteristics that makes you distinctly human. Uniquely different from everyone else who has ever lived. Nothing from your past is wasted; all of these events have served to make you who you are today. It is my hope to truly connect with you and have the opportunity to understand the person beyond a name or prison number.

PRETENSE AND LIES

Researchers who have focused upon identifications of the presence of evil generally agree that a principle hallmark is the use of pretense to mask overt behaviors. Pretense and lying are as casually linked heat from a flame. Usually the real pretense is buried under multiple levels of obfuscation and denial which always triggers some level of confusion about the individual’s intentions. It may seem impossible to get an accurate read on this type of person since they will use lies as their principle tool to mask their pretense.  The emerging perplexity which accompanies direct efforts to unmask pretense is a useful indicator that there may be a spiritual aspect to the troubled interactions. Such internal awareness is essential in identifying those situations in which we may come under spiritual attack and assists us to respond in a manner which is consistent with truth. You see truth is the only effective weapon against elegantly designed attacks from The Father of Lies.

But you say “everyone lies.” I would disagree since the soul seeking to find relationship with Jesus Christ is spurred onward by the ever growing need for encounters with truth. Lies never offer the satisfaction or joy which comes with the sure knowledge of the truth. But they are a clear indicator of the individual’s depravity, when they can look you in the eye and tell you a lie to your face. Perhaps they are so far gone that even at the moment of telling lies they do not even know what the truth is. In such a context it is easier to tell a lie than speak the truth. This practice is so pervasive in our society that if you live your life as a truth teller, people will think that you are naive and gullible like a child. Somehow good has become bad and bad is the practical and efficient way to live life. Wasn’t our standard to become more childlike in our interactions with others?  I have come to believe that many people are so use to choosing the convenience of a lie, that the concept of the truth is foreign to them (…the truth is not in them…).

Recently I have begun to speak out about the dignity and worth of all individuals. Not just those individuals whose behaviors reflect “acceptable levels” of compliance. If we are all precious to God, how do we justify our personal and corporate behaviors? I am fully aware that the behaviors of some have triggered legal and social consequences, but those penalties cannot and do not nullify the Word of God as the basis upon which I am called to serve others. I am to serve them with openness and compassion in all of my interactions. In fact, I am called upon to treat each of these individual’s as I would treat Jesus Himself. Yes there are times I am outraged and offended, but I have also outraged and offended My Heavenly Father and still feel free to call upon His Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness. How does that work? Clearly I am called to be a witness not only in my speech, but more importantly in my actions.

The word that comes to mind is transparency. I am called to live a transparent life as I walk before God and serve others. My intentions and actions will be tested and perhaps vilified, that is not my concern. My concerns will be disputed and opposed by those who hold themselves to be moral and righteous people. This is not any of my business. I am merely to continue to serve God in all my actions and to care for and comfort others to the best of my ability. To do anything else is to live a pretense, which is the same as living a lie.  Many are involved with the “business” of God. I am focused upon the “work” of God and have no time for distractions. I cannot see the benefits of what I am doing now, but I trust that God has a plan for my life. That is enough to sustain me. If I attempt to build a dream and sell you on its potential, then I am engaging in pretense.  If I am truly doing the work of My Father, then it is not my concern to prevail upon you. He will move those hearts which need comfort, prayer and hope. We will meet in His perfect plan. That is enough.

ONE FAMILY’S STRUGGLES

Responding to an ad heard on Christian radio, one gentleman described the situation confronting his adult son. At the time of the initial call this elderly gentleman held out the hope that his son would not be sentenced to more than five years in federal prison. Both the caller and his wife were in their advanced years and their son was in his upper fifties. Clearly any long term prison sentence was likely to mean that they would be gone before his release. Not understanding how to approach this issue and having no realistic points of reference, they spoke of the sadness that these events had brought to the family members.

Later discussions revealed that other siblings were split on the issue of their brother’s guilt or innocence. One thing was clear, their brother had engaged in a form of illegal behavior which resulted in his arrest and pending incarceration. That situation was bringing a deepening sense of loss and pain to all members of the family and created a drift between them so that no one wanted to bring up a discussion of the problem confronting the family. Worst of all, the children had a notable concern about how this situation was impacting the lives of their parents who had always been law abiding Christian people.

There was a sense of being lost among the various family members and a growing sense of anger and betrayal. So the matter was generally handled by no referring to it in family conversations. This accommodation to silence brought with it a new and foreign sense of relating to each other. Prior to this event, all members of the family felt a generally comfortable dialogue with each other. But the discovery that their brother had been living a secret life ruptured the trust between them. Now the parents had to walk a distinct line that did not cater to the son’s behaviors or make excuses for his actions.

What made this a particularly difficult situation was the fact that the parents believed that there son had only been involved in an aberrant and isolated behavior which had exposed him to prosecution. The zeal displayed by the prosecutors in this case caused the parents much distress since they genuinely believed that this unlawful behavior that their son was charged with was completely uncharacteristic of his nature. The son encouraged the family members to continue in this belief by his silence on the matter of his guilt.

While the months passed by from the time of arrest through various hearings, he made no effort to educate his parents about the severity of his conduct or the extent of his unlawful behaviors. He allowed the months to flow by and continued to jockey with his hired attorney to get the best deal possible. Based upon the minimal expectations that had been cultivated by their son, the misinformed parents believed that the prosecutors were being unduly harsh and punitive in their son’s case. They became convinced by the conspiracy of silence that he would in fact get the minimal prison sentence of five years.

Even the minimal sentence left them with strong concerns that they would not survive his term of incarceration, so they found themselves challenged to find ways to possibly provide some resources for this son after his release from prison. Clearly whatever efforts that they extended on his behalf would also have to be balanced with fairness toward the other children of the marriage. Nothing in their lives together had prepared them to deal with the struggles that these accommodations were thrusting into their family life.

The most unkind aspect of this transgression was revealed on sentencing day when their son was given a 10 year prison sentence for his activities. His mask of limited culpability and guilt quickly faded away as it was revealed that he had been engaged in his illegal behaviors for over ten years. There in a courtroom of strangers, his parents were exposed to the vileness of his double life and the hidden reality of his crimes. What an incredibly painful moment to look upon someone you love and realize that you do not know them at all. He will move onto serve his prison sentence, but his family is left behind dealing with the multiple wounds and betrayals. Who will comfort or heal them in the lonely days ahead?      PERSONAL PRAYER

Lord, I have made a mess of my life and the lives of others. I have only one thing that I can bring to You and lay at Your feet. That is the truth about my life, how I have lived it and how I would change things if I were able to do so now. The only things that makes this valuable, is that I am telling You the complete truth about me and what I have become with the gift that You have given to me. Perhaps this is all that I can take from this life, a true recognition of my failures, defeats, sins and crimes. I want to bring this burden to You since Your word tells me that You are ready to accept me at any time and any place. Well if You can accept me, with all the shameful things that I am sharing with You, then You are God, and You do love me like it is shared in Your word. I trust in You and I believe that You faithfully can and will lead me home.

Letter #9

You might have noticed that these monthly letters have been exploring a pattern of situations which impact our lives. We previously spoke of rejection and identified that it is an external force which impacts our lives. We also discussed despair which is largely an internal force that limits our ability to express hope. Each of these factors have unique and lasting influences on the way we think and the way we live our lives. This month we will explore another of these influences and develop some understanding about how this particular encounter can become the turning point for those struggling with wasted lives.

Even to use the term wasted lives is really meaningless, since the only measure of our usefulness is rooted in our spirituality. We can look back upon a lifetime of devastation which we have wrecked in the lives of others and find no personal point of value. It may be like pulling all of that wreckage along behind you as you go through the days of your life: A long chain of losses perpetually linked to our lives and keeping us from rising up. That is the nature of devastation and its impact in our lives and the lives of others. I do not need to dwell on this point, at some time or another you have visited this grim sight inside of your own mind.

You can’t know something that you do not know. Nor can you give away something that you do not have to give. Those are simple but profound statements about the nature of life. On the cross next to Jesus Christ, hung a thief being executed for his crimes, in Catholic tradition he is called Dismas. That is why the name of this ministry was called Dismas Project. He had nothing to bring to Calvary but his lifetime of failures and the devastation we had produced in the lives of others. The history of that day does not record that he had any family members or people gathered about who cared about him. Just alone and nailed to a cross dying.

But even in the final moments of his life, he received the gift of grace and was inspired to call out to Jesus on the cross next to him. “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” was his sole request. In His dying moments he caught a glimpse of the King of King dying on a cross next to him and he was moved to ask for mercy. He understood deep within his soul who this man was dying beside him. Perhaps every other decision he had made throughout his life had been wrong, but in that moment of awareness his life was transformed. He was given the opportunity to recognize the awesome truth of the moment.

Please remember he was never baptized and to the best of our knowledge was not a man given to regular church attendance. Perhaps in his life he never attended a religious service at all. So clearly it was something else about this moment that resulted in his soul being saved. It was Dismas and something else, something that he had not brought to his own cross. That something else was a relationship with Jesus Christ. Even in his dying moments he recognized Jesus for who He is, The Son of God. In recognizing Jesus as his Savior he called out not knowing what that actually meant. He just knew deep inside of his spirit, Jesus was who He said that He was.

In that instant of awareness his simple prayer was answered when Jesus told him “This day you will be with me in paradise.” He did not have to clean himself up or present a nice image, all he needed to do was call out and ask for mercy and forgiveness from the One who can freely give it to all of us. He recognized Jesus Christ as the Lord of his life and that made all the difference in the world. He asked for a personal relationship with Jesus and was given eternal life by His side. Not just forgiveness and mercy, but eternal salvation as well. To me this is the most awesome story in the Bible: A personal encounter with Jesus Christ in the last moments of life.

How big is your God? Does your God have limits? Does he know what it means to be a human being who has lived a life with many failures and defeats? Does he even care? Jesus Christ was dying on the cross next to Dismas not for anything that he ever did that was wrong. He died for one reason only, to pay the complete cost for all of our sins. The sin debt has been totally pain in full. That’s yours and mine. In all of your life you will never find a more personal relationship than being loved by the One who died so that you do not have to spend eternity in hell paying for your sin debt.

That is an intensely powerful encounter and it was done for you and me out of His love for each of us. A love so powerful that He would die for each of us. His victory was complete when He rose from the grave three days later and demonstrated His conquering power over sin and death. In that act He freed all of us from the shameful chain of bondage to sin and eternity in hell. He taught us that we are pawns in the hands of the evil one who shapes and influences by his unrelenting attempts to get us to make sinful choices. It seems to give him pleasure when we make sinful choices because those choices are wounds against a loving God.

He knows that his time is coming to an end and he wants to take as many of us with him into an eternity in hell just out of hatred for God. It is equally true that he also hates us since we are made in the image and likeness of God. Anything that resembles God’s character is a target for his evil influences and temptations. Once we have stumbled back into sin the evil one loves to accuse us before the throne of God. He laughs at our weakness and even at our cowardly ways. But God’s grace and mercy is inconceivable and with a heartfelt prayer you and I can be restored to a full relationship with Jesus Christ. That is what Dismas encountered on the cross next to Jesus. That is salvation!

RECENT EXPERIENCES WITH DEVASTATION

As part of the outreach which Dismas Project offers to Families of Offenders as well as current and former offenders we maintain an outreach to those who suffer using multiple forms of outreach. One of those methods recently yielded a contact from a mother who has a son in county jail facing first degree murder and armed robbery charges in a state with an active death penalty agenda. Needless to say she is totally devastated since her son is in his early twenties and lives about two thousand miles away from her home. So there is only contact by letter at this time. Like most family members she has made multiple calls to his public defender without any response. She is overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. She cannot afford to leave her job and travel to visit him, so she hangs in this dreadful cycle trying to make sense of things. Those who read this letter may have had similar experiences affecting family members. I am asking you to write and tell me about your ideas and suggestions. I will pass them onto her promptly. With this small gesture you can ease someone else’s pain and shame.

*****

An offender who was released three and a half years ago contacted our ministry because he has become desperate about his failure to adjust to life outside in the community. Though he has some family invested in helping him, he finds himself at odds with them often and winds up becoming angry and isolating himself from them. It is an effort to get up and look for a job, so most people think of him as lazy. He is just struggling with the constant struggle of having to reveal himself over and over again to possible future employers. Before he starts out on his daily tasks he is already feeling defeated. Fear of going back to prison is not a consideration since that would ultimately mean that he could retreat into the silence and isolation of an institution. Do you know and understand his shame and pain? Have you shared this same struggle? Can you offer some insight and personal support that I can pass onto this man. Can you help to shoulder his burden for a short time?

*****

WE, you and I and the other millions struggling through a criminal justice experience have been BLESSED by the kindness of the senior staff at Christian Satellite Radio (CSN). They are located in Twin Falls Idaho and have been broadcasting an outreach message to families of offenders as well as offenders themselves across their network of 380+ stations in the US and Canada. They have undertaken this task upon realizing this need across the nation. On a daily basis they play an ad for Dismas Project in the hopes of contacting men and women in need, like those discussed in the previous two paragraphs. They undertake this mission because they believe in the worth of each soul. If you feel led to send them a short thank you note, it would be a great blessing to this ministry and the CSN Christian network. Their address is: P.O. Box  391 Twin Falls ID 83303. Please keep them lifted up in prayer and try to find a local radio station that carries their 24 hour a day radio outreach. Take heart brothers and sisters, there are people out in the free world who share a burden for you and your salvation.

FLAWED TRUST   –   FRACTURED  RELATIONS

One of the great axioms of life is the simple truth that one cannot give away something that they do not have. If I lack the basic ability to trust then I have no internal ability to grow in that quality or to recognize it in others.  If my ability to trust has been diminished by a variety of life experiences then I am likely to develop a quick ability to detect inconsistencies in the thoughts and actions of others. Once detected the “natural” response may be to avoid others and hunker down till the perceived threat is past. Given enough circumstances and time, this reaction pattern may start to resemble an innate drive that colors all of my relationships with others, under the protective colors of threat assessment and the potential for harm avoidance. In other words, my interactions become shaped by my fears and assessed harm potential I assign to everyone I encounter. Trust slips away and is replaced by a persistent unvoiced pattern of uncertainties and concerns about the intentions of others. Taken to full growth this practice has the capacity to isolate us from others sharing our world, based upon the potential for ascribing differences which might become future threats. So without a word to others, I am able to internally dismiss individual worth and dignity. It has all happened invisibly in our heads, but it is reflected in our attitudes and behaviors.

This concept of flawed trust impacts everyone on the face of the earth. It is the soil in which we build all of our relationships. When I am offended by another person, or conversely I am offending others, our actions directly impact our ability to actively engage others with a trusting spirit. If my sense of equilibrium has become impaired by bruising encounters, then my ability to function in a trusting manner has been altered negatively. The solution is quite simple. The key to restoration is accepting the fact that we have all bruised others and in turn have been bruised by others. Harboring our pride, anger and resentments isolates us from functional relationships with others. Understanding this fact allows us to realize that everyone wrestles with the same problem. So rising from the swirl of thoughts and emotions which inform my actions is the realization that my only relief from this ugly crippling posture is to accept my own vulnerabilities and failures. Taking the volume of debris which has accumulated in my life, reflecting on the outcomes wrought and placing the burden in God’s Hands: Rather than breed indifference, antipathy and hatred, the simple act of spiritual recognition and acceptance brings me into fellowship with others and renews my relationship with God.  In that uncomplicated act of surrender I acknowledge His Lordship in my life and my responsibility to bring all things to His care, especially those elements of my life which yielded great wreckage and pain for others.

I experience the renewal of my ability to trust as I start to see the events of my life in a spiritual context. Surprisingly the strange flow on harmful interactions with others starts to lose its ability to shape my awareness. The “me” logic is replaced by an awareness that all of my actions are expressions of my soul life to My Heavenly Father. I commit myself a little at a time to surrender the strongholds and resistant beliefs to the influence of God’s love for me and others. He reshapes my thoughts and emotions, so that at some deep level of my being, I am choosing to honor Him in all of my decisions and actions. That becomes an act of love on my part as I am drawn into the growing awareness of His love for me. Things done to me vanish in the dust of life and my spiritual vision is expanded to recognize new realities which were previously beyond my grasp. My soul is filled with the awareness of my sights and sounds and my thoughts and emotions yield to these spiritual influences. Suddenly I am embracing things which baffled me in earlier times. I am making choices which reflect a new way of thinking, but to others I seem to remain the same man. God is doing for me what I cannot do for myself. I am responding to His love and desire to save me. The spiritual concepts of justification and sanctification are internalized in my life and I follow the Master, drawn by His love.

