A New Name
After three years in prison, I became involved with a faith-based program called Basic Life Principles, which was designed by Bill Gothard. I was moved to the prison’s faith pod and began a relationship with an awesome man of God, Chaplain Scott Haynes. I would go on to work five years for him, assisting in the operations of his most anointed teaching of God’s powerful truths and principles.
After two years of thirsting and hungering for more understanding of the life-giving truths of God’s word by attending countless church services each night, participating in numerous mail Bible studies and spending much time privately in God’s word and in prayer, God honored my hunger and thirst by literally forcing me to enroll in the Basic Life Principles program. How Satan tried to still this is yet another story in itself.
Basic Life Principles and Adult/Youth Conflicts is an in-depth study into God’s word, which brings to light the truths and principles of God’s word. Those truths and principles allow us to possess His grace and His power to live holy, sanctified lives - Lives where sin does not have dominion or reign in our lives, but instead, righteousness (right standing with God) rule and reign and have dominion over our lives according to Romans 6-8.
The program is designed and based on the commands of Christ in Matthew, which Jesus gave to us in order to live peaceful, joyful and loving lives. All of these teachings of Jesus are about changing our inward character and giving us His power and grace to live spiritually successful lives in the midst of a perverse and crooked generation.
The program is currently a year-long journey and through these teachings of Jesus, I have been made a completely new creature, first inside and then flowing over to the outside.
Each morning, we spent the first hour reading and discussing Proverbs and Psalms, which is called the “Wisdom search.” We used a system which allowed us to read and discuss both books entirely each month.
There are 31 chapters in Proverbs and 150 Psalms. By using the day of the month and adding 30 to each Psalm, you read all 150 monthly. For example, if the day is the ninth, you read Proverbs 9 and Psalms 9, 39, 69, 99 and 129. This system allows you to read both books monthly and while Proverbs is the book of wisdom, it is our compass to point us in the right direction on the decisions of life. Psalms teaches us how to pray and be men and women after God’s own heart. Psalms is, after all, the very heart of God.
It was during these morning devotionals that I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to begin writing letters – letters that would change my life forever. I never dreamt the impact that these letters would have on myself and others, and still have after many years.
It has only been recently that I discovered I was being blessed according to Matthew 5:4, which says, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” (NKJV) I indeed received much comfort while writing the letters and even today; these letters provide me great comfort.
You see, I had planted so many bad seeds throughout my life, many of which, I am still reaping the harvest, but these letters were the beginning of the good seeds of which I am reaping a much more bountiful harvest now.
One morning, Bill Gothard began talking about the day his life drastically changed when he got a hold of what Psalms 1:1-2 was saying. It says, “Blessed (joyful, happy, to be envied, spiritually prosperous with live-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions) is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the law of the Lord (the Bible), and His law (the Bible), does he meditate day and night. He shall be like the tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.”
As Bill began to ponder these verses, the word ‘prosper’ rang a bell in his young ear. More than anything, he wanted spiritual prosperity, and Psalms 1:1-3 was describing a man full of life, always fresh and flourishing, and whatever he did prospered.
As Bill began studying this Psalm, he was satisfied that he lived according to verse one, but after a closer look at verse two, although his delight had always been in God’s word, he wasn’t so sure that he meditated day and night in it, nor was he sure what this meant.
After intensely dissecting this verse, he came to the conclusion that meditating day and night meant memorizing and engrafting God’s word into the heart.
Meditation is to a Christian what rumination is to a sheep. Before a sheep lies down to ruminate, or chew its cud, it must eat a sufficient quantity of food. That is what we do when we memorize scripture and rumination is pondering, and thinking deeply, carefully and quietly – digesting the Word of God.
Immediately, this became a spiritual discipline in Bill’s life and it was the beginning of a very spiritually prosperous life indeed. This was exactly what I, too, was starving for – spiritual prosperity.
Sometime soon after hearing this during one of the morning devotionals, Proverbs 28:13, which says, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy,” spoke to my heart as if God Himself verbally spoke these words to me in an incredibly authoritative voice.
Most of my life I had been a liar, con-artist and deceiver. I had covered up my sins all of my life and had never admitted the truth. After all, that is the con-man’s code – never admit the truth, even if it is staring you in the face. I wanted, more than anything, to begin to have a spiritually prosperous life, but I had wronged so many people and did not know where to begin.
God spoke to my heart and said, “Dennis, you have many years before I am bringing you home, so begin to write everyone I bring to your mind and pour out your heart to them. Spend time with each letter and carefully choose the words that will best express your true feelings so that they will feel the truth and sincerity from your pen.”
God showed me that even though I could not be present and speak verbally to them, I could use the precious words from the Bible and from Webster’s dictionary to convey my feelings. In addition to writing the letters, I would pray over each letter, reminding God that He held each person’s heart in His hands and He could touch them and make my words come alive within their hearts.
