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