Devotions

Author Archives: Kenny Hovis

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? 

I Have Dreamed a Dream

Joseph & Brothers • Devotion #2: I Have Dreamed a Dream
Kenny Hovis | Prison Ministry Director

Growing up, I spooked easily. I did not like going out in the dark or walking into the house at night with the lights out. I would have wild nightmares, seeing little guys in top hats flying around my room, slamming into my leg, causing it to go numb. Dreams have been used throughout history to tell the future, bring enlightenment to situations, and remember things that happened in our past. Though I have never had God speak to me directly through a dream, I have had a couple instances where in my dreamtime as an adult, I have been challenged spiritually.

Both occurrences involved me in a physical altercation with demons. I had not watched a scary movie, used an Ouija board, or went to a fortune teller. I just went to bed, fell asleep, and the only thing I can remember was literally wrestling with a demon, and on both occasions losing until crying out Jesus’ name. The dreams seemed, as all dreams while in them, real. So much so, that the sounds that I was making scared my wife enough that she started to wake me both times, but I woke up on my own just before being shook. I was sweating and breathing heavy as though I had been in an actual physical confrontation. As I said, dreams can seem very real.

In Genesis 37:5-11, we find Joseph having two dreams, both seeming very real, and then him sharing those dreams with his family. In both instances, Joseph’s dreams foretell him ruling over his family. Verse 7 says, “Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” Then again in vs. 9, “Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, ‘Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’” As a result of him telling his siblings and parents his dreams, he is hated and despised by his brothers, and they plot to get rid of him. This sets Joseph on a path that will try his faith in God, people, and government. In the end, God weaves His divine will through Joseph and his family’s lives to make his dreams come to pass, which in turn saves his family’s lives.

Though I am no Joseph, I too have had a couple dreams of a similar nature. This is what I have gleaned from them. We battle every day with an adversary that wants to get rid of us, destroy us, and see us doubt whether God loves us or even knows that we exist. The Bible says in Job 16:9, “He has torn me in his wrath and hated me; he has gnashed his teeth at me; my adversary sharpens his eyes against me.” Also, 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Our adversary, the devil, wants to influence us to make choices that will burn our world to the ground, divide our families, and cause confusion. This is where he thrives and dwells. We cannot conquer him on our own, just like in my dreams. Only by invoking the name of Jesus into our lives, in every situation, challenge, tragedy, venture, ministry, or relationship do we have a chance to defeat him.

Just as in the case of Joseph, we cannot trust in our own power to overcome our adversary and the obstacles he places in front of us. We will only gain victory in our lives when we invoke the name of God the Father, Jesus Christ’s work at Calvary, and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit into every aspect of our existence. When this formula is used, God will weave His divine will through our lives so that our dreams may come to pass and that our eternal lives will be saved!

Abraham Intercedes for Sodom 

Abraham, Sarah, & Isaac • Devotion #6: Abraham Intercedes for Sodom
Kenny Hovis | Prison Ministry Director

In the past four years, I have been on all but one prison trip that we have scheduled with the prison ministry. Most of the trips I went as a volunteer, the rest while I have been on staff. I have a passion for going on these trips to share the Gospel with the people who are behind bars and are desperately in need of someone to show them Christ-like love. This whole process has made me more effective sharing my faith at home as well. It has given me the opportunity to pray with and for many people, which I consider an honor.

One of the interesting dynamics of going into the prisons is when we have an opportunity to pray with the inmates. They may want you to pray for family, a case they have coming up, their own safety and health, and in some cases, you get the distinct privilege of showing them how to throw their lives to God. I often ask the person if it is something they have been praying for themselves and almost every time they say “yes!” This is the perfect opportunity for me to segue to the Gospel. In the second part of James 5:16 it says, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” I always ask them if they think God hears their prayers.

We see an example of this in Genesis 18:22-33. Abraham is praying for the righteous people that may be left in Sodom as God is going to destroy the city because of its wickedness. He is asking God to spare the city if He can find 45 righteous people, then continuing to ask five more times all the way down to if He can find ten righteous people. Abraham finds favor with God as he petitions on behalf of the supposed righteous, each time lowering the standard for when He will bring judgment on the people of Sodom. He hears the righteous man, and He puts value to Abraham’s cries for mercy. 

We give God reason to listen to our prayers when we are following in His will. He is thrilled when our lives are surrendered to His leading and guiding. I go back to the example of speaking with the inmates. After I ask them if they think God hears their prayers, then generally say yes. I then ask them how their relationship is with their Heavenly Father. If they are not living a life that is pleasing to God, in His will, they do not give God opportunity to hear their prayer. It is like when we were children, and we did not do what our Dad wanted us to do. When we were disobedient, our father surely did not say, “Thanks for not doing what you were supposed to do. Here is your allowance and some money for ice cream!” That logic does not carry forward into our relationship with our Heavenly Father. We want Him to bless us, hear us, and do as we ask even though we do not perform the act He wants most from us, obedience.

Let us pursue a holy, righteous life, full of obedience. Much like the example of Abraham, when God finds us righteous, He is pleased with us, and it gives Him reason to listen to our petitions. He hears even the utterances and concerns that we cannot put into words!

“GO TEAM!”

Tower of Babel • Devotion #2: “GO TEAM!”
Kenny Hovis | Prison Ministry Director

One of my favorite movies is from 1986; it is the movie Hoosiers. In the movie, Gene Hackman (one of the greatest actors of all time, in my humble opinion), plays the infamous basketball coach, Norman Dale. He is a tough, regimented disciplinarian that zealously preaches that there is only one way to play basketball. His mantra, “Team!” It is very much a David vs. Goliath plot, but the general theme is one of a small group of high school kids from very different situations in life coming together, learning to play and work together as a team to overcome impossible odds. In the Bible, we see examples of teamwork and how it can be used both negatively and the way it is supposed to be.

In Genesis chapter 11, we see the account of the descendants of Noah and how they were commanded by God to populate the earth. Instead of obeying the will of God, a large group came together in a place called Shinar and concluded that it would be a good idea to build a tower to reach up to the heavens, in an attempt, in my opinion, to elevate themselves to be on par with God. God in His infinite wisdom sees and knows the heart of man and says in Genesis 11:5-8, “And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. And the Lord said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” Humanity was using teamwork to try and achieve a monument to their greatness. This is always a recipe for disaster.

The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Corinth and describes how we as Christians should view teamwork when it comes to our faith, and ministry. In 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, Paul says, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” Paul uses the analogy of us, believers of all ethnicities and positions, to be “one body.” He goes on in verse 27 of chapter 12 to be more specific and says, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” A body is useless without a head, and Paul states that we, as the body, should have Christ at the head. All of the individual members working together in symphony and harmony, to achieve what we have each been gifted and called to do, to fulfill the leading of the Head of the body, Christ. All of our efforts and energies for His honor and glory alone!

Gene Hackman utters one of his famous quotes from the movie that is so true for us as the body of Christ as well. “Five players on the floor, functioning as one single unit. Team, Team, Team! No one more important than the other!” Let us remember as the body of Christ we are to work together, no one part more important than the other, no matter the gift set! We are to have the same goal and mindset. All we do, as well as all of the results, are done for His honor and His glory, not ours!

“GO TEAM!”



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