“Faith in Darkness”
By Pastor Mark McNees
This message was originally given at Element3 Church in Tallahassee FL. To download this message’s corresponding PowerPoint, audio, and artistic elements for free please visit www.element3.org
We are in the second week of a seven week series called Messy Spirituality. What we’re doing is we’re going through Hebrews 11 which is God’s hall of faith or hall of fame. There are fifteen individuals in Hebrews 11, and we’re looking at their stories and discovering that their pathway, becoming part of the hall of fame, wasn’t always simple and it wasn’t always easy. Some would say it was quite messy, this journey. And we’re looking at their stories and seeing how our stories intersect and how we can be as people, encouraged as we go closer to the heart and mind of God.
Lots of different TV shows, and a lot of times we like to connect with those different kinds of TV shows. One show that I’ve really gotten into is a show called Vanish. I don’t know if you know what that is. Basically it’s about this senator, and his family and his wife just vanish. All these people are looking for this senator’s wife and nobody knows all the mysteries and all the things around him and all the different clues, and all these different kind of things. And I was thinking about that as we were continuing in Hebrews 11. It’s actually the next person that we’re going to be looking at, about a guy who vanished. I don’t think they made a TV show about him, but his name is Enoch. And let me just read for you about Enoch. It says in Hebrews 11:5, “It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying--suddenly he disappeared because God took him. But before he was taken up, he was approved as pleasing to God. So you see it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” And it was kind of interesting as I was looking at this, at Enoch. I wanted to know a little bit more about him. So I started studying more and there just really wasn’t a whole lot about Enoch in our bible. But there are some Jewish traditions and stories about him. And just looking at the time period when Enoch walked the planet it was kind of interesting. He walked the planet in a very dark time of earth. Earth was covered with violence and people being sexually perverse. There were wars and theft and lying, and all these kinds of things. And I know for us in the 21st century it’s kind of hard to relate to a world like that, but we’re going to have to do our best to do that. It’s even cool, Enoch, you know we have e-mail and e-joy. So we’ve got E-noch. So he’s a pretty culturally current guy, instead of manually knocking we can electronically knock. The interesting thing about Enoch is that as he was going through life, going through this very, very dark place and this dark world, and he was able to transcend that somehow. So much so that God approved of his faith and of his life, and actually took him home to be with him. And I think that as we look at Enoch we’ll ask why is he part of the hall of faith here? Why is he part of God’s hall of fame?
How do you live out your faith in a dark world?
I think that we can really learn a lot by figuring out how to live life in a very dark world. And to help us understand this a little bit better, Eric’s going to be singing a song. There’s going to be some images going and just kind of really showing what our world is like. And I was praying this morning that God would take the scales off of our eyes. We have really desensitized ourselves to so many things. We’ve desensitized ourselves to poverty, hunger, injustice, racism, and bigotry and all these things. Why have we done that? Because it’s hard, it’s oppressive. It makes us just feel lousy. So instead of feeling lousy all the time we guard our hearts. And then we start just not seeing it anymore. And we stop feeling. But I think we as followers of Christ should feel these things deeper than anybody else, the injustice in the world. We’re in a world that is hurt and lost and hopeless. We need to step out in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and be the tangible hand of God. So we’re going to be looking at that today. Please pray with me and just open your hearts and minds as Eric sings.
Dear God, we live in a hard world, and so many times we try to shelter ourselves from it. But I just pray that you will use us to change our city, our state, our country, our world. That we will not just go through life in some little bubble, but we will feel the injustices. Things that break your heart I pray will break ours as well. But that we don’t just stay brokenhearted, but we rise up as a people and we do something in your name to bring hope to the hopeless, love to the loveless, faith to the faithless. That you will use us in a mighty way. We love you Lord, in Jesus’ name.
