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
To my dear friends in Jesus Christ,
I'm sitting here by the same razor-wire topped fence that signified the death of a dream one emotional day more than a year ago.
I must testify of God's amazing grace and goodness.
For the child of God, "Weeping may endure for a night, but Joy comes in the morning."
Who of us hasn't experienced this?
Last year at this time the distinct possibility of an additional two or three years of prison weighed very heavily on us.
Now I'm sitting here by this same razor wire with just a hundred days "and some change" left.
And it's a glorious day here in Petersburg VA and my heart is full of the Joy of God.
If it might be permitted, I'd like to join in with David's exulting: "BY THEE I have run through a troop; and BY MY GOD I have leaped over a wall. For who is God save the Lord? Or who is a Rock save our God? The Lord liveth and blessed be my Rock and let the God of my salvation be exalted!" (Psalm 18:29,31,46)
I wish to exult in God yet much more. Let me tell you about my friend and brother Luis. I have permission to tell his story.
The other week Luis pulled back his shirt collar and showed me the scar on his neck where a bullet from a police revolver entered. Further down on his upper back was another scar--the exit wound---about an inch from his spine.
I love this man Luis. His quiet testimony radiates like a 1,000 watt light bulb in here.
His story is one of redemption, of a terrible fall, and of restoration by the grace of God.
Delivered from a life of sin, Luis used to be on fire for God and very active in his church. He taught at two different Bible institutes in New York. He lead mission trips to South America. Organized evangelistic tours. He even preached at a stadium himself one time when the evangelist didn't show up.
He was a good provider for his wife and family. He ran two electrical contracting businesses, one in North Jersey where he lived and the other in Manhattan. He also was the head maintenance person for CNBC TV, a major financial network, at their NYC studio.
Success got to him. Sadly he fell for another woman. That led him into a downward spiral back into the old life he'd been delivered from twenty years prior. "My house was empty, swept and garnished," he says. And then seven other spirits moved in and "My last state was worse than my first." (Luke 11:24-26)
Finally, he was in complete despair. Believing he had fallen from grace, and believing he was no longer worthy of God or his wife, he decided to end it all.
Fortified with plenty of liquor, he headed for the bank.
Brandishing a fake weapon, he shoved a note to the teller demanding money. He hoped to attract the police who would shoot him dead, or so he hoped.
He almost succeeded.
He was so drunk he doesn't remember what he did when the police arrived. But he must have threatened them.
An officer opened fire and but for the grace of God Luis would be in eternity today.
The wounds on his neck and back are constant reminders that the grace of God sometimes deals in exceedingly fine margins.
During recovery and subsequent imprisonment, he remained in despair. He constantly thought about hanging himself with his bed sheets from this prison bunk. But something kept him from doing it.
One day, the love of God opened up a crack in his despair.
"God must be giving me a second chance!" he thought to himself."
And with that revelation, faith rose up inside Luis once again and the grace of God rolled back into his life. He cried out to God for mercy.
Forgiven!! Set free from the past!! Once again he felt the joy of God that only His Beloved know.
I've watched Luis for a while now. His quiet humility, his desire to be obedient, his devotion to his Heavenly Father, his servant's heart and love for his fellow man, all reflect the unspeakable mercy and grace of God.
Luis' restoration doesn't stop here. His seven year sentence is almost over. He will leave, Lord willing, around the same time as I.
His wife entered into the grace of God and has completely forgiven her husband for the past. He looks forward to going back to his wife and family and to his electrical work.
Luis' amazing story gives hope to all of us who have at one time or another wandered from our Father.
Remember, the Father still watches for the returning prodigal and runs to save him.
Let us run to Him. And let us exult in our Great Saving God!
August 27, 2017
P.S. Lets keep praying for all our friends.
"...Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!" (1 Cor. 15:57)
"Without me," He said, "You can do nothing." But "We are MORE than conquerors THROUGH HIM that loved us."
