April 15, 2012
Sunday, 7:00 p.m.
Letter #220: One Tigger, Two Invitations, and Six R’s
Several months ago I was asked to be a co-founder of a new religious group and to help lead their formation. Called Unitarian/Universalists, the group has worldwide appeal for its inclusiveness of all religious beliefs, but as yet, our prison hadn’t formally offered services in which such a group could come together. Knowing that I couldn’t hold to my beliefs week after week without completely being rude or annoying, I politely declined the invitation.
Since then, I have become better acquainted with the group’s leader, a former teacher and compassionate liberal thinker and activist named Tom. Not only has he been an enthusiastic participant in my business classes twice a week (with, of course, copious amounts of detailed homework), but he also requests regular Exit Strategy meetings with me since he paroles next year.
His made-for-the-movies life story is incredibly sad, and he is perpetually searching for meaning and purpose. Thus, when he recently approached me with a request to speak to his Unitarian/Universalist group, I didn’t hesitate to say yes. I knew clearly that this was the opportunity to preach that I’d been hoping for. And immediately dreading.
To preach at all is such an immense privilege—a holy act on behalf of a holy God—and to be the one to bring a message of hope and clarity to a confused and discouraged group carried a hefty weight of responsibility with it.
I was told that their theme for this month is “transformation,” and they asked me to speak on “leadership and service” as they relate to my personal story. And, yes, they expected me to bring it all from a Biblical perspective. Perfect! I was thrilled.
Those of you who know me well know that bouncing is what Tiggers do best, and speaking to large groups or small groups is what Christophers do best. I enjoy the challenge to be relevant, engaging, and poignant while delivering what I pray is a life-changing message. I eagerly clung to the truths of God’s Word, such as Proverbs 16:3: “Commit your actions to the Lord, and your plans will succeed.”
Rather than speaking with a goal of being clever or memorable, I really just wanted God’s message and His purposes to be made known. However, I wanted to be invited back—what I consider one of the best indicators of effectiveness—so I didn’t want to wield the Scriptures as a brick to the head of opponents. (Yes, I’ve met a guy who has done that with the Bible, metaphorically, and I’ve met a guy who has done that with a brick, not-so-metaphorically.) Instead, my goal was, as a surgeon whose knife is the Word, carefully work on hearts.
God has built humility into my testimony (I don’t have much to be proud of!), so sharing my story provides a way for me to identify with the men here. Hans Christian Anderson wrote: “Every man’s life is a fairy tale written by God’s finger.” I shared how I’ve often grabbed at God’s hand, choosing what I wanted the fairy tale to be, and made a mess of things. In my early years, I was led by parents; in my teens, I was led by my goals; in my twenties, I was led by my life purpose. Then, into my thirties, I made compromises and was led by my selfish desires.
Once in prison, I began to see the need for a total heart transformation and the overwhelming need to be led by God alone. When I allow God to lead me, my life can be an example to lead others.
I shared about the six R’s necessary for a transformed life (which led to an incredible discussion afterward): Regret: sorry for yourself | Remorse: sorry for how your sin affects God and others | Repent: confession and turning from sin | Rehabilitation: making yourself right | Restitution: making it right to others | Restoration: this is the responsibility of God and others.
One guy is distraught about his kid, Shawn, who is facing years in prison for involvement with “the same people his dad got in trouble with.” I told him that I’d pray for Shawn, and he thanked me. Another guy said my talk had “miraculous timing and information that changed my life.” He gets out of prison in just eight months and asked to meet with me about his exit strategy.
A few guys took tons of notes and thanked me for the things I’d shared. Praise God! As I mentioned to the group, we have a God who delights in writing the final chapters in that fairy tale, for which I’m glad!