Trusting the Story

Prayer 

Father, this is about you. We’ve already committed our time to you, committed our year to you. We’ve asked you for wisdom. God, you say that you are bringing about, through your kingdom, a planting for your own splendor. That’s the story, Lord. We trust you above all. We trust the story of your redemptive power and action in our world. Lord, grace us with skill and gifting beyond what would be ours without you. God, we commit our year to you and thank you for involving us in your amazing mission and calling us into a relationship with yourself. 


Recently, I was talking with a great friend who I have not spoken to for about six months. He said to me, “Andy, there are just some times when you need to trust the story.” What a great bit of advice: trust the story that we are in the middle of.  

So, what is that story for us? That story is God’s work in our creation, His kingdom, of which there will be no end. Everything is created by Him, through Him and for Him. At the heart of His kingdom are the poor, the oppressed, the prisoners. That’s God’s kingdom. That’s what we’re invited into. 

I know we’ve got great people within the Prison Fellowship International family. I know our teams have really solid strategies. I know we’ve got commitment. I know that God is with us. The rest is an open book. I can’t predict what’s in front of us, but I believe it’s going to be a great year. I’m trusting God for a great year, but if it’s not, then I’m going to trust the story. 

As I encourage you to also trust the story, I don’t want you to think, “Andy’s worried that we’re going to have a down year.” That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that whatever comes through the gate, God is with us. 

Psalm 46 tells us that “God is our refuge and strength.” This means that whatever happens, He’s always with us. We know that we can trust the story, one of a God who puts on flesh. One of a God who twice mentions the people whom we are serving daily when He first announces the launch of His kingdom. What a great privilege. 

 I want to encourage you at the beginning of this year. I hope that this will be a great year. I think it will be. Like last month’s prayer said, “God, give us wisdom. We need more of it than ever.” As we orientateourselves around and adopt the posture of this prayer, we are able to trust the one who made the story in the first place. The one who says, “I am your refuge and strength.” As much as we need great strategy, that’s not what we should be placing our trust in. As much as we need resources, it’s not that either. God is the basis of everything we need in 2024.  

Recently, I have been asking God to crown our year with splendor. When we pray and articulate, we are praying things into being as well. That’s why our prayer is so important. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of prayer in that kind of way, but there’s a creative act that occurs when we articulate, inspired by the Spirit of God, aligning ourselves with the Word of God. 

Selah. 

The Mystery of the Trinity and Incarnation

Prayer 

Father, we stand at the precipice of another year. We continue to ask you to give us wisdom on what our priorities should be, not only for the year, but for each day. Help us to know where to spend our time. Give us wisdom that’s beyond our understanding to make decisions that need to be made to advance this work in your kingdom. Amen.  


As I was thinking a little bit about this coming year (as we stand at the beginning of a new one), I wanted to orientate us in the most appropriate way that I could think of. By merging some of the things that I’ve been thinking about in my own devotional times, it’s going to be a little messy because we’re going to be looking at some mysteries that I’m not claiming to understand. We’re going to be talking about the Trinity and the incarnation, which will orientate us in a way which helps us to anchor our mission in who God is, who Jesus is, who we are and what we’re called to do. I hope after you read this, you will come away thinking, “Wow, God is amazing. We’re involved in something really incredible that He’s called us to.” 

This is one of the most famous icons in the world. It’s by Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev (c. 1360-1430) and is based on a story in Genesis where Abraham meets three angels. As people contemplated what this icon represented, they found the mystery of the Trinity. It is a really remarkable icon and there’s so much to unpack in it, but there are two things that I want to highlight especially:

  1. The way that they are completely orientated in loving relationship. The gaze between the three members of the Trinity is one of affection. If you look at the fingers of the figure in the middle, his two fingers are pointing down. This has been interpretated as God as man, who was truly and properly both man and God. If you were to hold a coin up centered on those two fingers, you would see circular symmetry between all three of them. They are gathered around a table, or altar, with a chalice that is representative of Holy Communion. 
  2. The small rectangle on the table at the bottom is a fascinating thing because experts have really no idea what that is. There have been some speculations that it may have been a box where bones were placed in there in the hope of the resurrection. It has also been theorized that is mirror to represent that as you gaze into the mystery of the Trinity and that perfect relationship, you are also invited in to that relationship 

Genesis says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth… the earth was formless and empty…and God said, ‘Let there be light.’” The action of speaking implies that there is someone else to speak to, which would mean this act of creation involved the other two members of the Trinity. God used words and as he spoke, our universe was created out of nothing. 

