Sunday, 24 April 2016

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

God's Hot Pursuit of an Armed Bank Robber:Shon Hopwood

God's Hot Pursuit of an Armed Bank Robber
Image: Brian Smale
It didn't take a moment of genius introspection to realize that doing life my way had led to nothing but disaster and destruction. It was the summer of 2009, and I had just completed an almost 11-year sentence in federal prison for my role in five bank robberies I had committed as a foolish young man. After my release, I moved into an apartment with the love of my life, Annie. Two weeks later I proposed. One week after that, we learned she was pregnant.
At age 35, I was about to become a husband and father. We had no money and no real plan for our future.
It may terrify some CT readers to know that I grew up in a Christian home in rural Nebraska with parents who had started a local church. When my high-school basketball career faded and college and the military fell through, I was left with a complete lack of purpose, susceptible to addiction and depression. When my equally adrift best friend suggested we rob a bank, it struck me as a legitimate idea.
We robbed five banks, with guns, and scared the tellers and patrons half to death. I knew it was wrong. Still, I couldn't stop the easy money and party lifestyle that large sums of unearned money brought me. It didn't stop until the FBI tackled me inside the lobby of a DoubleTree Hotel in Omaha. A year later, I stood with shaky legs and a trembling spirit before a federal judge, who sentenced me to more than 12 years in federal prison. I was 23.

Learning to Love the Law

Prison is not a place for personal growth. But there were small graces. To escape the men around me, I took a job in the prison law library. When I wasn't shelving books, I began learning the law. What I found was that I really enjoyed the process of solving legal puzzles for my friends, and so over the years, I took on fellow prisoners' cases, writing petitions they would then file in federal courts across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
The odds of the Court hearing a case brought by a prisoner is less than 1 percent of 1 percent. And yet, the Court granted two petitions I had prepared for my friends. Fellow prisoners began calling me a "jailhouse lawyer."
Then another grace: Annie, my secret crush all through high school, began sending letters to me, and through hundreds of letters, phone calls, and visits, we became close friends.

Many mornings I'd walk over to visit my next cell-door neighbor, Robert, who was serving a 20-year sentence for a nonviolent drug offense. We'd chat over a cup of instant coffee, which always seemed to have the consistency of sawdust and water. Robert would grumble about missing out on the lives of his children and how hard it was on his wife who was trying to hold the family together through two decades without him. Worst of all, he ranted about one of his friends who had turned against him and testified for the government at his trial. He said he wished that guy would die. It was clear to me that the bitterness of life and prison had consumed him.I think many parents would have forsaken someone like me. But mine continued to pray for me. And my mom continued to send me Christian books, even after I told her to stop. I'd read those books and then wonder if God had forgotten about me. I wasn't quite ready for God, but I also couldn't rationalize the transformation I'd seen in the lives of my fellow prisoners.

One day I walked over to Robert's cell and watched as he smiled and danced around while sweeping the floor. My first thought was that he had scored some drugs. But when I asked why he seemed so different, I was unprepared for his response. "Shon, I'm with Jesus now," he said. Within days Robert had forgiven the man who had testified against him. Today Robert is back on his farm with his family, and once a week he treks back into prison to lead a men's Bible study.
Robert was neither the first nor the last prisoner I saw experience a complete and utter life turnaround. These inmates had a great effect on me because I saw how grace can transform everyone, even prisoners—perhaps especially prisoners.
I was finding it harder and harder to rationalize myself away from God.

Wise Counsel

I was released from prison in April of 2009, during the heart of the recession, when no one, let alone a former inmate, could find work. But within months, another grace arrived: I found a position at a leading printer of Supreme Court briefs in Omaha, helping attorneys perfect their briefs.
When Annie and I got engaged, we decided that we wanted my friend, pastor Marty Barnhart, to officiate the ceremony. God bless him, Marty wouldn't agree to do so until we had gone through his premarital counseling.
Our first counseling session was, in a word, memorable. Instead of discussing marriage, Marty asked what we believed about Jesus. When he talked about grace, that free gift of salvation, I listened, especially when he said that I could be forgiven. "Yeah, even you, Shon," he said.
The next day I couldn't escape the feeling that God had been pursuing me for a long time and that if I'd just abandon my stubbornness and selfishness, and hand everything over to him, I would find redemption.
What does it mean to be redeemed? And how do you redeem yourself after robbing five banks?
The answer is, you don't. The answer is that you need some help.
In Ephesians 1:7–8, Paul writes that in Christ "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us." To put it differently, because of our sins, none of us—and surely no former prisoner like me—can be redeemed on our own. We need the gospel of grace, which says that each of us matters and has worth because we're made in the image of God. Grace says we are not defined by our failures and our faults, but by a love without merit or condition.
God's grace was enough to redeem me.


