Intro to Ephesians
Sample from one of the commentaries in The Bible Notebook series:
"How would you like to meet Kenny Wagner?" Chaplain Roscoe Hicks of the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman probably anticipated my interest because all the papers in the region had been carrying the story of his recent surrender to authorities after years of freedom. I was a ministerial student and Mississippi College, taking a course in criminology under Dr. R. R. Pearce. I had stopped by Parchman on my way home to Sledge, Mississippi to interview the chaplain concerning rehabilitation of criminals.
How would I like to meet Kenny Wagner? Wow! I had heard stories about Kenny Wagner for as long as I could remember. Kenny Wagner was the most notorious criminal is the history of Mississippi. He had killed several people in three or four states, but according to reports he had killed them in "shoot-outs" with law enforcement officers after they opened fire. This was all years before. For years he had trained bloodhounds and used them to run down escapees. His marksmanship was legendary and when a bloodhound trailed an escapee to a house the word was that if the bloodhound touched his nose to a door, Kenny Wagner stuck his foot through it and stepped in with a .38 S&W in his hand, and he always took the man back to Parchman. His reputation was such that, no matter how vicious the criminal, or how desperate, he did not resist the gigantic Kenny Wagner. Except for his closest friends, nobody called him Kenny, and no one called him Wagner. He was always Kenny Wagner.
The chaplain told me that Kenny Wagner had surrendered because of failing health. He needed medical treatment. He had apparently lived with friends near Corinth, Mississippi for years and even though all the neighbors knew him, no one reported him. Many suspected that many authorities knew where he was and that he might have been paroled if other states had not wanted to extradite him.
Chaplain Hicks drove me to the hospital on the sixteen thousand acre Parchman farm (there was also a six thousand acre farm near Lambert), and when we got out of his car he said "you can go on in and talk with Kenny Wagner. I have someone else I need to see." By then we were in front of the hospital door and before I could ask how I would know him, the chaplain had veered off in a different direction. There were bars inside the main doors and as I approached there was a very large man standing facing me on the other side of the bars, his face in a space between two bars and either hand holding a bar on either side, even with his shoulder and a little higher.
The door opened and the man stepped back and as I entered he greeted me. I introduced myself and he acknowledged my introduction and immediately began talking without giving me his name. No one had to tell me I was talking with the infamous Kenny Wagner. I liked him immediately and understood why almost everyone liked him. There was genuine warmth in his smile and friendliness in his voice. I was all but inundated with mixed emotions - whatever I may have anticipated, I was not prepared such a gracious and open man as he. I had had cons to try to con me before and I would have them try it many times afterwards, but Kenny Wagner showed no interest in trying to con me. He was simply frank and honest.
After visiting for a few minutes standing just inside the door he told me he was weak and needed to lie down, and motioning me to the bed next to his in the prison hospital, he stretched out with his head propped up on pillows. I asked questions I wanted to ask, questions friends in my criminology class might find interesting. He answered my questions and expounded on them. For example, I said, "I recently read that alcohol was involved in 94.6% of the cases in which one is sentenced to prison. Would you agree with that?" He responded, "ItÂs higher than that. It is involved in almost all of them." That was before drugs and gambling became major factors.
As we talked I cleared my throat a few times and noticing it, Kenny Wagner reached around and picked up a little plastic tube with some little discs in it and handed it to me. "Take those. They gave them to me for my throat." As he continued talking about his surrender and comments Governor J. P. Coleman had made him, I sat on the side of the other bed facing him, holding the lozenges. This man has killed several men and he wants me to take these strange looking pills!?!?
"Go ahead and take them," he commanded. I said, "Yes sir," and put one in my mouth. While I was still wondering what I had in my mouth, I realized he was still talking about Governor Coleman when I heard him say, "I could put a bomb under him." HeÂs killed several men and now he wants to put a bomb under the governor?!?! IÂm not sure I should be hearing this.
When I finally found an opening, I asked him if believed in God, and if he believed Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He cut in, " I donÂt have anything against God. A preacher told me one time that if I wasnÂt for Him I was against Him. I donÂt have anything Him, so I must be for Him." I never got him back on the subject of his salvation because he immediately launched into a deliberation on his ethics and standards, his philosophy of life. He looked me squarely in the eye and declared, "I will never tell you a lie (flashback - a bomb under the governor!), and I would respect your sister just like I respect my sister." I believed him. How sad that a lot more church members do not live up to KennyÂs WagnerÂs standards in these areas. Before leaving, I even realized that he was talking about putting a political bomb under the governor. Whew!
As soon as the chaplain and I left for his office, he asked, "Do you think he will ever be saved?" I answered, "No. He has too much pride." Chaplain Hicks responded, "Another preacher told me the same thing a few days ago." It was obvious that he had not taken me to see Kenny Wagner to satisfy my curiosity. He was genuinely burdened for his soul. We both grieved eight days later when Kenny Wagner and went to hell by his own choice.
I knew I was going to meet Tommy. I directed the Mississippi College BSU (Baptist Student Union) mission trip to the Hinds County Jail in Jackson every Thursday for two or three years. When I picked up the Jackson Clarion Ledger the first of the week and read the headlines, I was as shocked as anyone else in the area. Tommy, a 22 year old carnival worker was in town with the Mississippi State Fair. He has been living in a motel room with a young woman who was seven months pregnant. It was not his baby, but he told her he could live with it. However, in a drunken stupor, he decided that he could not live with it, so he brutally beat and strangled her to death.
