And now, for the rest of the story…
(From Friday) – The car slowed in front of me with its blinker on, but quickly sped past after surveying the situation. One look, and I understood why. The armed guards blocking the road were enough to frighten even the innocent. But they didn’t scare me. Nothing could have kept me away that day.
I turned my vehicle towards the guards to explain my arrival. They let me pass only to be stopped by a second group of armed guards in menacing black uniforms. I glanced upward and saw eyes following me from the overhead tower. My eyebrows rose as I took in the amount of guns in that one parking lot. After I was directed to a parking spot, I searched for my drivers’ license and hopped out of the van. I couldn’t hide my smile…
It was graduation day at the prison. Twenty-eight men were about to make history. Twenty-eight convicted felons were on the verge of receiving their associates’ degree in Christian ministry from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This was the first graduation for the Phillips Extension Center of the seminary.
Kevin, who entered the Georgia prison system at 18, quoted Burl Cain, the warden at Angola State prison. “Educate a prisoner, you get a smart prisoner. Lead a prisoner to God, you get a changed man.” I watched as 28 changed men filed in the prison’s gymnasium with cap and gowns. Those gowns covered their blue and white STATE PRISONER jumpsuits; it was a dichotomy.
As Brian neared the stage to speak, he caught his foot and stumbled up the stairs. There was an audible gasp in the room. He righted himself and grinned. “I bet you won’t forget that entrance,” he gushed. Then he got serious, “I hope you don’t. You see, that fall represents my life. I stumbled, but God reached out His hand and pulled me up again. The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way. Psalm 37:23” That tumble will forever stick in my mind.
You see, I’ve fallen, too. We’ve all tripped. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 2:23 But, like Brian said, God picks us up again. If you don’t believe it, just ask any of the twenty-eight changed men in Philips State Prison. I just bet you’ll get an answer that will change you, too.
December 15, 2009, I watched these men walk across the stage and receive their associates’ degree in Christian ministry. They have completed a chapter in their lives, but friends, it is just the beginning. If you were to walk away from these men now, it would be like walking out of a movie during the last action scene, like tossing a book in the fire before you read the last chapter. You’d be left hanging. Today is just the beginning.
Today is also the beginning for you. Forget about what happened yesterday, last week, last month, or last year. Maybe you’ve stumbled and are lying in the dirt – broken. Just reach out your hand. The Lord has your steps ordered, too. He can and will pick you up, if you allow Him. And if you think you have stumbled so great you cannot recover, call me. I’ll put you in touch with some men who just might change your mind.
Congratulations to the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Phillips Extension Center Graduates. Men, this is just your beginning…
James, Robert, Chris, Stanley, Larry, Johnny, Jack, Jerrell, Joe, Brian, Alton, Jerome, Thomas, Kevin, Jamel, Charles, Jacob, Hugo, Darrin, James, Tim, Derrick, Farah, Marco, Christopher, Nolan, Gerald, and Pat, I’m so proud of you!!!!