Prison culture has become an entertainment spectacle in this hour. One popular cable television show is Orange is the New Black. It carries the tagline “Every Sentence Is A Story.” It is a clever turn of phrase for this fictional program. Nevertheless, there is truth in the statement, for there is a story behind every person who has been sentenced to prison.
It is easy to lump large segments of humanity into statistical groups where they lose their individual personality. We may hear the words “prison population,” or speak of someone as a prisoner, or a convict, and have a hard time connecting in any emotional way with those described by these words. Yet, each person in prison is an individual. They were born into this world to experience all which pertains to human existence. These were individuals with desires, disappointments, dreams, nightmares, pleasures, pain, hopes, despair, joy and sorrow. At some point they took a wrong turn in life and ended up numbered among the transgressors, stripped of freedom, and sentenced to spend years of their life in prison.
I am impressed at times when I hear from men in prison who express surprise at having someone involved with a prison ministry actually write them back a personal letter. It is evidently an exceptional event. Even people involved in ministry can fall into the error of viewing those they minister to as an impersonal statistical group. To see men and women in prison as individuals, and to interact with them as a person with unique thoughts, struggles, and questions, someone who has value in God’s sight, and therefore should have value in our own eyes, is something those involved in prison ministry should strive for.
One of the benefits to readers of the letters I share on the Parables Blog from men in prison, and my responses to them, is that it puts an actual face to those in prison. At times I find myself writing lengthy responses to those who reach out to me. It is a rare individual in prison who does not appreciate some personal attention from those outside. Many long to experience some human compassion. There is not much spiritual light inside prison. There is little love. When a man who has longed for someone to notice him, to seek his welfare, to actually care, encounters an individual manifesting the character of Christ, it has the potential to change their life.
I have concluded that measuring out my time to reply to individuals as if it were a factory resource, and each man should receive the minimum I can supply to them, is not a godly approach. What is it worth spiritually if I devote hours to one man, and the attention results in real change in his life? What if a light goes on in the man’s mind, or heart, because someone took the time to treat him as important and valuable? Is the investment of time worth it.
Ministries tend to think in large numbers. They want to reach the most souls with the resources they have available. In doing so, they may make minimal impact upon the those they touch. It may be more worthwhile to make a deep and significant impact on a small number. This seems to be the approach Christ took during the years of His ministry. He spoke to large crowds, but He also gave significant personal attention to a small number. The results were impressive.
Following is a letter I received from a man named Kenneth, and my reply. It is quite lengthy, but I thought it worthwhile to treat this man as if he really matters. The reality is that he is important, and Christ has seen fit to bring me into contact with him. What does Christ want to do in this man’s life? What does He want to express through me? How would Yahshua interact with this man if He were inhabiting this body I dwell in? (He does, after all.)
Kenneth was born in 1977. He has a mother and father just like you and I. Perhaps he has brothers and sisters. He is 6′-1″ tall and weighs 202 pounds. I can view his photo at the department of corrections website. I can also learn there that he has been convicted of theft, burglary, aggravated assault, fleeing/eluding the police, and other violations of the law. He has been in prison since 2012 and has a maximum release date of 2027. That is his sentence. What is his story?
What might change in his life before he is released? Christ came to set the captives free. Following is our recent correspondence.
How are you today? I hope this letter finds you doing well. I was glad to get the letter you sent me as well as the personal info you shared. I really enjoyed reading about Champ. I am an animal lover myself. I grew up on a small farm outside of Vidalia, Georgia. We grew Vidalia onions, of course, as well as all types of produce that we sold locally. We also raised goats, chickens, rabbits, and later cows and horses. When I was about 13 years old my step-father started a small welding/fabrication company on the farm. We built portable cattle feeders, hay wagons, and all types of utility trailers. Before I got out of high school, there wasn’t much I couldn’t build out of metal or wood. And I was certified to weld most anything. My step-father, step-brother, and myself also loved to work on old cars and trucks restoring them and building motors to race them. I had an awesome education during my childhood.
After high school I joined an electrical union called the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and learned the electrical trade. I stopped, however, to start working for myself on Hilton Head Island installing all types of floor covering (wood, tile, stone, and carpet). I was in my early 20s and making 3 to 5 grand a week. At this time no one could tell me anything. I knew it all, or so I thought.
It wasn’t too long after this that I got into drugs. That started my 10 plus years battling drug addiction. It was a roller-coaster ride. On top of the world one day, rock bottom the next. This went on until 2012 when I robbed a guy for some pain pills. Now I am doing 15 years for armed robbery, something no one, including myself, ever thought I would be capable of.
My last job before I got locked up was in Macon, Georgia. I worked at an electrical power plant as a boilermaker for several years. I was married to a dental hygienist (her father is a Methodist minister). I made 8 grand a month, had a really nice home in Macon, and in all appearances I was successful and back on top. Yet, my addiction to prescription pain killers ended it all.
That’s a brief history that made me who I am and brought me to where I am now. I mention all that to you to tell you God has been dealing with me the whole time. I accepted Him as my Savior when I was 18 years old, and I have been in and out of church my whole life. I started going when I was a small child. I’ve always known all the stories, but never really put any of it into practice.
The first couple of years in prison were hard, not knowing anything about prison. This is a whole different world, one I never knew existed. In here I started going back to church and joined a prison ministry called Kairos. I have since rededicated my life to serving Christ. I’ve seen a need in here for men of God to help these young men (I’m 39) who have no direction and no one to guide them. Most of all of them are addicted to drugs. And yes, drugs are abundant in here. Mostly meth. That stuff is the devil himself.
