Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons From Prison

These are some of the frivolous lawsuits filed by convicted prisoners across the United States (which are subsidized by taxpayers).

~ An inmate, calling himself a sports fanatic, complained that, as a result of cruel and unusual punishment, he was forced to miss the NFL playoffs -- especially the "classic " between Miami and San Diego, San Diego and Pittsburgh, and Dallas and San Francisco. (Arkansas)

~ An inmate complained because his meal allegedly was in poor condition. He claims his sandwich was soggy and his cookie was broken. (Brittaker v. Rowland)

~ An inmate who murdered five people sued after lightning knocked out the prison's TV satellite dish and he had to watch network programs, which he said contained violence, profanity, and other objectionable material. (Jackson v. Barton)

~ An inmate sued to be given Reeboks, Adidas, Pony, or Avia hightops rather than the inferior brand sneakers issued by the prison. (Brown v. Singletary)

~ An inmate sued for not receiving his scheduled parole hearing, though he was out on escape when the hearing was to be held. (Young v. Murphy)

~ An inmate sued because he was required to eat off of a paper plate. (Procup v. Strickland, et al)

~ An inmate sued because he didn’t like his mail being stamped in a way that indicated it was being sent from a state prison (California)

~ An inmate who was a murderer sued for $25,000, claiming a "defective" haircut resulted in lost sleep, headaches, and chest pains. (New York)

We get quite a different picture of a prisoner in the New Testament by the name of Paul. While he wasn't afraid to demand his rights (Acts 22:25; 25:11), neither was Paul one to whine and complain and mope while in prison (and he hadn't even committed a crime!). Listen to this positive statement which comes from Paul's pen as he sat in chains:

"Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly..... And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice." (Philippians 1:12-14, 18b).

This passage is an encouragement to me in those times when it seems that life is treating me unfairly. If Paul could maintain such a positive spirit and joy in the midst of such difficulty, surely I can do the same. There is much to be thankful for!

“Father, help me to truly understand that what matters most in life is not being comfortable, being stress-free, or even being treated fairly. What matters most is that I am living in a way that brings you the glory and draws others around me closer to you. Please help me to do that. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

Friday, May 22, 2009

Loving Someone You Can't Stand

Doctor: "I see you're over a month late for your appointment. Don't you know that nervous disorders require prompt and regular attention? What's your excuse?"

Patient: "I was just following your orders, Doc."

Doctor: "Following my orders? What are you talking about? I gave you no such order." 

Patient: "You told me to avoid people who irritate me." 

     Unfortunately, we don’t always have the option of avoiding people who irritate, people who hurt us, people who offend us.  In fact, sometimes those who irritate us the most are found right in our home (or in our church building).  So how should we deal with them?

     Milton Jones has written a wonderful book entitled “How to Love Someone You Can’t Stand” which I highly recommend (you can find it at  In this book, Jones lists six godly principles which are derived from Romans 12:

(1)  Manage Your mouth -- Bless and don't curse (Rom. 12:14)

(2)  Put yourself in the other person's place and try to understand their feelings, thoughts and position (Rom. 12:15)

(3)  Never, never, never take revenge (Rom. 12:17)

(4)  Plan ahead to do something beautiful (Rom. 12:17)

(5)  Don't just win the war, win the peace (Rom. 12:18)

(6)  Make room for God (Rom. 12:19)

     The bottom line is that we do not overcome evil with evil by retaliating and seeking to "get even".  The only way to overcome evil is with good (Rom. 12:21).  It is never easy to respond to those who do us wrong in a way that is godly, but it is only by following the example of Jesus Christ that we can truly have an influence on the world around us.

     "But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps..." (I Peter 2:19-20)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Seeking the Lost

    A golfer, playing a round by himself, is about to tee off, and a greasy little salesman runs up to him, and yells, "Wait! Before you tee off, I have something really amazing to show you!"

    The golfer, annoyed, says, "What is it?"

    "It's a special golf ball," says the salesman. "You can never lose it!"

    "Whattaya mean," scoffs the golfer, "you can never lose it?  What if you hit it into the water?"

    "No problem," says the salesman. "It floats, and it detects where the shore is, and spins towards it."

    "Well, what if you hit it into the woods?"

    "Easy," says the salesman. "It emits a beeping sound, and you can find it with your eyes closed."

