32 Years a Slave

This old photo from my “other life” circa 1980, reminds me of my “stupid 20s,” when I had no sense, lived for myself, and cared not a whit about anybody else.

I was at Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico, and decided it would be a good idea to dance on top of a table.

Suddenly, two Federales grabbed my shoulders and escorted me to the shadows.

Thankfully, a Mexican local, whom I did not know, followed us into the “torture room” and negotiated my release. (I’m the smug, shirtless guy standing next to one of the arresting officiales.)

Today, December 2nd, not only marks the day that shiftless guy died in 1990, but also marks my 32nd anniversary as a Christian, a bond-slave of Jesus Christ, an unworthy servant, worm, wretch—completely dependent on my Master for life and breath and everything I have.

This picture is a great reminder of what the Lord has done in my life…and in the lives of so many others.

The Starfish

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied, “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?”

The young man replied, “The sun is up, and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

A Tale of Two Convicts

I began my jail ministry three years ago, September 25, 2019, while visiting “Manny,” a man I had never met before. At the request of his brother who lived 5 hours away, he asked me to visit him after finding our church online.

I began my jail ministry on this day three years ago, while visiting “Manny,” a man I had never met before. At the request of his brother who lived 5 hours away, he asked me to visit him after finding our church online.

Manny said that he had been a Christian for over forty years.

He said that the main reason he was in jail was because he stopped going to church. One thing led to another, with sin finally getting the best of him. God got his attention after he fell too far away by putting him behind bars for what looked to be a long, long time. While incarcerated, he witnessed to everyone who came into his cell, and, with the help of his brother, gave each person a Bible, handing out over 67 Life Application Bibles.

I visited him weekly.

The second time I was there, he asked if I could visit another cellmate. Then a third and a fourth. We talked about the Bible, the Lord Jesus, and I encouraged them all with Scripture, praying for everyone.

One of the inmates, “Rick,” got out several months later and came to our church. The congregation loved and accepted him just as he was. He even started serving in simple ways. A member let him stay in an extra room he had.

Then Covid hit in March 2020, ending my visits to the jail. Still, I called Manny on occasion to check in. Rick continued to go to our church until a political disagreement caused him to leave. He didn’t like our stance on the subject. When I would see Rick stumbling down Highway 281, brown bag in hand, I urged him to come back to church. He didn’t.

Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

“Boycott the N.R.A.! “Ban assault rifles!” “Improve background checks!” “Raise the purchasing age to 21!”

Those are some of the proposed solutions from one side of the gun violence argument in response to another tragic shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

The other side? “Arm the teachers!” “Provide better education and training for gun owners!”

Maybe repealing the 2nd Amendment altogether is the answer?

Not one of those proposals will work.

I’d be remiss in my pastoral writing not to address the reasons for such acts of senseless violence.

We can certainly anticipate more controversy of what could have been done, what should have been done. And you can bet that those who offer their thoughts and prayers will be shamed once again, too.

Then-Presidential candidate Kamala Harris after a mass shooting several years ago Tweeted, “Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need action.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said: “No more thoughts and prayers.”

When Senator Ted Cruz Tweeted “Heidi & I are fervently lifting up in prayer the children and families in the horrific shooting in Uvalde,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote in response: “You can do more than pray. Faith without works is dead.”

CNN reported that the phrase “thoughts and prayers” had reached “semantic satiation, the phenomenon in which a word or phrase is repeated so often it loses its meaning.”