At Calvary

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Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
On Calvary.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary.

There Your mercy and Your grace was free;
There Your Pardon multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Of Calvary!

There Your mercy and Your grace was free;
There Your Pardon multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary!

William R. Newell, published 1895

Living In Exile – part 4

Gosh, that’s a lot so to summarize:

Settle down and be happy because it’s okay to do so; build houses of faith; plant seeds of faith and live life “faithful in all (God’s) my house.”  In these, and from these, the exiles – and we inmates – will find freedom within and after captivity and peace and happiness within captivity.

Some may ask, “Does this mean I have to become a zealot proclaiming God’s word on the compound?”

Absolutely not.

Faith comes in many forms: a smile, a bit of food for the indigent inmate, a sincere ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ an ear for the broken, returning love for hate, holding a door open – infinite ways but unless we sow these seeds we cannot eat the crop.  Imagine when that ‘hater’ says, “Excuse me,” when he bumps into you all because you’ve said it to him even when you weren’t at fault for the contact.  And the reward?  Eternal freedom in God’s house and if we continue to live in our house of faith after incarceration, physical freedom too and all the while planting seeds to keep God’s word eternal.

Suddenly being an exile – inmate – in captivity becomes bearable and in an odd way, a worthy effort for God and ourselves universally.

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~jdoe

Living In Exile – part 3

Time to look at the meaning behind Jeremiah 29:5, “Build Houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit;” for prisoners.

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There are many references to houses in the Bible.  It’s evident that both the structure and concept are of vital importance to God.  Let’s look at a few verses that best illustrate the idea of a house with Jeremiah 29:5.

In Numbers 12:7-8 we’re told God speaks face-to-face with Moses because Moses is “Faithful in all My house.”  That must mean beyond the Tent of meeting, right?  So what then is “all My house”?  It means in all ways and all things. [But recall, Moses didn’t start out that way – he made a choice – he opened his eyes and came out of darkness.]  Here we understand that when “Faithful in all” God’s “house,” He will meet us face-to-face.  God’s “house” therefore is more than a structure.

In Joshua 24:15, Joshua says we must make a choice and in Joshua’s household they will serve the Lord.  Again – a choice and a concept of a house that reaches beyond the physical structure.  Joshua is saying that wherever he or his family may be, they will serve the Lord.  Joshua’s house reaches as far as his family, not the walls inside of which he resides.

Solomon says in Psalm 127:1 that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”  This seems to contradict Jeremiah 29:5, however it does not.  It says that we have a choice: To build with God or without.  Jeremiah 29:5 clearly says to build with God!  And as we learned previously, God, through Solomon, is again telling us His house surpasses any physical structure.

There are more by my point is made – for we inmates, God is asking us to build houses beyond physical structures.  Our houses may be things like continuing to be a husband, father, son, brother, or friend.  Joining in a church sincerely or perhaps loving the unlovable.  Suddenly, we’re building houses of faith within God’s house and for God’s command to be, “Faithful in all My house.”  Imagine the power of every inmate – as well as every person walking the street – building a house of faith instead of brick.  No wonder Jesus’ church was built upon a single rock – no physical building could ever encompass God’s earthly house.

Now we’re left with understanding that it means to plant crops and eat the reap.  Crops begin with seeds, right?  Let’s look at scripture around “seeds.”

In Matthew 13:2-8 Jesus tells the parable of seeds scattered by a farmer.  We know he was not being literal; it’s a parable after all.  So what then?  Obviously it’s seeds of faith.  So in telling the exiles, and by extension we inmates to plant seeds, He’s telling everyone we can.  Also, as in Matthew 13:8 we will be, and by extension He will be, blessed with a crop, “A hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  How wonderful to be a farmer of faith.  This is then confirmed in Matthew 13:23, “He who hears the word and understands it (sic) is the one who produces a crop…”  Looking further, Matthew 13:43 explains who we become if we successfully plant the seeds: the righteous!  We can also look at Matthew 13:31-32 and see God ask that we plant a seed as tiny as a mustard seed and gain a tree for birds – other inmates – to perch in.  So it’s vitally important for inmates, as it was with the exiles, to understand what God meant in Jeremiah 29:5.

Finally, the strongest scripture, 1 Peter 1:23-25; Here we are told that we are born of “imperishable seed… through the living and enduring word of God.  For all the people are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  Sounds dismal in a way.  The exiles, and by extension we inmates, wither and die but through them- and we inmates – God’s word lives – by the seeds we sow and the ongoing crop produced.

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jdoe

Living In Exile – part 2

Continuing on with a look at Jeremiah 29:5 from last week, Living In Exile – part 1

“Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.”  What?  I can’t do that literally.  So what do these commands mean?  To understand these I had to think back on scripture I had read in relation to prisoners – inmates – exiles.  Because the answer to this question is paramount to understanding Jeremiah 29:5 and 29:7’s link to inmates.

Why are prisoners special to God?

