No matter how you look at it, street view or inside the walls behind the bars, prison can be a dark place. Despite the myriad of lights penetrating hallways and cellblocks, dark places remain no light can reach or expose. These are the dark, hidden places deep inside the heart of every man society calls prisoners.
In addition to extensive lighting systems, electronic eyes of dozens of video surveillance cameras accompany those of the guards to keep vigilant watch 24/7 from strategic locations in and around the facilities. Yet there remain many areas throughout the prison to which all eyes are completely blind. For no eye, electronic or human, can see inside the minds of these prisoners to know what they are thinking.
Prisons are full of desperate men.
As I asked in the previous lesson, please consider this one sobering statistic:
- More than 2,000,000 men in the U.S. are in prisons and jails.
That is the highest percent in the world. To put this in perspective,
the number of incarcerated men in the U.S. is approaching the combined populations of Dallas and Las Vegas!
Joe, Jr., aka JJ, is the second character I introduced in the book. Joe Sr., his dad, was in prison when JJ was born. Despite his mother’s best efforts to protect and raise him well, the blame he assigned to the failure of his absentee dad fueled anger and resentment that led to gang life and, ultimately, prison. Like father, like son? Not the same path his dad took, but the same desperate place. Equally disturbing statistics bear out what some refer to as a “generational sin” issue. Too many sons of felons become one themselves and join their dads in prison.
So there sat JJ, a young prisoner locked behind bars, ‘living’ in a 6’x8’ cell, doing what others tell him to, in possession of too much time to explore the dark places of his heart formed by years of anger— his mind full of thoughts no one would understand, nor care to hear for that matter. God cares.
JJ is a fictional character, but I have met and ministered to many from backgrounds similar to his over the years of my menistry. Many finally come to the end of themselves and that can be a great place for any man to be in the eyes of the Lord. We refer to them as desperate men.
Most men reading this have not come from or lived through the cycle of poverty and violence that produces so many of the men who populate our prisons. You may recall from the last lesson (The Addict Is Me), I stated that on the surface, we do not appear to have much, if anything, in common with men who are addicts. The same can be said of men in prison like JJ or his dad. But we know appearances can be deceiving, and, as it was with the addict so it is with the prisoner, they are very deceiving.
Like many men in my demographic, it is safe to say thousands of men have been part of my life and crossed my path to this point. Rich and poor. Famous and infamous. Ordinary and extraordinary. Churched and unchurched. Christians and very lost men. One truth I learned from decades of working with men from all walks of life is this:
“Not all prisons have bars.”
Consider these four things common to prisoners/prison life:
- Held captive in a place they do not want to be.
- Others control their lives.
- Constant reminder of their pasts.
- Few escape.
Prisons Without Bars
Let’s consider those common denominators of men in prison in a different light and context—our lives. There are many examples of “prisons without bars”—debt, money/wealth, power, success, among others.
However, three stand out, in my experience, as strongholds that imprison us, often with devastating consequences that cause collateral damage and affect the lives of others, like family and friends.
Not one of these strongholds violates the laws of man that will land you in prison. But each is itself a prison for those who allow Satan and his allies or remnants of the flesh to put us, as it were, “safely” behind bars.
- Prison of the Past
- Prison of Opinion
- Prison of Religion
Prison of the Past
This may be the fullest prison of all.
The saddest thing about this prison is that we sentenced ourselves to do time there.
All of us have things (sins) in our pasts we would NOT want to show up on the nightly news or, worse, posted on FB. Dwelling on the past can control our lives. Living there can cripple us. Most men dwell on one of three things: successes, failures, and what might have been’s. Three things about these you need to memorize:
- Dwelling on past success is the best way to insure future failure.
- Dwelling on past failure keeps us from achieving future success.
- Dwelling on what might have been’s provides pathways to both.
The most certain thing about the past is this: We cannot change it! Good, bad, or indifferent, “it is what it is”, as some thoughtful man once opined. Far better are the words of our Lord and the Apostle Paul.
But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9: 62 NASB)
Practically speaking, for the man plowing in a field behind an ox, looking back only led to bad things: plow a crooked furrow, run hard into something in front, and worst of all, step in ox poop!
Jesus wants us to come out of our pasts, no matter how good or bad, key our eyes fixed on Him and walk straight ahead, following Him every step of the way.
Two takeaways from the life of Paul should allow every Christian to forgive ourselves, open the cell door (for which we alone possess the key), and walk out in freedom in Christ.
- Yes, Paul remembered his greatest sin (as we consider them).
“For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God” (1 Corinthians 15:9 ESV).
