I think we live in a very oppressive society.
You might disagree.
Wasn't this country founded on ideals that allow every citizen to enjoy "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?" Doesn't this society hold among its highest ideals non-discrimination and individual freedom?
The reality is that many Americans are desperately unhappy, they are not free, and tragically, they are giving up on life entirely.
Americans are the most heavily medicated people on earth. Millions are on anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and psychiatric medications--even in the church.
More people are incarcerated in America than in any other nation on earth, including Russia and China. It has more than 25% of all the world's prisoners despite having less than 5% of the world's population.
The March 31st USA TODAY reported on a study done in run-down neighborhoods in large cities. "An emerging national network of public health and neuroscience researchers, community minded foundations and law enforcement officials, believe that the primary challenge facing high poverty areas is not one of the usual suspects; education, crime or jobs."
The biggest challenge, according to the study, "Is an epidemic of trauma passed along from generation to generation, from one neighborhood to another."
The trauma from broken homes, single households, alcohol and drug abuse, incest and sexual exploitation is comparable to the trauma experienced in war-torn countries, the study reveals.
The trauma inflicted on children is mind-boggling and absolutely heart-wrenching. This is not a time for judgment, but for mercy.
Another much publicized study shows that middle-aged white Americans are seeing a dramatic decline in life expectancy. The reason? People seem to have lost hope. Broken marriages, loss of the American dream, fragmented and isolated lives are causing millions to seek escape in drugs, alcohol and other abuses. Thousands are dying from overdoses and suicide.
American society is in deep trouble.
What has gone wrong?
The news articles I've read don't suggest the possibility that the despair and hopelessness in so many lives might be caused by spiritual emptiness.
Could it be that sexual "liberation" and the pursuit of material treasure and pleasure are leaving people hollow at the core--hungry for something more?
Could it be that the Gospel of self-fulfillment being peddled everywhere is snake oil psychology? Or worse, is it a toxic brew that does the opposite of what it promises---bringing enslavement and despair instead of fulfillment?
Modern society has brought us "The autonomous, freely choosing individual, finding meaning in no one but himself."
In a Supreme Court decision upholding abortion rights in 1992, Justice Kennedy said, "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life."
God is fast becoming irrelevant as people are taught to find ultimate meaning and fulfillment in themselves.
And this gospel of self-fulfillment is anything but good news.
It's time for a revolution, time to throw off the chains of this oppressive society. It's deliverance time.
We're talking about a spiritual revolution.
"The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. We suit up with "the armor of God on the right hand and on the left." (2 Cor. 10:4, 2 Cor. 6:7)
Two thousand years ago, The Emperor of a New Society stood up and proclaimed this revolutionary message: "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 them that are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18)
Folks in His hometown of Nazareth were so incensed by His claims that they took the Emperor and tried to throw him down over a cliff. But He survived the attempt and went on to lead the greatest revolution this world has ever seen.
Jesus presents a dramatic counter-claim to the promises of modern society.
"Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life FOR MY SAKE will find it. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me." Luke 16:24-25.
The exclusivity and extent of Jesus claim is breathtaking. If we wish to find ourselves (self-realization) we must let go of ourselves and surrender to this Person.
To be sure, joining Jesus' revolution means abandoning everything in order to follow Him, just as did His first disciples.
But that is a small price to pay. For He heals our broken, disordered hearts with His abounding life. And the peace and joy is unspeakable.
He is THE ONE the oppressed, brokenhearted American people are looking for--the Great American Liberator.
If we take the time to unplug the media, and turn off the TV, we can find Him, if we seek Him.
He promised, "If anyone loves me, he will keep my Word and my Father will love him and WE WILL COME TO HIM AND MAKE OUR HOME WITH HIM." (John 14:23)
There's nothing better. To have the quieting, restful, joy-giving presence of God is what our weary hearts need.
We've all been affected by the mad pace of this oppressive, soul-squeezing society.
If we step aside long enough to look for Him and open our hearts to Him, we will find the Great Psychologist; the Counselor we all need; the Friend who abides with us and comforts our lonely hearts.
He's been there all the time, even while counseling centers and drug treatments proliferate.
When we surrender to Him; when we live in His presence with our brother in obedience to His teachings, His Liberating Kingdom will break out among us and make us whole.