There’s a lot of injustice in the world, there’s a lot of darkness in the world. There’s a lot of pain in this world, and it can be so overwhelming. So overwhelming to an individual that we kind of shut down and instead of doing something we do nothing. And I’m guilty of that as well. Here’s the question, how do we live out our faith in Jesus Christ in a dark world? It’s a hard question to answer because it’s so hard to do. It’s so hard just to make it through life on your own, and then just to start taking responsibility for your city and your country and your world. Where do you even begin? To help answer this question there’s someone in our community who is a correctional officer, Officer Andrew Brown. We all know him as Dre. He’s going to be coming up today, and we’re just going to be talking about how he lives out his faith in the correctional institution, in the jail. Hopefully, by his story, we can see that we can make an impact in people’s lives, even in our own workplaces and in our own cities. So if you will please welcome up Andre, or Dre as we know him.
Dre and I had a conversation at Starbuck’s the other day and just let me lend some immediate credibility to Dre. God actually brought one of Dre’s former inmates while we were sitting having coffee and he was sitting there and we sat right next to each other. I was looking at this guy, and he got all nervous and everything. And then Dre looks over and they start having a conversation. The guy had just been fired from his job that morning, he was broken. I slid back and started observing, and Dre was just talking about instead of acting out on his anger to submit it to God and pray. Then Dre reached into his own pocket and gave him some money to just make it through the day. This is a guy that even outside the walls has made an impact in the people’s lives he’s connected with. Dre we were talking about this question, how do you live your faith out in a dark world? As many of us know, our prison facilities are a pretty dark place. Tell me a little bit about that. How do you prepare yourself, how do you prepare for that?
Dre: Well the first thing I would say is, when you’re dealing with any type of correctional facility, you’re talking about a place, and especially on your first day, and I’ve been there almost now two years. The first day when you walk in you walk in this place, especially as a Christian, you feel you’ve reached a place where the light of Christianity, the light of God and God’s word has just been snuffed. Because you’re dealing with these people, who in many cases, have absolutely no hope. They feel as though they’re at the end of their rope, they’re at the bottom. There’s no one that’s going to care or help them. Then there are other people that are just rally sick and they just need help. Then there are other people, quite frankly, who just need Christ. And if they had Christ they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in now.
Mark: So as you walk through the halls there and you’ve had different experiences, has your faith or your testimony ever been tested?
Dre: Oh definitely. The way our jail is set up, we don’t actually sit with the inmates all day long. Our facility isn’t a direct car facility. We sit in the pod and we watch the inmates through the windows in their pods, in their cells. I had actually one gentleman who was genetically pre-disposed to driving me to the edge.
Mark: I didn’t know that there was a genetically pre-disposed…
Dre: I’m telling you, this guy was definitely genetically…
Mark: The anti-Dre gene
Dre: He had the anti-Dre gene. I think it’s a D gene. But all the guys in the cell he was in called me up. So I go over there, and I’m like hey what’s going on. They’re like you better get this guy out of here or we’re going to hurt him. And I’m like, okay you come with me. I took him to his cell, and I’m like I’m going to put you in here, you’re under protective custody for the night. Just go in your room and shut the door. And he just wasn’t going to have any of that. He’s just a little guy, he must have been about maybe 19 or 20 years old, and he was from California.
Mark: Oh that’ll do it.
Dre: You know those California freaks. He just had this attitude that he was the biggest dog on the block. And he probably weighed a buck 25 soaking wet. So he starts cussing at me and screaming at me. Most times I can just kind of shrug that off because I understand that these guys are in a bad situation. They’re not necessarily at their best at the moment. But this guy just kept pushing, kept pushing, and kept pushing. Until finally I went in the room and we had a little conversation. The conversation started with a little escalation of voice. I’d use a little presence; I got in his space a little bit. I was ready to lay hands on him and not in the way that you…
Mark: To heal him of his iniquity.
Dre: Not in the healing way. And it just came to me, God spoke to me. He said this guy is a kid, this is a kid. And the best way that you can teach him what Christ is about is by turning around and walking away.
Mark: So obviously that is not something that you just walk in and you’re in that place. We talked a little bit about how you prepare yourself to knowing you’re going to be going in. And there’s going to be people challenging your faith. And that blowing your ambassadorship of Christ would be very easy to do. So tell me a little bit about what you do in the morning to prepare to go in and show your faith in a dark place.
