Celebrate your best Christmas ever
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (New International Version, 1984, Luke 2:13-20).
Each day since well before Thanksgiving I receive multiple emails urging me to celebrate Christmas by taking advantage of some special discount being presented.
There is a better way to celebrate Christmas. Have you thought of the daily witnessing specials you have each day until Christmas? Even stronger than Easter, Christmas is the best time of the year to celebrate Immanuel, God with us, through the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Yes, Christmastime can be stressful. Buying presents, visiting relatives, running up expenses and dealing with unrealistic expectations. Have you ever said at the end of a Christmas season, “I am going to do things different next year”?
Please accept my challenge to make this your best Christmas ever by celebrating Christ’s birth through the following actions:
- Develop or review your spiritual story to make sure you really understand and have personally experienced the Messiah
- Become familiar with a gospel tract so that you can quickly and easily present the gift of salvation that Christ’s birth offers (and be able to leave the message behind for further consideration)
- Write down a list of friends and family that you are not sure have a personal relationship with the Savior and bathe them in prayer during this season
- Plan activities with family and friends that highlight the reason for the season
- Serve others in the name of Jesus
- Invite family and friends to Christmas services
- Arrange for your family to give gifts to others instead of each other
- Read the Christmas story from Luke 2 before presents are opened
- Use Christian Christmas Cards with a clear gospel message
Celebrate Immanuel this Christmas by making Him central in all that you say and do. Show God’s grace to others with kindness and patience during this stressful season.
Thankful for four years of partnership in the gospel
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (New International 1984, Philippians 1:3-6).
November 2014 started a new adventure for me as I began my duties as executive chaplain, Oklahoma Jail & Prison Ministries (OJPM).
Four years later, I thank my God for His grace upon my life and for the opportunity to partner in the gospel with you!
Here is a little review. Joe Williams and I knew each other, but were not close until we had a divine appointment at Chick-fil-A. He had been with OJPM for years and was serving as interim executive chaplain. He knew that I was looking for a new place of service and he asked me to pray about joining OJPM.
Once the OJPM board of directors approved me Joe gave me a quick orientation and then let it be known that he was ready to retire again. He quickly passed me off to Bill Farley who had just become president of the board. I am forever grateful for Joe’s discernment and wisdom and for allowing God to use him to match me up with OJPM.
Bill Farley and I have become great friends through our close working relationship, kindred hearts for reaching inmates across this state and a shared love of sports. Bill’s creativity and encouragement keep me focused on the Lord and His open doors for OJPM.
Diana Cummins, OJPM office manager, was just two months ahead of me on the rookie list when I came on board. Diana shines brightest when she is sharing the Lord with inmates, encouraging family members looking for hope through a loved one’s crisis and sorting out the financial support that sustains this ministry. Diana handles the hidden details that free me up to be the ‘face’ of OJPM.
Jorge Vara has served as chaplain at Oklahoma County jail for 29 years. No one has more experience and expertise in chaplaincy than Jorge. Jorge led me in a road trip to each of our counties in the first few months of my ministry and showed me the lay-of-the-land with each of the jails and site chaplains. Jorge is always a wealth of knowledge that keeps our chaplains’ and volunteers’ iron sharpened.
The first thing that was apparent with Chaplain Gina Jansen was her love for Jesus and how she allowed His Holy Spirit to shine through her countenance and attitude. Gina’s regular contacts with me are usually about what she has already done or is about to do to serve the inmates and share Christ with them. Her focus on the inmates is always a reminder to me of what our ministry is all about.
Just a note about last month’s article. I had several people inquire about the items I mentioned in it with regard to the spiritual warfare we were facing. We still are walking through a tough time with a couple of our chaplains and you can keep praying for their spiritual growth. However, things look much better in the county where we were facing a possible closed door and the donor in question has confirmed that we are in its 2019 budget.
Thank you for your prayers and thank you for allowing me to partner with you in this impactful ministry. What we do in the Spirit will be brought to completion by the Lord!
