Saturday, November 24, 2012

Thankful for His Gifts

It’s good to be back writing my column again. I am blessed to have such wonderful writing friends (Connie Johnston and Nanette Friend) who are willing to take over so I can focus time on other pressing items, such as the publicity and marketing of this new book.

When I first started writing almost twenty years ago, many book publishers could afford to hire their own publicists to set up interviews and arrange book signings for their authors, allowing writers more time to, well…write. But these days, unless you are a well-known and widely published author, most publishers don’t have it in their budget to promote your book. So, it is up to the author to see that those who could benefit from reading what they have written are made aware of it. The downside is—publicity is very time-consuming. Along with that, after months (or even years) of writing about your subject, you’re more than ready to move on to something else. But, you now have to stay excited about your book.

Thankfully, for me, it is easy to stay passionate about ministering to those behind bars. If you are a regular reader of this column you know God has given me a desire for prison ministry. It is a passion that has only increased over time, not diminished. I have been so blessed this past year to get even closer to some local jail ministry board members who share this passion, as we tirelessly worked together on many of the stories in the devotional book, Stories of Faith and Courage from Prison. And I’ve also been privileged to meet many dedicated people from around the country who diligently reach out to the incarcerated, spurring me on to keep laboring over this huge project.

God, in His infinite wisdom, knew just what I needed and when I needed it. And, He longs to do a similar work in your life, too. No, not necessarily writing a book, but there is some unique gift that He has placed inside of each one of us. There is something that He has made each of us passionate about. When we sincerely seek the Lord and ask Him to reveal to us what our gifts are, coupled with a true longing to serve others (instead of our focus being on making a name for ourself or becoming rich), I believe God is more than happy to reveal those gifts to us. He sits up and takes notice when our heart matches His. Nothing in life is more fulfilling than discovering who we are in the body of Christ, and then using our God-given gifts and talents to build up and bless others, thereby glorifying God in the process.

As we've entered into this time of thanks, followed by a hectic time of gift giving, I urge you to get alone with our Heavenly Father and seek Him with all your heart. You are special to Him and He has big plans for your life. Give Him thanks for the many blessings you have, including the unique way that He knit you together in your mother’s womb. Become determined to discover your gifts and to stay focused on living your life for His glory…for He alone is worthy to be praised.

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; His love endures forever (1 Chronicles 16:34).



Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Single Red Pane

My husband and I visited our first male prison a few weeks ago. It was a nice prison, as prisons go, and we had a great visit. The man we visited, Timothy, is a good writer and has several stories in the upcoming prison devotional book, Stories of Faith and Courage from Prison. More importantly, he came to the Lord three days after being arrested. His conversion experience was powerful and sincere. It was a pleasure to meet him and witness his love for the Lord.

Tim teared up twice during our visit; once when we prayed with him before leaving, and the other when my husband asked if he minded if we came back to visit him again. He was humbled almost beyond words.

Tim gave me permission to share a special poem he wrote. It was recently published in our jail ministry newsletter, and is included in the new devotional, too. I think you’ll agree that he has, indeed, been given a gift. (Tim was recently transferred to another facility and is no longer at Lebanon Correctional.)

The Single Red Pane
By Timothy James Burke

It is ironic that in prison, where I have very limited freedom of movement, I should often feel lost. The distractions and temptations inside these walls are every bit as powerful as the ones outside, and staying focused is just as difficult.

In the chapel at Lebanon Correctional, we have all variety of inmates attending the services. Most are there for the right reasons, but some guys use the worship time to talk with their friends from other blocks, pass contraband, or just get out of the confines of their six-by-eleven boxes.

One Sunday, during a service in which I was having a tough time with my feelings and the distractions around me, I looked up and noticed that all of the chapel’s stained-glass panes were yellow, blue, or white – all but one pane. The following poem came through me….

Sunday, each Sunday, I sit in these pews

And listen to preachers dispensing their views.

Doing my best to ignore and deflect

All the talkers around me that won’t show respect…

Trying to tell if the sermon I heard

Matches up with the lessons I learned in the Word.

Trying to quiet my anger and violence

So I can hear Jesus alive in the silence.

Forgive me, God, for my negative mind

For the times when I don’t trust the plan You designed,

For the nights when my faith flies away on a breeze

Cause I’m too weak or stubborn to drop to my knees.

Dear God, my thoughts are full of disease

So I sit in these pews and I pray, “Father, please

Help me to walk on the path of pure light

With my eyes always forward and Jesus in sight.”

Tears wet my cheeks in a lacrimal flood

When I think of the Savior shedding His blood.

I look to the heavens for God to explain

And there…in the stained glass…a single red pane.

“I have not left you, My Word’s never lost;

The blood I gave freely has covered that cost.

That single red pane is there to remind you

Whenever you wander…I can still find you.

The blood that I gave left a permanent stain,

A sign and a promise, My love will remain.”

“… God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

As the Christmas season approaches, may we all keep in our hearts the true reason for the season.

In His Grace Alone,

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