Matthew 2

magi.jpgGreetings!  This passage will be familiar to many people – perhaps too familiar.  Try reading it like you are doing so for the first time.

As you may know, the number of Magi may have been three (as in We Three Kings) but the number is not stated.  The Magi may have been Jews whose families didn’t return from the exile in Babylon or they might have been Gentiles (non-Jews).  They were most likely very well educated and may have traveled with a large group of people.

There are various Herods mentioned in the Bible.  The historical fiction Pontius Pilate helped me sort them out.  This King Herod did some good things politically but was not a rightful king.  He lived in fear of someone taking over his throne and killed many people close to him. 

Matthew 2

The Visit of the Magi

 1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
 6” ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
      are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
   for out of you will come a ruler
      who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”

The Bethlehem prophecy from hundreds of years before Jesus was born is one of dozens of fulfillments that occurred in the life of Jesus. 

 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

 9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Angels’ roles include worshiping God, delivering messages and protecting people. 

The Escape to Egypt

 13When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

 16When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
 18“A voice is heard in Ramah,
      weeping and great mourning,
   Rachel weeping for her children
      and refusing to be comforted,
   because they are no more.”

This showed just how evil and paranoid Herod was.  Herod died a few years later and Rome broke his kingdom up into three parts, one for each of his sons.  Archelaus, mentioned below, was the son that slaughtered 3,000 people and was later removed by Rome. 

The Return to Nazareth

 19After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

 21So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. 22But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, 23and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

The Bible just gives highlights of their travels, but each of these journeys would have been arduous. 

What passages stood out to you, and why? 

Matthew 1

genealogy.jpgGreetings!  Welcome to this study of the Gospel of Matthew. 

Matthew was originally written for a primarily Jewish audience.  It would have been very important for them to know that he descended from Abraham, the father of the faith, and David, the great king.  This family line is that of Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father.  Jesus’ mother, Mary, also comes from the line of David.  Her ancestral line is recorded in Luke 3

Don’t let the genealogy scare you off.  You don’t need to memorize the names, but there are many interesting points in here. 

Genealogies were very important to Jewish people.  This one starts with Abraham.  If you read along with the Genesis study you’ll recognize him, Isaac, Jacob and many others.  It isn’t a list of saints, either.  There are some deeply flawed people in here. 

On an episode of The Simpsons where Homer complained about how expensive his Bible was he went on to say: “And talk about a preachy book! Everybody’s a sinner . . . except for this guy.”  I know the writers weren’t trying to make a serious theological statement.  But he was right in the sense that everybody in the Bible (and out of it) besides Jesus is a sinner. 

Consider some of the unusual characters in Jesus’ lineage: Jacob was a deceiver.  Judah had sex with his daughter-in-law Tamar when he thought she was a prostitute and fathered Perez.  Ruth wasn’t even an Israelite, but she got her own book of the Bible.  Rahab was a prostitute and not an Israelite. 

David was an adulter, murderer and all-around bad parent, even though he had great faith and God considered him a man after his own heart.  Solomon did some great things but set up the Israelite kingdom for failure. 

1A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
    2Abraham was the father of Isaac,
         Isaac the father of Jacob,
         Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
       3Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
         Perez the father of Hezron,
         Hezron the father of Ram,
       4Ram the father of Amminadab,
         Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
         Nahshon the father of Salmon,
       5Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
         Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
         Obed the father of Jesse,
       6and Jesse the father of King David.
      David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife,
    7Solomon the father of Rehoboam,
         Rehoboam the father of Abijah,
         Abijah the father of Asa,
       8Asa the father of Jehoshaphat,
         Jehoshaphat the father of Jehoram,
         Jehoram the father of Uzziah,
       9Uzziah the father of Jotham,
         Jotham the father of Ahaz,
         Ahaz the father of Hezekiah,
       10Hezekiah the father of Manasseh,
         Manasseh the father of Amon,
         Amon the father of Josiah,
       11and Josiah the father of Jeconiah and his brothers at the time of the exile to Babylon.
    12After the exile to Babylon:
         Jeconiah was the father of Shealtiel,
         Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,
       13Zerubbabel the father of Abiud,
         Abiud the father of Eliakim,
         Eliakim the father of Azor,
       14Azor the father of Zadok,
         Zadok the father of Akim,
         Akim the father of Eliud,
       15Eliud the father of Eleazar,
         Eleazar the father of Matthan,
         Matthan the father of Jacob,
       16and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.

