Friday, June 14, 2013

I found this great article on Beth Moore's blog....wanted to share. I also found such a helpful site at Christian Help Hotline.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Yes, God's Got Her

She helps out in the chapel, during classes and works a job that starts at 3:45 am. She still smiles though. She feels the love of God and she knows that something inside has stilled her spirit. She's been working on a journal to document her journey and she has kept all the workbooks that she's finished. She's read them and re-read them.

She's an inmate.

She's been talking to a church member from her home town for two years now waiting for her parole answer to come back a "yes". She has a place to go and people ready to help her with all the challenges she will face. She is scared but she knows this time she's found a key she's never had before. She has someone, a Christian mentor, a woman willing to take her in, a plan with a real support system.

She's in love with God and she's learning to give her testimony. She turns red every time she does but filled with the Holy Spirit she's finding the boldness God gives to glorify Him. She's not waiting anymore. She's serving God by telling her story long before she gets out but she's counting the days. Even the Warden will miss her; everyone has come to know her as a true warrior for God and model inmate. Her behavior and demeanor has changed over time and she even sees the difference and wonders at where her patience and kindness is coming from.

She doesn't recognize herself. She's not the girl off the street. She's not the one turning tricks for a fix. She's strong and yet quiet. She reads and studies and is ready to take on the task of discipling others. She is ready. She has friends. She has a family that she hasn't met yet.

God's got her.

She is quiet the day she's released. She even cries because she feels she's leaving people behind, people who need her. She looks at the woman taking her back to her county and hometown but to a neighborhood she's never been. It's a Friday and all she can think is "Why can't this be Sunday, I need to praise God right now!" and then she remembers what she was taught, she can praise Him minute by minute, alone in her heart and she smiles and the car rolls on.

God's got her.

When she gets to church, she's introduced to the pastor and his wife, women in the women's ministry and other members of the congregation her mentor knows. Her head spins as they all hug and smile at her. They aren't making fun of her or talking about her, they are anxious to hear her testimony and how God worked in her life. They want her to attend their bible study, it started a couple weeks ago but they'd love her to join them. She smiles as everyone sings praise songs and she feels strangely at home.

God's got her. Someone in the congregation has some home repair work they need done and they offer her the opportunity to earn some money until she finds something full time. She paints a couple of bedrooms and gets to know them. They like her and she likes them. She works hard and remembers that passage about working as though working unto the Lord and she does. They watch her hard work and her meticulous skill. They tell some friends and another church members mentions his home decorating and repair business. It takes a few weeks but they offer her a job and she immediately says yes. She took classes on simple home repair, landscaping and painting interior and exterior work. She has the skill.

And God's got her.

It takes some time but slowly she saves money and another church member helps her find a car she can afford and her mentor takes her to get her drivers license. She's working and meeting once a month with her parole officer. Her PO is impressed with her progress and asks, "How is it you are doing so well?"

She replies,

"God's got me."

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

God's got her....

She's carried her bible almost everywhere they would allow her. She's read it each morning and night. She's faithfully attended each church service and bible study offered. She's brought others to Christ and accepted Him as her Lord and Savior. She's one of the most outspoken evangelists and she can quote more scripture than she can phone numbers she used to know by heart.

She's an inmate.

She doesn't wear her best navy blue dress and heels, pearl earrings and necklace. She doesn't curl her hair just so and check her makeup before walking into the big church on the corner, with the towering maple tree providing shade over the small playground fenced to the side of the chapel.

She wears white; white shirt, white pants, white tennis shoes if she's lucky. She carries a small print King James Version Bible she tries so hard to understand. She sings with her hands held high and tears flow as she stands in the presence of God and the church members who have come in to preach this Sunday.

Finally she knows what she's never slowed down enough to consider. God is real. He loves her and works in her life. She's behind bars, she believes, because God rescued her from herself. She talks about God at her work assignment and she lives in the faith based dorm. She wants a life different from anything she's ever known. She wants to live like the those that visit and teach. She wants to do so well outside that she can come back in to talk about the hope God provides.

Then she gets her answer. She has a release date and her head spins. She knows that in a few short weeks she will need to find a place to go. She starts making lists. Things to do that will make sure she's never here again. She has to find a church and she has to keep reading her Bible and she has to find a half way house because going home isn't safe or healthy. But she wants her children back and she wants a job that will support her and her children.