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In Psalm 107 we see God’s blessing of rescue for those who were rebellious but turned back to Him; focus here on verses 10 through 16 and again a choice is given: turn to Him and be rescued or live in darkness.  In Psalm 68:6b,c we see that God gives prisoners a choice: be lead out with singing or live in a sun-scorched land.  In Psalm 146:7 we see God upholds the cause of the oppressed and sets prisoners free but only if they chose (choice again) to be bowed down.  In Psalm 79:11 God is asked to heal the moans of prisoners.  Finally, in Isaiah 42:5a and Isaiah 42:7 we have, “This is what God the Lord says…open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness,” – again a choice: open your eyes and be freed or remain blind in captivity.

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So why are prisoners special to God?

Two reasons: 1) They suffer and 2) They, like no other, have a choice.  Only those whose physical, mental, and emotional freedom is controlled by others can find the meaning of true and total freedom in God and His word!  Who among those walking freely in the world can feel or know what freedom is until first suffering in exile?  Who besides the prisoner can truly know the power of faith and God?  These are the reasons God’s greatest were pulled from among the worst of people – because in some form they were prisoners and suffering even if not evident to themselves.  They all were given a choice:  Remain blind or open their eyes and walk out of darkness to be set free both spiritually and physically – what better army can there be to spread God’s word?  Wasn’t the greatest contributor to the New Testament, Paul, a prisoner?  Yes!

And isn’t it now obvious why God also calls out widows and orphans and the poor and the disabled?  All are suffering in their own prisons and we have the ability and responsibility to open their eyes, bring them into the light and free them!

So when we combine our understanding of God’s love of prisoners with His command to live life while in exile, and it’s okay to find happiness there, we can see He is waiting for us to prosper (find peace) in captivity.

But how?  Next week I delve more specifically into Jeremiah 29:5, “Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.”

Blessings, jdoe

Living In Exile – part 1

When I started writing for this blog I said I would not attempt to convert anyone to any particular belief.  I also said I would not avoid talking about my place as a Christian.  And so it is that the coming posts contain numerous Bible scripture references.  To get the  most out of the coming posts it would be helpful for you to have a Bible available.  I used the NIV translation for my writings.

Over the next few weeks my sister will be posting my thoughts concerning the commandments God gave the Israelites for Living In Exile [Jeremiah 29:4-14].  The commandments were very specific about how they were to live while captives.  It is my belief that these same commandments apply to prisoners like me, or anyone in their own prison.

Let me explain…

I’ve been contemplating Jeremiah 29:4-14 and how I’m doing here in exile.  I keep asking myself how it is I’m to “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.” [Jeremiah 29:5]  I’ve filled my locker with personal items I’ll need for my time here.  I’ve got my cell mate situation stable and I make my bed every morning.  Yet I do not feel “settled down.”

As I walked the track recently (summer took one last gasp of near 80 degree weather) things began to dawn on me; revelation is a strong word but I feel again that they Holy Spirit was talking with me.

The first thing to hit me was sparked by seeing two guys in their late teens to early twenties playing Frisbee.  They were shirtless and playing in a grassy part of the yard.  As they ran, laughing, the setting sun made their skin glow with youth and energy.  And for a moment I was transported to the edge of a beach watching people having fun.  It lasted only a moment yet in that moment I saw two people who had “settled down.”

“How,” I thought, “can they laugh and run so carefree?”  I actually had to stop walking because I heard a voice ask, “Where in Jeremiah 29 does God say to the exiles, through Jeremiah, that they should not or cannot be happy in captivity?”

I had no answer.

So I had to go back to the beginning and ask myself, “Why would God tell the exiled Israelites to settle down, build houses, plant gardens, eat and procreate?  Was it only to assure the survival of His people or was it more?”  Then the answer came to me in the form of Jeremiah 29:7.  God tells the exiles to pray for the prosperity of the city they’ve been sent to.  This amounts to praying for the prosperity of their captors!

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Why?

Of course for their survival, but recall God cared for them in the wilderness by turning the exiles over to the care of others – so by telling them to pray for their captors’ prosperity (peace) He was assuring the best possible environment.  He was giving the exiles an implicit command that becomes apparent when combining Jeremiah 29:7 with Jeremiah 29:5: Be content, find happiness, survive emotionally – live life.  So I pray for the prosperity (peace) of my correctional institution.

“Okay,” I said to myself, “But what other truths exist in the parallelism between the exiled Israelites and we inmates?”

As I began to walk again I also began to see things like:  The exiles lived under foreign law and inmates live under foreign law; the exiles obeyed foreign masters and inmates obey foreign masters; the exiles lived in foreign (unfamiliar, strange, confined) lands and inmates live in foreign (unfamiliar, strange, confined) lands; the exiles created a culture and life within foreign powers, lands, and laws and God has commanded inmates to do the same.

Keep that thought and next week I’ll continue with my breakdown of Jeremiah 29:4-14

Happy New Year, ~ jdoe