When I sit down to write my letter, I give much thought to the substance of life and those things that make life an experience worth living. That thought process also helps me to clearly see the things that make our lives difficult, hard and painful. Often those are the very things which shape and influence our lives eventually taking over our view of the world and the way that we live our lives. So we wind up isolated within ourselves, alone and uncertain far from meaningful relationships with others. Along that pathway we sustain many personal wounds that remind us of the painful moments we have lived out. That process makes it very difficult to extend ourselves to others in any sense of openness: Because our experiences in life have mostly been painful realities which teach us to not trust others. When we arrive at that point we are truly alone and struggling to take each new step forward. Usually at that point we have few if any people that we can truly open ourselves up to in our communications. We were not made to live in that kind of isolation and despair. We were made for fellowship with each other. That is why I write my monthly letters to you. I believe that your life is important and valuable since God created you and me for His own purposes. Knowing that truth deeply in my life, I choose to write to you each month because I believe in your worth and personal dignity. It is not important to me that you write back, I know that in my time incarcerated, I remained shut down and relatively isolated from outside life. I did my days by keeping a basic focus on getting through all of the challenges of prison life without looking toward the outside world. My desire is to shine a light on those painful areas of life and offer a way out of the traps that prevent us from truly relating to others. So each letter focuses upon some element of life that may be a stumbling block along our daily pathway. By writing about these things it is my hope to expose them to the light of day and to help set you free from those painful influences. Your personal value is beyond description since your life is precious, a true gift from God. So let’s turn our attention to another aspect of life that keeps us from recognizing and understanding this awesome gift that has been given to us….life itself.
Despair is giving up all hope in the belief that our lives can be changed and become meaningful. Certainly living on death row fosters the underlying belief that life has little or no meaning beyond suffering and pain. But there is more to life than the circumstances in which we find ourselves living. Despair is the opposite of hope. In fact despair is the absence of hope. If I am in despair then I have given up all hope that my life can become something beautiful in God’s hands. What an incredibly lonely place to live out one’s days. In the absence of hope I lose myself in an endless variety of distractions which takes my attention off of the pending reality that my life will end. But that fate is true for everyone that has ever been born. We must all arrive at a place where we can accept all that has happened as having some meaning, even if we are not aware of the larger picture. Stepping back we can catch a glimpse of the larger picture when we see the world as a battleground in which forces of good battle those of evil for our eternal souls. In that view I start to become aware that while I have made horrible and painful choices, those same choices have been influenced by the evil in which we live. It is quite different from individual choice when you have the demons of hell urging you to strike out against another human being. That side of the story is never heard in court, nor is the fact often made public because most people want to believe that they are good and pure and only those who go to prison are bad and evil. It is a form of spiritual blindness that keeps people from recognizing the true nature of their personal struggles.
We are all born with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual lives. The first three become very evident as we grow and mature. The last, the spiritual life only really becomes real when we are confronted with making sense of things that do not make sense at all. So the prime question becomes “why did I do that…” and there is never a meaningful answer because we are seeking to explain the nature of evil in terms of our humanity. The battle between good and evil has been going on since the beginning and will continue until the return of Jesus Christ. While my choices are important, they primarily impact my life and the lives of others with whom I have my experiences. Good and evil are GLOBAL influences which impact all lives. The bible clearly teaches that everyone has sinned. That makes us all spiritual criminals…no one is worthy on their own. Spiritually we are all dead in sin, even those that make a good show at being relatively perfect. Physical, mental and emotional life will all pass away, but our souls (the spiritual part of us) will live for all eternity. That soul is the essence of who we actually are. If all I have to hang onto is my physical, mental and emotional life, then death is a fearsome opponent. I can only spend my days focused upon the many distractions which the world has to offer, because once it is over then it seems to be finally over. That kind of thinking leads us into living lives that grow smaller and more narrow by the day. We go through each day trying to keep our eyes off the impending reality of our own deaths. Maybe if I do not look at it, it will not happen to me. It is a form of denial which keeps us from living out our days productively blessing others and having a good measure of peace in our lives. In my letters I speak to you of things which few others will mention since it is such an obvious and painful topic. That pain is the pain of despair, that all has been lost. It is a lie straight from the pit of hell. It is satan’s final attempt to capture your soul by default, by getting you to give up on God’s promises. Think back at how many times in the past you have heard that familiar voice which has lied to you in the past. The evil one urges us to act on our impulses and then he accuses us before God so that we would be condemned to hell. What an easy way to capture the souls of those who refuse to see the goodness of God. The souls of those who refuse to believe that in His goodness He would never consider us worthy of saving. Yet the truth is that all I have to do is ask Jesus Christ for His forgiveness since it was Him who paid the FULL price on the cross for every sinner. All I need do is to quietly ask Him to accept my prayer asking for forgiveness and it is instantly granted. With that one small act on my part, I am assured of salvation because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ. His blood has already been shed for you and me. The price has been completely paid. Despair is a lie from hell and it means that you cannot see yourself as God sees you. To Him you are His precious child. He is not a God of the dead, but a God of the living. For all of us, eternity is only a heartbeat away. Aren’t you tired of carrying around the burden of shame and pain? This prayer asking for forgiveness is about putting that burden down and not picking it up again. As parents would you deny your child the very things that they need? As your Creator, God will not deny you the right to eternal life in His presence. This prayer is about getting real with God, maybe for the first time in your life. He knows all about you and still loves you, but He will not force you to accept His love. That is solely your own choice. No matter how many bad decisions you have made previously you CAN make the most important decision of your life right now. But only you can make that decision, no one else can do that for you. Once you have made that decision and asked for His forgiveness, the despair which you may have known is replaced with Hope and Peace. And no one can ever take them away from you. The spiritual level of awareness is often the last level of awareness for most of us. But it is the essence of eternal life and it is the truth.