So, I thought before I can lead and help I must learn. That led me to enroll in 2 Bible correspondence courses. One is from Prison Ministries Association and the other is from Gospel Echoes Team. I’m still involved in both. I’ve also contacted the International Christian College in Denbary, Florida to see about earning an actual degree. They offer associates, bachelors, and masters in all types of Christian studies. I’ve sent the info from them to my mom and sister to look over. I’m not sure if it is possible yet for me to do because of the tuition. They advertise payments as low as $12.95 per month and send me pamphlets on how to write to churches to get sponsored. I just don’t like asking for money.
I hope my mom and sister will be able to do this for me. I cannot think of a better way to finish my time here in prison than to get a 4 year degree in Christian leadership, while at the same time using it to help other men change their own lives.
On top of these studies, I read as much as I can. That’s how I learned of your newsletters and books, which I enjoy very much. The situation I am in now, I have a lot of time to read. I am in a lockdown dorm and only have one roommate. We never leave our cell except to shower and go outside for an hour or so every other day. I’ve been doing this for about 5 months now, with 4 more to go until I go back to regular population. I believe God put me here to study and learn without the distractions that are in regular population. And to be honest, it is more peaceful here in lockdown. In regular population you ALWAYS have to watch your back. Every day there is fighting, stabbings, and drug use all around you and you have to be very careful.
Christians are considered weak here in prison, but weak I am not. I work out a lot and keep myself in excellent shape, but we Christians get picked on a good bit. There are people in here that will rob or stab you for a Ramen noodle soup. Most of the population also don’t believe that any white man should have anything, and if you don’t at least try to stand up for yourself, they will take all your goods. It’s very stressful out there in population. I’ve put my trust in God to keep me safe and for Him to guide me to where He wants me to be. I have not been hurt so far, and will not ever carry a weapon as a lot of men do in here. Thanks be to God.
I’d like to ask for your prayers for my safety and in me starting to minister or help some of the men in here. I’d also like any guidance you can give concerning my studies. I can’t do any research from here, and I’ve been wondering about the International Christian College, if it is a good school. Would you recommend it, or another?
I also like your writings on current events that you sent Dale. He is in the same dorm with me and we share reading material. I’d like to read more things to do with current events (like the presidential elections) along with the newsletters. Even more so, I enjoyed following along your upgrades to your bus and solar power system. I can follow it easily and it’s just the type of thing I’m into. A lot of what you talk about, I read in a magazine I get called American Survival Guide. It’s a prepper magazine that I enjoy reading, even though I think a lot of survival skills are common sense. I grew up hunting and fishing and camping and love to do it all. I’ve been thinking about when I get out of having a small cabin and living minimalist type life. So I think your bus is awesome.
It amazes me at how little some of these men here in prison know about how to find food or shelter in the wild. Most think me and the magazines I read are crazy. I try to talk to them about a lot of things including my beliefs. In population I repair radios, headphones, fans, etc., and I try to teach them about such things. In the free world I was a natural leader and in all of my jobs had men who worked under my supervision. I’m trying to learn how to use those skills that helped me excel in my trade to spread the word of God and help others, to try and lead them away from the life they have been living and lead them to Christ. This is a hard place to do that, but I believe it is my job as a Christian.
I’m doing all I can to learn and grow, so I can do that job well. I have a few questions that I’ll write on another sheet, but I would like any advice you are willing to share. I would really like a mentor to help me with this journey I am on. If you, or someone you know is willing, I would consider it a true blessing.
Like I said before, my resources are very limited when it comes to research or getting questions answered. And the Bible studies I’ve been doing are fairly simple so far. I want to dig deeper and learn more. And if God’s willing, I’ll leave prison with a bachelor’s degree in Christian leadership that I can use in the free world.
I look forward to hearing back from you. I hope my letter doesn’t take too much of your time away from your writing. God bless you for all you do.
Your brother in Christ,
P.S. Enclosed is a letter from my cellmate. He has read the material that you’ve sent me and would like to be added to the mailing list. He is 25 years old and was raised in youth homes and prison. We have been talking and I can see a change in him. He is still high strung, but is calming down some. He admits it is time that he grew up. He is also very nervous about getting out of prison. He doesn’t know anything about being free. I’m talking to him. Keep us in your prayers.
P.S.S. Let me know how Champ is doing.
[End of letter]
Note from Joseph: There was another page from Kenneth with some questions listed, but since I repeat the questions in my reply to him, I will not print them out here.
I apologize for being so slow to respond to your letter. I have been very busy working on a new book which I have been posting chapter by chapter to my blog site. As I was getting closer to the end I felt the need to focus on getting it completed and to not drag it out. The book required considerable research as I was writing it. I finally completed it this past week and have been working to get caught up on e-mail since. Now I am turning my attention to a stack of more than 30 letters from men in prison. Yours is among the first I am answering.
I had another delay in that the printer I use to do all my newsletter and correspondence printing encountered an error this past weekend as I was printing the newsletters for men in prison. I was not able to contact Xerox until Monday, but they were very responsive and had someone out here Tuesday (yesterday) to repair the printer and I can now print out correspondence and additional writings to send to men in prison, as well as the newsletters.
I appreciate you taking the time to share with me some of your background, and how you ended up being in prison. Success in this world has led many into sinful behavior. To experience fame, or fortune, before one has had the Spirit of Christ formed in their life will place one in a position of experiencing a great many worldly temptations when they do not yet have the maturity of character to overcome them. To experience the kind of material success you did as a young man also can lead to a spirit of pride. This is something you evidently experienced as well, as you said that no one could tell you anything when you were younger.
