February 28, 2016
Sunday, 5:00 p.m.
Letter #424: 8-Year Milestone
Another milestone gently passed by this weekend as I (may I say) “celebrated” eight years in prison. Woohoo! Rah, Rah, Sis, Boom Bah! Yeah, I hardly even noticed it this time around, I’ve become so used to it, so accustomed to what is my life here. Not that I have become somehow “resigned to my fate” or some such morbid term. No, the passage of time just doesn’t fascinate me as much as it once did near the beginning of my term, back when I was counting firsts. First day, week, month, year were all important milestones when I had never been in prison before.
With the years slowly ticking by, I’m in what I see as the middle bulk of my sentence. The beginning was all about figuring out who I was and how God wanted me to do prison, and the end I’m sure will be more focused on preparing for a life work, ministry, and meaningful relationships after prison. This middle portion of years is about diligently pursuing all God gives me, most of all a relationship with Him. I’m not focused on the passing days nor the time left, which will be exactly seven years as of this coming May 11, for those of you keeping track of such things. In fact, I often wish that time would slow down, that there were more hours in each day. Don’t you? And why should it be any different for me?
I choose to measure each day by my effective use of it. The hours granted to me by my Creator are not to be meaninglessly squandered. In II Timothy 2:20-21, Paul writes to his protégé and ministry partner about the need to be ready and prepared for God to use us: “In a wealthy home, some utensils are made of gold and silver; and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.” I’ve frequently used this passage as a motivation to live rightly for God, assuming that by now I’ve proven myself to be a wood or clay utensil rather than one of the more expensive gold or silver utensils.
For starters, that assessment is flawed. It isn’t our job to determine usability. That is the Master’s decision. While I was busy consoling myself that “at least the Master uses us cheap utensils every day,” I’d completely missed the point of Paul’s admonition to Timothy: purity. When I live the life that God intends me to live, I stay prepared for every possible good work that God may need me to accomplish for Him.
This weekend’s chapel services across the prison were blessed by two outside speakers sent to us by Joyce Meyer Ministries. Her head of prison ministry and his brother, a passionate preacher, spoke with conviction, inspiring overflow services to believe the truth of what God thinks about you, not what you’ve grown accustomed to believing about yourself.
In one powerful illustration, one of the brothers held up a U.S. $50 bill, asking a very intrigued prison chapel audience how much we thought it was worth today. Some thought it must be a trick question, that the bill was affected by a downturn in the economy or inflation. Obviously, it is worth exactly its face value of $50. Then, in a shocking move, the speaker wadded up the bill, threw it on the floor, stomped on it multiple times, then picked it up, spread it out, and systematically began tearing frills in the edges until it looked like a money flower. Finally, he impaled it on a pen and then, holding it high above his head, asked again how much we thought it was worth.
Many guys thought they’d just witnessed the destruction of fifty dollars, but someone who once visited the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (me) stated confidently that it was still worth fifty dollars. Then the visitor said that no matter how dirty, battered, torn, or broken the currency is, it is still worth the same to its creator as the day it was first made.
You could’ve heard a pin drop (well, if you had been there, and if we were allowed to have pins, and if someone had accidentally dropped a pin that for no apparent reason they had brought with them to church, you could’ve heard it drop), then the stunned silence was shattered by raucous cheering and applause. “You have the same potential to be all God wants you to be as the day He created you,” he said. (Well, obviously then, God did not create me to become President of these United States.)
I needed that message, that simple message about worth and potential. Without realizing it, I’d taken a Scripture meant to motivate me to the highest standards of excellence and purity and determined for myself that I am personally beyond the ability of God to redeem. No, not from hell fire, but “redeem to the uttermost” and “used for special occasions.” I’d chosen to see myself as the pot meant for dishonorable things only, when Christ has redeemed me to carry the Gospel message to a dying generation of people who have turned their backs on God. And the Gospel? It is always carried in the finest, sanctified, and holy vessels, like me. So, for these years, I’m focusing on giving God His money’s worth out of this pot.