The same God, whose words created the universe from nothing, is incarnated in the person of Christ, and always around us in the Holy Spirit. He welcomes us into the middle of the divine dance through relationship with Him – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I find that remarkable and a meaningful way to orient my year around relationship to God, and to one another.  

May our year hold opportunities for deep fellowship and relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – the Trinity.  

Selah. 

A Christmas Message For You

There is much to be grateful for this Christmas season, and we give thanks to God for every good gift, which comes from Him. It may have been a challenging autumn season for many, but you continue to inspire us with your creativity, passion and commitment to transforming the lives of prisoners, victims and their families. We remain united by our shared love for those who are forgotten and condemned by others, and this simple truth – there is a Savior who came to set us all free and give us hope.

Today, I am sharing a personal message of gratitude to thank you for your partnership with Prison Fellowship International this year.

Thank you for remembering those in prison in this, and every, season.

Wishing you and yours a blessed Christmas,

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Illuminating Perspectives: Connections Between Art, Faith and Christ’s Light

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my friends’ house, in Cornwall UK, being deliberately demolished and rebuilt with a new design to take maximum advantage of the sunrise and sunset. 

Coincidentally, the British county of Cornwall throughout history has been a haven for artists of all types, many of whom talk about the “quality of light” found in the area. I take this to mean that something in the quality of light in Cornwall allows people to see things differently, leading to inspiration and creation of innovative artworks.  

The relationship between art and faith is a huge area to explore. I’m convinced that we, being created in God’s image, reflect both His creativity and character when we pursue art and work to, in the very best way we can, reflect a small part of His glory and beauty.  

“When we make, we invoke the abundance of God’s world into the reality of scarcity all about us.” Artist Makoto Fujimura, Art and Faith: A Theology of Making 

As we approach the season of Advent, which is intimately connected with incarnational light in the person of Jesus of Nazareth coming into our world, I want to draw our attention to the unsurpassable, eternal, and without comparison quality of light that He is. There simply is no light like Him. 

Jesus said it Himself: “I am the Light of the world. I am the way, the truth and the Light.”

As C.S. Lewis helpfully framed for us: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” 

At this time of year, share with me in the joy and wonder of the grace-bestowed, non-merit relationship we are able enjoy with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit because of the quality of the Son’s light. Go out in the confidence that, although we can do nothing without Him, His divine power gives us everything we need for life and Godliness. 

Fujimura reminds us: “When we surrender all to the greatest Artist, that Artist fills us with the Spirit and makes us even more creative and aware of the greater reality all about us.” 

Your brother, 

 

God’s Light – A Firm Foundation

Some wonderful friends of my wife and mine have constructed a glorious house overlooking one of the best surfing beaches in Cornwall, England.

They purchased the plot, knocked down the original house, and designed and rebuilt on the same site but oriented the new house to take full advantage of the rising and setting of the sun. Despite hectic schedules for all of us, they generously share its beauty with us as their guests, when the opportunity arises in that ‘zone’ where family and friend are fluid.

Their home is spectacular. Light flows in from every window and bathes one in its warmth and quality of light.

We visited a few weeks ago and as I sat looking out over the setting sun, it reminded me of this Psalm:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth. The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.” Psalms 19:1-9 NIV 

There is real wisdom in constructing our own house (our lives) to take full advantage of the light of God Himself and of His inspired word. In fact, there is no more sure foundation for our lives as the Bible itself tells us.

According to the Psalm, everyday He bathes our planet in truth, light, revelation and wisdom. His word sprints, rejoicing in its work. It never returns void.

