Leaving shame at the cross

April 11 is my “Spiritual Birthday.” It’s been 44 years, but I’m still far from perfect.

I became a Christian on April 11, 1973, at a Christian Recovery Program called His Mansion. At that time, I was full of shame. It was important in my family to go to a good college .I had gotten into Brown University, just like my father and my brother before me, but by my junior year I had been using so much acid, meth, and cocaine, I had to drop out. My parents were hurt and disappointed with me, and I began to be disgusted with myself

It wasn’t just dropping out of school. It wasn’t just letting my family down. I felt that I had let myself down. I had everything going my way, and I blew it. I knew that the drugs I was using could make you sick and could make you crazy, but I used them anyway, and I wound up using a lot more than I ever planned.

So I tried to get some help. That’s what you’re supposed to do. But I really didn’t think that anyone could help me. I didn’t believe I could ever change I thought that I was damaged goods, and I always would be. And the worst thing was, I had done this damage to myself. I hated myself for being so stupid. I hated myself for completely losing control. I was full of shame, and I thought I would always be.

But you’re supposed to get some help. You’re supposed to go to a program. You’re supposed to get “rehabilitated.” I went to a regular rehab, but they didn’t like my attitude, and I didn’t last long. I decided to try His Mansion, even though it was a Christian program.”What the heck,” I thought.

So I arrived at His Mansion full of shame. It wasn’t just guilt. When you feel guilty, it’s about things you’ve done. But shame is about who you are. And that’s why shame is so toxic. To hate yourself, to see yourself as a loser, a failure, a hopeless addict– you can get stuck there for years.

But God was good to me when I got to His Mansion. He didn’t let me stay stuck in my shame. I remember the first day I was there I was sitting there on a bench. I guess I didn’t realize how bad I looked. But there was a lady there. Her name was Eleanor Wagner. She looked at me and said, “Why don’t you take all that guilt and shame and wrap it up like you were taking out the garbage, and leave it at the cross. That’s where Jesus took care of it.”

So I prayed, and I pictured wrapping up my shame, and leaving it at the cross. And Eleanor was right. From that moment on I stopped hating myself, and seeing myself as a loser or a failure.
I had an experience that the Bible describes in Psalm 34:4-6:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
    their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
    he saved him out of all his troubles.
The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
    and he delivers them.

The heart of Biblical justice

the-persistent-widow
The Persistent Widow by WJ Webb

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”Luke 18:1-8

Widows were in a precarious position in Ancient Israel. If a woman lost her husband, she was often left without any means of financial support. Such women were considered under God’s special care. Psalm 68:5 says, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” God’s compassion goes out to them, and he expects his people to do the same.

The Lord speaks through Moses in Exodus, saying “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.  If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.”Ex. 22:22-23                                                                                          

 The way the nation of Israel treated the widows among them was a good indication of how they  were practicing Justice toward all the poor, the oppressed, the prisoners, the blind, and the hungry. So Jesus moves from the story of one widow seeking justice to all of us seeking justice:

“And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

Justice in the Bible was an important moral principle .When they spoke of the coming Messiah, the Old Testament Prophets saw him bringing justice.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.
 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth. Is. 42:1-4

Jesus came to bring forth justice, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. So when he began his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from Isaiah this prophecy of the Anointed One, Messiah, the Christ:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives    and recovering of sight to the blind,  to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Is. 61:1-2) ( Lk 4:16-21)

And he said,” Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Justice in the Bible begins with God. He is the defender and protector of the poor, the homeless, the debtor, the widow, the orphans, the refugees, the addicts, and the prisoners And if we really belong to God, we too are called to practice Justice .  .  Jesus has given us the ministry of bringing justice to the world. When he returns, Jesus will establish his justice completely. Until then, he has called us to work for justice. The Old Testament Prophets heard his call: Micah said,

Micah said:”He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
” Micah 6:8

Amos said,” Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24

Jesus says, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. and then he says “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”Will he find us doing his Justice in a fallen world? Perfect Justice will not be ours until Jesus returns, but until then, aren’t we called as Christians to work for justice and do what we can to bring justice into this fallen world?

Bible teacher R.C. Sroul sees the mission of the church as twofold: “First, there is the work of world-wide witness, making disciples and planting churches. Secondly, Christians are called upon to do works of mercy and compassion”.