Kenneth, it is actually a good thing that you are now in prison. Your situation is now just the opposite of the freedom and prosperity you had previously. It is a much better environment in which to develop humility and the other fruits of the Spirit. I am reminded of something recorded in the book of Proverbs.
Give me neither poverty nor riches – Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny You, and say, “Who is Yahweh?” Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God.
Passing on to other topics, you spoke a good deal in your letter about your interest in being trained in ministry and getting a degree from International Christian Bible College and Seminary of Denbary, Florida. I looked this college up online and was not favorably impressed by what I observed. There is evidence of deception and dishonesty on the site which is certainly not a promising indicator of the quality of Biblical training they are offering. This is strictly a correspondence program, yet they speak of having a campus, which is misleading. They also have videos posted with very nice looking university type buildings in the background, but the videos show the telltale signs of having been filmed in front of a green screen. The buildings in the background do NOT belong to International Christian Bible College.
Additionally, the organization states that they are accredited, and they list the International Theological Accountability Association as their accrediting body. I looked up accrediting organizations for legitimate Bible colleges, and none of them that I came across list the ITAA as their accrediting organization. This leads me to believe that the ITAA is an accreditation mill that will give anyone accreditation if they will pay a fee. The most common accrediting organization I found listed for legitimate Bible Colleges is the Association for Biblical Higher Education, and a second one is the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. The college you listed does not have accreditation from either of these accrediting bodies.
Also, the two named leaders of this Bible College are a husband and wife, and there is no faculty list on the organization’s website. A legitimate Bible College should make the full list of their faculty available, along with their educational background and previous experience. There are other elements as well, which cause me to think poorly of this institution, including some very amateurishly written web pages which employ poor English skills.
I think one limitation you will find with the majority of legitimate Bible College Courses which are offered as “distance learning” is that they are designed as online courses, and would require regular access to a computer and the Internet. The number of offerings which are mail-based are much fewer. Wheaton College publishes a list of course offerings for men in prison. I will print it off and include it in this packet for you.
I realize that men in prison have a lot of time on their hands, and finding profitable ways to occupy their time is important. Bible study is definitely a good choice. However, you need to understand the shortcomings of the Bible study resources which are available, as well as understanding the difference between man’s methods of training ministers and Yahweh’s methods. The second book the Father directed me to write is titled Sabbath. The book is NOT focused on the day of the week that people refer to as the Sabbath. Rather, it is an exposition on the spiritual principles to which the Sabbath points. Following is an excerpt revealing the definition of the spiritual substance of Sabbath rest.
Today mankind frequently associates the term Sabbath with a day that occurs once a week in which physical work is not performed. This is viewing Sabbath on a purely physical plane, and it leads to many false understandings. When one understands Sabbath aright they will understand that a person can be in a state of complete rest before God while physically they appear to be laboring. The Jews did not understand this so they condemned Yahshua and His disciples as Sabbath breakers. The Jews saw Yahshua’s disciples threshing grain in their hands on the Sabbath day and they condemned them for it (Matthew 12:1-8). Similarly they condemned Yahshua for healing on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:10-14).
The problem for the Jews then is the same problem many have in Christianity today. Men look at things outwardly, on the surface, without discerning what it is that God is intending. Yahweh desires that all men come to a state of rest before Him. He desires that men should cease from their own labors and that they only do the things He leads them to do. Yahweh desires for man to come to an end of personal initiative; for man to set himself to do nothing that arises from his own soul. This is the Sabbath that He desires.
Yahshua proclaimed that He was Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). His whole life was an example of true rest before the Father. The essence of this rest is found in His following words.
“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.”
Yahshua therefore said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”
Yahshua said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.”
“For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak.”
“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.”
In these words, which Yahshua often repeated, we see what it is to truly enter into God’s rest. Entering into His rest requires ceasing from one’s own labors (Hebrews 4:10). Sabbath is not defined by what a man is doing externally, it is defined by being in a state of perfect harmony and agreement with God. When a man no longer seeks his own will; when he no longer goes his own way; when he is no longer guided by his intellect and reason; when he has died to all personal initiative; when he only does the will of the Father – then he has entered into rest.
It is revealed in Yahshua’s words that the rest we are to enter into extends even as far as the words we speak. Yahshua proclaimed that He did not speak a word of His own initiative. He only spoke that which the Father gave Him to speak. This is perfect rest. It is true Sabbath…
The whole Godhead is in a state of Sabbath rest. There is only one will, the will of the Father. The Son is in complete agreement with the will of the Father, being fully surrendered to the carrying out of His will. Likewise the Spirit is in complete agreement with the Son, carrying out His will.
“But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
Yahweh is looking for man to also enter into this place of rest where there is no initiative anywhere in creation other than Yahweh’s own initiative. When the Father wills one thing, and others will something else, no matter how noble or good it appears, this is defined as striving. Striving is willing something that has not originated in the mind of the Father.
Christianity is striving continuously. They are always willing things the Father is not willing. They are continuously setting their hands to do things which they have not received by the Spirit of God. It does not matter how noble or right it seems. A person can share the gospel with another human being and be striving. A person can heal the sick and be striving. A person can cast out a demon and be striving. A person can prophesy and be striving. A person can perform all manner of miracles and be striving.
How can these things be? How could it be striving and sin to do any of these things? The answer is revealed in the following words of Yahshua.
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
The Lord reveals that on the day of judgment there will be many who will come to Him thinking they will receive praise and honor, yet dishonor and punishment will be their portion. What is the sin that these have committed? Their actions were that they were prophesying in His name, they were casting out demons in His name, and they were performing miracles in His name. What could possibly be wrong with these activities? Why are these people condemned as those who practice lawlessness?
