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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sledding on an Amish farm
These Amish children sure enjoy sledding down the hill!

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"God's Plans"

"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).

Prison exterior
Today we want to commend those involved in prison ministry. It sure is among the most sacrificial forms of ministry and is a form of direct obedience to one of Christ's commands (Matthew 25:39). Our friends Mike and Kathy Matangelo are involved in prison ministry  in North Carolina where they mentor young men in the ways of the Lord. Our friend Rick Masciantonio has led a weekly Bible Study in a state prison in Massachusetts now for over seventeen years. My chaplain supervisor Al Worthley served with the federal prison system as did Manuel Cordero, a college friend.

Prison interior
However Brooksyne and I don't have much experience in prison ministry, I suppose in part because of the patience needed regarding passing through the security and the fact that we do most ministry together. I would also find the typically high recidivism rates discouraging and we have a ministry style in which we like to have long-term relationships with those to whom we minister. We like to stay connected. But today I would like to draw a lesson from one of the times I had an opportunity to preach at a prison in York County Pennsylvania several years ago.

Prison chapel service
It turned out that preaching in a prison setting was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have had in my ministry. I went with Scott Reynold, the regular prison chapel volunteer. We had to go through some rigorous security to get into the prison and then down to the chapel. After setting up for the service the inmates came all at one time in single file wearing their jump suits as several correctional officers watched them.

The chapel meeting room was all concrete, including the ceiling, so you can imagine the sound dynamics. There weren't enough chairs in the room so some of the men just sat on the floor. Prior to beginning the service the room was very loud as the men talked together but when I told them that we were preparing to enter into worship the chapel grew very quiet and still.

Stack of old hymnals
We 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, did we ever sing! That concrete room just resonated with the enthusiastic voices. 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. The message I shared with those men I share with each Daily Encouragement 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."

Isaiah 29:11
Based upon God's unchanging character this is a great promise that we can all accept and rejoice in.  God has a wonderful plan for our lives on this earth regardless of what we have done before we came to repentance and fully surrender our lives to Christ.  Jesus calls this the "abundant life." (John 10:10).  In His abundance toward us He proclaims, "freedom for the captives. He bestows a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair" (Isaiah 61:1,3).

But the best part will be the eternal future. That's so beautifully 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. Some of the prisoners may only sense their current plight and feel such hopelessness and despair. I wanted them to see beyond that as I ministered that day.  The same may be true for some of you reading our message today.

God sees our hope and future far beyond what we see through the maze of life in our temporary existence. If we saw the big picture such as our heavenly Father does, we would view the intertwined dark and light colors of our life's tapestry with perpetual rejoicing.  Rejoice in Him today as together we declare the awesomeness of our God as He is fulfilling His plan in our lives!

Be encouraged today,

Stephen & Brooksyne Weber

Praying manDaily Prayer: Father, though we see through a glass darkly we're so glad that You have a perfect plan for our future.  You want to prosper us and never to harm us.   We do not throw away our confidence based upon what we see, but instead we choose to live by faith, since faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Help us to be faithful as we patiently wait to see Your plans fulfilled in our lives. We pray for those who minister in the prisons.  Grant them power and grace, as they present a transforming message of hope, forgiveness, and endurance through Christ. We pray for the prisoners whose lives have been transformed, that You will enable them to reach other inmates who need to be saved from their sins.  And lastly we pray for the people of New Zealand as they await word regarding their loved ones who remain trapped in the ruins of the recent earthquake.  May Your grace and favor be evident in the midst of devastation and extremely difficult circumstances we pray.  Amen.

PS: There's much more I could share about the prison meeting.  There is an incredible lack of any pretentiousness among the prisoners. The men remained fully attentive and 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 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. 

Today's Suggested Music and Supplemental Resources

"Be Glorified"
 Video  Ron Kenoly

"For I Know The Plans I Have For You"  Video  Martha Munizzi

"Trust His Heart"  Video  

I have a question for tech people. I've had this experience several times lately when searching for suitable videos on YouTube and wonder if the search results are gamed. I was searching for a song on Isaiah 29:11 (a verse from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures) that I recall from the Integrity Scripture Memory Series and the top search results on YouTube for Isaiah 29:11 are all related to Islam!!!

I was unable to find the song I was looking for but in the course of searching I found a beautiful song from that series based on Psalm 103  Video

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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, New King James Version (NKJV) Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. 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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