A few years ago, I came across this fascinating fellow who had the most interesting story. He was an atheist living a successful life as an attorney, enjoying the best things in life, when something happened that turned his world inside out. The shift in his thinking was so dramatic that he says, “It felt like I had been transplanted into a whole other planetary existence but yet I was in the same place I’d always been.”
I hope you’ll enjoy the transcript of the interview below. It is long for a blog post, but Michael has a great story. If you prefer, you can listen to the MP3 audio version (50 minutes).
If his story intrigues you, check out Michael’s book, The Beckoning, which is all about his journey.
The Interview with Michael Minot (transcript)
TEDDI: This is Teddi Deppner, writer at large, interviewing Michael Minot, who is the atheist lawyer turned Christian. I am intrigued by his story and want to hear more. Part of this is for character research for writing fiction and just for general interest purposes. Hi, Michael.
MICHAEL: Thanks for having me.
TEDDI: We’ll jump right in. My first question is what did you think about God before your conversion? How did his existence or non-existence affect your lifestyle?
MICHAEL: Well, in my adult years, and I would consider that to be from college, through law school and a few years beyond, I really didn’t have much of an opinion of God. My focus was not on anything that had to do with spiritual matters. I was focused first on education, and there were other activities, social activities, things I was doing to prepare myself for when I was out of school. So my focus really was not on spiritual matters at all.
I did have a few challenges, people who spoke to me, particularly when I was in college as opposed to law school. So I can’t say that I never thought of spiritual matters, but it was certainly not a focus at all and I dismissed any invitation to think in those terms. I did not grapple with the issue of his existence or non-existence, or whether I was a created being with much intensity at all. I was doing other things.
I had certain things that I wanted to accomplish, and I guess when you have so many minutes in the day and so many days in the week, then when those issues come up, and you think, “Well, if I spend time investigating these type matters (meaning spiritual matters) then that will take away from my ability to do something else. So my decisions were almost always that I made the decision to do the something else, rather than investigate my spiritual background, whether I had one or not, I just wasn’t focused on that at all.
TEDDI: So, did you know Christians at that time? What was your opinion of Christianity as a whole and were there any individual Christians in your life that you knew? And what did you think of them?
MICHAEL: Again, going back to college, I entered college rip-roarin’-ready-to-go as far as doing what you do at college. And I thought that was classes and at the time I was a scholarship athlete. I played tennis before I went to college. I was a nationally ranked player and so I was recruited to go to college on a scholarship. And I was ready to do both of those things as well as other things you do on campus.
And so when I came to school that’s what my focus was and that’s what I thought I would be doing. Those doors were open to me and I went through them. But as a result of being on a campus, there were student ministries. I knew nothing about what a student ministry was, but there were representatives of those student ministries that would occasionally find me and even come out to the tennis courts and want to talk to me after practice. This happened over a four year period maybe four or five times. It wasn’t often at all but there were a number of folks I did meet in that way.
I had some quick responses for them – nothing that was disrespectful or anything – but I just let them know with a few responses to the questions that they had that in the end I had a temporary opinion of all that, at least something that satisfied me for the moment. I didn’t have time or desire to revisit that. So when you ask me my opinion of Christianity as a whole that would be one part of my answer, which is that I really didn’t have much of one.
My second answer is that, not investigating on my own but simply hearing what other people had to say. The hypocrisy of those that were in the news, for example, in 1979 while I was in college Jonestown occurred. It was a disaster where hundreds and hundreds of people died as a result of the actions of a gentleman by the name Reverend Jones. He had the designation “Rev.” in front of his name and that “Rev.” was something that I associated with spiritual matters or Christianity. So there was a degree of fear that I had about Christianity because of instances like that, but especially that. There were other things that were not nearly as severe but they were points of hypocrisy and the media loved to jump on that. So given these instances… my opinion was that I didn’t want to get very close to that because if these were the actions of their leaders, then I didn’t want to be one of their followers.
TEDDI: That’s understandable. So you didn’t have Christians that you knew individually that really changed that opinion of what you were getting from the news?
