“You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (New International Version 1984, 2 Corinthians 9:11-12).
Plymouth Colony Governor William Bradford, proclaimed that November 29, 1623, (their third year on the new continent) serve as a day for “render[ing] thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
And so, from the earliest days of what eventually became the United States of America, our founders recognized the importance of a spirit of gratitude and the giving of thanks to the One to whom it was due.
Governor Bradford would not recognize modern-day America and would be heartbroken that though the letter of his thanksgiving proclamation has survived for almost four hundred years, the spirit of thanksgiving is difficult to find.
It can be discouraging to see and hear today’s news. COVID-19 Pandemic, jobs/schools/jails/churches shut down, economic recession, racial unrest and ice storm/loss of electricity. It seems that our days are darker and more difficult than ever before. However, from the perspective of past financial collapses, pandemics and times of war, today is not nearly as dark as our nation has faced before.
On October 3, 1863, in the midst of a horrible civil war that not only divided our nation, but turned brother against brother and split families apart, President Abraham Lincoln renewed the call for national thanksgiving with a prayer for “the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”
President Lincoln’s thanksgiving prayer resonates with our OJPM ministry and me. It reflects the challenge faced by our chaplains and volunteers that long to reach into the divided and broken environment of county jails to bring reconciliation and healing.
It does little good to point fingers at others and decry the lack of gratitude in general and thanksgiving to God in particular in our society. But I do know one heart that I can change this Thanksgiving season. Mine! And maybe you can change yours.
Here are five things that I am going to do this Thanksgiving:
- Make a list of all the blessings that God has given to me
- Go the second mile to tell others how thankful I am for them (notes, emails, phone calls, personal visits)
- Give financially over and above what I usually give to my church and OJPM
- Engage others in a conversation about Thanksgiving and how I am grateful for God’s blessings
- Encourage my family to have a special time of giving thanks at our holiday gathering
Diana Cummins, OJPM office administrator, and I pray regularly for our volunteers, the inmates and the detention staff. We regularly thank the Lord for the sacrifice and service of our volunteers. We also thank the Lord for the open doors of service that He has created and the financial support that we receive to keep this ministry operating.
Let me reiterate to our OJPM volunteers and friends the Apostle Paul’s words; the “service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.”
There is much to be thankful for! Do not be a turkey; make the thanking of God for His many blessings the centerpiece of your holiday this month.
Unleashing the captives,
“For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (New International Version, 1984, Colossians 2:5-7).
With COVID-19 challenges I have not been able to have face-to-face visits with many of our county site chaplains. The Lord reminded me of Paul’s encouragement to the Colossians and I texted the above verse out to them with a short personal word.
I was able to receive a message back from most of them. Below are the short but sweet words they had to share with me this past month.
“Thank you so much. We had some great visits today. The ladies are going to start back next week I believe. God bless.” Jesse West, Bryan County site chaplain.
“Thank you my friend. Glad when this virus is over. Ready to get back in jail.” Wayne Childers, Canadian County site chaplain.
“Likewise brother. Thanks for your prayers. We are seeing the benefit of them daily.” Larry Heikkila, Cleveland County site chaplain.
“Thank you so much Tim! Overall, things going well with jail ministry in Craig county! Sheriff is happy, ministers are happy, and it’s a blessing to the offenders.” Andrew Haire, Craig County site chaplain.
“Thank you.” Kevin Martin, Lincoln County site chaplain.
“Jesus 2020, because only Jesus can save this nation. Hope you have a great day Tim!” Jason Reece, Logan County site chaplain.
“Thank you sir!” Stephanie Calico, Mayes County site chaplain.
“I have been able to stay in touch with inmates through email and answer the requests for material. They have finally opened the kiosk back up so that I can visit with those who request a visit.” Gary Caldwell, McIntosh County site chaplain.
“Thank you so much for your words of encouragement. You are always a blessing to our ministry. We continue to pray that God will reopen the doors again for us to go in to preach the gospel to those in prison. Thanks again for your prayers and support.” Philip Sloan, Pacho Viejo, Mexico, chaplain.
