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Friday, May 5, 2006

"Hope and a Future"

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future"  (Jeremiah 29:11).

Last night I shared the Gospel with a group of men in prison. Preaching in a prison setting is one of the most fulfilling experiences I have in my ministry. The men come in single file all at one time, wearing their orange jump suits under a correction officer's watchful eye.

The meeting room is surrounded by concrete, including the ceiling, so you can imagine the sound dynamics. There weren't enough chairs in the room so men just sat on the floor. Prior to beginning the service the room was loud as the men talked together but when I asked them to respect the Lord as we were going to have a service, the place grows incredibly quiet.

I distributed the well-worn hymnals and asked if they had any favorites. Well they sure did and we could have sung all night, I suppose. I asked if someone would help lead the songs and a big man jumped to the front who sang like Ron Kenoly and, my o my, did we ever sing! That concrete room just resonated with the enthusiastic voices of the redeemed. We concluded with the classic hymn, "Amazing Grace."

I preached a message to the prisoners about having a hope and a future based on Jeremiah 29:11. I shared the story about Manuel, a friend of mine from college, who had a call to prison ministry. In fact Manuel interviewed me when I received my chaplaincy endorsement and he is now the second highest ranking chaplain in the federal prison system. I visited with him in a meeting on Wednesday and he presses on in his service for Christ.

In the early nineties Manuel worked with a prisoner by the name of Alex Valezqueze, who was imprisoned as a kingpin drug dealer. Alex turned to the Lord and Chaplain Manuel discipled him and was instrumental in restoring his marriage. Alex went on to receive pastoral training and is now a pastor of the Oasis Tabernacle in the red zone of Philadelphia, one of the most violent neighborhoods in the country. Chaplain Manuel drives up from the Washington DC area to be a part of that church pastored by the inmate whom he discipled years earlier! 

The message I shared with those men I share with each reader today. The Lord has declared, "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Based upon God's unchanging character this is a great promise that we can all accept and rejoice in today.  I believe we can understand this promise from this point onward in our lives and that's what I stressed to the prisoners last night.  God has a wonderful plan for the remainder of our lives on this earth, our temporal future, regardless of what we have done before this point.  Jesus called this "abundant life."

But the best part will be the eternal future. That's expressed in the final verse of Amazing Grace, "When we've been there ten thousand years…"  The greatest experiences of this life will not even compare to the future in heaven God has planned for us!  Paul exhorts us to "fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).

We may have little sense of the great future God has planned for us who truly love Him. We only see the smaller picture. Those prisoners may only sense their current plight and feel such hopelessness and despair. I wanted them to see beyond that.  The same may be the case for some of you reading this today.

God sees our hope and future far beyond what we see through the maze of life in our temporary experience. If we saw the big picture such as our heavenly Father does, we would look upon the lovely tapestry of life with perpetual rejoicing.  Rejoice and remember today that our God is an awesome God!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen C. Weber

Brooksyne's prayer:  Lord, though I see through a glass darkly I'm so glad that You have a perfect vision for my future.  Because I have committed my life to You I am confident that Your plans for me are for my good even though I may not understand the circumstances through which You work.  My sufferings and disappointments do not compare with the future glory that will be revealed in Your perfect timing.  I do not throw away my confidence based upon what I see, but instead I choose to live by faith, since faith is being sure of what I hope for and certain of what I do not see.   Help me to be faithful as I patiently wait to see Your plans fulfilled in my life.

PS: There's so much more I could share about the prison meeting last night.  There is an incredible lack of any pretentiousness among the prisoners. The men remained fully engaged during the entire message. During my sermon a loud buzzer went off as I preached followed by a terse announcement that the movie was starting. I paused and asked if any of the men wanted to go to the movie. The resounding answer was "No".  They seemed to just soak in the message and many expressed earnest appreciation as they left. I challenged the men to accept the Lord as their Savior and to tell me if they had done so.  A man named Charlie approached me afterwards and told me he had!

One of the most touching moments was another man who spoke about a point I made referring to those on the outside who cared about them such as their parents, spouse, or children. He asked, "What do I do if no one cares about me?" This is one of the most difficult issues to deal with as most of us have others who care about us.  I briefly assured this man of God's care.  I want Brooksyne to share a similar story she encountered in her chaplain work.  May it encourage us to be tuned in to the loneliness that surrounds us.

The mother of a young military soldier told me a story recently about her son's experience where he is stationed.  He became acquainted with another young man who was at the same boot camp, but unfortunately this man became very ill and spent several months in the hospital.  During that time his family never visited, called or wrote.  He was recently discharged from the hospital and is now back in military training.  The woman I spoke with is now corresponding with this lonely solider along with her daughter.  Can you imagine what a difference this caring family is making in this young man's life!

Today's message referred to Ron Kenoly.  Here's a great full length mp3 audio clip indicating his style called "Be Glorified"

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Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: New International Version. © 1984 by International Bible Society; NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission; and the King James Version.
Personal Mission Statement: "I am created by God to bring Him glory. Through God's Son Jesus Christ I have been redeemed and I make it my life's goal to please the Lord. My mission in life is to honor God through my faith and obedience and to prepare myself and all whom I may influence for eternity."

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