This is the kind of Justice that the Old Testament Prophets wrote about. Christians should respond to God’s command to love our neighbor with generosity and compassion  concerning all forms of human need. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the sinners, and  brought the lost sheep home.  Christians should learn from his example.”

The question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the Earth?” I think is answered, at least partly, by Matthew 25:32-40 : Jesus said,

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Feeding the hungry, sheltering the strangers among us, giving clothing to the poor, and visiting the sick and the prisoners: All this, including taking care of widows and orphans and much more, is the heart of Biblical justice. In our day, millions of refugees are fleeing famine, war, persecution ,and poverty. And there are thousands afflicted with the disease of drug addiction  As much as we practice justice, and keep praying boldly and persistently for justice, Jesus promises he will answer. He might even send us to be his answer, for those who are crying to him day and night for justice.

***

matt-and-chrisI raise my own financial support for my ministry, and it is the primary income for my wife and I. If you are interested in contributing you can send checks to:

Rev. Matt Kantrowitz
Isaiah 61 Ministries
C/O The Church at Prison, Inc.
Box 8318, Essex Junction, VT 05452

You can email me for more information at mmkantrowitz@gmail.com. All donations are tax deductible.

As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers

And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Luke 18:1-8

Widows were in a precarious position in Ancient Israel. If a woman lost her husband, she was often left without any means of financial support. Such women were considered under God’s special care. Psalm 68:5 says, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” God’s compassion goes out to them, and he expects his people to do the same.

The Lord speaks through Moses in Exodus, saying “Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless.  If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry.”Ex. 22:22-23                                                                                          

 The way the nation of Israel treated the widows among them was a good indication of how they  were practicing Justice toward all the poor, the oppressed, the prisoners, the blind, and the hungry. So Jesus moves from the story of one widow seeking justice to all of us seeking justice:

“And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

Justice in the Bible was an important moral principle .When they spoke of the coming Messiah, the Old Testament Prophets saw him bringing justice.

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.
 He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.
 A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
Is. 42:1-4

 

Jesus came to bring forth justice, in fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. So when he began his ministry in the synagogue in Nazareth, he read from Isaiah this prophecy of the Anointed One, Messiah, the Christ:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives    and recovering of sight to the blind,  to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Is. 61:1-2) ( Lk 4:16-21)

And he said,” Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Justice in the Bible begins with God. He is the defender and protector of the poor, the homeless, the debtor, the widow, the orphans, the refugees, the addicts, and the prisoners And if we really belong to God, we too are called to practice Justice .  .  Jesus has given us the ministry of bringing justice to the world. When he returns, Jesus will establish his justice completely. Until then, he has called us to work for justice. The Old Testament Prophets heard his call: Micah said,

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

Amos said,

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24

Jesus says, “Will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. and then he says “But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Will he find us doing his Justice in a fallen world? Perfect Justice will not be ours until Jesus returns, but until then, aren’t we called as Christians to work for justice and do what we can to bring justice into this fallen world?

Bible teacher R.C. Sroul sees the mission of the church as twofold: “First, there is the work of world-wide witness, making disciples and planting churches. Secondly, Christians are called upon to do works of mercy and compassion”.

This is the kind of Justice that the Old Testament Prophets wrote about. Christians should respond to God’s command to love our neighbor with generosity and compassion  concerning all forms of human need. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the sinners, and  brought the lost sheep home.  Christians should learn from his example.

The question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the Earth?” I think is answered, at least partly, by Matthew 25:32-40 : Jesus said,

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Feeding the hungry, sheltering the strangers among us, giving clothing to the poor, and visiting the sick and the prisoners: All this, including taking care of widows and orphans and much more, is the heart of Biblical justice. In our day, millions of refugees are fleeing famine, war, persecution ,and poverty. And there are thousands afflicted with the disease of drug addiction.  As much as we practice justice, and keep praying boldly and persistently for justice, Jesus promises he will answer. He might even send us to be his answer, for those who are crying to him day and night for justice.

***
matt-and-chrisI raise my own financial support for my ministry, and it is the primary income for my wife and I. If you are interested in contributing you can send checks to:

Rev. Matt Kantrowitz
Isaiah 61 Ministries
C/O The Church at Prison, Inc.
Box 8318, Essex Junction, VT 05452

You can email me for more information at mmkantrowitz@gmail.com. All donations are tax deductible.

Because He first loved us

samuel

Today I wanted to share the testimony of my friend Samuel Leiro:

I just realized that today marks four years to the day since the last time I was arrested. I was a slave to the needle and to my own flesh and weighed about 135 pounds. I was without hope. This is my mugshot from that last arrest.

