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Posted by: Pastor Terry Hagedorn | May 23, 2018

SMOKING FLAX AT THE COUNTY JAIL

(c) 2000

Words: 1595

SMOKING FLAX AT THE COUNTY JAIL

Matthew 12:20 A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench till he send forth judgment unto victory.

Pastor Terry Hagedorn, Retired

C.H. Spurgeon, in Matthew: The King Has Come, comments on this verse, “The feeblest are not disdained by our Lord Jesus, though apparently useless as a bruised reed or even actually offensive as a smoking flax. He is gentle, and exercises no harsh severity.

He bears and forbears with those who are unlovely in his eyes. He longs to bind up the broken reed and fan the smoking flax into flaming life. Oh, that poor sinners would remember this, and trust him!”

Tom S. was a graduate student. He had a degree in psychology from a state university somewhere. God had saved him and called him to preach. He and I were ministerial students at BJU. We also worked together at a restaurant. One night at work, our conversation had turned to extension ministry.

He had asked, “What ministry are you doing?” (All preacher boys were required to be active in some extension ministry. He was seeking some ministry.)

“The Spartanburg county Jail,” I answered. “But, Tom, you do not want to go to the jail ministry,” I warned. “It is too rough. I am probably not going back myself–ever. However, if you want, I can get you in touch with the guys that do go.”

I had just started going to a jail ministry at the Spartanburg County Jail. However, my first experience had so discouraged me that I determined to never go back. Never!

The county jail–for those of you who have never had the privilege of being there–had a large iron barred area called the “tank.” There were small cells with bunks off of the back of the tank. This jail had six such tanks. The inmates spent their days just sitting on metal benches around a large metal table in the tank socializing–or, probably anti-socializing.

There had just been six of us there. So, I was assigned to go by myself to a whole tank of prisoners. Believe me, it was cruel and unusual punishment for everyone involved–including me! I had never been in a jail. I had not been preaching that long. Now, I found myself standing before a captive–really captive– audience of twenty or so inmates.

I suddenly could not remember my name or the date; let alone, what I was going to preach. I prayed, “Lord, help me!” (The greater the need–the shorter the prayer!)

He did help me. I found my notes. I introduced myself. I told the men why I was there: God loved them and Christ died to save them.

A few men gathered close to hear. Some men went to the cells in the back to lie down on their bunks for the duration. However, a man came out of the shadows of one of

the cells. He sauntered up and stood directly in front of me–only about a foot away.

Thank the Lord for iron bars. Because, he looked like a wild man. It was hard to judge his age. He appeared to be in his twenties. He had long tangled hair. It was tightly bound with a red and white bandanna around his forehead.

Minus that scraggly beard, he would have looked like Crazy Horse. (My apologies to Mr.Horse.) He wore unlaced combat boots, old dirty jeans, a gray tee-shirt and an unbuttoned red plaid flannel shirt. He smelled like urine, vomit, cigarette smoke, and body odor–not necessarily in that order. It was hard to determine which smell was predominate. Evidently that combination is quite a repellent, he didn’t have too many bugs on him.

His wardrobe and hygiene notwithstanding, the worst thing about him was his actions. He had come up there to taunt me, to mock me by repeating every thing I said, and to mimic my every movement.

I do not remember what I preached. Although many folks seem to share that condition, I had no excuse. The message had been echoed right back at me–verbatim! It is hard to preach through an interpreter. It is almost impossible through an interrupter.

Thankfully, time ran out. It was time to go. I concluded my message. There were no obvious decisions. I told them that I wanted to give them something to read as I reached into my inside coat pocket to get some tracts. No tracts–wrong sport coat; Instead, I pulled out a New Testament. It was an ultra-thin copy which I had bought at the

lost and found for fifty cents.

I had told them that I wanted to give them something. So, I–with some reluctance–placed the New Testament on a small ledge on the bars.

The wild looking man immediately snatched it up! He moved to the back like a dog that has stolen a piece of carrion from the rest of the pack. “Well, there goes that New Testament–wasted,” I thought.

I apologized to the others and promised that the next time I came, I would bring them all something to read.

“The next time I came?,” I was reminded of my promise. I said, “Tom, I am going to be going to the jail this week, after all. You can come with me, if you want. But, after this week, I am not going back.”

Tom timidly responded, “Well…I do need to do something. I would like to see what it’s like. I’ll go with you this week–just to observe. Okay?” (I think the story about the wild man scared him.)

“Okay,” I answered with the following warning, “BUT, prepare yourself for a bad experience!”

Including Tom, seven of us went to the jail ministry on Sunday. He told the others that he wanted to go with me. I don’t know why he did. I continued to gripe, complain and paint the bleakest picture possible to Tom.

As the Lord would have it, I was assigned to the same cell. Yet, it wasn’t the same cell; because, as we walked up, I quickly scanned the tank and there was no sight of the wild man.

However, as we approached the bars, three men came over to greet us. One was holding the little ultra-thin New Testament.

“Remember me?,” the one with the Bible asked.

“No,” I said giving him a careful look.

“I was the one who mocked you last week,” he explained.

I could not believe it. It was him! He had shaved. Someone had given him a hair cut–of sorts. His bandanna was gone. His clothes were cleaner. But, the biggest difference was in his countenance. He beamed with joy.

“What happened?,” I asked. I was stupefied.

“I took that New Testament hoping that I could trade it for a pack of cigarettes,” he stated. There was the sound of regret in his voice.

“But, no one would trade. And, I had bummed so many cigarettes that no one would give me anymore. So…,” his voice began to trail off as he proceeded, “when I noticed how thin the pages of this New Testament were…I tore out a blank page, got tobacco out of the cigarette butts off the floor and the butt can, and rolled me a cigarette.”

“The blank pages–and even the title page–did not bother me,” he continued remorsefully, “but, when I got to the printed pages–the Scriptures, I could not do it. Believe it or not, I had been brought up in a Christian home and a good church. I knew better.”

He continued with tears welling up in his eyes, “I could not believe how low I had sunk–to be smoking pages from a Bible! Sir, I have good parents. They love me and pray for me. They took me to church. I got saved as a little boy. But, I rebelled as a teenager. I got into trouble–a lot of trouble. I broke my Mom’s and Dad’s hearts. I didn’t care.”

“Last Sunday…I am sorry for how I made fun…I am sorry…,” fumbling for words he began to weep. “We’ve been reading the Bible you gave me and praying.”

I reached through the bars and took his hand with my right hand. I said, “Why don’t we pray now?”

When I said that, the three men took each other’s hands and began to sink down to their knees on the floor. It was spontaneous. It was the Lord’s doing. (I normally neither

kneel to pray in public, nor hold hands in a circle with anyone–especially not inmates. This day was an exceptional day in many ways!)

As I kneeled down, I took good old dumbfounded Tom’s hand; and, as he kneeled. The reached through and took the hand of the third man in the cell. What a sight that must have been. Five men kneeling in prayer and holding hands in a circle–in the jail!

It was the most wonderful prayer session . I prayed first. Then the–formerly–wild man prayed. Then the other two prayed. They professed faith in Christ and repentance for

sin in their prayers. Tom closed us. Tom never waxed more eloquent in prayer.

Isn’t it amazing how the Lord rules and overrules in the affairs of men? How amazing it is that God’s Word does God’s work–even if you almost smoke it! How amazing it is that the Lord is able to make all things to work together for the good?

As we left the jail, Tom said, “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be!”

Amen.

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