Greetings Dear Friends,
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all the prayers offered up for my family and I this past year. And thank you for all the cards and letters. I wish it were possible to answer every one of them! If you didn't get a reply from me, I hope you can take this as a personal "Thank You!" I get so much mail at this time of year it's almost embarrassing. Many of my fellow inmates get little or no mail. So when I carry my stack back to the cell I try to hide it. (I'm not trying to discourage you from writing, keep the mail coming!)
This is Christmas Day, 2017. I'm sitting here at my favorite spot at the end of the hallway in Richmond Hall, right beside a steam pipe. The concrete floor I'm sitting on must have a pipe under it too, because the floor is nice and toasty. A ventilation fan is roaring just a few feet away, affording me the privacy of singing out loud or praying.
When I first got here this morning I was feeling rather gloomy.
I'm still here.
Last summer we found out I was supposed to go to a halfway house on Dec. 15 and be sent home on home confinement the same day or the next. I was ecstatic!
But I'm still here.
It was a bitter pill when I found out on November 1 that my halfway house was canceled due to budget cuts. We then went to a lot of trouble to apply for release straight from prison under an alternative home confinement program. Many people have been praying about this.
Nothing's happened. I most certainly am still here at FCC Petersburg, on Christmas Day, 2017.
Sorry, dear friends! It appears your prayers weren't answered.
I admit some tears were shed into my pillow one night.
Or... were our prayers answered? Is it O.K. with us to get a "No" from God? What is evidence of strong faith? Getting what we prayed for? When our prayers aren't answered in the way we wish, can we still be happy in God? Isn't that evidence of strong faith too?
I admit, it's been tough. I'd rather not stay here a single minute longer than needed!
As I sat beside that steam pipe this morning trying to nurse my rather gloomy faith, I thought of that wonderful hymn portraying Jesus' incarnation:
Thou didst leave thy Throne and Thy Kingly Crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me.
But in Bethlehem's home was there found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
"Oh Come to my heart Lord Jesus!
There is room in my heart for Thee!"
I realized that once again I had slipped into the all too common fault of focusing on circumstances instead of on Jesus. This world IS INDEED a gloomy place without God.
OH COME TO MY HEART LORD JESUS, THERE IS ROOM IN MY HEART FOR THEE!
Sitting there with my back to the prison wall, I realized I needed to claim the promise of Revelation 3:20 once again. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him and he with Me."
Years ago, I learned this verse is not only for the sinner turning his life over to the Savior for the first time. The context indicates this promise is for believers who need a change of focus.
This promise is for those who are lonely and in need of a Friend. For those who are broken and weary of life. For those who are in various kinds of prisons.
In all my 52 years, there has never been greater joy than this experience of fellowship with Jesus the Messiah. We all know the pleasure of sitting down to a good meal with a dear friend.
This is the Meal of Meals with the Friend of Friends. It's a most delightful meal of Nourishing Milk and Living Bread and the best kind of Wine. And it's all Free. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
This Fellowship Meal "Brings Good News to the poor; heals the brokenhearted, deliverance to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, and opening of the prison to those that are bound." (Isaiah 61:1-2, Luke 4:18-19)
"Hey," I thought to myself, "I'm not in prison on this Christmas morning, I'm free!!" And I remembered that years ago I had given up my freedom to Christ. This means the Federal Government couldn't take from me what I had already given away.
THIS CHRISTMAS MORNING, I'M OUTA HERE! I'M FREE! If the Son makes us free, we are free indeed!
Jesus is the ultimate Psychologist. And He makes house calls anywhere in the world. if we answer to His knock, He comes in. He mends our broken hearts, and helps us sort through the shattered dreams of our lives. He pours healing balm on our disappointments. He opens our blind eyes allowing us to see things we've never seen before. He delivers us from our prisons, the things that bind us.
His Living presence is better than getting what I want. I would a thousand times rather be in here with His peaceful, loving presence than out there without Him.
"This is the Year of the Lord's Favor!" Jesus declared in that synagogue many years ago. With that He ushered in the Year of Jubilee when everyone's debts are canceled and the slaves are set free.
This is the Good News of Christmas.
Together, on this Christmas day, let us throw open the doors of our hearts to Him. THERE IS ROOM IN OUR HEARTS FOR THEE!
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1000
Petersburg, VA 23804
Christmas Day, 2017
We've recently received this very disappointing news about Ken's release. We've been looking forward for a long time to having Ken home by Christmas. He was planning to spend about 3 months here in home confinement.
"Due to budget cuts to the halfway house processing my home confinement, I lost the home confinement time. At this point my release date is March 6 instead of December 15. We're terribly disappointed of course, but giving it all into God's hands, and plan to be happy anyway.
We're requesting approval for home-confinement through another little-used program. Please pray that the local and regional case managers and the U.S probation office will approve this plan. Please pray that I could still be home by Christmas."
Please join Ken and family in praying that he could be home by Christmas. A call to your senator or representative to request intervention on his behalf wouldn't hurt either!
I admit it. Raised in the Shenandoah Valley with the middle name "Lee", not far from the burial places of both Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, I grew up with a dose of Southern pride.
