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No Inmates Beyond This Point!

PrisonNO INMATES BEYOND THIS POINT!

This was the sign that warned us each time we departed the prison grounds at the women’s federal prison in Texas. As we crossed the boldly red striped line each day we understood what a privilege we have to be free and able to leave the grounds knowing that those who watched us walk away could only dream of the day they could do the same. 

For three days Shelley and I have been conducting a series of workshops to the inmates on job readiness skills once they would transition back into society. For some, the departure date would be decades from now but they were none-the-less engaged as if their freedom was in the near future.

The group of women we served covered a broad spectrum. We had young women all the way to grandmothers that were in the years when most are planning retirement. We had multiple races and ethnicities.

During our time together we learned a little of each woman’s history. Some had been millionaires (not wanna bees), others had never really held a job. We had skilled artisans of a wide variety and even someone who had broken a racehorse in her previous life in the Midwest.

We were struck with how normal many of the ladies were yet through bad decisions they chose to make, they were now convicted felons. We shared useful job readiness information on how to move forward in life once they would be released. But even more important than that we were also able to share example after example of how Jesus had a habit of meeting people at their worst and changing their lives in ways they could have never dreamed.

Meeting people at their worst…, I might have to write something else along those lines.  

5 Resolutions that Don’t Include Dieting

New YearIt’s that time of the year for the annual ritual of making New Year’s resolutions. Heading the most popular resolutions will be losing weight and improving your health. Although those are great goals, they are not on my list of five.

Another frequently cited resolution is becoming debt free. I am all for that and it’s certainly the best way to live. “Owe no man anything” was written for a good reason. But that’s not in my five.

Did You Keep YOUR Word?

PromiseDisclaimer and Notice: This article is addressed only to those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ; aka Christians.

Over and over ad nauseam is the (feigned) outrage over the President’s (alleged) not keeping of his word regarding insurance policies for a segment of our insured population. If one didn’t know better, judging by the news and social media armchair journalist, this is the height of moral failure. There is disgust and vilification about this lapse in consistency regarding this very complex situation.

Never mind that he kept his word in making health care available to millions who just a short while ago, had none. Never mind that as of today, those with these unfortunate cancellation notices, still have insurance and I am optimistic that they will continue to have coverage. But that fact seems to be conveniently ignored.

I am Trayvon Martin… and George Zimmerman

ShadowI am Trayvon Martin… and George Zimmerman

I know you’re wondering how that’s even possible. Two people, so diametrically opposed to each other. One a man, the other a boy. Different races and different backgrounds. One married, the other not. One dead, the other alive. From different places in life yet they are both me.

As a young man who grew up in the inner city with my formative years as a public housing resident, I have walked the streets as Trayvon Martin. My daily life, though lived in another century, was not dis-similar. The color of my skin was a distinct liability for future aspirations beyond the cement patches that I called home.

My sons, nephews and cousins of today are Trayvon Martin lookalikes. It runs in our blood. Being young and viewed by default as less than honorable solely based on stereotypes and prejudices is a never-ending sad reality. Trayvon Martin’s physical description alone, without knowing the name, could have been the son, brother, nephew of many of my closest friends and family members.

The Power of Freshly Popped Popcorn

popcornI was reminded recently that many times it the littlest things that can have the biggest impact. I just arrived as a guest presenter at a religious convocation being held in Texas. After greeting friends that I had not seen in some time, I went inside the registration hall to get my visitor materials. On my way out, my friend who had picked me up from the airport, pointed out that standing nearby was the regional conference secretary (VP). He asked if I knew him and while his face looked familiar I didn’t readily place it.

We went over and I was reintroduced. As we reminisced the secretary reminded me with a smile that he was the one who was responsible for my initial invitation to present to this conference a few years ago. As I tried to remember how we met, he went on to fill in the gaps in my memory. He told me “it was the popcorn”.