She gets a "yes" from a Christian transitional housing program and she's praising God that she has a place to go. She reads all about it and how they have Bible studies and church attendance and weekly service projects! Oh she wants to serve God! Besides this wonderful news she remembers all those classes she's taken so she has a lot to share with someone. She's taken so many classes and she's gotten a dozen certificates to show her parole officer how hard she's worked.

But...

Those certificates don't overshadow those boxes on the applications; "have you ever been convicted of a felony?"

And the day she's released she is picked up by the housing coordinator and she tells her that she just wants to see her family for one night and get some of her clothes and things. The coordinator has seen this before and explains how its in her best interest to just take a night or two in the housing unit to prepare herself for her reunification with family and friends. She tries to give her best excuse and then says "I'm feeling really pressured now, I just want to see my family." And she is free, so the coordinator does as asked all the while knowing it would be the last time the coordinator saw this one until the next time she walks into a prison classroom.

She decided to go to a friend instead of a program. She decided to return home or to the place she was when she was arrested because they would take her back. Oh the programs she heard about sounded great while she was in jail but she reads the restrictions and the rules and she doesn't need that again. She just got out of jail and she doesn't need all that again. She can find a church and she can praise God and she will keep reading her Bible and pray when things get tough.

But...

Things are tough and she starts thinking, "I can do this." She forgets its God who does the battle for us. She forgets to ask God for help this morning and the next. And she doesn't open her Bible to remind her of what she learned. She has too much on her plate to take the time to do that. Besides, would she get so many no's if God were really on her side, and she starts believing the enemy. He's there telling her all about how God left her and forgot about her because her life is tough, tougher than she thought it would be this time because she has God.

Oh she went to church at first and to a recovery program there too but no one noticed her or even said hello. She did find someone who'd sign off on her parole paper that she attended the mandatory meetings as long as she'd sign off on theirs. That was something. But it wasn't God and it wasn't the focus on the Bible she remembered in prison. Things were different now. The God of the prison didn't seem to be the same God of the outside.

But...

She still prayed and she still wanted to believe all would be well. She would find a good job and she would have a great house and a pretty car soon. She was "standing on this" because someone told her to speak her desires over her life and her God would not forsake her. But it wasn't happening, at least not fast enough and that church family everyone talked about in all those classes, where were they?

But...

There was a family she knew that would take her in and things would feel right again. So she went back there, and did just one line and had a couple beers before she set out to pick up a stack of applications. She felt like she could conquer the world! A friend lent her a car to go to an interview but the inspection sticker was expired and she hadn't quite gotten her driver's license renewed yet and the lights behind her let's her know she's got a problem and suddenly, in the heat of the moment she cried out to God, the one she put aside for a while.

But...

this time, when she takes those classes, she'll talk more about what brought her here and it's just a parole revocation. And she'll make better choices because she wants to stop this cycle and she cries and sobs through her story and she asks each and every teacher that comes in, "Do you know of any good programs I can go to after I get out?"

And...

She's praying to God and she's learning to hear His voice. She's different than the other girls in her class because she's got it this time, she's finally gets it, she's going to make it and God's got her back.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Looking for the loopholes

Have you ever looked at the Bible as some outdated, rule filled, life sucking book of do’s and don’ts that was going to make your life miserable trying to live up to a standard that you knew you never had nor ever could hit?

Having only ever viewed the Bible as a set of rules and limitations on life, and as an unchurched first reader in 2007 you can bet I was searching for anything that would provide me a loophole or two. You know, a way to go about my life as though nothing had really changed. Now one might think during those lonely hours in F5 of the cold, steel jail cell, I might have been inclined to want everything to change in my life. But the honest truth is there were only some parts of my life I was willing to exchange with God for the promise of eternal life. In some ways I felt determined to remain in one spot, one life with the addition of God somehow.

Pro 26:11 says, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness.” And while I’m not thrilled with being compared to a dog returning to his vomit, the picture in my mind was jolting enough to reconsider my train of thought. I understood my life hadn’t been working and it hadn’t been working for a long time. In fact, it hadn’t been working for about as long as I could remember! So again, you would think I would be ready to have anyone take over the macro and micro management of my life; in other words, everything from the biggest plans to the tiniest details. But I wasn’t.