MICHAEL: There were a few folks. Again, going back to college. I’m not speaking to law school because that’s almost a complete void. I can’t think of any thoughts, I can’t think of any discussions, any people that came to me regarding a discussion about creation or Christianity. It was almost a three year period of time where nothing happened regarding this. I was just pursuing my education. So I go back further than that, to college, because there were some things that happened there.
So when you ask me if there were some individuals, yes. There were some that I didn’t know, which I’d mentioned, people that were representing these student ministries that were on campus. There were a few. In fact, one of them invited me to what’s called an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) monthly meeting and I ended up going. And it was only because of the invitation of this person, who I highly respected on campus. I was very active on campus with lots of groups and things. And this other person was as well. And I highly respected her and she specifically asked me to go to this. But I only went to that, only went to a few.
But I can recall a couple of things that were said that reminded me of things that I’d heard in the news and I just didn’t want to get close to that based upon some of the prejudices that I was forming.
TEDDI: If you had this void of time when you were in law school, what eventually was the catalyst for your change of thought? How did you come to Christianity, to God?
MICHAEL: I had passed the Florida bar exam a few months after graduating from law school. And a few years after law school, I met someone and we stayed in touch. We didn’t live in the same area but we stayed in touch. He was married and had a few young kids. I enjoyed his family and we spoke on the phone occasionally and on lesser occasions we would meet somewhere and do something fun. He was keeping track, loosely, of how my life was going.
As far as I was concerned, life was better than I ever expected it would be, as far as what I was going to be doing with my law degree. The trajectory of my life was going up at a steep angle. I had money in my pocket, I had the keys to a new convertible. I was really enjoying what I was doing in life. And I was also learning a lot about the profession of law and how to practice law. That kind of stimulus was great, I enjoyed that as well. Things were happening very quickly and all of it was in what I considered to be a positive thing for me.
I was also back home where I had grown up, so I could jump right into the social life. But a few years later, this gentleman gave me a call. First time he had ever been, I’ll say, sheepish. This was a very confident guy. But on this particular phone call he didn’t sound confident and I realized very quickly why. Because he was going to ask me to do something where he didn’t know what my response was going to be.
So he told me that these scriptures had been very influential in his life. He thought that because I was no longer in school and I didn’t have those time pressures involved, and I was not married. And he knew from our conversations that I was not dating someone specific. I wasn’t having to invest my time into someone on a daily or weekly basis. So he’s kind of throwing it up to me, and said, “You’re in a unique period of time in your life. I don’t know if you’ve evaluated what’s in the scriptures and taken a strong look at that and at your own life. You might be able to glean some things that might be helpful now that you’re moving out in this professional career of yours.”
I thought this was a very strange request, but I also liked this gentleman a lot. I thought a lot of him and I respected him. He’s a very bright individual. So I hung up the phone and thought about it. And I couldn’t disagree with him. He was right about this unique time. If I went back in my life, I was always trying to accomplish short-term goals. Always trying to do something. Whether it was back with tennis, practicing for tournaments and attempting to get rankings and things of that nature. And when it came to school, I was always studying for tests and trying to complete courses and obtain degrees. He was right, all that was behind me and I had this time that I could invest if I wanted to. So I called him back and I said that I’ll take up this challenge. And he also challenged me to attend a church.
So I did attend a church and I did start reading the scriptures. I also bought some material – scientific material, some philosophic material, books, articles, things of that nature. And I decided to start reading. And I started enjoying my reading. Not only the scriptures but also the other material. So I did this almost every night, for hours at a time. And on weekends, even longer periods of time. And I was shocked at what was going on with me. Because these thick-walled prejudices that I had, I started questioning. And I came to the conclusion after almost two months that I thought it was more likely than not that I was a created being.
It was a week or two later, something like that, that I made a determination that the God that is spoken of in the scriptures was the one responsible for my creation and everybody else’s and the world and the universe and everything that we know and we see. And I asked him if I could be his son and if he could forgive me for all the blasphemy that I’d conducted on him for all the previous years of my life. And I told him that I wanted to do anything that he wanted me to do.
So that is the story of the catalyst of my change. Since my late twenties I have since joined a church. I also met my wife a few years after joining the church. We have had the privilege of having five adopted kids. That’s the follow-up from what’s happened since then.
