October 1, 2006
Yesterday there was a "revival" service in the prison's chapel which lasted from 12:45 to 8 p.m. I had to stay
an additional hour, however, after our guests and the rest of the inmates left in order to help the chapel's workers put away
the chairs, tables and music equipment. We also had to clean the building too. Then, when I got back to my cell shortly after
nine o'clock, I got my soap and shampoo and headed for a hot shower. By ten o'clock I was fast asleep.
One dozen Christians came to the facility to conduct this event. These men and women were all Hispanic. But
there were inmate translators available for the men like myself who don't know Spanish.
In addition, prison officials allowed the inmates and our visitors to eat together inside the chapel itself,
which is something that's seldom permitted. The guests also had to eat the basic prison food which, for yesterday's supper,
consisted of preprocessed meatball stew over noodles. The stew, by the way, is a product of the New York State Department
of Correctional Service's "quick-chill" food program. It's prepared in advance at a different facility, then quickly frozen,
and shipped to our prison's kitchen where it gets defrosted and reheated when needed.
I helped to serve the food, which I like to do. But the fun came when I got to watch the expressions on the
faces of our visitors when they each took their first taste of prison food.
Yet the best part of the service was the singing and worship, along with the various sermons given by each
preacher. Together everything made for a long but spiritually uplifting day.
October 2, 2006
Now thanks be unto God, which always
causeth us to triumph in Christ . . .
II Corinthians 2:14a
Yesterday I wrote about the revival service which I went to on September 30th. It was an enjoyable and spiritually
refreshing event. It was also a time for my soul to become more sensitive and increasingly fine-tuned to what the Lord has
for my life.
And along this line I made a decision to do something that God had placed in my heart to carry out. That was
to appoint an "assistant pastor" for the congregation. I'd been wanting to do this for a long time. I had to wait upon the
Lord, however, for the right moment. I also had to get permission from my chaplain as well as obtain confirmations from the
elders of our prison church.
So with the okay from our guests, shortly after six o'clock in the evening I approached the pulpit, gathered
the elder men around me, read a Scripture passage from Psalm 75 about promotion coming from the Lord, and then we all encircled
our brother, Phillip, placed our hands on him, and anointed Phillip as a pastor of the flock.
I'd written about Phillip in my July 2006 journal, in an entry called "Phillip's Message." He has been a blessing to the men here as well as a good encourager
for our guests and ministers who enter the chapel. Now, thank God, it was his turn to be elevated to this office, not before
men, but before the presence of the God who has called Phillip while he was still in his mother's womb.
The best part to all this, I must say, is that not only was I able to be used by the Lord to be a special blessing
to my friend and brother, but now I will have additional help with shepherding the flock. Phillip was doing this already.
But now he has a recognized position within the church body here. And I may, at some point in the future, allow him to become
the pastor while I step down for a long season in order to do more writing and other kinds of work for the Lord.
October 5, 2006
F. W. WOOLWORTH'S
Today is the anniversary of my Mother's passing. She died in 1967, and so every year I like to write something
in my journal in remembrance of her. I want to recall the good times she and I had.
I grew up in New York City's borough of the Bronx. Many years ago, however, throughout the City there existed
a department store chain called F.W. Woolworth. When it first began it was one medium-sized store. It was also called the
"Five & Dime" or "Five & Ten Cents" store because its founder, Mr. Woolworth, guaranteed that every item for sale
would not cost more than five or ten cents. This worked well in the early 1900s when a person could buy a ceramic coffee mug
for a nickel or a claw hammer for a dime. Later, though, the store's name changed to F.W. Woolworth because, giving in to
inflation, those prices could not last.
Nevertheless, when I was growing up in the 1950s, by this time Mr. Woolworth had opened stores all across New
York City, including one in my neighborhood.
It had become a much bigger store, too, which sold everything from cooking utensils to household products,
and toys to greeting cards, including an assortment of basic items anyone would need.
And Woolworth's also featured a lunch counter, and this is where my Mom comes in. She was a regular customer
during most mornings. When I was at school my Mom would often go with her friends to Woolworth's for coffee, and for one of
her favorite snacks, French crullers.
Crullers are circular-shaped deep fried cakes with twists, and are similar to donuts. Most also have a coating
of vanilla icing on top. I don't know how "French" a cruller really is, but having one with a cup of coffee, along with a
handful of chatty friends at her side, was my Mother's way of taking a break while doing her shopping.
I liked crullers. But when I would go to the lunch counter with my friends on a Saturday afternoon, as a chubby
sugar crazy kid, I'd usually opt for the much more satisfying custard filled chocolate donut washed down with a chocolate
milk chaser. Crullers were too light for me. They were, as far as I was concerned, food only fit for middle-aged women.
During the summer months, however, when I was home from school and had to go on dreaded shopping excursions
with my Mom, to keep me quiet she would promise the two of us a stop at Woolworth's. For her it was more coffee and another
cruller. But my big treat was their specialty item, and approximately 3/4 inch slice of strawberry, chocolate and vanilla
ice cream wedged between two cold waffles. It was basically a waffle and ice cream sandwich, and it was very popular.
This was my Mom's bribe to keep me quiet, and it always worked. I hated going shopping, but with my Dad at
work, I was too young to stay home alone.
I'll never forget the Woolworth's store on Westchester Avenue. It was a busy place. The lunch counter, especially,
was like the neighborhood's beauty salons where housewives would gather to gossip or talk about bargains and show off their
At Woolworth's lunch counter women would spend hours debating which soap was better, Ivory or Dial. While the
many ways to use Arm & Hammer baking soda was discussed with scientific precision because they were the experts in all
matters concerning baking soda. Likewise the ladies who chose to use Wesson oil for their cooking would openly argue against
those who preferred Mazola. No product would escape their careful scrutiny.