Hence my search for loopholes. After all, that Proverb was but one line in that whole book, right? I wanted to find loopholes. I wanted to find a few legal disclaimers that said I could hold onto those parts of my life I chose and give to God what I wanted! Frankly, I didn’t want to think about dating without the prospect of physical intimacy. That seemed archaic! And I didn’t want to think I could never have another drink again, that wasn’t my problem! I was a thief, not an alcoholic! And I couldn’t imagine being satisfied with a life of poverty, after all, I wanted what the guy next door had and more! And truthfully, I didn’t really want to have to work as hard as he worked in order to have it (but we’ll pretend I wasn’t that disillusioned.) I didn’t want to have to give away my money to some church because let’s just say I did earn it, wasn’t it mine? I mean, I DID earn it? And let’s not get on the “sin” thing, or was I already? No, no, no; I mean the big sins…….okay, so the theft thing, that’s in the big ten but seriously. Okay I guess the wanting my neighbors things, that coveting thing. Got it but…well, let’s not look too close at that list after all.

The fool.

So I read and I read and I read. I read each and every verse. I tried to understand the stories, then the Proverbs and listened to the sweetly flowing Psalms and tried to decipher the parables. I tried to find somewhere that I could keep my life but add God. I mean, I was adding GOD! Right?

Luk 9:23 Then he said to the crowd, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.

Luk 9:24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.

Luk 9:25 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?

Well great, just great, I thought. In order to have eternal life, I was told that I must “confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised him from the dead and I will be saved” but now, the very Jesus this passage spoke of that carved out my salvation was also the Jesus that told me I had to give up everything to follow Him? My loopholes were gone in a flash and I was at once convinced and convicted that the Christian life was more than just “adding God” to my life or my repertoire of words or God-speak. I was really being asked to do some very specific things that I might have God in my life!!! And loopholes didn’t exist!

Let’s face it. When we’re sitting behind bars, awaiting trial or a parole answer or a commuting of our sentences or a reduction in our probation; we’re counting on loopholes and a fine twist by a clever advocate! Now Jesus was my advocate directly to God and I had to count on Him to find loopholes for me!

In life, we’re always counting on loopholes.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

I was asked to do the sermon at Woodman State Jail on December 30th, 2012 and the Lord just seemed to move in powerful ways. Not only did He give me a Word to speak over the ladies in two services but He taught me so much in the process. I wanted to share the sermon with you.
However, I also want to share the special story I ended the sermons with here. A friend, fellow scrapbooker and crafter, spent some time recently in NYC and she is sharing her story of a picture she snapped of a special moment during that trip on her blog. Amy had a wonderful time with all the sights and adventures of New York. But without fail our God also gave her a gift that touched her far more deeply than a few memories she will no doubt later scrapbook.



Here is the sermon, I hope you enjoy it.

We are in that unusual time of year where many people put a lot of focus on the New Year both looking back over the year just past and at the same time looking forward wondering about tomorrow. We begin making plans and often a consistent tradition as an American is that of the “New Year’s Resolutions”.

I have to admit I’ve made a lot of them and I can’t say I’ve ever kept a single one. If I have, only God knows which one(s) it might have been but I sure couldn’t tell you! I can promise you though they are made with the best intentions, they are filled with many things common to us all…But one thing I bet is for sure, in doing so, in making a New Year’s resolution, it seems we have to look back to our “failures”, our “weaknesses”, our “things not done” in order to come up with resolutions for this New Year!

As I often teach in the faith based dorm at Woodman State Jail, when I think about conferring understanding of a lesson, I often begin with a dictionary definition that we can understand so we’re all on the same page…let’s take a look at that definition…..our word for today….”resolution”.

Webster’s defines “resolution” as the act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method, procedure, etc.

So in other words, WE have determined upon a course of action.

Unfortunately my observation has been in our culture, by making New Years resolutions it seems we are often saying to ourselves that we did not do something right last year that this year we want to do….something we want to change….something we want to improve on that we feel we failed at in the previous year….some way we just didn’t measure up to some standard, would you say that’s true? And would say you that the standards you are measuring yourself by are the world’s standard’s, your standard’s or God’s standards?

For me, in most of my New Year’s Resolutions I have centered them around either my standards or the world’s standards and, I have harshly condemned myself in many areas of my life!

See if this is true for you – I’ve focused on my health and weight loss resolutions (who can relate?) to areas such as how I treat others, how I have handled conflict, how to manage my anger or tempter, how often I help clean my house or how clean my house is, what ways I’ve managed my finances, how many projects I’m going to finish that I didn’t finish last year and on and on and on.

