The high spirits of summer seem to be abating as communities brace for the coming of Fall 2015. Parents and children are visible in various shopping locations, buying new clothes and supplies for school. Yet it seems that the excitement of the season has not fully been expended and few seem willing to put away the toys of summer for the tools of fall and winter. The end of summer has traditionally been a melancholy time to let go of the holiday joys in favor of a return to productivity. If nothing else, Fall becomes that time of the year, which demands a new soberness and a refocusing of all of our personal efforts on the task of learning new skills. The coming coolness of the new season brings with it a silent call to return to old familiar routines. In fact, it seems that Fall is nature’s way of providing us with adequate time to transition for the pending journey toward the end of the year. For me this time of year has always been a time for introspection and reflection of what has past and what still lays ahead. I do not recall anyone ever telling me that this is something that I should do, rather it is just a personal awareness that developed over the years. So, this year the pattern calls my attention anew for the 69th year.
Once more I make the conscious decision to let go of the carefree days of summer and find myself engaging those tasks that lay ahead as the days get shorter. In fact, this may be a beautiful metaphor of our lives—with nature presenting a grand show that draws our attention to the journey that we call life. In my own case, I cannot help but wonder if the transition to seventy years old, will not mark the passage in my own life from Fall to Winter. I am consciously drawn to this subtle passage of time, wanting to savor and embrace each day as a new adventure. With the awareness and acceptance that life is a brief journey, I have come to a place in my thinking where I want to consciously squeeze the juice out of each new day. In living within this spiritual rhythm, I am able to see new opportunities with the dawn of each new day. A chance meeting with someone new; a problem which causes me to alter my plans; a healthcare challenge which reminds me of my mortality; an encounter with my own growing limitations; and a realization that only those things that I have done out of love for others will survive my certain death.
It is a time to resist the selfish demands of the flesh and seek out opportunities to plant some choice seeds in the remaining days or my journey. I seriously doubt that I will see the fruits of these efforts, but my belief in Jesus Christ sustains me and helps me to understand that everything that has happened in the course of my lifetime has some purpose in God’s plan. I can approach this stage of life knowing that God’s Word is faithful and true. He will surely use all of these events as He weaves a great tapestry. He merges our lives into a visible expression of His love for us and His faithfulness if I am willing to trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. After all, it is not my work, but His work that accomplishes His purposes. So I can draw comfort, that in spite of all of my failings, God is able to use even the worst failures of my life to accomplish His purposes. That spiritual understanding has brought with it joy and peace that lightens each new day of my life.
Do you have joy and peace? Have you learned how to put down the burdens of life? What does it mean to really trust in God’s Word? How does this relate to the completed work of Jesus Christ?
Every human being who has ever been born passes through some form of fire in their lives. By the word fire I mean trials of various kinds. It is easy to look out at the world and view the life of others at some particular point and make a judgment about the quality of their lives based upon our own experiences. In our society, it is a common misconception that because someone has wealth, status or position that they are immune to the sufferings of life. Since no one but God actually knows what it has been like to live out our own personal journey, we cannot make an accurate judgment based upon the scant evidence that we possess. I cannot possibly know what your journey has been like for you, though I can recognize some similarities in things that have happened in each of our lives. Understanding this limitation has become a blessing for me in writing letters to death row.
I see clearly that the facts of a crime are not the sum total of a person’s life experience. Given that personal understanding, I communicate with anyone who takes the time to write based upon my belief that their soul is as important to God as is my own soul. I will stand before God and give account for all of the things that I have done, in public and in secret. So will everyone else. Most people fail to consider that NONE of their actions are hidden from the eyes of a knowing God. Your sins have been publically displayed because of the crimes with which you have been charged and convicted. My own sinfulness is just as wretched as the worst criminal in the world. Yet I have been blessed over the course of my lifetime by others who saw value in my life beyond my criminal activities. I see value in your own life. There is more to your life story than sin, failures, pain and loss. You are a unique human being and even in the midst of your current situation there is some meaning that your life serves according to God’s purposes. No other human being can define your spiritual worth. We do not have the ability to accurately value the life of another human being since we do not know the mind of God.
