Friday, April 20th, 2018
You’ve all heard of Doubting Thomas in the Bible. Well, yesterday I met Believing Thomas at the Crow Wing County Jail in Brainerd, Minnesota. He’s an inmate there who attended one of my presentations on How To Stay Out of Jail. He sat with his arms crossed, expressionless, not saying a word for 50 minutes. I wondered if I was getting through to him at all.
Then with ten minutes to go, after I had drawn the plan of salvation on a whiteboard, Thomas spoke. I can’t remember all he said, but it went kind of like this, “Whatever we do to stay out of jail, we fail. Whatever we try to do for God, we can’t do it. Even being saved is beyond our reach.” The other inmates were hanging on his every word; so was I. “It’s only through Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that we can succeed at anything.”
I talked about Thomas with my last group of the day. One man said how much Thomas had helped him understand the gospel. The others nodded.
I thought of the song played during chapel at the Central Lakes Adult and Teen Challenge facility three miles away, where I had given the morning message – In Christ Alone.
Tuesday, April 17th, 2018
There was a time when I thought God was in His heaven and all was right with the world. I can no longer believe that.
The world is a mess, pure and simple, and is careening toward chaos. Lying is fast becoming the norm of our society. Deceiving others has become a way of life for many. Politicians hate each other. Fools shoot up schools. Terrorism dominates the evening news. All is definitely not right in the world.
I believe God is still in His heaven, but more and more I see Him standing in the mud and muck of this world pushing back against evil forces that threaten to undo all of us. I have seen Him come alongside Shawn, a murderer, and claim him for His own. I’m amazed when I talk to Tyler and hear him proclaiming God’s glory. This is a young man who started using drugs at the age of 13 and tried to commit suicide five times and was in and out of rehab 14 times until he met the real Jesus. I have listened to Mitch describe watching a gang member down in Mexico cut a rival gang member in half with an AK-47 and think nothing of it. He’s turned his life over to Jesus and is heading to a 13-month stay in Adult and Teen Challenge.
I could go on and on with what I have witnessed, about God’s Holy Spirit sweeping the land looking for any man, woman, boy, or girl who has reached the end of his or her rope, wants something better, and finds it in Jesus Christ. Yes, God is in His heaven, but He is also rubbing elbows with anyone wanting his or her life transformed from evil to good. Isn’t He an amazing God?
Friday, April 13th, 2018
For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord.
– Isaiah 55:8
I look at the thoughts of the Lord and His ways as a Spiritual stream of consciousness permeating this world, like the air itself – invisible but omnipresent, flowing through every person and surrounding the trees and the rocks, influencing every event and circumstance. It is present in sickness and in health and in the loss of a job.
Who can hear it but those whose ears are tuned into His thoughts? Who can see it but those who look for God’s presence in all things? Who can feel it but those who seek the Lord in all people, places, and things? The Spiritual stream runs throughout all history – in the future and in the past, in every passing hour.
Who can understand it but those who read His Word, who pray to experience His ultra-consciousness, and who dance to its melody. Those who humbly ask – “Show me Your thoughts today, Lord. Reveal to my Your ways” – will not be disappointed.
Tuesday, April 10th, 2018
Mitch had to leave Colorado because a rival gang put a price on his head, a nice way of saying they intended to kill him. He and his girlfriend fled to Minnesota where he hooked up with a meth-selling gang and soon became a top seller in Central Minnesota. “I went from city to city,” he told me, “selling drugs to the clients who depended on me. I didn’t sleep or eat because my schedule wouldn’t allow more than a short nap here and there. If I would have continued at this pace, I’d be dead now. My skin was turning to white and I was physically sick all the time.”
His sales career ended when the police showed up one morning to haul him off. On March 26, in a small makeshift library of the Wright County Jail, I had the privilege and blessing of being with him when he repented and turned his life over to Christ Jesus. He stopped running his own life and allowed Another to be his Lord.
Now, here’s the interesting part. He was offered a lengthy probation instead of serving a jail sentence, and he turned it down. You see, he told them the truth. “If you let me out, I’ll go right back to drugs and end up on the streets dead.” Instead of probation, he signed up to be furloughed to Minneapolis Adult and Teen Challenge for their 13-month program. “I know I can’t kick drugs on my own,” he said to me. “I need separation from my old life and learn to depend on Jesus.”
Please pray for Mitch. It isn’t every day that someone realizes they can’t make it on their own and turn to God. I expect the angels are rejoicing in heaven for a sinner saved.