It might seem odd to talk about subjects like peace and hope with death row prisoners. Actually it is not odd at all, because you have been placed under a pending death sentence and are the most likely individuals on earth to be thinking of what the meaning of life is all about. You may participate in a series of daily distractions to take your mind off the subject, but there are times that this reality shines through the extensive walls you have created around yourself. That light which shines through your defenses is God’s way of trying to reach out to you as you struggle with despair and hopelessness. That light is an affirmation of your worth and value as an individual before God. While He will never force His love upon you, He will keep shining His love into your life in various ways and through other people. You may feel that your whole life has been about battling one thing or another, sometimes to just stay alive. But there is ONE who has always been with you and His word says that He will never leave you. No one on earth knows you like your Creator. This letter is only one way that you have heard this message over and over again in your life. You are not alone though all of your senses may tell you differently. We will all stand before God at some time in the future. That is the nature of having a spiritual life. We are called to give an account for all we have been given. Jesus Christ paid the price for all of our sins and transgressions. The debt has been paid in full, would you insist on paying this debt yourself? With what resources could you attempt to pay the massive sin debt that you have acquired? None of us can pay that debt, which is why Jesus Christ died on a cross and arose again three days later. In that moment of resurrection Satan’s hold over us was broken contingent only upon our asking for personal forgiveness from the ONE who paid our sin debts. Satan’s only weapon now is to whisper his lies in your ear and hope that we will believe them. It is not an accident that he has been called the father of lies. There is a struggle going on all around us, and those living in the world are often deluded into thinking that they are good people, while those in prison are evil people. Somehow they are incapable of seeing their own evil choices and choose to live life like a masquerade, pretending to be someone that they are not. I find that people of death row have the potential to live life more deeply and intensely than those living in the world. That is why I write to you each month. Given your unique view of the world, I believe that you can see all of the contradictions and false assumptions that are made on a daily basis. I believe that you have a keener insight into spiritual matters and have wrestled with these issues deep within your being. It is out of a sense of respect that I send my letters to each of you, because I strongly suspect that you are willing at some level to engage in a meaningful search for truth. That belief sustains me in writing each of these letters. It does not matter that I do not hear back from most of you, it is enough to know that there are some who take these words to heart and ponder them deeply. That makes this outreach well worthwhile and fills me with a sense of service to my brothers and sisters in chains. By myself I am nothing, but I assure you that the truth will set you free.
THE LAST PERSON
The end of the age of Grace
True rugged individualism means living out your life by your own strength, wants and needs. In this context there is little room for the lives of others except in the ways that we use them to serve ourselves. The end result of this process is a journey into isolation and self-centeredness. It results in the slow and certain closure of meaningful opportunities to interact with other human beings. It is a truly lonely place with few rewards as we approach the end of life. We were created as social beings to have fellowship with each other. One of the great rewards of life itself is the connections that we share with others. We were not made to live alone and far removed from interactions with others.
In a very real sense being a Christian has a limiting effect upon the lives of believers. Those who identify themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ are engaged in a daily struggle to choose the things of God. The pressures of the world make these kinds of choices seem stupid and idiotic. Something to be laughed at by those who are busy acquiring the goods of life and seeing themselves as successful in the struggle to achieve high status and wealth. A Christian understands that we have been given our lives to know, love and serve God in all that we do. We serve Him by serving others in His name. This commitment to service is not restricted by where we live or how many assets that we have acquired. It is the core of Christian belief to share His love with everyone we encounter in our journey.