Yahshua is not speaking against adulterers, thieves, or murderers here. Such transgressions were clearly forbidden in the ten commandments. If one has eyes to see, however, they will realize that what is spoken of here is also in violation of one of the commandments. The commandment is “remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy.”
As we have already defined Sabbath, it is entering into the rest of God. Sabbath is only doing that which the Father leads us to do. Whether one does an apparently good act, or an evil act, it is still a violation of Sabbath if the Father is not the originator of it. Any activity arising of man’s own initiative, even seemingly good deeds, is a violation of Sabbath. Yahshua did all of the things He spoke of in this passage; He prophesied, He cast out demons, and He performed miracles. However, He never did any of these things of His own initiative. He only did that which the Father instructed Him to do.
It was very possible for Yahshua to do miraculous works of His own initiative. Before He began His ministry He was tempted in this very point. After fasting for forty days in the wilderness we are told that He was hungry. Satan came to tempt Him and his first temptation was for Christ to turn the stones into bread and thereby satisfy His hunger. Yahshua could have done this.
One might ask, “What would be the evil of such an act?” Yahshua was hungry. He was the Son of God. It wouldn’t have hurt any man or any part of creation to turn the stones into bread. It would have only violated one thing, it would not have been the Father’s will.
And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.'”
Yahshua understood this matter of Sabbath and doing the Father’s will, and His answer to Satan addresses this very important point. In essence He said, “True life is found in doing only those things which God reveals to us.” In another place Yahshua said, “My meat is to do the will of the Father who sent Me” (John 4:34). The Father already had a provision for His Son’s hunger. After Satan departed we are told, “and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him” (Matthew 4:11).
Christianity at large does not understand this most vital concept. If put in a similar circumstance, how many saints would consider whether doing an act within their power is the will of the Father? Most only think of what they are able to do. They give no thought to whether the Father would have them do it. It is possible to prophesy, and many do so very often. Few consider whether the Father would have them do so. They only concern themselves with “Can I prophesy?” They do that which seems good to them, falsely believing that any prophesying is pleasing to the Father if it is a true word of prophecy.
Many saints are involved in casting out demons, and again most only concern themselves with whether or not they can do so, not considering whether it is the will of the Father. The same is true of performing miracles, including miracles of healing. There are some who say that it is always the Father’s will to heal and there is no need to seek the mind of the Father in this issue. Such people are deluded and they should take the words of Yahshua to heart. He said, “Many will come to Me in that day” and they will say, “Did we not do these things in Your name?”
The word many in this passage can have the connotation of meaning the majority. How incredible to think that the majority of saints will stand before Christ in judgment and they will falsely believe that they were pleasing God when they were doing all of these works of their own initiative. Yahshua clearly defines in this passage what pleases His Father. The one who will enter into the kingdom of heaven is “he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven.”
The saint who only considers what he can do is on the wrong track. His first thought should always be to discern the mind of the Father in any matter. If the majority of saints are displeasing to the Father, then there is no value in being in the majority. Simply because the masses of Christendom are thinking and acting in a certain manner is no reason to join them. What comfort will there be in knowing that you and a majority of saints hear the words, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness”?
To those who still doubt the meaning of Yahshua’s words here, consider why He referred to these who were doing this prophesying, casting out demons, and miracles as those “who practice lawlessness.” Lawlessness is the state of being out from under authority. Lawlessness is having your own law, disregarding the established law.
Yahweh is the only true law. He alone has the power to determine what man should do. Yahshua proclaims that men who do the will of the Father in heaven will enter into the kingdom of heaven. Those who fail to do His will are considered lawless, even if their actions are seemingly good, and even if they appear to be of a supernatural nature.
You may wonder that the saints could perform such supernatural deeds if the Father is not directing them to do so. How could they have the power to do these things unless the Spirit is guiding and leading? The scriptures plainly reveal that men can do so. Yahshua could have turned the stones to bread, and likewise Yahshua has given the same power and authority that He walked in to mankind. Consider the implications of the following passage of scripture.
I Corinthians 14:27-33
If anyone speaks in a tongue, it should be by two or at the most three, and each in turn, and let one interpret; but if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in the church; and let him speak to himself and to God. And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. But if a revelation is made to another who is seated, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
The church in Corinth was a church that was out of order. There was great confusion in their meetings, and this confusion was not the will of God. What was the source of confusion? Were people fighting and screaming and fornicating and indulging in every form of debauchery in their meetings? No! (Although, these things did exist among them.) Their chaos was the result of people exercising spiritual gifts. They were speaking in tongues and prophesying, but it was sheer bedlam.
Did Paul say that these people were prophesying and speaking in tongues by the power of Satan? No, he never asserted any such thing. The anointing of God was present in these things, but these saints had not learned that they needed to submit all such activity to the Father and to seek His mind and His will. To exercise these spiritual gifts apart from the leading of the Father is lawlessness, and lawlessness leads to chaos, which is what they had in their meetings.
Did you note Paul’s words, “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets”? In essence he is telling them, “Just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean you have to do a thing. Just because you can speak in tongues doesn’t mean you must. Just because you can give a word of prophecy doesn’t mean you have to do so. You can control yourself. The spirit within you is subject to you.”
Some saints mistakenly think that every time they sense a tongue or a prophecy is present within them that they must speak it out, even if it causes a disruption to the assembled body. No! Paul is saying, “You can control it. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.”
The Father is not honored when people speak a tongue, when they prophesy, when they cast out demons, when they perform miracles. He is only glorified when people do these things as He directs them. Yahshua did not heal every leper. He did not open the eyes of every blind man. He did not heal all those who were sick. He only did those things the Father led Him to do. He did nothing of His own initiative.
