BLOG 8: A BUNCH OF SINNERS: 053114:
Well, I’m a sinner. I’ve been saved by the grace of God through our Lord Jesus, but I’m still a sinner. I’ve been knowing about Jesus and going to church, and hanging around with Christians since I was a baby; long before I got saved at age 10. I was ordained as a minister of the Gospel in 1983, when I was 35, but I’m still a sinner. I’ve been working in prison ministry since 2002, about 12 years now, and in that time God has shown me more of Himself than in the whole rest of my life put together, but I’m still a sinner.
I wish I could tell you that once you really commit to God, living the Christian life is going to be easy, that you’re going to feel God’s presence every day, more and more; that you’re going to be obedient, that you’re not going to do anything stupid, that you’re going to trust God all the time, that you’re going to love everybody and they’re going to love you; that there’s going to be a steady shining light in your life all the time and no more darkness. Sorry, it’s just not going to be all sweetness and light, because we’re all still a bunch of sinners.
Let’s say that everybody reading this has made a commitment to Jesus and we’re excited about the prospect of going out into the world to share Jesus with people out there in the dark. How are we going to do that? We can’t. Why can’t we? We’re heard the message; we’ve accepted it; we’ve made a commitment to Jesus; and He’s definitely made a commitment to us (to each one of us). So what is holding us back?
It’s sin. Oh, I’m not taking about regular sin like lying and cheating and stealing, drinking and drugs and sex and all that stuff. I’m talking about fear and doubt, guilt and shame and unforgiveness, and most of all, thinking we can get along without God. You know, Jesus talked about this stuff in His Sermon on the Mount when he said, ” . . . forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Why can’t we forgive others, even when God is standing there with His hand out, waiting to forgive us? When we encounter temptation why can’t we just turn around and walk away and be delivered from that evil? Why can’t we look the devil in the eye and say, “Go back to hell where you came from and leave me alone?” We can’t do what we’re supposed to because the flesh is weak; because Satan is constantly taking pot shots at us, hoping that we’re having a weak spell that day; and some days we are.
Several years ago I had a friend named Hugh. I met him when I was doing a prison ministry weekend out at the Carol Vance Unit. I never knew a guy who could pray as good as he could. He was a true believer, a serious truster in Jesus. He prayed with me before I gave my very first talk. At that time Hugh had been in prison most of 19 years, and he got out while I was still ministering out there. After he got out he called me, and we had lunch. He was a really nice guy and a hard worker. He was a boot and saddle maker and he had his own tools which he stored while he was in prison, and then got out and went back to work. He was making good money and staying close to God, till he found out the guys he was working with were drinking a little beer on the back of the pickup in the evenings after work; and he told me “I thought I could handle one beer.” The next time I heard from him, he wanted me to take him to a half-way house he’d found to avoid them revoking his parole. He’d fallen off the wagon. The next time he got out he went to the 59 Diner one night after work, and the waitress was a good lookin’ blond-headed girl who smiled when they talked. And you know how drug-users are; they can spot each other a mile off; and it turned out she had just gotten out of jail on a cocaine charge; and she told Hugh she just happened to have a little stuff in the car and maybe he’d want to try some. Well he called me after that time before he went back to the half-way house. We had breakfast. That’s the last time I’ve seen him. He’s a long-time heroin addict and he just couldn’t stay off it. I think after that he was just ashamed to call me back. But you know what he used to say? It was Philippians 1:6, about how “[God] who has begun a good work in you, (He) will keep on doing it till the day Jesus comes back.,” And Hugh would say, “I know that God has begun a good work in me, and even though I fall back, I know that Jesus still loves me and He’s still working in my life.”