 17Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Christ.

The next passage describes how Jesus was born of a virgin.  This is a crucial element of Christianity, because Jesus was born of a human and was also God.  He did not have our sinful nature, so He could live the perfect life in our place and take the punishment for our sins. 

Various people – including some Christians – insist that the virgin birth is too miraculous to have happened.  Yet if God created the universe and every molecule in it along with life as we know it, why is a virgin birth so incomprehensible? 

Some claim the word “virgin” in Isaiah 14:7 is a mistranslation  (“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”)  and that it really meant “young woman.”  The word “Almah” could indeed mean an young woman.  But that would hardly be worthy of a prophecy (A young lady will get pregnant?!  No fooling!).

More importantly, consider that approximately 70 Israelite scholars translated the word as “virgin” in the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament completed one hundred years or more before Jesus’ birth.

Mary could have been killed in that culture because she might have been accused of having sex out of wedlock. 

The Birth of Jesus Christ

 18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

 20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

As Christians we are so used to this story that it can lose its special meaning for us.  Yet what could be more phenomenal than the God of the universe stepping into his creation and living as a human?  What could be more spectacular than “God with us?”

 24When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

We don’t learn a lot about Joseph in the Bible.  It appears that he died before Jesus began his ministry 30 years later.   Joseph and Mary went on to have “normal” children after Jesus was born. 

What passages stood out to you, and why? 

Jesus died for this?

In an episode from The Simpsons where Homer sues the church, Marge tries to discourage him by saying that he’ll be made fun of in the church bulletin.  Then Homer shows her that he already is.


This was just a little gag in the episode, of course.  But the world could plug a picture of any of us at our worst possible moment into that bulletin and ask incredulously, “Jesus died for this?” 

It points to a grand and shocking truth: Yes, Jesus did die for this – for slobs who fall asleep in church, and for those who sin countless times in countless ways (i.e., you and me).  Satan wants you to believe that you are beyond hope and unforgivable, but that is a lie.

2 Corinthians 5:15-17 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

The world can’t handle that truth.  It constantly tells you that you have to earn your way back to God with your good deeds.  But that is futile.  No amount of good deeds can bridge that gap.  But there is good news:

Romans 3:23, 6:23, 5:8 and 10:9:  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.   For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Exploring Christianity – Part 3 – Credibility of the Author(s) – B


See below to see the latest installment of my friend Nicholas’ interview with me about Christianity or click here for the whole thing.  This part is a follow up on the credibility of Biblical writers.  We agreed to move on to a different topic next, which is good, because I’ve run out of things to say on this one! 

Just a reflection as I go through this: Whether you publish it online or not, I encourage Christians to have their own rationale in mind for why they believe.  You never know when someone might ask.  It doesn’t have to be long or formal.  As 1 Peter 3:15 says,

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”


Nicholas wrote: It seems your main argument for the bible being the word of God follows these lines:

Continue reading Exploring Christianity – Part 3 – Credibility of the Author(s) – B

Weekly roundup

lasso.jpgHappy Saint Patrick’s day!  Believe it or not, he wasn’t the patron saint of green beer.  He had quite a life as a Christian missionary.

Christian belief a “hate crime” under proposed act – it has happened in other countries and will happen here if we aren’t careful.  Think I’m kidding?  The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers references to family values to be “hate speech.”

The Myth About Creation Myths –  Believe it or not, this isn’t about Darwinian evolution or Intelligent Design.  It is a short piece on myths about some high visibility success stories like Apple.

Richard Dawkins, author of “The God Delusion” gets slammed by his own kind.