This past weekend, I learned a new acronym to help me apply God’s word in practical ways in my life. I thought it was helpful.

S – is there a Sin God wants me to be aware of?

P – a Promise?

A – an Attitude?

C – a Command

E – an Example?

So, let’s begin. Try SPACE with this Psalm. Let it go deep, no matter your circumstances. Draw strength, mercy, forgiveness – in fact, whatever good gift you need – from its truth.

God is good all the time.

And enjoy the view….

Beyond the Clouds: Discovering God’s Everlasting Goodness

The changing of the weather is often used as a metaphor for life’s changing circumstances. 

The weather, as we all know, can alter very quickly. Recently, I experienced four seasons in a single day while fishing.    

It was remarkable how the external environment around me went from sunny to bitterly cold to wet and windy, and how rapidly the transitions occurred at ground level. 

Most of us have experienced this when we take off in an aeroplane in foul conditions, only to find that five minutes later, we’re having to pull the window blinds down as we emerge into bright sunlight.   

No matter the weather, the sun still continues to shine, despite what it might look like at ground level. Even more surprising is that out in deeper space, the stars are there, shining in their own beauty, but simply out-performed by the sun’s brightness.  

It takes a special kind of person to remember in the cloud and rain that, somewhere up above the impenetrable gloom, a hot glowing ball of hydrogen and helium at the center of our solar system burns at 5600 degrees Celsius with a fire that never ever goes out. 

This brings me to one of my favourite Psalms which tells me not to forget that God is good all the time. That all the time, God is good because it is His nature.  

It is the equivalent of remembering that above, the weather, all is well and warm.  

From time to time, I’m tempted to forget this truth. In fact, I believe it is a tactic of the enemy and his dark forces to steal, kill and destroy my appreciation of this truth, so important, is it to my heart, soul, strength and mind. 

So today, no matter what comes my way, I choose to recall the goodness of God and praise Him and all He promises for me (and you).  

Join me right now in this collective reminder, and let it guard our hearts and restore us.

  

“Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name. Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s! The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly. He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel. The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust. Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone— as though we had never been here. But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments! The Lord has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything. Praise the Lord, you angels, you mighty ones who carry out his plans, listening for each of his commands. Yes, praise the Lord, you armies of angels who serve him and do his will! Praise the Lord, everything he has created, everything in all his kingdom. Let all that I am praise the Lord.” Psalms 103:1-22 NLT

From Sunset to Wildfire: Trusting God Amidst the Chaos

I watched a blazing sun set over the sea on Sunday evening. An orange orb bathed in a creamy pink matrix over a foundation of blue. It was a picture of beauty, calmness and serenity.

But within 100 miles from where I sat, three islands were literally ablaze with wildfire. Holidaymakers were being evacuated, firefighters were risking their lives and farmers were watching their livelihoods go up in flames as the environment was being engulfed and consumed.

The island I was presently relaxing on, appreciating the serene setting sun, had experienced the same chaos a week before. I had seen the destructive results and the smouldering aftermath with my own eyes.

The Christian life does not make us immune to hardship, challenges or adversity. In fact, it promises it. What God, through his living and written Word, does is encourage us to see beyond the immediate and to trust in His everlasting love and goodness.

When we follow Christ and take the words of the Bible seriously, we must recognize that each night, one of two things might occur before the sun rises again – either the Lord will return, or the sun will resume its appointed course and bring a new day. We recognize that whichever of the two options occurs, His word and His faithfulness are assured and we need not fear:

“Light, space, zest— that’s God! So, with him on my side I’m fearless, afraid of no one and nothing. When vandal hordes ride down ready to eat me alive, Those bullies and toughs fall flat on their faces. When besieged, I’m calm as a baby. When all hell breaks loose, I’m collected and cool. I’m asking God for one thing, only one thing: To live with him in his house my whole life long. I’ll contemplate his beauty; I’ll study at his feet. That’s the only quiet, secure place in a noisy world, The perfect getaway, far from the buzz of traffic. God holds me head and shoulders above all who try to pull me down. I’m headed for his place to offer anthems that will raise the roof! Already I’m singing God-songs; I’m making music to God.” – Psalms 27:1-6 MSG

As it was in the beginning is now and shall be forever. That night yielded to dawn, and we had another day.

