Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Catcher

For he says, "In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you." I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 6:2 NIV)

One of the greatest parts of jail ministry is a thing we call “beanhole.” The beanhole is a small metal opening at about waist height in a cellblock door. It’s about 15” x 8” in size. Our adult detention center has 8 cellblocks, and throughout the week volunteers will go to the beanholes of the various cellblocks to visit with inmates. It is mostly a ministry of prayer, as we hold hands with the inmates through that narrow opening and cry out to the Lord Jesus Christ together. We also hand out Bibles, Christian literature and share the Gospel through the beanhole. The Holy Spirit performs amazing work through that little metal flap in the cellblock door. I cannot fit through it, but he sure can, and although inmates are locked in, he is not locked out.

I had the blessing this past Wednesday of seeing a man give his life to the Lord Jesus Christ through the beanhole. I wish I could have filmed it and posted it right here for you to see the joyous occasion. The Holy Spirit had been working hard on him. He came to the beanhole and asked for a Bible and prayer. I took the opportunity to ask him what his spiritual life was like. He began to share he had felt a heaviness in his heart for almost three months about turning his life over to Christ. He told me he planned on getting into a church as soon as he was out of jail and making things right.

I felt prompted to share with him that he need not wait. The Lord led me to 2 Corinthians 6:2 which I shared with him. He acknowledged he had already been putting it off too long. He took my hand and cried out to Jesus to come into his life right there. He asked for forgiveness, asked for Jesus to lead him in the right path. I felt like dancing down the halls of the county jail, but I wasn’t quite sure how the deputies would take that. I prayed for him as we still held hands and asked God to protect and lead him. What a moment!

God blessed me to see the spiritual re-birth of this man. Notice, I did none of the work. The Spirit led me into the jail and to a particular verse in Scripture. I simply had the pleasure to see this man be born into the kingdom of God. It reminds me of when my daughter Destiny was born. My wife went through 16 hours of grueling labor. Right at the end, the doctor showed up, caught my newborn daughter, cleaned her up and left. He did none of the work; he just had the pleasure of catching this beautiful newborn child. He was more like a catcher on a baseball team holding out his glove to catch the ball as it comes his way.

We need more catchers on God’s team! My “beanhole buddies” as I call them are an awesome group of people. None of them would lay claim to being awesome witnesses or preachers or Bible scholars. They are obedient followers of the Lord Jesus and have a heart for reaching out to the lost and hurting. More than anything, they are loyal and obedient, just showing up with a strong shoulder and attentive ear. Too many times we are intimidated in being witnesses because we are afraid of what we’ll say or how people will react. I cannot save anybody. I can’t pitch, I can’t hit and I can’t run. I am merely called to show up at home plate with my glove and be ready. The only way to truly fail is not to show up. Nobody warms the bench in God’s game unless they choose to. Let him use you this week!

Randy Alan

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

“Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.” – Patrick Henry

I wish we had men like Patrick Henry around today. We may believe political divisiveness didn’t exist in “the good old days” but Henry made the above quote in March of 1799 over a contentious issue called the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions that challenged the Constitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts. Even the framers of our great nation faced bitter political battles, but they knew how important it was to avoid division in order to preserve unity.

However, I believe men like Henry had cooler heads and more patriotic attitudes than we see in politics today. I believe he was an intellectual and a gifted speaker of the likes which are either totally extinct or in danger of extinction today. The 30-second sound bite has reduced politics today to vitriolic slogans that do little to build our nation, but indeed function as a battering ram to pound American solidarity to dust.

I could not help but cringe to watch the video of 23 year old Lauren Valle having her head stomped into the ground by Rand Paul supporters before a debate in Kentucky. I am not saying I agree with Valle’s political views, but I totally disagree with the barbaric attack against her. Supporters say they were concerned about Paul’s security, but I’m not sure if they thought her sign or fake blond wig were the weapons she planned on using to attack their candidate. It’s a sad testimony to the volatile political atmosphere in America today.

I believe our nation is at a crossroads and we have reached a level of unprecedented divisiveness. We have an opportunity to divide and fall, or to unite and rise. We must remember that we are not first Democrats, Republicans, Tea Party or Independents. We are first Americans. Our nation’s symbol is the majestic red, white and blue of Old Glory, not the elephant, or donkey or whatever political symbol that represents your chosen party.

