“the family of the changed hearts”. Because this is true, I know you will be eager to hear about the part of our family in the minimum-security facility of North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women (formerly Raleigh Correctional Center for Women). Located in the same block as the larger maximum-security facility, the two are now under the same administration, though separate in all other functions. Shepherds Heart (another ministry that uses Disciplers materials), maintains a Bible study outreach in the larger facility.
Changed Hearts is a prison outreach and sister study of Saltshakers Bible study and is supported as a missions ministry by Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh. The leadership consists of faithful women who go weekly to share God’s word with the incarcerated women. They go armed with their Bibles, Disciplers Bible study lessons, much courage, and love, and supported by prayer. They have been doing this for five years now. Out of a prison population of 120 inmates, an average of 25 women attend the weekly Bible study. They are women of all ages, in prison for many different reasons, but they all share a love for the word of God because it has changed their hearts and their lives.
Dale Hardin, the teaching leader of Changed Hearts, shares, “The study is open to all who will come and hear the truth of God's word. Even one time may be God's appointed time to open a woman’s heart to Him. Many of our members state emphatically that it was God who brought them to prison to save and transform their lives through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are grateful for the wonderful resource of Disciplers Bible study. Please join us in praying that God will keep the doors open for us to continue this Bible study. As long as He does we will gladly continue to go.”
Dale has also shared some comments made by women who faithfully attend the Monday night Changed Hearts study. I know these words will touch your heart as they have mine.
“It means so much that the leaders (of Changed Hearts) are doing the Bible study along with us and show up every week. It makes me want to be prepared and keeps me accountable”
“Before prison I lived for myself and did whatever I wanted….I didn’t care about anyone else. Since being in prison and realizing that Jesus died for me, all I live for is to share this love with my 3 year old daughter. I want her to know Him and His Word. So I have to know it first.”
On the studies of Joshua and Hebrews: “I can identify with Rahab. We learned in Joshua that God gave her faith and saved her. He did the same for me. Rahab is named as an ancestor of Jesus in Matthew and then praised for her great faith in Hebrews. It gives me hope.”
On the study of Esther: “This is the first Bible study of my life. I can totally identify with this story of what Queen Esther did. Now I ‘own’ this story and can tell it to my children.”
What else can I say except: thank you, God, for the dedicated women of Changed Hearts, both the leaders and those they serve in Your name. And thank You for opening our eyes to this precious ministry.
In last month’s blog (May 5) I shared with you some comments from a group that had just completed the Disciplers study of Hebrews. Reading through the comments, I noticed there was a phrase that was often repeated: There is grace for that! Those words have stuck in my mind and now every time I encounter a difficulty, begin to worry about something or someone, or if fear or anxiety crops up, I remember -- There is grace for that!
What is grace anyway? The standard definition is that grace is the unmerited favor of God. Someone else has said that grace is our Benefactor reaching out with the free gift of His love, mercy, and power when we do not deserve it. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer has even more to say about grace. “It is something entirely improbable and incredible in the light of what we experience here. It speaks of a power and love beyond all worlds and wants to draw us away from our own world to another. A dark abyss opens up, and a voice commands: ‘Jump across. I will catch you and hold you fast. I am stretching out my hand. Now bet your life on it, and rely on me and on nothing else. My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).’”
So if you wake up in the morning and even before you get out of bed your heart-rate quickens at the thought of all the day holds, remember -- There is grace for that! When the day throws a curve ball and suddenly all your hopes and plans are put on hold -- There is grace for that! When a spouse walks out -- There is grace for that! When you lose your job and there are mouths to feed and bills to pay -- There is grace for that! When a loved one dies, or the phone rings and you hear the doctor’s words, "I’m sorry, the biopsy shows that you have cancer”, when a child disappoints, or parents fail, when friends turn away, and family gets too busy to call -- There is grace for that! When you sin and you think there is no chance of redemption -- There is grace for that! Whatever your situation, whatever your need -- no matter how desperate -- There is grace for that! God sees you! It is grace when He does that. He has seen you go your own way, seen you wounded, lost, and anxious. By His grace, He is there to heal you.
A lovely young woman who uses our Disciplers studies has a blog entitled "Grateful for Grace". And should we not all be grateful for the grace of God? I remember as a child, when I would complain about situations or people, my mother’s response would always begin with “But for the grace of God…………” So I learned early that all I am and all I have is only by the grace of God. I learned to stop complaining and be grateful for His grace.
“Oh to grace how great a debtor, daily I’m constrained to be.
May Thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.”
Robert Robinson, 1757
What can you be grateful for today? How has God shown His grace to you? There is deep satisfaction in having gratitude for even the smallest things, for Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning (James 1:17).
With love, by His grace -- and betting my life on it
Why is our organization named Disciplers? I have often thought about that, wondering just why Pearl Hamilton, who began Disciplers, chose that name. Obviously “discipleship” was important to her. The word “disciple” is literally a “follower”, so a disciple of Christ is one who follows Christ. Disciplers Bible Studies provides a means of learning how to follow Christ through the study of God’s word, for how can one know how to be a disciple of Christ without knowing who He is and what He demands of those who follow Him! A disciple must know the cost of discipleship and that is found in the Bible.
A few weeks ago I began editing Pearl’s lessons on the Gospel of Luke, preparing them for download on our website. As I was pondering our blog for this week, I was beginning the edits on Luke Chapter 14. The introduction to that lesson begins, "God has two basic requirements, both of which are in Luke 14: to accept His invitation, and to take up His Cross. The first is evangelism, the other is discipleship.” In this blog, I want to share with you from the notes on Luke 14, the section on discipleship. I want you to hear about what discipleship and Disciplers is all about in Pearl’s own words.
Discipleship demands choosing God’s will: In Luke 14 -- Jesus told his disciples and the crowds a parable about God’s gracious invitation to a great supper, a banquet, a wedding feast in the kingdom of God. Ultimately, everyone is invited and it is free. Jesus paid the price to put us on the guest list, being justified freely through His grace by the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24). We receive the invitation just as we are, but once on the guest list, guests must dress and be prepared for banquets. God Himself begins to prepare every believer for the great banquet by beginning to make us look less like sinners and more like His Son. This happens through His work in each one of us. It is a work of sanctification through the process of discipleship. Discipleship involves your will in every circumstance of your life in choosing His will over yours.
Discipleship demands loving God above all else: If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:26). This stringent requirement for discipleship is explained by Matthew 10:37 where “hate” becomes “love less”, He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. Disciples must begin by keeping the first commandment to love the Lord God above all else. You shall have no other gods before Me (Exodus 20:3). Our loved ones are most likely to take God’s place in our lives unless we make a deliberate choice to put God first. He will bless that choice, by the way. After all, it was God who gave you loved ones to you, was it not? Is Jesus first in your life? If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.
Discipleship demands taking up your cross: And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:27). The cross we are to take up is the counterpart of Jesus’ cross, an instrument of death. Jesus carried His cross to His death. To carry one’s cross means to die to self. It does not mean having poor health, enduring a bad relationship, or doing things we do not like to do. It means to deny self (Matthew 16: 24-25). It means identification with Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-8). Will you take up your cross today and give your life to Christ, trusting God to use you for the purpose for which you were created?
Discipleship demands counting the cost: No one begins to build without counting the cost! And the cost of discipleship is everything! So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple (Luke 14:33). This is the bottom line of discipleship. Forsake all you have and you qualify to be Jesus' disciple. Like Abraham offering up Isaac, we must put it all on the altar and leave it with God. Isaac represented all of Abraham’s hopes and dreams, and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Him. But Abraham believed that God, who gave him Isaac, could miraculously keep His promise somehow. Abraham did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. (Romans 4:20-21). Do you believe like Abraham that you cannot lose with God? Can you make Jesus Lord of everything in your life? Can you give back to God your family, your home, career, appearance, desires, health, future? He can take them any time He wants you know. Why not give them to Him while you can give them in faith, knowing and trusting that He will do what is best?
Discipleship demands saltiness: Counting the cost and taking up your cross does not mean the end of everything. But rather it is the beginning of real life in Christ, of meaning to life, of zest, and reality. Believers who are not disciples are like salt without flavor. What does that mean? Salt without flavor is good for nothing, absolutely useless. (Luke 14:35) It might as well be thrown out.
“Will you exchange your life for His and take up the cross? You can only experience the new life He bought for you by giving up the old one. If anyone is in Christ, he (or she) is a new creation. Old things are passed away. Behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Will you put your name in that verse now, today?
I have been involved in Disciplers since 1987, as a discussion leader, teacher, writer, and now as director. I am profoundly committed to the stewardship of this ministry which God has entrusted to me for a time. God’s word is the chief joy of my life. I cherish my personal time in the word, and I am filled with gratitude to be able to share His word with you, my fellow disciples in Christ.