Ahmadinejad’s Threats to Destroy Israel – a handy chronological list (though keeping it up to date will be a full-time job)

More abuse of children and parents’ rights – “Officials at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Ill., have ordered their 14-year-old freshman class into a “gay” indoctrination seminar, after having them sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to tell their parents.”  Here’s a good parody which tells the same story only inserting Christian evangelism instead of homosexual indoctrination.

The myth of moral neutrality – good article by Greg Koukl about the flaws of moral relativism.

Matthew overview


Greetings!  Welcome to the introduction of the Gospel According to Matthew.  We’ll cover one chapter at a time.  I encourage you to scan all of it before reading it line by line.  This will help give you an overview of what the book covers.

Who wrote this and when was it written?  Matthew, one of the twelve Apostles was the author.  It was written in roughly A.D. 60, less than thirty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Who was it written to?  This Gospel is for all believers, but at the time it was written primarily to a Jewish audience.  It covers many of the predictions of Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection from the Old Testament and how they were fulfilled. 

Why was it written?  To prove the Jesus is the predicted Messiah and King and to tell us about Jesus.

Other information: Matthew contains the lineage of Jesus, the birth story, John the Baptist, the tempation by Satan in the desert, the Sermon on the Mount, loads of miracles and parables, and of course the crucifixion and resurrection. 

Matthew is a logical place to begin the New Testament because it helps explain how Jesus fulfills many Old Testament prophecies.  There was a gap of roughly 400 years from when the last book of the Old Testament was written until the first book of the New Testament was written (probably one of Paul’s letters). 

Reflect on what stood out to you in this reading and share your comments and questions if you like.

Something to offend everyone


It takes something special to offend two extreme groups at once.  Some people do it by saying the right things and some by saying the wrong things, as these examples show.

1.  Dr. Albert Mohler pulled it off with his article titled Is Your Baby Gay? What If You Could Know? What If You Could Do Something About It?  He got lots of angry feedback from both sides and addressed it in his follow up.  

Some Christians were adamant that genetic predispositions to being gay could never be found.  I seriously doubt it is genetic but, as Mohler pointed out, that wouldn’t change the sinfulness of the behavior.

The pro-gay camps were offended that anyone would propose such a thing as modifying the predispositions.  Yet haven’t they been the ones claiming it was genetic all along?  What did they expect? 

His article reminded me of the hypothetical dilemma I wrote on back in January, asking, “If a genetic predisposition to homosexuality were proved and it could identified in utero (i.e., in an unborn child), would your position on abortion change in either direction?”  For the record, I would still be pro-life.

2. Then there is Hillary.  What a politician!  (I mean that in the bad way).  First she says it’s for “others to conclude” whether homosexuality is immoral.   I imagine she got major grief from some of her supporters for that.  But as a self-proclaimed Christian shouldn’t she be asking what the Bible says, whether she interprets it properly or not? 

Then she released this statement: “I should have echoed my colleague Senator John Warner’s statement forcefully stating that homosexuality is not immoral because that is what I believe.”  Now that’s leadership.

Hat tip for Hillary’s quote: The Christian Alert

Exploring Christianity – Part 3 – Credibility of the Author(s) – B


See below to see the latest installment of my friend Nicholas’ interview with me about Christianity or click here for the whole thing.  This part is a follow up on the credibility of Biblical writers.  We agreed to move on to a different topic next, which is good, because I’ve run out of things to say on this one! 

Just a reflection as I go through this: Whether you publish it online or not, I encourage Christians to have their own rationale in mind for why they believe.  You never know when someone might ask.  It doesn’t have to be long or formal.  As 1 Peter 3:15 says,

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”


Nicholas wrote: It seems your main argument for the bible being the word of God follows these lines:

Continue reading Exploring Christianity – Part 3 – Credibility of the Author(s) – B

Proverbs 8

earth.jpgGreetings!  In Proverbs 7 an adulteress calls out, but in Proverbs 8 wisdom personified as a woman calls out.  The importance of wisdom is emphasized.  It is more important than riches.