Nearly five years have passed since I made the most important decision of my life: to surrender to this grace. Annie and I got married, and she too became a believer. We were baptized together at Christ Community Church in Omaha. We had a son whom we named Mark, after my father, a man of faith who passed away after a long battle with cancer while I was still incarcerated. And a few years later we had a baby girl, whom we named Grace.
We moved from Nebraska to Seattle so I could attend the University of Washington Law School on a full-ride scholarship from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. During this time, I've volunteered and served toward a goal of ending mass incarceration in the United States. I'm motivated by the belief that prisoners are not beyond the grasp of God's redemption. And we've been nourished by our church, Mars Hill in Seattle, where we have met Christians who live out their beliefs with grace and compassion.After I graduate this spring, we will move to Washington, D.C., and I will begin clerking for a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
To say we have been blessed doesn't begin to cover it.
Through it all, from the amazing to the mundane, God loved us. Through it all, God has given us a purpose. For me that purpose revolves around repentance, loving my wife and children, sharing the grace I've been given, and using my legal knowledge to assist those who cannot afford a decent attorney.
Looking back over the course of my life, I can see that although I rarely returned the favor, God hotly pursued me.
Shon Hopwood is a Gates Public Service Law Scholar at the University of Washington School of Law and author of Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption (Crown Publishing/Random House).

Monday, 16 February 2015

Mez McConnell's amazing testimony !

Thursday, 12 April 2012

My Story.

My name is Colin Birnie and I am a 41 year old Christian. I gave my life over to the Lord Jesus on Thursday 26th January 2012.It was the best decision I ever made. I’m not saying it was easy because I’ve had many bad days when I’ve questioned myself whether I’m good enough or if I could really be the person God wants me to be.

I suppose I better start by telling you about my journey to where I am at the moment in my life.

I was born in East Belfast in 1970 and had what I believed to be a normal childhood. My parents brought me up to believe in god and from the age of 5 I was a member of the Robins. Then, as I got older I was elevated to the Boys Brigade in Cregagh Methodist Church. I would say that at about the age of 10 or 11 I started to realise that my parents were fighting a lot more than usual and I know that alcohol was the main reason for these arguments starting. I remember lying in bed with the pillow over my head and my cassette player on to try to drown out the raised voices and fights.

As time went on I realised my mum had a drink problem and ended up dying an alcoholic in 2005.

My mum turned to drink because my dad was a gambler and on too many occasions blew his wages in the Bookies.

I remember once when I was 14 mum and dad were fighting and my mum ran out of the house and something or someone told me to follow her. I found her lying on the Cregagh Road with cars driving around her. She ended up in Purdysburn (the first of a few visits there).

I started drinking around that time myself and gambling- playing cards, slot Machines etc. I suppose I was looking for a release or attention or something but it didn’t make me happy. I gradually started to need more money for my habits. I’ve done some low things in my life, but I think the lowest was stealing from my family. As I grew older my habits grew with me and I moved out of home at 22 and shared a house with two mates. They trusted me to pay the bills and gave me their share but mine never materialised. It was while I was living with them that I found myself in the bathroom with a razor blade in my hand and I slit my wrists. I blamed it on falling out with an ex girl friend. I was only kidding myself. It was my own life that was getting me down, my parents, my gambling and my drinking. I stumbled through my life for the next four years doing the same things until I met my partner Angela, what a God send as they say. Angela and I moved in together along with her two kids. We got along great but I was still gambling. Angela knew I did a bet but not the extent that I was really gambling. Angela caught me taking money from the house which wasn’t mine and I got the third degree. But I lied my way out of that one. As my gambling increased so did my ability to lie. I could tell some stories.

The next week Angela gave me some money to pay for a bill at the Bank but I walked straight passed the Bank and into the Bookies! I didn’t lose it all that day (around£200) but gradually it all went. The following week Angela phoned me at work to tell me it wasn’t paid. I lied through my teeth saying I would call at the Bank and see what was wrong. I spun Angela another yarn-they rolled off my tongue so easily. Angela said she would call into the Bank herself - and I let her go and get humiliated because I could not own up!

I was given an ultimatum to get help or get out. I want to G.A. but it did not stop me. Angela knew nothing of this and got deeper and deeper into the spiral of stealing, lying and borrowing. I couldn’t see a way out but that didn’t stop me.

I hit rock bottom in July 2009 when Angela had found out that I had lost £7000. Angela was minding the money for a friend and didn’t know I knew where the money was. I haven’t done a single bet since that day. Someone was helping me, Angela stuck by me and I’ve paid my debt-almost.

