Phil Was An Ex-Con

Thirty years ago I was at a bar with my friends Jack and Greg. We liked this place that styled itself as an English pub, complete with dart boards and British beer on tap.

One night we were two beers or so into our evening when a group of rough looking men came in. As they passed our booth I reached up, put my hand on the chest of the biggest guy in the group, and said, “What are you doing in here?”

Jack and Greg later told me that was the moment their lives flashed before their eyes.

Meeting Phil

I took speech 1a my first semester of junior college. It was a general education requirement for every major imaginable and that was reason enough to enroll in it, but it also involved talking and I figured that’s a bonus for someone like me.

And that’s where I met Phil.

Phil was huge and a little scary looking. He was older than me by about ten years, wore long hair and a goatee, and had big muscles. He was loud, too, but soon turned out to be friendly enough. He also wasn’t at all shy about telling us a little about himself in his class speeches.

Like the fact that he’d been released from prison a couple years earlier. That was where he got those prison-yard size muscles.

Phil was not only an ex-con. He was an ex-drug dealer/ex-gang leader ex-con. The stories he told us were eye-opening for an 18-year-old guy who’d grown up in a home more Leave it to Beaver than Breaking Bad.

Yet Phil never gave me reason to fear when he was around. Just the opposite. I got to know Phil as caring and funny and nice to everyone. So when he walked by the booth in the pub, I had to stop him to say hello. Who wouldn’t?

It might have been nice to give Jack and Greg a little advance notice, though.

Scary God?

Are people frightened of God because of what they think they see in him, or perhaps because of what they’ve heard about him? It depends on who they’ve been watching and listening to.

It’s easy to get the wrong impression of God if you listen to people from churches where the preaching is full of hate, or all you see is someone who thinks putting others down is the way to spread the good news about Jesus.

Jesus had a friend who wanted to know what God is like. Jesus had a simple answer: get to know Jesus and you get to know our heavenly Father.

“If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? … Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. (John 14:7-11.)

So when we see Jesus in the pages of the Bible, Jesus says we see God himself. What do we see in Jesus, then?

A person who gives us rest for our souls. (Matthew 11:28-30.)

A person who is gentle with his people. (2 Corinthians 10:1.)

A person who took away our sins and brings us salvation. (Hebrews 9:28.)

A person who loves us all the way to eternity. (John 13:1.)

This is God.

And once we get to know him in Jesus, we no longer need be scared. Instead, we should take every opportunity to get to know him even better.


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12 Responses to Phil Was An Ex-Con

  1. Laura Droege says:

    Wonderful reminder, Tim. First, that we should seek every opportunity to get to know God better.

    Second, not to judge others from outside appearances. I would’ve been freaked out by Phil when I met him. But when you described him, I was reminded of my grad school friend Richard, minus the large muscles; he MADE you be his friend, as I heard someone say. Extremely loyal and friendly.

  2. Bev Murrill says:

    My response was exactly the same as Jane’s…


  3. Jeannie says:

    Great story and message, Tim!

  4. Marsha Miller says:

    A beautiful post!

  5. Aimee Byrd says:

    “One night we were two beers or so into our evening”: is one of those lines where seemingly insignificant words like “or so” make you smile.

  6. Pastor Bob says:

    Well done!

  7. Gwen Jorgensen says:

    I like this.
    You were armed with the ability to reflect the real Phil to people, because you had taken the time to hear his story, and get to know him. I think sometimes we talk about God too much, with out taking the time to soak up the relationship with Him, or care enough to also invest in friendship, with the people we are talking to.

    • Tim says:

      Thank you, Gwen. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but you’re right. Gering to know someone not only helps us relate to that person better but also to help others relate to the person too.

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