Last December I made a list of four topics that I wanted to focus upon in these monthly letters. You have received the first three letters already; rejection, despair and devastation. To me, they appear to be a capsule summary of the way that many of us have lived our lives up until now. These topics have provided a foundation upon which I have hoped to build a mutual understanding of relationships with you. You see those previous topics have provided contrast, so that when I speak of reconciliation and restoration it now has visible structure and form that cannot be diminished by prison walls, barbed wire or threats of execution. No longer can those elements of society dictate your future. They are only links to a past, long forgiven and a reflection of what it took to provide you with a personal understanding of your redemption and salvation. These are not words in a holy book, they are words that speak to your present and your future. They are now words, spoken into YOUR life by a Savior who died for the privilege of saving you from eternal damnation.
One of the most condemning activities which humans inflict upon each other is to embrace a spirit of personal withholding which maintains distance from each other. You have offended me so I will withhold fellowship from you. It is a way of punishing others by refusing true fellowship and love. The problem with this approach to communicating with others, is that we eventually isolate ourselves in the process of excluding others. As men and women on death row I would expect that your spirits are sensitive to this type of isolation and distancing. These are the rules by which society places value upon our lives. Death row prisoners may have the least value in a societal maelstrom of competition for limited attention and precious little affection. The very concept of individual worth and dignity which led the state to seek a criminal conviction in your case, is the substance which makes YOUR OWN LIFE incredibly valuable.
This concept of value did NOT start with the law. It started with God’s valuation of YOUR life. He has made His word plainly known, you are His precious child. That is where all value stems from, not from the abstraction which we call law. It is the essence of our being. It cannot be voided or discarded because we have made mistakes, committed crimes and sinned over and over again. It is the bond which links up spiritually to Our Creator and it can never be extinguished or terminated by the actions of man. It is the essential aspect of His love for us, the continuing aspect of His love for us that can never been diminished by others. We remain His children, His precious children even if we resist that gentle loving call to our spirits to come home. We all have that urge to respond to the inward desire to be loved and at peace with others. One of the family, just one of God’s kids.
The world would do its best to wipe out the hope of reunion and reconciliation, but the fact remains that at any time we can take a step toward home and we will always be welcomed back into fellowship. That is the result of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. He paid the eternal price for our sins; all we need to do is accept his sacrifice as total payment for our sins, our transgressions and our failures. Reconciliation means you are part of the family, you have always been part of the family and you will be welcomed as one who is truly loved. No longer do you or I have to make a way to distinguish ourselves either by accomplishment or failures. The depth and breadth of our actions are nothing besides the victory that has been won for us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
At the same time, nothing that we have done in the past can exclude us from eternity with Jesus if we are willing to cast it all at His feet. There at the foot of the cross we bring all of that personal wreckage and place it in His care knowing that our sin debt is paid in full. He takes that incredible burden as His own and lifts us up in a loving manner, saying welcome home. Many of us spend a substantial part of our life efforts trying to lift ourselves up from the dirt and mire of the street. Trying to undo what we have done, but only making the situation worse with each new effort. Until we feel that we are doomed and beyond any help. When we run up against this belief, we are directly confronting Satan’s lie. He would have us believe that we have no hope for the future, but the reality is that when we recognize our plight and our inability to help ourselves, we come to the point of understanding that only God Himself could have provided a way out of the traps of sin and condemnation. That way out is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus His Only Son, paying our sin debt in full. WHY WOULD HE DO THIS FOR YOU AND ME?
We are made in the image and likeness of God. Satan hates anything that resembles God’s character and will do everything in his power to lead up onto the continuing pathway to damnation. With every soul that he can dupe into believing his lies, he again can offend the holiness and righteousness of God. If he can destroy each of us through sin and temptation, then he has a double victory. First we are lost to redemption and salvation because we refuse to believe in God’s word and trust in His faithful provision to sustain us. Satan than can taunt our loving Creator with the eternal loss of a soul who was loved as a member of God’s family.
God’s justice and mercy and compassion cannot overrule our own choice if we have decided to follow the road to perdition. GOD WILL ALWAYS HONOR OUR CHOICE, even when we make the choice to destroy ourselves. It creates incredible pain for Our Loving Father to see us make that choice, but like the Prodigal’s Father he will allow us to make our own choices, hoping that his incredible love for us will draw us back into relationship with Him.
Word picture help me to understand concepts. Many years ago I was in Bangkok and witnessed a younger man with only stumps for arms and legs, pulling himself along a sidewalk. People were hurrying past him and stepping over him in the rush to whatever destination that they had been seeking. People were stepping around him and over him without any evident awareness of his humanity. He was just an inconvenience to be momentarily dealt with, an uncomfortable distraction. There was no discernible value to be detected in his life or his presence. He was a sore upon the consciousness of society. Best avoided and dismissed from any further thought or consideration.