“Thank you boss.” Gina Jansen, Oklahoma County Juvenile Center site chaplain.
“Thank you Tim.” Danny Cotner, Rogers County site chaplain.
Our world may seem upside down. Our God is right-side up. The world has changed. You may have changed. God has not changed. Continue to live your life in Him!
Unleashing the captives,
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (New International Version, 1984, Esther 4:14).
This is a time when we need to listen and absorb.
This is not a time for ‘buts.’
There is a growing conversation across our country on racial reconciliation and I want to be a part of it. I want you to be a part of it. In this conversation, I have heard some truthful comments from my white friends and then there is a ‘but.’
As chaplains we are God’s ministers. We must speak the truth and the gospel. That is the heart of OJPM’s ministry. However, there is a time to listen. Our dear friend Joe Williams used to say that preachers like to talk and chaplains like to listen. Now is the time to listen.
It is like ministering to a family member who has had a loved one die in a car accident and to say, “I am so sorry for your loss, but you know they were not wearing their seatbelt.” Maybe that was the cause and maybe it was not the cause, but it is not the right time.
One of the comments that we hear is that Black lives matter. I believe that is an important statement that needs to be embraced. Yes, I have concerns over some of the politics of the Black Lives Matter organization. However, that is not the focus of the conversations I am having.
It is important to differentiate between the statement Black lives matter and the organization Black Lives Matter. They are separate and sometime down the road we can have that conversation.
Some have said that all lives matter. That is true. Think of it like this. When you are observing Cancer Awareness Month (CAM) you do not stand up and say, “What about heart disease?” If you are at a CAM event, you understand that for that period of time there is going to be a special focus on cancer. You also understand that highlighting one does not mean you are diminishing the other.
There will be a time to clarify some of the reports of racial injustice. There will be a time to question some statements of solutions. That time is not now.
Now is the time to grieve together, to listen, to seek to understand and to discern our own walk as reconcilers who serve the Great Reconciler.
OJPM family, there are no buts about it!
Unleashing the captives,
It is a sad fact of life that racism still exists in this country and the chances are that we have all either seen or experienced it at some point in time. Unfortunately, racism is not going to go away quickly.
However, that does not mean there is nothing we can do about it. No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.
Which suggests that people learn to hate, not from a classroom setting, but by what they see and what they hear. And if people can learn hate, they can be taught Love!
Love comes from God. It is going to take God in individual’s to reform racism. Racism is not just about Black and white; it is much deeper than that. It could be that someone is Asian or Hispanic or maybe it could be ignoring the new member in your group whose skin color is different. The problem is, we have to admit that this ugly ism is real.
There are some white Americans who are hesitant to admit, even though they see racism, they hear racism, they are around racism and usually respond that they are not racist, but they stay silent to the very problem.
What an unfortunate and tragic murder of George Floyd, where we all seen an act of blatant racism and an unarmed Black man, Ahmaud Arbery, jogging in the wrong neighborhood, murdered by three white supremacists. Then a white woman in Central Park was asked to follow the rules by a Black man, Christian Copper, and because he was Black, she called 911 and said a Black man was threatening her life. And because all these tragic acts of racism were caught on camera it caused a movement all over this nation and the world that Black Lives Matter.
I am encouraged by the movement, but more so from the diversity of people. Black people, white people, Hispanic people and Asian people not being silent but protesting about equality and justice. So, the reality is, We Are Better Together. If you are around racism and if you see it or hear it, please Do Not Be Silent. Speak out for justice and equality.
I am very honored to be a board member with OJPM. And being that I am a Black African American we need your help. We need your voice and your support need to be seen. Not just when there is a tragic death of a Black man, but whenever we witness injustice in our own cultures and neighborhoods. Let us make this a better world, a better nation and a better state to live in by working together to do away with racism.
Having this dialogue on such a sensitive subject is a giant step in the right direction. Let us ask God to help us on what we can do individually as part of the OJPM family to be more open about this problem.
Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to talk on this sensitive matter, racism.
Kenneth Sherrill Sr.
Pastor, Greater New Zion Baptist Church
Volunteer chaplain, Oklahoma County Jail
OJPM Board member