For those who may not know, Warren pastors Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, California, which has a Sunday attendance of more than 20,000 persons. He and his wife founded this church from scratch in 1980. He is also the author of The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold over 30 million copies. Warren is no stranger to controversy. He has also faced his share of heartache, particularly through the suicide of his son, who had had a long history of mental illness.
The article unfolds in a series of questions and answers. I wanted to repost a particularly meaningful portion of it here today…
I’ve heard that you put your feet into the water of prison ministry a while back.
Ten years ago, after The Purpose Driven Life came out and we were suggesting “40 Days of Purpose,” one Christian inmate asked, “Could I do this in my prison?” I said, “Of course,” and from doing the 40 days he started a church in that maximum-security prison.
And you went to preach there.
I had two hours to speak to the entire prison. There were 4,000, maybe 5,000 people out on the yard. Nobody was paying attention except a couple hundred people right up front. I was standing on the ground with no stage, just a microphone, but the microphone could be heard through the entire yard. I pulled out a $50 bill, held it up, and said, “How many of you would like this $50 bill?” Five thousand hands went up. I had everybody’s attention. Then I crumpled it in my hands, tore it a bit, and said, “How many of you would still like this $50 bill?” Five thousand hands went up.
What came next?
I spat on the $50 bill, threw it on the ground, stomped it into the dirt, held it up, and said, “How many of you would like it now?” Five thousand hands went up. Then I said, “Now, for many of you, this is what your father did to you. You’ve been mistreated. You are abused. You are misused. You were told you wouldn’t amount to anything. You’ve done a lot of dumb things too. You sinned. You’ve done some crimes, and you’re paying for them. You’ve been beaten. You’ve been torn. You’ve been dirty, but you have not lost one cent of your value to God.”
You had their attention.
That day, I think 79 guys gave their lives to Christ. I baptized all of them on the yard that day. We brought out a big laundry bin, filled it with water in front of the entire prison. The church in that prison grew to 500. Later, authorities decided the prison should be smaller, and many prisoners went elsewhere. We commissioned them as missionaries to start churches in those other prisons.*
I once heard an evangelist describe how much God loves each and every one of us. He said that if you (or I) either one had been the only person who ever lived and died in the history of the world, God would still have sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross for your (or my) sins! That is how much He loves each one of us!
The Apostle John tells us in his New Testament Gospel (3:16-18): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…”
And the Apostle Paul adds this thought in his New Testament Letter to the Romans (8:1): “…there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Praise God for the truth of these two Biblical passages. I hope you have grasped that truth. I hope you have embraced the grace of God and found new life though His Son, Jesus Christ. No matter what you have been through, God still loves you. And He can and will forgive your past failures and restore you to a proper relationship to Him through Jesus Christ. If you will but let Him, my friend, He can change your life forever!