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The Day I Spent in Prison

Written By Jes Nuylan, Philippines

I braced myself for the encounter, wondering how I should talk and act around them. I was excited and nervous at the same time since I had never interacted with inmates before. And I was thoroughly surprised when I finally met them.

New Bilibid Prison. I had only heard of the name up till that visit. A few of my friends had first visited the inmates and gotten acquainted with them while working on their dissertation. They invited me to join them in their second visit. They planned to minister to the inmates—to give them some Christmas presents, as well as words of encouragement.

Hearing that they were all middle-aged men and had been imprisoned for drug and theft related offences, I was apprehensive at first. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I met them. They were delighted to see us and treated us like old friends. I later learned that they yearned for interaction with “outsiders”, having been separated from their families.

We gave them simple gifts, which they felt were the best gifts they had ever received. They listened attentively to the testimonies we prepared and the short devotion my friend shared. They told us that they were moved and encouraged. Their response stirred our hearts.

In return, they presented us with handcrafted items like parols (star-shaped Christmas lanterns) and wreaths. They also performed for us, showcasing their talents in singing, dancing, acting, and the like. It was a joy to watch! But beyond the happy feelings our interaction with them evoked, what struck me during that visit was that I had taken many things for granted.

  1. We are free, but we often act as though we’re imprisoned—by our selfishness, anger, struggles, stress, etc.
  1. We often fail to appreciate the people around us. That trip made me realize how much God has blessed me with in terms of family and friends.                                 
  1. We own so much materially but we’re hardly ever satisfied with what we have. I constantly gripe about things I don’t have and want to have.
  1. We hardly take note of the inspiring things that happen around us. The prison visit was a humbling experience, which caused me to reflect not just on God’s blessings, but His grace.

Though the inmates are imprisoned because of their past mistakes and are deprived of many privileges that free people enjoy, but yet, in some aspects, they have much we can learn from, especially when it comes to being grateful.

I had visited them with the intention of ministering to them, but instead, I was the one who walked away feeling blessed and inspired. And although it has been five years since that visit, it has served as a constant reminder to me to be grateful. I pray that this reflection will inspire you to be grateful too.

Photo credit: Gowiththe Flo via Scandinavian / CC BY-NC-ND

ODB: Turn Off the Scoreboard

February 11, 2016 

READ: Ephesians 4:25-32 

Forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Ephesians 4:32

 

At his son’s wedding reception, my friend Bob offered advice and encouragement to the newlyweds. In his speech he told of a football coach in a nearby town who, when his team lost a game, kept the losing score on the scoreboard all week to remind the team of their failure. While that may be a good football strategy, Bob wisely advised, it’s a terrible strategy in marriage. When your spouse upsets you or fails you in some way, don’t keep drawing attention to the failure. Turn off the scoreboard.

What great advice! Scripture is full of commands for us to love each other and overlook faults. We are reminded that love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5) and that we should be ready to forgive one another “just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

I am deeply grateful that God turns off the scoreboard when I fail. He doesn’t simply forgive when we repent; He removes our sin as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12). With God, forgiveness means that our sin is out of sight and out of mind. May He give us grace to extend forgiveness to those around us.

— Joe Stowell

Lord, thank You for not holding my sins against me and for granting me a second chance. Help me today to forgive others just as You have so freely forgiven me.


Forgive as God forgives you—don’t keep score.  

ODB: What Will Be

February 6, 2016 

READ: Revelation 22:1-5 

No longer will there be any curse.

Revelation 22:3

 

You and I have something in common. We live in a mixed-up, tarnished world and we have never known anything different. Adam and Eve, however, could remember what life was like before the curse. They could recall the world as God intended it to be—free of death, hardship, and pain (Gen. 3:16-19). In pre-fall Eden, hunger, unemployment, and illness did not exist. No one questioned God’s creative power or His plan for human relationships.

The world we have inherited resembles God’s perfect garden only slightly. To quote C. S. Lewis, “This is a good world gone wrong, but [it] still retains the memory of what ought to have been.” Fortunately, the cloudy memory of what the earth should have been is also a prophetic glimpse into eternity. There, just as Adam and Eve walked and talked with God, believers will see His face and serve Him directly. There will be nothing between God and us. “No longer will there be any curse” (Rev. 22:3). There will be no sin, no fear, and no shame.

The past and its consequences may cast a shadow on today, but a believer’s destiny carries the promise of something better—life in a place as perfect as Eden.

— Jennifer Benson Schuldt

Dear God, help me to remember that even though this world does not measure up to Your original design there is much to enjoy and much to do for You and others. Thank You for the promise of life with You in a perfect setting.


One day God will put everything right.  

ODB: A Prisoner No More

January 22, 2016 

READ: Romans 7:15-25 

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Romans 7:15

 

A middle-aged man approached me after I led a workshop at his place of employment and asked this question: “I’ve been a Christian nearly my whole life, but I’m constantly disappointed in myself. Why is it that I always seem to keep doing the things I wish I didn’t do and never seem to do the things I know I should? Isn’t God getting tired of me?” Two men standing next to me also seemed eager to hear the response. 

That’s a common struggle that even the apostle Paul experienced. “I do not understand what I do,” he said, “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Rom. 7:15). But here’s some good news: We don’t have to stay in that trap of discouragement. To paraphrase Paul as he writes in Romans 8, the key is to stop focusing on the law and start focusing on Jesus. We can’t do anything about our sinfulness in our own strength. The answer is not “try harder to be good at keeping the rules.” Instead, we must focus on the One who shows us mercy and cooperate with the Spirit who changes us.

When we focus on the law, we are constantly reminded that we’ll never be good enough to deserve God’s grace. But when we focus on Jesus, we become more like Him.

— Randy Kilgore

I sometimes get caught in the cycle of trying harder to be good, failing, getting discouraged, and giving up. Help me, Lord, to depend on Your grace and to draw near to You so that You can change my heart.


Focus on Jesus.