Verse 17 notes that all who seek widsom will find it.  That reminds me of Matthew 7:7-8 where Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

Wisdom is offered to the simple and foolish, but will they accept it?  I have known many people who weren’t intelligent by the world’s standards, but they were wise.  I have known even more who were intelligent but foolish. 

 1 Does not wisdom call out?
       Does not understanding raise her voice? 

2 On the heights along the way,
       where the paths meet, she takes her stand;

 3 beside the gates leading into the city,
       at the entrances, she cries aloud:

 4 “To you, O men, I call out;
       I raise my voice to all mankind.

 5 You who are simple, gain prudence;
       you who are foolish, gain understanding.

 6 Listen, for I have worthy things to say;
       I open my lips to speak what is right.

 7 My mouth speaks what is true,
       for my lips detest wickedness.

 8 All the words of my mouth are just;
       none of them is crooked or perverse.

 9 To the discerning all of them are right;
       they are faultless to those who have knowledge.

 10 Choose my instruction instead of silver,
       knowledge rather than choice gold,

 11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
       and nothing you desire can compare with her.

 12 “I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
       I possess knowledge and discretion.

 13 To fear the LORD is to hate evil;
       I hate pride and arrogance,
       evil behavior and perverse speech.

 14 Counsel and sound judgment are mine;
       I have understanding and power.

 15 By me kings reign
       and rulers make laws that are just;

 16 by me princes govern,
       and all nobles who rule on earth.

 17 I love those who love me,
       and those who seek me find me.

 18 With me are riches and honor,
       enduring wealth and prosperity.

 19 My fruit is better than fine gold;
       what I yield surpasses choice silver.

 20 I walk in the way of righteousness,
       along the paths of justice,

 21 bestowing wealth on those who love me
       and making their treasuries full.

 22 “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, 
       before his deeds of old;

 23 I was appointed from eternity,
       from the beginning, before the world began.

 24 When there were no oceans, I was given birth,
       when there were no springs abounding with water;

 25 before the mountains were settled in place,
       before the hills, I was given birth,

 26 before he made the earth or its fields
       or any of the dust of the world.

 27 I was there when he set the heavens in place,
       when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep,

 28 when he established the clouds above
       and fixed securely the fountains of the deep,

 29 when he gave the sea its boundary
       so the waters would not overstep his command,
       and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.

 30 Then I was the craftsman at his side.
       I was filled with delight day after day,
       rejoicing always in his presence,

 31 rejoicing in his whole world
       and delighting in mankind.

 32 “Now then, my sons, listen to me;
       blessed are those who keep my ways.

 33 Listen to my instruction and be wise;
       do not ignore it.

 34 Blessed is the man who listens to me,
       watching daily at my doors,
       waiting at my doorway.

 35 For whoever finds me finds life
       and receives favor from the LORD.

 36 But whoever fails to find me harms himself;
       all who hate me love death.”

Blessings, life and favor from the Lord await those who seek wisdom. 

Wow, talk about a direct ending: “All who hate me love death.”  Rejecting wisdom is a bad idea.

Top general, liberal leaders make moral claims; civilization collapses

The top U.S. military officer, Marine Gen. Peter Pace caused a furor because of moral claims made during an interview with the Chicago Tribune.  The General had the audacity to say:

I would not want it to be our policy that if we were to find out that so-and-so was sleeping with somebody else’s wife, that we would just look the other way, which we do not.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said:

We don’t need a moral judgment from the Chairman of Joint Chiefs.

She is right!  Who is he to say that sleeping with someone else’s wife is immoral?  What nerve! 

Oh wait . . . what’s that?  .  .  . Nancy’s objection was to his other comments?  What were those?  Oh, here they are:

I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts.

What is so controversial about that?  He said it in the context of describing why he supported the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays serving in the military, signed into law in 1993 by then-President Bill Clinton (I wonder if he is related to that Hillary Clinton lady who is on record saying what an awful, awful policy that is?).  Doesn’t having a policy against something presuppose that something is wrong with it? 

