Devotions

Author Archives: Kenny Hovis

Sojourner

Murder | Devotion 3: Sojourner
Kenny Hovis

As we look at the life of Moses, we learn that he was very human, just like us. If he had a resume, it might read something like this:

  • Former member of the House of Pharaoh of Egypt – Prince
  • Conquering Hero
  • Accomplished Shepherd
  • Mountain Climber (Mt. Sinai)
  • Prophet
  • Published author (Pentateuch)
  • National Leader (Israel)

Conversely, Moses had a number of personal issues you would definitely leave off of a resume. They included anger issues, a convicted murderer, speech impediment, self-doubt, and self-control. I am sure he often felt like in his life, he started out a “hero” and ended up a “zero.” He did not always know what he was doing, or what God had in store for him. Often in my own life, I have found myself in that same condition. I felt like God had used me in some fashion, only to be tripped up by some of the same pitfalls that beset Moses.

In Exodus 2:11-16 we find Moses, a fugitive from Pharaoh (having murdered an Egyptian), holed up in Midian. Hanging out by what was probably one of the few water sources in the area, he saw some young ladies and their sheep being bullied by other shepherds. He came to their defense, ran off the bullies, then drew enough water for all of the young ladies’ sheep. Wondering why his daughters were home from work so early, their dad asked them what happened. He was so impressed with what Moses did that he invited him to dinner. The priest of Midian, Jethro, gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses as a wife. They have a son and Moses named him Gershom. The Bible tells us that Gershom’s name means “sojourner.”

The word sojourner is defined as a person who resides temporarily in a place. I believe this speaks to Moses’s mindset regarding his life to this point. He has no identity. The young ladies at the well identify him as an Egyptian, but he only looked the part. He really was not an Egyptian. He was a Hebrew. He was living in Midian, had a Midianite wife, but he was not a Midianite. He named his son using a word that described how he felt. He felt like a stranger. So who was he supposed to be?

Many times we as Christians find ourselves strangers, sojourners. We may look like the world, but our actions and speech should identify us as “Not of this world” (John 17:16). Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:11-12, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Because of Who we follow, we are only residing here temporarily. People should be able to see that there is something different about us. They should see that we are “set apart” (2 Corinthians 6:17). Our good deeds should point people to what separates us, the Gospel, and the Gospel, or good news, should point them to Jesus.

Moses ended up finding his identity as a man of God and went on to lead the Israelites out of bondage from Egypt. His life was filled with ups and downs, successes and failures, just like ours are.

Is your identity that of a man or woman of God? Do you think of yourself as a “sojourner” in this world, with your eyes set on your glorifying God with your good deeds so that people will know your true identity? I pray that this is our goal!

“TETELESTAI”

Finished | Devotion #5: “TETELESTAI”
Kenny Hovis

A few years back, my wife got her first tattoo. It hurt so bad (on the top of her foot) that she said she would never get another. Well, now she has four and thinking of another. For a number of years, she has told me to get one. Although not against tattoos, I just could not think of something I wanted permanently put on my body that would not look ridiculous years from now. So I always told her I would think about it.

Late in the summer of 2014, I heard about the prison trips that our church was going on, and after praying about it, decided to go on one. It changed my life. I was taken out of my comfort zone socially and spiritually and launched into an environment that was raw and real. I had never witnessed broken people like that before. I had participated in jail ministry before, but this was completely different. There were men coming up to you asking if you would pray with them about their faith, family, health, safety, and their court case. I realized that the faith that had sustained me, and for the most part I had kept to myself, was exactly what these men were searching! So, I opened my mouth and trusted God. 

I quickly realized that I am an addict; I was addicted to seeing people coming to be self-aware of their need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I saw my life and faith change, just like the men’s lives with whom I was praying. They would transform right in front of my eyes. I brought those experiences home with me and could not shut up about it! The next year, I went on almost every prison trip. They could not keep me away. I did whatever the team needed so it was difficult for them to say I could not go. 

Realizing that tattoos are a big deal in prison, I actually started thinking of something to have tattooed on my forearm so that an inmate would look at it and ask what it meant. Secondly, it would appease my wife. I came across a picture of the Greek word, “TETELESTAI.” Greek is the language in which the New Testament was written, and “TETELESTAI” is written as the account of Jesus’ last words before dying for every person’s sins. John 19:30 says, “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” “It is finished” is the most common translation, but more specifically translated “TETELESTAI” is an accounting term. When you had a debt that had been completely paid for, in Greek you would say “TETELESTAI,” or “paid in full.” I fell in love with the word.

Dying on the cross the way He did, Jesus paid the debt for me that I could not pay on my own. He did not make a down payment, partial payment, or an installment. It was completed, done, finished, and “paid in full!” Someone has to pay for your sin and mine. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Without Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross, we would have to pay the debt our sin creates with God. Jesus’ proclamation just before He died, paid the debt for everyone that accepts that payment in their place. It is not a loan; it is a gift! His death makes our debt, paid in full.