Few of my fellows are likely to understand the significance of what has happened as they are puzzled by my willingness to bare all things for public scrutiny.  I no longer seek to hide in the shadows of life, but instead have become empowered to speak out about what God has done for me. My joy grows as I learn how to recognize the pain and shame of others and to offer them the comfort that my Father gives to me on a daily basis. Those very things that previously drove me apart from others become the elements upon which I am now bound to their lives. No longer do I seek to flee from the examination of others, now I understand that such moments provide a silent opportunity to witness about God’s great faithfulness and purposes. No longer do I engage others from a position of self, but now I have begun to function in the role of purpose. That shift in perception brings with it the awareness that everything we do has meaning. If someone violates my trust, I no longer assess their actions through the prism of self-interest, but reflect upon my willingness to give God the glory in all events of my life. There has been an exchange which was fostered deep within my soul, a willingness to grasp new understandings of God’s will for my life. Spiritual surrender takes on practical applications in my daily activities.

There is no proclamation or public fanfare accompanying these changes. In my case they are articulated by a life changing process, rather than a life altering event (though I have experienced both types of learning). My path is strewn with attempts to reengage the dead decision making patterns of the past. Apparently my personal ugliness is dying a slow, painful death which can only be hastened by my willingness to surrender all things to God’s care. In that decision I attempt to remove the feeding tubes of pride, ego and entitlement which continue to nourish the corpse of self. It is a lonely journey, but I am never alone. I find that there are few in life with whom I can relate intimately about this process. But I am always aware of my relationship to God, my Provider. The flawed trust slowly gives way to an understanding that I am a child of God and serve out His purposes in the events of my life. It is no longer important for me to make things happen to gratify my own desires, but to humbly seek His will for my life and to delight in doing that will. What others think about my actions or underlying intentions loses the ability to influence my thoughts, emotions or behaviors. I am not ignorant of others. I understand that my orientation toward life has undergone a major revision. Life has taken on a new meaning with the realization that I can trust God in all the concerns of my life.

*****

By now you probably realize that I close my monthly letter with a prayer. My dear wife Quinta repeatedly told me that many people do not know the first thing about how to pray to God. She has been urging me for years to include a prayer in each letter that I send out. It has taken a while for me to get her point and understand her concern. (which proves her uniqueness in our relationship. She prays for me and you and encourages with each letter that I write. She also shares with me those letters I receive from prisoners all over the country. She has a merciful and compassionate heart and she is a godly woman. Look up Proverbs 31 and you will understand what I am trying to say about her.)

You see in my life she is clearly a gift from God. Her personality meshes with my own and she compliments my abilities and offsets my limitations. I got on my knees and asked God to pick a wife for me. I was scared and uncertain, but He picked one that fits into my life perfectly. If you want to know more about how this happened, write to me and I will send you a letter describing how it happened. By the way, before I married her I told her about my criminal record and my prison experiences. It was very important to me that she knew the truth about who I had been. Because of experiences like this I KNOW that God listens to our prayers and that He answers our prayers. So this month’s prayer is on belief and trust. Please join me in praying this prayer.

LORD HELP ME

I am just one person, feeling terribly alone and isolated. I want to know You and come into a relationship with You but I am starting from a place of disbelief and lack of trust. It seems that most of my experiences in life have always yielded a consistent presence of failure, betrayal and lack of trust. Please God if You can truly hear me from this prison cell, If You can see me now You know that my heart is opened to You, but I just do not know what to do next. I can’t seem to trust others, really, I don’t even trust myself. I am in a hopeless place and I can’t help myself. If this relationship is ever going to happen it will be because You love me enough to reach out to me in my darkness and comfort this lost child. I am not asking that You save me from the consequences of my actions, just please show me that You are real and that You love me. I bring You my life and lay  it before You. I have nothing else to offer You except my brokenness. Amen.

Letter #8

When I sit down to write my letter, I give much thought to the substance of life and those things that make life an experience worth living. That thought process also helps me to clearly see the things that make our lives difficult, hard and painful. Often those are the very things which shape and influence our lives eventually taking over our view of the world and the way that we live our lives. So we wind up isolated within ourselves, alone and uncertain far from meaningful relationships with others. Along that pathway we sustain many personal wounds that remind us of the painful moments we have lived out. That process makes it very difficult to extend ourselves to others in any sense of openness: Because our experiences in life have mostly been painful realities which teach us to not trust others. When we arrive at that point we are truly alone and struggling to take each new step forward. Usually at that point we have few if any people that we can truly open ourselves up to in our communications. We were not made to live in that kind of isolation and despair. We were made for fellowship with each other. That is why I write my monthly letters to you. I believe that your life is important and valuable since God created you and me for His own purposes. Knowing that truth deeply in my life, I choose to write to you each month because I believe in your worth and personal dignity. It is not important to me that you write back, I know that in my time incarcerated, I remained shut down and relatively isolated from outside life. I did my days by keeping a basic focus on getting through all of the challenges of prison life without looking toward the outside world. My desire is to shine a light on those painful areas of life and offer a way out of the traps that prevent us from truly relating to others. So each letter focuses upon some element of life that may be a stumbling block along our daily pathway. By writing about these things it is my hope to expose them to the light of day and to help set you free from those painful influences. Your personal value is beyond description since your life is precious, a true gift from God. So let’s turn our attention to another aspect of life that keeps us from recognizing and understanding this awesome gift that has been given to us….life itself.

Despair is giving up all hope in the belief that our lives can be changed and become meaningful. Certainly living on death row fosters the underlying belief that life has little or no meaning beyond suffering and pain. But there is more to life than the circumstances in which we find ourselves living. Despair is the opposite of hope. In fact despair is the absence of hope.  If I am in despair then I have given up all hope that my life can become something beautiful in God’s hands. What an incredibly lonely place to live out one’s days. In the absence of hope I lose myself in an endless variety of distractions which takes my attention off of the pending reality that my life will end. But that fate is true for everyone that has ever been born. We must all arrive at a place where we can accept all that has happened as having some meaning, even if we are not aware of the larger picture. Stepping back we can catch a glimpse of the larger picture when we see the world as a battleground in which forces of good battle those of evil for our eternal souls. In that view I start to become aware that while I have made horrible and painful choices, those same choices have been influenced by the evil in which we live. It is quite different from individual choice when you have the demons of hell urging you to strike out against another human being. That side of the story is never heard in court, nor is the fact often made public because most people want to believe that they are good and pure and only those who go to prison are bad and evil. It is a form of spiritual blindness that keeps people from recognizing the true nature of their personal struggles.

We are all born with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual lives. The first three become very evident as we grow and mature. The last, the spiritual life only really becomes real when we are confronted with making sense of things that do not make sense at all. So the prime question becomes “why did I do that…” and there is never a meaningful answer because we are seeking to explain the nature of evil in terms of our humanity. The battle between good and evil has been going on since the beginning and will continue until the return of Jesus Christ. While my choices are important, they primarily impact my life and the lives of others with whom I have my experiences. Good and evil are GLOBAL influences which impact all lives. The bible clearly teaches that everyone has sinned. That makes us all spiritual criminals…no one is worthy on their own. Spiritually we are all dead in sin, even those that make a good show at being relatively perfect. Physical, mental and emotional life will all pass away, but our souls (the spiritual part of us) will live for all eternity. That soul is the essence of who we actually are. If all I have to hang onto is my physical, mental and emotional life, then death is a fearsome opponent. I can only spend my days focused upon the many distractions which the world has to offer, because once it is over then it seems to be finally over. That kind of thinking leads us into living lives that grow smaller and more narrow by the day. We go through each day trying to keep our eyes off the impending reality of our own deaths. Maybe if I do not look at it, it will not happen to me. It is a form of denial which keeps us from living out our days productively blessing others and having a good measure of peace in our lives. In my letters I speak to you of things which few others will mention since it is such an obvious and painful topic. That pain is the pain of despair, that all has been lost. It is a lie straight from the pit of hell. It is satan’s final attempt to capture your soul by default, by getting you to give up on God’s promises. Think back at how many times in the past you have heard that familiar voice which has lied to you in the past. The evil one urges us to act on our impulses and then he accuses us before God so that we would be condemned to hell. What an easy way to capture the souls of those who refuse to see the goodness of God. The souls of those who refuse to believe that in His goodness He would never consider us worthy of saving. Yet the truth is that all I have to do is ask Jesus Christ for His forgiveness since it was Him who paid the FULL price on the cross for every sinner. All I need do is to quietly ask Him to accept my prayer asking for forgiveness and it is instantly granted. With that one small act on my part, I am assured of salvation because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. His blood has already been shed for you and me. The price has been completely paid. Despair is a lie from hell and it means that you cannot see yourself as God sees you. To Him you are His precious child. He is not a God of the dead, but a God of the living. For all of us, eternity is only a heartbeat away. Aren’t you tired of carrying around the burden of shame and pain? This prayer asking for forgiveness is about putting that burden down and not picking it up again. As parents would you deny your child the very things that they need? As your Creator, God will not deny you the right to eternal life in His presence. This prayer is about getting real with God, maybe for the first time in your life. He knows all about you and still loves you, but He will not force you to accept His love. That is solely your own choice. No matter how many bad decisions you have made previously you CAN make the most important decision of your life right now. But only you can make that decision, no one else can do that for you. Once you have made that decision and asked for His forgiveness, the despair which you may have known is replaced with Hope and Peace. And no one can ever take them away from you. The spiritual level of awareness is often the last level of awareness for most of us. But it is the essence of eternal life and it is the truth.

It might seem odd to talk about subjects like peace and hope with death row prisoners. Actually it is not odd at all, because you have been placed under a pending death sentence and are the most likely individuals on earth to be thinking of what the meaning of life is all about. You may participate in a series of daily distractions to take your mind off the subject, but there are times that this reality shines through the extensive walls you have created around yourself. That light which shines through your defenses is God’s way of trying to reach out to you as you struggle with despair and hopelessness. That light is an affirmation of your worth and value as an individual before God. While He will never force His love upon you, He will keep shining His love into your life in various ways and through other people. You may feel that your whole life has been about battling one thing or another, sometimes to just stay alive. But there is ONE who has always been with you and His word says that He will never leave you. No one on earth knows you like your Creator. This letter is only one way that you have heard this message over and over again in your life. You are not alone though all of your senses may tell you differently. We will all stand before God at some time in the future. That is the nature of having a spiritual life. We are called to give an account for all we have been given. Jesus Christ paid the price for all of our sins and transgressions. The debt has been paid in full, would you insist on paying this debt yourself? With what resources could you attempt to pay the massive sin debt that you have acquired? None of us can pay that debt, which is why Jesus Christ died on a cross and arose again three days later. In that moment of resurrection Satan’s hold over us was broken contingent only upon our asking for personal forgiveness from the ONE who paid our sin debts. Satan’s only weapon now is to whisper his lies in your ear and hope that we will believe them. It is not an accident that he has been called the father of lies. There is a struggle going on all around us, and those living in the world are often deluded into thinking that they are good people, while those in prison are evil people. Somehow they are incapable of seeing their own evil choices and choose to live life like a masquerade, pretending to be someone that they are not. I find that people of death row have the potential to live life more deeply and intensely than those living in the world. That is why I write to you each month. Given your unique view of the world, I believe that you can see all of the contradictions and false assumptions that are made on a daily basis. I believe that you have a keener insight into spiritual matters and have wrestled with these issues deep within your being. It is out of a sense of respect that I send my letters to each of you, because I strongly suspect that you are willing at some level to engage in a meaningful search for truth. That belief sustains me in writing each of these letters. It does not matter that I do not hear back from most of you, it is enough to know that there are some who take these words to heart and ponder them deeply.  That makes this outreach well worthwhile and fills me with a sense of service to my brothers and sisters in chains. By myself I am nothing, but I assure you that the truth will set you free.

THE LAST PERSON

The end of the age of Grace

True rugged individualism means living out your life by your own strength, wants and needs. In this context there is little room for the lives of others except in the ways that we use them to serve ourselves. The end result of this process is a journey into isolation and self-centeredness. It results in the slow and certain closure of meaningful opportunities to interact with other human beings. It is a truly lonely place with few rewards as we approach the end of life. We were created as social beings to have fellowship with each other. One of the great rewards of life itself is the connections that we share with others. We were not made to live alone and far removed from interactions with others.

In a very real sense being a Christian has a limiting effect upon the lives of believers. Those who identify themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ are engaged in a daily struggle to choose the things of God. The pressures of the world make these kinds of choices seem stupid and idiotic. Something to be laughed at by those who are busy acquiring the goods of life and seeing themselves as successful in the struggle to achieve high status and wealth. A Christian understands that we have been given our lives to know, love and serve God in all that we do. We serve Him by serving others in His name. This commitment to service is not restricted by where we live or how many assets that we have acquired. It is the core of Christian belief to share His love with everyone we encounter in our journey.

I do not believe that we can effectively scare people into the Kingdom of God.  Nor do I believe that God would have us use this means to reach others. Since the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been living in an Age of Grace. What that means in plain words is that with the Birth of Jesus Christ, we have had God living with us as a fellow human being who never gave up His heavenly Kingship. By virtue of the fact that He has lived a human life, He is intimately aware of all of the challenges and temptations we face on a daily basis. His life, death and resurrection have assured us that there is ONE who fully understands our failings and our frailties. While He lived His life without sin, He fully understands the sinful parts of our nature. In giving His life for all of us, He paid the sin debt that we all owe. In rising from the dead He defeated sin and death, so that we have no more need to live in fear and uncertainty. He has the keys to the kingdom (eternity) by virtue of what it is that He has done for each of us. That key to eternity turns upon a heartfelt simple prayer asking for forgiveness. It opens the door to eternal life with God who deeply loves you and me.

That is the essence of grace; it can be summed up by understanding that we have our own futures in our own hands. All we need to do is ask for forgiveness.  In other words God has made a way for each of us to get right with Him by seeking Him out and asking for His help. A complete study of the Holy Bible will reveal that there is a certain future point when the Age of Grace will end. No one knows when that will happen except God Himself. But it is certain that it will happen in God’s own timing. So if there is an end to the Age of Grace that must mean that there are yet people who will be saved by His love and compassion. If there are yet people to be saved, it also means that someone, somewhere at some future date will be the last one to be saved in the current Age of Grace.

After that time starts the open reign of Satan on this earth. Read about it for yourself. Get a copy of the Bible and spend some time reading Daniel and Revelation. It will help you to come into an understanding of what I am describing in this message. There will be an end, as certain as there was a beginning. If you doubt my words consider the fact that we are born and we die. There is a clear beginning and end to our physical, mental and emotional life processes. Life itself bears witness to this truth. It is not open to any other interpretation or understanding. So what does your end or my end mean in terms of God’s word? The most important aspect is that we still have the ability to choose eternal life: Because unlike the body, your spirit will live on for all of eternity. That is the truth!

Given the world that we live in it is my opinion that the Age of Grace is approaching an end. I see that in all of the world events that are shaping history and individual life itself. It is not my purpose to go off on a tangent about the end times, but the fact remains that a book which dates back over 6000 years, which was written by 40 different writers and contains 66 books has spoken about all of these matters down through time as we know it.  If you have not read that book yourself and made up your own mind, then any decision which you make is based upon second hand information from others: The opinions of others. That is a form of personal dishonesty that you would make up your mind without ever having sought out the truth for yourself. Would you risk your eternal status to the assumptions of another human being? For that matter would you risk the possibility of future execution to what someone else thinks about your chances? I doubt that very much.  Most likely you would be diligently studying the law books and attempting to understand what various court rulings meant about your future life. You would make calls and write letters and eagerly seek the answers. Is your eternal life any less important at this time? Would you refuse to seek out the truth and die in your sin when it could have been forgiven just through asking for forgiveness?

Perhaps you are the very man or woman that God has been waiting to hear that sincere, soft cry for His help. Maybe the Age of Grace terminates with your own personal salvation. I only know that your soul is equal in value to my own soul and I plead for His mercy on your life in my prayers. I do not want to leave this world without having reached out to you and telling you the truth. Don’t take my word for it, read His word and find out what it says about your own life. Then you can make a knowledgeable decision about where you will choose to spend eternity.  Please remember that no decision is still a decision. Your eternal existence depends upon what you decide to do with this message. As for me, I would hope for everyone’s awakening to the truth, but I would be equally delighted if you were the last person we have all been waiting for…..welcome home!