- But he did not dwell on such grievous sin or live there. Here is the proof and how he moved on.
“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3: 13a-14 ESV)
My dear brother, for all who are in Christ, by His blood our loving Father God said, “their sins I will remember no more”. (Hebrews 8: 12) If God can forgive and forget our pasts, so must we. Let’s move on.
Prison of Opinion
While developing this lesson, I wrestled with the best name for this prison. The Prison of Fear was one thought; The Prison of Control another. I landed on opinion because it includes both. Here are two paths people take that allow the prison of opinion to hold us captive.
- Fear of what others think about them becomes a prison from which they could readily escape if they simply chose to ignore them.
- Control forfeited to the opinions of others becomes as much a prison as those with bars and high walls from which escape seems impossible.
It is easy to write about this and say I do not care what others think or just ignore what others think. But that would make me a liar and hypocrite. I could write I would like to be at a point in my life where both are true. But despite the age of my teeth, I have not yet arrived there. However, having made strides in the right direction, I want to share a couple of keys to help us out of this prison.
- Stop listening to the lies. Satan is the chief liar and principle accuser of men. Don’t let him tell you who you are or are not. For those in Christ, that role is reserved for the Holy Spirit alone. Satan and his fellow assassins exist for three reasons. Jesus called him a thief who came to steal, kill, and destroy. They come to bring death. Jesus came to bring life—abundant and eternal. (John 10: 10)
Remind yourself: “We are not who others say we are. We are who God says we are.”
So even when you have screwed up or the world is beating you down with reminders of your failures, if you are in Christ, you are a son of Elyon, God Most High, a joint heir with Jesus. You were worth dying for. No matter what you have done or how far down you have fallen, you are fully loved. He never stops loving you. Jesus called us friend even when we do not act the part. Hunker down in that!
- Stop simply reading the Word of God and start owning every word of His promises. Too many of you do not spend time in the Word of God at all, and I am calling you out on that now. You spend more time reading the WSJ or a sports page. Some that do read their Bibles do so without eating and digesting it (Jeremiah 15: 16). Skimming the Bible like you did college text books is of little, if any, value.
When you do read, own the words. Make them personal and take them to heart. Stand on the promises of God, and bring them up to Him every time you think He needs reminding. He told us to do that.
Concerning verses that speak to this prison of the opinions of others, read, eat, and digest these.
For those concerned with what others think:
“It is dangerous to be concerned with what others think of you, but if you trust the Lord, you are safe.” (Proverbs 29: 25 GNT)
“It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.” (Psalm 118:8 KJV)
“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10 ESV)
“Because of miraculous signs Jesus did…many began to trust in Him. But Jesus didn’t trust them because He knew human nature…” (John 2: 23-24 NLT)
Let’s leave this prison with words I said to my children all their lives with respect opinions of others.
“It is not who you are, but Whose you are that matters.”
Prison of Religion
Perhaps the saddest of all prisons is this one. It built by men, sometimes well-meaning, stuck in the past—living as the Pharisees in the old covenants, all the while claiming to have accepted Christ and His blood as the new covenant. Just as in OT times, these people heap burdens and rules on others that they do not and cannot keep. The first person they should lock up is themselves. They are distant relatives of the religious leaders Jesus reviled and called “blind guides”. (Read Matthew 23: 13-36)
“woe to you, hypocrites, you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in…you outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness…you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness;…blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!…you clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence…first clean the inside of the cup and dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”
Jesus was dead serious about religiosity and imprisoning people in legalism veiled as obedience to God. He continued this line of teaching through His apostle Paul, who was himself a strong Pharisee. But Paul was radically saved, as we know from his encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.
The book of Galatians is known as the “freedom from religion” book. The Apostle Paul picks up where Jesus left off. It is an uphill grind for Paul because the people knew who he had been—“a Pharisee of Pharisees”—persecuting and imprisoning followers of Christ.
My dear brothers, if someone has imprisoned you in this lonely, desperate jail of religiosity (or you hold others there), I want you to know there is only one key that will open the cell door and set you free: relationship. Relationship with Jesus Christ. For Christians, it is not about being religious. It is completely 100% about a very personal relationship with the One true God afforded to those who believe solely through the blood of Christ.
Today there are men on death row experiencing more freedom than some pastors, elders, deacons, and other well-meaning church men. Please allow me to open these prison doors for your release with the most compelling words the Apostle Paul ever wrote:
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5: 1 NASB)
My dear brothers, come out of that prison because you know in your heart the Son set you free and you need to, once again, be free indeed!