I believe the greatest threat to America today is this very divisiveness amongst its own citizens. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, straight, homosexual, pro-life, pro-choice, Christian, atheist, Wiccan, rich, poor, white collar or blue collar we are all Americans. We are a country founded on principles of unified diversity. Somehow in the landscape of the 21st century we have embraced diversity and sacrificed unity. We need to reclaim that before it’s too late and America is torn apart at the seams. Speak your opinions, but do not impose them on others. Vote your conscience but do not denounce others for doing the same. Respect your opponents and don’t insult, belittle or physically attack them for expressing their views.

My prayer is that despite our differences we can join together to strengthen this great country despite the challenges that lie ahead.

God Bless America!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Comfort Zone

Barak said to her, "If you go with me, I will go; but if you don't go with me, I won't go." "Very well," Deborah said, "I will go with you. But because of the way you are going about this, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will hand Sisera over to a woman." So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. (Judges 4:8-9 NIV)

Let me be real with you. Speaking in front of a crowd used to make me physically ill. Pass the barf bag nauseous. I can remember agonizing over giving book reports in grade school. I lost sleep thinking about it. I’d have rather done anything else…anything else that didn’t involve water. I never learned how to swim. I grew up in the tri-lake area and never learned to swim. My dad spent 20 years in the US Navy, sailing around the world, but I never learned how to swim. Water more than knee-deep ties my intestines in knots.

I became an atheist when I was a junior in high-school, right around age 16. I remember reading several books about mythology and finally coming to the brilliant conclusion that the so-called “Holy Bible” was just a collection of interesting myths that gullible people accepted as truth. So basically I was a shy, water-fearing atheist.

Why in all of creation would God choose me to be a preacher and pastor? How could he look over all the qualified candidates then rest his eyes on me and say, “You’re it.” He could have chosen a bold speaker, a brave swimmer and someone who grew up well grounded in Christian faith. However, he chose me.

You want to talk about getting out of your comfort zone? Speaking in front of a group of people on average three times a week? Stepping into a baptistery of waste-deep water to dunk somebody under it and hope you don’t go under too and drown? Searching out truths with a mind filled with skepticism and unbelief? God took me light years out of my comfort zone. My comfort zone is long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away.

Have you ever noticed how God calls people out of their comfort zones? I can think of many: Moses, Abraham, David, Elijah, Daniel, Isaiah, the 12 Disciples, Paul and many others. Each has an amazing story, playing a role in God’s epic. However, I wanted to look briefly at Barak.

God called Barak out of his comfort zone. He reached out to him through the prophetess Deborah. Barak could have gone down in history as one of the great military leaders of Israel, getting credit for crushing one of the wicked enemies of his people. In order to do this he had to move out of his comfort zone. He just wasn’t ready. He was unable to take that big leap on his own. He wanted Deborah to go with him because he just wasn’t sure about it.

I can relate to Barak. He’s my kind of guy. I can feel his tremendous discomfort at God’s call on his life. I can feel the knots he must have had in his gut. I can imagine how dry his mouth must have been and how hard his heart must have beaten when Deborah said, "The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: 'Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin's army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.' " (Judges 4:6b-7 NIV).

Barak was thinking of those 900 chariots Sisera had at his command, and the 20 years of cruel oppression he had enforced, all mentioned back in Judges 4:3. He was being called way out of his comfort zone. He just could not bring himself to go there, and because of that, he sacrificed honor and blessing.

As you sit back and read this today think about this question: How is God calling you to step out of your comfort zone? What is the Lord Jesus Christ asking you to do that makes you want to go hide in a dark corner somewhere and hope he cannot find you? Even more importantly, what blessing and honor are you missing because you are not willing to step out of your comfort zone? It may simply be that you are so comfortable where you are at that you are not willing to turn your life over to him at all. Will you step out of your comfort zone today?

I’ll be real in closing. I still get nervous in front of groups, but the Holy Spirit carries me through. I still am worried that I am going to drown while baptizing somebody, but the Holy Spirit inspires me to step into that water. I have embraced faith, because I have seen the power of the Lord Jesus Christ at work. Either he is real, or I am crazy, or more than likely, he is real and I am crazy. Step out of the comfort zone and into the crazy zone with me.

Randy Alan

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

My City

“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8 NASB)

I grew up in Hot Springs just a few blocks from downtown. My mother loved to walk, and we’d often stroll through the heart of the city. Downtown Central Avenue was the heart of commerce back then, featuring all the big stores like Sears, J.C. Penny, Walgreens, Kress and many others. All the businesses had yet to undertake the great exodus to Hot Springs Mall, and a different vibe filled that area of the city. We’d often walk the Promenade which was vibrant. Hot Springs had a large pigeon population then, and many people would sit on the benches and just feed the birds. Elderly men actually sat at the tables with checkerboards and played checkers. After a walk and some shopping, we’d stop at the diner inside Kress and have a meal.