For better or worse, Stonewall Jackson was a sort of hero to me. His regiment's intervention at the Battle of Bull Run won the battle for the South that day.
Anther confederate soldier declared afterward, "I saw Jackson standing like a 'stone wall,'" and the name stuck.
Later in life when I began to absorb the Kingdom Teachings of Jesus for myself, particularly His teaching on non-violence and loving our enemies, the southern nationalism sort of fell away along with much of my admiration for Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.
This is close to treason for a good Valley boy, I know.
But now I pledge allegiance to the "Holy Nation" ruled by King Jesus, and my Citizenship is in heaven. Heavenly Patriotism now beats in my breast.
Now my hero is George "Firmwall" Friesen.
Let me tell you about him.
"Firmwall" Friesen was a cabinet maker in Cologne Germany. In 1562, he was taken into custody for his faith, and put into a dungeon in the count's castle.
The authorities pleaded, cajoled and threatened him with extreme torture and death if he didn't give up his beliefs. But George "Firmwall" Friesen stood firm and rejoiced in his God.
The count offered him money and his servant maid for a wife, if he would only renounce. But "Firmwall" Friesen said, "Your servant maid, riches or money cannot take me to God, but I have chosen something better, for which I have to strive."
Another man offered him a new life in England. But "Firmwall" Friesen wished to emigrate to a Better Country.
Because he stood his ground, "Firmwall" Friesen was eventually thrown into the Rhine and drowned, "Thus testifying with his death that he was a partaker of Christ's sufferings."
You can read the entire account on pages 661-663 of the Martyrs Mirror.
How did George "Firmwall" Friesen get his name?
The Martyrs Mirror makes this observation about him: "Through the help of the Lord (his) heart stood FIRM AS A WALL."
Here are excerpts from a letter he wrote before he died: "Behold, I proclaim unto you much joy, which I experience as Christ the Son of God promised. If we FIRMLY abide in Him and bring forth good fruit, he will give us a mouth of wisdom as His divine Word says."
"...Cling FIRMLY to Jesus Christ; see that you lose not those things which you have wrought, nor be afraid of the princes of this world."
May all of us heed George "Firmwall" Friesen's parting words: "My brethren, if you would rejoice in the Spirit, and herein understand me thoroughly, then beware of sin and you will see clearly."
And let us "Hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope FIRM unto the end." (Heb. 3:6b)
Three books I couldn't do without in prison:
1. The Bible. (Of course.) For a while now, two other brothers and I have been reading through the Bible together. We get up around 4:00 a.m. to read, except on weekends when we sleep in until 5:00 a.m.
I fix a cup of strong coffee to help wake me up.
We use the four month schedule that Ronnie Miller and Dave King put together.* We each take turns reading a chapter at at a time.
It takes right at 45 minutes to read the 6-8 chapters required to get through the whole Bible in 4 months.
It's been transformative to consistently hear large sections of the Word read audibly while following along with the written text. I have a strong desire to continue this practice after I get home.
2. The Martyrs Mirror.**This is an oversized, very dense book of about 1100 pages, full of martyr stories and the letters they wrote from prison. The stories are primarily of people who gave their lives for the sake of their baptism as adults and true faith in Jesus. The stories date from the early church to about 1660.
Reading 10 pages of this per day has been transformative too. By God's grace I will finish reading through it for the third time before leaving here.
Reading accounts of people smiling and singing while facing a horrible death in the flames makes you realize these people saw beyond the flames. They looked into eternity with joyful hope. To them, the reward was easily worth the suffering.
Reading their letters from "death row" helps us examine our own priorities. What matters most?
In today's reading I was struck by an account of two men who were being led to their execution at the stake. (p. 589) They went "smilingly" to the place of execution. The crowd was amazed at their composure and joy.
"They hoped to get into paradise the same day" yet.
"The same day!"
I was struck by the immediacy of their desire.
I'm ashamed for how much of my life heaven has seemed like a far off reality.
The N.T. writers seemed to expect that Jesus would return any day now. Have we lost that sense of immediacy?
Maybe it was reading about those two martyrs who hoped to get into paradise that very day yet.
Maybe it was thinking about the David Rabor family---while in the shower--- and how they used to sing "Just Over Yonder."
At any rate I came out of the shower with a strong desire to sing about heaven.
3. The third indispensible book in here is Hymns of the Church, compiled by John D. Martin.
I often take it to the end of the hallway in the morning and sing a few hymns to help get my heart happy in God. Scratchy morning voice, off key. Believe me, you aren't missing much.
Tonight after my shower, I was in fine voice and I didn't care what the entire Federal Prison Complex at Petersburg thought.
I took that hymnbook to the end of the hallway, and by the grace of God let the world know about the glories of heaven.
I'm convinced by the Scriptures, by the stories of the Martyrs, and by the Hymns of the Church that Heaven Is For Real.
Let us prepare ourselves.
NEXT YEAR IN "JERUSALEM!"
*If you want one of those four month Bible Reading Schedules, write me, and I'll see that you get one.
** Available from Herald Press