What a critical matter this is. Christianity is running over with personal initiative. There is little consideration for the will of the Father. People only consider what they can do, disregarding whether it is the will of the Father. For this reason the majority will appear before the Lord on that day of judgment and He will say, “Depart from Me, you lawless ones.”[End Excerpt]
Kenneth, in this same book there is a chapter titled Resting in Ministry. The chapter addresses the subject of men (and women) pursuing Christian ministry of their own initiative. It also speaks of the methods that men have adopted to prepare people for ministry, demonstrating how different man’s ways are from God’s ways. I am going to insert that chapter into this writing below.
It is a great paradox that most of those who function as ministers today are by their very example demonstrating what the Father despises. Many of these ministers have a sincere desire to labor in service to Yahweh, yet they have failed to distinguish what type of service is pleasing to Him. By doing whatever seems good to them in ministering, they are actually practicing the principle of Satan which is to be governed and ruled by one’s own soul.
I feel quite safe in stating that the vast majority of men and women in positions of ministry in the body of Christ have not been placed there by God. They have arrived at their position through the work and will of man. The very process that many go through to become “qualified” for ministry is far removed from Yahweh’s methods. Going to Bible College and Seminary to have one’s head filled with the doctrines and methodologies of the church is far removed from the process God would take His true ministers through in order to prepare them for service. (I am not discounting that there are some true ministers that have gone this path, but their qualifications in the kingdom of God have little to do with the institutions of man.) The common methods today may give one the stamp of men’s approval, but they fail in gaining the stamp of God’s approval.
The process the Father would take men through to prepare them for ministry is seen everywhere throughout scripture. The Father prepares His chosen ones for service by bringing them to an end of personal ambition, and to a death to seeking anything for self. Only those who are truly emptied of ambition and self-seeking can be effective ministers in the kingdom of God.
The preparation the Father takes His servants through is most grueling. The Father’s school of service leads to self-abasement and humility. Quite often it will bring a man to a place where all have turned against him but God; where he is misjudged, evil spoken of, and where he has had his motives and judgment brought into question. This is a necessary part of the minister’s preparation for he must be a man who is dead to his own reputation; where he is quite content with insults, with personal weakness, with distresses, with persecutions and difficulties (II Corinthians 12:10).
Seminaries and Bible Colleges do not bring a minister to this place of readiness. Instead, the student is apt to feel quite welcomed, accepted, and proud that he has earned a degree from a reputable school, knowing that his diploma gains him entry into the good graces of many denominational churches and ministries. By completing a course of study and receiving a piece of paper duly signed by those overseeing such programs, the graduate is perceived as being ready for service as a minister.
Yahweh’s course of study is much different. Consider Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob. He was given dreams and visions while yet a young man that he would one day be in a position of ruling and reigning. It would have been nice if Jacob could simply have sent his son to school to receive whatever knowledge was necessary to fulfill his calling. This was not God’s way, however.
Joseph’s calling was great, and his preparation process was equally awesome. Joseph was to be given tremendous power and authority and the Father needed a man that would not misuse that which was entrusted to him. Yahweh needed a faithful servant that would accomplish all of His desire.
Joseph began his schooling right after having received the vision that revealed his future promotion. Joseph was sent by Jacob to check on his brothers and to bring back a report. Joseph had formerly done so, bringing back an evil report of the activity of his brothers. Joseph’s brothers despised him. They were indignant at the fact that he would be used to report on their activities and that their father favored Joseph more than them. Joseph received a bitter course in human envy, jealousy and hatred. Some of his brothers wanted to kill him, but instead they were talked into selling him into slavery to a foreign land and people.
Joseph cried out bitterly with many tears for his brothers not to abuse him, but they turned a deaf ear to his cries. His brothers then went and reported to their father that Joseph had been killed by wild beasts. In great despondence, Joseph was taken to Egypt and sold as a slave to an Egyptian official.
At this point, many would have been tempted to throw in the towel and to say, “God, if this is your training for future service, then I would prefer not to be a minister in your kingdom.” But Joseph was faithful. Even though he had been rejected by brothers and sent far away from the father he loved, he performed every service that was entrusted to him with the greatest of integrity.
Joseph’s faithfulness was soon noticed, and it was evident that everything entrusted to his hands prospered. His master took this young Hebrew slave and placed him in charge of his entire household. Everything in this man’s house was blessed through the faithful service of Joseph.
For a while it seemed that things were going well for Joseph. Although he still was enslaved and rejected by brothers and separated from his father, he was given some honor and he received the benefits befitting his position of service. But Joseph’s training was about to be turned up a notch in its intensity.
The wife of Potipher, Joseph’s master, was physically attracted to Joseph, for he was a handsome youth. She began to entice Joseph to have sexual relations with her. Joseph knew that to do so would be a violation of his master’s trust in him, as well as a sin against God. Joseph resisted her temptations day after day. One day this woman found herself alone in the house with Joseph and she pressed him mightily to lie with her. Joseph fled from her, leaving his garment in her hands, for she had grasped hold of his garment.
Potipher’s wife, angry at being rebuffed, called the other servants and reported that Joseph had tried to make sexual advances toward her and that he had left his outer garment with her when she cried out. Joseph was seized and falsely accused. What a grief for this young man who had been completely faithful in the discharge of his duties, even while enduring enslavement at the hands of his brothers. Joseph was placed in prison, but even in prison he was faithful.
Quite often in the training programs of man, a student ascends from one level to another and greater honor is accorded at each level. In God’s training program for Joseph he descended, first into slavery, and then into prison. In this position as an imprisoned slave Joseph had no rights and no honor. The temptation must have been great to cry out to God and to find fault with Him due to Joseph’s harsh circumstances. The days turned into months, and the months into years as Joseph saw no release from the prison in which he had been placed. In the Psalms we have this testimony of Joseph’s trial.
