Monthly Archives: March 2015

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We get what we ask for – free will

They embrace, both of them are in tears. They sob.

This is not what they had planned. This is not what was supposed to happen. They had so much love for the people on the airplane that crashed into the French Alps. Father and Son, the Creators of the emotion of sorrow and the tears that gush down the faces of thousands, understand the deep wounds and the broken heart that comes from such tragedy.

“What the hell are you saying? Are you kidding me? God could have stopped that plane from crashing! How could He be crying in pain? What kind of God is He? Where was He when the co-pilot locked out the pilot? Why couldn’t something have gone wrong with the suicidal pilot’s plan to murder 149 other people? Where was God when all those innocent people were screaming in terror?”

He was watching and ready to receive before His throne 150 lives. He no doubt made sure suffering was minimalized as the plane crashed into the mountain at such a speed. He was angered at the evil that authored this horrific act and He was quite prepared to deal with that evil with justice and strength. He turned His heart to the families and loved ones of the innocent victims and orchestrated His love to burst into their devastated lives.

So, why didn’t He stop the pilot from flying the plane into the mountain?

Because you and I want free will!

Would you like to get drunk tomorrow? You know, of course, according to Scriptures, drunkenness is against God’s will for us. Would you want God to forcibly prevent you from going to the club tomorrow night? Your girlfriend…she looks great, doesn’t she? You aren’t married. Are you ready to “spend some time” with her? According to Scriptures, God says such intimacy is appropriate only for marriage. Do you want God to prevent you from “spending time” with your girlfriend?

Your answer is, of course, “no”! You don’t want God to control your life! You don’t want Him to prevent you from doing what you want to do! And you don’t want Him forcing you to do things you don’t want to do! Are you saying God should give you free will but He should not have given the co-pilot free will? Is it possible someone else is praying for God to prevent You from doing something or to force you to do something you don’t want to do? Should He answer their prayers and you become a robot?

The speculation, as reported by many news organizations, is that the co-pilot decided to lock the pilot out of the cabin. The co-pilot decided to take actions that would cause the plane to descend from 38,000 feet into the side of a mountain. The co-pilot decided his purposes were more important than the goals and desires of 149 other human beings. He was exercising his free will, just like you and I do everyday.

God’s will can be summed up with one statement – “love God with all your heart and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” If the co-pilot had chosen God’s will, he would have loved the 149 people he was responsible for. He would have made sure they landed safely in Germany. Had he decided to follow God’s way, 149 people would today be going about their lives, sharing with their friends and loved ones the experiences they had in Spain. Instead, those friends and loved ones are attending funerals.

The Father and Son shed tears along with all those who grieve. Our hearts are with the survivors as well. May God grant them an abundance of compassion, grace, mercy and love in this very dark hour of their lives.

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God’s work in the life of a bank robber

Charles Wagner, founder of Gramazin, and his 24-year-old son Chad, co-founder, visited a convicted “bank robber” at a state penitentiary in western Pennsylvania on March 21, 2015.

Read the first article in this two-part series.

“Peter” greeted us with a bright smile and a strong handshake.  His nicely groomed appearance was that of a professional and he had a countenance of confidence.

After he embraced his father, who had just made his 153rd trip across Pennsylvania to visit his son, Peter led us to a table in the large room where the number of prisoners being visited by friends and family may have been outnumbered by the number of cameras.  Chad and I proceeded to ask Peter questions about his troubled youth, his adult crimes, his arrest, and life in person.  His answers reflected a man who is transparent and candid, unafraid of speaking the truth about the mistakes he has made in life.

This was a man, dressed in the dark maroon jumpsuit worn by every inmate, who was remorseful and repentant.  He has committed his life to restitution, for the damage he caused his own family as well as the damage he caused total strangers.  He stated that he understands he deserves to be where he is.

During his first few years in prison, Peter built respect with the gangs in the prison by his status as a violent offender, his continued deviant behavior, which led to solitary confinement,  and as a man quite capable of defending his honor.  However, God was at work in his life.  A compassionate guard enabled Peter to find a job in the prison and it was at that job that Peter became friends with a “lifer”, a strong man of faith who challenged Peter to turn his life around.

Over the past few years, Peter has dedicated himself to attending worship services, successfully earning an associates degree from a university in Ohio, and leading a group of prisoners who direct their energies to living a healthy and nutritious lifestyle.  God has demonstrated in his life that He is a god of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness.

Peter has dedicated his story, which includes drugs and alcohol, numerous minor arrests, drag racing, and his survival of a half-dozen serious car accidents, to making a difference in the lives of young people.  It is his heart’s desire to help prevent at least one young person from making the same mistakes he made.  Students at a Bucks County high school have already reached out to Gramazin after hearing Peter’s testimony.  God is a god of hope, turning a life of total disaster into a ministry that can save lives and souls.