That nameless man touched my life…over the years I have thought about him frequently as an anchor on the scale of human value, on the worthless end of the scale. He seemed to have nothing that distinguished him as worth the life which seemingly indwelled him. What was it that kept him holding onto his life? Why didn’t he just give up the ghost and flee this life at the first opportunity? Something that was invisible and intangible existed inside of this man’s life. So that even crawling along a sidewalk without any evidence of compassion from others had meaning in this individual’s view of life. That is the same raw drive that helps someone condemned to death to awaken each morning and pursue whatever the day may bring. This man, sliding along on his belly on a piece of cardboard, touched my heart with his mere presence. I instantly understood that there was little if anything that I could do to manifestly change his life. More importantly he seemed to be put into my path, to change my life. Few experiences have lasted so long over the years, but I think of him and still try to draw meaning from that brief encounter. In God’s great economy he has as much value as the rest of us. Though society has condemned him to live at the barest edge of existence, somehow he manages to draw meaning and strength from his circumstances. How much more so should you and I challenge any notions about limitations or defeats in our lives and use the Grace of reconciliation to drive us forward on a daily basis? Our challenge is to move forward and openly demonstrate a large spirit of life in the midst of indifference and social contempt. The only way to achieve such a personal victory is to come to a full understanding of your true worth in this life and beyond into eternity. Right now there are crowds of heavenly witnesses who are cheering us onward in this life’s struggle between good and evil. If you have fallen down, get up and continue the race. You are racing against your own past, into a new future. With every step forward you grow in your understanding and trust will grow out of that process. While we are all trying to move past those things that would bog us down and keep us in rejection, despair and devastation, it is the promise of reconciliation that empowers our spirits to trust in God’s word….His promises. Listen for the welcoming cries…they are not far off for any of us. The victory is ours, do not let Satan snare you in his web of defeat and disbelief.
So as the nameless man has touched my life and transformed my thinking about the value of life, let my words nourish your spirit and challenge you to lift your head on a daily basis. We are not defined by our pasts;, we have the ability to change direction at any point in our lives. Because YOUR life has great worth and value, I am committed to affirming the dignity of your life. These may sound like strange concepts to discuss with individuals facing the ultimate rejection of society, but it is in the face of such rejection that my words take on a special significance. Do not let anyone, especially the unnamed voices of society, strip away the essence of your humanity. That value was established for all time by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ to pay for your sins/crimes and mine. Easter is around the corner. This is an excellent time to consider the reality of life beyond the domains of space and time. I have used the example of the disabled man that I met in Bangkok to challenge your notions about the meaning of life. Without exception we are all loved as precious children of God, no matter what value society may place upon our lives.
So this is an excellent season to come back to life and make a decision to live out each day before you to the fullest. That is your birthright. I do not encourage the practice of busywork, in fact I find it personally demeaning. So I am not encouraging you to engage in a series of distractions, but rather a well-reasoned approach to developing your spiritual nature. You are far more than a body and mind; spirit is the very substance that knits you together at the most basic level. It is that combination of characteristics that makes you distinctly human. Uniquely different from everyone else who has ever lived. Nothing from your past is wasted; all of these events have served to make you who you are today. It is my hope to truly connect with you and have the opportunity to understand the person beyond a name or prison number.
PRETENSE AND LIES
Researchers who have focused upon identifications of the presence of evil generally agree that a principle hallmark is the use of pretense to mask overt behaviors. Pretense and lying are as casually linked heat from a flame. Usually the real pretense is buried under multiple levels of obfuscation and denial which always triggers some level of confusion about the individual’s intentions. It may seem impossible to get an accurate read on this type of person since they will use lies as their principle tool to mask their pretense. The emerging perplexity which accompanies direct efforts to unmask pretense is a useful indicator that there may be a spiritual aspect to the troubled interactions. Such internal awareness is essential in identifying those situations in which we may come under spiritual attack and assists us to respond in a manner which is consistent with truth. You see truth is the only effective weapon against elegantly designed attacks from The Father of Lies.
But you say “everyone lies.” I would disagree since the soul seeking to find relationship with Jesus Christ is spurred onward by the ever growing need for encounters with truth. Lies never offer the satisfaction or joy which comes with the sure knowledge of the truth. But they are a clear indicator of the individual’s depravity, when they can look you in the eye and tell you a lie to your face. Perhaps they are so far gone that even at the moment of telling lies they do not even know what the truth is. In such a context it is easier to tell a lie than speak the truth. This practice is so pervasive in our society that if you live your life as a truth teller, people will think that you are naive and gullible like a child. Somehow good has become bad and bad is the practical and efficient way to live life. Wasn’t our standard to become more childlike in our interactions with others? I have come to believe that many people are so use to choosing the convenience of a lie, that the concept of the truth is foreign to them (…the truth is not in them…).