    "Okay," says the golfer, impressed. "But what if your round goes late and it gets dark?"

    "No problem, sir, this golf ball glows in the dark!  I'm telling you, you can never lose this golf ball!"

    The golfer buys it at once. "Just one question," he says to the salesman. "Where did you get it?"

    "I found it!"

    Maybe someday someone will invent a golf ball that can never be lost, but until then we will all have to deal with losing things -- golf balls, car keys, glasses, etc.  We also have to deal with a lost humanity.  I find it interesting that the one term Jesus used most often to describe those who are outside of Christ is the word "lost".

    In Luke 15, Jesus elaborated on this idea by telling three parables -- the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the lost (prodigal) son.  The point has often been made that those three parables demonstrate three different ways of being lost -- through unintentional wandering (the sheep), through the negligence of someone else (the coin), or through willful disobedience (the son).

    However, the point of those three parables is not so much about our lostness as they are about the fact that our God is willing to search for us and bring us back into a relationship with Him.  If we will truly see the world around us as "lost", it will change our perspective as well.  Think about the last time you knew of a child that was missing.  When a child is lost, we don't ask what race the child is.  It doesn't matter -- the child is lost!  We don't ask the child's economic status.   It doesn't matter -- the child is lost!  We don't ask what the child may or may not have done wrong.   It doesn't matter -- the child is lost!  All that matters is that we find that child and bring him/her home safely.

    Seeing a world around us as "lost" will change the way we see them.  The scribes and Pharisees looked at the tax collectors and sinners and saw terrible, ugly people.  Jesus saw people who were lost.  All that mattered to him was that he bring them home safely.

    "For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10)

    Father, thank you for diligently searching for me and for bringing me home to you.  Fill me with your love so that I may care enough to seek out those around me who are lost.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It's Not Easy Being a Mom

Judith Viorst once wrote an essay based on interviews she had with children. The subject was "What's a good mother like?"

Viorst reports that the children expected their mother to get angry from time to time. "She has to," said Ted, "or she'll faint from holding it in."

"But it's best to remember," said Randy, "that when your mother starts to act real weird, you have to look scared and serious. Don't giggle. When mommies are mad, they get madder if you giggle."

"My mommy got so mad," said Megan, "that she yanked the plate off the table and all the mashed potatoes flew into the air."

"And why," Viorst asked, pretending she'd never heard of such shocking behavior, "why would a mother do a thing like that?"

"Well," said Megan, "she told my older brother, Mike, he's 11 years old, to eat the potatoes on his plate and he said 'Later.' And then she told him again to eat the potatoes and Mike said 'Soon.' And then she told him he had better eat those potatoes right now and he said, 'In a minute.' And then she stood up and Mike finally took a bite and told her, 'How can I eat them? They're cold!'"

It truly is not easy being a Mom! But how blessed we were to have our mothers. In this country, we will honor our mothers on Sunday, and I think it’s certainly appropriate. Paul said we as Christians are to “give honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7), and I can’t think of anyone any more deserving of honor than mothers. I hope that you will honor in a special way those mothers who are like Hannah.

In I Samuel 1, we have recorded the birth of Samuel. Before he was born, Hannah prayed a vow to God. She said, "O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head." (I Samuel 1:11)

The Lord heard her petition and she was blessed with the birth of Samuel. Hannah didn’t forget her vow to the Lord. She took her son Samuel to be trained at the feet of Eli, the priest of God. From a very young age, Hannah made sure that her son was preparing to serve the Lord.

I heard about a preacher a number of years ago who came home after preaching a gospel meeting, and he was asked how it went. Rather discouraged, he said that he had only baptized one young girl who was about 12 or 13 years old -- all in all, comparatively speaking, not a very successful meeting. But, after that girl grew up, she married and became the mother of five sons who became gospel preachers. What a great impact that young lady ended up having in the world!

I know that mothers -- especially mothers of young children -- sometimes get discouraged because they wonder if they’re really accomplishing anything. Let me assure you that if you are instilling within your children a love for God and His Word, you’re accomplishing something. It may be years down the road before you see the results, but you’re having an impact. You’re making a difference.

Give honor this weekend to your own mother -- and to those mothers around you -- who, like Hannah, have vowed to give their children over to God.