God was merciful enough to take me as I was, but gracious enough not to leave me that way. Four years and 60 pounds later, I’m still not perfect, nor will I ever be this side of eternity. The difference is that now I have hope, and in Christ, I have life.

Soli Deo Gloria – To God Alone Be the Glory

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV)

There’s hope for your life. There’s redemption for you in Christ.

Sam’s testimony means a lot to me, because when I first met him at His Mansion, just a few years ago he was just beginning his recovery from a serious heroin addiction. My wife and I were serving on staff at His Mansion, a Christian Recovery Ministry. Sam came to my Bible Studies, asking some really good questions, and obviously very interested in scripture and very motivated to give his life to Jesus. Today Sam is a seminary student, equipping himself for a life of ministry and service to our Lord.
Sam shared this report about his new ministry on Death Row in Florida State Prison. I love the line Sam wrote: “This man knows God as if he shared a cell with Him. And that’s because he does!” It reminds me of these verses from Psalms:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
Psalm 139:7-8

God is with us, even in prison or jail.

Here’s what Sam wrote:

I went to Florida State Prison today with Lewis. There are three men today that I spoke with who are living testimonies to the power of God’s grace.

First I spoke with Corey, my friend who is serving a life sentence without the chance of parole for a murder he committed about five or six years ago. He has been praying more and reading his bible, and has been overcoming some of his anger issues that he has had for most of his life. I gave him some copies of my weekly bible study to do and he was really grateful. He really encouraged me today and I’m looking forward to continuing to disciple him.

Lew and I also got to meet a man who was sentenced to death for murder. He was very polite and soft spoken. He made no excuses for His past sins. He knows that he has destroyed his own life as well as the lives of many others, and has negatively affected many more… But he also knows the Lord. He knows that no amount of his own works can ever change what he has done in the past, but even sins as grievous as his can be forgiven if he is born again in Christ. He has lots of questions, and still has a lot to grow. I hope that this will be the beginning of a long friendship.

There was another guy on death row a few cells down named Robert, and let me tell you, this man knows God as if he shared a cell with Him! And that’s because he does. He has nothing but time on hands and has taken that time to face the reality of his condition. He knows there is nothing within his natural self that could ever make him better. He has been seeking for an answer to his own depravity, and found that answer in Christ. He wasn’t just sick, he was spiritually DEAD. But now he is alive and full of life! You could never expect a man who has been sentenced to die to have such peace about him, even joy! That peace and joy comes from the Holy Spirit who now lives inside him.

These men have found peace in Jesus Christ in one of the most chaotic, frightening, and lonely places on the face of the Earth. One is just beginning, another has really started to grow, and the third is unquestionably bearing fruit of the Holy Spirit! These men are murderers. They actually killed people. Let that sink in. They were violent, hateful, prideful, men who took the lives of other humans, and because of their sins they will never see freedom again. Before coming to Christ, their lives could not in any way be described as peaceful.

Prison ministry and the parable of the sower

37.905
The Sower by Jean-François Millet

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:  “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.”

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God. Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away. The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature. But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.

~Luke 8:4-8; 11-15

As I continue my ministry in Rockingham County Jail, I am often struck by how apt Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed is. Whether I am teaching my Wednesday night Bible study in the jail, preaching at Sunday afternoon church services, or visiting men one-on-one in “clergy visits,” I am always showing them scriptures, trying to explain what they mean, and trying to show them how the scriptures apply to their lives.

For salvation, I show them passages like Isaiah 53:4-6, Romans 3:21-26, Romans 5:6-11, Romans 6:1-14, Romans 8:1-4, and Romans 8:31-39. For the transformation God can bring to them for healing and deliverance from addiction, I show them Romans 12:1-2; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Ephesians 2:1-10, Ephesians 4:21-24, and Colossians 3:1-10.

To teach them about Jesus, I show them Philippians 2:5-11, and several passages from the gospel of John, starting with John 1:1-18. In the Gospel of John there are seven great “I AM” sayings. Jesus teaches us not only who he is, but also who we should be in response to him:“I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the World,”“I am the Gate of Salvation,”“I am the Good Shepherd, “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” “I am the Vine.”