I do not believe that we can effectively scare people into the Kingdom of God. Nor do I believe that God would have us use this means to reach others. Since the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have been living in an Age of Grace. What that means in plain words is that with the Birth of Jesus Christ, we have had God living with us as a fellow human being who never gave up His heavenly Kingship. By virtue of the fact that He has lived a human life, He is intimately aware of all of the challenges and temptations we face on a daily basis. His life, death and resurrection have assured us that there is ONE who fully understands our failings and our frailties. While He lived His life without sin, He fully understands the sinful parts of our nature. In giving His life for all of us, He paid the sin debt that we all owe. In rising from the dead He defeated sin and death, so that we have no more need to live in fear and uncertainty. He has the keys to the kingdom (eternity) by virtue of what it is that He has done for each of us. That key to eternity turns upon a heartfelt simple prayer asking for forgiveness. It opens the door to eternal life with God who deeply loves you and me.
That is the essence of grace; it can be summed up by understanding that we have our own futures in our own hands. All we need to do is ask for forgiveness. In other words God has made a way for each of us to get right with Him by seeking Him out and asking for His help. A complete study of the Holy Bible will reveal that there is a certain future point when the Age of Grace will end. No one knows when that will happen except God Himself. But it is certain that it will happen in God’s own timing. So if there is an end to the Age of Grace that must mean that there are yet people who will be saved by His love and compassion. If there are yet people to be saved, it also means that someone, somewhere at some future date will be the last one to be saved in the current Age of Grace.
After that time starts the open reign of Satan on this earth. Read about it for yourself. Get a copy of the Bible and spend some time reading Daniel and Revelation. It will help you to come into an understanding of what I am describing in this message. There will be an end, as certain as there was a beginning. If you doubt my words consider the fact that we are born and we die. There is a clear beginning and end to our physical, mental and emotional life processes. Life itself bears witness to this truth. It is not open to any other interpretation or understanding. So what does your end or my end mean in terms of God’s word? The most important aspect is that we still have the ability to choose eternal life: Because unlike the body, your spirit will live on for all of eternity. That is the truth!
Given the world that we live in it is my opinion that the Age of Grace is approaching an end. I see that in all of the world events that are shaping history and individual life itself. It is not my purpose to go off on a tangent about the end times, but the fact remains that a book which dates back over 6000 years, which was written by 40 different writers and contains 66 books has spoken about all of these matters down through time as we know it. If you have not read that book yourself and made up your own mind, then any decision which you make is based upon second hand information from others: The opinions of others. That is a form of personal dishonesty that you would make up your mind without ever having sought out the truth for yourself. Would you risk your eternal status to the assumptions of another human being? For that matter would you risk the possibility of future execution to what someone else thinks about your chances? I doubt that very much. Most likely you would be diligently studying the law books and attempting to understand what various court rulings meant about your future life. You would make calls and write letters and eagerly seek the answers. Is your eternal life any less important at this time? Would you refuse to seek out the truth and die in your sin when it could have been forgiven just through asking for forgiveness?
Perhaps you are the very man or woman that God has been waiting to hear that sincere, soft cry for His help. Maybe the Age of Grace terminates with your own personal salvation. I only know that your soul is equal in value to my own soul and I plead for His mercy on your life in my prayers. I do not want to leave this world without having reached out to you and telling you the truth. Don’t take my word for it, read His word and find out what it says about your own life. Then you can make a knowledgeable decision about where you will choose to spend eternity. Please remember that no decision is still a decision. Your eternal existence depends upon what you decide to do with this message. As for me, I would hope for everyone’s awakening to the truth, but I would be equally delighted if you were the last person we have all been waiting for…..welcome home!
PRAYER FOR WISDOM AND UNDERSTANDING
Lord, if You are my Creator then You already know everything about me. I cannot hide in the shadows on my cell or seek anonymity in the nameless and faceless prisoners who have lived down through the history of man. I struggle to stand before You and seek Your forgiveness for my sins and transgressions. They are too numerous to recount even if I could recall them all at this time. Your word speaks about Mercy Grace and Forgiveness and I trust in Your word. Your word is all that I have left at this point in my life. I am unable to do anything for myself, except cry out to You in my shame and pain. Please Lord, fill me with a knowledge about Your word and help me to earnestly study the Bible to find the answers which I am seeking. It seems as if I have never been successful at anything in my life except getting into trouble and hurting those that I love. Dear Jesus help me to clearly see the path before me and to seek out the wisdom of the Holy Spirit in understanding Your word. I thank God the Father Almighty for having created me and given me the opportunity to live out this life. More importantly I thank the Father for Your sacrifice on my behalf. I surrender my life and will to Your love and care and ask You to use me as You see fit in the days ahead. Amen.