And then I start looking at what I would call my “Christian-ness”, the amount of time I’ve spent studying or being in God’s Word, praying, focusing on my relationship with Him, serving in my church, attending regular services, tithing, ministering to others and giving more to His work than to my needs or my personal time.

Bottom line, in most of my resolutions and in most of our resolutions I can bet we would agree, we beat ourselves up pretty good, even when it comes to our relationship with our loving and gracious God.

Well, I believe God has something different to say about the matter…….

In fact, Phl 3:13 … (Paul says in his writings to the Philippians) Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, (repeat that to yourself…”forgetting the past”) How many of you can say you can “forget the past and look forward” in your every day thinking….now I’m not talking about those times when you are in bible study and God has you gently going through a recovery from something that needs to be removed and healed, I’m talking about our every day stuff where most of our superficial resolutions come from!

Paul goes on to write … in … Phl 3:14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (NIV) My Holman’s Christian Standard Bible Version says it this way in Phil 3:13-14, 16 Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus And Paul goes on in verse (16) to say, “In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained.

God is asking us to forget our transgressions, our mistakes, our backslides and let Him cover those with your repentance and His sacrifice to move on to the promises He has made you!

Let’s look back into the Old Testament to…Isa 43:18 "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

Isa 43:19 says “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

Can you see how in our New Year’s resolutions so many that are caught up in the past; they literally become prisoners to the past, so much so that they find it hard to move on from it. Their New Year is focused on the past and what wasn’t or what they think shouldn’t have been there. While others become so immobile or passive, not wanting to go forward, they almost become content in their “comfort zone”, even when that comfort zone is not good for them they will stay there. Still others are so lost -- looking both in the past and in the future so much they miss the present; the blessing of the moments that would be spent with Him if only they allowed it.

I know of some people who live in past blessings, talking about what God used to do, and what it was like years ago, what He did once upon a time in the Bible. I also know people who are only remembering blessings they once recognized and could see and I know this because I can say I have been one of them. I could only see the moves of God in my life from one specific time but often I could not see how He is continuing to move in my life today or trusting that He is when I cannot see it clearly. So I make resolutions to take over my life and manage things for myself forgetting that….

God is a God of the “now”, today His blessings are for us to enjoy and live out. Each and every day we should reach out to God for a new blessing, a new in soaking of His Holy Spirit, to be filled daily, with something new in God.

If we look at Jeremiah 29:11 (a scripture I bet many are familiar with) it reads “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” Plans speak of a future event, not a past event….and not a criticism of past events but just of a future; but hear it clearly….His plans, not ours (known as resolutions) and yet can we hear God’s loving grace?

Nowhere does he talk about the past and focusing on what was. He doesn’t say “I know the plans I had for you if only you had kept this resolution or this promise to me…” He doesn’t say that and He never will because we are covered by His new covenant.

Another favorite verse of mine one might in fact focus on the past but listen to the words carefully and see if you can see God’s determination for you to look forward with hope and anticipation….

Joel 2:25 says “I will restore the years the locust have eaten.” Yes, it talks about events in the past but not without a promise for the future and a promise of restoration! He is stating a fact of history but saying….here’s your future in My Hands.

God isn’t worried about our past!

He’s worried about our today, our acknowledgment of Him and our relationship with Him as well as how we will proceed and what our focus for our today will be. When we accepted Christ, our pasts were washed clean in His sight. So why are we so unable to do the same for ourselves?

Now I know what you’re thinking……what about goals, plans, objectives. What about hearing God’s voice and trying to walk that out. Hey! If you are certain you are hearing God’s voice clearly and you know the plans He has for you then walk them out but don’t make them another “resolution” that won’t be kept. Walk them out with certainty and vitality! Be zealous in your goals and plans as laid out by God!

But what about those of us who aren’t certain that we know His plans for us, our purpose? And those of us who keep taking back the steering wheel from God. Where does this leave us? What will we focus on if not the things that torment us from our past or the plans we can make with our limited resources and our tunnel vision of this reality and this world?

Because if I’ve learned anything --This truly isn’t God’s plan for us! So let’s let God open up to you a whole new beginning where you can step forward; away from the failings, away from the broken dreams, away from the brokenness and sadness and disappointments of yesterday. Are you ready for that?

Mat 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, don’t worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself? Each day has enough trouble of its own.” If we’ve put tomorrow in God’s hands to let Him handle (I know, hard hard hard to do) and we’ve put yesterday in His hands because as His children we can…we now can focus on “seeking first His Kingdom and His righteiousness”….