Are you kidding?  There is no correction going on here! ” Peter exclaims with passion.  “Prisoner’s lives aren’t being turned around by the institution!  It’s the people on the outside who make the difference!  It’s the people who come in and visit us and write to us, and let us know they are praying for us and that they care!  There are so many prisoners in here who have no one!  No one!  No one cares about them!”

We said our goodbyes after our four hour conversation.  As Chad and I walked out of the prison, going through various checkpoints, we never felt in danger, even as we were in a room with 20 inmates, any of whom could have been a convicted murderer.  Peter had made it very clear – there was a code in the prison that everyone of the 2,200 inmates understood – the place where families and friends are permitted to meet with prisoners was off limits to any violence.  It had to be a safe place or no prisoner would be able to enjoy the compassion of outsiders they so desperately need.

Will you have compassion on prisoners?  Will you make a difference in the life of just one prisoner?  What prison ministry can you join?  Can you give up one morning, afternoon, or evening to let a prisoner know they can have hope, that their life can be changed by the God who loves them?  Commit your heart to Matthew 25:36 today!  No more excuses!

I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

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Christians, 5 reasons you shouldn’t visit bank robbers!

Charles Wagner, founder of Gramazin, and his 24-year-old son Chad, co-founder, visited a convicted “bank robber” at a state penitentiary in western Pennsylvania on March 21, 2015.

Read the second article in this two-part series.

A young man, who we will call “Peter”, owes his drug dealer $ 8,000. A gun is put to his head – “Give me my money or you are dead!” In fear for his life, desperate for money and the drugs he is addicted to, Peter robs four banks and a drug store in Bucks County Pennsylvania. One morning a few weeks later, the FBI and the local police arrest him at the home of his girlfriend’s parents. He is sentenced to a minimum of 5 years at a state penitentiary in western Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, your pastor is delivering a sermon series on Matthew 25. In verse 36, he shares how Jesus has instructed His followers in this passage to visit prisoners while they are in prison. However, this is one of those moments when the pew-sitter knows more than Jesus and their pastor.

They say to themselves: “I can think of at least five reasons that I, even as a Christian, should never visit a prisoner in jail!”

  1. Peter doesn’t deserve mercy. He’s a bank robber! Who does that? I wouldn’t do that! None of my friends would do that! His actions that led him to prison are so alien to me that it dehumanizes him. He seems more like an animal. I cannot possibly minister to an animal. He earned this and now he must live with it. I judge him!
  2. There is no hope for Peter. Alright, so he isn’t an animal. However, there is no hope for him. Once a bank robber, always a bank robber. There is nothing that can be done to prevent him from once more donning a ski mask and walking into a bank after his release from prison. It is inevitable he will do it again. He is lost to a destructive life that he will never escape. I feel sorry for him.
  3. Peter is being rehabilitated by the state. The prison is another shining example of the effectiveness of government. There is hope because our tax dollars are at work. I’m sure Peter is receiving outstanding rehabilitation in the prison. There are probably all kinds of wonderful secular programs to help Peter rebuild his life and the authorities have a game plan to turn him into an ideal citizen.  I’m sure his fellow prisoners are encouraging him to better himself, helping him grow and heal.
  4. Other Christians are visiting Peter.  I’m sure some other Christian is visiting him. A friend or family member. There must be someone. Aren’t there prison ministries? I’m sure such ministries are fully staffed with committed volunteers who faithfully visit prisoners like Peter on a regular basis and skillfully make a difference in their lives. That’s a relief to my conscience – I’m too busy! I’ve got too many things going on in my life to visit any prisoner in jail.
  5. I’ll be killed or pick up some horrific disease. I’m not going anywhere near Peter’s prison! I will probably be attacked in some manner. I might pick up a disease of some kind. Maybe there will be a prison riot while I’m there. Maybe I’ll be mistaken as a prisoner and I’ll never get out again. No, I’ll just say a prayer for Peter and hope Jesus ministers to him behind that frightening barbed wire.

Yup. We know more than Jesus on this issue. Visiting prisoners in 2015 AD is so much different than it was in 30 AD. If Jesus were here now, He wouldn’t tell us to visit prisoners. He wouldn’t tell us that Peter deserves mercy. He understands we are better than Peter. He too would say there is no hope for Peter. Jesus would tell us that state programs and not His love will change Peter’s life. He would understand we are too busy to visit prisoners. He would tell us to be so afraid of prisons that we should stay far away from them.

“Hey, pastor. It’s about time to rethink Matthew 25:36! You shouldn’t be asking me to visit prisoners. Quaint but no longer applicable anymore!”

I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Read the second article in this two-part series.

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