I made sure of the spelling, picked out a font and style, went to the tattoo artist my wife went to and had three crosses with the word “TETELESTAI” next to them tattooed on my forearm. Now, when an inmate or anyone on the street sees it and asks what it means, I am able to say, “It is a daily reminder that there was an extravagant price paid for me to be able to have a relationship with God and a place in His family. Can I tell you about it?”

I hope I never tire of telling people why I have a funny looking word tattooed on my arm. That funny looking word means everything to me!

We Need Each Other

Son, Mother | Devotion #3: We Need Each Other
Kenny Hovis

I grew up being a middle child, and for most of my childhood, the only boy. I do have a brother that is 17 years younger than me. So, being surrounded by so many women (I have four sisters), I spent much of my time growing up on a farm doing things by myself. Between self-entertainment and chores, I became self-reliant in most aspects of my life. To this day it is difficult for me to ask for help. I know this is a fault. 

I believe that many times in our Christian walk, we become jaded by people’s lack of desire to help others personally, or help in serving in a ministry. Therefore, we just soldier on by ourselves, not asking for help, trying to make miracles happen. I have heard many times the statistic that 90% of serving in the church is done by 10% of the body. It is no wonder sometimes we are ineffective in ministry if this is true! It is like trying to do a job or accomplish a goal with only 10% of your body parts. It would be definitely more challenging.

We see a picture of this at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Jesus is about to die for all of mankind’s sin. He sees His mother and the Apostle John are struggling to understand the ramifications of all that is happening before their eyes. I believe He sees in order for them to go forward from this event, they were going to need each other. In John 19:26-27, we see Him address the issue, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” Jesus did not expect his mother or one of His best friends to “soldier” on alone. He has given us one another. We are to support each other, serve one another, pray for one another, and give to one another. Romans 12:10-18 adds, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”  We are meant to be there for one another. In this passage, we see the words “one another,” “those,” and “all.” They are words that are inclusive of all the body of Christ. We are not meant to go it alone.

God has taught me many times over that when I do things by myself, without those He has placed in my life to be a blessing, I tend to lean towards self-pity and pride. I want neither of these attributes in my life. My prayer is that I learn to use people in my life, with their different giftings, to work together to achieve the task that God has set before us. We can reach the world with the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To accomplish this, we will definitely “need each other!”

Why do we Gather?

Gather | Devotion #5: Why do we Gather?
Kenny Hovis | Prison Ministry Director

I spend much of my time in prison. Yes, it is part of my job, but it is also a passion for me. The knowledge that less than 1% of the population of our country get to go where our teams are blessed to be able to go makes me stand in awe of how God is using us. It is humbling, to say the least. 

Recently, we went to a facility in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We visited three different facilities in three days, and played six softball games with inmates, after which we had an opportunity to interact and pray with the men in these facilities. Our team had the opportunity to pray with hundreds of men that needed encouragement, and in some cases wanted someone to show them how to “throw their life to God!” It was awesome watching God bless the efforts and sacrifice of time by our team.

Many times I stand back and watch our team in action to make sure that they are not clumping up too much, or going outside of the boundaries that the staff has set up for us to work. I happened to notice a very tall man standing not too far from me also watching what was happening in the yard. I 100% believe God was speaking to me to go talk to him. I have had this happen a number of times and know now that the best thing to do is just to go. 

I walked up to him and asked him his name. He hesitated, looked me in the eye as to say “what do you want,” and then told me his name was Eric. I asked him where he was from, and he told me, Grand Blanc! I told him we were practically neighbors since I was from Goodrich; we hit it off immediately. 

When I asked him if there was anything I could pray about with him, he shared that he had just started going back to gatherings in prison after growing up in the Church. His question and prayer request caught me off guard and really made me think. He asked, “What is a service (gathering) supposed to look like?” His observations when growing up was that it seemed to be a fashion show. Small groups of people were seeming to be crushing their Christian walk, but knowing them outside of the gathering, he did not see consistency. In prison, he saw the same inconsistencies, but also saw many men “going crazy” during worship, but they were some of the “darkest” individuals that he knew. So, my concern was I only had ten minutes for the Holy Spirit to formulate a response to his broad sweeping question.

In my answer, I remember telling him some integral parts of a gathering. I told him my analogy of a gathering is it is like being in the military and going back to the fort or base. Why does someone in battle go back to their base? They return for reassurance that they are not on the battle lines by themselves, for first aid if they are wounded, for additional direction or instruction, to train and sharpen their skills, to celebrate their victories, or how to not repeat a defeat. It is a time to learn the importance of working together; they can achieve much more than being out there all alone. All this happens at the fortress for one reason. It is to prepare the troops to go back out to battle.

