August 29, 2007
The 12th chapter of the Gospel of Mark has several "Messiah Challenges." Sometimes, it is Jesus who is doing the challenging; other times, the religious leaders are challenging Him. In Mark 12:33 (which we were studying on a recent Wednesday at the brig), one of the religious leaders gives what Mark calls an "intelligent" answer to Jesus' question about the greatest commandment.
His answer, interestingly, shows an understanding of 1 Samuel 15:22, which Jason (my roommate, released in June 2003) and I had studied just a couple of days before. "To obey is better than sacrifice," Samuel says to Saul. But Saul had thought to sacrifice was obedience.
Jesus tells the religious leader that he's "not far from the Kingdom of God." Since the religious leaders had been doing everything they could think of to discredit Jesus, this is a pretty startling statement to you and me.
In contrast, Saul, the king chosen by God, turns out to be not so close to the kingdom. His disobedience leads to the kingdom being taken away from him and his lineage.
These two passages remind us all that life in Christ is not just an intellectual exercise, but a life to be lived. The religious leader in Mark 12 had intelligence to put things together such that Jesus said he was "not far" from the kingdom. But he's not there yet. Saul shows us that obedience to God is not a partial thing, but a complete thing. Saul thought he could pick and choose which commands to obey, and had excuses ready for the ones he had neglected.
One of our Wednesday night regulars, James, confesses each week to struggling with both obeying and sacrificing. His ex-wife has made his life difficult, and he wonders if he will ever see his young daughters again. He'll be released in October, and he admits that he's considered moving to Mexico and "disappearing"--shirking all responsibilities to his children.
Over the past couple of years, I've written a few times about Andy, who has been moved around (and some would say, jerked around) the military prison system for about six years. I first met him at the Camp Pendleton brig in early 2002. He was transferred to Miramar briefly, but then sent to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, for a couple of years. He came back to Miramar, his case was overturned, but he was re-tried and re-convicted.
In the summer of 2006, his mother in Riverside, CA (100 miles from where I live in La Mesa), had a heart attack. About the same time, Andy's attorney began filing papers regarding the computation of his "good days", which could result in him being released within a few weeks. ("Good days" are computed differently at each of the different facilities.)
In early April 2007, the military finally reviewed Andy's case and realized that he had been incarcerated about eight months longer than he should have been. He was released within about 10 hours of that decision. He's a Marine, so it was likely he was still nearby--either at Miramar or Camp Pendleton. I was unable to find him through the usual channels, and had no contact information since his had been a "hurry-up" release.
Then in late July, I had a phone message from Andy. Apparently, when his case was overturned I had given him my phone number (he was anticipating a hurry-up release then). We met for dinner on a Friday night about a month ago to catch up. He's living with his mother in Riverside and helping her, and found a good job that puts his military training to work. He's been attending a large church, but has yet to get involved beyond the worship service, and hasn't made any friends.
On a Sunday soon, I plan to drive to Riverside to visit a church there with Andy. The church is much smaller than the one Andy has been attending. It is my prayer that Andy will get involved with this congregation, that the congregation will welcome him, and that Andy will enjoy some accountability from this congregation. Please keep Andy in your prayers.
For those of you who read these letters regularly, I realize that there are some men (that I've reported on in the past) for whom you would like an update. If I were to update you on every man, these letters would be so long only a few of you would care to read them. If you've been praying for a man and wonder what's happened to him, please feel free to email me for an update.
Your prayers for these men and for this ministry is a great encouragement to me. Please keep it up!