TEDDI: Wow. That is so cool. It’s interesting, hearing your story. It’s neat how you seem to be the type of person who likes to study and is very intellectual and God reached you in that way. Somebody just challenged you to read the scriptures, and then you read them. That’s neat. I think everybody probably gets drawn in ways that are unique to their personality. The fact that someone can just sit down, read and study, and come to that conclusion… You don’t have to be convinced by someone else or see a miracle happen. That’s fascinating.
MICHAEL: It’s interesting that you say that. It was a unique fit for me. Not only that time that I was talking about, that point in my life, but I wouldn’t say it was just the study of law in law school and a few years of practice. Even before that there was a decision I made early in life, even as I was going through elementary, junior high and high school. I enjoyed learning. I adopted an attitude which I felt assisted me in my desire to learn. Truths seemed to build on each other. That’s what school does. You take certain truths and then those truths are instrumental in you learning new things. I enjoyed that process, number one. But secondly, I didn’t want to ever be the type of person – and I saw some of them around me – that when there was an absolute truth that’s almost impossible to deny, would deny it anyway. And I saw that in my life. And I told myself, I’m not going to do that. If there is anything that hits me square in the eyes, I’m going to take that particular truth and incorporate it into the multitude of other truths that I know and make that part of my personal philosophy and I’ll move on.
And so, these things that I learned during those two months that I sat down and read and started seeing how many individual points started all lining up in a way that I’d never seen before. It was shocking to me. Maybe I didn’t even want it to be true. There were all kinds of things that I was saying, even pacing around the house because I lived by myself at the time, mumbling, “It can’t be true, it can’t be true.” But I wasn’t going to deny it, if in fact there was some great weight of evidence behind it. Testing it in every way that I thought I could, at the end of that two month process I capitulated. I said, “I don’t think that I can deny this any longer. I believe it’s more likely.”
I wasn’t absolutely sure. I wasn’t like, it is a vision that is true. It is that there was so much that was amazing and orderly and just lining up with what I thought must be true based upon the totality of it all. The great weight of it all. So I wasn’t going to sit there and stiff-arm it any longer. I wasn’t going to push it away just because I had never agreed with that previously.
TEDDI: Could you name the top 2-3 shifts in your thinking? Some of these things that you were pacing around saying, “That can’t be true.” You had some things that you thought before you became a Christian. And then afterward, what things really shifted for you when you realized, “Wow, there is a God. He knows me, he loves me, he wants me with him.” What were the big shifts that came about from your conversion?
MICHAEL: There were many, so I’d have to narrow it down to get to 2-3. And that’s all fine. But one thing leads to another, so to speak. One point, once it seems fairly well clarified starts clarifying other points as well. So I can categorize a couple of things for you. The whole idea of nature… I had not put what I had learned in school into the context of the amazing order. I was more just learning what was there. In my classes it was mostly memorization. The periodic table. The assignment of parts to a body, all the biological systems and how they worked together. But in preparing for tests, I didn’t do a good job of standing back from all that and looking at it from a really big picture. I didn’t put it together that all these pieces had a relationship.
In fact, I started seeing, without being a scientist myself, how not only a few but many, many more than a few pieces started looking like they’re interrelated. There were relationships between most everything. Then the further down I went, that is, studying what is very, very small, what’s in the cell and how cells work together in a living being, I saw how cells duplicate themselves and how living beings duplicate themselves. DNA, RNA, all those types of things biologically, all those things I consider the small part. Then I’d go to the biggest of the big – the cosmos. I learned about how perfect and balanced the solar system and the galaxy and the universe are. All of that was completely amazing to me.
In fact, when looking at our solar system alone, let’s look at the theory of gravity. We all know gravity, we can drop anything out of our hands and it falls to the ground. But how it actually occurs, no one knows. But the fact is, it’s there. And these planets all circle around this gigantic sun – gigantic compared to the planets – but their distance and their movement is perfectly orchestrated so that they all maintain their circular motion around the sun. And they’re also fine-tuned by the small amount of gravity they have on each other. Without this perfection of distance and math and gravity and speed, these things shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. They should be going off in different directions, either falling into the sun or falling out into the rest of the galaxy. It’s just too much.