PRAYER FOR WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING

Lord, if You are my Creator then You already know everything about me. I cannot hide in the shadows on my cell or seek anonymity in the nameless and faceless prisoners who have lived down through the history of man. I struggle to stand before You and seek Your forgiveness for my sins and transgressions. They are too numerous to recount even if I could recall them all at this time. Your word speaks about Mercy Grace and Forgiveness and I trust in Your word. Your word is all that I have left at this point in my life. I am unable to do anything for myself, except cry out to You in my shame and pain. Please Lord, fill me with a knowledge about Your word and help me to earnestly study the Bible to find the answers which I am seeking. It seems as if I have never been successful at anything in my life except getting into trouble and hurting those that I love. Dear Jesus help me to clearly see the path before me and to seek out the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in understanding Your word. I thank God the Father Almighty for having created me and given me the opportunity to live out this life. More importantly I thank the Father for Your sacrifice on my behalf. I surrender my life and will to Your love and care and ask You to use me as You see fit in the days ahead. Amen.

Letter #7

The holiday season makes its appearance every year offering us the opportunity to revisit the direction that our life has been taking. Many of us slip into the festivities of Christmas and New Years without giving any substantive thought to the time that lies ahead. Nor do many of us spend time thinking about our past and what we would change if it were possible to do so. It seems much easier to ignore the obvious given our current situations. For many of us the impact of rejection has brought us to a place in life where we attempt to maintain ourselves in the context of personal pain, avoiding any reminders that bring us into contact with those ugly and searing moments which have shaped our bitterness and isolation from God and others. Rejection provides us with the opportunity to build walls around us to protect ourselves from the intense feelings that these encounters these moments generate in our hearts and minds. The end result is that we are cut off from any real hope and we stand alone. That is the legacy of rejection.

We do not need to dig deeply into our memories to find those painful encounters, including the ultimate rejection, a death sentence by a society that has given up on us as human beings. In that silent encounter with the haunting voices of our past, we try to find some meaning in the lessons of our lives. That is a difficult road to walk alone, since we are often the ones that beat ourselves harder than anyone else. We know all of the failures and defeats of our lives and we know them all too well. In the privacy of our minds it becomes easier to join the many voices around us in agreement that we are hopeless and helpless: Total failures. And so we live out our days trying to hold onto some semblance of life as a meaningful experience. What I have discovered is that for me it is impossible to pull meaningfulness out of a lifetime of disasters and tragedies. By myself I am completely unable to define any true sense of meaning or purpose in my life or my actions. That awareness leaves us feeling totally empty and useless: No hope for the future, just the wreckage of my life and the painful effects I have had on the lives of others.

No wonder we become bitter and self-centered. If I do not pull myself out of the pit I have created then no one else will do that for me. As we grasp at the slippery walls of this self-made pit we come to realize that we are totally incapable of climbing out of that pit by ourselves. That is when many of us give up and silently join in condemning ourselves. We then become as bad as we can possibly be, as if to confirm the opinions of others about our worth and value. We often just give up and abandon ourselves to pursuing wickedness and perversion in our lives. Looking into society’s mirror we see no hope of personal redemption. We cease to be people of hope and faith. We are defeated, awaiting the comfort, the silence and finality of death.

This is the essence of the struggle between good and evil. We have been led down the road to believe that we are worthless, without any hope or value. We see ourselves as unredeemable, helpless in our shame and pain. That is what satan would have us believe about ourselves. It is a lie straight out of hell. And we buy into that lie because we cannot see ourselves as having any worth or value. So we surrender to the belief that we are totally without hope. Please remember that in the Bible, satan is called the father of lies. That is how he lures us into giving up on ourselves: When we agree with his lie than we are giving up on ourselves. God says that we are made in His likeness and image. That is what He says about us. No matter how vile or wicked our deeds have been, He sees us as His precious children, worthy of His love. So who are you going to believe, the father of lies or Your Creator? I believe in your eternal value and worth. That is why I write to you each month. I see you as brothers and sisters. I believe what God has said about all of us in His word, we have all sinned and are therefore unworthy. That simply means that NO MATTER what you have done in the past, He has provided a way back to His love for you. He has loved us so much that He sent His only Son to pay the ultimate penalty to pay the eternal price that His justice demands. What love and what a profound sacrifice for all sinners. Please stop and realize that EVERYONE has sinned and violated the laws of God. Whether it is a politician who lies to the people, a shopkeeper who cheats his customers, a wife who commits adultery, a child who lies or steals or men and women have taken the lives of others. It is all sin and none are worthy of His love and forgiveness by themselves. Sin, all sin is wicked before a loving God. Therefore we are all desperately in need of a Redeemer who has paid the price for our sins.  That Redeemer is Jesus Christ who paid the full price for all of our sins.  Now why would He do that for us? The answer is LOVE: A deep and profound love for each of us. That love is demonstrated visibly for all to see how God values each of us as individuals created in His image and likeness.

Let’s talk about rejection, the ultimate rejection. There was One who was the object of scorn and rejection even before His birth and after His death. When His mother was pregnant, she was accused of bearing her Child out of wedlock. As a small child King Herod (the King of the Jews) heard about this child’s birth and how ancient scriptures had foretold the story of His birth. He became enraged that a child had been born who might replace him as King of the Jews (Herod had already had his brother-in-law and two sons killed so that they would not replace him as king). Herod ordered that all baby boys two years and younger who had been born in Bethlehem be killed to eliminate the Christ child. So Mary and Joseph took the Child and fled to Egypt until Herod was dead. Even as a small infant He was rejected for the role He would fulfill in transforming the world and redeeming us from the burdens of our sins.

Later in His adulthood, religious leaders accused Him of being illegitimate, as a way of trying to discredit His teachings. During the course of His ministry the words were rejected by those who claimed to be the leaders. In fact His words of truth had such a profound effect upon those who hated Him because they hit home with accuracy. Do you remember the saying….”the truth hurts?”Well the truth cut the religious leaders deeply because His words spoke of the sin in their own lives. That led to more rejection and eventually those very same leaders came to the conclusion that He had to die. So they watched and waited, observing all that He did in His Father’s name. They looked for some way to destroy Him, even though they also witnessed His miracles. Out of their hurt pride, the leaders were determined to kill Him. Now that is rejection when you have done nothing wrong, when you have only told the truth and done good for people and they want to kill you. It became a deep and abiding hatred of Him and everything that He represented. They returned hate for love, even though this was the people who had been called to be God’s chosen people. In rejecting Him, they were also rejecting the Father who had sent Him. But they were blinded by their hatred.

Eventually they chose an opportunity to seize Him and conducted a secret trial at the high priest’s house. The only problem with this set up was that no two witnesses could agree on what it was that He was supposed to have done to offend God’s law. At that trial He confirmed that He was the Son of God and the high counsel immediately accused Him of committing blasphemy against God. They used that as their basic to make a death penalty case against Him. With Jesus bound, they brought Him before Pilate to judge Him in accordance with Jewish law. Pilate was the Roman governor of the province but really he was nothing more than a political appointee, but in reality he was there to make sure that the taxes were collected and that law and order were maintained in this region. Despite having told the leaders and the crowds with them that he found no wrong in Jesus, they continued to demand His death, and being a man without character, Pilate condemned Jesus Christ to death to appease the crowds. He knew that he was condemning an innocent man, but he reasoned that it would keep the people happy and he would keep his job. So Jesus Christ was crucified, the ultimate rejection.

The Jewish leaders rejected His words and after His death on that cross they went back to Pilate telling him that the dead body of Jesus was an offense to them hanging there on the cross that they had demanded. So Pilate ordered that the body be taken down. Then they demanded that the tomb be guarded, so that the followers of Jesus would not come and steal His dead body. So even in death and after burial they were still rejecting Him. From His conception until His ascension into heaven Jesus has stirred the hearts of men and women, because He told the truth and lived out the call to love others as we love ourselves. The end result is that His law of love lives within each of our hearts and we can choose to live out that calling to bless others or we can choose to live for ourselves. To many people unfamiliar with Christianity, it seems illogical to love others first. Too many of those who call themselves Christians profess to love God but actually live out their lives only for themselves. If we really love Him, then our lives are not only redeemed by His sacrifice on the cross, but our lives are also transformed by the grace and influence of the Holy Spirit. I cannot change anything about myself, but the grace and mercy of God actually changes my very nature when I accept His Son Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ knows all about rejection. He knows it on the most intimate basis, from indifference to hatred. He knows what has happened in your life and is the only One who can relate to all of your experiences from an intimate knowledge of you.

Living on death row you know the rejection of society. For many in this situation, this is only the most recent of rejection experiences. Society stands ready to take your life for the crimes of which you have been convicted. On the other hand, Jesus Christ stands with you in that cell and offers you life more abundantly then you have ever known. It is not just the here and now physical life of which He has been speaking, but the life of your spirit which will live eternally. We are all made of Body, Mind and Spirit. The Body and Mind will pass at some point, but your spirit and mine will live on for all eternity. I can spend all of my efforts focused upon the here and now of my current existence, or I can allow my spirit to become transformed by the Holy Spirit. It is not something that I can do by myself, either starting or stopping it. It is totally a gift from outside of ourselves. But God will not push His way into our lives without an invitation. That is because He gave each of us free will to choose.  All it takes is a quiet moment and whispered prayer, Lord I have really blown it all my life. I can’t do anything about my life and all of my sins, but I believe You and take You on your Word. Please help me, I need You.

I know that you have heard these words at other times and perhaps they never made sense until now. All I need to do is ask for forgiveness and it will be given unto me. With that forgiveness the Holy Spirit starts to change and transform my life. All I need to do is ask and it will be freely given to me and you. Would you let pride, arrogance and a stony heart stand in the way of being loved by the same God who gave you and me life and His Son? We both know what our best thinking got us, most of us have known profound pain and shame, but put up those walls to protect what lays deep in our hearts. We all want and need to be loved for who we are. I can tell you about this with my words, but they are so limited. These words cannot possibly convey the experience of knowing you are loved by God and that your life and times are in His hands.

So why would God love me so much after all the wrong that I have done? That is a good question and it has a simple answer: MERCY. In His infinite wisdom, God knew of my fallen nature and how satan would use my weaknesses to trip me up with sin over and over again. God also knew that though I might wish with all my heart to love Him, it was impossible to do so by myself because my sin separates me from Him. To overcome that great separation He sent His son to die for you and me so that those sins would not keep us out of a relationship with Him. Mercy is not giving me what I really deserve to get. More than most people living in the free world, you are likely to understand the concept of mercy very well. It is something that we all hope for and long for, but usually do not receive. Well the good news is that God is always willing to extend you His mercy, if you will just ask Him. That is a Father’s great love for His children. Love and mercy are very intimate and personal matters between two individuals who have great affections for each other. Do you understand that God looks upon your life with love and affection? You are His precious child: He gave you life. He wants to bless you even now, where you are. Won’t you open the doorway to your heart just a small crack and ask Him about this great love that He has for you? Won’t you let yourself be comforted by His concern for you?

I am not writing to you about something that I have read about or heard from others. I write you these letters out of my experience with His love and His infinite capacity to change even the worst life into something of great value and precious in His sight. I share these things with you because I see your worth and value. If my own soul has infinite value to God, then so does your own soul. Therefore as thoughts of rejection come to mind in the days to come, I invite you to consider the mercy of God as an alternative. In your case and mine, Mercy is the antidote for rejection. After all why would God the Father Almighty send His Son Jesus Christ to die for you and me? If even one of us were beyond His redemption, then this would have been a waste on the cross. Ask Him yourself with a sincere heart and you will find the answer. It is the Holy Spirit’s role to help guide us through life: May you find Him now. Mercy flows like a mighty river through our lives washing away the pain and destruction of rejection. What I have been talking about is relationship, not religion, not rituals, nor issues of doctrine or dogma. I am talking about having a relationship with the Father who sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay the price for all of our sins. One who loves us so much He would die for us so that we could spend eternity with Him. If you have never had this kind of a relationship it is time for a quiet chat between you and Jesus Christ. You will never be the same person again, once you catch a glimpse of His infinite love for you.

A PARABLE OF FORGIVESS:  PERHAPS THE REST OF THE STORY?

Once upon a time a wretched man found himself standing on the edge of eternity; on that cusp between life and death itself. He could offer nothing in mitigation for his offenses. Nor could he plead a case for which mercy might be justified. He stood knowing that in moments his fate would be sealed. With nothing to offer in defense, he moved onto the public platform of justice. It was his first encounter with that look of love.

*********

Not more than an hour before he had been preparing himself to die for his crimes. Now he stood, apart from the crowd still trying to make sense of what had just happened.  He was trying to understand the dramatic turn of events which took him from confinement by chains in a moment’s time to freedom within the community.  He was aware that he was caught up in the emotions which seemed to sweep over the towns-people. Slowly, almost with reluctance, he had climbed the narrow stone pathway with the others who were excited to witness the free entertainment, another execution.

What troubled his thinking was the sure and certain knowledge that it was him who was to have been executed that day! He looked about him and noted that those who had jeered and yelled the loudest in the crowd before the judgment seat, were now standing sullen and withdrawn, as if they were experiencing disappointment with the quiet scene which they were witnessing. Perhaps for the first time in his life, he was experiencing fear and a strangely personal, inability to understand what was happening.

Hours before he had stood on the platform opposite this quiet stranger. No words had passed between them, nor would they have been heard over the roar of the crowd. Unbelievably the crowd was calling out his name. Barabbas! Give Us Barabbas, they yelled with a fury. This scene kept replaying in his mind, still struggling with the reality of being saved from the appointed punishment. He had prepared himself for his impending death, but how could he understand what had just happened? Emotions surged within him, a great flood of relief swept over his tired body. But what of the stranger who had stood nearby: This stranger who was substituted for him, by the cry of the crowd.

They had only exchanged a long glance, but it had a troubling effect upon his thoughts. Barabbas knew that he was guilty of his crimes, but this other man presented no hardness of expression which was so common among the prisoners. Instead His eyes held this strange quality of compassion and sadness, so odd in one just condemned to death. That glance seemed to bring with it a shadow which troubled his spirit. Something had passed between them in that unspoken moment, but Barabbas could not identify the source of his discomfort.

What should have been a time of great joy was overshadowed by the awareness of a new reality. Someone else was going to die for him! His price had been paid, but why? Why was this man condemned, while another was set free? At some deeply personal level, Barabbas was beginning to understand that he had just played a bit part in some remarkable drama which was manifesting around him. His normal boisterous manner was strangely quieted as he searched his environment for a hint of meaning, some way to make sense of these events.

From the highly visible platform of judgment he had made his way to the anonymity of the welcoming crowd. His ability to hide in this surge of humanity had helped quell his fears. Surely Pilate would soon realize that a terrible mistake had been made. Once discovered, the authorities would seek to capture him again and cut him off from the land of the living. It was as if the crowd offered him a strange sense of obscurity, an opportunity to meld in with others, so he surrendered himself to the nameless shadows pressing in and surged forward. For these brief moments he did not have to think or consider his options, he was safe in the press of the crowd, as they swept toward the Via Dolorosa.

Stumbling forward onto the well worn path, he felt himself being shoved toward the nearby wall as others made way for the Roman guards who were forcing a clearing through the crowd. They were escorting their prisoner to His death. In that briefest of moments, their eyes locked together again. How was this possible? In the midst of this mindless crowd, they had again shared a connection across time and space.

He had previously made the decision to dispel his troubled notions about these events. Now he was again thrust into another unwanted meeting with this man, the man with sad eyes.  Barabbas knew that his plans dissipated in the instant of that second random glance. This man was going to die for him, but why? That unsettling knowledge permeated his thoughts. This was a personal matter playing out between them. Why? Suddenly realizing that these were not chance encounters, Barabbas turned his face away in shame which he was unable to explain. This surge of emotions was overpowering and frightening, His mask of indifference was beginning to melt and for the first time he felt tears streaming from his eyes.

The hero of villainy began to experience deep gut wrenching sobs which he was not able to explain. Never before in his memory had he experienced the flow of hot tears on his cheeks. He was at a loss to comprehend the meaning of these events and in a moment of shame, sought to hide his face from the others. He had seen men die before, he had witnessed the barbaric tortures of his times, but he was deeply troubled for a man he did not know; a stranger whose glance had penetrated the awful shield of hatred and callousness which had accumulated over the years.