Things have certainly changed. I am glad to see downtown still has life. I took a walk from the fountain in front of the old Majestic Hotel all the way down to the old Malco theatre this past Saturday night. People filled the sidewalks and the downtown breathed with health and vitality. It’s different now, but definitely alive.

Yesterday, I walked the Promenade before heading to class, and it has changed, too. It’s mostly deserted now, and strangely so for me since the pigeons and any reminder of them are long gone. I passed a few people, but it seems for the most part, the Promenade is some sort of Hot Springs anachronism. As I got to the end, I turned onto Fountain Street and started to walk back towards Bathhouse Row. A wall runs alongside the sidewalk there, and I glanced up at it in memory. My mother used to lift me up on that wall and hold my hand as we walked that same walk many years ago.

I thought to myself, “You ought to hop up on that wall for old time’s sake and walk it again.” The pragmatic adult inside me said, “That’s preposterous.” I ignored that part of me and mounted the wall and walked it to the end. Of course I’m much taller now and don’t need my mother to hold my hand to keep my balance, but it sure brought back some good memories.

I tried to drink in every aspect of downtown on that walk. I listened to the sounds of traffic that bled through the soft music on the headphones of my ipod. I stared up at the heights of the Arlington and the Medical Arts Building. I watched the steam rising from the hot springs. I breathed in the aroma of the magnolia trees. I was glad to see many people taking in the sights of downtown. It’s different, but it’s still the same. More than anything, it’s my city, and I love it.

The thing God impressed on me on both walks was that he has put me here for a reason. I thought of Christ’s commission to his disciples in Acts 1:8 and how he told them they would first be his witnesses in Jerusalem, the city where they were all at during that time. My deepest concern is that many times we have forsaken our Jerusalem in order to be witnesses “to the end of the earth.” I’m not saying we should desert our foreign mission efforts, but I am saying that Hot Springs, Arkansas is a wide open mission field. It is filled with people who desperately need the Gospel. I have no doubt my mission is here and I pray I have the boldness to fulfill that mission according to God’s plan. This is my city, and my Savior has called me to preach his message in this place. Where is he calling you to go, and what is he asking you to do today?


Saturday, October 16, 2010

What Do God and Jesus Look Like?

I have a picture of Jesus that hangs on my bedroom wall. My mom had a portrait like it that hung on her living room wall when I was a kid. I never really cared too much about Jesus back then. She gave me that portrait after I moved out and started on my own. By then I was a full blown atheist and the painting landed in the deep, dark, dank recesses of my garage. When I finally came to know Christ and dug it out, I found it had been destroyed by mold and mildew. However, shortly after I found an exact copy of it buried in a rack of paintings at a flea market. I snatched it up and hung it on my bedroom wall.

The painting means a lot to me, but I am not certain that when I meet Jesus he will look anything like that at all. It’s merely some artist's concept of him. Just like in my favorite movie about Jesus, “The Gospel of John.” Henry Ian Cusick plays Jesus in the film, and he does the finest job of any actor I have seen. However, I am not sure Jesus will be that fair skinned and speak with an English accent. So what does Jesus look like? In fact, what does God look like?

Speculation only leads to an inconclusive hypothesis. The best thing to do is search the Scriptures. However, even there one comes up short finding a true physical description of God or his Son. More than anything else, the Bible describes the attributes and work of God and Christ. Those are the most important things. However, inquiring minds want to know.

First let’s look at God. A couple of Scriptures offer some insight into his appearance:

Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking. (Ezekiel 1:26-28 NIV)

His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. (Revelation 1:14-16 NIV)

The most noteworthy thing about God is his majesty, his glory and his holiness. I don’t believe the human mind can actually wrap itself around his appearance. Notice how Ezekiel fell on his face in his presence. John “fell at his feet as though dead” in Revelation 1:17. I cannot describe exactly what God looks like, but the reaction to his appearance is obvious: it’s overwhelming.

Now, what about Jesus? Does he look anything like the cultured actor Cussick from “The Gospel of John”? Does he have feathered hair, neatly pressed robes and stylish sandals? The best description of him is found in the prophetic words of Isaiah:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. (Isaiah 53:2 NIV)

To put it simply Jesus looked like an average Joe in his human form. He was a blue collar class, hardworking carpenter, most likely with calloused hands and a face that did not stand out from the crowd. However, he had the commanding presence of the Almighty God inside of him.

How can we know what Jesus looks like? The one way is to surrender your life to him, to answer his call. Those that repent and believe the Gospel will one day stand in his glorious presence and see him as he truly is, as the Apostle John tells us:

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:12 NIV)