Unfortunately, F.W. Woolworth is gone now. One of New York City's most popular chain stores had run out of
business. In fact one of the latest stores to close its doors was located in the busiest shopping area of the Bronx, Fordham
Road. It closed, I believe, in the early 1980s. And with the departure of Woolworth's went a wealth of memories, although
many good memories still remain. And my Mother was a big part of all this.
October 8, 2006
WHAT A FRIEND
As I stood behind the pulpit in our chapel's main room where the worship services are held, and as I gazed
at the faces of an array of men of different ethnicities, ages and backgrounds, the thought came to mind, "What a friend we
have in Jesus."
This is the title of a popular hymn which has been sung in churches throughout the world. But when I saw these
men, many whose histories I know, I could not help but think that we are blessed to be alive.
Yes, this is prison. And being incarcerated is not easy. Prisoners suffer in many ways. There are the obvious
hardships such as being locked away from society and from one's family. And there are the lesser things a prisoner must endure,
such as getting only one roll of toilet paper per week, then running short a day or two before you're eligible for another
roll, or having to breathe in someone else's cigarette smoke until your throat gets sore.
Yet within this maximum security facility is a group of men - we had approximately 50 to 55 men in attendance
today - many whose faces shined with joy. I could also sense the peace in their hearts.
I declare, too, that we are a privileged group because we know Christ. He has become our Friend, Brother and
Savior. No one could care for us like He can. And I believe each of these men would agree with me that Jesus is all we need.
October 21, 2006
For by grace are ye saved through faith;
and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of
Not of works, lest any man should boast.
The grace of God is a major theme of the New Testament. Basically, it is God's unmerited favor and His abundant
mercy give to one who has transgressed and broken one or more of God's laws. Instead of judgment and punishment, the Sovereign
Savior elects to pardon the offender, although the offender may still have to deal with the consequences of his bad and sinful
Grace, or course, is not a person getting away with something. Rather the guilty individual does not get what
he deserves. The Lord, you see, puts His mercy into the equation so that the end result is not what was expected nor warranted.
And "grace vs. works" is a common question which comes up when Christians get together. So today, when someone
asked me what grace is and how it fits in with salvation and doing good deeds, I explained that we're not "saved" from our
sins by our good works, but only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Our works, however, will help to attest to the
reality and genuineness of our faith, I added.
Many new Christians often get confused between faith and works. I went through this myself when I was a new
believer. But in time, as the Christian matures in his walk with God, and as he becomes more knowledgeable of the Bible's
teaching on grace, he will begin to get the correct understanding.
Grace is one of God's most precious blessings. With it the gift of "eternal life" replaces condemnation, and
the promise of heaven replaces the torment of having to spend and eternity in a Christless hell.
October 26, 2006
TRUSTING THE LORD FOR HEALING
Blessed be the Lord, because He hath heard
the voice of my supplications.
While my faith in Jesus remains strong, my body is oftentimes weak. Even though I try to take good care of
myself, I still have human struggles with sickness as well as with an array of physical ailments that come upon me on occasion.
They slow me down for awhile. But the good part is that these things help to keep me humble and totally dependent upon God.
For the past several weeks, for example, I've been battling a case of bronchitis. I believe it was brought
on by a combination of second hand smoke and a change in the weather. It's put a drain on my body. And there's been a few
days when I lost my voice, too.
Yet I am required to do my assigned work. I also have to carry on with my duties in the chapel. I have personal
correspondence to answer as well. Nevertheless, the tiredness which accompanies my present sickness has kept me from writing
in my journal as often as I'd like.
I'll be fine, however. In the midst of my afflictions He provides me with the strength to go on. This bout
of bronchitis shall pass. By Jesus' wounds I am healed.
October 29, 2006
This is the day which the Lord hath made;
we will rejoice and be glad in it.
There were fifty-five men in church this morning. Not that the number means anything. This is a prison which
houses about 600. So getting fifty or more for a Sunday service when, for the most part, these guys could've all chosen to
stay in their bunks since they're off from their work assignments or school classes today, is a decent amount.
Meanwhile, the Spirit of God was surely moving among us because every aspect of the service went exceptionally
well, from opening prayer, Scripture readings, worship and hands held high in humble adoration, the choir with their selection
of songs followed by the sermon from our visiting minister, to an altar call for any man who needed special prayer. Everything
seemed to move in perfect harmony like a healthy human body with all its parts working and co-existing together to accomplish
its main purpose of staying alive.
For me, I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to gather with my fellow prisoners to worship the
God of heaven and earth. This has indeed been a day which the Lord has made to rejoice in.
October 31, 2006
Pray without ceasing.
I Thessalonians 5:17
Today I was blessed by having the morning off. This afternoon, however, is the weekly prayer meeting in the
chapel. It goes from 12:45 to 2:45, and this is followed by my chaplain's own Bible study class which lasts for about fifty
minutes before I must return to my cell.
There are many people, needs and situations to pray for and about. My own list seems endless. But I do try
to pray for at least one nation each day, or if God leads me to do so, I will pray for a particular country throughout the
week, or until God releases me from doing so.
This week, for instance, I am concentrating on the nation of Chad. It's a landlocked country of more than four
million people that's located in Central Africa. Much of it is barren, parched desert. In Chad there's intense suffering,
starvation, civil war and social unrest. Sick children are everywhere and emaciated adults drop dead in the streets.
While I never have a shortage of things to pray for, it is a challenge to discipline myself to have a consistent
prayer life. This is something I continue to strive for, and I often find myself having to ask the Lord for the strength to
pray, and what specifically to pray for at any given time. After all, prayer is too important to neglect.