“So who on Planet Earth is the most unlikely person to ever come into a living relationship with Jesus?”
This is the question I posed to many thousands of conference attendees at least one hundred speaking events over a five or six-year period. Without fail the name that popped up each time at the top of the list was, “Manuel Noriega.” At that time, Noriega was the dictator, drug lord and multi-billionaire he had gained from ill-gotten drug funds from many years of laundering money through the system of dummy banks he had allowed to be set up in his country while he “led” Panama.
During his reign of terror, international rights groups estimate Noriega was personally responsible for the executions of between 500 to as high as 3,000.
As with many Third World top-level leaders, the tragic reality was, once in power, the name of the game is all about breaking the vain promises made to the masses, and the agenda becomes “How can I make myself a multi-billionaire and stay in power for life – no matter what…”
If you are old enough to remember the news era of December of 1989, for several weeks, U.S. troops invaded Panama in an attempt to bring to a close the crazy control of Noriega’s puppet government that had nothing to do with governing and everything to do with enhancing the general’s net worth.
Within a couple of weeks, the general was captured.
He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in a high security, federal detention center in Miami. His cell was a mere 6 foot by 9-foot space with a one square foot barred window to look out from. He has one hour of free time a day. Otherwise, he is in captivity twenty-three hours a day.
Before all of this occurred, I maintained from the beginning that once Noriega was captured, if he was not executed, he would come to know Christ before long. Was I prophetic, or worse yet, reckless in my predictions as to what would happen with this man’s life? Neither. I simply was aware of the way of the heart of man, the inclination of people’s hearts and most importantly, the heart of God as revealed in 1 Peter. “He is not willing that any should perish…” for one speaks of the ever seeking heart of God that searches for man’s heart.
The problem is people are so busy running at a breakneck pace they cannot slow down enough to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit as he calls them (“invites” them).
I have spoken to many over the years who roll their eyes at the mention of “jailhouse conversions.” They show tremendous skepticism about anyone who has come to Christ under duress. The understood idea is that any who supposedly come to Christ while incarcerated are not true believers. I could not disagree more. If we look back upon our own histories with God, it is evident that we all came to Christ during a time of duress to some degree.
The title of this article, “Remember, Everybody is Somewhere” is one of the often repeated lines from Steve Allen in his immensely popular TV show in the early days of that communications medium. Allen was so far ahead of his time few really could appreciate the wisdom he shared from week to week. He tossed out profound nuggets of wisdom that only a few understood or took the time to ponder at the time.
Though he was not a particularly spiritual man, Allen managed to condense a magnificent truth that is often missed by Jesus’ followers.
God is at work in the lives of everyone regardless of what we think we can see from the outside or how we measure spiritual progress. If we could put on “God-O-Vision” glasses to see what is really happening in other’s hearts the vital truth is: We would never stop planting seeds of generosity, kindness and love
Those who are being drawn to Jesus are rarely aware of the draw of God that is happening in their lives until just as they come into relationship with him. The vast majority of the work of the Holy Spirit is done at a subterranean level, unbeknownst to a person.
As Jesus indicated, the fields are “white unto harvest” he meant they are always ready for harvest. The only hold up is the inability of the harvesters to see the opportunity that lies before us.
When the chips are down, we tend to hear far better than when things are going wonderfully.
This is a universal truth. Wheat that is ripe unto harvest is bent over with the heaviness of the grain. The green, not yet ripe grain stands erect. So it is with people as well. Those who walk with their heads down are far more likely to be open and ready for Jesus than those who are “happy happy, joy joy” at that point in life.
Most of us are living at such a frenetic pace; it is difficult if not impossible to hear God.
This is not to call people to an extreme of non-biblical meditation – don’t go there, please. However, as we find ourselves in situations in life where the “inner metronome” is slowed somewhat for whatever reason – an illness, injury, taking a shower, driving or in this case, incarceration, we are far more able to hear the voice of God than previously. Remember – His is the “still, small voice.”
God is making invitations to those around you constantly.
He is inviting everyone you run into today, this week, etc. Love and invite and bring your people along to do the same.
The big question is that of the timeline of God. Each one is on a unique timetable with the Holy Spirit. “How long will it take for a given person to get to the point where they realize they are being invited to follow Big God, that he is really good and that he is head over heels in love with them?” Of course, it is up to them as to whether they will relinquish control to the God of the universe or whether they will follow in the footsteps of Adam and take the path of the predictable – and live a life of captivity.