That look shattered the carefully constructed façade of self-confidence. Once more he experienced the uncertainty of boyhood and he was suddenly shaken by the emotionally destabilizing influence of fear. Barabbas felt overcome by this strange flood of emotion. Hatred he knew. He was comfortable in the familiar presence of hatred, where men did their best to destroy each other in the various arenas of life. Hatred was a comforting place, a resting stop on the weary path of life. Hatred had inspired him to slash his way forward, through anything he deemed to be a challenge to his way of life. Yes, hatred was a welcomed quality to a man who had built his life on violence and selfishness.

Now, when he had arrived at the pinnacle of life, he had evaded the very jaws of death itself by force of personality and reputation. Yet he stood alone, fearful and frightened in the middle of the very crowd that had just saved his life. When he should be at his peak, instead he was reduced to an all encompassing uncertainty about what he actually believed. Here he was the winner of this odd contest between the stranger and himself. But a mere glance had penetrated his inner most defenses. The One, who was dying, seemed to have pity on the one who had evaded death.

He numbly followed the movement of the crowd and found himself standing by, as the stranger was affixed to the monstrous cross. Lifting him up, the Roman guards grunted under the strain. Those standing about became silent, giving way to the quietness sweeping the crowd. For the third time, he experienced the searing touch of the strangers glance. It was not an empty look of one about to give up His life, but rather it was the gaze of compassion and love one might associate with the expression of a parent love of a child. Barabbas knew that somehow this look was searing in its ability to strip away his mask of ruthlessness.

He was filled with an unquenchable emotional thirst, as he moved forward to hear the words of this stranger. He needed to grasp each word and examine its meaning, lest each be lost like some precious jewels. The thirst was strangely abated as he pondered the stranger’s expression “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He was praying for those who were responsible for His death! What manner of man was this? Tears again formed in Barabbas’s eyes, as he noted that the stranger was paying the price for his crimes. Troubled relief was replaced by overwhelming grief.

Not a word had been exchanged between them, yet Barabbas understood that a relationship existed between the two of them. The stranger had been willing to die in his place. How could this be so? This fact alone, so moved him with a flood of emotions, that he understood he would always be unable to articulate the strange relationship between himself and this stranger. His life had been strangely transfigured by a series of unwanted interactions. He was trapped inside of his own experience with this stranger, unable to explain his journey to anyone.

Some in the crowd pointed toward a small group of women clustered near the foot of the cross. One said that the stranger’s mother was standing nearby. Barabbas was drawn to these mourners, like an insect might be drawn to a light. More than anything, he needed to know this stranger who was dying in his place. Awkwardly he asked those standing on the fringe of the grieving women, “what is His name?” Softly, the name was whispered, “Jesus, He is Jesus of Nazareth. He is Jesus, the Christ.” The response was whispered with a sense of awe and reverence.

His body was fatigued and his countenance was burdened by the unsettling events to which he had been exposed: Life transforming events.  Still caught up in the mystery of these unfolding events, he stood by, watching, watching Jesus on the cross. Knowing that he was a witness to events beyond his comprehension, he stood by resigned to letting the moments wash through his life, as if healing waters were flowing over him. In those somber moments leading up to the death of Jesus, the stranger, Barabbas knew that his life had been transformed by an unknowable truth. This Jesus had died for him, out of an act of personal love.

The afternoon merged with evening as the crowds began to drift away. Barabbas was not a religious man, but he understood the cultural drama being played out in his midst. The stranger’s head had slumped forward in death. The crowds grew weary of watching the macabre spectacle, once they had acknowledged His death. The sky darkened, rolling back any hint of daylight. It was as if the very heavens were crying over the travesty which had just happened.

Barabbas knew that he had witnessed an important event. This was not an event about him, but about life itself. He could not get that look out of his mind: This Jesus who had died in his place without any claim of injustice. The very notion of someone willing to die for him transfixed Barabbas as the winds and rain enveloped him. Unrecognized emotions swept over him as he recognized that a blasphemous trade had just been executed. An innocent man had died in his place.

Even here, suspended in time, reality mandated a return to the demands of Passover:  It was time to take leave of the events of this day. In haste, the broken body had been taken down and removed for burial. Among those who still remained, the activities of life had somehow returned demanding accommodation, even in this place of death. The crowds intuitively drifted away, seemingly satisfied with the drama they had witnessed.

Barabbas moved among the others. His spirit could not acknowledge their presence; he could only consider the hauntingly vivid memory of the events which he had just experienced; a personal encounter with salvation.

PRAYER FOR FAMILIES

Lord, You know everything about my life, my hopes and dreams and my sins and failures. Among the things that I find to be particularly painful are my thoughts about my family members, spouse and children who I offended through my actions. I wish with all my heart that I could change things for them, but I am totally powerless to help them at this time. I bring my loved ones to you and place them in Your care. I know that you love them and will comfort them in the days to come. Please Lord, heal the wounds that I have created and grant them Your Peace and Love. Help me to keep them lifted up in daily prayer and to communicate with them in ways that build up their spirits to carry on. Please Lord, touch the lives of those who have offended me and my family with your forgiveness. Help me to forgive them and heal my wounds. I am a sinful person who can do nothing by myself, but I ask this of You based upon Your promises in Your Holy Bible.  ******

In the future the topic of rejection will be revisited again since there is so much to discuss about this issue and how it shapes us as people and the way we respond to other people. That letter will be called rejection II. Be Blessed.

 

Letter #6

Many of us have had the experience of giving and/or receiving Christmas gifts from those we love, or those to whom we have strong feelings of affection or attachment. It is a wonderful way to remember our loved ones and it serves as a reminder to them that we hold them close and dear to us. In relationship with those we love on a more intimate basis we may have received or written love letters expressing our deepest feelings and affections. These written expressions convey the thoughts and sentiments that we hold deeply in our hearts and they reflect our very nature in words of warmth and affection. What would a love letter from God written to your heart say? How would He speak of His love and affection for you? Can you even imagine receiving such a letter? In your heart, what would you want Him to say to you? What words would restore your hope and heal your wounds? What kinds of things would He say to you that touched your heart at the deepest level and gave you a new vision for life?

Remarkably He has already written that love letter to each of us. In that message of affection and restoration He has assured each of us of His great love no matter how badly we may have failed in the past. He has spoken with a deep abiding affection and concern for our individual beings and invited each of us to come and spend some time with Him. As Creator and Father, He longs for our company as you have seen in other human relationships. It is His very nature to want to bless each of us, to shower our lives with His goodness. That strong affection does not diminish or vanish when we have sinned and rejected Him. Like the loving Father that He is, He waits patiently until we have come to some desperate endpoint in our relentless search for meaning. Then, when we are completely spent and defeated in our frantic search, He orders life situations so that at that moment of profound hopelessness we can turn to Him. As our ever loving Father, He seeks only to restore us to relationship with Him, when we are willing to surrender our lives and wills to His care. He then takes the trash of our lives and turns it into treasure. It does not matter where you find yourself at this moment in time. He has a plan for your life that will fill you with a new meaning and purpose.

There is NO ONE exempted from His goodness, but He is gracious and loving and will not force any of us to accept His goodness. It must be a voluntary decision on each of our parts to ask for forgiveness and restoration of that precious relationship with Him. Once we have asked, He pours His grace and mercy into our lives and starts to transform our very nature. We do not suddenly become conformed to the substance of life, but instead His grace creates a new desire within each of us to be changed by the ever present Holy Spirit. It is not up to us to make these changes….in fact most of us have no idea where to start or how to accomplish this enormous shift in thinking. Thankfully, once we accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives, He takes responsibility for making these changes possible. Under His loving care for each of us, our lives take on new meaning and direction. He starts to use us right where we are now. He brings together circumstances that will make it possible for us to live out our lives in service to His plans. Suddenly, instead of self-seeking and selfishness, we find ourselves living with purpose and dignity. We come to know deep inside that He is working out His plans in our lives no matter where we may be at that time.

This is truly the essence of making Jesus the Lord of our lives, by accepting His redemptive work for us upon that cross. Each of us truly deserved to hang on that cross for the sins we have committed. Some of us can number our crimes among those sins, but do not be confused between sin and crime. All sins are crimes against a God who loves us. So there is no one on this earth, with sufficient righteousness to stand before God. We are all in desperate need of His love and care in our lives. Sometimes pride, arrogance or a fear that He would never really forgive us, stands in the way of coming into relationship with Jesus Christ. I have good news for you. He has already made the way available for each of us. Talk about Christmas gifts, what better gift could any of us receive than the love and fellowship with the God who made the universe? It is truly a free gift, the finest gift that could ever be given to anyone. And it all started with the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. In that single life, God created a pathway to individual salvation for each of us, by our accepting the gift of a new life in Jesus Christ.

God Himself has written us a love letter. The Scriptures contained in the Holy Bible speak His words of hope and life into each of our individual lives. The Old Testament contains the explanation of His great love for us and the method whereby EVIL came into our own lives by virtue of our own free will choices. The rest of the Old Testament reveals the story of man’s struggle to live with a fallen nature even at the same time that he sought to be reconciled in his relationship with God. The story focuses upon those struggles in the early history of a people who had been chosen to share a special relationship with God. But the Old Testament clearly teaches us how futile their own actions were to elevate themselves to a position of friendship with God in the midst of personal sinfulness. The problem was crystalized over the ensuing centuries as we read of the pleadings of His people only to turn away and embrace sinfulness again and again. The key message of the Old Testament was man’s inability to have a sustained relationship with God based upon OUR own evil nature. Our desire to gratify our own flesh, pride and lusts. So a comprehensive study of the Old Testament reveals that there is a war going on in our hearts and minds. By myself I am totally incapable of being good enough to have a continuing relationship with God. Like the Old Testament Hebrews, we try our best, but our sinful nature gets in the way and we fall into sin again and again. The Hebrews attempted to satisfy God’s righteousness by offering daily sacrifices to cover their continual violations of His laws of righteousness. All of these efforts were futile in abating the consequences of sin, as though we were trying to elevate ourselves to a place of worthiness where we could approach the glory of God. Bulls and lambs were insufficient to cover our sinfulness, but they were a religious system which recognized the sinfulness of man and his attempts to make peace with God. It was an insufficient sacrifice since man by himself cannot ever make things right with God. It is an impossible challenge since we are trying to make ourselves (the creation) right with the Almighty Creator of all. We have no power or ability to make these things right by ourselves no matter how humble or guilty we may feel about our past actions. The Old Testament ends with a period of 400 years of silence between God and man. A vast indication of our inability to appease the righteousness of God. The Old Testament clearly demonstrates our inability to make things right.

In the fullness of time, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ to teach us by example about God’s great love for us as individuals. The New Testament starts with the Gospels which reveal the life and character of Jesus Christ as God’s chosen vessel of mercy, grace and forgiveness. That sole Life was given to each of us as a gift of God, to restore us to a righteous relationship with Our Creator. By His act of loving service and redemption, through His death and resurrection HE totally paid the price which we had incurred by our sinful choices. Those debts have been completely paid in full and all we need to do is to reach out and accept the free gift of personal salvation earned through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He did for us, what we could never do for ourselves. He lived, suffered and died, paying the price for our sinfulness. The New Testament is the love story about how God made a way for each of us to have a fully restored relationship with God through the obedience of His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

This special love letter from God to us, gives us the opportunity to live out the rest of our days in a loving relationship with Our Father, God Almighty. I would direct each of you to the Books of Roman’s and James to read for yourself how this became possible, when we still made sinful decisions. How the shed blood of Jesus Christ is sufficient to cover all of our sins, past, present and future. There is no sin which will not be forgiven if we pray and ask Him for His forgiveness and mercy. It is that simple. The salvation message of hope is just a short prayer away. The only thing that is required on our part is to call out and ask for His forgiveness – nothing more. That is the essence of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. During my days I often fail to live up to my responsibility to live out my life according to His law of love. But He is always faithful to forgive my sins, trespasses, acts of commission and acts of omission. His single act, His life and more importantly His victory over sin and death is the all sufficient covering for all of my sinfulness and personal failings. The same rules of forgiveness, love and mercy are freely available to all of us. All YOU need to do is to quietly ask Him for His forgiveness and to come into our lives and change us from the inside out. Please see clearly, that just like the people of the Old Testament, I am (and you are too) personally unable to make things right with God, Our Father. But thanks to His loving gift of His Son, we are now able to live in right standing with God. He will make the changes in our hearts and minds, cleansing us from within. All it takes for this personal transformation is a willingness to invite Him into your life and to ask Jesus Christ for forgiveness. Since the Father sent His Son as a replacement for us paying the individual price for all of our sins (hell), Jesus has covered our sin debts, paying the full price to have a completely restored relationship with God, The Father, Our Creator and the Sustainer of our very beings. It is that simple to have a new life. He knows everything you have ever done and will restore you completely to a relationship with Him. Because all of us have sinned during the course of our lives, we need His forgiveness. Where one individual has raped, murdered and stolen another may have only told a lie. But in God’s eyes all sin is evil, it is not a matter of degree, if we have sinned then we all need the shed blood of Jesus Christ to cover our sinfulness. There are no exceptions to this rule of life. We have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. Only by accepting the sacrificial act of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection can we be made righteous and restored to relationship with God. Those who think that their sins are minor or insignificant are sadly mistaken. ALL SIN OFFENDS GOD. He is holy and righteous and cannot abide sin in His presence. The shed blood of Jesus Christ pays the price for all of our sinfulness. It is totally sufficient. That is the essence of God’s love letter to each of us in the Holy Bible. A message of faithfulness, love, mercy and forgiveness which we could never acquire for ourselves. That message is the basis for our hope. That message is the basis for eternal life, rather than eternity spent in hell for our sinful choices. His word can be reduced to a single sentence….I LOVE YOU WITH ALL MY HEART, WON’T YOU PLEASE COME HOME?

THOUGHTS ON JOY

It has taken several weeks to get around to putting these words to paper. I have attempted to reach out to everyone on death row in several states and initiate meaningful dialogue with those who live with this reality each day. Few have answered the previous letters and several who have answered have not responded to my return letters. One conclusion that I might draw from these encounters is the likelihood that it is very difficult to trust people in an environment where the system is looking for a legal opportunity to execute you as quickly as possible. I had one death row resident tell me that the guards on the row were as evil as the worst of the offenders. So where do you draw a moment of safety for yourself in that kind of environment? It would seem that the only solitude that can be grasped is inside of your head and in your spiritual awareness. If that is the case it is like living out each day in almost complete isolation. In that situation my letters are sent to you to open a small window outside of the heavy burden of living on death row.

The November letter focused upon the topic of happiness. My experience with happiness has led me to believe that in my life, happiness has always been related to some external event, thing or relationship. While I have experienced it inside of me, it was always the result of something external filling a need in my life. And when I became bored with the event, thing or person, I quickly lost my happiness and was again seeking some new event, thing or person to make me happy. For me, happiness was never an inside job, it always depended upon something else happening in my life.

Joy on the other hand has always been an internal experience. I have found myself in horrible situations and still have been able to experience times of joy. Joy flows through my life, while happiness melted away. Joy is like the blood that courses through my veins. It has a certain substance, while happiness is like a mist that disappears. Like a musical note that vanishes when one stops playing the musical instrument. In my youth and through my forties I was satisfied with seeking out happiness in all of its forms. Though from my early 30’s I identified myself as a Christian. Joy was something that I experienced only as my relationship with Jesus Christ grew deeper and deeper in my life.

You might think it impossible to experience joy in a prison setting. I do not personally believe that to be true. I do believe that in all of the circumstances of our lives we can experience joy and peace which is unexplainable to others. It is like experiencing vanilla ice cream for the first time in your life. No amount of words would ever give you the experience that one taste of vanilla ice cream would bring. With that single taste you would have an experience that could not be adequately defined with words. That is what joy and peace are like….they are indefinable. They must be experienced to understand what they do inside of our minds and hearts. Once you know the sweet taste of joy (coming from inside of you) then your life is changed forever. So how do you get this joy which eventually produces peace in your heart and mind?