"The Sun of Righteousness (shall) arise with healing in His wings..." (Mal. 4:2)
Peace to all in Jesus' precious name! It's probably about time you hear from me. I miss coming to our prayer meeting. Right now we have a time of testimony and prayer and teaching each evening at 7:00 in the outdoor pavilion--except for the evenings something else is going. Tonight's meeting will be chilly.
I woke up around 11:30 the other night; loud voices in the hallway just outside the door. I tried to shut out the noise and go back to sleep. I heard Karl, my bunkmate and ex-marine get up. I figured he'd give them a piece of his mind.
The next day he told me what happened. He stepped into the hallway and tried to quietly say something like, "Can you give us a little respect, there's men in here trying to sleep." One of the men shot back, "THIS IS PRISON!"
Karl replied quietly, "You're right, it is prison."
He came back into the room and I heard him rustling around.
HE PUT ON HIS BOOTS.
He went back into the hallway, and in a quiet but commanding voice said something like, "You were right, this is prison, can we talk about it more?"
He said the fellow took a look at his boots and skedaddled for the end of the hall-way, and he didn’t come down there all the next day.
Karl said that fellow had probably never been at a high security prison or a penitentiary. Because there they'd have beaten him to death for not being more respectful. He's probably right. I've heard some horrible stories.
How does an Anabaptist compare to a marine in a situation like that?
Let me mention what happened to me about a month ago. The same thing was happening. It was maybe 12:30 a.m. and the fellows were over there in that little room off the hallway, playing chess, thumping the pieces on the board as they moved, and talking loudly. That time I couldn't rely on Karl, he slept right through it.
So finally I got up. I went over to that little room, tried to be as friendly as possible and said something like, "Excuse me, we're trying to sleep over there."
The response was identical. "THIS IS PRISON, MAN!"
Somehow I didn't feel like pushing my point, so I walked on down the hall to get a drink. When I passed by again they were still playing noisily. I crawled back into bed and tried to go to sleep. I'd like to imagine I asked God to forgive them, but I don't remember, and that's probably being a little plenty generous with yours truly.
But after 15-20 minutes they moved and it was quiet!
No threatening action necessary!
Not that threatening action would be all that natural for me. Pushing 5' 6" and 139 lbs, I'm one of the smallest fellows in here. A lot of fellows spend hours working out on the weight yard every day, massive bodybuilders--and they're CRIMINALS. And I'm in here with them, mingling with them every day.
But I've never felt real danger.
One of my friends and brothers in Messiah is Steve. He's 6'8" and about 250 pounds. When we're together you get the long and short of it.
But the real reason I've never felt danger is because the Firstborn, my Elder Brother, is here with me. He's with me everwhere. And He's Incredibly Strong.
Nobody's gonna mess with me without first tangling with Him!
I've often thought about that terrifying scene on the Kano Plains near Lake Victoria in Kenya Africa, Nov. 6th, 2000. Three defenseless men huddled together, kneeling on the ground, crying out to God while the mob rushed toward them. Only God could save them, and somehow, He did.
We've all come through times of intense trial. And one thing we learn: God is faithful. We don't have to stress and we don't have to fight for ourselves because we're learning to trust Him to fight our battles.
"The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God through our Lord Jesus Christ!" The only weapons we carry are "The Shield of Faith" and "The Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God."
Last time I checked, no concealed weapons permit was necessary for either of these.
This morning for breakfast, we had pancakes and syrup, oatmeal and a slice of pineapple that was really good. For lunch we had a hamburger with the fixings and fries that were almost better than McDonald's fries. Tonight is chef salad. We really have nothing to complain about.
Yesterday I was feeling "blah" just about all day. A lot of it was from the lack of sleep that previous noisy night. I felt emotionally drained, unmotivated and didn't use my time very well. And I didn't feel like being with people at all.
Sometimes a man needs to grab himself by the scruff of the neck and give himself a kick in the pants. So I went outside and walked in the cold bracing wind and cried out to God and resisted our enemy. And I discovered once again that if you really mean it, God answers our prayers and gives us power and new energy on the inside. And then our physical bodies are revived too.
"But if the Spirit of Him that raised up Christ from the dead dwell in you, He that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by His Spirit that dwelleth in you." (Rom. 8:11) This compares to Isaiah 40:28-31, "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increaseth strength;..."
