Friday, June 25, 2010

Are You an Advocate?

This past Tuesday during my time at Walker State Prison in Georgia, the men in my class were discussing the critical need to have an advocate after release. This conversation was stimulated by our study of the book of Acts. You see in the early Christian church there was a great persecution headed by a notorious man named Saul. His goal appeared to be to single-handedly destroy as many believers as he possibly could. Without getting too involved in the verse by verse account, suffice it to say that Saul had a miraculous conversion and became one of the believers that he was previously hunting down.

Let me ask you a question: If that was your organization, and the former public enemy number one suddenly claimed he was now a dear friend, what would you do? You would at least be quite skeptical, true? Me too. So, the situation needed a solution. That solution came in the form of a man named Barnabas, aka: Son of Encouragement. I'm sure you can see where this is going. Barnabas introduced Saul to the inner circle and everything was great.

So, how does this apply to men and women who need to start a new life after incarceration? One of the men in our group said it very concisely: "I need a Barnabas when I get out." I know, it's a risky venture. I recently read a story on Facebook from Prison Fellowship. You know, the organization started by former president Nixon's man, Chuck Colson. According to this former inmate's posting, he had been in prison for 20 years. While there, he saved all of his pay from his twenty-five-cent an hour job for a motorcycle. He was ready to start all over and found someone who was willing to take a chance on him and hired him to work in his business.

How many of us would do that? Would I? To this day this ex-con remains a faithful employee and an honest man.

Did you know that the first three hours after an inmate is released are the most critical? So many men and women make life-changing decisions within those few hours: either positive or negative.

So, where am I going with this? I believe that everyone deserves a second chance. Many Barnabas's are needed. I've had my share and endeavor to be one for when someone needs me.

God bless you in your journey to find "Real Freedom."

Monday, June 7, 2010

Been Thinking About Grace...

If you read my last (and first ever) blog, you know a little bit about me. Let's dig a little deeper, shall we? I'm a beneficiary. No, not of a big family inheritance. I don't come from that kind of background. Yet I have benefited from so much in my lifetime. Here is a short list:
  • Both of my parents loved me,
  • My dad taught me so many things, including a solid work ethic,
  • My mom, whom we recently buried, stayed at home for us,
  • I went to good public schools and then had a great college education,
  • I've met some incredible people in my lifetime,
  • My health is good,
  • I've got two grown and very responsible children with children of their own,
  • And I've been blesssed with a wonderful wife.

That's just a sampling of the ways I am a beneficiary. But guess what? With all these benefits I have not been a perfect man!! (Don't act so surprised, none of you have been perfect either.) So, once in a while I just have to pause and think about how I've survived thus far.

We had family visiting us for a few days recently and they are raising their sweet granddaughter. I honestly don't know how they do it. As we were hanging out together with the baby, I noticed that some things have changed since my childhood. For instance, how did we make it without our own baby-designed toothpaste? And what about those special bumper pads for high chairs in a restaurant? Did you know any kids that wore bicycle helmets, knee and elbow pads? Not in my neighborhood! What was a seatbelt? For me that was when I misbehaved in the car and dad handled it!

So, what am I getting at? I'll tell you. There are some very important not-so-obvious aspects to being a benificiary. Those things you cannot see but know you've been given. I'm talking about grace. Grace is the intangible. I recognize that I have been given so much that I not only do not deserve, but I could not even earn on my own. I love talking about grace because it disarms folks. It's a peaceful word, isn't it? Whenever I think about grace two things come to mind: 1) My favorite book What's So Amazing About Grace written by my favorite author, Philip Yancey; and 2) An encounter I had with a young inmate in the Central Florida Reception Center where I was chaplain.

The first I highly recommend picking up and reading for yourself, but the second I'll tell you about. After about three years of ministering to and teaching the Bible to the men at that state prison I had a young man knock on my office door and ask to come in. I motioned him inside and he simply said: "Chaplain Joy, I just want to say thank you." By the look on my face he could tell I was unclear about what he was referring to. Just for a little background, this young man had been convicted of shaking his young son to death three years earlier. He was like a closed book and very rigid and legalistic when it came to his faith. Needless to say I was curious about what he was grateful for. He then said: "You taught me about grace and I want to thank you." Yes, my eyes filled up...because I realized how difficult it was for him to admit and what an amazing work God had done.

So, I've been thinking about that intangible: grace. That young inmate didn't deserve it and neither do I. But I am amazed at what a beneficiary I am.

Until next time. God bless you.