When I arrived at the jail, I assigned various friends different cells to visit, reserving maximum security for myself. The heavy steel door was open and I heard loud voices coming from the little area in front of the double set of bars. A local reporter was badgering the prisoner. The jailer said, "Go on in. That reporter has been in there long enough." I stepped through the door as the reporter challenged, "You must think youÂre pretty tough, beating up a woman, donÂt you?" Tommy snapped, "You come behind these bars and IÂll show you how tough I am."
Turning to me, the reporter arrogantly demanded, "Who are you?Â"
"IÂm Johnny Sanders."
"Where are you from?"
I looked him in the eye and firmly said, "Home." We stood facing each other until he finally turned and walked out. I was not going to give him any ammunition to use in an article about Mississippi College or the BSU. The jailer had told me that Tommy had sent for a priest and the priest came in and talked a few minutes and after leaving a tract, said, "IÂll come back in a few days and give you a test on that." The jailer also told me that Tommy asked him not to let the priest back in because he needed help right then.
Tommy listened respectfully, and by the grace of God I was able to get past the horror of TommyÂs crime and see a desperate young man who knew he had committed a despicable crime. After I left, the other man in maximum security, Bill, advised Tommy, "You should stop talking to reporters. They are going to get you executed! But you need to listen to Johnny Sanders when he comes back." A few days later I got a letter from Tommy in which he said, "Johnny, I am trying to find God." I immediately wrote back, "Tommy, before you ever thought about finding God, He was trying to find you. You never would have known you needed God if He had not revealed that to you. He was loving you before you ever thought of Him and He has provided for your forgiveness through Jesus Christ."
Tommy was saved on my next visit and I visited with him a number of times in the Hinds County Jail. Tommy was sentenced to life for his brutal crime - and rightly so - but by the grace of God, Tommy was forgiven, his sins covered by the blood of the Lamb of God. Tommy is my brother and the two letters I have in my desk drawer are a reminder that GodÂs grace is sufficient for all who call on Him.
Later I preached in TommyÂs camp at the state penitentiary at Parchman. Tommy assured me that he was reading his Bible and praying and, he added, "When I get out of here, I want to serve God." I expressed my joy in his testimony and counseled, "Tommy, you donÂt have to wait until you get out to serve the Lord. You will never find a place that needs it any more that right here." "PORKCHOP"
For a little over a year, while I was enrollednt pastor, enroled at Mississippi College and serving as pastor of the Dockery Baptist Church between Cleveland and Ruleville, I preached at 8:00 A. M. every Sunday morning at one of the many camps at the Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman. At first the chaplain assigned me a camp, but after a few months he said, "Anytime you get here before I get to my office you can go on to any camp you want to and tell them I sent you." Some Sundays and certain camps stand out in my memory above all others. It was a special blessing to visit with prisoners at Parchman I had led to Jesus Christ while they were in the Hinds County Jail in Jackson awaiting trial. Another memory was of a rather special man.
The chaplain told me one Sunday he wanted me to meet "Porkchop." "You have to hear his testimony." I do not recall his mentioning any other name. All I ever knew was his nickname. The chaplain explained that Porkchop had been a hardened prisoner, an avowed atheist, who was very hostile toward anyone who talk with him about Jesus Christ. He insisted that he did not believe in anything he could not see, hear, or feel. Every effort on the part of the chaplain had been rebuffed, until the day Chaplain Hicks walked into his office and his assistant, a prison trustee, told him that Porkchop was asking to see him.
The previous day Porkchop was on a work detail when he decided to make a break. They were working alongside a railroad track, under the watchful eye of prison guards, including the one guard whose marksmanship with a 30/30 Winchester was legendary. Prisoners were firmly convinced that he could not miss a running prisoner if he was in range. Porkchop was as convinced of this as any other convict, but when he looked up and saw that they were working near of railroad trestle, the desire for freedom overcame him.
Porkchop watched the guard out of the corner of his eye and measuring the distance to the trestle. Suddenly, when the guard seemed to be looking off, he made his break. He had not reached the bridge when the marksman fired the first time. He had reached the end of it when he fired the second time, and was diving off the trestle into the bayou when he fired the third shot. Porkchop was captured before he could make good his escape good and returned to his camp.
When the chaplain went to seem him Porkchop said, "I want you to tell me about God." Chaplain Hicks said, "I thought you didnÂt believe in God. Have you changed your mind?" Porkchop looked him in the eye and replied, "Now, I know there is a God. There is no way that guard could have missed his first shot. He could not have missed such an easy shot. Then He missed again as I reached the bridge, and again as I jumped. No power of earth could have saved me with that man shooting at me. Only God could have saved me." Before the chaplain left that day the God who had saved his physical life had saved him spiritually. Porkchop was saved by the grace of God, through faith which God alone can supply. When I met Porkchop he was a model prisoner, a positive influence and a very convincing witness for Jesus Christ.
Those are interesting stories, but what do they have to do with the Book of Ephesians? They have a lot to do with it! There are two basic themes in the New Testament - (1) how to be saved, and (2) how the saved ought to live. To be more specific, the entire New Testament tells the lost person how to be saved, and it teaches the saved person how to live. Both themes are applicable indiscriminately to every person - from Kenny Wagner, Tommy, and "Porkchop" to a young child like Will and Joanna, my brotherÂs twin son and daughter whom I had the privilege of baptizing when they were seven years old. God saves the young (but hardly innocent) the same way he saves the older (even the grossly guilty) - by grace through faith.
The Book of Ephesians tells us how we must be saved - by grace, through faith. It also tells the saved how to live - again, by grace through faith. It teaches us how to live victoriously - by grace through faith. It tells us how to win the spiritual warfare that every believer faces - once again, it is by grace through faith. His grace is sufficient for all our needs and only the faith that he provides is compatible with His grace.