Consider the strange life of Ted Bundy who was executed in Florida 1989 for multiple murders. Most people who saw the video that he made with Dr. James Dobson, dismissed his statements as self-serving. Others saw his willingness to come clean about the unknown murders that he committed as an effort to keep himself alive. There is no doubt that he wrecked tremendous pain and harm upon other lives and that he deserved to be punished. Even he made the statement that he deserved the worst punishment that society could possibly render. But in the end something seemed to happen to him when he realized that his appeals had run out, and he faced death. He wanted to accomplish something with whatever portion of his life still remained. So he started to speak out on a number of topics that related to his own criminal activities. His fellow prisoners on death row kept urging him to remain quiet. But something spurred him to speak out and to try to make right his wrongs. He knew that there was nothing that he could do to restore to people what they had lost. But something inside of him drove him to acknowledge his crimes and to help identify those he had harmed.
That is a highly unusual behavior for someone who spent a large portion of their life preying on others. It makes me seriously wonder what was happening to Ted Bundy spiritually in the last days of his life. I choose to see the hand of God at work in even the most dreadful of situations. Something COMPELLED him to speak out the truth. In speaking out the truth, he may have completed his own life’s journey. I do not mean by this statement, that his murders were the will of God, only the fact that he finally came to a point where he was willing to tell the truth. I see that as a redemptive act brought about by the mercy of God. Most Christians would believe that Ted Bundy was condemned to hell for the awfulness of his crimes. I believe that if he truly gave his life to Jesus Christ, then his crimes and his sins were fully covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. If God has made provision for someone like Ted Bundy through the sacrifice, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ, hasn’t He promised to do the same thing for you and me?
Now let’s consider a different picture. At the close of World War II, American and Allied forces captured a number of German and Japanese officials who had been identified as war criminals. During the course of the war, they had committed or approved of acts that violated the very basic nature of human decency. When captured, some committed suicide, but most stood trial. Many were condemned to death for their behaviors. Most went to their deaths without ever acknowledging the crimes they had committed or offering any regrets about what had happened. They were so hardened in their beliefs that they were right, that they could not even grasp the magnitude of their crimes. There was no evidence of remorse. No regrets, except the fact that they were going to pay with their own lives. It is a portrait of total selfishness. In fact, during the Nuremberg Trials, many of the NAZI’s laughed when films were shown of the Germans marching into Austria to take over that country. Even on trial for their lives, they laughed at what had been done in their names and by their orders. And so, according to official reports they went to their deaths without acknowledging their own crimes or sins against humanity. Having said this in such clear language, can you begin to understand why I see the actions of Ted Bundy in his last days as redemptive and serving God’s ultimate purpose? Nothing in those actions which he undertook could offset the harm he had done, but it was like he was driven to acknowledge the evil which had consumed his own life.
Many of us live out our lives without ever acknowledging the harm that we have done in the lives of others. Even fewer will ask for forgiveness from those they have harmed. Still others will go to their death holding bitterness and grudges against others who have harmed them in the past. How do we clear away the burdens of living life in this fashion? Do you want to exit this life carrying all of these burdens by yourself, like the German and Japanese war criminals? Don’t you understand that even in your current situation that Jesus Christ has already paid the full price for your crimes and your sins? By definition, that is the completed work of Jesus Christ. I do not have to stand before the throne of God and give a personal account for all of my wretchedness. I have gotten on my knees and asked Jesus Christ to forgive me and to wash me clean of each and every offense. I know that my sins and crimes have been forgiven. Do you have the same assurance? If you are reading this letter, then you still have the opportunity to get right with God. You can cast all of that pain, shame and bitterness on the One who paid the price for you and me. You can stand up off that floor and become a new Christian…..a brand new creation. You can know what it is like to have real joy in your heart, maybe for the first time in your life. Then you will find yourself drawn toward touching the lives of others, through prayer and whatever other opportunities may have presented themselves. Your life will take on a new meaning and a new purpose. Instead of counting the days, you will find ways presenting themselves, to honor God through your choices even on death row. Fear will be replaced with purpose and uncertainty will be replaced with spiritual certainty. You will have confidence and sense of sureness in all that you do. You will come to realize that God is doing for you what you could not do for yourself.
Life is merely a transitional period between birth and death. This is a reality we all share in common. What would add to the value of your life at this time? What gift could you give someone else that only you can bestow? Where can you plant seeds of peace in the lives of others? What can you do today to resolve pain and grief through your actions? What amends still need to be made in order to complete your life’s work? If you have a gift that you could share with someone else, would you just keep it for yourself? As you can see from my questions, the actions of a long dead serial killer really had an impact upon my thinking this month. These thoughts have helped me to understand that God does not see us through the same lens that other people use. He wants to know what you and I have done with the gift that He gave us in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ—because everything else that happens in eternity flows from that one question. His forgiveness flows from that question. You can still make a decision to be able to answer His question when you stand before Him. We all have that privilege because it is a free gift to us from God. But a gift is not a gift until it has been accepted by the one receiving the gift. Until you actually reach out and accept the gift, it is only an offer of a gift. Can you see the difference? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Or will you stand before the throne of God and act as your own attorney?