All Men Are Desperate Whether They Admit It or Not opens with a number of sobering statistics about ‘man issues’ in the U.S. That is followed by the introduction of five desperate men with whom you will connect or identify in some way as their stories unfold. As I always say when introducing such ‘numbing’ numbers, you must read them as names, not numbers. Insert your name, names of your sons, father, brothers, fraternity brothers, golf or hunting buddies. Only then will such statistics hold your attention.
The focus of this lesson is addiction, so I decided to share just one of these staggering numbers.
- More than 11,000,000 men in the U.S. battle alcohol, drug, pornography, and other addictions.
To put this in perspective, that is more than the combined populations of New York City and Chicago!
Many men struggle with these demons in secret. All of us know men among these numbers. Some of us have been there or fight that battle now. Other men live in denial.
The Lesson Title. What do I mean when I assert, “the addict is the Christian man”? It does not take much of a web search to find highly discouraging statistics to support this. That is how I came across the following grim pornography statistics on Christian men.
- 50% of men viewed pornography within one week of attending a Promise Keepers event.
- 54% of pastors said they viewed porn within the past year in a Pastors.com survey
- Focus on the Family poll (2003) revealed 47% of respondents said porn is a problem in their home.
These are old stats that have only worsened since these surveys were taken. Because men are prone to hide or cover up these sins, the numbers are typically lower than reality. These facts also cover only one of many issues that hook, ensnare, and trap men—leading us into desperate places.
Divine appointments. A couple of weeks ago, I met with two strong men of God who, like me, are passionate about ministry to men. One is senior pastor of a mega church; the other the men’s pastor at a large, highly diverse church. Both men, and their ministries, have big hearts for broken men who have taken hard falls from the favor of men, but not the grace of God.
The common thread of both pastors is each has his own desperate man story-the results of which often lead men into addiction. In my own menistry, I have seen God use two types of desperate men to reach other men searching for help, healing, and hope that can only be found in a right relationship with Jesus Christ.
(1) Men who recognized the deadly path they were on in time to turn around or get help. Or
(2) Men who have themselves been restored from the stronghold of addiction.
Uncommon Denominators – Identifying with the Addict. James is the first young man introduced in the book. He is one of too many kids from the ‘hood’, born to a crack-mom with no dad in sight. This horrible home life (if you can call it that), and desire to please people at all costs, led him into gang life, the recreational use of drugs, selling them to support his ever-increasing need, and, ultimately, addiction. So many bad decisions, born of a young mind that had no role model or mentor to guide or influence his life.
I developed the character, James, in part, because his life is in such stark contrast to ours. I wanted readers to say, “I feel bad for those kids, but we have nothing in common, and I cannot identify with them at all.” Certainly, most men reading this did not come from crack houses or ‘hoods’ like James. We cannot identify with his journey. But that does not mean we are not more like him than we will admit.
Addiction comes in many forms. The most typical forms that come to mind are drugs and alcohol. Historically, they dominated the addiction landscape. Perhaps a better image is that of carnage strewn across a battlefield. Broken, wounded men like the walking dead, lost or going aimlessly through life, without direction or hope. Some carefully try to hide their issues; others have reached a point where they do not care anymore. I hear their stories at the rescue mission or from men in prison or aftercare.
But wait. I also hear stories that begin differently but end up in the same place (addiction) from broken, wounded pastors and other Christian men. Most were once highly regarded in their churches, workplaces, and communities. Such men are much more likely to try to hide, mask, or deny their issues—too embarrassed to come out of the closet of shame and admit their issues. This denial group led to the title of the book. The men I meet and work with at the mission or prison are desperate and admit it.
Too many Christian pastors and businessmen are afraid to admit their issues, nor do they want to talk about them…until it is too late.
By then, they have bottomed out. Sadly, only men who admit they have issues seek the help they need to climb out of the hole Satan so agreeably helped them dig.
There is also a set of what some consider “lesser addictions”. Men battle addictions to work, money, power, food, gambling, the Internet, anger, and even coffee (among the top ten). They may be lesser compared to the effects caused by drugs and alcohol, but many of these addictions have devastating effects on families and work lives. Marriages are severed, families crushed, jobs lost. And there are known ‘generational’ effects on children.
Addiction results from continuous attempts to fill a hole in your soul or heart with something that cannot satisfy the true need. Jesus alone can do that.
The harder we try, the more likely we are to replace Him with something chemical, physical, or visual that only leads down darker paths into even more desperate places. It is a vicious cycle—one that Satan delights in as God’s army of Christian men are rendered impotent and removed from battle, often falling on our own swords.