One of the many things I'm learning is that Jesus is our Mediator. Not only between us and God His Father, but between us and every person and circumstance. Jesus stands there in the way, inviting us to participate with Him as we interact with that person, with that circumstance. To the extent we accept His invitation is the extent we're able to love people as He does and to face our circumstances with wisdom and strength-- without fear.
When we forget He is there, or when we ignore Him, we go around Him. Then we interact with that person, that circumstance on our own. That is what it means to operate in the flesh.
Let's all remember our dear brothers and the court hearings next week, and earnestly pray.
Your brother in Christ Jesus
I stood in the stairwell at Richmond Hall waiting at the door for the next "move." I put Brother Weber's letter into my back pocket. I moved further down the stairs. I didn't want the fellows around me see a grown man cry.
Brother Weber is a young man from Elmira, Ontario. He wrote me recently.
What in the world does he have in common with Rosaria Butterfield? (I've been reading her books lately.)
Not much, at first glance.
Weber grew up in a close-knit conservative culture much like my own.
Rosaria Butterfield was a lesbian activist and a tenured professor of literature at a major university.
That is, until she met the same Person Brother Weber must have met.
He's conservative Mennonite as I am. She's now Reformed Presbyterian. The theological differences are not insignificant.
So what does Brother Weber have in common with Rosaria Butterfield?
Brother Weber shared with me in his letter the words of a song he's come to love, "How Deep the Father's Love," by Stuart Townsend. Standing there in that stairwell, letter in hand, the words and melody of that song washed over me and took my heart:
How deep the Father's love for us! How vast beyond all measure!
That He should give His only Son, to make a wretch His treasure!
How great the pain of searing loss! The Father turns His face away.
As wounds which mar the Chosen One, bring many sons to glory.
I will not boast in anything; no gifts, no power, no wisdom.
But I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.
Why should I gain from His reward? I cannot give and answer.
But this I know with all my heart; His wounds have paid my ransom!
And I realized that this young coming-of-age brother loved the same Jesus that Rosaria Butterfield found in the "train wreck" of her conversion.
Strange, how this self-described "meek and lowly" Jesus has captured the lives and loves of so many millions of wildly disparate people around the world in the last 2,000 years.
It must be the "Visceral living presence of God," a Jesus who "Seemed present and alive," that Mrs. Butterfield wrote about in The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.
It must be the "Peace and tranquility we feel when we let His love and plan of salvation be enough to carry us through each day," that brother Weber wrote about in his letter to me.
All I know is that the Jesus of Brother Weber and Rosaria Butterfield has captured my heart too, and I never want to let Him go, and I know HE will never let me go!
So let us gather around the cross together and lift our eyes to the Savior. This is the location Brother Weber and Rosaria Butterfield have in common, as do all of us who are In Jesus Christ.
And by the way, why don't you look up Brother Weber's beloved song and let its message break your heart again.
And while you're at it, get a hold of Rosaria's books, The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert and Openness Unhindered. Her books can help us see ourselves. And they can help us offer the transforming grace of Jesus to our fellow sinners.
Ken Miller 08464-082
Federal Correctional Complex
P.O. Box 1000
Petersburg, VA 23804
The Miller family recorded a CD "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow" several years ago, before Ken was incarcerated. Those CDs are now available again, free of charge. The Miller family will send you one if you click "Contact Us" to the right and send us your address.
FIVE PRECIOUS MINUTES
I think it's safe to say that the five minutes from 2:37 to 2:42 pm on Feb 4th, 2017, were among the most precious five minutes I've experienced as a father.
I listened intently. I was on the phone, downstairs in Richmond Hall. At the other end, Lamar Hochstetler presented the covenant vows to the couple standing in front of him--my first-born son, David, and his bride, Grace (Shank) from Aroda, VA. And then I heard my son say, "I will." When it was time for Grace to make her promise, a voice roared something across the prison PA system behind me, and I couldn't hear her response.
But I know her commitment to my son is as strong as life itself.
And then I heard Lamar pray with them.
Finally, I heard him say, "I now present to you Mr. and Mrs. David Miller!" and I imagined them sweeping down the aisle, all happy and radiant.