To teach them about the Holy Spirit, I start with what Jesus taught: John 7:37-39, John 14:15-17, John 14: 25-27, John 15:26-27, and John 16:7-15. Then I go to Romans 8:5-14 and Galatians 5:16-26. My focus is not on the gifts of the Spirit or the Baptism of the Spirit, but rather the promise that the Spirit lives in every believer, and he can help the men in the jail find healing and deliverance from sin and addiction.

To teach them how Jesus can protect them from spiritual warfare and temptation, I show them Ephesians 6:10-20, the armor of God. Also Luke 10:17-20, Romans 16:20, 1 Corinthians 10:13, James 4:7-11 and 1 Peter 5:8-11.

Those are just a few of the passages I like to share with the men in the jail. I often show then Luke 15:11- 32, the parable of the Prodigal Son, and Matthew 11:28-30, to talk about what it means to be “yoked” to Christ.

But as the parable of the sower and the seed suggests, it’s not easy sometimes to tell if the “seed” I’m trying to sow is really falling on good soil. I know of  men who were part of our fellowship when I was Chaplain at Maine State Prison, who are out and doing well, raising families and involved in church. I know of others who are still in prison, but they have made a deep, solid commitment to Christ and are living for him, even in prison. So some seed does fall on good soil.

In the County Jail where I minister now, I don’t get to see the men as much as I did in the prison, where I was a full-time chaplain. And their sentences are much shorter. There’s a big turnover. So I don’t always get to follow up on most of the men I work with. I have no way of telling if they are staying with the Lord, like good soil on which the word of God fell like seeds.

Sometimes, if a man tells me he is being released soon, I ask what town he will be living in. I go on line and print out some information for them on churches that I think would  minister to them.  I encourage them to get involved, but I don’t really know if they do.

I have followed up on a few who have been released. Honestly, they have not done very well. Their addictions are like the thorns or weeds that Jesus talked about in the parable. They go back to their drugs and the seeds that were planted can’t grow. I also stay in touch with a few men who have moved from the County Jail to the State Prison. I write to them and send them Bibles and Christian books. But they are in a very difficult environment.

Please pray for the Lord to soften the hearts of the men in my Bible studies, church services, and clergy visits. Pray that the scriptures I share with them would be like seed falling on good soil. Pray for many to find not only salvation, but also sanctification, growing strong in the Lord. And pray for those who have been released, that  the “thorns” of “life’s worries, riches, and pleasures,” would not choke the growth started by the seed of the word planted in them. In particular, four men named Jeff, Corey, Paulie, and Tristan. And please pray for men who have moved from the jail to the prison, to stay strong and grow in their faith; Mike, Artie, Joe, and Mark.

***
matt-and-chrisI raise my own financial support for my ministry, and it is the primary income for my wife and I. If you are interested in contributing you can send checks to:

Rev. Matt Kantrowitz
Isaiah 61 Ministries
C/O The Church at Prison, Inc.
Box 8318, Essex Junction, VT 05452

You can email me for more information at mmkantrowitz@gmail.com. All donations are tax deductible.

Were not our hearts burning within us?

theroadtoemmaus
“The Road to Emmaus” by Robert Zund

I love the gospel stories of the risen Christ. Jesus seems at peace and relaxed. His hard work on the cross is over. His love, his warmth, and even his gentle humor come shining through He enjoys himself as he shows himself to his followers: As if to say, “Look, guys! I’m alive again!”

 

John shows us Jesus turning Mary Magdalene’s weeping to joy with one word. He shows us Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit into his disciples. John shows us Jesus inviting Thomas to touch his wounds, stop doubting and believe. And then, by the lake, Jesus gives Peter a chance to make amends for denying Him three times. (John Chapters 20 and 21)

But Luke has other stories to tell. Jesus comes to the travelers on the road to Emmaus. Without revealing who he was, he innocently asks, “What are you guys talking about?” Their response would really be funny if the subject matter wasn’t so serious: “How could you not know about the things going on in Jerusalem?” And once again Jesus, clearly having fun with these guys, innocently asks “What things?” But Jesus wasn’t just playing dumb. He used this as an introduction to what must have been the greatest Bible study ever:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:26-32)

In my ministry in the jail, this story in Luke 24 has really spoken to me. Whether I am teaching my Wednesday night Bible study in the jail, preaching at Sunday afternoon church services, or visiting men one-on-one in “clergy visits,” I am always showing them scriptures, trying to explain what they mean, and trying to show them how the scriptures apply to their lives.