And some of the very early astronomers I was reading about and what they thought about that. They were just completely taken aback by the order and perfection. They didn’t know what we know today, that there are more than seventy moons that are part of this orchestrated event that’s going on in our solar system. And the earth itself happens to be the perfect distance from the sun in order for us to have our biology and it goes on and on and on and on.
So here would be one set or grouping of information that caused the shift in my thinking, getting back to your question. And just to finish that off a little bit: Even from a little boy, I had this lingering or gnawing thought about a number of things about myself. Like, loving my mom so much. I really, really loved my mom. Where does that come from? How do I have this love thing that just pounds inside of me?
How can I see? How can I hear? They tell me when I get into elementary and junior high that I came from a little itty bitty cell. And now I’m doing all these things. Running, talking, hearing, seeing. That’s just too much. It’s just too amazing. These things started crashing back into me. And the order and perfection of it all was just beyond amazing.
So when there is so much perfection, how did all that occur? Is it a random collision of things that caused this to occur? Well, nothing in my life that is just random, like throwing a handful of sand somewhere or shaking a box full of toys. Nothing seems to have greater order, or even great order to begin with, if it’s random. So big question mark: how did all that occur?
Second big shift was reading the scriptures themselves. I’d had the opportunity in times past. And they were read to me and even discussed with me back in college and maybe even a few times before. I had heard the salvation story about Jesus, for example. I had heard that in college. But it just didn’t stick with me. It didn’t cause me to be overly interested in it. Nothing that would cause me to set aside time against everything else so I could go investigate this. It never came to that point with me.
But when I finally did that, I started seeing an order and perfection in the scripture as well. I started seeing this big picture story that I’d never seen because I’d never read the scriptures before. And although there’s not a seamless story like you and I would write a story, but I started seeing as I read these pieces that I could put together in my mind. And I started seeing the big picture of what scripture was trying to do, trying to say and how it did that through different authors at different times.
Those are the two big shifts. I mentioned there are others, and there are, but if you limit me to two or three those are the two that I’d pick.
TEDDI: Can you name one that might have to do with how you saw other people? Was there a big shift in your thinking? You saw the big picture of nature and the big picture of the scriptures. Did you have a shift in your thinking related to the nature of humanity or the relationships that you have with people?
MICHAEL: When I came to the point at the end of my investigation where I decided that it’s more likely that I’m a created being, at that point – and this is going to be very difficult to describe, very few people have asked me about this point of time – when I’m in my late twenties and I get the feeling that all this formal education is virtually meaningless against these incredible new truths I’ve just learned. It completely obliterated my way of thinking. In other words, there wasn’t a lot of tug-of-war between what I now understood myself to be: in relationship to this loving God. And that he made everybody else around me as well. Everybody. Everybody who was in the same situation I used to be in, which was denial or unbelief or skepticism or whatever you want to call it. He loves and made everybody. And so my perspective of not only myself but everybody else changed in the biggest of ways.
In fact, it felt as if I was not even on the same planet any longer. And things were so different. I remember walking some of the same sidewalks that I had walked when I was going to lunch in this downtown area that I’d worked in. And I just remember looking around and having this thought, “These buildings don’t look the same, the sky doesn’t look the same, nothing seems the same.” Everything shifts, but it was even bigger than that. It felt like I had been transplanted into a whole other planetary existence but yet I was in the same place I’d always been. I know that doesn’t make sense, but I’m trying to give words to something that may be impossible to describe.
TEDDI: That is awesome. It is so cool to think of that. To be in the same place, and yet everything is different. It’s almost cliché, and yet the experience of it is phenomenal.
People talk about this “God-shaped hole”, how there’s a void in your life that you don’t necessarily know is there, consciously. And God is the only thing that can fill that hole. Would you say that there were holes in your life or in your heart that God filled once he showed up?
MICHAEL: Well, certainly, but the perspective that “he filled me” is simply the fact that we, as his creation, cannot be fulfilled without putting our arms around him and accepting the fact that he wants to wrap his arms around us. And when that occurs, then the way he made us, the way he has structured who we are by creating us in his image and giving us so many of these talents that allow us to have great love for something and make choices on who to love, how to love, what to love, you know, all those things – we can’t be, it’s impossible to reach the heights he has made us to reach without finding him or agreeing with the fact that he’s our father and to completely put ourselves into his arms.
