Why Prison Ministry?

by Frank Mastrolonardo

“In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” Whether we obey that command by witnessing to neighbors, co-workers, or strangers, who we evangelize is not important. What matters is that we are evangelizing, because that is how the Lord uses us to build His church.

As a prison chaplain, I have devoted my life to jail ministry. Years ago I discovered that prison inmates are a field ripe for the harvest. Many of them have hit bottom, ruined their families, and wrecked their lives. When I am proclaiming the gospel to someone outside of jail, I often have to start by convincing that person of the reality of sin. Generally that is not the case with inmates. For the most part, they know they have sinned. If they forget that fact, they have an orange jumpsuit to remind them.

Throughout my life I’ve known people who were very successful by the world’s standards, with money in the bank, prosperity, extravagant cars, and all of the “toys” one could imagine. But I’ve also noticed that without Jesus, they are missing true and transforming joy. In contrast, jail ministry has given me the opportunity to meet men behind bars who have lost everything—family, relationships, and worldly processions—but the Lord used their circumstances to humble them and lead them to faith. In the words of one 40-year-old inmate serving a life sentence, “I would rather spend the rest of my life behind bars knowing Jesus than be back on the outside without Him.”

This man understands what Jesus meant in Mark 8:36–37 when he asked, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul? For what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” This attitude is not unusual behind bars. Inmates have a lot of time to think, and they often ask serious introspective questions like “Why did my life go this way?” or “What is the point of living when jail is going to be my life?” People who ask these kinds of questions often have hearts prepared to receive the good news of the gospel.

The reality is that the world is filled with people who are enslaved to sin. They have chains on their souls, because their lives have been given over to the deeds of the flesh. Just because they manage to keep man-made laws and avoid prison does not mean they are truly free.

John 8:36 tells us that only those who have the Son are “free indeed.” So if the Lord uses prison to get someone’s attention and introduce them to the gospel, then so be it. If a person’s soul is set free from the power of sin and death, it doesn’t matter if their body remains behind bars. This powerful truth is perhaps what motivated Paul to say, “I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned” (2 Timothy 2:9).

While it may seem ironic that jails are one of the most fruitful places for evangelism, it actually makes perfect sense. A traveling businessman may witness to the person sitting next to him on the plane, but the demands of work and the allure of sleep make it difficult. A housewife may strike up conversations with neighbors, but the demands of life can make the conversations rushed and distracted. This is not the case with prison ministry.

Jails are full of people with lots of time and little distraction. They come to Bible study, church services, orFundamentals of the Faith classes curious and looking for answers. They are often desperate and broken, and the Lord has used their circumstances to prepare them to receive the gospel. It seems like every week someone behind bars asks me, “What must I do to be saved?” Answering that question is the biggest joy of my life.”

Frank Mastrolonardo, Senior Chaplain, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department

To learn more about jail ministry, visit onlyhopeprisonministries.com

http://www.gracechurch.org/grace_today/posts/1073/why_prison_ministry/

Sinner, Art Thou Still Secure?

Sinner, art thou still secure?
Wilt thou still refuse to pray?
Can thy heart or hands endure
In the Lord’s avenging day?

See, His mighty arm is bared!
Awful terrors clothe His brow!
For His judgment stand prepared,
Thou must either break or bow.

At His presence nature shakes,
Earth affrighted hastes to flee;
Solid mountains melt like wax,
What will then become of thee?

Who His advent may abide?
You that glory in your shame,
Will you find a place to hide
When the world is wrapped in flame?

Then the rich, the great, the wise,
Trembling, guilty, self condemned;
Must behold the wrathful eyes
Of the Judge they once blasphemed:

Where are now their haughty looks?
O, their horror and despair!
When they see the opened books
And their dreadful sentence hear!

Lord, prepare us by Thy grace,
Soon we must resign our breath,
And our souls be called to pass,
Through the iron gate of death.

Let us now our day improve,
Listen to the Gospel voice;
Seek the things that are above;
Scorn the world’s pretended joys.

-John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779

And Will the Judge Descend

And will the Judge descend,
And must the dead arise
And not a single soul escape
His all discerning eyes?

And from His righteous lips
Shall this dread sentence sound
And through the numerous guilty throng
Spread black despair around:

“Depart from Me, accursed,
To everlasting flame,
For rebel angels first prepared,
Where mercy never came”?

How will my heart endure
The terrors of that day
When earth and Heav’n before His face
Astonished shrink away?

But ere that trumpet shakes
The mansions of the dead,
Hark from the Gospel’s cheering sound
What joyful tidings spread:

Ye sinners, seek His grace
Whose wrath ye cannot bear;
Fly to the shelter of His cross
And find salvation there.