This week may hold challenges for you or a family member, and if not this week, maybe next. There is no sugar coating this reality of human life. My wife Andrea reminded me as we prayed in the sunset, that the truth of the Psalm below penned almost 3,000 years ago will apply, no matter what.

Whatever occurs, He is God and His love is everlasting.

Selah (meaning pause and think calmly on this)

“I will exalt You, my God, O King, And [with gratitude and submissive wonder] I will bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless You and lovingly praise You; Yes, [with awe-inspired reverence] I will praise Your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised, And His greatness is [so vast and profound as to be] unsearchable [incomprehensible to man]. One generation shall praise Your works to another, And shall declare Your mighty and remarkable acts. On the glorious splendor of Your majesty And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. People will speak of the power of Your awesome acts, And [with gratitude and submissive wonder] I will tell of Your greatness. They will overflow [like a fountain] when they speak of Your great and abundant goodness And will sing joyfully of Your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, And His tender mercies are over all His works [the entirety of things created]. All Your works shall give thanks to You and praise You, O Lord, And Your godly ones will bless You. They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom And talk of Your power, To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts And the glorious majesty of Your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord upholds all those [of His own] who fall And raises up all those who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to You [in hopeful expectation], And You give them their food in due time. You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing. The Lord is [unwaveringly] righteous in all His ways And gracious and kind in all His works. The Lord is near to all who call on Him, To all who call on Him in truth (without guile). He will fulfill the desire of those who fear and worship Him [with awe-inspired reverence and obedience]; He also will hear their cry and will save them. The Lord keeps all who love Him, But all the wicked He will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, And all flesh will bless and gratefully praise His holy name forever and ever.” – Psalms 145:1-21 AMP

 

I Arise Today: Courage and Conviction

Like many families with children who are digital natives, we have a family WhatsApp group. It’s used for all sorts of wonderful things, especially now our clan is expanding with grandchildren.

One of these uses is when I embark on a travel trip (which, to be fair, does seem like every Monday): I can let my nearest and dearest know that I love them. This is not a morbid thing. It is a desire as I set out into the unknown that they know that the last thing that their father would say to kith and kin are words of love.

Interestingly, when I’m travelling back home, I don’t do this and there’s probably a reason: coming back to domestic, unconditional love, security and shalom (which is home at its best surely) doesn’t seem like a journey of peril at all. It seems the most natural thing in the world. Even though, in reality, the journey home could be filled with just as much danger.

My inconsistency sometimes astounds me 😊

Anyhow to return to my main point, setting out on a journey has always carried with it significance for the faithful. God pursuers for thousands of years, starting with the Jewish community in the desert lands of Egypt, have vigilantly ‘armed’ themselves with love and obedient commitment as they step out of the doors of their homes.

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”- Deuteronomy 6:4-9 NLT

The application is as all-embracing as it is simple:

Everything we do (tie them to your hands) and everything that goes on in our minds (forehead) and all our comings and goings are meant to be governed by our relationship with Him.

The result of this is not a check box, clipboard compliance exercise, but fully for our good:

“And the Lord our God commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear him so he can continue to bless us and preserve our lives, as he has done to this day.” – Deuteronomy 6:24 NLT

Now, I know we live under a new agreement because of Christ Jesus so shout it from the rooftops: God is for us. God loves us unconditionally. All former barriers have been removed in Christ.

But it continues to be good to live in the fear of God, including an understanding that I simply don’t know what is going to come my way on any given day.

The New Testament is full of this paradox as worked out in the saints, and sometimes martyrs, of the early church until the modern day.

It turns out that a famous Irish saint felt the same way too. Saint Patrick has become famous for his breastplate Lorica prayers. No stranger to setting out from home to face perils and dangers of all kinds himself, he discovered a daily discipline of positioning himself faith-fully, come what may.