In our gatherings, we should be celebrating our victories. It is the things we are able to do, people we are able to reach, and lives we are able to touch. None of this would be possible without the work of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us. We should be surrendering our victories back at the feet of God in genuine worshipfulness and thankfulness. In 2 Corinthians 13:11-12, Paul says, “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.”  This speaks to us being able to identify the wounded, lift one another up, and agree on a common cause. This working together and greeting one another would be a way to salute one another. Acknowledge the fact that you recognize they have been in battle. Receive instruction and encouragement, so as to be ready to get back to the battle. 

The most effective soldier is not necessarily the one with the most elaborate uniform, or the one sharing all of his accomplishments so that everyone notices him. The most effective soldier is the one who realizes his purpose, his call to action, and then goes out and performs his duty to the best of his ability. It is the one who is putting himself in harm’s way for the cause of his Commander. The goal is to hear, “Well done good and faithful soldier (servant).” He should then come back to base to encourage others to do the same.

When we gather, we need to remember what is important. Things like worship, encouragement, instruction, comradery, and then returning to the fight. We need to remember those who have stopped showing up at gatherings. They may need our assistance to come back for all that is important in the elements of the gathering. We need to remember we are meant to bring in the wounded. Leave no man (or woman) behind should be our motto. 

After giving Eric my answer, he looked and me and thanked me. I did not think it was anything profound, but evidently, it was what he needed to hear. When we prayed together, I made sure to thank God for the answer I gave, because in my own intellect, I would have no idea what Eric needed to hear. You see, he was one of the wounded. The Holy Spirit gave him the first aid he needed. I was encouraged as the Holy Spirit used me as a first responder for Eric. Now we are both better equipped to go back into battle.

I like to close my emails many times with a specific phrase as encouragement and seems appropriate in this context: Let’s return to the battle!

Cowboy

The Gift of Grace | Devotion #2: Cowboy
Kenny Hovis | Prison Ministry Director

Growing up, my siblings and I always dreaded family dinner. It was not because my mom was a horrible cook (quite the contrary), but because my dad would often assign one of us to say “grace.” I did not really enjoy praying out loud, because I was unsure of the correct vernacular, and was afraid of saying something wrong. So I guess you can say that in experiencing what I thought grace was, I was afraid I was not going to experience what grace truly is! By definition, it is underserved, or unmerited favor (or forgiveness). This “favor” was demonstrated to us by God sending His Son, Jesus Christ to die for us to have a restored relationship with God. It was not until many years later that I started to understand what grace truly is, and how much I have already been shown.

In our ministry, I am afforded the privilege to visit a large number of correctional facilities. As a result, I meet a large number of people who have committed heinous crimes. I never ask what someone has done. I do not want my human level of discernment and sense of justice to influence or cause hesitation in letting the Holy Spirit work through me. For me to think I can justly decide who deserves grace and who does not, diminishes what Jesus Christ did on the cross.

Three years ago, I went into Noble Correctional as a volunteer. It was an awesome setting, as it has a huge grassy hill that the inmates sit on, listen to the band, laugh at the “magician” Rodney, and then hear the Gospel presented to them as the only thing that can invoke “real” change in their lives. Hundreds of men came down to receive a book, and have someone pray with them. I prayed with many men, but when the crowd started to thin, I noticed a man standing off by himself. I had one book left in my hand, so I figured it was for him. As I introduced myself, he told me he went by the name Cowboy. He was reluctant to pray with me about anything. I told him no matter what he had done, God would forgive him even though, just like me, he did not deserve it. He looked at me with a puzzled look, then let me pray for his family and a case he had pending, and then he left.

A year later, we took a basketball team to Noble. As I was running around doing the things I have to do for us to run our program, I heard someone hollering my name repeatedly. I thought it was someone on our team, but when I looked in the direction it was coming from, it was Cowboy! I ran over to him, hugged him, and listened to him share how his life had changed. What I did not know is that Cowboy was serving a life sentence. The case he had pending that I had prayed with him about had a positive result, and now he had a date for his release. He said he felt like God had forgiven him, showed him grace, and now he wants to live for Him. He had accepted Jesus Christ three weeks before we had gotten there, saw the flyer that we were coming, and could not wait to tell me that all of that started from the time he and I had prayed together a year prior.

I read somewhere of a great way to remember what grace is, to think of it as an acronym: God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense! Titus 2:11-14 puts it this way: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

When I was growing up, I thought grace was a verb. Something we did. What Cowboy and I have found out for ourselves is that grace is actually a noun. It is something we receive. It is a true unperishable gift from God, wrapped in the unblemished package of His son, Jesus Christ, and His sacrificial work on the cross. It is undeserved forgiveness from God that is truly amazing.

Every year for three years now, when we go to Noble, Cowboy and I meet up, shed a few tears, and share stories of how God has worked in our lives and shown us unending grace. How about you? Have you experienced God’s endless grace? 



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