Was God helping me? Ask me then and I would say no. Now I say most definitely yes to finding God! I must be a bit slow to realise he was always with me. Angela gave herself to Jesus in November 2010. I was angry with her and God. I said that God was taking her away from me. Now I realise He was guiding me to Him through Angela. How selfish of me after all that Angela had put up with by my drinking and gambling. Oh I nearly forgot Christmas Eve night. On Christmas night in her sister’s house I was drunk as usual at those family ‘get togethers’. I told Rhoda ( Angela’s sister that I wanted to become a Christian, I wanted what those people in Church the night before – I was crying as I was telling her this!

Sorry , back to the plot. Angela was going great guns at this Christian lark and I was fighting against it big time. I told her I didn’t love her and some other horrible things just to hurt her and boy did I do that. Angela accepted my apology but told me that God was to be a big part in her life forever and that I should try going to church myself.

I then started going to church just to keep in her good books. But gradually I began to enjoy it. I was starting to have my favourite worship songs and singers. Still I was drinking and thought I had the best of both worlds. Keep Angela happy through going to church then going out for pints. But I wasn’t really happy. God was talking to me but I wasn’t prepared to listen. The church started AN Alpha course and I signed up. I really enjoyed it and would advise anyone to give it a go. I was taking steps to finding But every time I was getting closer to God I thought I was missing out so off I went and got wasted big time. What is it? Two steps forward –two miles backwards! I know now that the devil was attacking me. He didn’t to let God let me off for anything . All the bad things I was doing was making him the happy one. As a man I met handing out tracts in Belfast city centre told me’ the devil is wanting to send a messenger down to earth so he asks three of his angels what they would tell the people when they got there. The first one said he would tell the people that the Bible is all lies!. No said the devil ‘the Bible is well recorded back in history’. The second one says ‘ I will tell people that Jesus is a myth’. No, no says the devil ‘ everyone know that Jesus lived on the earth. The third one says ‘ I will tell people WHY become a Christian today? There’s plenty of time. You can do it tomorrow’.

The devil says the third! No one is guaranteed tomorrow. That story stuck with me for two weeks. I was at my work on the 26th January 2012 and constantly God was talking to me. When I got home at lunch time I just grabbed a pen and a piece of paper and this is what my heart told me to write.

‘Dear Lord heavenly Father. You have been speaking to me constantly this morning about myself to you. I have heard you Lord for a long time, but kept putting obstacles in the way of turning to Christ.

Please dear Lord forgive me of all my sins and take me as yours from this moment on and for the rest of my life.

Please dear Lord give me strength and courage to be [proud of what I’ve become your son. I ask this in your son’s name Jesus Christ. Amen

I said this prayer that night at the Life Group and my life has changed so much from then. I no longer feel I’m missing out on something. I feel complete. I feel loved. I no longer want to go to the pub and get drunk. I’m now reconciled with God. He is always there for me. I just never looked for Him. As the line in Amazing grace says: ‘To save a wretch like me’.

I was that soldier. When I look back at all I’ve done in my life and know that God forgives me. That Jesus died on the cross so that I can be forgiven.

How powerful is that!

God only gives to us what is good for us. If my story has helped anyone out thereget closer to God then In will rejoice along with the angels in heaven.

Thank you for reading this and God Bless.


Saturday, 2 April 2011

'And he gave him no answer, not even to one word.' Matthew 27:14

He had never been slow of speech when he could bless the sons of men,
but he would not say a single word for himself.
“Never man spake like this man,”
and never man was silent like him.

Was this singular silence the index of his perfect self-sacrifice?
Did it show that he would not utter a word to stay the slaughter of his sacred person, which he had dedicated as an offering for us?
Had he so entirely surrendered himself that he would not interfere in his own behalf, even in the minutest degree, but be bound and slain an unstruggling, uncomplaining victim?

Was this silence a type of the defencelessness of sin?
Nothing can be said in palliation or excuse of human guilt; and, therefore, he who bore its whole weight stood speechless before his judge.
Is not patient silence the best reply to a gainsaying world? Calm endurance answers some questions infinitely more conclusively than the loftiest eloquence.

The best apologists for Christianity in the early days were its martyrs.
The anvil breaks a host of hammers by quietly bearing their blows.
Did not the silent Lamb of God furnish us with a grand example of wisdom?
Where every word was occasion for new blasphemy, it was the line of duty to afford no fuel for the flame of sin.

The ambiguous and the false, the unworthy and mean, will ere long overthrow and confute themselves, and therefore the true can afford to be quiet, and finds silence to be its wisdom.

Evidently our Lord, by his silence, furnished a remarkable fulfilment of prophecy.
A long defence of himself would have been contrary to Isaiah’s prediction: “He is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.”

By his quiet he conclusively proved himself to be the true Lamb of God. As such we salute him this morning.