As a trained clinical psychologist I can tell you that there is no therapy, drug or way of life which we can master to produce feelings of joy. I am convinced that joy and the peace that follows are gifts of God. Plain and simple…..gifts that are freely given. The world experienced joy at the birth of Jesus Christ. The greatest joy that a dying world could hope for in times of despair and defeat. Today many of us who are or have been offenders still experience those feelings of despair and defeat. The same joy which transformed the world two thousand years ago, is our today for the asking. Suffering is optional, personal transformation is promised. Like the shepherds on the hillside or the wise men from the east, our lives await the miracle of His birth in our spirits. As the Pharisee asked in the Bible, what must I do to be saved, our spirits cry out with the same question in our shame and pain. The situation is changed only in that we are now talking about 2013-2014. Man’s nature is sinful and has never changed, given the influence of evil in our lives. I cannot get right with God under my own power. So He sent His Son to live among us, to teach us, to show us and then to die for our sins as a replacement for our individual responsibility. My joy stems solely from the fact that Jesus Christ paid the price for my sin on the cross. He also paid the price for all of our sins on that cross. If you will humbly call out to him today, He will forgive every sin and crime that you have ever committed or will commit. His death on that cross gave each of us the opportunity to stand righteous before a loving Father. Without any stain or blemish on our eternal souls. All you need to do to have this gift, is to pray quietly that Jesus would come into your life, wash away your sins and change your heart and mind. He will make all of the changes necessary. That is why this experience is called a personal transformation. You follow that initial prayer with a daily morning and evening prayer asking for His help in all you do. And you continue to build a relationship with Him by reading His word. He promises to change your heart and mind and to completely forgive your sins and trespasses. He will do for you what you cannot do for yourself. In that quiet moment of seeking Him, your life is transformed and that JOY AND peace start to manifest in your life.

Jesus Christ has a special love for condemned prisoners, do you remember the story of the thief of the cross next to him? St. Dismas, I call him the patron saint of the close call. Jesus personally assured him that he would be in paradise that day with Jesus. A personal promise from Jesus for every death row prisoner. He loves you with an equal passion that He felt for this thief. Don’t take my word for it, ask Him yourself in the following short prayer and see how He responds to your humble request.

A PRISONER’S PRAYER

Dear Jesus, I know that You were a prisoner just like me, so I am offering this prayer to You because I believe that You truly understand my life and my current situation. I have been a failure at most of the things that I have sought to achieve. I have committed crimes and lived a life of sin. It is very difficult for me to trust in anyone. I ask the Grace and Courage to believe in You. Help me Lord to trust in You and Your word. I surrender my life and will into Your care and I believe that You will come into my life and make the changes which need to be made. I want to spend eternity with You and leave this life behind with a sense of purpose and meaning. I believe that even here on death row, You can use my life in that manner. Have mercy on me because I am a sinner and cannot help myself. Fill me with Your Love, Grace and Joy.  Amen.

If you have prayed this prayer in your heart, you already have full forgiveness for your crimes and sins. You also have His promise to guide you through this life and the promise of spending eternity with Him. God has written each individual a beautiful love letter, it is all contained in the Holy Bible. His promises are real and they are forever. He will never disappoint you. Others will disappoint you, but Jesus Christ will stand by your side from this day until He welcomes you home in eternity. Have a Merry Christmas. Celebrate the true joy of finding relationship with Jesus Christ. Your life will never be the same again.

You will be in my thoughts and prayers…….Be Blessed.

Letter #5

As a child growing up in Queens New York, I disliked the approach of Fall. Of course it meant the end of summer, but with Fall would come darker mornings and nights would fall faster on our houses. Darkness does not hold any specific meaning for me now, but as a child, I disliked seeing the day come to an early end. By November the cycle of winter was upon us and the cold weather encouraged me to get into a warm and dry house as soon as possible. But I can still remember lingering, wanting to squeeze another small ounce out of the day before getting busy with homework. The days of early winter were more to be tolerated than enjoyed. But that did not hold true as the Thanksgiving school break was drawing closer. It was not just a great meal, but it always generated a sense of excitement and expectation for me. In some ways today is very similar, but it is not to a large family that I am drawn rather it is the quiet intimacy of loving interaction with my wife that makes it special for me.

This year will hold the added magic of being involved in a community outreach on Thanksgiving afternoon. A local church in Alamogordo New Mexico will be hosting a luncheon for those with no place to hang out. The church members responded positively when I suggested that they open their doors to families of offenders, so that they too could enjoy the warmth and welcome of others. I believe that is the kind of thing Jesus Christ would have been doing for others. It is not about the meal for me, rather it is an opportunity to welcome people use to living in the shadows of the community: To welcome them, as brothers and sisters. Perhaps they will forge a long term supportive connection with Dismas Project, but in the event that this is not their desire, they will still be welcomed and embraced.

This Thanksgiving will be different because of this outreach to others. But it is the substance of really being grateful, to have an opportunity to share with others that will make this holiday something special. And I doubt that I will even take notice of the shorter days outside. You see, this is all about growing our small family, one person at a time. And YOU are part of that family now. Gathered around the table at Thanksgiving, I would often experience a sense of happiness and delight. That is a tradition that I want to keep alive in my heart and your presence in my life adds to my happiness. The happiness of which I speak flows out of my understanding of God’s great love for all of us.

While there are steel gates and barbed wire separating us, the love of God provides a tangible link between us that nothing can stop. The link of which I speak is based upon a concern for your life, though we have never met each other. It comes from the realization that your soul is equally precious as is my own soul and that Our Father takes delight in all of His children. There is nothing quite like being welcomed by those who are happy to see you. That kind of loving acceptance dispels the darkness and cold which pervades the November days and nights.

There once was a man by the name of Zacchaeus who was hated by his townspeople. He worked under the ruling government as the chief tax collector and at that time, as long as the tax collector brought in the amount of money that the government wanted, then he could charge anything above that amount to keep for himself and those townspeople had to pay it. Everyone knew that he was ripping them off, but because he worked for the government he was in a protected position and there was nothing that the town’s people could do about it.

Well Zacchaeus heard that Jesus Christ was going to be passing through town and he wanted to catch a glimpse of Jesus. Zacchaeus was a short guy and could not see over the heads of the other townspeople. So he climbed a sycamore tree to get a better view. Arriving in town Jesus Christ walked over to the sycamore tree and greeted Zaccaeus by his first name, telling him to come down out of the tree. He then told Zacchaeus that they were going to go to his house for lunch. Zacchaeus was stunned that Jesus had noticed him and even more stunned that Jesus knew his name. Now Jesus was telling him that they were going to eat at his house.

When some of the religious people heard this, they grew angry with Jesus because He was choosing to hang out with a known sinner, rather that with the upper class, the privileged class. Zacchaeus quickly came down out of the tree and was so moved by his experience with Jesus Christ, that he pledged to give half of his belonging to the poor and he also stated that he would might things right with those who he had cheated on their taxes. This was a remarkable encounter for someone like Zacchaeus who was a very rich man.

It was like he publicly confessed his sins before Jesus and those standing around listening and he was changed by this encounter with Jesus to such an extent that Jesus noted that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’s house. In other words, that brief meeting with Jesus transformed his life on the spot. Zacchaeus did not set out that day to meet Jesus, but Jesus had set out to meet Zacchaeus. And that brief encounter changed this man’s life forever. That is the way an encounter with Jesus Chris works in our lives. He finds us and touched our lives so profoundly that we are changed forever.

Zacchaeus still had to pay his debts, but the transforming moment was when he came to the point of realizing that Jesus had come to town to meet him personally. It totally softened his heart and gave him and new outlook upon life. That is what Jesus Christ does for each of us, when we open that door to our heart and allow Him to come in. We still need to pay off all the debts that we owe here, but we are given eternal life as a result of that encounter with Jesus.

Nothing we have here in terms of treasures that we may own can compare with the richness of being loved by the God who created the universe. And that love is ours through all eternity, not just for the time we have remaining in this earthly life. We started out this letter talking about darkness, cold and the happiness of a Thanksgiving meal shared with those who love us. Well that SAME promise is extended to each of us when we accept the love of the One who comes seeking each of us. The bible tells us that we will be His guests at the great wedding feast in heaven when all of His followers join together with Him.

Now that will be a true Thanksgiving Day feast.  You and I have been personally invited to this feast as His guests. No one can take that away from you or I. It is His free gift from the Lord of Life. The only condition attached to this offer is that we open the door of our heart and accept His love for us. Jesus Christ comes into each of our lives and finds us, no matter where we are at that moment…up a tree, in a death row cell or enjoying a family get together. The whole process is that simple. So basically today you and I are standing at the bottom of our own sycamore tree listening to the words of Jesus Christ being spoken into our lives. Will you accept His invitation to join Him at dinner and forever in heaven?

The Young Woman

There was a young woman who came to church services and afterwards approached the pastor tearfully. She confessed that she had been backslidden and wanted to come back to God, but felt hat He would not accept her because of her sinfulness. As she talked, tears flowed from her eyes and her voice broke again and again as she told her story of despair. The pastor spoke gently into her life, the obvious reality that he was observing in her behaviors, her sorrow, her contrition and her desire to have a right relationship restored with her heavenly Father. He wisely pointed out to her that even in that same moment her relationship with God was being restored as she spoke of her shame and sadness over her sinfulness.

That was the moment of spiritual restoration, a moment of fellowship with God in which He welcomed her back into relationship with Him. It was clearly a story which reflected all of the teachings found in the parable of the Prodigal Son. And it was happening in the quiet moment of engagement between two people and a loving Savior. He will always welcome us home, if we are willing to bring our sinfulness and place it at the foot of the cross. That is why he came, he lived and died and rose again: To pay the total price for our sinfulness and trespasses.

Do not allow the voice of deception to tell you that God would not accept you because of what you have done. He loves you beyond all you could ever imagine. Surrender is the key to the door that stands before you, all you have to do is open the door and walk through it. You will never be turned away, because you are precious just as you are. That is the nature of true love, unconditional love. Come home and be loved as you are, because He created you out His great love. It is when we are at a point of utter despair and overwhelming hopeless, that we finally come to a place where we can make the most important decision of our lives.

It is at this point that we can choose to surrender our lives to the care of God, or we can continue on the downward spirit that can only end in destruction for ourselves and others. It is only at that point that we internally recognize that we have failed in managing our lives effectively. It is only when we profoundly recognize the extent of our own failures that we can come to a point where we come to recognize this as an opportunity to reach out and accept God’s living word about us: His profession of love for us and His willingness to forgive our sins and trespasses unconditionally.  It is His personal call to all of us, come home My Child, I love you.

In my heart I know that we all reach this point in our understanding at sometime in our lives. This is not a point of absolute failure, but rather that moment of incredible opportunity to accept His promises. All it takes is a willingness to call out to Him in our pain and shame, He will do the rest in His love for us. He is calling you by name today, won’t you please come home?

*****

I will be in Alamogordo, New Mexico for the Thanksgiving Day holiday. But you will be in my thoughts and prayers. It is my heartfelt desire that you will join me in that heavenly feast. That we will have all of the time that we want to share the amazing things that God has done for each of us. This life is but a brief span of time, 70-80 years usually. In this life we are constantly reminded of our failures, mistakes and errors. That is the way that society lives out its existence. Like crabs caught in a bucket crawling over each other to get to the top. But none of the crabs every get free, because those below will reach up and pull those on top back down in the midst of those still in the bucket. That is the way that life works during our short life spans. But that is not the way that God sees us. To Him, each of us is one of His precious children. And He takes delight in looking for opportunities to bless us each day of our lives.

During the past months I have tried to share a number of different aspects of life which shape us and influence us as we grow older. Many of those things happened when we were still children and dependent upon others for care and protection. When we failed to get that kind of consistent love, we toughened up inside and started to look out for ourselves. The rest is now history. Just like Zacchaeus discovered under the sycamore tree that he did not have to defend himself in the presence of Jesus Christ, my holiday hope for you is that you will also find that you are truly loved by your Creator. And that you will accept His love as a gift that will radically transform your own life forever.

 

Use this model to reveal the most secret shame and humiliation to Him who is able to do all things.                                           MORNING PRAYER

Dear heavenly Father,

I acknowledge You as my sovereign King. You are in control in all things of my life. I thank You that You are always with me and will never leave me nor forsake me. I ask you to fill me with the Holy Spirit so that I may say no to sin and yes to You. I ask the Lord Jesus to heal me if there is any bitterness from any bad things that have happened in the past.

I now take my stand against Satan. I plead to use the authority of Your holy name.  In the name of Jesus, I cast the spirit of: (sample list of sins):

1 Adultery, Anger, Arson, Abuse, Addictions                                                                                              2 Blasphemy, Brutality, Bestiality, Blaming, Broken Vows                                                                        3 Condemnation, Cursing, Controlling                                                                                                       4 Damning, Destruction, Delight in Harming Others.                                                                                5 Exorbitance, Exhibitionism, Envy                                                                                                            6 Fornication, Fondling, False Testimony, Failure to Help Others,                                                                            7 Godlessness, Gossip, Greed                                                                                                                8 Heretical Beliefs, Homosexuality, Homicide                                                                                             9 Idolatry, Ingratitude, Instigation                                                                                                  10 Jezebel, Jealousy                                                                                                                             11 Killing, Kidnapping                                                                                                                               12 Lewdness, Lesbianism, Lying, Lust                                                                                                    13 Murder, Mayhem, Masturbation, Mutilation, Masochism                                                                     14 Neglect                                                                                                                                                  15 Oppression                                                                                                                                     16 Pride, Passion, Persecution, Promiscuity                                                                                                      17 Quarreling, Quenching, Quibbling                                                                                            18 Robbery, Rape, Ransom                                                                                                                   19 Sexual Sin, Suicide, Self-Mutilation, Slavery, Sadism, Satan-Worship, Selfishness                                20 Trauma, Torture,                                                                                                                             21 Usury, Unbelief, Unreasonableness                                                                                                       22 Violations, Victimization                                                                                                             23 War, Wounding, Waste                                                                                                                24 Xenophobia                                                                                                                                                                                 25 Yelling                                                                                                                                                     26 Zoophillia,…to depart from me. Cleanse me from all iniquities. I choose to put on the full armor of God, so that I may be able to stand firm against all of the devil’s schemes. Instead, I want every good spirit of you Lord. Please give me the spirit of:

Obedience                                                                                                                                        Purity in Thoughts                                                                                                               Humbleness                                                                                                                               Self-Control

Your Wisdom, that will guide me all through the day. I submit my body as a living and holy sacrifice to God and I choose to renew my mind by the living Word of God. And let me be spiritually bound to Jesus alone. I pray that the Holy Spirit will renew my spirit, in order that I will be spiritually healed. I ask that an angel of Jesus be my guard and in the name of Jesus, cast away any angel of darkness that had been oppressing my spirit in the past.

Please be with me and my family all through the day. I want this day to be a glorifying day for my King and Savior, AMEN.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter #4

Unlike previous months, this letter takes a shift from things which have externally influenced us on our journey through life. We now attempt to look at the reality of sins and crimes against a loving God. Ultimately all of our offenses have been against Him, since He is our Creator and the Sustainer of our lives. Just the thought of this topic may be another emotional blow in a life that seems to be without meaning. But don’t give up so easily as your read my words. Ultimately it is not about what we have done, but about what the grace of God can and will do in our lives as we go about our daily activities. The truth is that I cannot change myself, but there is One who can shape me and mold me into the person that He sees that I can become. That is right, even where we are at this moment, broken and without hope, we can be useful in His plan. The key to making this happen is not making an anguished list of past failures and offenses, but rather to take all of those harmful encounters and commit them to His care in an act of personal surrender. My best efforts have only resulted in a sad history of pain and shame. It seemed that no matter what I attempted to do, all things ultimately ended in failure. What a sad commentary on life. But even in the midst of those sad misguided events, He was already bringing me to a place where I could start to recognize the true meaning of fellowship with God.

He knows all that I have done and the wickedness of my heart as expressed in the things I considered and might have done if I had the opportunity to act upon my impulses. In other words, He knows every aspect of my life, my personhood. There is nothing to hide from Him. And still He calls me His precious child and invites me to come home. To turn over all of the badness, hurt, pain and troubles of my life, as well as the accomplishments and gains of my life. His simple promise is that He will take what I bring to Him and make something beautiful of my life. All it takes is reaching out and taking Him up at His word. Forget about doctrine and dogma, put aside your religious belief systems. What I have written to you is the simplest form of the Gospel. God loves us just as we are and wants to take us where we are and create a new life within each of us. It is just that simple. His word and love for us is simple yet profound. I believe this to my core, not just about my own life, but also about your life. That is the very reason that I choose to write to you each month. In my eyes and God’s eyes, you have eternal value in spite of what you have done in the past. It is never too late, nor is anyone beyond the reach of God’s love for each of us. Your role in this matter is to consider my words, but more importantly to consider His great love for you.