God’s will for us is first to seek His Kingdom and in doing so aren’t we seeking Him? For is it not through Him that we find His Kingdom and His righteousness?

***I think of a time when I spent hours a day in study and reading the Bible. My time in the Word made it come alive for me and I felt I had all I needed. In fact, I was heard to say “I can do this; I have my God and my Bible, what else do I need?” And I walked that out for months with a confidence I have felt few times since….But soon the world crept in and I spent less and less time in the Word and less and less time reading the Bible and less and less made sense to me and the “aliveness” of His word seemed to fade. Not because He took it from me but because as the world climbs into our hearts, it pushes Him out. For it is His righteousness that truly gives us Him, and in our hearts as He dwells there, we grow in love and relationship with Him.

I can’t tell you the times I’ve missed this lesson and the times I’ve struggled with my relationship with Him but if I would put aside my worldly worries as directed in Matthew 6:33, I might find less battles within myself and more time to just enjoy Him and His presence in my life!

So how do I seek His Kingdom? Do you feel like you know? I’m not sure I knew until I started working on today’s lesson and I think I finally found some places to plant myself for a few minutes….

I think He gives us a firm direction in Philippians 4:8-9

Those in the faith based dorm or have been in J3 (that wonderful place God has planted me to serve in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice) have heard me speak many times on this very scripture and the more I read it, the more application in my life I find. At times I see this scripture as a way to help me view my fellow man and overlook the things I find that cause strife. I’ve used it to teach harmony and peace in the dorm. In fact I’ve taught often on this in the dorm, explaining that if we focus on the things of Philippians 4:8-9, we have little time to focus on the drama and trauma around them.

But yesterday as I read what Paul had written, I began to see something new; God’s direction in finding Him, His Kingdom, His presence and His peace. Let’s read what Paul has been inspired by God to teach us.

Phl 4:8- 9 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. (Is it just me or is Paul describing Jesus?) Let’s go on to (9) Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me (remember, this is Paul talking, not me!), or seen in me--put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

He’s described Jesus and then described what Jesus has taught him (Paul) that he would like to pass on and in doing so has given us a resolution of where to put our energies not just at the beginning of the year but each and every day knowing as we have been taught, that God’s grace is new every day….

So I would leave you with this thought, if you are determined, as we all so often are – to make New Year’s resolutions, I might suggest what I have determined. First, be gentle with yourself as God is gracious and gentle with you. Focus on the scriptures for the areas that need the work God wants to do in you; it’s personal…and for me it starts with….

Mat 6:33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Finally, Leslie, stop focusing on what you do not have but what is right in front of you, the Lord of Lord and King of Kings who invites you into His Kingdom!

And Leslie, focus on Phl 4:8- 9 … whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things. In other words, focus on Jesus! And the God of peace will be with you.

It is in these next final passages that God shows His love for us, His desire for our attention to specific areas of our lives and of the world around us. I think if God would come to each of us and write our New Year’s resolutions for us, they would look much like these scriptures.

2Cr 12:9 But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (And Paul continues to write) Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

Paul isn’t saying to beat yourself up but to recognize where you are weak God can make you strong! Who needs a resolution if your King will step in where and when you need Him and just take over?

What resolution do we need if God’s Grace covers us and He is always at work in our lives except a focus on Him and His Word?

…(2Cr 9:8 And Remember God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. I would challenge you as I challenge myself….to focus not on our past year or a year ahead that we can beat ourselves up over….but to focus on what God is willing and able to do in our lives! Will we let Him? Will we resolve to focus not on what we didn’t accomplish or didn’t do or must do or should do but what God can do and what He longs to do in our lives?


A friend of mine is visiting New York City this week in anticipation of a New Year’s Eve on Time’s Square and she posted a moving picture of a man on his knees, on his folded coat, in front of a nativity scene. His head was bowed and his hands were folded in prayer. She said she sat and watched him for several minutes as she saw the sincerity wash over the man as he give thanks and glory to His King. She was so awe struck she snapped a quick picture because she wanted to remember this moment and the look on his face and she posted it on Facebook to share with us with this caption….“I resolve to filter out the noise this year and listen closer for God's will and direction. I've spent 2012 learning to trust Him. I have a feeling 2013 will not disappoint. Thanks be to God.” – Amy A. -- Please visit her blog at www.sewcialbutterfly.com

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