“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us” (New International Version 1984, Romans 8:38-31)?
Is God sovereign?
It is a temptation to find our identity in the ministry that we do. The challenge is to minister with God and not for God.
Much of my lifetime of ministry revolved around preaching every Sunday. That declined during the last ten years of my ministry until it stopped completely in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic. Talking to pastors over the years I know that is a struggle for pastors when they retire. Some seem to handle it gracefully; others seem to struggle.
The loss of preaching regularly has been a challenge to me. Now, the loss of visiting our chaplains and their jail sites has been added to the challenge. I find myself wrestling with this question of God’s sovereignty. It is usually not wrapped in that package, but in the package of my self worth and identity. Yet these lead back to the foundational truth of God’s sovereignty.
Who are we as Christians if we cannot do what we feel that God has called us to do? Are we still considered obedient to the Lord? Are we still loved by God? I know the answers that you and I give. Yes! Of course, we are still obedient and loved! But is that what we live out each day as we wrestle with what life throws at us.
As I hear from our OJPM family of chaplains, volunteers, supporters and friends each is wrestling with this to some degree each week. Your pastor and church are wrestling with this each week. How do we not do what we feel the Lord has called us to do?
During a bubonic Great Plague of 1665-66, Sir Isaac Newton had to leave his schooling at Cambridge and shelter in place at home. We do not know all of his thoughts and struggles but he used the time wisely. During this time of “social distancing” he developed many of his early theories and his work on motion and gravity.
If God wanted and expected you to be obedient to Him when you could go into the jail, He also wants you to be obedient to Him now. Yet, we are severely limited in going into the jails now. So, what is it that God wants you to do right now?
Three thoughts. One, trust Him. Two, be still and wait on Him. Three, look for a new way to minister/share the gospel. That is what I am doing because God is still in control!
Unleashing the captives,
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (New International Version 1984, 1 John 1:7).
Christmas is all about light. The glory of the Lord. The revelatory light. His star in the east. Christmas lights (trees, house and drive-thru displays). Christmas candles. The star on top of the Christmas tree.
And yet as we enter this Christmas season there is darkness all around. I will not go into too much detail because I do not want to focus on the negative. You are well aware of the darkness you, our country and our world has been through in 2020.
The challenge is to walk in the Light. Christmas is the perfect reminder that light overcomes darkness. It was a dark world that our Savior was born into. It was for our dark sin that He became Immanuel, God with us.
This Christmas season I want to remind you to walk in the Light. Embrace the Light through putting fresh effort into your daily devotions. Share the Light by including the story of the incarnation in your Christmas cards, gifts and family gatherings.
In dark times the Light shines even brighter to give sight, warmth, comfort, revelation and direction.
2020 has been a year where our chaplains and volunteers have been limited in their access to those incarcerated across our state. In spite of this God has worked through our faithful donors to provide enough support for our ministry to continue paying the salaries and stipends of our staff and site chaplains. In another way of saying that the light has overcome the darkness, our income has topped our expenses!
Thank you for being a part of the OJPM family during this past year. Some of you were recipients of our ministry. Some of you were physical participants of our ministry. Some of you were spiritual participants of our ministry. Some of you were financial participants of our ministry. Some of you were all of the above. To each of you, thank you!
Your participation in our OJPM family is another way of walking in the Light.
Unleashing the Light,
“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,