So, as I write this flying over Repulse Bay, Canada at 40,000 feet, 2000 kilometers from my destination, I choose to do the same. Less ably and effectively that my Celtic brother, no doubt, but believing that I am animated by the same “mighty strength” that He wrote about and knew, and that even more amazingly gloriously knew and loved him.

I pray, this day, you will step outside your door in the same courage and conviction:

“I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through a belief in the Threeness,

Through confession of the Oneness

Of the Creator of creation.

 

I arise today

Through the strength of Christ’s birth and His baptism,

Through the strength of His crucifixion and His burial,

Through the strength of His resurrection and His ascension,

Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

 

I arise today

Through the strength of the love of cherubim,

In obedience of angels,

In service of archangels,

In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,

In the prayers of patriarchs,

In preachings of the apostles,

In faiths of confessors,

In innocence of virgins,

In deeds of righteous men.

 

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven;

Light of the sun,

Splendor of fire,

Speed of lightning,

Swiftness of the wind,

Depth of the sea,

Stability of the earth,

Firmness of the rock.

 

I arise today

Through God’s strength to pilot me;

God’s might to uphold me,

God’s wisdom to guide me,

God’s eye to look before me,

God’s ear to hear me,

God’s word to speak for me,

God’s hand to guard me,

God’s way to lie before me,

God’s shield to protect me,

God’s hosts to save me

From snares of the devil,

From temptations of vices,

From every one who desires me ill,

Afar and anear,

Alone or in a multitude.

 

I summon today all these powers between me and evil,

Against every cruel merciless power that opposes my body and soul,

Against incantations of false prophets,

Against black laws of pagandom,

Against false laws of heretics,

Against craft of idolatry,

Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,

Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ shield me today

Against poison, against burning,

Against drowning, against wounding,

So that reward may come to me in abundance.

 

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,

Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ on my right, Christ on my left,

Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,

Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,

Christ in the eye that sees me,

Christ in the ear that hears me.

 

I arise today

Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,

Through a belief in the Threeness,

Through a confession of the Oneness

Of the Creator of creation.”

– Saint Patrick (ca. 377)

 

 

Saint Patrick (window) © Sicarr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Prayer, Perseverance and Purpose: Learnings from PF Ukraine’s Prayer Breakfast

I have recently returned from a wonderful visit to Ukraine. The invitation came because PF Ukraine, in the face of real adversity, has shown itself to be a partner of great value to the justice ministry there. As a result, PFU Executive Director Vyacheslav Kogut and his team were co-sponsors of a prayer breakfast comprised of prison governors, military personnel, faith leaders, and many others besides.  

All persons attending gathered around the person of Jesus and were committed to prayer in the midst of their current circumstances. I had the privilege of reminding them that the greatest power in our universe is God’s love for those he has created.  

The indefatigable spirit of the PFU leaders, supporters and volunteers was inspiring and challenging in equal measure. Their commitment to service and impact was undefeated by external circumstances which they were not in control of. The things they offered in response were hard work, perseverance and a hope for the future. Their work is astounding.  

Many of the national ministries in our PFI family face challenges, yet our teams around the world continue to give of their best. We continue to see God surprise us and, in every way, move through the work we are doing, as we serve the prisoners of our world, doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God who is a Father to us all. 

We are inspired and empowered by the greatest power that our world can encounter: the unconditional love of our creator, a God who affirms to every human being that they are His image bearers, who revealed Himself, 2,000 years ago, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. 

The lengths he went to prove His love and commitment to us were extraordinary. He faced an unjust, cruel death alongside two known criminals, one of whom He assured with His dying breath, would be with Him in paradise that very day. He then descended into Hell, the place of death and imprisonment, and spectacularly emerged in victory. 

Prisons and tombs are everywhere around us and within us: physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual. They are all places of death. But no matter how far we fall from displaying His image (living in tombs and prisons, either of our own making or not), God makes it clear that we are loved unconditionally and that His offer to all is freedom and resurrection life. 