Pelosi and the others quoted actually made two moral judgments in one: That homosexual behavior is moral and that labeling the behavior as immoral is immoral.   Like many people, they are shocked when others make moral claims but they can’t go a full paragraph without making moral claims themselves.  If we quit pretending that it is immoral to make moral claims we’d be better off.  Honestly, I think our society could handle it.

I hope he stands his ground.  It refreshing to see leaders push back against the PC police. 

Infiltrators and pawns

pawn.jpgOne of our church members who is getting a Masters of Divinity at Harvard shared this observation, among others:

“I feel kinda like the prodigal seminarian in our bunch, as I ended up at a pretty secular school.  My fellow students and professors here at Harvard generally like Jesus but are quite dubious about the Bible and its claims to truth.” 

I have no issues with someone questioning the Bible.  I am no fan of “blind faith” and I only came to believe after asking lots of tough questions. 

Call me old-fashioned, but don’t people usually decide to be pastors after they are convinced that the Bible is true and that Jesus is the way?  These future theologians not only don’t believe but they aren’t even convinced that it is in any way necessary to believe in Jesus to be a “Christian” pastor.  This seminarian is actually viewed as an oddity by her peers for trusting in Jesus and believing the Bible is the Word of God.  It is doubly ironic considering that most older colleges were founded by Bible-believing Christians. 

I’m sure their are some people who are hostile to Christianity that deliberately lie their way through ordination vows so they can subvert the faith.  How else can you explain the views of so many church “leaders” who deny the deity of Christ, that Jesus is the only way to salvation, that the Bible is the Word of God, etc.? 

But my guess is that many false teachers are just pawns who swallowed the prevailing views of the culture and don’t realize how bizarre their choice of profession is relative to historical Christianity. 

This passage explains a lot of the problem:

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve

I wonder if this country needs a serious bout of Christian persecution to weed out some of the false believers and teachers. 

James 4:4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

Also see this piece about how quick U.S. Christians are to compromise with the world. 

Psalm 18


Greetings!  A slightly different version of this is in 2 Samuel 22.  The theme of God as a rock is repeated roughly 20 times in the Psalms.  David gives God all the credit for the good in his life.  David is asking for justice over his enemies.  He was an otherwise compassionate man. 

Psalm 18

For the director of music. Of David the servant of the LORD. He sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said:

 1 I love you, O LORD, my strength.

 2 The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
       my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
       He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

 3 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
       and I am saved from my enemies.

 4 The cords of death entangled me;
       the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.

 5 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
       the snares of death confronted me.

 6 In my distress I called to the LORD;
       I cried to my God for help.
       From his temple he heard my voice;
       my cry came before him, into his ears.

 7 The earth trembled and quaked,
       and the foundations of the mountains shook;
       they trembled because he was angry.

 8 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
       consuming fire came from his mouth,
       burning coals blazed out of it.

 9 He parted the heavens and came down;
       dark clouds were under his feet.

 10 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
       he soared on the wings of the wind.

 11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him—
       the dark rain clouds of the sky.

 12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced,
       with hailstones and bolts of lightning.

 13 The LORD thundered from heaven;
       the voice of the Most High resounded.

 14 He shot his arrows and scattered the enemies ,
       great bolts of lightning and routed them.

 15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
       and the foundations of the earth laid bare
       at your rebuke, O LORD,
       at the blast of breath from your nostrils.

 16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
       he drew me out of deep waters.

 17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
       from my foes, who were too strong for me.

 18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
       but the LORD was my support.

 19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
       he rescued me because he delighted in me.

 20 The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
       according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.

 21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD;
       I have not done evil by turning from my God.

 22 All his laws are before me;
       I have not turned away from his decrees.

 23 I have been blameless before him
       and have kept myself from sin.

 24 The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
       according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.