Dre: Well I’m a firm believer that people have a bad day because they create it. They lose sight of the most important thing when they start their day. And I don’t know how many people do this or don’t do this, and I’ll give my wife as an example. My wife will sleep to the very last possible second, jump up, jump in the shower, probably runs around in circles, brushes her teeth, gets on her clothes and runs out the door. Now if I did that every day, I’d have a bad day because I haven’t prepared myself properly. And I think that the way you prepare yourself properly, honestly, you’ve got to take that time for yourself every morning to put God first, to take time to pray, to take time to meditate. And of course it talks in Ephesians about the whole armor of God. You’ve got to put on the whole armor of God. You’ve got to prepare yourself emotionally and spiritually for everything that’s going to come in that day. If you tried to do it on your own without faith, you will do the things you do everyday, you’ll be driving in traffic and someone’s going to cut you off and the words are going to come out of your mouth. And you know what words I’m talking about.
Mark: I don’t because I’m a pastor. I don’t know what words you speak about. (Laughing)
Dre: But the rest of us I’m sure we all know. Or you’re hammering something and bam that word comes out. Or sometimes it’s just nasty behavior. I see it at the jail all the time, some of the other correctional officers I work with. And especially in the world we work in. You are in a world that you are surrounded by 300 plus individuals who have 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to do nothing but figure out how to get to you, how to get you to do what they want you to do. And you’ve got to have Christ to protect you from that, and if you don’t you will fall prey to it every time.
With God’s Protection
Mark: You talk about this protection and how you put on the armor of God. And I know you brought your bible. If you would read to us in Ephesians 6. What does that mean and what does that mean to you?
Dre: Ephesians 6:10-20 (NIV) “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints. Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, or which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Which to me means you’re going to wake up that morning, and you’re going to put on that uniform. But even before I put on my uniform I stand in the mirror and I pray to God that I will not allow the little jabs that the inmates give me every day to set me off. I will not go in there and treat those gentlemen like they are not human beings. I will treat them with respect, dignity and honor. And I will conduct myself in such a way that they can respect me and see the power of God working through me.
As an ambassador of Christ
Mark: You told me, it was really interesting, that after you put on the armor of God, and before you put on your badge, you see your first job as not being a correctional officer, but your job one is being an ambassador of Jesus Christ. And that’s really what Paul says in Ephesians 6:20, “I am in chains now for preaching this message as God’s ambassador.” And you really look at yourself as God’s ambassador. How does that help you, knowing that your job one is being an ambassador of Christ, and then your second mission is to be a correctional officer?
Dre: It’s interesting, the way I tell people, when you go to your job…I’m sure a lot of guys in here, whomever, when you played sports in high school, especially if you played football. If you played defensive tackle your job is to hit that linebacker, regardless of what happens. Everyone else is going to hit you, but you’re not going to get mad and punch them. You’re going to take the hit because it’s a part of the job. But your main job is to get that linebacker. My main job is to be an ambassador of Christ. Inmates will test me, inmates will hit me. I’ve had urine thrown on me, I’ve been spit on, I’ve been cussed at, I’ve been called all kinds of names. But the bottom line is I’m an ambassador of Christ, and I have to behave in such a manner that they understand that. I never want to say something that’s detrimental to other people. I’ve just never been the kind of person who puts bumper stickers on their car, because I believe I want to live my life in such a manner that people can see Christ in me, I don’t have to show it to others. And I want people to come to me and ask me, and I’ve had inmates ask me all the time. I come in everyday I’m whistling, I’m laughing, and I’m joking around. And they’re like, so what makes you so happy? And I say, it’s the joy of Jesus Christ in my heart, and you can’t take that from me. It doesn’t matter how much you yell at me, you could hit me over the head with a broomstick. I’m going to get up and probably knock you out, but it’s going to be in a loving way. It’s going to be exactly what needs to happen and no more than that because it’s not a personal issue, this is my job. And first and foremost before that is after we get it all done with, I’m probably going to talk to you about Christ. I’m probably going to ask you what it is you went through in this day that pushed you to the point where you had to hit someone with a broom? And if that’s the case why didn’t you pray about it first? Why didn’t you take it to God and leave it at the cross, because that’s where it should be left. And that’s the beauty of being a Christian, that’s the beauty of putting on the armor of Christ everyday before you leave home. It’s when those little things in your day that drive you crazy, you go in the break room and there’s no coffee. You want to throw the darn thing against the wall. You don’t, you stop. You think, you know what I’ll make some more coffee; it’s not a big deal. And I’ve thought so many times about things that happened to me at work in my job and things the guys do to me, things the inmates do to me. I’m having a bad day; I spilled coffee on my pants, or whatever has happened. And I think about how Jesus was beaten. And the way he was beaten I got to think after that, you know what I spilled coffee on my pants, Jesus was beaten, he was having a bad day. My day is not bad.