Even in jail, there are men whose hearts will burn within them while Jesus talks with them and opens the scriptures to them. I believe that Jesus calls many men in jail to read the Scriptures and give their hearts to the God revealed in Scripture. What a blessing when I can talk to a man and see that excitement, that hunger and thirst for righteousness being filled. Jesus is still with us, and he is still opening the scriptures to us. In Matthew, we see the risen Christ give us The Great Commission:

” Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

As I try to make disciples and teach them to obey Jesus, He is there. When I lead Bible studies in the jail, and when I preach in the Church services, He is there for me as well. I experience his presence in my preparation time at home, helping me find the scripture verses that He wants me to preach on or teach, and giving me the words to explain them.

But the times I experience the presence of Jesus the most are in the one-on-one visits that are called “Clergy Visits” in the jail. At the close of a Bible study or Church service, I’ll ask if anyone wants a visit. Sometimes one or two will sign up, sometimes more. I usually have twelve or fifteen names on my list. I try to see everyone on the list at least once every two weeks.

Some I only get to see them individually once or twice. Others I end up visiting many times. They really need someone to talk to. I try to be a good listener. By showing them I care, I earn the right to speak. I share scripture with them, pray with them, build relationships with them, and the Lord does the rest.

***
matt-and-chrisI raise my own financial support for my ministry, and it is the primary income for my wife and I. If you are interested in contributing you can send checks to:

Rev. Matt Kantrowitz
Isaiah 61 Ministries
C/O The Church at Prison, Inc.
Box 8318, Essex Junction, VT 05452

You can email me for more information at mmkantrowitz@gmail.com. All donations are tax deductible.

Listen, listen, love, love: Ministry behind bars

hearing-storiesMy work under Isaiah 61 Ministries continues to go well. I’m going into Rockingham County Jail in Brentwood, New Hampshire four or five times a week, leading Bible studies and worship services and meeting individually with men for fellowship, Bible study and prayer.

The Lord has provided the means for me to develop the relationships with the men in the jail in which real spiritual mentoring can take place. Sometimes it is pure evangelism, working with the men to help them understand salvation, and praying with them to accept Christ as their Savior. At other times my work with them is more discipleship, working with men who have made a start with the Lord, encouraging them and teaching them from scripture, as they grow in Christ.

As InterVarsity Christian Fellowship teaches, much of this ministry can be characterized as “listen, listen, love, love.” By being a good listener, conveying the compassion and empathy that the men in jail really crave, I try to “earn the right to speak” before I say too much. So I hear a lot of stories. As our time each session draws to a close, I bring to the Lord in prayer all the concerns I’ve heard expressed. The men I work with aren’t used to hearing someone pray for them like that. At times, it seems to make quite an impression.

Most of my Bible students have never read the Bible before, and have little or no knowledge of Christian beliefs. So I offer a study on “Who is Jesus.” Another study I use often is “Who Are We In Christ.” I also teach on “What Must I do to be Saved?”

In all these Bible studies, I always pass out outlines with all the scriptures I want to cover, and discussion questions. But quite often we don’t get to cover much of what I had planned, because the men come up with such good questions, and I try to give them good answers.

I tell them, “I won’t just give you my opinion, but I will try to answer your questions from the Bible.” Most of their questions really boil down to “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30.)

In almost every class, I’m able to share Isaiah 53:4-6, and explain Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on their behalf. I John 2:1-2 is also a good passage to help explain the atonement. Other passages I use quite often are Romans 8: 5-14 and Galatians 5:16-26 ( Is your mind controlled by the flesh, or the Spirit?) I try to show them that Jesus promised the indwelling Spirit to everyone who believed in him. (John 7:37-39)

I explain that Jesus is calling them to a covenant relationship with him, through his blood shed for them on the cross. (Luke 22:20)  “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” (Eph. 2:4.) They can be “transformed by the renewing of their minds” (Romans 12:1-2) And they can be “new creations” in Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17) God is calling them from bondage to freedom, from darkness to light, from death to life.

I think the idea that they can really change in Jesus; That they can be healed, delivered, transformed, and “born again;” is really important to men and women in jail. Too often they are convinced that they are failures, losers, hopeless addicts, and that they can never change.

