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 heresy 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
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