For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.”  1 Timothy 4:8.

We all have freedom. It’s God-given. But to what extent are we free?

Sometimes, freedom is used for godlessness. It can take only one godless person to ruin many things. Where there is wickedness, someone is unwilling to give honor to whom honor is due.

One mischievous person may cost people their lives or their livelihood. I can’t even stress what it can do to a family and a community. Godlessness hurts oneself and others, whereas godliness can be a great gain to many people.

Be around someone godly and you will feel God’s awesome presence.

No matter how much physical training you and I do to look and feel well, it’s impressive to some extent only. In light of eternity, it’s the way we live that matters the most.

No one can say they never sin, but the godly person desires to become more and more like Jesus in the Spirit’s strength.

Do you admire people who display qualities that are a delight? Even if God allows suffering in their lives to make them beautiful from the inside out, they will continue to trust him. By doing so, they will look attractive to others and to their community as they reflect Christ more and more.

Surely, you and I don’t welcome suffering, but it makes us better people if we continue to trust God. While we may not feel better, we become better.

And God will reward us with the blessings attached to godliness.

Father God, enable me through your Spirit to live in a way that is right in your sight. Thank you for forgiving all my wrongdoings. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Invite the Holy Spirit to direct your thoughts and actions so that Christ’s beauty is reflected through you.

For over 5 years, I corresponded regularly with an inmate, Stephen D, in a maximum security penitentiary in Indiana.  Stephen was released April 13th.

The past years have been an education for me.  Stephen writes in a tight, neat script and uses all the margins on both sides of foolscap.  His letters run 8-12 pages.  He has provided me with the inside view of prison life, and an inside glimpse into one prisoner’s heart, like nothing I could have got short of doing prison time myself.

(Stephen has told me that any part of his story that would help others I’m free to share).

Mostly, his letters have been for me a graduate level course on the reality and power of God’s grace.

Stephen is in the company of sex offenders, murderers, gangsters, drug peddlers, career criminals.  His own crime is grievous.  Yet over and over I have been moved to tears as he describes how Jesus is transforming him, and the men around him, from being “the worst of sinners” to being “examples of God’s mercy and unlimited patience

I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given to you by Christ Jesus, that you were enriched in everything by Him in all utterance and all knowledge(1 Corinthians 1:4-5).

A sample from his last letter (again, with his full permission) as he describes a worship service among prisoners:

The Lord is truly working miracles!  As I look around, the magnitude of what Jesus is doing is nothing short of revealing who He is “all for our good”.  The signs of his mercy surround us.  His costly grace is being evidenced through the hearts of many who, with a life surrendered to His will, have abandoned the short-lived trappings of this world.  The sounds of rejoicing rain down from the redeemed of the Lord.  What a mighty God we have chosen to serve!

Almost makes you want to go to prison!

Why am I telling you this?

The prison chaplain shared with the pastors of the city.  One thing he said is that prisoners’ who turn their life over to Jesus in prison, and make significant progress there, often never find a church after their release where they feel welcome.

He also warned about some of the pitfalls of churches who are naïve, who entrust too much too soon to men and women who are just beginning to sort out life this side of freedom.

He’s not recommending such naivety.  But many churches choose the opposite approach: open suspicion, even hostility.  Ex-prisoners sniff that out quickly, get the message, and stay away.

It got me thinking: if Stephen came to our church, would he feel welcome?

I think the answer is yes.  All the same, it’s worth pushing the question a little further by making it, for each of us, personal: would I welcome him?

May God’s grace abound in all our lives.