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Incarcerated – Beyond the Coupon to Grace

by DanWolgemuth on August 23, 2019

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)

Coupons. The currency inside incarceration. For those in positions of power, they represent the pathway to behavior modification.

Tucked firmly in the hand of every inmate… coupons. With them you buy the most basic supplies. Salt. Pepper. Catsup. Even haircuts are available with coupons.

The instructions are clear… hold your coupons. Not in your sock, not in your waistband. In your hand. And they did… I did. Each coupon had the “Resident’s Name”, the Date, the “Staff’s Name” and the behavior observed. The behavior that warranted the coupon…

  • Cooperation
  • Participation
  • Act of kindness
  • Sportsmanship
  • Attitude
  • Rational thinking
  • Respect…

Coupons as currency. And coupons as a means to an end. Behavior change.

… and, quite unintentionally, coupons become the theology of the incarcerated. I heard it, and felt it from the young men who remain branded on my soul.

God, in His heavens, becomes the cosmic dispenser of coupons. And coupons as a sign of His approval and acceptance. And approval as a means to win access to “the good stuff”, and actually access to God Himself. If you have enough coupons, you have access. No coupons. No God.

The deal is straightforward, logical, and so completely unbiblical. Make no mistake, there was a cosmic exchange. But it has nothing to do with my good behavior. In fact, I trade my foolishness for Christ’s righteousness. Not behavior modification, but radical transformation. And I do this as an act of faith, and faith alone. And the faith I utilize to embrace grace is a gift as well.

I sat with young men who believed that God was waiting… not pursuing. He was waiting for them to accumulate enough coupons for His interest and love to be ignited. That’s the way the system works, so naturally, that’s how God works… but it’s not. Humbly, it’s not.

But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. (Romans 5:8, NLT)

While we were empty handed. No coupons in sight. Jesus came.

Our righteous behavior, not a manipulation scheme, but the fruit of a complete rebirth. From dead to alive. From alienated to family. Daughters and sons… not because of our coupons, but because of Jesus. The ultimate coupon.

And perhaps, just maybe… a sixty-four year old who spent twenty-six hours in a detention center on his own initiative shifted the spotlight from coupons to grace. Pursued. Rescued. Redeemed. Transformed.

Now, three and a half months removed… Lord, remind them… he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, (Titus 3:5, NIV)

Amazing grace. For every incarcerated soul.


Incarcerated – The Dad Gap

by DanWolgemuth on August 9, 2019

39 times. All within the first 15 verses of the first chapter of the New Testament. 39 times.

The beginning of the Gospel of Matthew, the beginning of the narrative about the life of Jesus… and in the first fifteen verses the word father appears 39 times.

Fathers connect generations, history, legacy, destiny and identify. They connect the dots from ancient history to the birth of Messiah. They are a genetic relay… the passing of a baton.

39 fathers, and then Jesus.

Only a few good. All flawed. Some outright scoundrels.


Into the mess… Jesus.

39. A mere statistic? A bit of genetic trivia?


Only a few pages beyond the 39 fathers, Matthew devotes three chapters to the teaching of Jesus. His words to a crowd on a hill. The Sermon on the Mount.

A pivotal moment. Ministry defining, foundation building, strategy shaping…

And with the words of this sermon, Jesus rocked the world. Literally. Spiritually. Culturally. Eternally.

Seventeen times in the three chapters of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses the word Father. And in fifteen of those references, Jesus, the son of God, uses the word “Your” to precede Father. Once, He uses the phrase “Our” in advance of Father (note the Lord’s Prayer), and once He references the fact that some who claim to be followers of God don’t know “My Father”.

Jesus, in a defining moment, shifts the tectonic plates of religion, relationship, and legacy by declaring that those who truly follow Him can claim God as their Father.

The unapproachable light. The Alpha and Omega. Shielded from sight in the Holy of Holies. Now… Your Father. Our Father.

This destiny shaping reality speaks into every inch of the prison cells in a juvenile detention center. It embraces every fatherless inmate. It interrupts the downward spiral of brokenness that permeates our culture. It liberates the captive, it sees the invisible, it speaks for the voiceless. The message of Jesus establishes a pathway to hope. A new trajectory. A transformed identity.

In one sermon, Jesus speaks into the core of our being. And He does so with dignity, compassion and love.

God is our Father. He is our foundation. Our patriarch. Our heritage.

So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. (Matthew 1:17, ESV)

Generations upon generations… the entrance ramp for Jesus. Then, in a stunning moment, Jesus introduces God, His Father, as Our Father.

The gravity and impact of this simply cannot be overstated. It rocked the religious leaders, just as it rocks the lives of every child of Adam.

It fills in the blanks to a loveless life. It obliterates the void that is filled with shame. From worthless, to a child of the King.

39 fathers… then Jesus… then Your Father… Our Father.

For every incarcerated soul… whether in a juvenile detention center, or working on Wall Street.

The Father that matters most.


A Delay When it Seemed to Matter Most

August 2, 2019

Patience. Waiting. And not with toe tapping and clock watching. But resting in God’s sovereign timing. This is NOT an area of strength for me. In fact, there may be no more confession inducing activity in my life. Perhaps that’s why I empathize with the urgency, disappointment and subsequent frustration that’s expressed in the story […]

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When You Love a Prodigal

July 30, 2019

The title above represents a book project from Judy Douglass, my friend and trusted ally. Judy and Steve Douglass have been a part of Cru for many, many years (Judy partners with Steve in leading Cru). Judy has brilliantly and honestly walked a journey as the parent of a prodigal. In March, Judy asked me […]

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Incarcerated – The Wrap Up… for Now

June 28, 2019

Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. (Luke 22:63, ESV) Incarcerated. Yes, Jesus was locked up. In custody. The Prince of Peace. The Creator of the Universe, shackled. For a night, Emmanuel behind bars. Then, as morning broke, the plot coalesced. Hatred pounded the gavel. Religious […]

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Incarcerated – Part 8

June 21, 2019
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Before Mark… Lisa. I met Lisa at a Youth For Christ event in Kansas City. Her story gripped my heart as she shared vividly what it was like to have her front door kicked in by the police who were there to arrest her thirteen-year-old son. That was over three years ago. It wasn’t until […]

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Incarcerated – Part 7

June 14, 2019
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“What is a Christian? The question can be answered in many ways, but the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God for his Father.” I read these words, shortly after graduating from college in 1977. They were penned by J.I. Packer in his classic book, Knowing God. The beauty, […]

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Incarcerated – Part 6

June 7, 2019
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I’m not sure when I realized it… most likely in the morning of our second day. Perhaps it was birthed from the realization that we had a photo crew doing their best to chronicle the incarceration experience as accurately and authentically as possible, but at some point it dawned on me. No mirrors. But then […]

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Incarcerated – Part 5

May 31, 2019
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When our kids were little our end of day routine circled around a prayer time, followed by what we called “Happy Thoughts,” then a kiss good night. The “Happy Thoughts” happened as a result of our kids having difficulty falling asleep or being bothered with persistent worry about something. To combat this, we planted a […]

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Incarcerated – Part 4

May 24, 2019

February 7, 2010, immediately after the New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl, CBS launched a new series called Undercover Boss. It was an instant smash hit. The premise… each episode features a high-ranking executive or the owner of a corporation going undercover as an entry-level employee in his or her own […]

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