Be with us, Jesus, and in the silence of our heart, let us hear the voice of thy love.


Friday, 22 October 2010

Monday, 23 August 2010

I have failed. I am failing. I will fail. But I am trying to try. By a young man for Orangefield Church.

I was brought up in a Christian home and had always gone to church. I was baptised as a child and was always taught who God was and what Jesus had done.

I'm not sure when it happened, I think I know where it happened but I always say that I became a Christian and prayed some “forgive me” prayer when I was about seven, one night in bed. From this age on, while calling myself a Christian, I never did anything with it, I didn't seek after God, I just was. I was always involved in church life though, going to Sunday school and all the things that came with that and later Bible class. I started helping with sound in church when I was about 14.

Some time in first year of school when I was 11, my mum and dad split up. I actually tried to be angry about this, but couldn't. For some reason it didn't bother me. My sister and I got to see both parents equally and they had an seemingly amicable relationship after this.

Some time in my young teenage years, I remember praying that I God would help me to stop swearing so much. For a month, there was an incredible difference. One time I really experienced God.

A few years on in life, three days after my 16th birthday, on a very unfortunate Thursday morning, in the early hours, my dad passed away. He had just returned from the Isle of Man TT race a week before, and went to the doctor to see about a problem he had there, and was allowed to go home with a clean bill of health. He had had a heart attack. Sad as this would be for some, I seem mostly immune to the emotions that people experience during such a time. However, I am still seeing God's blessing stemming from this event.

The following September, I went to college in Bangor to do Music Technology. While still calling myself a Christian here and even wearing a WWJD lanyard hanging from my keys, I was the one in the class the swore most.

A year later, I was 17. I got my driving licence, and, with money from my dad's estate and life insurance, I was able to get a car. In January, seven months later, I had passed my test and could drive with R plates. A few months after that, I went to a friends birthday at a One Way event run by Crown Jesus in Lisburn Omniplex and met a lot of new people from Belfast and mostly Orangefield. After this fun reunion with the friend, and liking and shortly going out with one of her friends, I was frequently coming to Belfast and was invited on numerous occasions to the church and especially to SNYF.

I had a summer job the year I was 18. It was In a linen factory which saw me getting up very early in the mornings for an eight O'clock start. So, when JAM came around in August, I only attended two nights because I needed to be in bed early. I was told I just had to come to the morning service after attending, even only partially, JAM in the evenings. So I did. And that was it. I became part of Orangefield and never left after that morning service.

During the time up to JAM and after this, I started to really grow in my faith for the first time and take the “God thing” more seriously. And the change was evident when I went to college for the second time in Belfast. I didn't swear anywhere near as much any more and ended up in a few conversations about it with other members of the class who used to be Christian or were Roman Catholic.

The following year, a few months after I was 19, I was at another friends birthday party. I made some new friends there. One evening at my convenience, I went to see one girl, and we had a great time. Shortly after, we started going out with each other.

A few months into the relationship, it happened that we started to get more physical with each other. Nothing serious to begin with but later to the point that we were both lying unclothed in a bed. We never went so far as to have sex, but these were still quite inappropriate circumstances for a Christian. I felt bad and apologised to God every time this happened. I even stopped inviting her over so much because I knew that it would end up happening again. Eventually, I gave up the relationship of eight months because I knew I couldn't stop doing this otherwise.

The following year, just before my 21th birthday, after having a wonderful friendship, I started going out with another girl who, at the time, claimed to be Christian. Not long into the relationship, she ended up discussing with me things that had happened to her previously that were similar to my past relationship. Knowing that this had been the reason for the break up of my past relationship, I had concerns that it may happen again. I told her not to let me do anything like that. It lasted for quite some time and we had a great relationship. Unfortunately staying away from the physical aspect didn't last the whole time and I ended up slipping back into the inappropriate behaviour, though not to the degree as with the first girl.

I realised my slipping away from God while my mind was consumed with the girl and the actions. I took the decision to leave the relationship to get away from the wrong actions and to focus my heart and my mind on God.

Now, I am longing after that deep intense relationship with God. Not just the Sunday morning service. The real intimate knowing, understanding, hearing and truly believing and trusting in Him one.

Recently, I have managed to get a job that I love and that suits me perfectly. Something I really love to do and with a lot of flexibility that I would want from a job and a boss. I have been found working on a small laptop underneath my desk...and no one batted an eyelid at this behaviour. This is an incredible blessing. An example of God's faithfulness, even while I was ignoring Him.

At 22 years of age, maybe now I'm finally starting to take God seriously.

I have failed many times. I am still failing. I will continue to fail. But I am certainly trying to try to make Him mine and me, His.

“As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you, oh God