Drilling Deep into the Well of Encouragement.
God has answers. Because too many Christians today can be guilty of hyper-spiritualizing answers to the problems of other people, I gave considerable thought to writing something as simple, yet profound as “God has answers.” He does. But telling someone that or suggesting they just pray about it, and it will go away is, at best, half-hearted and, at worst. blowing them off. Funny how we do not want to hear that when the issues belong to us.
I do not know about you, but when I have a problem that needs fixing or a solution, I do not want you to sympathize with me, nor do I want you to tell me about how you once had that or something worse. I want you to tell me how or where to find relief now! You do not put a band-aid on a bleeding cut. You first help stop the bleeding. Neither do you tell someone with poison ivy to keep scratching. You help them find a salvo or med that gets to the root of the problem.
When God healed people in the Old Testament, directly or through a prophet, we always find the one with the issue in a desperate place with nowhere else to go AND humbly turning to God for the answer no one else could provide.
In each situation, God gave the person (or people) instructions on what they had to do to receive the healing. It involved faith and their acting on that faith.
Jesus heals people with addictions. Likewise, Jesus healed in the same way His Father did.
“Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.”
(Matthew 4: 23 NASB)
Jesus heard the pleas for healing and (almost) always gave the person instructions to receive it. “Stretch out your hand”, “Rise up and walk”, “Go wash…”, “Come out of that tomb”. He closed most of those encounters with powerful words we need to lock onto. “Your faith has made you well.” Faith is the key to our healing whether swift or a long arduous process that encounters set-backs along the way.
The Bible is full of the stories of desperate men. The truth is all men all have a story because we are all desperate. The question is will we realize our desperate place and look to the only One who can heal us?
I take some comfort and solace when I read the stories of biblical men of God who had issues just like me. As we begin to put a wrap on this lesson, consider a truly great man of God, the Apostle Paul, and his well-known, introspective dialog recorded in Romans 7. Consider these excerpts.
“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing… (Romans 7: 15, 18b,19 ESV)
Desperate man indeed! The great Apostle was talking about sin in his life that he could not or over which he had no control. That by definition is addiction. I love it when he cries out,
“Wretched man that I am!. Who can set me free…?” (Romans 7: 24 ESV)
Most of us have done that at some desperate point in our lives. Paul answers his own question by giving thanks to God because he knew his only hope for deliverance was Jesus his Savior.
You may be amazed to find that the culture of Jesus’ time under Roman rule was as sinful and full of evil as ours. That’s easy to explain—same enemy (Satan). The Apostle Peter hit head-on the issue of cultural sin that makes “feel good” promises that lead only to addiction.
“They promise them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a (man), to that he is enslaved.” (2 Peter 2: 19 ESV)
Words of Warning
My dear brother, if you are flirting with addiction, living on the edge, thinking you have it all under control, God has a word for you.
“Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10: 12 ESV)
You know verses that warn of the sin of pride and the resultant falls—often hard and deep. Look yourself in the mirror and admit you need to make changes in your life. Find someone to hold you accountable.
Words of Encouragement
My dear brother, if you are in bondage to some form of addiction, my telling you the truth and pointing you to the Truth will not get you where you need to be unless you do like so many who ran to Jesus for help and healing. You need to take action. Step out in faith, not in yourself, but in Christ alone and get help. God has provided many Christian resources to help you overcome addiction and reclaim your life. He has a place of service with your name on it!
Addiction is a war without end. But I have great news for you. We never go into battle alone.
If you are in Christ, God is our Unrelenting Father, Who…
- meets us right where we are
- loves us unconditionally
- covers my sin with unfathomable grace
- extends to us unfailing mercy
- forever remains our source of unquenchable hope.
Come now, brothers. Stretch out your hand, rise up and walk, or come out of that tomb−whatever you need to do to receive your healing from Christ Jesus our Lord. Do it today.
The timing of this worked out well, despite the fact that I had planned to write it for a while now well in advance of Mother’s Day. A quick search through the men’s lessons archives of this menistry reveals a tribute I wrote three years ago that esteemed and blessed our mothers and the mothers of our children. This one needed to be written specifically to and for Gigi, my wife and mother of our children.
Some will think this is personal with no purpose being a blog that gets posted, and that’s fine. But most men do not know how to bless and esteem our wives and mothers of our children. Perhaps your dad was a poor example of this biblical mandate to honor the women He placed in our lives. Or maybe you have simply become, like so many of us men, consumed with everything else in your life that receives more honor and attention than it should-displacing our wives as second only to Christ in our lives.