Then the group of singers came in with a glorious rendition of "You Shall Go Out with Joy." And about five seconds after the recessional song was over, my time expired and the phone call was over. (Here at Petersburg Low, you have to wait 45 minutes before you can place another call.)
I was so happy that the timing worked out perfectly.
Duane finished the message just at the right time.
And now I was so happy I was overcome with emotion.
To sort of get a hold of myself, I went back to the "cell house," an unused section of the prison where we have telephones and showers.
After a bit one of the officers came through the door on his rounds. He looked at me, "Miller, you ok?" I struggled to control my voice. "Yeah, I'm all right."
It was tough, missing the wedding of my dear son. (It was real tough also, to miss the wedding of our oldest daughter last June.)
But I decided since circumstances won't allow me to be at my son's wedding, we'll overcome the circumstances. So we had our own wedding reception down here at Petersburg Low in honor of David and Grace. It turned out to be a great celebration, a very uplifting time for all of us.
I admit, our guest list here was quite a bit smaller than at the wedding itself. There were only seven of us; about 450 guests came to the wedding.
We met over at the gym around 5:00. Steve, a good friend who's 6'8," strode over there from his unit ahead of everyone else and reserved two tables.
Karl and I cooked four pizzas on our steam radiators for over four hours in plastic bags. They turned out real well. We made a bean and cheese dip to serve with nacho chips. Ice cold Pepsi for drinks. For the wedding cake, Jay made an incredible double layered cheese cake in honor of this special occasion. He'd been extolling it for weeks. It didn't disappoint me. I brought along a big chocolate bar to send home with each my guests as part of the celebration.
The seven of us gathered around the table with me at the head. I propped up two pictures of David and Grace at the other end against the wall where I could look at them.
At the beginning, we had a little ceremony. This is what we did:
First, I read the from the teachings of Jesus on marriage. (Matthew 19:4-6)**
Then we declared our Creator's praise.
I said: (Rather loudly so others in the gym could also hear) "In an age where the Creator's UNALTERABLE design for marriage is being dishonored and scorned, we followers of Yeshua Messiah at FCC Petersburg Low, on this day, Feb 4th 2017, proclaim our Creator's goodness! We honor and celebrate marriage as Yahweh instituted it--ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN in a life-long covenant relationship."
(Since many of my friends around the table were of the Messianic Group, I used the Hebrew names for God.)
And then we did two toasts. (I hope this wasn't irreverent.)
We popped the tabs on the Pepsis!
I said, "Here's to Yahweh's design for marriage!"
And we clanked the Pepsi cans together and said "Halelu YAH!" And each took a sip of Pepsi.
I said, "Here's to David and Grace!"
And we clanked the Pepsi cans together and said "Halelu YAH!" And each took a sip of Pepsi.
And then dear Steve led the prayer. He's very thorough, great mind, great student of the Scriptures. And he prayed a very expansive prayer on Yahweh's design for marriage, for marriage around the world, and for David and Grace and their marriage. It was a good prayer, very comprehensive.
All the while, to be honest, I was worried about the pizza getting cold.
Finally, he came around to praying for the food and the end was in sight.
After the "Hallelujah," (the Messianic way of ending prayer) we dug in. As we ate I told my friends about my community's customs for courtship and marriage. They were rather amazed that at ages 24 and 25, David and Grace had kept themselves for each other.
I then read to them a meditation I had prepared for the wedding service.
After the meal we all went outside. Four of us paired off for horseshoes and we had a great competitive game.
Overall, I think the evening was the best experience in comradeship I've had since I've been in prison. Everyone enjoyed it immensely. And all my friends felt privileged to be allowed in on David and Grace's celebration.
In fact, Jay enjoyed it so much he asked me if another one of my sons or daughters is getting married soon. I had to tell him that (alas) nothing is on the horizon.
So, once again CONGRATULATIONS David and Grace. Thank you for giving us a picture of our Heavenly Father's design for courtship and marriage. You all truly are a blessing to all of us. I wish you a wonderful time together this next week.
Love and prayers,
**In this passage, Jesus dramatically confronts the social re-engineering of modern western society by giving an authoritative definition of marriage using three gender specific pairings: male/female, man/wife, father/mother. And then He adds a declaration that stands for all time: "What God has joined together, let not man put asunder."