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Have you ever visited anyone in jail or even worse, prison? It is daunting - as I found out when I visited one of my guys from the Long Beach streets who was in Los Angeles Men's Jail. There were a lot of scary looking people all around; not too many who looked like me. An eye-opening experience in which maintaining one's rights is not so much an option. Even yesterday, when I went to a federal building in a nearby town, I had to show proof I had a scheduled appointment, produce an acceptable i.d., go through a metal detector, have my small pink purse searched, etc. The armed policemen meant business; of that, I had no doubt. I could play by their rules or go home; as a prisoner - their rules and you can't go home.
Picture a Roman prison 2,000 years ago - probably the last place a human being would want to find himself. In total, the apostle Paul spent about 5 ½ - 6 years of his life in prison, all for preaching the Gospel. Where were his rights, eh?
We have considered these words in his prison letter to the Colossians:
Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.
[Ah, yes - there it is again, thankfulness!]
'And praying with an alert mind? Yes, fully aware of the One you
are addressing-Father, King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Then, Paul asks for prayer for himself, but amazingly, not to be released from prison or for his physical comfort even, but instead he prays "pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about his mysterious plan concerning Christ. That is why I am here in chains. Pray that I will proclaim this message as clearly as I should." Colossians 4.2-4
He harnessed the prayers of those who loved him to pray that he would be given more opportunities to share the gospel - the very thing for which he was in prison! Think of it, each Roman guard to whom Paul was chained would hear the life-saving, transformational message of Jesus Christ, 'live and in person' from the world's greatest evangelist himself. Paul did not waste any chance he had to share Jesus.
I am challenged by Paul's deep conviction which moved him to risk-taking action. He valued his salvation so much it compelled him to tell others about it, even at the high cost to him personally.
Some of my very most interesting conversations are the ones I turn toward God-particularly those had with strangers I meet along life's pathways - in the skies over America of late, on Uber rides in various cities, even a pedicab in Charleston, South Carolina. Like Paul, I would ask you to pray that God will give me many opportunities to speak about Christ; but I pray that he will give you the desireto pray for those same opportunities for yourself. See, when I pray in the morning, I ask God for 'chance' encounters1, little connecting points, where I might talk to someone about God's great love.
So, on a recent morning flight from Long Beach, California, to Salt Lake City, I was studying and content to be in my own head, so to speak. But I could not miss that the big, muscular guy in a UFC2 shirt next to me had quickly downed two shots of alcohol and even then, was fidgeting and sweating bullets. Finally, I said, 'you okay?' He quickly set into tell me he was terrified of flying after a few harrowing experiences he had as a guest of the not-so-friendly skies. I listened, empathized, but eventually suggested he pray because 'there is a God who cares, who hears and answers our prayers'. . .and off we went.
The next day, I was in the Apple store (as my laptop was crashing) across the street from the Salt Lake City Mormon Temple and had a great discussion with a clean-cut student from University of Utah. After some cursory back and forth discussion, I asked Eugene if he was in 'the Church'. 'No, no I was raised in it, but as I have gotten older, I just don't believe in it anymore - it has too many holes in it.' It was a great opening for me to say 'I'm not religious either, but I do believe what the Bible has to say . . . I have studied the proofs for it, seen the places mentioned in it with my own eyes - like the Sea of Galilee, the Mount of Olives - and I know the difference my relationship with God makes in my life. But I gotta admit - for me, it is just not about religion or rules or denominations even; it is about Jesus . . .' I told him about a couple podcasts on faith and reason to which I subscribe and he wrote them down. Ah, the big adventure... Pray for Eugene, okay?
Another story over the past couple weeks took place in a pedicab, (a bicycle cab), when no cars could fit through the traffic, but I'll save it for the next time. Hey, Friend! Take a chance - get on the highway to big adventure. Notice who is around you, care a little, ask the next question and be ready to listen. Because, guess why? When you ask and listen, then they ask you and they listen . . . and then you can tell them about your loving God and the difference knowing him makes in your life.
The Grand Adventure . . . there's nothing like it.
1 - Walking with God, there are no chance encounters
2 - UFC - Ultimate Fighting Championship - tough guy(s)