Warning: Rated R…This is a letter to prisoners and contains adult subject matter and language
If you have ever been hopelessly lost, this article will speak to you; if you know someone who is hopelessly lost, they may respond to this article; and if you are easily offended by my honest candor and raw language, then I apologize ahead of time…this isn’t for you. In order to “live out loud”, the Lord has asked me to be brutally honest and real; I have nothing to hide anymore, and this letter is meant to uncover what some spend a lifetime covering up.
I remember after a series of unfortunate events in my confused life, sitting in a jail cell and thinking to myself about how awful I was and how nasty the things I had done were. There is no hope for me, I thought. I willingly chose badly and carnally. I was a Christian, and yet here I was stewing in sin! I made the choices. I willfully committed the sins. What was wrong with me? Oh, that was a hellish experience and time in my life. The distance from God felt so very far away. He surely, had turned away from this dead, stinking mess! I was the dog returning to its own vomit. I felt not only rejected by God, but also separated from all who loved me. Misery has no worse companion than loneliness. How on earth was I to regain my sanity? For it was surely MIA for quite a while now.
I spent 3 months in one jail, and then was transferred to another much more horrific jail for an additional 6 months. During the first part of my jail time, about 4 months, I tried to imagine my life after I was returned to society. I thought of money-making schemes, I thought of divorce and getting a new woman, I thought of travel, I meditated on my own success. But you know, every time I saw the conclusion of the story, I was still lonely and all was vanity. How could I be so blind? Here I am, a Christian, sitting in a humbling situation, and still focused on fulfilling my “dream” of happiness.
I remember having to borrow a small radio with headphones in the first jail; and on that radio, I listened to a Christian radio station. The music moved me and made me long for peace, but there was no peace to be found…but I still listened as often as I could. There was this guy in the jail cell block with us for a while that was a “Jesus freak”, and I remember thinking to myself: “What an idiot! I have Christ and look at me. Look at yourself, man! You are in jail for a crime you committed, and you are preaching Jesus?” That was the extent of my thoughts toward God and Christ. The preachers would come into the jail, but they were assigned a separate room from general population, so we who didn’t want to hear them could avoid such unpleasantries.
I remember being transferred from one jail to the other close to Christmas time. The trooper that transferred me kept the Christmas music blaring in my ear the whole 3 hours to the next jail. I was so pissed! Here I am, having to listen to Christmas music when my heart ached so painfully for my family and someone to love on me. What a torture: Handcuffed for 3 hours and a Christmas headache that would bring anyone to their knees. But not me; I just got more bitter. Why God, would you do this to me? Oh yeah, I did it to myself. There is no one else to blame, so guilt sets in on top of bitterness; and the wall is almost impervious to anything good. I am living a spiritual death, trapped inside a broken body. Life sucks and my heart is so sick that it refuses to respond.
Once I realized the new jail is a real nightmare (23 hour lock-down in small, nasty, stinking cells with 1 hour to pace a dimly lit and small common room), I thought I wouldn’t make it through. And, according to my attorney, I could be here for almost a year. The loss of hope, at that point, was palpable: I could see it in my eyes, I could feel it in my bones, and I could feel it making my stomach nauseous 24/7. I had decided to forget hope, and get down to the real business of survival. At this point, I thought I had been brought so low, that there was no way to save my heart.
I had slipped into uncomfortably numb and into survival mode. I put up my defenses and stayed firmly embedded there in that lonely, protective shell. The only reprieve from lock-down, was the twice-a-week visit from the local churches which allowed us freedom from our cells. Most of us, including myself, took the time to play poker and dominoes while tuning out the message being brought to us. The messages came across something like this: “You are sinners in dire need of repentance. If you don’t change your ways and your heart, you will go to hell. Save yourself by submitting to God.” To people like us, who were just damn well pissed off at the world and God, this message only affirmed our choice to sit behind our walls and flip-off the whole of it! We were content to play our games and enjoy a little time outside the confines of our crap-holes. We could easily ignore the pompous bastards, and respectfully kept the noise of our game at an absolute minimum. We didn’t really like God, but we didn’t want to piss Him off either! Then one Thursday night, a very unassuming guy (a new guy) came into our pod and began a very interesting sermon. He started by saying, “I have two messages for you tonight: Two distinctly different thoughts for you.” He started reading a sermon that I recognized. It was something I had studied many years prior. He stopped in the middle of the historic sermon and asked if anyone recognized it. I raised my hand and answered, “Yeah, that is ‘Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God’”. He was sufficiently impressed and began to explain that this message, in one form or another, has been preached to us before, probably, our whole lives. He was right. Not only had we heard this message of doom and gloom to force us to be scared into submission, but it was also the only message we had heard for months! Of course, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” is the ultimate version of the repentance message. He then began, “Now here is another message for you”. He went on to explain, “that God desperately wanted a companion: A companion to talk to, to walk with, to commune with. He created mankind to fulfill this longing in His heart. God loves us more than we could ever know. He only wants to be our companion and true friend. The ultimate value of love is the choice to love. Choosing to love God back is the purest form of friendship”. What a crock of crap! Are you serious? What on earth is this guy saying? That God is tender-hearted and only wants us to accept Him?! Whatever. You need to stop smoking whatever it is that you are smoking! But, you know, it became my personal goal to research what he said, only to prove to him that he was wrong. I would show him what my God looked like, what my Bible says about God, and what time it really is! This search to prove him wrong was the turning point in my relationship with God. Little did I know, that message would change me forever. Some guy who made his way into my life at a perfectly inopportune time, was the impetus for a change of perspective for me.