It is truly amazing the hundreds of people God brought to my mind over the next five years. I had actually begun to write letters three years prior with a broken and convicted heart; I just didn’t realize I was doing anything according to God’s will.
Sometimes, after God would bring a person to mind, I would tell God, “I don’t even know where to begin to find this person’s address,” however God always managed to get me the address. God seems to know where everyone lives and has their addresses handy. That excuse never worked with Him.
God knew all the soul-searching, heavy grieving and overwhelming conviction (the heavy guilt) I would feel every time He revealed to me another person I had wronged, or another terrible thing I had done. The memories were breaking my heart, and although it was very painful and necessary for the healing and restoring of my soul, I also needed comforting as He promised in Matthew 5:4 in order to carry on.
The Lord then began taking me in another direction with the letters. He began to bring to mind many people who had a positive impact on my life – people who were great influences in my life. I used the same word-searching formula to begin writing and thanking them and to encourage them for all of the wonderful and caring things they had done for me. The Lord would bring to mind specific things they had done and I would praise and shower them with much-deserved gratitude for their acts of kindness to show them they had not been forgotten, and that I had put a lot of thought and effort into writing them. From inside the prison walls, this was the only way I could express my love and gratitude – by giving them my time through the letters.
I once heard it said that time is something we cannot make, or buy anymore of, so when we give our time, we are giving something we cannot get back. In essence, we are giving a part of ourselves and this is genuine love.
I find it amazing how our Lord always knows exactly what we need and if we are obedient, He gives us tremendous joy. There is no doubt that there were many times I did not want to write the letters. As a matter of fact, I hate writing and am absolutely terrible at it, so if any good comes from these words; it is all God’s doing.
In the first letters I penned, God was teaching me proper mourning. In 2 Corinthians 7:9-10, Paul writes, “I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made to sorrow in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance, leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
In the last letters, He was teaching me the principle of sowing and reaping. I was sowing gratitude and encouragement and reaping joy and comfort. The Lord said, “Give and it shall be given, good measure, pressed down and running over,” and man, is it still running over these many years later.
Four days after walking out of the medium-security prison I spent seven and a half years in; I walked back into the county jail and ministered to inmates. This is just one of the many rewards I have reaped from the letters I wrote while imprisoned.
Sheriff Jimmie Bruner was the sheriff who arrested me and one of the first people I wrote to. I wrote to confess to her and her deputies, including the arresting deputy Robert Jolly. This act was also fulfilling a command of Jesus in honoring our authorities, according to Romans 13:1-7, which was fulfilling a principle I will discuss in a later chapter. This act brought God’s blessings and favor into my life and I was not even aware of it at the time I was doing it.
Sheriff Bruner was so moved by my first letter that she responded by sending me a moving letter in return, as well as an autographed copy of the book entitled Meth =Sorcery, Know the Truth by Steve Box. She also wrote another moving letter on my behalf to the parole board, in which Susan Loving, the director of the parole board, made reference to and I believe, was one of the deciding factors in my parole.
Four days after stepping out of prison on Dec. 22, 2008, Sheriff Bruner invited me to go back into the jails and share what Jesus had done for me through this journey of my life. Amazingly, after six months in the same jail in 2001, I pulled chain to go to prison on Dec. 21, 2001 – exactly seven years earlier. Seven is the number of completion in the bible. Only God can do the impossible and this was just one example of the many rewards I would reap from these letters I wrote while in prison.
This brings me to the ‘good name’ proverb. The Lord was convicting me through Proverbs 28:12 and the Word of God began truly speaking to me. As I was pouring my heart out in these letters and grieving the anguish I had caused so many, but also praising with tremendous gratitude the many people who had encouraged, cared for, loved and influenced me in life, God began to answer yet another of my many cries to Him.
During devotions one morning, Proverbs 22:1 overwhelmed me with grief and sorrow. It says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, loving favor rather than gold and silver.”
All of my life prior to coming to know the Lord, I had cared nothing about a good name. As a matter of fact, the very opposite was true with me. Jesus once made mention of the wicked and their shame being their glory. Well, this was true for me. Proverbs 10:22 says, “To do evil is sport to a fool.” I was such a fool, yet I thought to be so wise.
This is perhaps the worst condition Satan can place on humankind – to have them think they are so shrewd and clever, so full of themselves, so arrogantly prideful and so proud of themselves that they cannot even see the shame and the pitifully sick conditions they are in. Satan had me so blind that I wouldn’t listen to anyone, nor could I see the fool I had become. Proverbs 10: 1-2 says, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire: he rages against all wise judgment; he has no delight in understanding, but only in expressing his own heart. This was me and sadly, I was a joke.
In my twenties and early-thirties, great riches, along with silver and gold were all I cared about – regardless of the damage to my name or reputation. I never even considered what the word integrity meant – to be bone-deep honest, or what you do when no one is watching. Again, the opposite was true for me. I thought that making money, no matter the cost, was all that mattered. After alcohol and drugs began to control my life, what little self-respect I ever had (al-be-it so very little), vanished. For nearly 20 years of my life before prison, and before Jesus came into my heart, my name had become rotten as Proverbs 10:7b says, “The name of the wicked will rot.”