Someone once asked a saintly old man, "How are you feeling today?" "Friend," the old saint replied, "I have learned long ago not to ask how I'm feeling, but to ask who I am in Jesus Christ."
United with Christ, we can partake of His life and power. United with Him we are invincible, irrepressible, and in the long run, immortal. May God give us all a robust, obedient faith steadily focused on the Author and Finisher of our faith.
What has 15 months of prison taught me? One thing for sure: Time races by, even in prison.
We're very happy to report that I'm scheduled to leave prison for the half-way house on December 15. I'll likely be held there less than 72 hours before being sent home on home confinement. We're trusting God to have me home by Christmas! Please pray to that end.
The original sentence was 27 months. But with good behavior, federal inmates serve only 85% of their sentence. That fact along with 2 1/2 months of home confinement means I'll actually be in a federal prison just under 21 months; 633 days to be exact. As of today, I have another 159 days to go.
"Lord teach us to number our days, that we might apply our hearts unto wisdom."
My mother passed away last fall at age 76. I'm now 51. I keep asking myself this question: What does God want me to do with the rest of my life?
A couple of years ago, our son-in-law, Matt was driving through West Virginia. He picked up a hitchhiker, an older man in his 60's---a man on a mission.
The man's mission? "I speak wherever they let me speak, campgrounds, churches, wherever."
His message? "I tell people the end of the world will come within 25 years."
How does he tell people to prepare? "I tell them to repent and turn to Jesus."
That old man sounds like a real prophet to me. He impacts me whenever I think of him.
What if we all lived as though we truly expected Jesus to return within the next generation? How would that impact our priorities? How would that affect our financial decisions, our lifestyles?
If we really believed it, might we have a greater burden to share the Good News of Jesus Reign with those who've not yet surrendered to Him?
Let me tell you about two of my friends, T.O. and TI. Between the two of them, plenty of drug deals were done on the street, and at least one bank robbery. These guys were dangerous. Between the two of them they have 50-60 years.
They're still "dangerous." But dangerous to satan's agenda now.
They're both gentle as lambs, and I would trust either of them with my life, because they've both met the Lamb of God.
And they help others follow Him.
Five nights a week, weather and schedules permitting, we meet on the bleachers in the rec yard for a time prayer, praise and teaching. T.O. and Ti often lead out.
It's so good to see the Gospel lived out in this broken place in men like that. Please pray for them and the other brothers in here.
There's a song about the believer's freedom I often like to sing in the shower loud and clear:
I was in sin's prison, O so dark and cold,
Just a lost sheep wandering from God's eternal fold.
Then the door swung open, Jesus said to me--
I have signed your pardon, now you may go free.
Jesus signed my pardon, this I surely know,
Took my place on Calvary now I don't have to go.
All my life I give Him, He gave His for me,
When He signed my pardon, there on Calvary!
Praise God for freedom, even in prison!
If we give whole lives and all we have to Christ---including our freedom---no one can take it away from us. For how can something be taken away that we've already given away?
Let us press on until He gives us the final victory. (1 Cor. 15:58)
"The crown is not given at the beginning, nor in the middle, but at the end." (Martyrs Mirror)
Love in Christ Jesus,
Kenneth L Miller 08464-082
Federal Correctional Complex
P.O. Box 1000
Petersburg, VA 23804
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT OPTION, CONT.
THE CHOICES WE FACE
We have a choice to make. Either we "make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural Christianity," or we do nothing and doom our children and grandchildren to assimilation.
So says Rod Dreher just two pages into The Benedict Option.
I couldn't agree more.
The Great American Assimilation Machine was recently described as an "Expansive, diverse, open form of life that is nevertheless distinctive, alluring and absorptive,---so much so that those from other cultures worry that they will be overrun by (American) mores, sensibilities, and ways of life."
"Tell someone in France, or Japan, or Uganda that America is a multicultural nation---and they'll laugh."