I realized that nothing we could do could separate us from God’s desire. I had always thought of God as someone Who was intolerant of sinners; someone who sought us out to punish us and show us the error of our ways. What I discovered was that I was wrong: “…neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Romans 8:38 (emphasis added). So it only makes sense that, if this is true, we ourselves cannot even separate us from His love. What about our free-will to not love Him? Still loves us. What about rejecting Him to His face? Still loves us. What about a boat-load of nasty, filthy, stinky sin? Still loves us. His ultimate act of love is found in this verse: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (Emphasis added). That is one stubborn God! He won’t leave us alone. He won’t rest in our unrest. He can’t turn His back on us; we turn from Him! And He still loves us. That is the Truth. And that Truth will set you free! To really understand this in your heart is a shaking of your being that cannot leave a man unchanged. Someone out there really does care about me? That someone is none other than my creator? The God of creation and life and earth has been in love with me this whole time? Someone wake me up; it cannot be true! Ah, but it is the ultimate Truth.
So, in this new frame of mind, what was I to do with that type of information? One thing I have learned: that all things of God are processes. If they weren’t processes, they wouldn’t be from God. All of life is a system of processes. Everything. There is a verse that I want to share, and then I will explain how it applies to me (us). “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8. Now, notice you don’t ask and find. You don’t knock and receive. And you don’t seek for the door to be opened. Remember, these are Jesus’ words, chosen perfectly to convey a system or process. First, you ask, “What do I ask for?” Once you realize how much God loves you, you are compelled to ask for forgiveness first. “God, I accept your love, please forgive my sin of not loving you back.” Too much of a jump? How about: “God, I ask for the desire to love you.” Still too advanced, how about, “God, if you are there, make Yourself known to me.” It doesn’t matter where you start in the asking part of the equation; it ultimately leads you to asking for forgiveness. It’s a start; and, guess what, it will be given to you! Notice in the above verse, it does not say, “For some of the people who ask, they will receive” or “For good people who love God” or “People who really mean it”. It says “everyone who asks receives”! That’s right, even you and I can’t screw this one up. God wants to give you a free gift. You can’t earn it, try to be a better person first, convert to Christianity first, or even have to have faith yet. Just ask. It’s free! Now understand, this verse applies to every phase of Christian life; not just the beginning. It is our model, given to us by the Lord to help us understand His nature. But for now, let’s just focus on the beginning. The next step is seeking. You seek through prayer; you seek through reading God’s Word; you seek through meditation; you seek by talking to other Christians. You will find what you are looking for: answers. Answers for a broken life; answers for a broken heart; answers to the questions of “Am I really loved?”, “Does God really care about me?”, “Can I inherit the promises I’m reading about?” Once God has answered these questions for you, then you begin to knock on the door of salvation. Contrary to modern teachings, you can’t just run up to the door, knock, and the door opened.
God isn’t going to toss salvation out the front door to you and tell you to have a nice day! You first ask, then you seek, then you knock. Otherwise, you can’t understand the process! And something that is so easy to get, you know, isn’t worth having. Sorry, but I’ve lived it and seen it in too many people: you can’t get emotionally caught up in a moment, pray to Jesus to forgive you your sins, ask Him into your heart, and everything be straight! You know why? Because it won’t be long until you are back to where you were. The Devil has a great way of dulling your emotions and “talking you out of it”. One thing that has always bothered me about modern evangelism: some think that once you have prayed the “sinner’s prayer”, you are happily on your way, and they will “pray for you”. Give me a break! Ask for salvation, seek salvation, and knock on the door to receive spiritual enlightenment. Nevertheless, I believe that the simple act of asking for salvation is just enough for God. What do I mean? That sounds like a contradiction. No, what I mean is that once you ask, you have started the process. Believe me, God is a jealous God; He will ultimately bring you back to the seeking and the knocking! He started it by loving us unconditionally. We start on our end by asking. Once we start His process, He will relentlessly pursue us to finish the process. Ever escaped with your life when you know damn well you should be dead? Ever escaped really bad situations quite by chance? If you have, then God is urging you to step back, look at yourself, and see Him in your future. If you have read this so far, then God will get you back. It’s part of His process!