Mark: So you get up in the morning, you put on the armor of God, and you go in with God’s protection. You know what your job is. Job one is to be an ambassador of Christ. What about support, people praying for you, people around you? Like here we have Growth Groups. There are different things here to build a network of people who are going to support you and encourage you. How important is that in your job and your day?
Dre: It’s the most important thing there is. And it’s funny because the two most important supporters for me are one, and this will sound so funny coming from a 300 pound man, is my mom. I am a momma’s boy, and my mother is probably one of the strongest women of faith I’ve ever met. And she’s always there for me spiritually and emotionally, and I draw a lot of strength from her. But also, I purposely brought this bible, and anyone that can see the spine it’s a woman’s faith study bible. I bought this for my wife a couple of years ago. I don’t know how many of you who know, but my wife and I just got back together about 10 months ago after being separated for 10 months. This bible means a lot to her and it means a lot to me. We spend a lot of time together in the Word, and we spend a lot of time together praying together. And she’s probably my greatest supporter. I love her for it. She keeps me strong.
Mark: That’s awesome. In Galatians 6:2 it says “Share each other’s troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ.” And it really talks about how we need each other, and to support each other. And in other scripture it says iron sharpens iron. We need to be sharp; we need to be encouraged past where we are and where we need to be. And when we fall someone’s there to help us, encourage us, and to move us forward. So as we’re trying to live out your faith in a dark world, we talked about how you put on the armor of God, God’s protection, being an ambassador of Christ is job one. You have support and everything.
In Close Fellowship with God
Mark: In Genesis 5:22 we see another reference to Enoch, “Enoch lived another 300 years in close fellowship with God.” I know that we talked about how being in close proximity and close fellowship with God is absolutely essential to you. What are some things that you do in order to keep a closeness with God?
Dre: Honestly I try to get in the Word every day. It’s probably the most important thing you can do. Just a side note, there’s Don here in the audience. Don and I have been working on some stuff that we’re trying to do in the Christian community at large. We’re working on a game to help teach people about Christianity. And one of the things we constantly talk about as we’re plotting and making rules and stuff is he’s always telling me he doesn’t know that much about the bible. I keep telling him you’ve just got to read. You’ve got to open it up and read. I tell people one of the best ways to do it is to literally pick up your bible, sit down on the couch, open it up and read. It doesn’t matter where you open it; you’re in God’s Word. It’s just a perfect plan for you. The other thing I tell people, and the guys I work with especially, is that anyone that’s worked out before if you lay down on the weight bench and you’re banging out a couple of reps with 150, 300, 400 pounds, you’re doing some bench pressing and you get to that last one and you feel like you just can’t do it. Usually you have a spotter, and the spotter will come up and he’ll put four fingers under the bar and help you lift that bar. The truth of it is he’s not really helping you, his fingers are just there giving you the illusion that he’s helping you. I tell people, if you let God be your spotter, then every time you think you can’t do one more, if you let God be your spotter you’ll find you can do 10 more. It’s all about being there with God, being in the Word, and trying to obey His plan for your life and not your plan for your life. I’ve tried to live my plan for my life, and it didn’t go so well.
Mark: And that leads us to the final thing that we talked about, this lifestyle of submission or obedience. In Hebrews 11:7 it talks about Noah a little bit, it says “It was by faith that Noah built an ark to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about something that had never happened before. By his faith he condemned the rest of the world and was made right in God’s sight.” I think it’s kind of interesting that he had faith to carry out building a big old boat when there’s never been a flood before. And as we were talking, you have to submit yourself to God and just be obedient to His Word when people around you aren’t doing that. You’ve told me some stories, and it seems like this is the right route to take and out of obedience you don’t take the quick route, you take God’s route. It’s hard to do that sometimes. Just take us through that process a little bit about is it easy always to submit to God’s word, and is it easy to be obedient to Him, especially as you’re living out your day. Is this an easy journey for you?