You asked me about a hole that was filled. I don’t think of it in those terms. I thought, before I came to this understanding that I had a spiritual father and I had someone who created not only me but everybody else in the world around me, I didn’t think I had any holes. As I mentioned, this was not a “pit of life” experience. I was going the complete other direction.
I thought things were fantastic. And my calendar was full with all kinds of things that I wanted to do. To the extent that I had room within one day of my calendar, I filled it up with more stuff. There was always stuff to do that I enjoyed and I was situated to do a lot of it. So I didn’t feel like I had holes. The only holes I had were hours on the calendar that I didn’t fill up with either the day-time work or socializing very hard during the other hours. So I thought the combination of the two didn’t leave any holes. I was the orchestrator; I was the concierge of my life. I was going to make sure that I was well-entertained and well-fulfilled with my professional life. But that wasn’t the right understanding about who I was. The right understanding is that I am a created being.
TEDDI: That’s awesome that God applies even when everything is going right. Even when you have no conscious awareness of your need for him, you can wake up and notice and realize that he’s meaningful to your life. That’s significant. I think sometimes we act as if people aren’t going to turn to God unless they hit rock-bottom. But your life is a living testimony to the fact that that’s not true. You can turn to God even when everything is going right and he has something valuable to offer.
MICHAEL: Just to give you a tiny bit of insight with respect to that. I may have already done this but let me just go back to that one situation regarding the solar system. That was one of dozens of situations which, as I said before, my personal philosophy of life is that if I find a truth I’m going to incorporate it into how I think about everything. So the perspective of finding that and finding many other points of physical phenomenon that were so orderly that I had to find a way to incorporate that into all the things that I had thought before.
And that was very difficult. It was like trying to put a size 15 foot into a size 2 shoe. It just didn’t work. Square peg, round hole kind of thing. In doing that, the incorporation process gave me great angst. If you can’t put the foot in the shoe, maybe you have to find another shoe. And that’s what I was left with. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to find a way to keep my shoe the way it was. But eventually, the more these things stacked up, every one of them would cause me to have a problem maintaining the way of thinking that I’d held all my life. And when they just kept getting larger and larger as far as the number of them, then I needed to find another theory of life.
And the theory that went along with not only the scientific issues that I was reading about and coming to an understanding about like I’d never had before, but also the scriptures and just melding all of this together, it started to fit. So that’s the process that happened with me.
TEDDI: Do you look back over your life, and you mentioned some of it as you were describing your childhood and how you felt about your mother and things in college, but do you look back and see the hand of God moving the whole time? Do you see moments when he was planting seeds and kind of presenting himself to you in some way, even if you didn’t recognize it at the time?
MICHAEL: Yeah. I remember when I was a kid, and I’d look at butterflies. You learn about these things pretty early in school, that butterflies come from caterpillars, and you’re left to wonder how in the world does that happen? And something that eats plants and kills them, or I don’t know about killing them, but they eat plants, is now drinking the nectar off their flowers and flying around with these beautiful wings on. That didn’t make sense. And so many other little things. You learn how the water would come out of the sky and then fill up ponds and then evaporate and go back to the sky again. We could just go on and on. There are lots of those things that I just had to wonder about.
Rainbows was another thing that I remember specifically as a child looking at and going, “That’s just like a cartoon. You’d almost have to draw that. It’s a caricature but it’s really there. Or it’s really appearing and the person next to me seems to be seeing it just like I am.”
So yeah, there were lots of little things like that. And there were people like I mentioned on occasion. But I pushed it away, beginning in a more strong way in junior high because I started developing a philosophy of life. We’re taught in school that you need to do well in school and each year it gets more difficult, there’s more assignments and there are more complex things to learn that build on what you’ve already learned and you’ve got to pay a lot of attention to that. And so I did. Just to be able to do well in school.
But also I was told that those things are going to play a large part in the rest of my life and that the rest of my life is a building process as well. You don’t leave whenever you finish school and then that’s the end of learning. Learning is always going to be this thing. And so I just got in a pattern that “learning’s the way to go”. And I learned the way the schools told me to learn. And these issues that you and I are discussing now were not part of that process.
