King David wrote the above words in Psalm 31; Pastor John read a portion that Psalm as he talked with Michael, and as Michael bravely shared his story with us.
Michael was born into a Christian family. He went to church every Sunday; however there was little freedom in his home. His grandparents were very strict German Baptists. They punished with a rod. Mike’s dad had learned from his parents. Mike said that his dad was less severe, and Mike acknowledged that his parents were doing the best they knew how; even so, it was a strict rule-based environment. In spite of all of that Mike believed in God and believed that Jesus died for his sins.
During Mike’s later childhood, his family vacationed in Montana. His parents felt like Montana would be a safer place to raise their children and keep them out of trouble, so when Mike was nine, they moved from California to Montana.
In Montana, Mike did not make friends easily. He was not allowed to attend social events like basketball games and dances, so friendships were hard to come by. All of us desire to be accepted, so when Mike went to high school at the age of 15, he began to smoke cigarettes in order to find acceptance. That led to smoking pot, drinking alcohol, and addiction.
As Mike went through his teen years and his twenties, he added cocaine and meth to the mix. He began every day with drugs. He held a decent job for awhile, but eventually quit his job in order to become a drug dealer to support his own habit. He told us that he became a “tweaker”. When Pastor John asked him what that was, he said tweakers are like rats in a hole, they hide out and do meth all the time.
The acceptance that Mike was looking for, and that contributed to the start of his addiction, failed him. He told us that he became a criminal, and as a result was not trustworthy, so he went through friends pretty quickly.
He shared that addiction grows–you don’t see it taking hold of you until you’re addicted. He also shared with us that he had numbed all of his emotions but two. He was either happy and laughing, or angry–nothing in between. He didn’t cry, he wouldn’t let himself feel. People were afraid of him, and he liked it that way.
Because of his inability to maintain friends, and because he didn’t want to “party” alone, he began partying with a younger generation of kids, one of whom was a 16 year old girl. They partied together, they also slept together. One night, when they were doing meth, she stopped breathing. He took her to the hospital, then he went and got her sister and her parents. The medical staff was able to get the young lady’s heart started, but her lungs were not working on their own. Mike said her parents and sister did not blame him, and told him this wasn’t his fault. But then the police came.
Mike was very forthcoming with what had happened, and told the police everything. What he didn’t know was that the young lady was sixteen. He was arrested for distribution of drugs, for indecent liberties with a minor, and a few days later, when the breathing machine was turned off, for manslaughter.
While Mike was in jail and awaiting sentencing, his mom called her pastor. Her pastor called a pastor in the town where Mike was incarcerated, and that pastor went to visit Mike. They didn’t have to talk through a glass partition, or through a jail cell door–they were able to sit face to face.
That pastor told Mike “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or will ever do–Jesus loves you.”
Mike said that in that moment, it felt like someone put his arms around him. He could feel God’s embrace. When he went back to his cell, he fell to his knees, confessed everything he could remember, and asked God not to get him out of his situation (because he knew he deserved it), but to get him through it.
Mike began to pray regularly and to reconnect with God. He said God answered prayer after prayer–even things that might seem insignificant in jail, like a better toothbrush.
Originally, Mike was looking at a possible sentence of 35-65 years. He was willing to plead guilty to two of the charges, but not the manslaughter charge. He was offered a 15-25 year deal in exchange for pleading guilty to the first two charges, and he accepted that deal. When he showed up for his sentencing, the judge agreed to accept his guilty plea, but stated that he did not agree with the terms of the deal. Mike’s heart sank, thinking that the judge was going to impose the 35-65 year sentence; however, the judge said that he did detect any malice or intent in Michael, so he sentenced him to 8-15 years. Mike served 7.
Mike acknowledges that God rescued him while he was incarcerated. God rescued him from addiction, God rescued him from a criminal lifestyle, and God rescued him from the grip that satan had on his life. Incarceration was a strangely wrapped gift.
He was able to share his faith with other inmates. He attended Bible studies, and was even allowed to leave the facility to attend church. Jesus met him right where he was, in the middle of the darkness and chaos, and changed his life.
Mike’s been in our church for eleven years. I can’t even fathom the old, angry, addicted Mike. When Pastor John asked Mike how Jesus had changed him, Mike responded that instead of living full of anger and wanting others to fear him, he is now full of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. His desire is to be gentle and kind, to love. He desires to serve in the church. That’s the Mike I know. His softness, his gentleness, his tender heart are a testimony of the change Jesus makes when He is invited to have His way with us.
And, Mike is not afraid to feel or to cry.
As a matter of fact, he cried while he was sharing his story. He cried as he recalled the pastor’s words: “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done or will ever do–Jesus loves you.” That’s the message that changed him. That’s the message that will change the world. Words spoken without condemnation. Just the simple truth–Jesus loves you.
The Japanese have a centuries old method of restoring broken pottery called Kintsugi–beautiful brokenness. Instead of trying to fix broken pottery, they put the pieces together with gold, silver, or another precious metal, leaving the cracks visible–not just visible, but precious, adding beauty to the restored piece that wasn’t there before.
That’s Mike’s story. His restored life shines with the beauty of Christ. His life is a living picture of one who has been forgiven much, so he loves much. Sometimes he still battles the darts of the enemy who would like for him to believe that he is not worthy of love or acceptance–but he doesn’t live in that place of doubt.
When John asked him what he believes about himself now, with many tears he said “I am worthy of being loved and accepted, and of loving others.” And we who know him do love him. Psalm 31: 9-16 describes his before and after:
Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.
Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors
and an object of dread to my closest friends—those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery…
But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.” My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me.
Let your face shine on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.
God has saved Mike in his unfailing love. Mike lives in freedom. His broken life has been restored with the beauty of Jesus, and Jesus brilliantly shines in the cracks.
The words Jesus loves you saved his life.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes 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. (John 3:16-17)
Have you experienced His love? I hope so. It’s available to you right now.
If you already have experienced his great love, are you making it known to those around you? The world needs to know that no matter what they’ve done or ever will do that Jesus loves them. No one’s life is too big of a mess for it to be transformed by Jesus, and lives transformed one precious person at a time will change the world. Military might won’t change the world. Political power won’t change the world. Only Jesus, living through us, has that power, and He uses our own stories of restoration to show His beauty.
I want to put this on a billboard:
“The world needs to know that no matter what they’ve done or ever will do that Jesus loves them. No one’s life is too big of a mess for it to be transformed by Jesus, and lives transformed one precious person at a time will change the world. Military might won’t change the world. Political power won’t change the world. Only Jesus, living through us, has that power, and He uses our own stories of restoration to show His beauty.”