 25 To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
       to the blameless you show yourself blameless,

 26 to the pure you show yourself pure,
       but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

 27 You save the humble
       but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.

 28 You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning;
       my God turns my darkness into light.

 29 With your help I can advance against a troop;
       with my God I can scale a wall.

 30 As for God, his way is perfect;
       the word of the LORD is flawless.
       He is a shield
       for all who take refuge in him.

 31 For who is God besides the LORD ?
       And who is the Rock except our God?

 32 It is God who arms me with strength
       and makes my way perfect.

 33 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
       he enables me to stand on the heights.

 34 He trains my hands for battle;
       my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

 35 You give me your shield of victory,
       and your right hand sustains me;
       you stoop down to make me great.

 36 You broaden the path beneath me,
       so that my ankles do not turn.

 37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
       I did not turn back till they were destroyed.

 38 I crushed them so that they could not rise;
       they fell beneath my feet.

 39 You armed me with strength for battle;
       you made my adversaries bow at my feet.

 40 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
       and I destroyed my foes.

 41 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them—
       to the LORD, but he did not answer.

 42 I beat them as fine as dust borne on the wind;
       I poured them out like mud in the streets.

 43 You have delivered me from the attacks of the people;
       you have made me the head of nations;
       people I did not know are subject to me.

 44 As soon as they hear me, they obey me;
       foreigners cringe before me.

 45 They all lose heart;
       they come trembling from their strongholds.

 46 The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
       Exalted be God my Savior!

 47 He is the God who avenges me,
       who subdues nations under me,

 48 who saves me from my enemies.
       You exalted me above my foes;
       from violent men you rescued me.

 49 Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O LORD;
       I will sing praises to your name.

 50 He gives his king great victories;
       he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
       to David and his descendants forever.

Have you ever felt as persecuted as David was?  Has God ever rescued you?

Kairos prison ministry

Matthew 25:36
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

This is a follow up to the Off to prison (ministry) post.  The Kairos prison ministry weekend went really well as did the follow up session the next Saturday.  We were at the Carol Vance unit in Sugarland, Texas, a medium security unit (though it seemed more like medium-light to me).

I am looking forward to the monthly follow-ups.  We’ll go see the prisoners for a couple hours one Saturday morning per month.  If we just met them once on the Kairos weekend that would have been good, but it is more meaningful if we can visit them repeatedly.  I’ll probably do one of the weekend events each year from now on.

There are so many things to like about this ministry.  It is an opportunity to share the Gospel with those who aren’t believers (No one is pressured, though.  One guy at my table was a Muslim but he really soaked it all in and was very appreciative).  [2009 update: The Muslim gentleman ended up converting to Christianity!] Many of the participants are already Christians, so it is a great opportunity to fellowship with and encourage them.  And it is just an all-around way to share God’s love with people who are often depressed and forgotten.  It is educational in laying out Christian principles for living.  It helps teach them how to love and forgive others (and themselves).

But even without all that, the proven reduction in recidivism would make the preparation, the weekend and the follow up worthwhile.  Based on statistics from larger sample sizes, 33 of the 42 participants would have returned to jail within 5 years if they hadn’t gone through this program.  Going through the weekend program cuts that down to 15, and it goes down to 5 if they all participate in the follow up program.

So roughly speaking, that will be 18-28 less people returning to prison once they are released.  That’s a tremendous cost savings, but more importantly it means a lot less victims and a lot less pain and heartache for the prisoners and their loved ones.

Kairos doesn’t advocate for either the prisoners or for the criminal justice system. A transaction took place between the state and the prisoner. The prisoners did the crime and are now doing the time, so we don’t get in the middle of that. We just reach out with Christian love to all and with Christian fellowship to believers.  We try to show that they aren’t forgotten.

There is also a Kairos Outside program for the moms / wives / girlfriends of the prisoners.  It is completely free, including transportation to the event and childcare if necessary.

Random highlights and observations

I never get tired of watching lives transformed by Christ.

All of the presenters prayed with an inmate who had already gone through the Kairos program.  Before my talk I got to pray with a man who was 14 yrs. into a 17 yr. sentence.  We had lots of talks at the tables, but I appreciated the one-on-one discussions the most.