Psalm 68:6 tells us that “He leads out the prisoner to prosperity,” maybe better puts as “He leads out the prisoner to fullness of every kind”. It is the kind of work that God is expert in. In my work, I am privileged to see His transformation in lives all over the world. From prison to freedom, fullness and wholeness.   

The Ukrainian people represent something that is deep within those that God has created. Galatians 5:1 says, “It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” You could say it is in the DNA of all of us, that a God who is love, desires for us to be free and is in charge of our universe is worth remembering when circumstances arise against us in this life.  

I do not believe history and eternity will be on the side of those who seek to usurp the kingdom He launched on resurrection Sunday, 2,000 years ago. Our world changed on that resurrection day, for good. Nothing is the same from now on. At the name of Jesus every knee must bow. 

We have the privilege in this life and today of embracing this God of love and author of life, while praying and embodying, “Your kingdom come and your will be done be done on earth as in heaven.” Our scripture tells us He listens and moves in response. 

In the dark physical prisons of the world, the institutional prisons of injustice and oppression, and in the fearful dark prisons of my heart, Jesus Christ is present and brings His Words of life 

I was reminded of this fact in the chapel inside Boroslav prison with its large iconic artwork of Christ Pantokrator. There he was, His right hand raised in blessing, His left holding the Good News of who He is, why he came and what that means for us. 

This is why I believe our work is holy. We remind those in the prison of the world, and simultaneously ourselves, of these truths in practice and words. That we are image- bearing, affirmed, forgiven; That we can be and are continuously being restored and transformed by Him. 

It is why I am fond of saying, “We don’t take Jesus into prison. We follow Him in and meet Him there. 

And lastly, from my heart I say and to the all-powerful God whose name is Jesus: May the Lord bless you and protect you. May He make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May He lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. 

Revitalizing Families, Restoring Hope

It is beyond dispute that, in the Bible, the family has been one of God’s key institutional designs for blessing our world. Right back to the garden of Eden, where human beings are encouraged to multiply and fill the earth, it has been families that have achieved this God-given goal. God is the author, giver and sustainer of life. Period. And families are His design.

By describing the family as an institution, my meaning is something structurally beneficial to society endowed by someone or something. I passionately believe this is what families can, often are and should be. Who would deny that, at their best, families are places of love, security, provision, and mutual flourishing and benefit? It is true that, because we are all broken and in need of healing in our lives, no family is perfect. Countless popular books have been written with on variations on the theme of “my family history and how I survived it.”

Yet, many quality academic studies affirm that a strong, cohesive family is still the most robust and best communal building block we have. Those of us who are privileged to have been brought up in a positive, healthy environment like this should be perpetually grateful to God, our parents and even our siblings.

Sadly, our world is also full of family break up and disruption, especially in the prisons of our world. Go into almost any prison and talk to men (more than 90% of those in prison are men) and you encounter the same story again and again. Absent fathers producing absent fathers is like a mathematical equation with the same result each time, as the playground to prison pathway is trodden again and again with all its relational vandalism and violence. A crying shame and a seemingly endless cycle of curse and criminality.

But when fighting off darkness, it is better to light a candle than to simply curse the lack of light. It is in this spirit that I commend this edition of Touchstone to you. Things can be done to change this state of affairs. This issue is rich with meaningful interventions that can help break this cycle.

The work being done throughout the world in our national ministries for the children and families of prisoners is so beautiful and varied. There are so many stunning examples of healing and restoration for the orphans and widow of incarceration.

PFI’s signature programs, both behind bars and with families, also add to the mix and result in blessing to individuals, families and then on into community as dark ripple effects are disrupted by light.

We can be the Grace of God, Kingdom ambassadors and agents of transformation. I know I’m writing to brothers and sisters who give themselves, often selflessly, to this work. Work that is often hard and challenging. But this work, this investment in nurturing and strengthening the bonds between family members that have been strained and torn by incarceration, is an investment in one of God’s primary ways of blessing the world.

But let’s be assured our work is always worth it:

“We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense.” 2 Corinthians 6:3-4, 6-7 NLT

May God richly bless you and continue to empower you through His love.