He sent a man before them — Joseph, sold as a slave. They bruised his feet with shackles, his soul was laid in irons, until the time His word was fulfilled, the word of Yahweh tested him.
Yes, Yahweh was testing Joseph. Like metal that is tried in a fire, Joseph was tried and purified and strengthened. Finally, when Yahweh saw that Joseph still remained faithful despite the most grievous of circumstances, when Yahweh was certain that Joseph had as his highest goal to be found faithful and obedient to God, then Yahweh was able to bring Joseph out of prison and place upon him great authority and power.
This is not an isolated example of Yahweh’s preparation process. David also went through a similar process. David was faithful in all circumstances, yet he met with the disapproval of his brothers, and the envy and hatred of a wicked king. For years David lived as an exile from his own country, and he even reported that his father and mother had turned against him (Psalms 27:10). David’s training process took him from a position of some honor, as he was a servant in Saul’s household, only for him to descend lower and lower until the day the Father determined that he should be made king.
Moses went through a similar path of humility on his way to being prepared for Yahweh’s purposes. Even Yahshua followed this same path. Like David and Joseph, Yahshua knew that He had a calling on His life from His childhood, as was demonstrated by the recorded events of His life when He was only twelve years of age.
And His parents used to go to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover. And when He became twelve, they went up there according to the custom of the Feast; and as they were returning, after spending the full number of days, the boy Yahshua stayed behind in Jerusalem. And His parents were unaware of it, but supposed Him to be in the caravan, and went a day’s journey; and they began looking for Him among their relatives and acquaintances. And when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, looking for Him. And it came about that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them, and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers. And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, your father and I have been anxiously looking for you.” And He said to them, “Why is it that you were looking for me? Did you not know that I had to be in My father’s house?” And they did not understand the statement which He had made to them. And He went down with them, and came to Nazareth; and He continued in subjection to them; and His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
Yahshua knew that He had a calling on His life from the time of His youth. How anxious He must have been to accomplish all that the Father intended for Him. Yet an important thing is revealed in the phrase “and He continued in subjection to them.” Yahshua knew that He must wait until the fulness of time to begin His ministry. He had to first learn servanthood and humility. He had to await the moment when the Father determined that He should be revealed to the world as the Son of God.
Many ministers today fail in this point. It is difficult to wait upon the will of the Father, but if a man cannot wait for the chosen time the Father has established to enter into ministry, then how can he be expected to wait upon the Father’s provision and direction while fulfilling that ministry? If a man enters into ministry of his own initiative, he can expect to continue in the same way, being full of his own direction as he is led by his reason, impulses, and will.
Yahshua waited until He was thirty years old to begin His earthly ministry, and then His ministry lasted only three and a half years. David and Joseph also were thirty years old at the time of their receiving that which had been promised them. Moses was eighty years old when he was called of Yahweh to begin his ministry. Moses had attempted to fulfill his calling forty years earlier, but his premature attempt was a dismal failure.
We see that in all ministry men must be at rest. They must enter into the Sabbath of God where they have ceased from their own labors. It is no good trying to fulfill the ministry of the kingdom of God through human effort. It will simply lead to striving, and nothing built through such human effort will last. All our labors will be tried by fire and much of it will be burned up, as the scriptures proclaim.
I Corinthians 3:10-15
According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Yahshua Messiah. Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but his soul shall be saved, yet so as through fire.
It is a difficult thing to bring a man to understand what is being spoken of here. Men want to believe that they are completely qualified for ministry. They look at one another and they say, “I am just as qualified as the next man to be used of God.” Much pride is revealed in such an attitude, however. Men often fail to look to God to see whom He has proclaimed as qualified to be a minister in the kingdom. Rather, they compare themselves among themselves and in doing so they act as those who are unwise (II Corinthians 10:12).
A minister must come to a place of rest before he is considered ready for advancement in the kingdom. A man that will not wait upon Yahweh, and a man that chafes at the long and grueling preparation process of a minister – at the abasement and humility that must become a part of his nature, will never come to a place of effectual service in the kingdom. The character of God’s workman must be free from ambition and self-initiative. God’s workman must understand his complete inability to bring forth anything of lasting value through his own effort. The successful servant of the Lord must live a life of total submission to the will of Yahweh.
The Father’s school of preparation exacts a toll upon all those who go that way. Joseph longed to be free of his imprisonment, and he begged Pharaoh’s cupbearer to remember him when he was restored to Pharaoh’s service (Genesis 40:14). The cupbearer promptly forgot Joseph, however, and Joseph remained three more years in prison while the word of Yahweh tested him. I believe that Joseph finally came to a place of rest before the Father called him out of prison.
David, too, felt overwhelmed at times by all of is trials. He cried out to Yahweh to answer him and deliver him lest he should be overwhelmed with sorrow and grief. The Psalms are full of David’s cries for relief from his perilous and woe-filled circumstances. In all of David’s trials he never resorted to fleshly means to deliver himself. When he could have easily killed the man that was making his life perilous and who stood in the way of his becoming king, David did not act in the flesh. He waited for God’s provision.
The minister must learn this lesson of waiting. The minister should do nothing to bring himself into the position he feels in his heart is his ultimate calling before Yahweh. He must wait for Yahweh to bring him forth in His own timing. It is Yahweh who exalts men such as Joseph, David, and Moses, and it is Yahweh who will raise up the men that He has called and qualified for positions of service today.
I Peter 5:6-7
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.