"We have an aggressive, invasive monoculture that most of the world sees as imperialistic." (R.R. Reno, First Things, May 2017, p. 66)
This cultural imperialism forces everyone to bow down to the Golden American Image---or pay the consequences.
The music is playing--mesmerizing, deceptive, deadly. All around us people are falling to their knees, worshipping the gods of American society.
"Hail to naturalistic Scientific Discovery!" "Hail to Inclusiveness and Diversity!" "Hail to the holy trinity of Technology, Media and Internet!" "Hail to Business, Wealth, Possessions!" "Hail to Pleasure, Entertainment, Sports!" Hail to the Human Body!"
"Hail to ME!"
And we who are still standing must decide what we will do.
How do God's people resist bowing to the idols of American culture?
How do they raise their families in an imperialistic culture hostile to Christian values?
Can we learn from the three young Hebrews who resisted bowing to the golden image? What made them strong?
Isn't it clear these young men must have been taught and shaped by a remnant countercultural society?
Dreher's solution in The Benedict Option is to make a "decisive leap" into a new kind of family monasticism patterned after the order of St. Benedict, a sixth-century monk.
But shouldn't we "leap" further---all the way back to the first-century order established by the Nazarene, Jesus the Son of God--- and His Sermon on the Mount?
Recovering the Sermon on the Mount as the pattern for daily life will give families of believers everywhere the opportunity to enter into joyful persecution for righteousness' sake.
Then we will be Salt and Light to the world with works that glorify God-- just as Jesus promised right there in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt. 5:9-12)
This is the way to resist and penetrate the godless cultural imperialism surrounding us.
Believers living the Sermon on the Mount by faith won't bow down to the gods of this age.
And the believer who builds his house on the rock of Jesus' unshakeable Kingdom will be able to weather the storm, just as He promises at the end of the Sermon. (Matt. 7:24-27)
WHO IS THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT FOR?
One of the biggest mistakes the Church ever made is to teach that the Sermon on the Mount was for a select group of cloistered saints.
Mainstream Christianity has lost its potency because it has lost this teaching.
The Sermon isn't an impossible ideal, to be lived out in some future age.
The Sermon isn't a "law" revealing human sinfulness.
And it isn't for the half-hearted, those who would serve both God and mammon.
The Sermon was originally for the disciples, those who left their loved ones and their vocations to follow the Master. Two thousand years later, the Sermon is still for those who have left all for His sake, right here in America---in 2017.
The Sermon is for those who have been completely taken by the Savior's love as were those first disciples.
We see Him now as Risen Ruler and King of the universe, an all-benevolent, yet absolute Sovereign for whom we choose to give up everything.
We embrace the the Sermon-- not only as His gracious commands--but as the "Transforming Initiatives"* of the New Humanity for which He died.
We can embrace the Sermon with the kind of faith described in a confessional statement 490 years ago:
"Saving faith is not a useless, hidden, unborn thing in a man. It doesn't consist of merely historical knowledge derived from the Scriptures--something to be talked about without having the real substance.
True faith which counts with God is a sure knowledge of the heart; a sure confidence which we get from God---not through our own power, will or ability.
We receive this faith through hearing the Word of God, which---as it is illuminated by the Holy Spirit---is written in and imprinted on the heart. This Word works so effectively in us that we are drawn away by it from all visible and perishable things to the invisible, living God.
By it, we acquire a new spiritual taste for that which is heavenly and not for that which is earthly. For saving faith, accompanied with hope and love, is of such a nature that it conforms to things not seen.
Hence all true believers gladly and obediently submit themselves to all the commandments of God contained in the Holy Scriptures..." (Confession of Faith According to the Word of God, attributed to the congregation of Peter Twisck at Hoorn The Netherlands, 1627, Martyrs Mirror p. 383, revised slightly.)
I suggest all of His disciples should come apart, gather around the Master once again to hear His teaching by faith.
I plan to read through the Sermon for the next 30 days, taking notes.
Anyone wish to join me?
May 17, 2017