Zombie Goldfish and My Night in the Slammer
Have you ever had a goldfish? A friend of mine told me a great story about his goldfish recently. His family built a pond in their front yard and placed numerous large goldfish in the pond to live. They fed the goldfish regularly and watched them grow. One winter day, it got really cold and the pond froze. The fish froze too. They were stuck in the middle of the ice, completely frozen fish. In a few days it warmed up, as it does in South Texas, and my friend and his family went to the pond to retrieve the dead goldfish. To their surprise, the goldfish were happily swimming around in the pond. They had been dead and were now alive.
Now I wasn't quite sure about this story, so in the name of theology, I bought a goldfish from the pet store and did a little experiment. Yes, I took the goldfish and put him in the freezer. Guess what? He froze! Not straight forward with his mouth wide open but upside down. I knew for sure he was a goner. I placed him on the kitchen counter in his frozen water cell to thaw. A few hours later, I went to check on my frozen fish in case some miracle happened. Much to my amazement, the goldfish's gills were beginning to move. Not long after, he was swimming around his bowl. A little slower than before, perhaps, but swimming!
So I named him Lazarus. He is still alive in a friend's pond to this day. He received a second chance.
We have also received a second chance. God has come among us in the person of Jesus Christ to give us a second chance. There are times in our lives that we feel frozen in our relationships. We may be the one to blame. Or we may share the blame with others. Our relationship may have been frozen for years or just a few days. However, the good news is that God is a God of second chances. He doesn't want us to be frozen, immobilized by shame or fear or pride or sin of any kind. God has forgiven you and me, and he deeply desires to show that forgiveness to others through our lives.
Sometimes God offers these second chances in the most unusual circumstances. Many years ago I worked for a camp in East Texas. I was coming home from Dallas late one evening, and the headlight of my car went out. A policeman pulled me over about a mile from my house. I apologized for my headlight being out and described the situation. He took my driver's license and checked my record just in case. When he came back to the car, he asked me to get out of the car and put my hands against the car. He proceeded to handcuff me and read me my rights.
I kept saying, “It was just a headlight!”
He told me there was a warrant out for my arrest.
At the county jail, I got my one phone call. I called my dad, who is a lawyer, and he hung up on me because he thought it was a crank call. He finally answered but couldn't do anything until the next morning.
They fingerprinted me and gave me a beautiful orange uniform with flip flops. They took me down to a cell and locked me in with five other guys. Four people were laying on the two bunk beds, and one lay on a table.
I thought, “God, what am I doing here?”
Then a young man leaned over from the top bunk and said, “John Hill, is that you?” One of the other prisoners actually knew me. I wasn't sure if that was good or bad.
It turned out that the young man worked at the same camp I did, facilitating the water slide for guests. We talked that night about why he was there. His mother didn't care about him. He had been breaking into houses with his friends until they were finally caught and thrown in jail. He was going in front of the judge with no one to represent him.
When I was released from jail the next morning, I talked with the Executive Director of Camp. He went with this young man in front of the judge and was able to get him into a Christian home for at-risk kids. The young man finished his diploma and got a job. He got a second chance.
I found out later how I ended up in jail. A few years before, I had written a check to 7-Eleven for ten dollars. When I graduated, I closed my bank account and moved out of state—before the check cleared. There was a warrant out for my arrest for a ten dollar check to 7-Eleven. This is how God got me to jail, but that's not the reason I was there. God worked through me to help a young man in need of grace. Just like he worked through the Executive Director and the judge and the home for at-risk kids.
God is a God of second chances—no matter what you and I have done or will do. Whether your life feels frozen or you're in a holding pattern or a holding cell, he will go to great lengths to provide a place for you to be forgiven. When you and I receive this grace, we must pass it on to others so that they, too, may feel the warmth of God's forgiveness in their sometimes frozen lives.