Sadly, they often have learned this from their own parents, who have told them over and over that they are no darn good, and never will be any good: They’ll never amount to anything. They get the message that they are worthless from parents who never show an interest in them, never spend time with them, and never seem to value them. Many of the men I talk to in jail have never known their fathers. Others have been verbally and physically abused by their fathers all their lives. The women have been sexually abused by their fathers and scorned, ridiculed, and blamed for it by their mothers. Very often the parents are drug addicts and alcoholics. One man told me, “I got my first shot of heroin from my father.”

Most of the men and women I see in the jails are heroin addicts. There seems to be an epidemic of heroin addiction in our region these days. Many of the men and women who come to my Bible studies have been using heroin for years. Their life has been living in and out of jail, in and out of rehab, and always ending up back in bondage to drugs. Sadly, they believe that this is who they are, and they don’t think they could ever change. The Accuser tries hard to keep them believing this about themselves. But Jesus sees them differently. I tell them that everything would change for them if they could learn to see themselves as Jesus sees them, as someone well worth dying for. (Romans 8:31-34,) Nothing can separate them from his love.  (Romans 8:35-39)

I try to get this message across in my Bible studies. But I get an opportunity to pursue these matters further with the inmates when I visit with them individually. These meetings are called “Clergy Visits.” At the close of each Bible study, I offer the inmates to meet with them individually. I take the names of those who are interested. I visit with each one in the following week. I see them in a little room in the visiting area, set apart for attorneys and clergy.

I have some wonderful talks with the men in these visits. Sometimes my role is just to be a good listener, to show that I understand what they are going through, and I care about them. And in every visit, I open my Bible and show them scriptures to help them understand their relationship with the Lord. Often in these visits, I can pray with a man to accept Christ as his Savior, to ask God to forgive him for his sins, and to ask God to transform him, heal him, deliver him, and help him to overcome his addiction, his anger, his selfishness, and his resentments. I follow up with additional visits every week or two, and I try to  be a teacher, a mentor, a brother, and a friend.

This is what I do. The Bible studies and the Clergy Visits are a source of great joy and satisfaction to me. I thank God that he has provided for me such great opportunities in these County Jails to teach the Word, and to use all the training and all the experience he has given me over the years. And he has showed me his love for his lost sheep in the jails.

Thank you all for your prayers, your words of encouragement, and all your support. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:2-5)

In Christ,
Matt

***
matt-and-chrisI raise my own financial support for my ministry, and it is the primary income for my wife and I. If you are interested in contributing you can send checks to:

Rev. Matt Kantrowitz
Isaiah 61 Ministries
C/O The Church at Prison, Inc.
Box 8318, Essex Junction, VT 05452

You can email me for more information at mmkantrowitz@gmail.com. All donations are tax deductible.

My disability and ministry

dadwheelchairFrederick Buechner has this to say about healing:

The Gospels depict Jesus as having spent a surprising amount of time healing people. Although, like the author of Job before him, he specifically rejected the theory that sickness was God’s way of getting even with sinners (John 9:1-3), he nonetheless seems to have suggested a connection between sickness and sin, almost to have seen sin as a kind of sickness. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” he said. “I came not to call the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

This is entirely compatible, of course, with the Hebrew view of the human being as a psychosomatic unity, an indivisible amalgam of body and soul in which if either goes wrong, the other is affected. It is significant also that the Greek verb sozo was used in Jesus’ day to mean both “to save” and “to heal,” and soter could signify either “savior” or “physician.”

Ever since the time of Jesus, healing has been part of the Christian tradition. Nowadays, it has usually been associated with religious quackery or the lunatic fringe; but as the psychosomatic dimension of disease has come to be taken more and more seriously by medical science, it has regained some of its former respectability. How nice for God to have this support at last.

Jesus is reported to have made the blind see and the lame walk, and over the centuries countless miraculous healings have been claimed in his name. For those who prefer not to believe in them, a number of approaches are possible, among them:

1. The idea of miracles is an offense both to our reason and to our dignity. Thus, a priori, miracles don’t happen.

2. Unless there is objective medical evidence to substantiate the claim that a miraculous healing has happened, you can assume it hasn’t.

3. If the medical authorities agree that a healing is inexplicable in terms of present scientific knowledge, you can simply ascribe this to the deficiencies of present scientific knowledge.

4. If otherwise intelligent and honest human beings are convinced, despite all arguments to the contrary, that it is God who has healed them, you can assume that their sickness, like its cure, was purely psychological. Whatever that means.

