The Power of God
“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” - Romans 1:16
His name is Jimi and he has less than 35 days to live. Jimi is a Christian. Without any help from anyone, he read the Bible completely, cover to cover. He hates to admit this, but he read it because he was bored. The TV wasn’t working and he didn’t have anything else to do. As soon as Jimi finished reading, he started back and read the Bible through a second time. The words of God touched his heart. His sins were great and he understood that God was offering him grace through Jesus Christ. Jimi was baptized, immersed for the remission of his sins.
Jimi is unable to worship with any local congregation. Jimi has only 35 days to live. On July 20th, the state of Alabama is going to execute Jimi. Jimi sits on death row. He’s been there for a couple of decades. Around the year 2001, high on drugs and alcohol, Jimi hammered a woman to death. He knew her. He was dating the woman’s daughter. Jimi doesn’t remember a lot of the details. The broken TV, was in the prison. With nothing to do, Jimi started reading the Bible. No one prompted him and he knew it would not make any difference as to his outcome. So he read. And, he read. And, the pure word of God convicted him and changed him. He asked the prison officials to be baptized, immersed, and he was.
The granddaughter of the woman who was killed struggled with the horrific tragedy. She nearly ruined her life with substance abuse. Listening to a song on the radio about writing a letter, the granddaughter decided to write Jimi. She was tired of being angry. She was tired of thinking about the crime. She wrote Jimi to tell him that she forgave him. She was letting it go. The letter brought Jimi to his knees. He was expecting a cruel letter about him rotting in hell or deserving what he was soon to get. Instead, it was forgiveness. Jimi wrote the granddaughter back. Phone conversations took place between the two.
Later, some brethren from a small Alabama church made contact with Jimi and further Bible studies were made. In a recent study, the brethren could only speak to Jimi through the slot in the metal door where the food tray was placed. Jimi is in good spirits and when asked about the upcoming July 20th date, he says, “they can’t take Heaven away from me.”
The story of forgiveness was picked up by the Atlantic magazine in an article titled, “A Murder forgiven.” Word about Jimi was spread. I learned about this from a shepherd who visited Jimi. He is one of our Jump Start readers and a fine example of sharing the gospel with prisoners.
This story has some wonderful lessons for us:
First, the Gospel is powerful. The Gospel still works. Without a preacher. Without any tracts, personal Bible studies or anything else, Jimi learned the truth of God’s word by just reading it. The power is still there. The word can be understood and it can be obeyed. Just read the words. Let the words sink in. An amazing God still changes lives.
Second, Grace is wonderful. God continues to allow second chances even after we have hurt many people and got ourselves into deep trouble. One wonders what Paul felt like the first time he returned to Jerusalem as a Christian. Before, he was there arresting Christians and casting his vote against them. But he changed. He was forgiven. He was now one of them. Would they accept him? And, one must wonder what the brethren thought about Paul. They may have had family members who were in prison because of Paul. Could they forgive? Would they forgive?
Third, forgiveness is hard. Letting go frees a prisoner and we find out that we were that prisoner. As long as we hold those dark thoughts within us, we seek to get even. Anger replaces joy. Our lives become gloomy and we age. This story of the granddaughter ought to humble us. We get upset and unable to forgive because we were not invited to a party or someone said something negative about us. What a great example for us. God can forgive. Can we? Anger, bitterness, resentment, wrath are what we find when we refuse to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice. It’s always the right choice. It’s a difficult choice. But the good that comes from that choice is amazing.
Fourth, Heaven is possible. Sometimes we may think it is out of our reach. Sometimes we may believe that we have done so much wrong that there is no way that God can forgive. But He can and He will. The pages of the N.T. are lined with people who made wrong choices. Sin dominated their lives and defined who they were. Yet, by the saving grace of Jesus and their faith in Him, they were saved. Cleansed. Justified. Redeemed. Sanctified. Powerful salvation words that illustrate that God hasn’t given up on us. We are not too far gone for God to reach. Jesus is all the difference.
I’ll be thinking about Jimi in the coming days. I wonder if on the 20th of the next month, if Jimi will meet the apostle Paul? What a conversation they could have. I expect Jimi will have tears in eyes when he sees the Lord. I expect I’ll have tears in my eyes when I see the Lord. God’s gracious love is amazing and marvelous.
Could you say a prayer for Jimi?