Having been a healthcare provider for 25 years, I am well aware of the differences between individuals, but I am even more familiar with the many ways that we are similar. I attribute those similarities to the fact that we are ALL made in God’s image and likeness. That means each of us has some small element of His nature which CAN shine forth. One way might be to recognize your own smallness now and your feelings of loneliness, isolation and bitterness. If I could sit with you and talk about life I would openly share the tragedies of my life, but eventually I would turn to my encounter with Jesus Christ and how He has turned my trash into treasure. All I have done in this relationship is to reluctantly wave a white flag of personal surrender. He will do the same things in your own life, if only you will take the first steps toward Him. No matter what circumstances this letter may find you in, He has the ability to reshape your life into something that will have eternal value. No crime, no offense is beyond His ability to redeem. You can believe the lie that somehow you are beyond the reach of God, or you can take these words as your invitation to reach out and take Him at His word. You already know what your own personal efforts have created in life, so what do you possibly have to lose by taking Him at His word.

I am inviting you to explore the possibilities. If your legal counsel advised you that a new appeal might be prepared based upon a new point of law, would you refuse the possibility of relief that might be offered if the appeal was successful? This matter about which I am writing is far higher and significantly more important than an appeal issues. It speaks to the issues of eternal life and meaningfulness in your current life. He is able to take all of our failures and use them in a way that will reflect His glory and His great love for us. Crimes are sins against a loving God. Sins are crimes against that Redeemer. All have sinned therefore we are all guilty before Him. We are all equally bad and have no ability to restore ourselves by virtue of our own actions. Do not let fancy titles, earthly success or clever ways that are used to make some of us look better than others deceive you. WE have ALL failed, none of us can be good enough to stand before God and withstand His knowing look. He knows our hearts and all the wickedness and perversity of our human nature. We are ONLY made righteous by the shed blood of Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. That is why he is called Our Redeemer. He has paid the price for ALL of us. Your eternal punishment has been permanently blotted out, IF you will accept the gift of salvation provided by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This fact is so simple that most people miss it in their pursuit of a relationship with God.

My job is to be a connection to you, a shoulder upon which you can lean, while you work out this earthly existence. I am not here to burden you, but rather to help you shoulder that burden and carry your load. I reach out to you because I strongly believe in the value of YOUR life. I look beyond worth as determined by most people and see that God can restore to you what has been lost. I am able to do this because of what He has done in my own life. You see, I know that He exists and that He loves each of us in a remarkably personal way. That is not in question. I have lived the life and seen the evidence in my own life and the lives of others. The only question is, what will you do with this information. Will you belittle these ideas and cast them to the side, or are you willing to open the doorway of possibilities in your own thinking by exploring what I have shared with you? It is ultimately a matter of personal choice. None of us completely knows the weariness or soul sickness of others. Those are the depths of despair and most of us do all in our power to avoid contact with those aspects of our own lives. But inevitability they creep into our thoughts and emotions in our least guarded moments. WE each experience those lost moments differently, but the pain is similar for each of us.

I know pain, I understand pain. Not as some textbook example, but as part of the process of having lived a troubled life.  I am struggling to find the words that might convey an understanding of the process which takes place when those painful personal encounters are transformed into a life which holds new meaning and promise. This is not about religion it is a matter on a far deeper level than the transient effects of a religious experience. It is a transformative experience which will provide a new sense of meaning to the most horrific and terrible events of your life. Instead of facing the endless encounters with your lostness and degradation, you will start to experience a growing awareness of how, even these events can be used to help others. Instead of wanting to hide in shame and humiliation, you will suddenly find yourself building on these incidents and using them as building blocks for your future. Since few people in life are willing to openly acknowledge that they have traveled these roads, your experiences will open doors to others to evaluate their own lives in an open and surrendered manner. Remarkably the very things which once produced pain and shame will become ways to reach out to others who are equally lost and helpless.

I write these words you even at a time that I am struggling emotionally, feeling somewhere between desperation and depression. While I am having personal difficulty in keeping my head up and looking at the extent of failures, I am still unwilling to dismiss my belief that God is sovereign in our lives.  Just because I am going through a period where I feel weary and uncertain, I cannot attribute this condition to my God. The truth is that I have allowed myself to stop and nurse my weariness and have been able to seek small emotional comforts in various distractions. The key to removing this obstacle is found in prayer and surrender in my own life. I understand this fact clearly, but there are times I stumble on in the odd belief that I have a better plan. Each and every time that I take this route, I am left bewildered and embarrassed by my shortsightedness. I share this with you because it is essential that you understand that a spiritual struggle is not an unfamiliar reality to those that love the Lord. It is how we adapt to these challenges that transforms our character and makes us useful for Kingdom work. What brings me great hope is encountering others who are making similar journeys. You see as I observe their missteps and moral failures, I recognize myself. I see how God is working in their lives through all of the events which trouble them. He is the One who is making the changes in our individual lives. He is molding and shaping us daily in every experience which confronts our lives and our limited abilities.

So there are two aspects to my relationship with Jesus Christ. The first of these is that He has paid the price for ALL of my sins, past, present and future. The second is equally important, if I will allow Him to work in my life, without shutting Him out, He will make changes in my life that will have eternal value in His Kingdom. In this context it is IMPOSSIBLE to fail. He has it all in His control and all I have to do is to humbly approach Him in prayer and acknowledge my sinful choices. Even as these words are coming out of my mouth, His forgiveness is flowing out in my life. He sets me back again on the pathway and encourages me to go along with the life He has given to me. Many religious models put great stock in telling others that once you have become a “Christian”, then you stop sinning and your life is vastly changed. I am not sure of their theology, but in my understanding of His word, He is the One who takes my mistakes and failings and uses all of my errors and wickedness to bless me with a deeper relationship with Him. He really is the lifter of my head and He restores me when I feel lost and weary. It is true that by myself I can do nothing, but like any loving Father, God will not withhold those things which are essential on my walk with Him. That is what His love is all about, plain and simple. You and I cannot do these things by ourselves, but with Him all things are possible.

I am currently in a personally painful place which is related to my choices and my poor judgment about believing that I can do the things of life without asking Him for help. But even sitting here and writing this letter about my own failures has strengthened me to ask for His help and forgiveness and to start over again in His care. You see, unlike many other citizens of this country, my life has been strewn with failures and personal brokenness. The Holy Spirit bears witness in my life that I am not alone and I will never be condemned for my failures and personal brokenness, as long as I present them in a prayer asking My Father for His forgiveness. Likewise I am called upon to forgive others who have offended me. The witness who lied, the guard who has a personal attitude toward you, and a justice system marked me with coldness and indifference. The same forgiveness that has graciously been given to me freely must flow on from my life to the lives of others. And one day at a time, one experience at a time, I start to change my personal world through the decisions I make. In that way, I start to reflect the love of God in all of my interactions with others. He will bring into our memories the things which we need to confess to Him and Him alone. That is the core of having a personal relationship with God and with His Son, Jesus Christ. It is the essence of having a daily walk with Jesus. Gradually and spiritually my wickedness and ruthlessness is transformed by His Holy Spirit and our lives are transformed.

I meet in a weekly bible study when I am in town, with a group of men from a number of denominational backgrounds. But we all recognize our dependence upon God to keep His word in our lives. We all make mistakes and we attempt to correct those things which are in our power to amend. Together we struggle along this pathway of life, but while each of us has daily failures, we can easily recognize God at work in the lives of all the other members. It is never easy for me to grasp the knowledge that with God all things are possible, or the belief that He loves me so much that He wants me to share eternity with Him. When I cannot see any value in my own life, it is extremely difficult to believe that God wants to bless me as one of His precious children. Emptiness, accusations, self-hatred and disbelief are all tools that satan seeks to use in our ultimate destruction.  They are choices we make about our own lives, because it is so difficult to believe that anyone (even our Creator) could see any good within us. This process of which I have been speaking all starts inside of each of us, with a decision to ask Him for forgiveness: Then He starts that quiet process of transforming our lives to glorify Himself and to save us from damnation. Everyone on this planet is a sinner. In other words, we have all committed crimes against a loving God no one else is fit to judge your personal value to a loving Creator: Though lots of people will be willing to tell us that we are beyond hope of redemption. They are wrong you are loved.

Don’t take my word for it, check out the truth for yourself. Ask Him directly, deep inside of your spirit to show you the truth, His truth. He will not fail a sincere request from any of His precious children. Including you!

I like to write short spiritual stories and I am going to include one with this letter. My hope is that is blesses your life.

WHO CARRIED THE NAILS TO CALVARY?

As I was doing online research related to this article, I came across an entry on the web which apparently was attributed to an early version of Encyclopedia Britannia. The entry sought to convince and assure its readers that Jesus Christ only carried the transverse member of the cross on His journey to Calvary. That sole entry helped to spur my earlier thought processes about the identity of the individual who carried the nails to the site of the crucifixion. My cursory search revealed no definitive answer, nor has history suggested the names of any likely culprits. Instead we are faced with silence regarding an identity, just like the actual names of those who crucified Him are mercifully lost to history. We are left to examine our own role in the spirituality of His Passion and Death.  To that end, these thoughts have been stitched together to further our introspective efforts.

Whether our life journey lasts fifteen or fifty years, we all come to decision points which influence the quality and to some extent, the quantity of our lives.  One of those encounters is reflected in our spiritual beliefs and our resulting spiritual awareness. It is not difficult to reason that with the highly developed state of digital communications, spiritual knowledge has generally transmitted its underlying principles. This is true for most of the major religions of the world. But I write about spirituality, not about religious doctrine or dogma. The dynamics of spiritual belief are not tied to specific structural functions. Instead they have a counter-intuitive effect upon the individual who is seeking knowledge of truth.

The last several years have witnessed a new emergence of thought as I find myself reflecting upon the Passion of Jesus Christ. The main aspects of these musings are focused upon the abandonment which He encountered at all levels of society. I would not be surprised to find that there were people in the surging crowds who had previously witnessed miraculous acts which had been performed on behalf of those without hope. Were they able to deny what they had seen with their own eyes? Did His works of mercy become the act of a charlatan? What happened to their emerging faith? Were they just observers who had been seeking entertainment as they viewed His actions and heard His words?

How did those who laid their cloaks or palm branches before Him melt away as believers? Where did they go? Were they just like us, fascinated with the hope that each new claim will bring the ring of confirmation, He’s the one! Did they melt away because He offered no resistance to the thuggery which enveloped Him and His mission? Did they go away sorrowful because He offered no clever plan to conquer His apparent foe’s? It was in surrendering His life, the very Lord of life, created eternal life for those who accepted His gift.

I suspect that with His crucifixion and death, many went away sad and burdened. Their dreams seemed to be crushed in the events leading to His death. That is where faith becomes the essential component of relationship. So many saw his forced subjection to the Jewish leadership and Roman authorities, as a flaw in what He Himself had proclaimed. Surely the Messiah could not be overwhelmed so easily. In that moment of bewilderment, and for no other reason than their fear and disbelief, many who had believed relinquished their relationship because they could not overcome the doubts which rose in their hearts.

I suspect that the one, who carried the nails, was just like you and me. He had heard the rumors of the great things wrought by this Man perhaps he had ever heard the Words of Jesus Christ. But his small faith could not sustain the burden of seeing the condemnation and suffering of the Christ. Surely such things would not be possible. If He was the Messiah, He would not permit this to happen. The small seeds of faith were stolen from the hearts of the ones hoping for the Messiah.

I imagine that he were like many of us, when we feel that we have been deceived or tricked, the response is to lash out in anger at the one who incurred our wrathful response. He is a disappointment, He is a failure, He is a hallow promise, Crucify Him, Crucify Him. In that context of thought, it becomes easy to pick up those nails and assure the centurion “I’ll carry those for you.” I want to join in the process of punishing the One who failed my expectations. I want to vent my fury. “Is that three or four nails we’ll need?”

I imagine that with the completion of the crucifixion, a pall of dread and bitterness spread through the population. It is difficult to picture a holy festival marred by an execution. Instead of a time of making a joyful noise to the Lord, it becomes a time to retreat to the privacy of homes and individual thoughts. I have no doubt that the dreams of many were dashed by the events of that day. Hope was lost, regrets emerged and shame triumphed over all.

What I have come to see regarding spiritual matters is a basic truth that it not influenced by time or controversy.  If God has made a promise, He will never be slack in fulfilling His word. When disillusionment fills by thoughts and blinds me to the faithfulness of God, I need time to focus upon the complete works of God in my life. I need only assess my current situation and start to recount the times and occasions He has showed up large in my life.

I encounter the same burdens of life which produce pain and suffering in the lives of others. My personal fears are indistinct from your own. They merely transit from circumstance to circumstance. God promises in His word to be faithful in all things. Stated another way, I have nothing to fear. Remembering this promise in the midst of a crisis is the key to defeating failure. It is hard to hang on to the promise of God in the darkness, or when I am hungry and fearful or when I am alone.
Can you imagine Jesus Christ hanging on His cross? I fully well believe that what sustained Him through His Passion and Death was His belief in the Word of God. It is easy to escape an honest evaluation of those hours of suffering. We can proclaim that His is God and therefore had abilities which were not available to us. That is faulty reasoning since Jesus Christ always possessed His human and divine natures.  In His suffering He was 100% human and 100% divine.

I have called on my Savior for help with numerous decisions, struggles, barriers and obstacles that I have encountered during my life’s journey. These include marriage, children, sin, regret, shame, finances, education, employment, forgiveness, addiction, purpose, relationship, mercy, grace, faith and hope. As I ponder His response to my prayers or my outright cries for help, I come to reflect upon His goodness and His rich provision in my life. I am calmed by the realization that He has always been with me. Knowing His presence is within me, I stoop to put down the nails that I have been carrying. I again recognize that He is my Lord and Savior and my peace and wholeness is restored.

Letter #3

I am sitting in the airport in New Orleans waiting for my outbound flight to New Mexico. I mailed the last of the monthly letters last night and was tired when this task was completed. Tired but very satisfied. You have been on my mind most of the month. I struggle with staying on top of what I share with you each month and trying to manage a growing service ministry. I would rather write to you late, then to fill my letters with worthless words. Because of my own prison odyssey many years ago I try to focus on those topics which may prove useful in piecing things together. Not everything that I share in these letters will apply to everyone who gets this letter. But by offering pieces which fit together, maybe I help you to complete some of the pictures you are trying to understand in the privacy of your own head. What I share with you is not something that I got from a textbook. In fact most professionals would argue with some of my points. But I believe in the worth and dignity of each individual life, yours included. Perhaps if I can share enough pieces of the puzzle with you, then you will arrive at a point of understanding and personal peace. Neither you nor I can undo the mistakes of the past, but we can live out what remains of our lives to the maximum. In other words, by refusing to let my environment or living conditions to define who I am.  So going back to the July letter, it focused on woundedness. Last month’s letter was about family. This month’s letter is about identity.

Perhaps the initial questions should be…”Do I allow my circumstances to define who I am”? Am I more than the sum total of all of my past behaviors? What is identity all about and how does it apply to you? The way that we respond to the challenges and pain of life, is a very effective gauge to what we really believe about ourselves. So it is important to go back to basic and develop an accurate understanding of your individual worth and dignity. Many of the ways that we view things were initially formed in our thought processes during 0-5 years old. But that does not mean you are locked into an endless repeating cycle of events which happen in your life. If you have no concept of worth, then all of your interactions with others will automatically reflect the way you view yourself.

In that kind of situation we, you and I, find very little comfort in the process of living and our only positive feelings may come from what we can take and keep for ourselves. But that leaves us even more isolated than we were before we acted on impulse.  Isolation in any form can be the starting point of soul sickness. When that isolation is linked to an impulsive choice, it may turn into self-hatred and effectively lead to shutting down communications with others. I write each month because I believe that there is value in your life, no matter what your previous choices in life have been. I choose to focus on the positive, as others did the same for me.

