God has many ways of blowing our minds with expressions of His grace and power. Ephesians sums it up by saying, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church.” (Eph.3:20) Yesterday, I was talking to Bob Mecado (“Chaplain Bob”) who told me that the prisoners at Chino State Prison were asking, “How’s Pastor Warner doing?” They were praying for God’s healing in my foot and post-surgical wound. I have frequently expressed both in sermons, writings, and conversations my extreme appreciation for those who pray for me; I don’t take it for granted. But, I was really stunned that these guys in prison, whom I never met, “know me” and have been praying for me!
Bobby Mecado is "an" all facilities chaplain for the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. This happens to be the largest jail in the world, having some 22,000 inmates on any given day. He is also a volunteer chaplain at the Chino State Prison, and visits many of the facilities throughout the State. Although he is considered a “non-compensated employee,” he has incredible access to the California penal system, which given his background and testimony, is nothing short of God’s hand and favor working in his life. This is why he has complete access and freedom to our tape room, since he disseminates our CD’s throughout all the prisons he goes to! I have a general “two-year rule” in our tape room concerning sermons we make available online etc. The reason for this is because of my travel schedule and opportunities to preach in many places, I need “fresh” material that has not already been used by pastors in that church or region. Not so with Chaplain Bob: he can have as many as he wishes, since I don’t have too many “revival meetings” scheduled in the California prisons! As a result, Pastor Warner is “preaching” God’s Word in all of these facilities: from L.A. County Jail, to Pelican Bay, to Chino, to Corcoran, even to McAlester Prison in Oklahoma. Because of Bobby’s calling and gifts (and his undeserved expressions of me), I have a “rep” in many of those places. Pretty amazing in my mind! Bobby has made his jail ministry motto Joseph’s life and jail experience, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction." (Gen.41:52)
When I was a brand new Christian we’d sing the hymn, “God is moving by His Spirit, moving through all the earth. Signs and wonders where God moveth, move O Lord, in me.” That tells us that God is not passive or removed, but God is active in our sin-cursed world. One of my favorite, reference-point scriptures is (2Chr.16:9) “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” This especially includes our prison system and those who are incarcerated. This had better be the case since, according to Charles Colson, when he was released and started to work in prison ministry, there were 329,000 inmates. Today, there is over 3.3 million! This should tells us that as a nation and a society we are experiencing a moral and ethical free fall.
It is intriguing to me that a lot of God’s activity and the Bible’s testimony revolves around prisons and jails!? Who can forget Joseph’s stellar testimony of being sold into slavery in the land of Egypt, eventually finding himself falsely accused and facing trumped-up charges that landed him in jail. It was part of God’s testing process and forging iron in his soul! Daniel did time in a pretty unique jail setting which was the lion’s den. John the Baptist’s faith was purified, if not actually reaching a pinnacle when he ran afoul of an unclean and vindictive woman, Herodias. Even though he had lost his freedom, he also gained a private audience with King Herod who came as an “audience-of-one” to hear God’s Word through John! Then, there’s the Apostle Paul’s ministry journey. It was said that wherever Paul went he experienced either a revival or a riot. The title of this blog post came from his momentous experience while in jail in Philippi. God orchestrated for him a “heavenly jail break” beginning with an unwavering testimony as he and Silas were beaten and in stocks yet “praying and singing hymns to God” and listen...the prisoners were listening to them! This was not because they were humming one of the “Top 40's” of the day, but the undeniable evidence of the Holy Spirit’s power was so very compelling. This was followed by an earthquake, the prisoners being set free, and the eventual conversion of the jailer and his family. What an amazing day it was!
This was so woven into his ministry fabric that the sufferings of Christ that set him apart included, “in prisons more frequently.” (2Cor.11:23) Listen, I haven’t even had time to mention his two years in prison at Cesarea, his “house arrest” in Rome etc. He was obviously no stranger to being locked up. Isn’t it ironic that some of his masterpieces of Epistles came during these times! They are referred to as his “prison epistles” and are still blessing people today!
All of this should tell us something about prisoners and prison ministry today. The Gospel may not change their circumstances (it does not promise a “Get out of jail free” card), but it definitely does and will change their hearts! (Heb.13:3) reminds us, “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” Celary, this refers first to our persecuted brethren, jailed because of their allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ. But, there is also an identification with others in jail that will at least motivate us to pray for them, and if possible get involved in some kind of ministry to them (maybe remembering if we’re not there, its not always because we’re so good...we just never got caught). Many have learned who their real friends were while doing time in prison. The other powerful reminder is Jesus’s words in (Mat.25:34-36) “Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'” This provoked a huge surprise from some of his hearers who said “when did we hear that you were in prison and visited You?” Jesus set the bar and motive for ministry when He said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
So, to the saints in Chino: thanks for remembering me and praying for me. It means a lot! I count it a privilege to be on the SAME TEAM with you. KEEP LISTENING!
Note: I’m not personally familiar with a lot of reputable or longstanding prison ministers, but I can highly recommend Bob & Pat Mecado. They are the real deal! Their ministry is not about photo-ops but ministering the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to men and women imprisoned, facing rock bottom, as well as to their family members on the outside. Their own personal testimonies for Christ are truly awesome. “Jesus I know, Paul I know...and Bob and Pat I know.” Plus they listen to me, are teachable, grateful, and are not a “law unto themselves.” They can be reached at: Mecado Ministries Inc. 14519 Rockenbach Street Baldwin Park, CA 91706 626-337-7465 www.mecadoministries.com