Once again, God’s word proved itself true in my life. It was at this point that I began to cry out to the Lord to clean my name, but Oh, how could He ever clean up this horrible name I had made for myself?
Our God is an incredibly amazing Father who loves His children enormously, and when He has chastened them and allowed them to see the ugly fruits of their own making because they chose to follow the devil and his lies and their own selfish desires; when the shell of their hearts have been broken and they begin to see their desperate need of Him – then does He draw O’ so near.
The Psalms are full of verses that say God is near to the broken-hearted and saves such as have a contrite heart. (Psalms 34:18, 51:17). James 4:8-10 speaks volumes. It says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts you double-minded. Lament, mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
Unaware to me, through my obedience to the promptings of the Holy Spirit to begin writing these letters, I was fulfilling James 4 and many of the Psalms, which spoke of a broken heart and contrite spirit. I was, indeed, drawing near to God’s heart and humbling myself before the Lord and O did he ever begin to draw near to me, and even now, these many years later He is still lifting me up.
God is so amazingly awesome that through my obedience He began using these letters to give me a new name. In Revelations 2:17, Jesus promises to give His children a new name. God worked through Sheriff Brewner to begin at the courthouse – a place where my name had been drug through the mud. From 1988-2001, I had been in and out of that courthouse dozens of times on all kinds of various criminal activities. Over several years, this began to slowly change.
One lady I knew from my old days, a lady every bit as bad as I had been, had given her life to the Lord shortly after I went to prison. We will call her Sue and God did some phenomenal things in her life. In a few short years, she went from a bar owner and outlaw of sorts to opening and operating a Recovery Group. This program has been recognized and adopted by the Stephens County drug court program for several years now.
She and her staff work closely with the courts and pardon and parole board in Stephens County.
It was being revealed to me in prayer that Sue needed encouragement through my letters. Her huge responsibility and sudden growth placed together with being a baby Christian was sometimes overwhelming for her.
Sue and I went back a long way and her conversion coupled with the miracles Jesus did in her life to save her life and her eyesight was huge encouragement for me as I was allowing the Lord to transform my life. She was an incredible inspiration to me and through sharing her incredible testimony; many men in prison were inspired and encouraged.
The Lord prompted me to begin writing and encouraging her, always pointing to her story as the inspiration for my life. The Lord was giving me many powerfully anointed messages of encouragement of which I later found had given her the strength to continue on many occasions.
Sue began to visit me and God used her to testify, all over Duncan, my home town, about the incredible changes Jesus did in my life; especially in the county jail, courthouse, parole offices and churches all throughout the community.
Sue had carried my letters into the women’s jail and all the recovery meetings and church services while I was in prison. All kinds of people began to hear about me. On Christmas and my birthdays, I would sometimes receive 30-40 cards because of her. You can only imagine how this makes you feel behind bars – pretty special!
The letters to Sue began approximately three and a half years before my release from prison. By the time I was released after seven and a half years, the Lord had used these letters, and many others I will discuss later, to give me a new name. As I pen these words, I have been home two months and it is beyond words how respected and honored I have been treated at the court house, county jail, parole offices and most churches throughout the community. As February, 2009 comes to an end; I have preached or testified 11 times at nine different churches. I go into the county jail every Monday through Friday from 1 to 4 p.m. and the new sheriff has personally come and thanked me for coming in – which has only been made possible because of God. Remember, at this time, I am only eight weeks fresh out of prison and I was one of the most despised and applauded criminals in the court system and sheriff’s department to have ever been put away.
One particular deputy named F.L. Estes, who has been with law enforcement for more than 30 years, now supervises the county jail. He had arrested me one time in 1998 and I was sentenced to parole. He did not like me as a criminal, but after my second visit to the jails, he and I had an awesome visit. So moving was our visit that he began to bring other deputies into the pods to see the incredible change the Lord had made in me. He even led me to the sheriff and told of all the Lord had been doing in the jail cells, which provided me with the blessings of the new sheriff.
In the book of Peter and James, the Lord speaks about humbling yourself under His mighty arm and He will exalt you. Again, I was unaware that I had been humbling myself under the arm of the Lord. The letters were the evidence: an outward expression of an inward change of heart. This was humility in action, especially the first letters of mourning and confession.
Again, God has proven His promise true in my life because He hasn’t stopped exalting me. I did many things spiritually in secret and He is rewarding me in open daily.
As I bring this chapter to a close I think it only fitting and profitable to leave you with this one nugget of advice – When God’s Holy Spirit (the Holy Ghost) prompts you to do something you do not like or do not feel like doing, DO IT! There is a tremendous reward awaiting – a well of blessings that will never run dry.
You can contact Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org