As life goes by we often acquire a reputation based upon the actions which others have observed in our behaviors. Many times the size and problems connected with those labels are increased beyond our own actions and soon we come to be viewed as “bad’’ by those who focus upon our worst qualities. Labeling is a form of dismissing others from our lives, often by considering them as hopeless or worthless. Just because labels are attached to my actions does not automatically mean that I am all of the things of which I have been accused. But most of us eventually give up the fight and resign ourselves to live out life fulfilling many of the labels we have received. Those labels (like stupid, mean, alcoholic, thief, murderer, rapist, liar, irresponsible, drug addict, violent and of course offender, inmate, prisoner) if we accept them as valid and true about ourselves, place us in a variety of undesirable categories. After years of struggles and failures we may even come to think of ourselves in the same way….nothing but a loser. Once we have arrived at that point, we are just a short distance from embracing the behaviors each of those labels suggest about our character.

What I have just described is a process, not an event. Over time we lose track of those things which have given our lives joy and happiness. We only see our skills in terms of what we can do and the badder the better! By the time we get to this point, we have joined those who have labeled us and by our behaviors we have agreed with their assessment of our character. For most of us, at this point it feels like we are trapped and can’t make any worthwhile changes. So we plod along the rough pathway of life, becoming indifferent to our own needs for validation and intolerant of anyone who seems to block our path. Slowly life closes over us and we start to lose all hope for a meaningful life. We become resigned to living out those labels in our actions and we come to view others as them versus us. In part that is what prison has been doing in your life. You have been labeled as a criminal, segregated from society and even your name has been replaced by a number. The problem with all of this exclusion lies in the fact that we are more than our behaviors. There is a special and unique quality about every human being and most of the time it only gets addressed in the context of religion. That part of us is our spirit, which will live on long after this life is over. I am not talking about ghosts….but rather the essence of who you are. No one can kill that part of you, it is God’s gift to you and it is unique to you. We each have special gifts and talents….those are the tools which have been given to you so that you make your way through life.

Have you ever looked into the eyes of an infant, or watched a horribly handicapped child struggle with things that we take for granted? Have you ever been with someone when they died and at the moment of their death you saw the light go out of their eyes? Have you spent any time with another person who is severely depressed and struggles to get out of bed and dress themselves? Then you have already seen the evidence of human spirit. It’s there; we all have it. It is part of our nature.  No matter what your religious beliefs, that part of you will live on in eternity. It is you….the very essence of your personhood. No man can take away your spirit, or destroy it as a way of punishing you. God has no interest in furthering the work of man. His interest is only for YOUR SPIRIT. He loves that part of you and desperately wants you to reach out for His love and blessings on your life. But this has to be a very private transaction between you and Him. It does not matter what you have done up to this point in your life. He is willing to forgive you and be merciful to you. The key here is not based upon religion, but rather your relationship with the one who has already paid your sin debt. Jesus Christ.

You may be asking yourself, why would He do that for me? The answer is quite simple. He loves you intensely. Just like a parent who looks upon a helpless baby has a tender love and compassion for that child, as Our Father, He has the same affections and desires to bless our lives. We are made in His image and likeness. He understands all of the complexity of your life and mine, and wants you to ask for forgiveness directly to Him. As a gracious Father He will never refuse the humble cry of one of His children. That’s right I said one of His children. You see all that has been written above in this letter has only been an introduction to the subject of IDENTITY. Your identity and mine are linked to Our Father, who loves both you and me. WE have our identity in Him, and as His child, He is willing to forgive all of our sins and transgressions through the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Our sin debts are paid….yours and mine. We pay the consequences of our actions here on earth, but we do not have to carry that burden into eternity. When your life is over, where do you want your spirit to rest for eternity? All you need do is ask Him for forgiveness right in your cell.

Man will never be able to grasp that there is more to us than the labels we have acquired in a lifetime. But God knows better. He knows about every wound that you have sustained in your life and the wounds you inflicted upon others. None of those behaviors diminish your identity as one of God’s precious children. Life is a gift, but your identity as one of God’s children is your most precious legacy. Don’t let the trash talk deprive you of your birth right. Other human beings cannot see into your heart…..they really do not know you, though they may pretend to know you. God knows every fiber of your being and every action that has impacted your life. Knowing all of that, He still says I love you. Don’t take my word for any of the thoughts I have shared with you. Check them out for yourself. If your identity is centered upon being a child of God, then everything between now and the time we chat together in heaven is just waiting time. Please do not forget the story of the thief who died on the cross next to Christ. At the last moments, he called out and asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into His kingdom. He was rewarded for his faith by the calm assurance of a King.

If I am a child of God, then I participate in the very inheritance of His Kingdom. He is not partial, giving to one and denying others. Actually I truly believe in my heart that God never sends anyone to hell, we choose that path for ourselves. We condemn ourselves by refusing His gracious offer of mercy and forgiveness. The tragic part is that so many will choose hell, when the blessings of eternity are only a short prayer away. Can you imagine the pain of seeing your child choose a path of self-destruction when you were trying to do all you could to save the child? That is the pain which God feels about each person who neglects His gracious gift. Your place and the door to the prison swings open. All you have to do is reach out and humbly ask for His forgiveness. Would you miss His act of pardoning all of your sins and transgressions? Would you really choose the pathway to hell, when you could have chosen eternal life? You know that misery loves company. Hell was not made for humans, but for the fallen angels. Do not be deceived by satan’s deception that you are really in charge of your life. Eternity is a long, long time.

Today it is raining lightly in New Mexico and I am thinking about you as you live out this day. Most of all I want to reach across the space and time that separates us and offer a hand of friendship and concern. Our consequences for our behaviors will not evaporate with asking God for His forgiveness. That is the role that man has chosen to enact as part of the laws. But when that struggle is over, where is your destination? Even now, won’t you let your heart recognize the truth in these words? My dear wife is from Indonesia and in the time that we have been married through her acts of kindness and forgiveness, she has shown me a different way to live my life. I grew up in New York City and learned young how to take things I wanted, and how to keep them by fighting. Inevitability that way of life cost me big time. But at the time that I was engaged on this pathway, it seemed that life was all about what you could take and keep. If I got caught, it was just something to put up with and try harder the next time to avoid conflict with the police. So my life wound up being an endless cycle of confrontations with others. It was not until I was in prison, that the pieces started to fall into place.

I am not trying to convince you that my way is the right way. My words are only offered to give you a glimpse of things that have worked in my life. I tend to be a slow learner committing the same acts over and over again. Eventually I got sick and tired of being sick and tired and I became willing to look at other alternatives. My initial efforts were focused upon education, thinking that if I could acquire enough degrees, I could offset my past criminal history.  The reality was that I had just become an educated offender, not much different than before I sought out knowledge as a form of compensation. It was not until I became totally powerless that I realized that there was nothing that I could do to change me or my situation. That was an incredibly painful realization since I had always thought in the back of my mind, that I can change when I want to change. That was the time when I finally had to come to the point of realizing that I could not blame others and that my present condition was an immediate reflection of my choices. I had spent such a long time being selfish and self-centered. I had no idea how to change myself or where to begin. This was a quiet moment that I would never have discussed with anyone else. I felt intensely alone with my history of failures.

About this time I began to be exposed to spiritual concepts. Just the reality that we are more than body, mind, emotions and desires. I had a religious background growing up as a child and I wanted nothing to do with religion. It was after much discussion, and some of them were very heated discussions, that I started to consider the possibility of actually having a spiritual relationship with “God.” I still was highly uncomfortable with any concepts that I could not see, hear, touch, taste or smell. Finally I came to a point of just asking….if You are really out there, like others tell me, then please make Yourself real to me. God did not show up in my cell for a one to one discussion, rather things started happening in my life that seemed to be unexplainable. Things that I could never have made happen since I was locked away in a prison. At the same time there were also trials that came my way that were painful and hard to endure. But somehow no matter what was thrown my way I began to find the strength to cope with my situation. I would like to tell you that this was a quick process, but remember I told you before that I am a slow learner.

Somewhere along this new pathway I started to ask for help. I would have these little discussions with God and just call out Help Me Please. I was not convinced by any means, but had decided that I was willing to check out the facts for myself. Two things happened in my life. The first came rather slowly, I started to realize that I was loved…..not so much by God, as by some family members and friends. That led me to the second major discovery. If I was loved and had screwed up every opportunity in life up to this point, than why were people still loving me? I had already given up on myself, so why didn’t they give up on me as well? That struggle to understand others and myself eventually led me to consider the subject of identity. I knew what my identity was up until this point, liar, thief, cheat, etc…Maybe, just maybe there was something about me that I had not recognized before that others could see. But I had no clue what that might be. In this world, when you are labeled and discarded by society, there is little hope of changing that pattern. The change started to happen as I pondered the subject of identity. I became willing to explore my own identity and find out who I really was.

More and more little things inside like my attitudes started to change as I opened myself up to the possibility that something more was present inside of me than what I could see. Over time I started to see another picture of myself, I was still aware of all of my crimes and failures but I also became aware that I could start to make different choices each day. Not all at once, sometimes it was just biting my tongue and no lashing back at someone else. Other times it had to do with the possibilities that my life was not finished, that perhaps God really did have a plan for my life. Just allowing this option into my thinking started to open up a new window on life. I had no idea or where He would take me, or what He would require of me, but anything was better than what I had made of my life. I followed very very reluctantly, because I did not want to give up my ability to choose what I wanted. Over the course of a long period of time I came to understand what was happening inside of me. If this whole God thing was real, what was the nature of my relationship to God? Why would God want anything to do with me? While I was not happy with who I was, I did not want to be God’s robot.

As a slow learner it took me years to finally come to an understanding that my identity is based upon my relationship to God. I have worth, because He created me. I have dignity because He forgave me. I have value because He encouraged me to be more than what I had been. This in turn led to the discovery, that as His precious child (just like you are His precious child) that my future only depended upon my willingness to take one small step forward at a time. He would do the rest. That journey from prison 1979-1983 has directly led to the establishing of this ministry outreach to death row prisoners across the U.S. That is why I can tell you that it is unimportant to me what your past crimes have been. All that matters to me is to share with you monthly and challenge you to consider your own identity. You are not what someone calls you behind your back, or some prison number waiting to die. You are your Father’s child. Everything that He has done for me, He is willing to do for you. All it takes is that quiet moment, if you are really out there please make yourself real to me. He will do the rest. Living on death row does not routinely provide many opportunities to watch a miracle of transformation start to happen. It is never too late to begin again and you do not have to take this path by yourself.

I do not know where this choice will lead you ultimately regarding your current situation. I do know that reaching out your hand in relationship is the first step to being restored to son-ship. I write to you because YOUR SOUL has equal value with my own soul. You are precious to God and He will happily accept a soft, but humble request to know Him…..if you are willing to ask Him yourself. Your identity to me is as a brother, not as a fellow offender. I desire only to support and encourage you with my monthly letters. To offer you an opportunity to be treated as someone of great worth. Not as trash to be discarded. In my life God has been changing trash into reassures for many years now. He has no favorites. He loves us all equally, no matter what our sins and transgressions.  I am enclosing an essay written by my wife’s cousin who lives in Jakarta Indonesia. He has lived a life much like you and I. But he has also discovered who he is in relationship to God. It is never too late to start again. I believe that God has given you an opportunity to explore just how precious you are in His sight. I am only someone who comes to visit you monthly by mail, to help you live through the pain of your current experience.

Somehow, together we can accomplish things that we could never do alone. My only request is that you consider my words and ask yourself, Who Am I?  I see great value in your life. Read the enclosed essay and consider what it suggests to your heart. May it be a small new window in your life, letting in the love of God.

Stay strong and be blessed.

Letter #2

The summer of 2013 is fast slipping into history with trips and meetings filling in the schedule gaps in my writing tasks. While taking the time to commit my ideas to paper is important, it seems that many new opportunities seem to be opening these days. I spent part of today helping to shoot a video commercial which will air on TV for a local business. It was the first experience with actual video production and the producer made it all look very easy. But having spent considerable time watching training videos and reading materials about producing videos for TV, I am still feeling somewhat intimated by the complexity of mastering all of the knowledge and skills. Next week they will be producing several more commercials, so I will be engaged in more training opportunities. You may wonder why I am tagging along during production of commercials this is a hands-on opportunity to get familiar with skills and techniques that I can use when I am ready to start producing videos for Dismas Project. This training experience is being provided to me through a local Christian TV station who will eventually allow me to use their equipment to produce my own materials. So it is not laid back time when I come to New Mexico, rather it has now become an opportunity to learn new skills and to use them to reach families of offenders all over the US.

This letter was intended to focus upon “family.” Just mentioning that word brings out a number of emotions in various people. It is a term loaded with meaning for many of us. If you grew up in an environment where you were mainly on your own raising yourself or other children in the family it will have one kind of meaning, while others will have other distinct feelings about those with whom they lived as they grew up. One way or the other we all carry around some notion of what family means to us. Traditionally it was supposed to have meant that special place where you were loved and protected. A place that you could always return to and feel accepted. The problem is that for many of us that is not the type of picture that comes to mind when we think about family. Likewise there are many of us who tried to start our own families and for any number of reasons failed miserably at this task. I know that while I was in prison, one of the hardest things was knowing that my children were in foster care because of my actions. That was over 35 years ago and there are still wounds which have not been healed. Sometimes there is no way to heal those past wounds and we are left to find some sense of resolution and comfort within ourselves. We may even get to the point of believing that our children are better off without us. That is a pretty bitter pill to swallow especially if I am alone in a cell by myself and for one reason or another there is no one to share my struggles or discomfort.

I believe that prison has a way of isolating us from each other and that the end result is that we become cut off from others and in order to survive emotionally we shut down inside. If I do not let anyone else inside, then perhaps I can avoid the pain which comes with violations of my trust or the failures of others to meet our expectations. The end result is that I eventually live out my days locked deeply inside of myself since I cannot afford to trust others. Many times the root of these difficulties starts in childhood when others failed us over and over again. So I grow up expecting that everyone is going to fail me at some point. If I cannot trust my own parents or brothers or sister that I have been raised with then how could I possibly trust in a God that I have never seen? So early in life I become a loner not because that is what I want to do, but because that is the only way that we can survive the experience of growing up and the betrayals we encounter along the way.

So what do we do about the problem of family and our impaired ability to trust others? Back through the history of mankind the foundation of society has always been the family unit. We learn about being nurtured and loved in the home and based upon the way that we are valued as individuals we learn how to respond to other people. If life is an endless series of bruising encounters then I learn to bruise others as I make my way through life. Eventually those encounters lead to conflicts or confrontations with others which bring us into our early experiences with the criminal justice system. Since the modern theories of criminology are based upon the belief that all “criminals” are mentally defective in some way, with each new encounter we become more of an outcast until we are eventually segregated from society by a prison stay. At that point society starts to write us off as worthless and beyond help. My question to you is simply this, are you worthless and without any value? My hope is that there was a resounding NO as an answer from all prisons where this letter is sent. Our value as human beings is not based upon our past behaviors, rather it is solely based upon the fact that God created us for His purposes: That fact alone is what determines our individual worth and value.

We are more than our behaviors!

Science, no matter whatever the discipline, uniformly embraces the view that God is an unproven entity and therefore He does not exist. That is the root of the difference between science and religion. Science is only focused upon what can be observed, so issues of a spiritual nature are avoided, since they lay outside of the domain of scientific research. Then along comes a situation in our lives which exists beyond the limitations of science and we run into a wall of informed ignorance. Yes I call it ignorance because the vast majority of scientists would rather deny the possibility that God exists and that He is a ready source of help to those who seek Him. It is much easier to deny the existence of God or to simply say I do not know (agnostic) or to state that there is no God (atheist). You see if I open my mind to the spiritual reality of life, then I come to understand the serious limitations of science. It is not the know all, be all, that it has been touted to be over the last 100 years. I could cite numerous failures listed in the journals of science from bleeding people and the use of leaches to cure people up to modern day failure to replicate the “cold fusion hypothesis.” You see if God truly exists, then the so called truths of science already existed, subject to His domain since He is the Creator of all that we call reality. Consider the simple fact that thousands of years before it was ever proven by science, the fact that matter is made up of invisible substances was already written in the Bible. Search it out for yourself, it is clearly stated in the Bible.