The process I learned was: “Get ready to go work. Earn something for a living. Bring it home. Find a nice wife and go have kids. And that’s life. Period. End of story.”
TEDDI: Shifting the focus a bit from your conversion story, from what you said on your website it says you’ve done some prison ministry. It got me curious about your experiences in talking to a variety of people that maybe have a different background from you. How have you found their reactions to be as you’ve shared the gospel? How do you approach sharing the gospel, given the experience you’ve had? What’s your focus when you are telling somebody about God?
MICHAEL: Telling somebody in the prison context?
TEDDI: Yeah, I’m curious about that specifically because – and this could just be a stereotype or a misconception – but my idea would be that people in prison are more aggressively rebellious or not interested in hearing somebody say, “God loves you.” So I’m very curious what their reaction is and how you present it.
MICHAEL: My experience is very different from what your presumption is. A few years out of school, there was a pastor that knew my background and also knew that I’d had a lot of alcohol consumption when I was in college and before I came to understand what you and I are talking about right now. So he thought that my background would be conducive to creating connections with the guys that were in jail.
And I had great apprehension. I’d never thought about this before, but I told him that a few years before when I came to understand that I do have a heavenly father, that I’d do whatever he asked me to do. And when someone asked me, I considered that to be a possible invitation from my father. So I said, “I’ll try and we’ll see what happens.” It ended up that I did it for 15 years. It was wonderful.
There was also a great distinction. I did not only the prison – prisons are where people are sentenced and they serve time for periods of time, usually years – I did that, but the vast majority of what I did was in a jail context. And in the jail, people are waiting for trial. They can’t bond out either because they’re not offered bail or they can’t make bail or there’s a few situations where they’ll actually be carrying out short term sentences, usually just a few months because of something they did on a misdemeanor basis.
Now the reason I make that distinction between prison and jail – and that I was in the jail most of the time – is that I found that there’s a unique point in time in people’s lives when they are arrested and suddenly their civil liberties are all taken away from them. Even their clothes are taken away from them. And they’re put in this facility where they’re told everything on what they can do and who they can be around and those different things. They are basically warehoused as human beings in a building. And everything is restricted.
That sudden change of life, which is so dramatic, causes not anything that they would want to happen but it causes them to think about and question things about their lives. How did I get here? Why am I here? Do I want to rethink life in ways so that I will never be back in this place that I can’t stand? And other things like that.
So when they come to a class of mine, I find that they’re very interested. I don’t want to say they’re hanging on every word I say. They’re putting me to the test. They’re putting what I say to the test, as opposed to me. But that pastor, once upon a time when he invited me to consider being involved in a jail ministry, knew I could say things about my life. I could say things about my extreme consumption of alcohol and in a very short period of time – we don’t dwell on it at all, but in a very short period of time – everybody in the room and I, we all know that we have either have been or are in the same situation.
Most people in jail are drug and alcohol abusers. And they have other things going on in life as well. But almost always, very few exceptions, one of those two things or both of them are going on. When you inebriate yourself and handicap yourself in that way, and then someone says “I’m here to say I’ve found something, the truth” – and they know that you’re going to talk about scriptures, they know they’re coming to a bible study – I’ve found that the combination of my past and what I’m able to say about that and their interest because of the point in time of life that they’re in, that that was a very unique and positive thing as far as them being able to be open to the truth.
So as far as my experience in jail and how I approached them, I asked them to do what I did. Put the truth to the test. I would explain things that were – I wouldn’t say necessarily that this was influential with me – but I recalled that, and there were so many things that I could draw from and use repetitively when speaking to them. I’d challenge them to make sense of these things. Why are there certain things that we find in life? What’s more likely?
They’re familiar with court situations, where the juries will weigh the evidence, that’s what they’re doing. If they’re charged criminally they’ve already done that before or are about to do it. So they can imagine very easily if they haven’t done that before. I invite them to do the same thing. Put the facts as we see them around us, as well as what we see in the scriptures, and determine for yourself whether you think the scriptures are actually words breathed into man and given to us from God. You decide. I give them certain things to think about.