I am convinced that God does not send anyone to hell. I believe that ultimately we send ourselves to hell by refusing to accept the gift of Salvation from God’s hand. The NAZI’s stood on the gallows, moments before they pitched forward into eternity. They had enormous sins on their consciences. Million and millions of lives lost due to their actions. And God would have forgiven them if they had asked for His forgiveness. They all went to their deaths believing Satan’s lie that they were right in their behaviors. Their only sense of loss was for their own lives. Contrast their deaths with the death of Jesus Christ. In the moments before He died, He assured a theft on the cross next to Him that he would be in paradise that day! Here Jesus was dying an innocent man, to pay the full price for your sins and crimes and my own. I believe with all of my heart, that if you get to know the man Jesus, His life will touch your heart and you will never be the same.
This has been written as a very serious letter, since it is focused upon things that go well beyond this life itself. None of us know what tomorrow holds in terms of our lives, finances, health or freedom. For that matter, my life may be required of me before I get finished writing this letter. It is a serious letter, because if I could come and visit you in your cell these are the very things that I would share with you. We have all made mistakes and errors in our lives. We have all sinned. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. But would you choose to keep playing a losing hand, knowing that you could ask for a new hand? Sometimes we become so myopic that we refuse to the see the most obvious things in front of us. What about your current situation has caught your attention and you cannot let go? What help do you need to face these circumstances and accept them as a fact of your life? Do you need help in communicating with someone about these circumstances or in making an amends to someone who has been harmed by your actions? It does not need to be a victim’s family; in our life struggles we wound our own loved ones until they lose all hope for us. They can no longer bear to have us in their lives because we refuse to be honest with them. So they flee, leaving us behind in a mess of our own making. They have no clue how to help us, because we use them without mercy or regard. They suffer as they wait, hoping for any sign of a change of heart in our lives. They wait silently for the miracle? Many wait until the point of death without ever seeing what they have hoped for in this life.
Do you have the ability to touch someone else’s life for good today? Can you set someone’s spirit free with the truth? Can you given the gift of love to someone today who has been hungering for that gift from you for a lifetime? We all have precious things that we can give away freely to others. Even on death row today YOU can be a blessing in someone’s life. Just like I can be a blessing in the lives of those who know me. When I give you access into that most private part of me, I am opening my world to you. In what ways could you open your world to others today? Doesn’t it get very lonely living in that small world all by yourself? Here is the invitation. You do not need to spend the rest of your life alone in that little cell. You can open the door to your heart and let someone walk in. If you have no one to write to or you have burned out everyone in your life, pick up your pen and write to me. I will respond to your willingness to share your life with someone else. I know that this has been a tough letter to read. Believe me it has also been a tough letter to write. I believe that when we finally come to the point where we refuse to live out a lie, something happens. We are given spiritual courage to face our failings and to ultimately become a blessing to others.
Now you have the option before you. Will you end this life trying desperately to play out a losing hand—bluffing everyone until you ultimately run out of options? Or are you ready to ask for forgiveness? Now is the time to ask God to forgive you for all you have done. This is the time to invite Jesus Christ to come into your life and cover you with His shed blood. If you take this step, I promise you that the substance of your life will change. Even on death row He will fill you with His own purposes. You will find meaning in a life that has seemed to be meaningless. My thoughts and my heart are with you as you read these words. I have had to make the same choice in my own life.
Only You Lord, know the extent of suffering and pain that I have brought into the lives of others. I see no possibility to redeem myself or change the past. I am so far past forgiveness that I am truly without hope, bluffing my way every day. Please have mercy upon me and forgive my sins and trespasses. Jesus I believe that You died to pay the price for my sinfulness and crimes. I believe that You rose from the dead and that You conquered sin and death. Please Lord, I sit here in this cell awaiting my end. Please remember me and this quiet moment of prayer. I call upon Your name in faith and I trust Your word that You can redeem that which has been lost. Please use me in whatever way You see fit to serve You in the remaining days of my life. I pray for healing and comfort for all those I have wounded. I ask that you touch my family members and those I have harmed, so that they would know that God is a present force in our lives. I ask for the opportunity to honor and glorify Your name in my daily actions. I ask for the courage to face what lays ahead, walking and filled with Your Holy Spirit.
Have a blessed month,
Kevin and Quinta