Friday, April 6th, 2018
ETERNITY IS NOT ENDLESS TIME or the opposite of time. It is the essence of time.
If you spin a pinwheel fast enough, all its colors blend into a single color—white—which is the essence of all the colors of the spectrum combined.
If you spin time fast enough, time-past, time-present, and time-to-come all blend into a single timelessness or eternity, which is the essence of all times combined.
As human beings we know time as a passing of unrepeatable events in the course of which everything passes away—including ourselves. As human beings, we also know occasions when we stand outside the passing of events and glimpse their meaning. Sometimes an event occurs in our lives (a birth, a death, a marriage —some event of unusual beauty, pain, joy) through which we catch a glimpse of what our lives are all about and maybe even what life itself is all about, and this glimpse of what “it’s all about” involves not just the present, but the past and future too.
Inhabitants of time that we are, we stand on such occasions with one foot in eternity. God, as Isaiah says (57:15), “inhabiteth eternity,” but stands with one foot in time. The part of time where he stands most particularly is Christ, and thus in Christ we catch a glimpse of what eternity is all about, what God is all about, and what we ourselves are all about too.
– Frederick Buechner
Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018
It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me. –Isaiah 50:9
Help comes from God alone. It means He does everything on behalf of someone who is in great distress. To ask for God’s help is to acknowledge our dependence on Him.
Praying for God to help this person or that is a wonderful prayer, without getting into the specifics of what you want God to do, which may or may not be in His will. But to help someone in what they need most is always in His will.
To pray for God to heal Uncle Jerry’s gout may not be best for Uncle Jerry. But to pray for God to help Uncle Jerry in his suffering is a prayer God will hear and act on. To pray that God will give Mary the job she has applied for may not be the right job for her. But to pray for God to help Mary in her job search is a prayer God will hear and act on in His own discernment of what is best for Mary.
God know what is best for this person or that. We don’t. If I pray that Diane (a person in my prayer group) finds an apartment by April 12, I may not be praying for what is best for her. If I pray for God to help her in her search, that is a prayer He will answer in His own way. He knows best. I don’t.
Friday, March 30th, 2018
I could hardly wait to meet with Shawn the next Monday and give him the good news. The two of us sat in a small room in the program area that served as the library of the Wright County Jail, surrounded on four sides by a few hundred books. He sat on one side of a short table and I on the other. We first talked about his confession in court the week before, where he pleaded guilty to 2nd Degree Murder and will be sentenced to 40 years in prison in May of this year. You’d think a person who’d just been sentenced to such a long stay would be despondent. Instead, with a calmness only possible by a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ, and a Holy Spirit smile on his face, he said, “I felt at peace when I left that courtroom. Sure, I’ll get a long sentence, but I know Jesus will be with me through it all, and for that I’m thankful. The fight is over. I now know where I’ll be, but I won’t be alone.”
I then asked him how well he knew Cheyenne Clough, the woman he murdered. His smile disappeared and his head went down as he looked at the top of the table between us. “She was my girlfriend at one time.”
“Did you know if she were a Christian or not?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I pray she was. It tears me apart that I may have sent her to hell when I shot her.”
I said in a voice that brought his head up from looking down, “Would you like to know for sure?” He didn’t know what to say. I told him about my meeting with Paul Miller the previous Thursday and his assurance that Cheyenne was saved. I told him Paul was in the hospital when the plug was pulled on her life support and had given the eulogy at her funeral. I followed that up with my phone call to Tyler the next day, in which he confirmed she was a believer.
Shawn had a look on his face that could best be explained as radiant. I could see how the news had affected him. I asked how he felt now. The smile was back as he said, “Awesome. Relieved. Amazed. This makes all the difference in the world. I didn’t send her to hell.” He proceeded to tell me that his prayers for Cheyenne had been answered. Indeed they had.
Tuesday, March 27th, 2018
Six hours after I wrote last Friday’s blog about Shawn shooting Cheyenne in the back of the head, execution style, I sat down at a sturdy wooden table in a coffee shop in Buffalo, Minnesota, opposite Paul Miller of Timber Bay, a community and camping organization that works with troubled youth from middle school to age 18. The young man I mentor, Tyler, kept telling me I had to meet with Paul Miller. He knew him from Timber Bay and now with Emerge Timber Bay for young adults beyond the age of 18, which Paul heads up in the area. “Meeting with Paul Miller” kept being pushed ahead on my “to do” list until March 22, two days after hearing Shawn’s confession at the Wright County Courthouse. Only by the hand of God.
