Chuck Colson tells story after story of men in prison who had committed crimes, but who came to Christ and were thoroughly converted. No one would have guessed that some of these men would be devout followers of Christ one day.
One such story was the account of a man named Danny. Danny had been a fighter, and he was in prison for murdering a man named John Gilbert. But someone gave him a Bible, and as he read it, he found himself being attracted to the Jesus he was reading about. Colson tells his story: "The more Danny felt drawn to Jesus, the more he saw himself in a new light. He was used to comparing himself to the guy on the next bar stool, and that way he usually didn't look so bad. But when he compared himself to Jesus, he started to feel afraid. This man who never raised his fists scared him as nobody else ever had. He also read the passages about people being 'cast into outer darkness,' where there was 'weeping' and 'gnashing of teeth.'
Danny knew something about darkness... Lying on his bunk at night, Danny began to review his whole life, horrified by the person he had become. He saw himself living for his next drink, his next coke party; he saw himself using women. His last girlfriend had been good to him, but he would have thrown her away for the next quarter ounce of coke. In fact, he probably had.
That next Sunday, when the guard called out for people who wanted to be let out of their cells to attend chapel, Danny shouted, 'Cell 16.' But he sat like a stone through the service, hearing little. He was there to ask a question. Afterward, he approached Chaplain Bob Hansen and asked him if the passages he had read about outer darkness were really about hell.
'Yes,' said the chaplain.
'Then I'm in big trouble,' Danny said.
'When you get back to your cell, get on your knees by your bunk,' said the chaplain. 'Confess your sins to God, and pray for Jesus Christ to come into your heart.'
Danny did just that. In his cell, he knelt, confessed that he was a sinner, and asked Christ to be his Lord. As he did, he kept remembering horrible things he had done, and the memories brought both pain and an eagerness to be forgiven. Talking to God seemed like carrying on a conversation with someone he had missed all along without knowing it. He could almost hear God replying through a silence that echoed his sorrow and embraced it. Danny not only felt heard, he also felt understood, received. He slept that night. And every night afterward."
Eventually, Danny was released from prison, got married and had five children. He then graduated from Wheaton College and was ordained. He went on to work with troubled kids in Boston, and then was offered a job as prison chaplain. He had been very far from the Father, but turned around and began to work in the Father's vineyard.
There are many stories like Danny's. And, conversely, there are many stories of religious leaders in our time whose lives are full of hypocrisy and lies. We have all read their stories and heard about their corruption and fall. What appears to be is not always what is. Those who appear to be working for God and living for him are not always the ones who are. Those who appear to be far from God are not always as far as they seem. Jesus' words ring true: "But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first" (Matthew 19:30).
(From a sermon by Rodney Buchanan, The Will to Believe, 9/25/2012)
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