It is especially hard for those who are young to wait upon Yahweh. Many have failed to wait and they have embarked on some course of ministry that they were not yet ready for. Pride is often the product of failing to wait, and Paul communicated this truth to Timothy.
I Timothy 3:2-6
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money… and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
Was not Satan’s condemnation that he attempted to ascend to a position that Yahweh had not determined for him? Such presumption can be born out of a heart that is zealous for God and a heart that desires greatly to be of some real service to Him. But true service has this as its guiding rule, “It is performing the will of the Father in heaven.” Nothing else qualifies as acceptable service.
Our service will only be acceptable when it is born out of waiting upon the Father to give us a command concerning what we are to do. Like a soldier under authority, we are to do that which our Head commands us to do. We are not to strike out on our own and do whatever our reason leads us to do lest we end up as those whom Yahshua warned his disciples about who will say to Him, “Lord, Lord, did we not do many things in Your name?” His answer is, “You did not perform the will of the Father. You are lawless ones who have become an authority unto yourselves.”
Can any minister operate from such a position of independence and be found pleasing to God? In the book of Acts we read that immediately after Saul (Paul) encountered Yahshua on the way to Damascus and was converted, he began to go out and preach the truth of Yahshua. He was not yet ready to enter into ministry, however. The Spirit led him to a time of preparation in Tarsus that lasted a number of years (Galatians 1:15-18).
Paul must have been exceedingly eager to embark on the ministry to which he was called. He must have yearned to build up that which he had formerly sought to destroy. Yet Paul had to wait until the Spirit signified that it was time for his ministry to begin. This was made known to the church in Antioch.
Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.
How critical are these words, “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit...” All true ministry will bear this witness; it will begin at the Spirit’s initiative, it will be empowered by the Spirit, and it will be continually guided by the Spirit. If men are merely sent out by their own will, or at the hands of other men, they may make a lot of noise and they may even build impressive ministries and make a name for themselves, but when their work is tested it will be burned up. All that which is born of the flesh of man or the soul of man will not stand the test of fire.
Although Paul is a great example of a kingdom minister, Yahshua is even a greater example. As we saw, He submitted unto His parents and awaited the day when the Spirit would lead Him to begin His ministry. The Spirit initiated Yahshua’s ministry, and He will initiate the ministry of all who follow in Yahshua’s footsteps.
And after being baptized, Yahshua went up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon Him, and behold, a voice out of the heavens, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Then Yahshua was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness…
How many ministers today can attest to the fact that the Spirit initiated their ministry? How many can proclaim that the Spirit led them to where they were to be? People make many such claims today, but are they true? Has the minister gone through Yahweh’s school of preparation to prepare him to be a humble servant, or has he followed a course of man’s devising and choosing?
What is the fruit of the minister’s labor? Does the church exist to provide a platform for the minister to perform his calling, or does the minister live to wash the feet of the saints, to equip and release them to do the work for which they have been called? Has the minister’s position resulted in an attitude of pride, or does he walk in humility esteeming others more highly than himself?
It is difficult to walk the path that Joseph, David, Moses, Yahshua, Paul and others walked to be qualified for ministry. It is excruciating at times to wait upon the Spirit of God to declare, “Now is the time!” But if a minister is to lead others into the Sabbath rest of God, he must first enter in himself. This is an important matter, and many failing to grasp and adhere to the truths spoken of here are building that which will not stand the test of fire. It is my prayer that they will receive eye salve that their eyes might be opened and they can see the truth. The days are short and the Sabbath is upon us.
I encourage you to meditate upon what has been shared here. At the same time, I would not discourage you from seeking to further your Biblical education. Don’t make the mistake, however, of confusing Biblical knowledge with spiritual maturity. To be qualified as a leader, or teacher, in the church, one must manifest the spiritual character of Christ. Such character cannot be gained through study. It is obtained through experience as one encounters a great variety of trials and tests and chooses to respond to them as a spiritual, rather than a carnal, man.
To make a comparison that I believe you will be able to understand from your own past experience, consider how similar having an abundance of knowledge is to having an abundance of money. Both can lead to pride and ruin if they are not kept in balance through a deep and abiding character of humility. The apostle Paul wrote the following.
I Corinthians 8:1
Yet mere knowledge causes people to be puffed up (to bear themselves loftily and be proud), but love (affection and goodwill and benevolence) edifies and builds up and encourages one to grow [to his full stature].
II Corinthians 12:7-10
And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me – to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Paul had greater understanding of the mysteries of God than any other man of his time. This knowledge would have caused Paul to stumble, becoming proud, had Yahweh not taken steps to keep Paul humble. Yahweh will often afflict a man with some weakness, or physical blemish, or humble experience such as poverty or imprisonment, or some other means in order to keep the man from being puffed up in pride. Men without understanding will bemoan their humiliating circumstances, crying out for Yahweh to deliver them, not realizing that the very circumstances their flesh and soul hates are preventing them from self-destructing.
Your best opportunity to be qualified for greater service to the Father will be found as you choose to walk as a spiritual man, in humility, in faith, in love, in patience, in longsuffering, and whatever else is pleasing to the Father. At the same time, get knowledge and understanding. I would encourage you to seek God and ask Him to direct you to whatever sources of instruction are available and would be beneficial to you. Be led of the Spirit of Christ in this matter.
Moving on to the next topic in your letter, you spoke of reading a magazine titled American Survival Guide. Although I have taken steps to be prepared for coming days of calamity and societal upheaval, I am NOT an advocate of the common prepper mentality. Again, this relates back to the message of Sabbath rest. It is the will of God that His sons and daughters be led of His Spirit in all that they do. If Yahweh speaks to a man or woman and instructs them to make some preparation for coming days, then they should do so. It is critical, however, that the individual rightly divide between the thoughts arising from their own soul, and those thoughts which originate from the Spirit of God.