I mainly listened to Paul talk about Timber Bay and his experiences with them over a long period of time. Near the end of our discussion, out of the blue, unknowing that I had any connection to the case, he told me that Cheyenne Clough had been a Timber Bay kid and he strongly believed she had become a Christian who followed Jesus but couldn’t shake her meth addiction. Amazing.
Paul knew Cheyenne well, both in Timber Bay and afterward when they’d see each other here or there on the street. He was in the hospital room when the plug was pulled on life support and gave the eulogy at her funeral.
I called Tyler the day after I talked to Paul. I found out he had known Cheyenne, and confirmed she was a Christian. You see, Tyler was a meth addict as well and it’s a small world in rural Minnesota where addicts are kind of a fraternal group, almost like an extended family.
There remains one last installment of this story that happened yesterday when I met with Shawn in the Wright County Jail and told him this whole story. I couldn’t wait to meet with him. You’ll find out his reaction in next Friday’s blog. It was unbelievable.
Friday, March 23rd, 2018
At 2 a.m. on June 1, 2016, Shawn Tyler Benson let a friend stick a hypodermic needle in his arm and shoot him up with methamphetamine. At 2:30 a.m. that same morning, he shot Cheyenne Clough in the back of the head, execution style, as she lay wounded on the ground in a county park south of Buffalo, Minnesota. I was in the courtroom last Tuesday when he confessed. He will be sentenced in May to 40 years in a state penitentiary.
As depraved and evil as he was then, he is redeemed now, saved in the Wright County Jail during a Gideon Bible study on a Sunday afternoon. From murderer to saint. A miracle. Only God could do that.
I told Shawn last Sunday that I was uplifted by his ever-present smile. He told me that was the Holy Spirit smiling out. Praise God for his work in this young man. Praise God for this miracle. Shawn now witnesses to other inmates in the Wright County Jail and is an inspiration to them. He’s also an inspiration to me. There’s no other explanation of this incredible turn-around than the awesome mercy and grace of God, who did not give up on Shawn after his gruesome murder.
Though Shawn is safely tucked away in the hand of God, my heart was burdened with what happened to Cheyenne. Did he send her to hell, unsaved and unforgiven? She was a meth addict that lived in the same house Shawn did, with three other women and three other men. What hope was there for her? I couldn’t shake my concern for her eternal destination.
Then, amazingly, beyond any chance of coincidence, way beyond, God gave me the answer to my question last Thursday afternoon, in a Caribou coffee shop on Highway 55 in Buffalo, during a chance meeting with a person I had never met before. I’ll tell the rest of the story in next Tuesday’s blog. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, March 20th, 2018
I’ve talked about Tyler any number of times in this blog. He’s the young man who changed his life around after he met the Real Jesus and decided to go His way instead of his own way. He’s a Christian success story. But all stories of the men I mentor are not so positive.
Take Aaron, for example. In his own nature, he has two major problems. He’s addicted to alcohol and when drunk can be violent. I met him in the Wright County Jail before he transferred to Stillwater to finish out his time for stabbing someone when very drunk. When I met with him in the jail, he was reading the Bible daily and in Bible studies and otherwise trying his hardest to follow Jesus. But there seemed to be something missing. Wherever our conversations led us, they always seemed to go back to his girlfriend (who was married to someone else), his troubled life, and how he saw the world. He talked a good game, but I think it was all more in his head than in his heart. I see that in retrospect now, but I kept hoping he would truly stay with Jesus when he was released from jail.
That release happened six weeks ago, He had called me once or twice a week when he was in Stillwater and immediately called me when he got out. Because of the nature of his crime, he was placed on Intensive Supervised Release, sort of like being on house arrest. He chafed at the restrictions placed on him, and kept telling me how miserable he was and would be better off back in Stillwater, even though he was on 23-hour lock down there. He had one foot in God’s world and one foot in his own world, which does not work very well for someone with his problems. After a number of phone calls back and forth, I caught him at a bus station going somewhere or another. He didn’t have time to talk then, but said he’d call back when he could. That’s the last time I heard from him. I have tried calling him several times, but he doesn’t answer his phone and has not set up a mail box so I can leave a message for him.
I can only assume that in the end, he decided to go his way instead of His way. Only God knows where Aaron is right now. If I found out he had died violently, it would not surprise me. Please pray for Aaron that he is still alive and will eventually get back to me. God hasn’t given up on him and neither have I.