Recently I have begun to speak out about the dignity and worth of all individuals. Not just those individuals whose behaviors reflect “acceptable levels” of compliance. If we are all precious to God, how do we justify our personal and corporate behaviors? I am fully aware that the behaviors of some have triggered legal and social consequences, but those penalties cannot and do not nullify the Word of God as the basis upon which I am called to serve others. I am to serve them with openness and compassion in all of my interactions. In fact, I am called upon to treat each of these individual’s as I would treat Jesus Himself. Yes there are times I am outraged and offended, but I have also outraged and offended My Heavenly Father and still feel free to call upon His Mercy, Grace and Forgiveness. How does that work? Clearly I am called to be a witness not only in my speech, but more importantly in my actions.
The word that comes to mind is transparency. I am called to live a transparent life as I walk before God and serve others. My intentions and actions will be tested and perhaps vilified, that is not my concern. My concerns will be disputed and opposed by those who hold themselves to be moral and righteous people. This is not any of my business. I am merely to continue to serve God in all my actions and to care for and comfort others to the best of my ability. To do anything else is to live a pretense, which is the same as living a lie. Many are involved with the “business” of God. I am focused upon the “work” of God and have no time for distractions. I cannot see the benefits of what I am doing now, but I trust that God has a plan for my life. That is enough to sustain me. If I attempt to build a dream and sell you on its potential, then I am engaging in pretense. If I am truly doing the work of My Father, then it is not my concern to prevail upon you. He will move those hearts which need comfort, prayer and hope. We will meet in His perfect plan. That is enough.
ONE FAMILY’S STRUGGLES
Responding to an ad heard on Christian radio, one gentleman described the situation confronting his adult son. At the time of the initial call this elderly gentleman held out the hope that his son would not be sentenced to more than five years in federal prison. Both the caller and his wife were in their advanced years and their son was in his upper fifties. Clearly any long term prison sentence was likely to mean that they would be gone before his release. Not understanding how to approach this issue and having no realistic points of reference, they spoke of the sadness that these events had brought to the family members.
Later discussions revealed that other siblings were split on the issue of their brother’s guilt or innocence. One thing was clear, their brother had engaged in a form of illegal behavior which resulted in his arrest and pending incarceration. That situation was bringing a deepening sense of loss and pain to all members of the family and created a drift between them so that no one wanted to bring up a discussion of the problem confronting the family. Worst of all, the children had a notable concern about how this situation was impacting the lives of their parents who had always been law abiding Christian people.
There was a sense of being lost among the various family members and a growing sense of anger and betrayal. So the matter was generally handled by no referring to it in family conversations. This accommodation to silence brought with it a new and foreign sense of relating to each other. Prior to this event, all members of the family felt a generally comfortable dialogue with each other. But the discovery that their brother had been living a secret life ruptured the trust between them. Now the parents had to walk a distinct line that did not cater to the son’s behaviors or make excuses for his actions.
What made this a particularly difficult situation was the fact that the parents believed that there son had only been involved in an aberrant and isolated behavior which had exposed him to prosecution. The zeal displayed by the prosecutors in this case caused the parents much distress since they genuinely believed that this unlawful behavior that their son was charged with was completely uncharacteristic of his nature. The son encouraged the family members to continue in this belief by his silence on the matter of his guilt.
While the months passed by from the time of arrest through various hearings, he made no effort to educate his parents about the severity of his conduct or the extent of his unlawful behaviors. He allowed the months to flow by and continued to jockey with his hired attorney to get the best deal possible. Based upon the minimal expectations that had been cultivated by their son, the misinformed parents believed that the prosecutors were being unduly harsh and punitive in their son’s case. They became convinced by the conspiracy of silence that he would in fact get the minimal prison sentence of five years.
Even the minimal sentence left them with strong concerns that they would not survive his term of incarceration, so they found themselves challenged to find ways to possibly provide some resources for this son after his release from prison. Clearly whatever efforts that they extended on his behalf would also have to be balanced with fairness toward the other children of the marriage. Nothing in their lives together had prepared them to deal with the struggles that these accommodations were thrusting into their family life.
The most unkind aspect of this transgression was revealed on sentencing day when their son was given a 10 year prison sentence for his activities. His mask of limited culpability and guilt quickly faded away as it was revealed that he had been engaged in his illegal behaviors for over ten years. There in a courtroom of strangers, his parents were exposed to the vileness of his double life and the hidden reality of his crimes. What an incredibly painful moment to look upon someone you love and realize that you do not know them at all. He will move onto serve his prison sentence, but his family is left behind dealing with the multiple wounds and betrayals. Who will comfort or heal them in the lonely days ahead? PERSONAL PRAYER
Lord, I have made a mess of my life and the lives of others. I have only one thing that I can bring to You and lay at Your feet. That is the truth about my life, how I have lived it and how I would change things if I were able to do so now. The only things that makes this valuable, is that I am telling You the complete truth about me and what I have become with the gift that You have given to me. Perhaps this is all that I can take from this life, a true recognition of my failures, defeats, sins and crimes. I want to bring this burden to You since Your word tells me that You are ready to accept me at any time and any place. Well if You can accept me, with all the shameful things that I am sharing with You, then You are God, and You do love me like it is shared in Your word. I trust in You and I believe that You faithfully can and will lead me home.