Wednesday, January 20, 2016

If only...

Several years ago every week I would go to jail...for about 2 hours and at the end of my time there they would let me go...thankfully!

The Monroe County Jail is where I would go and while I was in the big house I would meet with a group of guys for a Bible study.

The guys I met with resided on what is called “Three Plaza North”, and had been placed in this particular facility, and on this particular floor for a reason…they were hardened criminals, who have done society wrong in some way shape or form. Drugs, murder, arson, robbery, you name it, some of them had done it!

When I initially spoke with the Chaplain, I was interested in going in each week to minister to the "juvies", you know the teens and young adults who have started down the path of making poor choices, but are still hopefully young enough to make some positive changes before they go from “Two Plaza North” up the elevator one floor to where the guys I worked with were housed.

I thought that the juvies would have been a lot “easier” for me to handle, since I’ve spent the better part of the last 2 decades training and working with teenagers. However, the chaplain had other ideas.

You see the juvies were being well taken care of by a friend of mine who tirelessly went in week after week and poured himself into his guys, 3 North was another story…they had nothing!

So when the Chaplain asked me to consider going in each week to meet with them, I was a little hesitant because it was new territory for me, and also because I traveled so much that I wasn’t sure if I could make a weekly commitment. I didn’t want to start something that I couldn’t continue, but the chaplain said,”Bro, they got nothing now, anything you can give them will be a bonus, just give us what you can!”

So, that’s what I did, gave what I could, and watched God do some amazing things in our weekly discussions.

These guys loved it, they participated, read ahead, asked questions, encouraged each other and all kinds of things that made me get there early each week, because I couldn't wait to see what God had in store.

I remember looking at great prayers in the Bible, and asking questions like, “What was the scene during this prayer? Who is the main character? What is the theme of the prayer? How can we apply truths from this prayer to our lives?” And other application type questions that would hopefully take the story deeper, for the purpose of application.

We looked at Jehoshophat and realized his battle plan for getting ready to deal with bad news. We looked at Elijah and his way of taking care of business when he was tired of seeing God’s name get trashed in the world. We looked at Jonah and the most unique prayer venue ever known to man, and dissected what his prayer was all about.

We discovered that each of those prayers had a similar element to them. They were all about God getting the glory in some way. Jehoshophat saw God get the glory because He is the one who fought the battle. Elijah saw God get the glory in the fact that He sent the fire from heaven. Jonah saw God get the glory because He is the one that salvation comes from.

God was the focus of all of those prayers, and God responded in His way when petitioned by the person of prayer.

The guys, were tracking with each one of these prayers, and were amazed at how God answered each one. Then we got to Samson!

The story of Samson brought about an entirely different response from the guys. Every example that we looked at came with more and more questions about his motives, his purpose, and his actions. One of the guys yelled out “dude, compared to the other guys we looked at, it seems like Samson is just in it for himself…what’s up with that?”

Great question and great insight…what is up with that? Why does it seem that Samson is in it for himself? Well, probably because when he allowed his feelings to drive his life and not God’s truths, he was in it for himself.

Revenge, bitterness, and hatred drove his life so much that even his final prayer is filled with a request for God to give him strength just once more to get his revenge on the Philistines.

The prayer and the story of Samson brought us an incredible question to ponder as we sat there locked in behind bars, three stories up in an empty half court gym thinking about how we’re just like Samson in many ways. We are driven by feelings and not truth.

One of the guys said “that’s why I’m here, I let my feelings dictate my actions”, another said “me too, if only I would have listened to what my parents tried to tell me” As each guy chimed in to the conversation each one had some sort of “if only” attached to his comment.

I sat there saddened and down as I listened to the regrets of each guy, it was very moving and very affirming to me that I was in the right place at the right time with these guys. They needed to hear about men like Samson, and how He messed up, but if the story would’ve stopped there, what good would it have been?

I mean they didn’t really need to be reminded of their surroundings, they needed to be reminded of one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible…The verse in Judges that says “and the hair on his head began to grow again!”

After they were done applying the truths of Samson’s prayer and realizing how their lives have taken a similar path, I then interjected that verse into the conversation. I said something like “guys, that’s a pretty sad ending to a life that had tons of potential for the Lord. Samson made his mistakes that’s for sure, but He also was used of God throughout his life.

The symbol of God’s power in his life came through his hair and when he was shaved, and went out to defeat the Philistines like he always had only to find out His power was gone, that was a very bad place to be in, wasn’t it? So what do you think this verse means? And the hair on his head began to grow again.

Wow, I wish you could’ve been there to see the joy on the faces of these guys as they shouted things like…”Second Chances”, “God forgives”, “He doesn’t give up on us” and “Restoration”. It was an awesome time of praising God for his great love and mercy undeserved, for Samson and for the guys on Three Plaza North!

The truth of the matter is that He does give second chances, and he is in the business of restoration. I believe that the question “are we driven by feelings or the truth of God’s Word?” is a very appropriate question to ask ourselves, as I think we could avoid a lot of painful situations if we allowed our lives to be driven by truth.

I know as I sat there in the jail, I tried to put myself in their shoes. I wondered what it must feel like to be locked away far from their friends, family and loved ones. One of the guys asked for prayer that his family wouldn’t view him as the enemy anymore…what does that feel like? I can’t even imagine being viewed as the enemy or hated or despised.

But I know who does, and the very one that has been through all that we go through in life, yet came through it victoriously, knows exactly where those guys are, and exactly what they’re feeling. He knows that they feel abandoned and that the crimes they’ve committed need to be paid for…he knows all of it…YET HE STILL LOVES THEM, AND HE STILL LOVES ME!

I am blown away and I think now even more so, that God loves me and sent His son to die for me!

I don’t deserve it, the guys in three plaza north don’t deserve it and neither do you, but if we choose to live our lives driven by truth and not feelings or anything else we will begin to understand what this whole “life to the full” thing is all about.

Because of what God has done for us we don't have to live our lives with "If Only" statements. The truth is, that in it all, through it all and in spite of it all, He is right there with us…we are never alone!

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