My journal entry: May 21, 2020

Today I have grieved for men I don’t know—men who were killed, and men who have killed. I have grieved over people dying from a virus that has sprawled throughout the world, its invisible forces striking people around the globe with sickness or death.

Today, I have also grieved the loss of Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, who recently died from cancer. Ravi, at the age of 17, tried to take his own life, but God had other plans. While recovering in a hospital in India, Ravi received a Bible from a stranger, from which his mother read to him the words that had saved his life 57 years ago: “Because I live, you will also live” (John 14:19). Ravi followed Jesus for the rest of his life, devoting himself to loving and serving others, reflecting Jesus to them. https://www.rzim.org/

Angola State Prison

During his ministry, Ravi ministered to inmates at Angola State Prison in Angola, Louisiana, a maximum-security prison farm operated by the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. It has been nicknamed the “Alcatraz of the South.” It is the largest maximum-security prison in the United States and sits on more than 18,000 acres. It is home to about 6,300 inmates, the majority serving life sentences for committing violent crimes. Some are waiting execution. (Wikipedia)

These images were taken by Ravi Zacharias and shared on social media.

A brief video of Ravi talking about his time at Angola

Ravi visited Angola a few times over the years, most recently in June of 2019. It was an incredible experience he wrote about in a June 8 Facebook post:

“In the ante room to the execution room is where the sentenced man has his last meal. A prisoner has painted two paintings that grace the wall there. One is Daniel in the Lion’s Den, meaning, “God might still rescue you.” Next to that is another one: Elijah going up on chariots of fire. One way or the other, God will be there for you. …

Photo Credit: Ravi Zacharias

Even in a dark place, the Gospel is shining with grace and power. That is the only hope for the world because we are all prisoners of sin, and only the cross has the answer and the freedom.”

Roughly half the prisoners who die at Angola are buried on prison grounds because they have no one to collect their remains. Most are expected to die there while serving their life sentence.

The prisoners coffins are handmade by inmates, and funeral services are mostly conducted by the prisoners. Billy Graham, an American Christian evangelist, and his wife Ruth were buried in handmade caskets crafted by prisoners at Angola – and so was Ravi Zacharias.

Ravi Zacharias coffin. Photo by Elizabeth Lauren Jones Photography.

Derek Caldwell wrote an article found on the RZIM.org website regarding Ravi’s burial: “The love that many around the world felt for Ravi through his lifetime of work was present in the very receptacle in which Ravi’s body now rests. Ravi’s message of hope in Jesus Christ resonated with many, especially those in prison populations around the world. He developed a special relationship with Louisiana State Penitentiary, known widely as Angola Prison…

Ravi wrote about his request to be buried in a casket fashioned by Angola inmates in his most recent book, Seeing Jesus from the East (Zondervan, 2020). With great insight, he wrote of the inspirational lessons one can learn from these dear brothers in Christ. Ravi did not know that his words would be full of so much meaning for his loved ones just a few months after they were penned. “These prisoners know that this world is not their home,” Ravi explains, “and that no coffin could ever be their final destination. Jesus assured us of that. Such is the gospel story.”’

We All Need Redemption

The story of Angola affects me because I too am a sinner. I have not killed, but I have hated. I also struggle with being judgmental, arrogant, greedy, jealous, selfish, envy, idolizing things above God, and the like (Gal 5:19-21).

My sins have hurt others, and I am in need of redemption just as much as those incarcerated at Angola Prison. No one is without sin (Ro 3:23); no one can cast the first stone (Jn 8:1-11); no one can enter heaven by their good deeds. We all equally need the redemption only Jesus can offer.

Jesus’ death was so ugly because sin is so ugly. The only difference between a first degree murderer (who hasn’t accepted redemption from Jesus) and a minster like Ravi, is that Ravi accepted the death of Jesus as his redemption. Many inmates at Angola, and other prisoners around the world, have also accepted redemption. In the eyes of Jesus, they are redeemed – freed from their sins – though not freed from prison. But one day they will be set free from physical bondage.

On the reverse side, many of us are imprisoned by our sins through our freedoms – locked up from redemption. Those of us with internal sins that are less seen (greed, idolatry, faithlessness) verses external sins that are seen (infidelity, murder, stealing) are just as guilty and in need of forgiveness as a first degree murderer. If we have not accepted redemption, we are imprisoned in this life and for eternity. Physical imprisonment helps many prisoners find their redeemer – their only hope. May we all find redemption and our redeemer in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

Here’s the thing: we all are enticed by temptation and evil in the world. The battle is not of this world, of flesh and blood – it is a battle fought in the spiritual realm – in a world we cannot see. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12).

Devour

Satan and his team of demons constantly travel the world looking for someone to “devour”. “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Pe 5:8).

Synonyms for devour: consume, destroy, overwhelm, annihilate, devastate, conquer, crush, destroy, obliterate, exterminate, demolish, sink, inhale, envelop, engulf, ravage, ruin, overcome.

The only person Satan hasn’t devoured, devastated, crushed, ravaged is Jesus – although he tried. All of us are ravaged by sin and in need of a Savior. “..for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”(Ro 3:23).

At the beginning of Jesus ministry he spent forty days and nights in the desert fasting and praying, preparing for his ministry. “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry (Lk 4:2). During one of his encounters with Satan, the devil led him [Jesus] to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here” (Lk 4:9).

Satan Looks for Opportunities

Satan tried to twist scripture and tempted him to use his powers to bow down and worship him. He even wanted Jesus to kill himself. But he was unsuccessful. “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time” (Lk 4:13).

Satan watches us for opportunities to tempt us. To talk us into justifying our bad decisions.

An opportune time Satan found to tempt a friend of Jesus’ was the night before Jesus died.

“Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. They were delighted to hear this and promised to give him money. So he watched for an opportunity to hand him over” (Mk 14:9-11). “The evening meal [The Last Supper] was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus” (Jn 13:2). [At the Garden of Gethsemane] “…Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them; “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. The men seized Jesus and arrested him” (Mk 14:44-46).

“When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders…So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself” (Mt 27:3,5).

Satan devoured Judas by tempting him with greed.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (I Pe 5:8).

And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it” (Job 2:2). This isn’t just creepy – it’s scary!

The Truth of Jesus Sets us Free From Slavery to Sin

Jn 8:31-37 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

“Jesus replied, ‘I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are ready to kill me, because you have no room for my word…’

Listen and Hear

‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me?  Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God'” (Jn 8:42-47).

We can choose to hear, to make room for His word!

“This is the meaning of the parable [of the sower]: 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.

And we can defend ourselves!

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Eph 6:11).

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Js 4:7).

“…and do not give the devil a foothold” (Eph 4:27).

Luke 4:18-19 in the words of Jesus

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I know this is a long post, but please take the time to watch the following video to get an inside view of Angola, and listen to the interviews of men who are imprisoned for life, yet have been set free from their bondage to the slavery of sin.

Don’t Waste Your Life Sentence by Desiring God – John Piper guest preacher and Keith Jamal Morse, Ron Christopher Hicks and Sidney Deloch, Jr – Prisoners redeemed by Christ

Ps 146:7-9 He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow..

Mt 35:31-39 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him. ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?

The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’

Please share your thoughts. There is a lot here… I’d especially love to hear about prison ministries.

Image by Marko Lovric from Pixabay

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