Unleashing the captives,
The balance between faith and works
“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD” (New International Version 1984, Proverbs 21:31).
Wanting to be a good steward, I tend to plan and organize until I hit the wall of circumstances beyond my control.
With stars spinning around in my head, it takes a moment for the effects of my spiritual concussion to wear off. Then I can fully appreciate the truth of Proverb 21:31. Can there be a point of balance between faith and works just short of banging your head against the wall?
There is action and there is motivation. Discernment led by the Holy Spirit while meditating over the Word of God is the key to finding balance.
This truth from Proverbs is fresh because of several family challenges I am dealing with, but I am sharing it with you because there are several OJPM challenges we are in the midst of. Since we are a family of volunteers, donors and friend, these make it a family challenge too.
The initial title of this article was Pray! Pray! Pray! Maybe I should have left the title alone. However, I want to give you some specifics about the reason to pray and the subjects to pray about.
The reason to pray is to find that balance between action and motivation. Yes, there is a horse that needs fed, watered, groomed and saddled for the battle. But even as we mount that horse, we need to be fully aware that it will be the hand of God that gives us the victory over our temptations and our adversary.
The subjects to pray about cover every phase of our OJPM ministry. Volunteers. Chaplains. Donors. County facilities. I do not know that we have ever faced such an onslaught from devil as now. In the last month we have had serious issues with chaplains, a specific threat to close down one of our largest county facilities and the rumor of loss of one of our chief financial supporters.
There have been challenges in the past and there will be challenges in the future. As a part of our family you need to know the seriousness of these subjects. Ultimately, only God can change a heart, open a door of opportunity and move volunteers and donors to engage with our ministry.
Yet in His sovereignty, God has ordained for us to get on that horse and ride into battle. I am a big University of Oklahoma football fan, but I have to give it up to the Oklahoma State Cowboys. They have a great slogan called Pistols Firing. It sums up their cowboy culture of Get ’R’ Done and to go out in a Blaze of Glory.
Those slogans are great challenges to action, but I think I will stay with the challenge that balances action and motivation.
Pray! Pray! Pray!
Unleashing the captives,
It is a new season!
“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (New International Version 1984, Lamentations 3:22-23).
Football season has kicked off and every team starts the year undefeated. School has started and everyone is dealing with a new year of learning, growing and great possibilities. Ok, some do struggle with new things, but that is where God stretches our faith.
A new season and a new school year are times to think about making a new beginning. There are other times that can be identified as an opportunity for a new beginning. The approach of fall brings all kinds of new events that can challenge and encourage.
As OJPM executive chaplain, two events that I think and pray about are our fall volunteer appreciation banquet and our fall chaplain training. Our annual volunteer appreciation banquet will be held Friday, September 21st at 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 301 N. E. 27th, Moore, Oklahoma. See RSVP information in insert box below. Each attendee will receive our newest challenge coin that highlights our vision to have ministry in every county jail. There will also be inspirational stories of how OJPM is transforming people on both sides of the bars.
Our keynote speaker for the banquet is Alan Quigley, mobilization team leader of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO). Alan is the former evangelism director for the BGCO and currently leads the team that includes BGCO chaplains and financial support for OJPM. Alan has a heart for evangelism and is a great friend of OJPM.
Our fall chaplain training will be held Saturday, October 13th from 8:00 a.m. to Noon at Genesis Church, 623 N Broadway Ave., Suite A, Moore, Oklahoma. One of the key reasons sheriffs invite OJPM into their county jails is because of the training we provide.
In addition to the basic reviews and updates from Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Chaplain Don Duncan and OJPM Senior Chaplain Jorge Vara we will have special presentations from current and future OJPM volunteers Kenneth Sherill, pastor of Greater New Zion Baptist, Oklahoma City and Brad Bertrand, president and founder of Bertrand Retirement Solutions, Oklahoma City.
You and I can face each new day, new challenge and new opportunity because God’s “compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is [His] faithfulness!”
Enjoy this new season!
Unleashing the captives,