Wouldn’t it be a shame to receive a brand new Ferrari and never be able to drive it? Wouldn’t it suck to be given a beautiful woman and never be able to take her to bed? Wouldn’t it be foolish to ask for the greatest gift of all, and never open it? So it is the same to say a “sinner’s prayer” and not seek its Truth; or to receive eternal life and still not understand what life is. Are you following me here? As the good news is told to you, shouldn’t we, as fellow Christians, be concerned about your process? Shouldn’t you? This is my point: God will eventually bring you back to Himself if you sincerely prayed for forgiveness and believe that Christ is the Son of God who died for you, but why leave it at that? Why would we choose such a painful existence and never really understand the nature of the Gift? God’s gift is awesome! Let’s hasten ourselves to keep the process going by studying His Word, through prayer, and through learning from each other (especially those who have traveled the same road). If you decided to go to a foreign country, let’s say France, you would be lost by yourself: you can’t speak the language, you can’t convert the currency, and you don’t even know where to stay. But, if you had someone along that spoke French, someone who had spent time in this land, and had stayed in many different places in France…that would be easier. He could be your guide, and make your time there more enjoyable and fulfilling. Oh, you could do it on your own, but by the time you figured out what you needed to do, it would be time to go back home, probably broke. Part of being a believer is understanding what you believe. And belief is the conduit to Faith, and will eventually bring you to the door that opens into something that “surpasses all understanding”.
All that to say, I had begun my process by asking God His true nature; trying to disprove the preacher who had challenged me with the nonsense that God was a tender-hearted being that only wanted to be my friend. The realization of the Truth caught me by surprise. I began to read and study and pray. I was asking and seeking, but remember I was already a believer! That’s right, I’m the dill-hole who said the sinner’s prayer and actually did some seeking and then got side-tracked! The person I’m telling you not to be is the same person as me. Please listen to me! I beg you to pay attention; I’m trying to save you a lot of time and pain. Here I am in jail, as a baby Christian, and I’ve been a believer for 20 years! My question to God was, “Well, here I am. I’ve known the Truth. I’ve walked away from the Truth. I have spit in your face in response to Your love. Now what?” God’s response was overwhelming: “I love you so much! I am so glad you have returned!” Are you kidding me? I’m so ashamed, dirty, and saddened by my actions. The answer: “But you are here with Me now”. Please take the time to read about the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. After you have read this parable, it is apparent that somehow I had been misled by all of my notions about God. I was blaming God for all of my misfortunes; daring Him to turn His back on me. But He never would. Can God take a self-destructed person and make him precious? This was my guilt: that I knew the Truth, turned my back on it, and was doomed because of it. Just like the prodigal son, I had it made, but left home to seek my own fortune and will. When you begin to realize the gravity of your decisions, extreme guilt sets in. This is what kept me from Him for so long. Guilt is the ultimate sin, the ultimate weapon Satan uses to keep us from God. God wants to give, but we can’t receive. We can’t receive because it has to be our choice to receive; if you don’t think you are worthy to even ask…then you probably won’t. What a shameful lie! So I struggled with the notion that somehow I had missed out on my life with the Lord; that I had wasted so much time self-destructing that God, in a last ditch effort, saved my ass! I was wrong again.
God has the amazing ability to take what is broken and not only fixing it, but making it better than ever. He almost gloats in His ability to take the weakest, “least likely to succeed”, nastiest people and turning them into a masterpiece! I realize now that through the inner-workings of God Himself, I can be transformed into something beyond comprehension. The more you are broken, whether by yourself or by life or by God, the more incredible the miracle! Not that someone who is such an idiot can be turned into a decent person (that is miracle enough), but that He can take your greatest pains and scars and even sins and make them your greatest ministry! You see, He can take all that you are and use you to help others who are travelling through on similar paths. Amazing! I am uniquely qualified to minister to addicts: I am an addict. I can minister to alcoholics: I am an alcoholic. I can minister to people in jail and prison: I have been there. Does that mean that people who haven’t done the things that I have are less qualified to help you? No, not at all. Some people out of sheer love for others, minister to every person God directs them to minister to. What I am saying, is that I now have that burning in my belly to help people who are walking the same dangerous path I have walked. Christ has put in my heart, out of His love for me, the yearning to be His hands and His feet to reach you, just like the guy who started my process back to God, I want to be there for the Lord for you.
So the question is: “Can God take a person who self-destructs, and use that as Godly correction?” The answer is “yes”. The Lord has taught me so much from my mistakes. Being broken is a good thing whether it is God doing the breaking or us doing the breaking. Broken is broken. And Jesus is the only one who can build out of brokenness: that’s where He starts, because He was broken for us. Let Him paint His masterpiece! Let your pain be healing for others. Let the resentments be turned into forgiveness. Let the oppression be turned into freedom! Open your heart to Truth. And know this: no one is beyond the love of God. He said so, and is more than happy to prove it to you.
Peace be with you my brothers,