Part I: Looking Back On The Way Forward
The start of a new year inevitably brings about new resolutions, goals, plans and more. Having been released from the John R. Lindsey State Jail in Jacksboro on December 21, the new year truly is, for me more than most, a time of new beginnings.
While in many ways I am beginning anew in the “free world,” the process of starting over actually began while still incarcerated. Many see incarceration as the storm they are going through, but I saw it as time to recover from the storm I was living in. I saw it as a time to be restored, to heal, to truly surrender to the Lord the last parts of my fleshly life I was clinging to and allow His Spirit to regenerate me.
I look back and see many reasons my incarceration was a blessing. I have an extended period of sobriety to build on, numerous unhealthy relationships have been naturally severed, and healthy, Godly relationships with select family and friends have been restored. I talk to God on a different level than before, and He graciously reveals His Living Word to me in new, exciting ways every day.
A great Bible promise I have found myself going back to time and again during the final weeks of my incarceration and in my initial two weeks of freedom is found in Isaiah 41:15, where God, speaking of the restoration ahead for the people of Israel, said, “Behold, I will make you into a new threshing sledge with sharp teeth; You shall thresh the mountains and beat them small, and make the hills like chaff.”
No doubt, many obstacles lie ahead, but I have faith I can thresh - or pulverize, as translated in the NASB - those mountains. I believe that with the faith of a mustard seed I can “...say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible…” (Matthew 17:20, NKJV).
Time slows down on the “inside,” and while that weighs heavily on many inmates, for me it meant hours of daily Bible study and fellowship with like-minded men in a faith-based dorm. I told my father once on the phone that strange as it may sound, I actually needed to be diligent to live in the free world as I was living “behind bars,” continuing to end each day closer to Christ than when it began.
Observing this, I have marked this Scripture as a key reminder as I move forward:
“...To the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind.” -Philippians 3:16 (NKJV)
I have attained great discipline in studying the Word daily, in spending time in meditation, prayer and praise, and in being an ambassador for Christ among fellow inmates. So, to this degree already attained, I must walk by the same rule in the “free world,” and I must be of the same mind - the same SOBER, God-centered mindset that has helped me come so far in my relationship with Christ.
So the first step to ministry for this free man is not looking forward, but instead glancing back and taking note. I do not mean looking back longingly on a life of bondage to sin, but simply taking pause to reflect on the blessings of incarceration and on the mercy and grace God has afforded me.
Before turning my focus too far forward, I must remember what got me here. I must always live in heartfelt gratitude for the blood Jesus shed to deliver me from my sins. In looking back on that deliverance, the path forward becomes more clear.