I have been trained as a social scientist and I know the ways of science, since that was my primary profession for 25 years. Over the course of that period of time, I kept running into this barrier between fact and faith, an artificial barrier that holds science as the standard of excellence. To me, science is a useful tool, when it is balanced with an understanding of spiritual reality. Standing by itself, it offers a partial view of life as we know it, like looking into a rear view mirror in the dark of the night. We see the obvious things like headlights behind us, but have no accurate perception of the landscape of life pulsing behind us. We just know that the cars lights mean someone is behind us. Those lights and my limited ability to make out the shape of the vehicle following me are just informed guesses. My limited view cannot tell me anything about the personality or life history of those in the cars following my vehicle. So I make “educated” guesses about the passengers and drivers of the other vehicles. That is exactly what science does in exploring and observing those things upon which it is focused. But science would never be able to tell me how much the other driver paid for their car or what kind of insurance they have, because that is well beyond the things which can be “observed.”  Now you have become informed of the vast limitations of science. Certainly science cannot reliably tell me anything about God or His nature. Those facets are solely discovered and observed by using the skill of faith. If I refuse to even look at the spiritual nature of humanity, then I will never observe what is clearly visible to billions of other people. Another short example….can you tell me what color of tie the warden is wearing today, or if his wife has a cold; of course not, you do not have visible data to support your judgment. But every time in the past that you have observed him, he has ALWAYS been wearing a tie: So it is relatively safe to act on your prior observations and accept that he is likely to be wearing a tie today.

If science is unable to help define what constitutes a family, then where do we turn to develop an understanding of this shaping influence in our early lives? Well maybe the most useful way to approach this problem is to start with the understanding of what a family is and does that is different from all other aspects of community life. It seems to me that the most elementary aspect of family is a place to cradle, love and to nourish those who live in close contact with each other. A baby can be fed and changed regularly, but without sufficient love and nurturing, the baby will fail to thrive and grow. Love is the universal element which feeds our inner spirits. That is one of the reasons that the isolation which prison breeds in each life is so damaging. You cannot isolate an individual for a number of years and expect them to return to a suspicious society with an open and trusting manner. That isolation of spirit will take many years of healing before one gets to the point that they can start to function productively in open society. In the meantime there will be frequent breeches of trust on both sides which merely reinforce the hard lessons learned in prison or even earlier in life.

With enough of those encounters and subsequent periods of isolation and exclusion from society, individuals come to a point where they totally disconnect from any meaningful relationship with others. Contact with others becomes an opportunity to get our needs met, not to socialize or actually relate to others. Hence we come to be called anti-social. There are more of us on the outside, then those that exist in prisons, because our ability to trust and relate to others has been severely damaged. There is no family to turn to when we are injured or damaged by the various events of our lives. There is no protective place that we can seek out to heal our wounds in the company of those we can trust, so we continue to turn inward, relying upon ourselves only. Of course, science has a number of explanations for these behaviors and they all become terms that are used to identify us and to isolate us even further from community life. Eventually we come to a point where we start to believe these statements about ourselves and to act on our beliefs. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. We just get bad and mad and eventually wind up cut off from everyone else. We cease to have any value to others and therefore become physically, spiritually, socially, emotionally and economically isolated from others in the community. This only serves to confirm our original beliefs about others and about God. But these underlying thought processes are faulty and as a result we arrive at wrong-headed conclusions based our own experiences. Our value as individuals is established by the fact that God created us for His own purposes. We are made in His image and likeness. No matter where you find yourself now, there is still a purpose in your life and that purpose establishes your value.

It is not a court, community or congress that defines our worth and value. It has been declared by the Creator before the beginning of time. Do not be deceived or fooled by your present circumstances, God still has a purpose for your life. Dismas Project has been developed as an outreach ministry to all individuals on death row, to help them find their own purpose and to help them fulfill that purpose in whatever time remains in your life. We are not here to tell you what to do with that time, but to help you explore your options and then to assist you in making your dreams a reality. You see, that is what family does for each other. You may have a deep seated soul sickness which has kept you from ever trusting anyone, including God. Inside you may have a core of pain and rejection, but family looks past all of that and sees your worth as one of God’s creations. That is why we can look upon a child with horrible developmental disorders and still see the spirit of that child, not just the child’s limitations. Those of us who have offended much, are also much forgiven and loved by God, who sent his Son, Jesus Christ to pay the sin debt that we all have owed personally. Remember in seeing the whole picture, the jury that convicted you, the judge who sentenced you and the prosecutor who pointed the finger at you before society, all have the same sin debt and are in need of Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness.

I am not a perfect person, because I have come to understand God’s love for me, but rather I am aware that His love extends past all offenses and events of our past. That awareness has fueled a desire in my heart to reach out to those who have been most rejected by society and are considered beyond hope or worth. From discovering how valuable my own life is, I can appreciate the value of your life. It does not matter what behaviors or crimes have brought you to your current state, you are a unique creation, an expression of God’s great love. If you have never had a family which loved and nurtured you, or your offenses have driven them away, there is another family which will always have an affectionate spirit toward you. It does not matter what kinds of storms rage in your souls or minds, your worth and value stand apart from all of those issues. This letter is meant to offer a hand of encouragement and acceptance based upon the value which God places upon your life. It is my hope that my words will help to frame a different view of your life, in the context of how God sees you and me. This is a process, not an event and so I send out a monthly letter to help guide that process. This outreach has nothing to do with religion, it is about relationship: My relationship to you, yours with me and the way that God relates to all of us.

Perhaps it is time to start to build a new family of relationships based upon our individual worth, dignity and value. You are welcome to this family where caring, compassion, healing and understanding are the basic currency of our lives. That is how we relate to each other and how we build trust in ourselves and in others. Life is merely a journey between two places, comfort and hope is found in sharing that journey with another person. I will be looking for you on this road called life and I believe that we have much to share with each other. You see I want to hear about the things that are important to you and how you view life itself. It is kind of like sharing your conception of a song or a color, it is a unique sharing between two people. The outcome is that each of us grows in our understanding and capacity to develop a new appreciation of life.

Stay strong and be blessed in all that you do.

Letter #1

Even now July has begun to take on a different character then June. This year it seems as if June was highly predictable, but the shift into high summer seems to have brought a new sense of restlessness. One thing that I noted in particular is that less people seem to be on the streets at various times. Tonight I went out to eat with a friend and found out what sliders were since I had a beef, chicken and shrimp slider. While they were enough to ward off any hunger for the evening ahead, they were rather unremarkable: More or less bare bones food. As I have gotten older, I think that I have begun a search to experience new interests across the spectrum of my life. The only problem here is that there is not really much new in this world. Just new presentations of the same old stuff: It is all highly predictable.
Now in terms of actual living experiences there seems to be a personal joy to waking up each day to a new set of experiences. In that respect my life is not always predictable, rather it is often challenging. Recently I have done some emotional housekeeping, discarding memberships in several organizations which offered me little in the way of value or friendship. Sometimes it is hard to throw away things that have been with us for a good long while. But there has been a freedom and a lightening of my responsibilities by taking these actions. In turn I now seem to have more time available to write and expand the outreach of this ministry. I have a few awkward issues which will need to be addressed this month, but they are not crisis issues. Bouncing between Louisiana and New Mexico has opened up a brand new set of challenges.
What are the challenges that you face each day and how do you manage to get through them? I imagine that it takes considerable effort to try to establish a zone of comfort for yourselves. As life goes further along it seems that I am less troubled by the intrusions and unexpected explosive encounters with others. It seems to be getting easier to see the humanity and suffering in the lives of those who come into my life. Are there things that you notice now, that might not have caught your attention before? Things have a way of flowing together, in spite of our individual efforts. Do you have access to TV or radio? I understand that you are limited to three books. Do you pass them on to others when you have read them? I attended a meeting recently where a friend passed a book onto me and when I told him I would return it, he told me to pass it on to someone else.
If I might ask a question, could you share with me the single most difficult aspect of your daily lives? When I was incarcerated, it was knowing that my children had been placed in foster care in a hostile environment. You can’t fight much from behind bars. It has been since 1977 and I am still working on healing family relationships. That is a long and painful process that few outsiders will ever share in terms of personal knowledge or experience. Here in Slidell it is supposed to be a wet weekend that is a useful opportunity to attend to my personal needs and to stay focused upon the tasks which lay before me. At this point in time there has been no response to my letter to the Iranian Ambassador and perhaps there never will be a response. But I am glad that I took the time to stand up for what I believe in and then to write it. It must seem crazy to you that someone living free would volunteer to serve out someone else prison sentence.
It is only difficult to understand if you have no way to relate to my life experiences. Those experiences are the basis for my life journey. While many of them were hard to go through at the time, I would not change them at all now. You may have gotten the impression that my focus is based upon religion. NOT! Religion led me into a long period of confusion about God. It was only during my incarceration that I started to focus upon some very simple concepts that seemed to have developed into what I call my five spiritual lifelines. I do not allow myself to get involved with doctrinal distractions or dogmatic arguments. Essentially what has developed is an aware of the meaning of the words mercy; grace, forgiveness, faith and hope. Out of that understanding I have come to realize that spirituality has little to do with religion.
I would like to take time in future letters to explain how each of these concepts has impacted my life. I do not make this offer as a condition of writing to you, but just as a way to encourage you as you might consider the way each of these elements brings about a new way of looking at everything. I would only ask that you keep an open mind and after looking at what I share, if you feel this will not work for you, I will move onto something else. Dialogue between individuals only works if there is a gentlemen’s understanding between us that I have no intention of showing you disrespect. I would welcome your shared thoughts about these concepts and what you think of the ideas I am proposing. Personal respect goes a long way toward building bonds of friendship and dialogue. Most of us had little respect shown us as we grew up.
In fact most of us have a certain amount of WOUNDEDNESS which we have carried with us throughout our lives. It has shaped and influenced how we act and respond to others in all of our interactions. I am just like you, many of my behaviors were focused upon treating others like I had been treated. It is a remarkable realization that we are affected by our wounds but, rarely speak to others about these private and painful encounters. Usually we hold them deep inside of ourselves and keep them hidden as though they were some kind of shameful failings in our character. These are NOT personal failings they are the result of deep personal wounds that we have all suffered. It would have little effect to tell you about the concepts of mercy grace, forgiveness, faith and hope without placing these experiences in a framework of personal understanding.
It is because I have become aware of my own woundedness and vulnerabilities, that I have finally recognized the value of my spiritual lifelines. By myself I cannot do anything meaningful to change my outlook or my behaviors. As I come into a deeper understanding of how these painful encounters have shaped my life I then become aware of the value of these lifelines in my life. It is not important to discuss your individual offenses against others. Those offenses are nothing more than the evidence of woundedness in your own lives. What I am suggesting is that perhaps you are willing to explore how your own wounds became the foundation for the events which have occurred in your own life. In sharing we develop bonds of recovery and direction in our future encounters with others. That knowledge helps us to finally move beyond the ugly wounds that others have inflicted upon us and to see a way toward healing these past injuries by dialoging with someone invested in our future.
Your future is not bleak, rather it has just shifted into a new dimension of understanding as you start to grasp the roots of your personal difficulties. I am not here to judge, I am merely here to offer encouragement, acceptance and understanding as a light in the darkest parts of your lives. Some will roll this letter up and throw it away, refusing to believe that it is possible to build a new bridge in your lives, in light of your current circumstances. I do not believe that you are beyond the hope of recovery and new purpose in your lives. It would do no good to just merely pour out what I have discovered if you had no understanding of its applications to the most personal encounters of your lives.
I have spent time investing in you because I see great worth in your lives. I am motivated to share that vision because of my growing knowledge of my own failings and offenses. By myself I can do little, but in the bonds of trust and relationship WE can broaden our commitment to the life which remains before each of us. If your spirit can catch this vision then there are remarkable events which lay before you and I am willing to engage in walking each step which lays beyond. This is not a reckless thought or a wild sense of spiritual aloofness. It is a well reasoned structure in which I hope to build relationship with you….continuing relationship. How you respond is okay with me, I am not here to impose my beliefs on you. I am merely offering to share the road ahead in the context of meaningful dialogue rather than endless chatter about events occurring in life. That chatter is distracting and meaningless.
I do not have the power to free you from your prison cells, but I do have connection power to share your life struggles and smooth what has been a rocky pathway. Perhaps my letters puzzle you or disturb your notions of what others think of you. Some have written to me with concerns about having a game run on them. I have no other motivation than to reach out and offer comfort and support by developing a personal understanding about your life and the way events in your past led to your current situation. I am not interested in your crimes or the specifics of the events which brought you to this place. My sole interest is in forging a link between us based upon compassion and understanding. I see you as an individual who has worth and dignity and my intention is to affirm those personal qualities in every letter I write to you.
I had a close friend who died in prison in California after he had received a death penalty reprieve. You see he took the time to reach out to a new “fish” who wound up in prison and to help me to understand how to survive in that environment. His name was Zack and he blessed me, I am merely passing on that act of blessing to others. I have another friend in Salono prison who is currently doing his 40th year of incarceration for a rape murder in California. Our journey over the years since my incarceration and release has been a shared expedition of meaning that few “free” people could ever understand. It is only in this context that I write my letters to you. While you are alive and capable of making individual choices I see considerable value in developing a respectful dialogue between us.
If your response to my suggestions is one of respectful, but silent distance, that is okay with me. I understand those dynamics well and I accept your decision to watch and wait. I recognize that response as an honest personal response and I am content to offer a monthly outreach. It would do little good to offer you a range of events occurring in my current life without also offering you a frame work for understanding how past events have played themselves out in developing this connection to you. Therefore I have no interest in providing a religious viewpoint my only interest is in connecting with you as a human being with needs, wants and interests. I clearly can recall those individuals in my life who treated me with kindness and acceptance. I hope to mirror that experience in your life. That is the good soil of future relationship between us.
Writing this letter to you has been a happy event for me since it is a solid move beyond event based communications. Rather for me it represents a happy turn in relationship with you beyond the coldness and indifference the world shows toward those who have become outcasts. Please remember that my actions are merely a reflection of the words and actions which Jesus Christ showed toward the rejected of His day. That is what I meant by focusing upon spiritual matters, not religious traditions. In your current life, this day, this moment you have great value. I recognize that value and delight to reaching out to you to affirm your worth and dignity. For most of us there are many others who are willing to kick us or constantly remind us of our failings. I have family members who have done the same thing in my life. I choose to see you as a visible expression of God’s love for us and His willingness to die for the least of us. Forgiveness is hard won, not by any of our actions, but by what has been already done for us. If my life has value, than it is equally true that your life has value.
This letter represents a positive turn in my outreach to each of you. I am different from many others that you will meet in the course of my life. I truly believe that if I express a commitment to your individual dignity and worth than I must also be willing to take steps forward in making that commitment shine openly before others. My life has become such a rich harvest, that I would willing take your place if it were possible to do so. I have been blessed in so many ways that I am satisfied with the quality and quantity of my life. I do not hold my life to be such a precious thing that I would clutch it or refuse to surrender it in a loving act of service for another. That is what spirituality has taught me about the central purpose of my life. Given our circumstances, I cannot physically replace you in your cell, but I can offer you friendship, support and encouragement as you live out the challenges of life.
My hope is that this letter will provide you with a new way of seeing your situation and a deeper understanding of what it means to have others care about your life. No life is wasted or without worth. Your purpose is inspired by God’s love for you as an individual. My purpose is expressed by sharing with you on a regular basis. Religion can never reach into those very private places in our lives, but love can and does open up doors of discovery which make our futures more meaningful and richer. Please continue to take care of yourself and stay strong in the knowledge that you have individual worth and dignity. Please be patient with me in responding to your letters since I will not return to Louisiana until mid-August, but know that you are in my thoughts and prayers.
Be blessed,

P.S. I know from the letters I have received that living on death row is an isolating experience since you never know who to trust or what you can reveal to others. It seems to me that you are always on guard about what you can share since it can be used against you later. My letters are not meant to draw our personal information about your individual case. Please do not feel that you should expose yourself to a great level of vulnerability. My purpose is to establish an ongoing communications like which respects your privacy but forges a bond of friendship based upon your individual worth and my desire to be a regular source of comfort. Please do not take risks because of your desire to respond. I would rather that you spoke out in a way which shielded you from any additional scrutiny or potential problems. An additional concern seems to be the potential which exists to have your personal correspondence used in any public fashion. Your shared thoughts are private and will always remain so in the future. I know what it feels like to have someone betray your confidences. I can also imagine the risk you must feel in responding to someone who write to you without knowing me personally. That is why I have kept my letters light and non-threatening in terms of content. WE all need our private places, even if those are merely the inner space we create in our minds. Our words are merely tools that we share with each other as a way of recognizing of each other’s humanity. None of us is totally evil or totally good. We are merely human, doing the best we can to make it through another day of life.
In other writings I have explained my belief that sins are crimes against a loving God Since everyone has sinned we have ALL committed crimes and are in need of His love,