Lots of time was spent educating them on how to conduct their own “Prayer and Share” accountability groups.  These are vital to keep them supporting one another and growing in their faith.

Several of the outside volunteers were was inmates themselves.  Their presence and message lets the inmates know that change is possible.

Watching otherwise reticent prisoners really light up during the songs.  I was playing guitar so I got to see their reactions.

You could really see the pain and regret in eyes of many of them.  They are haunted by not being there for their families.

There are a lot of good programs available for them to improve their chances of success when released – mentoring, Bible studies, Toastmasters, and more.

We make it a point not to ask why they are there or how long until they will get out (if ever), but they sometimes offer it up during discussions.  Most of the infractions were from violence and/or drugs.

Each prisoner got a bag of hand-written letters from everyone on the team plus others.  Some prisoners got more mail in one sitting than they had received their whole lives. We left the room when they got the letters. The leader said the reactions were strong – ranging from stunned to weeping to being like kids at Christmas. It made writing the 42 personalized letters worthwhile.  One older gentleman was still talking about the letters the next Saturday.  He was going to keep them forever and re-read them.

There was a rather large former gang member who, in his words, laid down his flag and accepted Christ over the weekend. He got choked up at the closing ceremony and was joined by one brother, then two, then three, then about fifteen surrounding him and supporting him. Then he came over to his ~80 yr. old table leader who was standing in front of me. The former gang member gave him a big hug and affectionately said, “Hey Old School.”

Some guys commented on how they not only felt the love but learned how to love and how to forgive. During testimonials and discussions we learned that many didn’t have dads or had dads who were unloving and lousy role models. The other prisoners were their family.

One of the key exercises involved “forgiveness cookies.”  Volunteers make many thousands of homemade cookies for the weekend.  There is a continuous pile at each table, and the prisoners get a bag every night to take back with them.  On Saturday night they are given an extra bag and told to give them to the person they need to forgive the most.  The next morning we heard many touching stories of what people did with the cookies.

Many participants were already Christians and knew the Bible better than we did.

Other than our presentations, we didn’t have to say much.  We mainly got them talking.  The theme for the team is listen-listen-love-love.

Most of the serving (food and otherwise) was done by prisoners who had already participated in a Kairos weekend.  I was impressed with their servants’ hearts and how much they cared for their fellow prisoners.

Most things in prisons are viewed from the perspective of “inside” or “outside” the prison walls. But as I pointed out to several prisoners, God looks at the world as those who are inside his kingdom vs. those who are outside.   From an eternal persepctive there are just people with forgiveness of sins and eternal life and people without them.

Doing something new typically takes you outside your comfort zone. Being in the prison wasn’t that stressful for me, though. What was more challenging was just meeting and interacting with dozens of new people from morning until evening (I’m somewhat of an introvert, so I find that exhausting).

It was a joy to serve with friends from church and to make some new friends from other churches.  My good friend Steve did a fantastic job leading the weekend.  We were thoroughly prepared and everything went smoothly.

As Steve would say, “It’s official: I have now hugged more men in my life than women.”

Carol Vance Prison visitation tip: Don’t wear all white unless you want to stay permanently.

If you have any interest in this or other prison ministry programs, I encourage you to check them out.  They may not be for everyone, but you won’t know for sure until you try.  There are roles inside and outside the prison.  God is doing great things through this powerful ministry.

That pesky 2nd Amendment

Nice summary by the Pachyderm about the un-Constitutional nature of the Washington, D.C. gun ban.   

Shhhh . . . don’t tell anyone, but I am probably the only person in Texas without a gun.  I’m just too careless for that sort of thing.  But I will always support our rights to own guns. 

I do have a heavy duty spear that I brought back from Kenya which I will gladly impale any intruders with.  It is solid, and it is sharp.  I was showing it to someone once and almost stuck my dog with it (I wasn’t kidding about being careless).  Free travel tip: Don’t try to carry it on the plane.  Fortunately, it came apart in three pieces and fit in my suitcase.