Hope and A Future

A couple of weeks ago we launched our latest LIVE LOVE project, called "Letters to Inmates". Hundreds of you signed up to send letters of encouragement to Clark County inmates, and already we are hearing stories of the impact they are having. Nothing matters more to those incarcerated, than news, words, and support from the outside. To know they are not forgotten, means more than we can probably understand. Such a simple thing, that takes so little time, and makes such a huge difference. Many of the inmates are now responding, and their letters speak volumes about what it means to get a letter - even from a stranger. Check out a couple of the replies that have been coming in. (Truly brings tears to my eyes) "Thank you so much for your letter, it really made my day. Just yesterday I asked him (God) to please give me a sign that he still loved me and was listening, then the next day I got your letter." "First I want to say thank you for writing me. I didn't realize there were people or churches/organizations that wrote to people in jail, so your letter was both a surprise and a blessing. It is really lonely in here. I can't stand being in jail. Your story gave me hope that this is NOT my life forever." Your letters matter, church. Watch what God will do as we simply love 'the least of these' in our community. During one of the visits to my son David, I met a guy named Shannon. We sent Shannon a Bible, and devotional, and he was the first inmate I was able to pray for. Better yet, I was able to lead him to Christ. I am still blown away by the ministry God has opened up in the middle of one of the most painful times of my life. God can, and DOES redeem our pain. I hope we never forget the power of His grace to redeem and restore. Since then Shannon has been writing to me. I want to share with you, a little of one of his letters to me, and also mine to him. Check it out: "Well John, I pray about my situation and my friend, and you, the church and family daily! I give thanks for the love and friendships, and I cant help being so happy even in my situation. Thank you John. David is fine and I have him in my corner! I study my Bible daily and it's the BEST Bible I ever had. Thank you! I love you and God Bless. Shannon. Hi Shannon … From the first day I met you, I could see good and I could see potential in you. You are a good man, and I pray for you a lot, mostly for you to learn everything you can about God while you are in jail. Also, that you will begin over time to believe in you. God has a plan for your life Shannon. He really does. Check out this verse: "For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen." (Jeremiah 29:11-12) This verse was written thousands of years ago to God's chosen people; the Israelites. They were in captivity, and I guess you could say they were incarcerated. BUT, in it, God made them a promise about His plans, regardless and in spite of the circumstances they were dealing with. I want to encourage you as a new Christian, Shannon, that regardless of circumstances here are a few thoughts to contemplate: First, God is in control. Our plans are simply what we think. But God HAS plans. He is in control. He created you, he knows you and is with you. Another thought is what God's plans are 'for'. So often, especially for those who are new to faith and relationship with Jesus we misinterpret a "bad thing" as a "mad God". In other words, we connect a difficult circumstance (i.e., being in jail) with God somehow punishing us, or being mad at us. I can't tell you how many people struggle with this, even people who have gone to church and have been Christians for years and years. Check out that verse again: For I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope Not only does God KNOW, he says specifically what the plans are for and what they aren't for. Shannon, God's plans for YOU are for good, not disaster. His plans are always about giving life, and hope and joy. Your future is in God's hands, but sometimes whether it is physically being incarcerated or being in an addiction, or being victim to abuse or worry or insecurity, He has a plan that is for good. I cannot say I understand what it is like to be incarcerated. I can tell you that I pray for you and want God's best for your life both now and when you are released. It begins right where you have begun; with surrendering your life to Jesus Christ. That is the starting line, but not where we end by a long shot. Beyond entering into a relationship with Jesus (Romans 10:9-10, believing he died for you and rose from the grave and praying to invite him into your heart) it is a journey of trust and faith. God tells the nation of Israel these words: "In those days when you pray, I will listen." (Jeremiah 29:12) Those days are like these days for you. I encourage you to pray Shannon. Tell God how you feel. Tell him what troubles you, tell him what you dream about. The more you lean into God, the more you will be able to hear his voice. The more you hear his voice, the more you will realize what is already true. He has GOOD and ONLY GOD plans for your life. My encouragement to you is just to do the one next thing you know that is right, as defined by what God says. This postures you for his blessings and a life full of hope and joy. I love you, I am praying for you. I can't wait to see you my friend. I hope these words help you. Stay strong in God's Word and stay courageous for the days ahead of you. Remember; the next right thing. Faith is a moment-by-moment journey of decisions that determine our destinies. In your corner!! Your friend, Pastor John PS: Thanks for looking after David. Means so much to me. I can't really tell you how much I appreciate these words. Since writing this, Shannon has been struggling a little, and worried about his friend that he loves and misses. All we can do is encourage and pray. I am believing that we will see many of these men and women journey from hopelessness, to realizing the 'hope and future' that God has destined for them. I hope we can play some small part in helping them find their way home to Christ. I want to finish with this poem Shannon wrote, and asked me to share with you… Loneliness is an emptiness That dwells within the heart It comes to everyone sometime When loved ones are far apart, It can come to you in a crowded street or in a concert hall It doesn't matter where you are for loneliness will befall, you'll find you are forgotten by your family and your friends And how you overcome it best All on you depends, If you turn your thoughts towards Jesus The one who cares for you Jesus will take you by the hand And help to see you through, A kind of warmth will comfort you On a lonely sort of day As Jesus enters into your heart And you bow your head to pray, Jesus is always near at hand For he was sent by God To care for the meek and lonely As on life's road we trod, So if you're feeling kind of low Let Jesus be your guide He will brighten your darkest moment By walking at