Month: January 2017

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like Federal Prison

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I met with “A” tonight. I met with a different group the prior week, but I heard “A” in a shouting match with the COs last time. We talked about that for a bit. Sometimes I provide a safe space where men can let off steam without getting into trouble.

He’s been working on a praise song, and he taught me part of it tonight. It’s in the African-American style of call and response. The two of us tried it out and sang together. The song, much like our faith, is still a work in progress.

For our study tonight we looked at:

Matthew 21:28-32 (NKJV)

The Parable of the Two Sons

28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 29 He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”

They said to Him, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.

I gave him the context that Jesus was speaking to people who considered themselves righteous and had no need of the preaching of Jesus or John. They had questioned the authority of Jesus. And as part of the ongoing dialog Jesus tells this story.

We noticed that neither son was the “perfect” son. One talked back to his father, while the other gave lip-service but ultimately disobeyed.

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An illustration we came up with was two addicts who go to Drug Court. The judge asked the first man if he would stay off drugs. The man says “no”, but never uses again. The second man says to the judge, “yes”, but goes back to using. Which man did what the judge wanted?

We looked further into the parable. Why did the first son refuse? Was he lazy? Was he already busy with other activities? Did he want to sit around and watch Oprah re-runs? Was he afraid that he wasn’t able to do what was asked of him? Was he more interested in seeing his girlfriend?

Why did he ultimately change his mind? “A” wondered if the son’s regret was because he realized how much his father loved him, and he regretted being disrespectful to his father.

We looked at the second son. “A” could relate to him as someone who could say all the right things and give the appearances of being the good son, but in fact was leading a double life. An example that “A” gave was that he would regularly stop by the church and give his 10% tithe on the money he made from selling drugs.

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The second son may have been disobedient for the very same reasons the first son was unwilling to say “yes”, but he hard learned how to “shine people on” to make them believe he was the good son.

Jesus’ audience believed that only people who were good, nice, wealthy, and blessed got into Heaven. Yet Jesus said, “I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” Tax cheats and Hollywood Madams are more likely to be found in federal prison. God is calling out to the ones who don’t look good, and don’t seem like they have it all together. He is calling the rebellious and broken. The transforming love of the Father changes regret into obedience.

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Your Cousin’s in Prison

We used a different format tonight. I had a shorter program time but was also able to do door-to-door visits. It seemed to work well.

Door-to-Door Visits

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“J” has become a trusty so I congratulated him. “M” asked for prayer for his family, and for the remaining time on his sentence to pass quickly. “E” is new to the unit and wanted prayer for his family. “H” is having his trial now and says it is going well, and he can see God’s hand moving. I spoke with a few others as well.

The Study

“A” came for the study and “S” came by for prayer.

The opening question was about a time when someone you knew went to jail or prison. “A” said that when he was in his teens his father went to prison for a few years. While “A” was a good student, during that time he began getting into trouble. He said he missed having his dad there to guide him through those years.

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We read:

Matthew 4:12 (NKJV)

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee.

We talked about how people didn’t think of Jesus as having a family member in prison, but he did. Furthermore, this comes on the heels of Jesus having been tempted by the devil. Jesus makes it though a tough set of tests. He comes back home and then he hears that his cousin is in prison. Jesus wasn’t immune to the sufferings of “life”.

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We read:

Matthew 4:13 (NKJV)

13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali,

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Jesus leaves home and head to the beach. I like to go to the beach to sort things out and get some perspective. I look at the water and imagine what it would be like to get in a boat and go, and go, until finally I arrive on the coast of another continent. I think of how huge that water is and suddenly my world seems much smaller. Where was I and where were my problems when the oceans were filled in?

“A” had just finished reading the book of Job and recalled:

Job 38:4 (NKJV)

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.

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Yet Jesus was using this time to start something new. This was the start of his ministry.

Some guys, when they get out of jail or prison, go back to what they were doing before they got locked up. Others use the occasion to start a new chapter of life.

We then read:

Matthew 4:14-16 (NKJV)

14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles:
16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”

We then looked at:

Isaiah 9:1-2 (NKJV)

Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed,
As when at first He lightly esteemed
The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
And afterward more heavily oppressed her,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
In Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people who walked in darkness
Have seen a great light;
Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
Upon them a light has shined.

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Here was a prophesy written 850 years before it was fulfilled by Jesus. God seems to know the “long game” of how things are going to work out. “A” found comfort in that.

We closed in prayer and he prayed for me. I was humbled and blessed.

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