The women God placed in our lives very often demand from us less than is due them and serve tirelessly without calling attention to themselves or seeking affirmation we should so obediently heap upon them. So let this meager attempt of mine serve to help or encourage you do that which, for many, may be overdue.
Wife. Gigi Rook entered my life in 1982 through an introduction at a Singles’ group at Central Church in Memphis, TN. She is a native of that city and graduate from what was known at the time as Memphis State University. We dated about four months, were engaged six more, and married August 6, 1983.
Gigi took the biblical role of a wife and ‘helpmeet’ very seriously. The old KJV used the phrase helpmeet−a helper (eve) suitable for Adam. Gigi was (is) that in my life. While I took my role equally seriously, I am certain she filled hers better than I did. Gentleness and grace are among her virtues that stood out most and filled some of the many gaps in my life.
[I have spoken to thousands of men over the last four decades and share the following as often as it fits and sometimes when it does not. “Marriage is God’s hardest assignment this side of Heaven.” It really is. It takes commitment and hard work to stay married. The commitment is to God first and then our spouses. The hard work is required to build a biblical marriage. Even harder work is required to maintain it or repair damage caused by attacks of Satan, our fierce enemy, and selfish remnants of our carnality that insists it is all about me.]
Gigi has been more than accommodating, forgiving, and unselfish over the course of our thirty-four years of marriage. There is a great verse toward the end of the book of Proverbs that is attributed to Solomon. He asked the question:
“An excellent wife who can find?” (Proverbs 31: 10a ESV)
In the margin of my Bibles, I wrote many years ago, “I did.” And then wrote in the date of our wedding.
Mother. I could write another book on the early years of our marriage dealing with serious, painful issues related to becoming parents. In less than two years, we went through three miscarriages and a full-term stillbirth of our first daughter. The pain was excruciating−overwhelming and unbearable except that Gigi and I are believing believers. Enduring all of that was our first real test of faith and our marriage.
Many marriages crumble after such hardships. But the Holy Spirit intervened. He brought healing and forgiveness to our brokenness, and filled the holes in our hearts because He alone could. Finally, despite the expert medical opinions that we would never have children, the Lord God Who is our Father blessed us beyond hope with three amazing children.
I always knew Gigi would be an amazing mother. All that happened to bring her to that point only strengthened her resolve. My children have the best mother, hand-picked by the Lord to love and nurture them as only she could and did. I am thankful that they know this and esteem her. Yet, I hope they read this every Mother’s Day and remember to do as the Bible commands−honor her and rise up and bless her.
For all my shortcomings as a husband and father, I can say that I did my best to do that and make sure my children did so as they grew up in our home; even in the difficult teen years. Dads, it is critical that you do that for your wife and teach your children what is means and looks like to honor their moms.
I cannot move on without a couple of comments on the second-most difficult time in Gigi’s life−her battle with Lyme Disease. The physical and emotional toll this took on her for several years was so painful to watch, much less endure as she did. Yet, she grieved more over the time away from and events missed during the high school years of our youngest son more than the pain she experienced. We praise God that after years of trying so many possible helps and treatments, she did find freedom and deliverance from the continual pain and many of the side effects. She has only minor flare-ups these days.
Dedicated Homemaker. Despite what you think, this is not about how well Gigi made our houses into homes and a safe, loving nest for our family because she did that so well. She had more practice than most. We recently moved into our twelfth home together in thirty-four years of marriage. I always tell men I am just glad to still be married to the same women after such a journey. She has been an amazing pillar of support through what has at times been very exhausting, mentally as well as physically.
www.gigisellsnashville.com The context in which I use the phrase, dedicated homemaker, now refers to another stage of life in which she pours her time, talents, and gifts into helping others find and establish their homes. I never nagged Gigi about anything during our many years of marriage except for one thing. As our kids got older and hit the driving (we don’t need you around now, Mom and Dad) years, I strongly encouraged her to become a realtor. She was born for this helpful role.
Gigi’s dad was a home builder and spent many years in the building supply business in Memphis. She majored in a related field in college and used her talents in our twelve homes spread out across the southeast. She is the most conscientious people person I know, despite my bias. So I knew that if she ever chose to do this on her own, she would be the best at helping others do what she had done for us so many times. I gladly toot my own horn here because I was right. She does an amazing job.
So my dear Gigi, here we are thirty-four years into our marriage, having successfully raised three kids who are in Christ, and now not so patiently rocking babies in the nursery as we wait on grands! I am so thankful for your life as my wife and the incredible mother of our children. Here’s to many more (years, that is, not children except grands!) I love you.