In the end, though, when you mentioned your presumption is that they’re very hard to that, I find that it’s the opposite.
TEDDI: Wow. Now, is it because they’re in that time of transition, kind of vulnerability, where their world’s been shaken up?
MICHAEL: That is a big part of what primes them to be able to possibly hear in ways that they haven’t seen before. So it’s the shaken part as well as they’re not thinking very much about what they’re going to do on the street the next day because they aren’t going to be on the street. When you’re on the street, or in my case planning for a test or doing something for the next party or whatever it was, I was always planning. Planning for things that I was going to do and doing things for myself.
And when you’re in jail, there’s nothing to do. Except think and read. Or look at the TV. They do have TVs. One TV for a large pod. So if someone else isn’t watching what you want to watch or you don’t want to watch TV at all, there’s almost nothing to do. Play cards, checkers, that kind of thing. But for anyone who is remotely serious about their life, I mean in any way serious, then reading is something that invigorates them. Reading about anything – and there’s a lot of self-help books – they think, “Well, hey, bible study can’t hurt. I’m in here doing nothing anyway.” And they’ll come and listen to me talk about it.
And the combination of that experience of having nothing to plan for the next day and not doing anything the next day plus having their life all shaken up… those two things and then the sheriff’s office which runs the jail allows me to come in, I guess you can call that a three-pronged attack on their callousness to the truth. And it works. There are a lot of positive responses that come from that.
TEDDI: When you’re in there and you’re sharing about God with them in the context of a bible study, can you tell me what’s the focus of the study or what you’re presenting to them to think about. I know a lot of evangelical Christians boil things down to a certain presentation of the gospel or a certain way of saying things. “You need to admit you’re a sinner. You need to see that Jesus is the answer,” or whatever. They have this way of going through things.
What was your approach? What did you find to be effective in presenting the God story to these guys?
MICHAEL: That’s an interesting question. I did not repeat myself week after week. I relied upon going through the scriptures and having different points that are illustrated by the scriptures themselves. Just like when Jesus taught, he did not use the same illustrations and did not speak over and over repetitively about the same point. Sometimes he did revisit points with different crowds. But there’s a lot to tell when it comes to the love of God and how that is manifested in our lives.
The scriptures speak about that in many different ways. Both in the Old and New Testament I would pull scripture verses and we would focus on a reading. We would read a passage and we would discuss that. And then at the end of the discussion or towards the end what I would try to do is tie that into a big picture. I was so influenced by the big picture that I wanted to incorporate that as to where the piece that we were studying that night fit in. And I would do that rather summarily, or quickly, and then occasionally – occasionally would be every few months – we would take one night and all we would do is go through (as best I could in an hour and a half) the entire recitation of what I thought the big picture was.
And those were the nights that routinely had the greatest responses. These guys, point by point, they could – just like I did – shove it off and say “That’s not persuasive enough.” But when points start lining up and truths start penetrating because they’re linking together, not because they’re stand-alone points, that’s when things got persuasive. So I tried to do that each week without using the same point. Just over and over go through different points. And then occasionally try and wrap them all together and say, “Here’s what I see the big picture as and how we get there.”
TEDDI: I know you said that you’d take an hour and a half and try and put that big picture together for them and lead them through it. But if you tried to boil the big picture down to a sentence or two, what’s the big message of Christianity or of your belief in God?
MICHAEL: The big message is that God decided to make us because he wanted to have beings that he could have relationships with just like the Trinity already had. And that he gives us the choice, within the environment that he gave us, to reach back and agree with him and have a great relationship with him. Not only in this life, which is just the beginning, but forever. And so what he’s given us is this opportunity during this life, with the freedom that he gives us, to say “yes” or “no” that we want to be with him. What he has done for us, though, is he’s given us so many different ways to see that he is there and that he loves us. I mentioned a couple of them earlier. There are more. And it’s a matter of whether we’re going to take notice of all the things he’s trying to do to get us to understand how much he loves us.
TEDDI: That’s awesome. Thank you for your time, Michael. It’s so amazing to hear how God worked in your life and how he’s worked through you in other lives and to hear that God’s love is still impacting people from attorneys to jail inmates.
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