The majority of people who are preppers are following the counsel of their soul. They are driven by fear and self-interest, and this is a very different matter from being led of the Spirit. I never set out to be a prepper. I did not choose to purchase a bus. The Father led me to purchase it. Even at the time of purchase, I thought I was buying it for someone else. It was a year later that the Lord revealed the bus was for me, and He then provided everything I needed to convert it into a motorhome.
The same thing is true of my purchasing a trailer and storing up grain and legumes in it, and purchasing a grain mill. I have sought to only do that which my Father in heaven has directed me to do. Since I was not employed in a secular occupation during the period of time in which I took these steps, but was looking to the Father to supply every need, accomplishing these things was only possible through the Father’s provision.
I have often told other believers that I am not now, nor have I ever, advocated that they do the very same things I have done, or am doing. I am instructing no one to sell their home and purchase a bus or motorhome. I am counseling no one to quit their job and look to the Father for their provision. I am counseling no one to store up grain. What I am doing is to exhort them to seek the Father and be led of His Spirit in all things.
With that being said, I believe there are general trends that Yahweh will manifest in counseling His sons and daughters. One of them is to simplify their lifestyle, downsizing, and being content with less. I have often written of this, and it is a subject the Bible has much to say about.
I Timothy 6:6-8
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
I Corinthians 7:29-31
But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.
Consider what Paul is stating when he exhorts those who buy to behave as though they did not possess, and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it. Paul is admonishing the saints to have an attitude which is non-material. It is just the opposite of those who are pursuing “the American dream.” The world and many in the church advocate the pursuit of a full and prosperous material life. They love the world and the things in it. The disciple of Christ, by contrast, should have their affections set on things above. Their pursuit should be a daily fellowship with Christ and the advancement of the kingdom of God. What have these things to do with a material life? Paul is admonishing the saints to be unencumbered that they might experience an undivided devotion to Christ.
I have written often regarding the subject of Christians living simpler, less material lives. I am going to include some writings in this packet which address these subjects as I believe you will find them interesting.
Wilderness Survival for Christians
Reversal of Fortune
Moving on to one final item, you inquired about whether I have heard of Herbert W. Armstrong and his teachings, and what I think of his teachings. I am familiar with Herbert W. Armstrong (he died in 1986 and his son Garner Ted Armstrong took over the church. Garner is also deceased now, having died in 2003).
My first job out of high school in 1979 was working at an RV campground on Jekyll Island. It was called Cherokee Campground back then. Every year the Worldwide Church of God would show up in large numbers and rent nearly the entire campground. The campground owners would stock certain foods that the group were permitted to eat, such as all-beef hotdogs, etc.. This is because Armstrong taught that Christians were required to keep the dietary laws of the old covenant. They also observed the feast days of Yahweh, and held to various laws set forth in the old covenant.
Teaching the body of Christ that they must be subject to the Law of Moses is an error which I have addressed in the book Laying Down the Law. This book is included in the newsletters I send out, and you will be receiving it eventually. This is a profound and fundamental error, but it is far from the only error that Armstrong perpetuated. He was also an advocate of what is called British Israelism. Herbert W. Armstrong of the Worldwide Church of God was the main proponent of the doctrine known as British-Israelism. Herbert Armstrong as far back as the 1930s began to proclaim this doctrine, and it became a core teaching of the Worldwide Church of God. The doctrine of British-Israelism has now been rejected as false by the church leadership, though there are some splinter groups from the church who still hold to it. As often happens, other believers (not associated with the Worldwide Church of God) have embraced this doctrine.
Herbert Armstrong does not seem to have originated this belief, but he did make it popular among a growing segment of professing Christians. The following is a quotation from a website that looks into this subject.
The book, The United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy outlines the teaching that Britain and the United States are the lost ten tribes of Israel. In this teaching of “British-Israelism,” the tribe of Ephraim becomes Great Britain, Manasseh is the United States, and the throne of David is the throne of England. Following is an excerpt from that book.
Herbert W. Armstrong published this theory as his own special revelation from God. Recent evidence has surfaced that shows plagiarism from J. H. Allen’s book, “Judah’s Scepter and Joseph’s Birthright,” a 375-page book published in 1902 and copyrighted in 1917.
This book was written a full thirty years before Armstrong claimed to have made an “exhaustive” study of the British-Israelism issue.
Where J.H. Allen got his ideas I cannot say for I have not read his book. I am firmly convinced, however, that any theory or doctrine suggesting that Great Britain is Ephraim and the United States is Manasseh, is merely wishful thinking on the part of the Anglo Saxon descendants of these two countries. It seems that most of the fixation on this subject, attempting to make a personal claim to being a descendant of the so called lost tribes of Israel, is based upon pride. Men like to believe they are special.
As a Christian, I believe such a focus is not in keeping with the mind of Christ. It should be sufficient for any man to know that he is a son of God, born of the seed of Christ, without seeking to establish some natural lineage that is traceable back to Abraham. I do not mean to infer that those who are truly Jews, such as the apostle Paul, are wrong in making mention of their lineage. Rather, I am referring to those who have no established genealogy or family history of being Jewish, but who are seeking to establish such out of some misguided notion that it will give them a special identity. I would lump Herbert Armstrong and his followers in this latter category.
I could not recommend Herbert Armstrong as a teacher to anyone.
May you be blessed with peace and understanding in these days,
P.S. Champ is doing very well.
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Parables Blog: www.parablesblog.blogspot.com
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