-Philip Doddridge, pub­lished post­hu­mous­ly in Hymns Founde­d on Var­i­ous Texts in the Ho­ly Scrip­ture. By the Late Rev­er­end Phil­ip Dod­dridge, D. D., by Job Or­ton (J. Ed­dowes & J. Cot­ton: 1755).

As When the Hebrew Prophet Raised

As when the Hebrew prophet raised
[originally So did the Hebrew prophet raise]
The brazen serpent high,
The wounded looked and straight were cured,
The people ceased to die.

So from the Savior on the cross
A healing virtue flows;
Who looks to Him with lively faith
Is saved from endless woes.

For God gave up His Son to death,
So generous was His love,
That all the faithful might enjoy
Eternal life above.

Not to condemn the sons of men
The Son of God appeared;
No weapons in His hand are seen,
Nor voice of terror heard.

He came to raise our fallen state,
And our lost hopes restore;
Faith leads us to the mercy seat,
And bids us fear no more.

-Isaac Watts, Hymns and Sacred Songs, 1709, alt.

Watts’ original version:

So did the Hebrew prophet raise
The brazen serpent high,
The wounded felt immediate ease,
The camp forbore to die.

“Look upward in the dying hour,
And live,” the prophet cries;
But Christ performs a nobler cure,
When Faith lifts up her eyes.

High on the cross the Savior hung,
High in the heav’ns he reigns:
Here sinners by th’ old serpent stung
Look, and forget their pains.

When God’s own Son is lifted up,
A dying world revives;
The Jew beholds the glorious hope,
Th’expiring Gentile lives.

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down Thy head upon My breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one, stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I am this dark world’s Light;
Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found in Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that light of life I’ll walk, till traveling days are done.

-Horatius Bonar, Hymns Original and Selected, 1846

I Was a Wandering Sheep

I was a wandering sheep,
I did not love the fold;
I did not love my Shepherd’s voice,
I would not be controlled.
I was a wayward child,
I did not love my home;
I did not love my Father’s voice,
I loved afar to roam.

The Shepherd sought His sheep,
The Father sought His child;
They followed me o’er vale and hill,
O’er deserts waste and wild;
They found me nigh to death,
Famished and faint and lone;
They bound me with the bands of love,
They saved the wand’ring one.

They spoke in tender love,
They raised my drooping head,
They gently closed my bleeding wounds,
My fainting soul they fed;
They washed my filth away,
They made me clean and fair;
They brought me to my home in peace,
The long sought wanderer.

Jesus my Shepherd is:
’Twas He that loved my soul;
’Twas He that washed me in His blood,
’Twas He that made me whole.
’Twas He that sought the lost,
That found the wand’ring sheep,
’Twas He that brought me to the fold,
’Tis He that still doth keep.

No more a wandering sheep,
I love to be controlled;
I love my tender Shepherd’s voice,
I love the peaceful fold.
No more a wayward child,
I seek no more to roam;
I love my heavenly Father’s voice,
I love, I love His home!

-Horatius Bonar, 1843

Sin, When Viewed by Scripture Light

Sin, when viewed by scripture light,
Is a horrid, hateful sight;
But when seen in Satan’s glass,
Then it wears a pleasing face.

When the gospel trumpet sounds,
When I think how grace abounds,
When I feel sweet peace within,
Then I’d rather die than sin.

When the cross I view by faith,
Sin is madness, poison, death;
Tempt me not, ’tis all in vain,
Sure I ne’er can yield again.

Satan, for awhile debarred,
When he finds me off my guard,
Puts his glass before my eyes,
Quickly other thoughts arise.

What before excited fears,
Rather pleasing now appears;
If a sin, it seems so small,
Or, perhaps, no sin at all.

Often thus, through sin’s deceit,
Grief, and shame, and loss I meet,
Like a fish, my soul mistook,
Saw the bait, but not the hook.

O my Lord, what shall I say?
How can I presume to pray?
Not a word have I to plead,
Sins, like mine, are black indeed!

Made, by past experience, wise,
Let me learn thy word to prize;
Taught by what I’ve felt before,
Let me Satan’s glass abhor.

-John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779

He Has Come, The Christ of God

He has come, the Christ of God:
Left for us His glad abode;
Stooping from His throne of bliss
To this darksome wilderness.

He has come, the Prince of Peace:
Come to bid our sorrows cease;
Come to scatter with His light
All the shadows of our night.

He, the mighty King, has come,
Making this poor earth His home:
Come to bear our sin’s sad load,
Son of David, Son of God.

He has come, whose Name of grace
Speaks deliverance to our race:
Left for us His glad abode,
Son of Mary, Son of God.

Unto us a Child is born:
Ne’er has earth beheld a morn
Among all the morns of time,
Half so glorious in its prime.

Unto us a Son is given:
He has come from God’s own Heaven,
Bringing with Him from above
Holy peace and holy love.