I have another friend named Ben, who lives in a little town up near Waco; and he has more than his fair share of troubles, most of them self-inflicted. He’s a 50-something year old broke down bull rider; got a lot of heart and lot of spunk; but he’s also got a lot of stupid that gets after him sometimes. I’ve know him since the early 90’s when I first came to Houston. He lived down the lane from me and we rode horses together sometimes. In his adult life he’s had several spells of doing pretty good interspersed with long spells of being real stupid. I’ve tried to help him find work on several occasions. I just got through with one of those episodes a month or two ago. It ended the same as usual. The guy I helped him find a job with said he wasn’t up to snuff and they let him go after he’d been working there for 2-3 months. Ben still calls me, looking for work, and you can hear the fear in his voice. Some days he’s so depressed he can’t even get up and go look for work, or take care of the little stuff his wife needs him to do around their place. You know what’s wrong with Ben? He’s afraid. He’s afraid that he won’t be able to find another job and he won’t be able to support his wife, and she’ll end up leaving him like his first wife did. He’s afraid that he’ll have another binge where he stays high for a month or two, and he’ll never come up for air. But he calls me, and I tell him that God still loves him and I do too; and he tells me that next to his momma, I’m the most encouraging guy he knows. And I tell him it’s only because of God that I’m able to say anything, much less nice things. But me and Ben’s momma are still praying, and he still takes spells of saying that he knows God is taking care of him, no matter what it looks like. Praise the Lord for that!
My last story is about my Daddy. My daddy was a natural athlete who came from a little bitty town in West Texas where they played 6-man football. He joined the Navy in 1936, and he was supposed to get out in 1940, but WWII was fixing to start and they wouldn’t let him out, so he stayed 11 years, 2 years after the war was over. He was a left-handed pitcher for the ship that won the baseball championship for the Seventh Fleet in the Pacific, and he was the golden-glove champion in boxing. He was a disciplined sailor, a Chief Petty Officer, but he probably never drew a sober breath when he was off the ship. He did a lot of dancing and a lot of fighting at the dances. Lucky he didn’t get killed, either in battle or in a bar. I used to say that I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather have standing beside me in a fight than my Daddy. Well, he survived, and straightened up and made a life. He found my momma and they had two kids before they divorced after 20 years. I think he never really got over that. He lived to be 81, and in his later years he used to talk to me about how he was scared to die. My daddy wasn’t scared of anything in this world, but he was scared about dying. I’d say to him, “Daddy, all you’ve got to do is pray and tell God that you need help, and He’ll help you.” And my Daddy would say, “I can’t pray, because I’ve done too many bad things.” As if to say, “God just won’t forgive me.” And back then I didn’t know what to say that would help him understand; but I do now; and if you feel the way my daddy did, I want you to know that God has already forgiven you because of what Jesus already did, and all you have to do is accept His forgiveness. He’ll work out the rest as you go along. Jesus says in John 5:24, “If you’ll pay attention to what I say, and trust Him who sent me (that’s God), you have eternal life; you will never be condemned; you have passed from death unto life.”
So how are we going to live with all the crap that’s going on in our lives? Here’s the answer, and I know from personal experience that this is the only answer that really works; that will keep on working to the end: TURN TO GOD; develop a close personal relationship with Him. Do it every day, every hour, every minute; every time the devil comes up to you and says, “You don’t really believe that stuff about God do you? He won’t really take care of you, will He?” And whatever may be happening, in the face of all evidence to the contrary; whether it’s death, or poverty, or neglect, even a prison, you look the devil in the eye and say, “Yep, I believe in God, I’m trusting Jesus to keep on taking care of me forever; so you Devil, can go back to hell where you came from.” And how do you reach the point where you can do that? You start; you start today; you turn your whole self over to Jesus today, like this, “Oh Lord Jesus, I’m a sinner, I need help right now, please take care of me today. I surrender to you today. I’m trusting in you to live your life in me today. Thank you for loving me and caring for me all this time, when I wasn’t even looking.”
I know for certain that focusing on God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit every day, and getting closer and closer to Him, is the most important thing we all must do for the rest of our lives. How do you do that? EVERY DAY, early in the day, you need to 1] READ THE BIBLE AND SOME DEVOTIONAL; then 2] PRAY AND MEDITATE ON WHAT YOU’VE READ in the Bible and the devotional and think about how what you read relates to what is happening in your life, yesterday, today and this week; and LISTEN TO WHAT GOD IS TELLING YOU about how to live your life; 3] Spend time with the Brothers, in 1] prayer and share; 2] Bible studies; 3] Christian activities; and 4] Church; the more time you spend seeking God, the more time God will spend seeking you; and you will discover that your relationship with God is growing and maturing and you are beginning to change, both inside and out. I know from personal experience that this works, in spite of the fact that we’re all still sinners.
Most of all TRUST GOD; ’cause you know when all else fails; when it’s totally dark and you don’t know what’s happening or why, God is still taking care of you. And when you start wandering off into the bushes; just get back to the fundamentals. God is still there, running to meet you when you start to come back home.