April 19, 2007
We've been looking at Mark 7 for the last three weeks at the brig. In this chapter, Jesus deals with the Pharisees' false understanding of defilement, then teaches his disciples about true defilement. He follows that with two healings of people thought to be defiled by nature—Gentiles.
His first-century audience, like many today, believe they are defiled by the things they do. Jesus points out that defilement comes from within—that we are all (not just Gentiles) defiled on the inside. It is this "inner" defilement that brings about the dirty deeds. In other words, the deeds expose the true self.
And in his 7th chapter, Mark tells us of only one obedient response (out of at least four different audiences). In verse 30, the Gentile woman in Tyre obediently returns home to find her daughter restored. Mark gives us no response from the Pharisees or the multitude, and the group in the Decapolis (vv. 31ff) responds with disobedience after the healing.
It is not the law-obeying Pharisees who respond positively to Jesus. Nor the multitude who has followed Jesus around. Instead, it is a Gentile woman who obeys—the one you would least expect.
In many ways, the men at the brig can relate. No one expects them to thrive in their Christian walk. Yet they show up every Wednesday night hungry to learn from the Word of God, and to grow closer to their Savior.
There have been some changes to the "inside" ministry of the Hebrews 13:3 Project since I wrote in February. Because of space constraints and a growing need to accommodate groups from non-Christian religions, the Wednesday night Bible study that I have led for almost nine years is now the only weekly program for Christian men. All other programs are now bi-weekly in order to provide space for Buddhists and Scientologists. This has led to a slight increase in numbers at Bible study. So this is good news for the Bible study, but it does mean fewer Christian programs.
In February, I wrote of an "adjustment" to old rules that now allows me to meet with inmates one-on-one on weekdays. I was pretty quick to take advantage of this, and have been meeting with Chris on Tuesday afternoons. The policy gives me the freedom to meet with any inmate, but for now it seems best to focus on just one. Chris will be with us for about 12 more months. He is 24, with an ex-wife and five-year-old son in Northern California. His faith is new—about three months old. And he is drinking deep of the satisfying truths of the Bible.
Please continue to pray that God will raise up someone to help with the Wednesday night program for the long term, especially with these (mostly good) changes.
On the other side of "the wire" (the ministry to released inmates), I have recently set up a Yahoo Group (an online mailing list/bulletin board) for brig "alumni." I had email addresses for about 20 men, and some of them were quite old. But only two bounced back, and 11 men have now joined the group. Participation has been light so far, but it has helped connect some men who had lost touch with each other. And it is helping all of them to "remember the prisoners." I expect to have more to report about this group in future prayer letters. Stay tuned.
In February, I wrote about Matt's move to Tennessee. He arrived safely, and is getting settled in a good church. The pastor called me last week (at Matt's suggestion) to get some background information. Matt got a really good job after only a week of searching, but had to quit because of strict laws regarding his offense, and the proximity of the job to a day-care center. It sounded to me like the employer was more disappointed about this than Matt was. When I spoke with him last week, he was still engaged in a job search, and expanding the search to the larger cities in Tennessee.
The two men I meet with weekly here in the San Diego area have both had recent job improvements. Jason (my roommate; we study 1 Samuel on Monday nights) was recently promoted, and Josh (we study Exodus on Tuesday afternoons) has signed on with a commercial real estate company that specializes in serving churches with their real estate needs.
In about one month, I will begin my tenth year of ministry at the brig. Your continued prayers and donations impact the lives of the inmates in ways none of us can imagine on this side of glory. Thank you!
Prayer Requests for the Hebrews 13:3 Project in San Diego
1. Pray for Matt in Tennessee: for the right job, for a good counselor, for good friends, and for Matt to be a good father to his son Noah.
2. Pray for Chris as I meet with him weekly to help him get grounded in the faith.
3. Pray for the men in the Yahoo Group to encourage each other as they did when they were incarcerated.
4. Pray that God will provide another committed man to help long-term with the Wednesday night programs.