Last week I was enjoying lunch with a friend. We were sitting outside in an eating area near a street and sidewalk. A man came up on a bicycle, parked, and went inside for a drink. A few minutes later he came out with water in hand. The man said, “hello.” We returned the gesture and asked how he was doing. He immediately sat down and began to talk. His name was “Ray.”
By most measures Ray has ruined his life. He has been to prison 9 times for drug offenses and theft. His driver’s license is revoked. He “did cocaine once… for 8 years,” and only “did meth once… for 27 years.” He’s stolen livestock and vehicles, but is proud to have “never shoplifted even once.” His family has been through the ups and down of Ray’s roller-coaster life. It has made them sick. They have removed themselves many times, yet still wait on the platform, ready to love Ray and reach out each time he comes back around. He spoke longingly of his mother and father. The lines on his face said he was in his 50’s but they lied. Ray is 39.
But there is a ray of hope for Ray. His life is not ruined. It has been rescued by Jesus. Ray recently came to the end of himself. He called himself a “piece of…(trash).” Ray wept as he described his desperate state. Broken and humbled, he had cried out to Jesus, admitted his sins, found forgiveness in the cross, and the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit to change him. But change is a process that doesn’t come easy. Even after being set free from slavery to sin it is easy to go back to what is normal and familiar.
Ray still struggles with the lure of illicit sexual encounters, too much alcohol and “loves meth.” He was on his way to sell some porn from his backpack. As we talked he realized he did not want to pass the poison to someone else and threw it in the trash. Ray was concerned about the temptation in a bottle which awaited him at home. He so desperately wanted to “fog his mind.”
In tears Ray asked, “How am I supposed to change?” First, I encouraged him to take a practical step by pouring out the bottle when he got home, and instead of fogging his mind, filling his mind with Scripture: the short book of Colossians. Second, I reminded Ray of the power of the Holy Spirit. We read Colossians 2:11-15 together, which reveals when Jesus died on the cross, every spiritual force which stands against Ray was disarmed and publicly defeated. The Spirit is now in him, and can empower and enable Ray to make different choices. Last, I encouraged Ray to seek out professional help and referred him to a ministry I know and trust. Did he take those steps? I hope so.
As we were talking, an older gentleman walked by, stopped, and glanced at Ray. He said, “Hey. You look familiar. I think I’ve seen you before.” Ray responded, “You do, too. Ever been to prison? Or maybe jail? Or church?” I chuckled. Prison, jail and church may be a strange combination, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at work changing lives in each place. I was reminded that change takes time. And we all need each other, whether in prison, jail, or church. Sometimes the help starts with a simple, “Hello.”
Dr. Chris Larmoyeux is the pastor at First Baptist Church Maumelle. He and his wife, Tonya, live in Maumelle with their three children. You can email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.