-Horatius Bonar, 1857

Poor Esau Repented Too Late

Poor Esau repented too late
That once he his birth-right despised;
And sold, for a morsel of meat,
What could not too highly be prized:
How great was his anguish when told,
The blessing he sought to obtain,
Was gone with the birth-right he sold,
And none could recall it again!

He stands as a warning to all,
Wherever the Gospel shall come;
O hasten and yield to the call,
While yet for repentance there’s room!
Your season will quickly be past,
Then hear and obey it today;
Lest when you seek mercy at last,
The Savior should frown you away.

What is it the world can propose?
A morsel of meat at the best!
For this are you willing to lose
A share in the joys of the blest?
Its pleasures will speedily end,
Its favor and praise are but breath;
And what can its profits befriend
Your soul in the moment of death?

If Jesus for these you despise,
And sin to the Savior prefer;
In vain your entreaties and cries,
When summoned to stand at His bar:
How will you His presence abide?
What anguish will torture your heart?
The saints all enthroned by His side,
And you be compelled to depart.

Too often, dear Savior, have I
Preferred some poor trifle to Thee;
How is it Thou dost not deny
The blessing and birth-right to me?
No better than Esau I am,
Though pardon and Heaven be mine;
To me belongs nothing but shame,
The praise and the glory be Thine.

-John Newton, Olney Hymns, 8

10 Foolish Obstacles to the Foolishness of Preaching

by David Murray

“God chose the foolishness of Gospel preaching to save them that believe (1 Cor. 1:21). The Gospel message is foolishness to the world. But so is the Gospel medium – preaching. Who in their right mind would choose a regular 30-45 minute monologue from one sinful man to many sinful hearers to communicate the most important message in the world?

God would and did.

And he did it knowing that this method of communication would upset many people and cause them to find many foolish reasons for not listening. Some of the foolish obstacles I’ve come across (in myself and others) are:

1. Patchy grammar: Thankfully most people’s English education was as bad as mine and don’t notice too many of my grammatical faux pas, but there are always a few Grammar Girls (and boys) in every congregation. One misplaced preposition and down come the shutters.

2. Boring voice: Drone, groan, mumble, stumble, yawn. Is he trying to send us to sleep? Yet even the most attractive and varied voices eventually sound “meh” to regular hearers. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have a different voice every week?

3. Pastoral mistakes: Sometimes we can make a blunder in a personal relationship, an email communication, or at a social occasion which prejudices a hearer’s mind against us for a long time or even forever. We could be preaching the best truth in the best way but we’re still the worst preacher they’ve ever heard because we stood on their toes somewhere along the line.

4. Text choices: Why does the preacher never pick my favorite texts? Why does he never preach from my favorite book? Why does he always preach from such simple texts? Why does he always preach from such difficult texts? I’m not going to listen until he preaches on…

5. Preaching style: There are probably hundreds of preaching styles: fast, slow, loud, quiet, teachy, preachy, passionate, reasonable, sad, happy, smooth, jerky, etc. We all have our peculiar preferences and rarely do we find such a peculiar preacher.

6. Pulpit mannerisms: Why does he keep fiddling with his glasses? Does he think spinning his wedding ring will help spin this terrible sermon? Why doesn’t he look at us? Why does he keep staring at us? Has he only got one arm? Hands in his pockets again! Why does he grip the pulpit – is he about to faint or something? I wish he’d quit sniffing/coughing/frowning/grinning…

7. Verbal ticks: How many times did he say “in other words” today? Or “as I was saying” or “literally” or  ”finally.”

8. Christian Cliches: Can he not find another way of saying that? Does he have to use the same phraseology as every other time he preached on this? He says that in every sermon. Where’s his imagination?

9. Too young/old: Yes, before the preacher even opens his mouth, the old people might close him down because he’s so young, or the young people might tune him out because he’s too old.

10. Personality clash: I just don’t like him. He rubs me up the wrong way. He’s too cocky. He’s too defensive. He’s too apologetic. He’s too aggressive, etc.

It’s amazing what obstacles preachers have to overcome.  One slip-up in any of these areas and some people won’t give a minute of attention to the sermon that took you 10-15 hours to prepare. Although we pray every time we preach, that God would prevent anything we say or do getting in the way of the message, yet it will inevitably happen. It’s amazing anyone at all gets saved.

Why did God choose this method? Why not send a perfect angel with a perfect message delivered in a perfect manner? Wouldn’t that have been wiser? More effective?

God chose this method to demonstrate that the Gospel, not the preacher or his preaching, is the power of God unto salvation. He chose one of the most foolish methods and some of the most foolish creatures to reach multitudes of foolish sinners with a “foolish” message. And he did it this way in order to magnify His wisdom and power (1 Cor. 1:22-31).

We get grace. He gets glory.”

-David Murray, http://headhearthand.org/blog/2013/02/12/10-foolish-obstacles-to-the-foolishness-of-preaching/