Dre: As I was earlier, in the pod that we sit in the inmates don’t have direct contact with us, so they have an intercom system to which they contact us. They’ll press the button, and it’s this little annoying beep, and you’ll hear it all night long. Dawn has been on the phone with me before when I’m in the jail talking, and you’ll hear the beep every three seconds. And it will make you very angry if you allow it. Sometimes the questions that are asked, they’re not really questions, they’re more of a statement. These guys get rec, and they have various things that happen at various times. They know the times better than you do. If they’re supposed to have rec at 11:00, it’ll be 10:50, they’ll beep and ask what time do we go to rec. You know what time you go to rec, why are you even asking that question. And after like five guys come to the button and beep and ask the same question, you’re ready to literally walk outside and once again lay hands on one of them. But what I’ve found is you’ve got to get yourself to the point where when people push you to that point, you’ve got to pray. You have to allow God to wash you over with that calmness, with that healing touch that He has, and be able to deal with that person in God’s way. And there are times when you really want to reach out and touch someone, but it takes a lot of self-control and it takes a lot of being in the Word and staying prayed up to make certain that you follow the correct path. I always compare it to a comic book I read when I was a kid, it was called Sergeant Rock comic, it was called the Easy Way. These guys wanted to walk the easy way around and Sergeant Rock said no let’s climb across. They went the easy way and he went the hard way, and they all got ambushed and it didn’t turn out well for them. And to me that’s always the way I always think about, I could go the easy route and do the things I shouldn’t do and take shortcuts and not follow God’s Word. But I have found that every time I have done that in the past it ended up in heartbreak. It’s easier I find to just follow God’s Word. And it’s not easy; it’s not easy at all. Sometimes God will call you to do things that you never thought you would do or you never thought you could do. But once again if you allow God to be your spotter, and you trust God with that weight you’ll pump out five more reps, ten more reps.
Mark: So what you’re saying is that obeying God and what He has called you to do versus what you want to do or what would be natural to you is when somebody’s annoying you or attacking you it’s natural for us to lash out. But that’s the easy route, and you know that there’s a better route, and that’s the route that God has called for you.
Dre: That’s the route that God has called for you.
Mark: Well thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. You bringing through how you put on the armor of God, and job one is being an ambassador of Christ, having a support group around you, being in close fellowship with God, being in the Word of God, and putting aside your desires and the easy route to submit to what God wants for you. I think it’s just really powerful for all of us as we go through life, to see the bigger picture of how we can live out our faith in a dark world. Thank you Dre. On the back of your cards I usually write a Going Deeper, but I’ve been really challenged lately to really give an ability to respond in a positive way to what we’ve heard. And I think that one way that we can positively respond to figuring out how we live our faith out in a dark world is giving. Cindy Erics leads the mobile food ministry, and every other Saturday they go down and they feed hundreds of people and they go and bring groceries to shut-ins in our inner city. They are really the tangible hand of Christ. And one thing that I would like to challenge you guys, next week we’re going to have a big receptacle. I asked Cindy to put together a shopping list for our community to respond, to bring hope to the hopeless, to living out our faith in a dark world, by going to the supermarket and buying a few of these items this week. Next Sunday when you come back, let’s really bless the mobile food ministry. The holidays are coming, and they constantly have more needs than they can supply. Us as a church body can really impact that. So take your shopping list with you, and next week let’s give them a storage problem instead of having a food shortage. Let’s have a storage shortage so they can go out and touch a lot more people. Let me close in prayer, have Eric come up and close us in some worship and we’ll have the rest of a great day.
Dear God, thank you so much for Dre and his authenticity about living out his faith, being an ambassador of you. That it’s not easy. Many times he has to go against what he feels, or he has to go against his nature in order to get himself aligned with what you want, your vision for him in this world in this life. And I know that all of us struggle with this in lots of different ways. I just pray that we can all be able to live out our faith being an ambassador of you, with support and in obedience. We love you Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.