5. The crutches piled high at Lourdes and elsewhere are a monument to human humbug and credulity.

If your approach to this kind of healing is less ideological and more empirical, you can always give it a try. Pray for it. If it’s somebody else’s healing you’re praying for, you can try at the same time laying your hands on her as Jesus sometimes did. If her sickness involves her body as well as her soul, then God may be able to use your inept hands as well as your inept faith to heal her.If you feel like a fool as you are doing this, don’t let it throw you. You are a fool, of course, only not a damned fool for a change.

If your prayer isn’t answered, this may tell you more about you and your prayer than it does about God. Don’t try too hard to feel religious, to generate some healing power of your own. Think of yourself instead (if you have to think of yourself at all) as a rather small-gauge clogged-up pipe that a little of God’s power may be able to filter through if you can just stay loose enough. Tell the one you’re praying for to stay loose too.

If God doesn’t seem to be giving you what you ask, maybe he’s giving you something else.

“If God doesn’t seem to be giving you what you ask, maybe he’s giving you something else.”

Some of my friends know that in the last few years I have been dealing with a rare muscle disease. It’s not considered fatal, but it is progressive. I am slowly getting weaker. I attended church last Sunday in a wheelchair. But I also got to preach! Since I have become disabled I have prayed for a miraculous healing from time to time. And others have prayed for me. But God has given me something better! In church and in jail, He has opened up ministry opportunities for me, and they are bearing good fruit. In some ways my physical disability has made me better at ministry than before. As Apostle Paul points out, physical affliction is humbling. I believe I’m not as arrogant as I used to be in my approach to ministry. Here’s what Paul said:

“A thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” ~2 Cor.12:7-9

I was prompted by the Lord to offer my services as Interim Pastor at Goffstown Congregational Church when Jim Van Yperen preached on using our Spiritual Gifts to help the church. I hesitated briefly, because of the muscle disease, which has weakened my legs. But by His grace my mind and my heart have been spared. I can still preach. I will be filling in for at least 2 or 3 months. This church has been a blessing to us in many ways, and I hope to be able to give something back as a preacher.

In the meantime I continue my ministry in Rockingham County jail., teaching a Bible study Wednesday night, preaching on Sunday afternoon, and visiting men in one-on-one clergy visits.

***

Here is a video of my sermon from this Sunday on Matthew 13, the parable of the sower. (You might have to turn the volume up to hear.)

 

Overcoming addiction

Scary photo. This is going on all around us, and we only become aware of it when someone dies or goes to jail. We go on with our lives,completely unaware that all these kids are dying all around us. Maybe it's just easier not to admit there's a problem. But the fact is, there is a huge epidemic of heroin use in our nation. The men I see in the county jails of New Hampshire are telling me they were raised by addicts.We're into the second or third generation now.
This is going on all around us, and we only become aware of it when someone dies or goes to jail. We go on with our lives,completely unaware that all these kids are dying all around us. Maybe it’s just easier not to admit there’s a problem. But the fact is, there is a huge epidemic of heroin use in our nation. The men I see in the county jails of New Hampshire are telling me they were raised by addicts.We’re into the second or third generation now.

When we come to Jesus, he  gives us the Holy Spirit. Living inside us, he gives the victory.

John 7:37-39: Jesus said, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

John 14:15-17: Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22: Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit,  guaranteeing what is to come.

Romans 8:11: And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ  will give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

If recovering addicts come to Jesus, learning to love him and keep his commands, he promises that he will give the Holy Spirit, to live in them. The Spirit will do many powerful things for them, things that will not only help them stay “clean and sober,” but also overcome the trauma, the hurts, and the shame of the past that made them vulnerable to addiction in the first place. He will sanctify them, from within, (make them holy,) and he will instruct them.

Sanctify:

2 Thessalonians 2:13: But we always ought to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?…And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Instruct:

John 14:25-26: Jesus said, “The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

John 16:13-14: Jesus said, “When he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”

Ephesians 4:22-24: You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

With the Holy Spirit leading and guiding them from within, recovering addicts have a whole new mind-set. They are dead to sin, and they can overcome the desires of the flesh. The Spirit is bringing forth in them the fruit of the Spirit.

Romans 8:5-11:  Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

 Galatians 5:16-26: Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Recovering addicts are learning how to remain in Christ, and so bear much fruit for him. We remain in him by daily prayer, scripture reading, and Christian  fellowship.  

John 15:1-8: Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

Recovering addicts in jail can overcome their addictions and become new creations in Christ. The first step is being reconciled to God through Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.