The popcorn! I remembered then exactly what he was referring to. Three years ago at our denomination’s world-wide convocation I had a simple trade booth at one of the venues setup for the occasion. Along with a nice back drop advertising my ministry, I knew I needed to do everything I could to catch the attention of the many decision makers in attendance.

My wife that previous Christmas season bought me a really nice mini replica popcorn popper. It stood about four feet tall and through the glass case you could see and smell the popcorn as it was being freshly popped. I was fortunate to gain permission from the venue manager that as long as I did not charge for the popcorn and only gave away small samples, I could set it up at my booth.

Needless to say fresh popped popcorn was a hit. We passed out countless small cups of popcorn. It was a great conversation starter. Unbeknownst to me at that time, this conference secretary had the occasion to come by my booth. As a lover of popcorn he was drawn to my booth and during a brief conversation he took my information directly to the particular conference director who my ministry correlated with.

Well, as they say, the rest is history. I have received more invitations to this part of the country than any other. As a presenter at conference wide initiatives and as an invited trainer at many individual churches, that simple cup of free popcorn has opened more doors that I could have ever dreamed of.

The Prodigal Son is in Good and Regular Standing in the Church

 

Pews

Before you jump to conclusions let me clarify a few things. Whenever the subject of the prodigal son comes up we naturally are accustomed to picturing a young person who has lost their way. We use this story, and rightly so, to show the dangers of a life of aimless, godless living. For many mothers and fathers this story gives hope to the day that their own “prodigal” child returns home. It if could happen for the subject of this biblical account, surely it could happen for us. Amen somebody.

 While all of the above is true I want to point us in another direction for the application of this story. I would like us to consider that the prodigal son is in good and regular standing in the church. I’m not suggesting a person living a dual life; one where they are one way in church settings but an entire different, less spiritual way throughout the week.  That’s a fair use of the story but not for the purpose of this discussion.

The 6 Million Dollar Man (or Woman)

“We can rebuild him — we have the technology”6-million-dollar-man

That’s the catch phrase from the 1970’s hit show named the 6 Million Dollar Man. (I’m dating myself :) ) The show was built around the bionic improvements made to a man who suffered severe injuries in an aircraft wreck. With 6 million dollars they were able to replace both of his legs, his right arm and left eye with bionic improvements of the same.

The character of the TV show, post surgery, could run at superhuman speeds, had super human strength and super human vision. In essence, he was an improved man with a greater ability to do good for mankind.

Improving on what one has is no less needed today. My lists for improvements for the New 6 Million Dollar Man (or Woman) are as follows:

An Open Love Letter…to you

Dear xxxxxx,

On this symbolic day of love I am writing this letter to say thank you for all that you do. I know that many times your efforts seem to go unnoticed but I want to assure you that they are not. Many of us notice and highly value what you do on a regular basis and it would be a great loss if you were not involved in the ways that you are.

One thing I love about you is how you continue to do what you do even though the odds seem stacked against you. If one were to focus on the outward appearances, the environment for success appears dismal. All around you are the voices of negativity, dissension, distrust and anger and yet, you stay positive and encouraging through it all. Your smiles and warmth seem to offset the frowns and worries of those you encounter. I love your kindness.

I Go a Fishing

Sitting in a swaying boat on a moon-lit night, seven men of destiny talked the hours away. The events of the last few years had been nothing less than stupendous. They were first-hand witnesses to the most incredible events in the history of man. They had experienced the highest of highs as everyday was an adventure. They were living in the middle of a best-seller.

What do you do?

What do you do?It must have been bitterly disappointing for these two men. To have actually experienced firsthand the incredible fortunes that lay just before them. The possibilities of success were never greater. The rewards of advancement were never clearer. The timing was right to move ahead in boldness and confidence. This was their moment of opportunity.

Joshua and Caleb were sure that the indisputable evidences they produced were all that was needed. The concept of thinking big was literally being fulfilled before their eyes. It should only take a simple and honest report to move the people forward into their God-given destiny. But evidence was not enough.