Paul Rhodes is in the gym. Each week, he waits for the signal that prisoners are allowed to leave their housing units, then he walks the four minutes from his “room,” as he calls it, to the gymnasium at Central State Prison in Macon, Georgia. This is where he leads other inmates in a choir and worship band. An escape to the cement walls and locking doors.
Rhodes, 30, is in prison with a sentence of 15 years for armed robbery, which to him “is an act of grace because I know guys who have life for robbery.” Though this is Rhodes’ first incarceration, he will not tell you that he doesn’t deserve to be in prison. “It’s hard being locked up, but God has me here for a purpose,” he says.
Growing up, he went to Walton Comprehensive High School where he played soccer and ran cross-country. “I’m super speedy. Coaches loved that about me.” However, while Rhodes was participating in these sports he was also smoking cigarettes and marijuana.
“All my coaches knew I was smoking stuff. Even my parents knew, but I couldn’t help it. I have an addictive personality,” says Rhodes.
After high school, he went off to college at the University of West Georgia where he planned on majoring in Engineering. He loved to draw. While in college, Rhodes used his musical talents that he had learned from his grandma and joined several bands. He played the drums for a Reggae band called, “Green it.” He then played for a punk band with his friend Andrew. “This, “ Rhodes says, “is where I wish I could go back and change time.”
Rhodes friend, Andrew, was the lead singer of their band. He was also the one to introduce him to heroine. “The Bluff is what they call it. It’s the heroine hotspot in Atlanta,” Rhodes says. “We were playing a show down the street from Georgia Tech, and afterwards, I found myself shooting up for the first time.”
The regret of that decision can still be seen in Rhodes soft, brown eyes. “I never finished college,” he says, “I didn’t even finish my freshman year.”
The realization of failure can make the proudest of men crumble to their knees. Rhodes knew that the route he was taking was leading to death and destruction. He finally made the decision to enter rehab.
“It’s called Teen-Challenge,” he says. “It was in Denver, Colorado. Probably the most beautiful place I have ever laid my eyes on.” Rhodes spent a year at Teen-Challenge purifying himself of heroine and trying to figure out what to do with his life. “Teen-Challenge was legit. They allowed me to work there, I learned more about Jesus, and it was just…” A long pause, his eyes searching for the words to describe how he feels, “I should have never left.”
After two years in Denver, Rhodes decided to come back to Georgia. “I was writing to an old girlfriend from college, Ashley, and she missed me. I missed her, and my family. They always say don’t go back to the place where it all began, but I thought I was different. I could handle it this time. So, I came back to Georgia.”
Rhodes lived with his parents for a while who were living in Carroll County. He got a job as a waiter at a restaurant and was making money to live on. He then decided to move in with Ashley, his old girlfriend.
“Everything was going great. I’m seeing my parents, I’m living with Ashley, I thought I was on the rise,” Rhodes says.
He stops smiling. He rubs his head as little flakes of dandruff fall on the ground, “But, I don’t know why. I don’t know how. But, I got back to using heroine.”
Rhodes began using the money he earned from his job to buy enough heroine to give him the fix he needed. After that ran out, he began selling things he owned. That led to him stealing things from his parents and friends and selling them for money to buy heroine. “I needed that fix.”
Rhodes’s oldest sister, Lynn, knew what he was doing. She confronted Paul and tried to talk to him about turning his life around. “She is a strong Christian. A model for me,” Rhodes says, “I remember when she tried to tell me to stop I called her a ‘self-righteous bitch.’ I love her, but at that time, I just didn’t care. “
Rhodes found himself out of money. “I was out of ideas on how to pay for more heroine. Then one day, I was watching the movie, Oceans 11,” his face lights up, “That was it. I could just steal some money.”
With the fresh idea of stealing some money, Rhodes came up with a plan of robbing a small pawnshop. “I had a small 9mm. I didn’t even have the clip in because I didn’t want to hurt anyone! I just needed the money.”
“I parked behind the shop on a gravel road, and walked in. The only person in there was this little, old lady, Elaine Dryer,” Rhodes says. “She was so scared. All I remember her saying is, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’”
Rhodes got away. He had enough money to buy some heroine and get his sought after high. But, the money only lasted a week. He needed more. So, he decided to rob the same pawnshop again the following weekend.
“There was like 10 people in there this time. I got the money and began to run out.” Rhodes says there was a hill behind the pawnshop, and while he was running up it to get to his car, he heard gunshots and saw dirt fly up in front of him. He turned his head to see a man shooting at him. “I could feel the bullets fly right past my head. I’ve never been so scared.”
Rhodes knew he was in trouble. “I felt sick and ashamed. I was at my parents house, and I was just going to kill myself,” Rhodes says. “I didn’t like who I had become.” While debating on whether to live or not, the doorbell rings. It is the police. They tell Rhodes parents that he is suspected of robbing the pawnshop. “My dad kept telling them, ‘No way! Not my son. My son wouldn’t do that.’ I remember God telling me that I should turn myself in, so I walked up to my dad and said, ‘It’s true dad. I did it.’” Rhodes’s dad started crying. He fell to his knees in the front yard and cried for his son. With his head down, “I’ve never seen my dad cry so much in my life,” Rhodes says.
Rhodes is now on his 6th year of his 15th year sentence. “It’s crazy how God puts you in a place you never thought you would end up.” Rhodes faith has developed immensely since entering prison. He has had opportunities to lead worship and direct choirs at two different prisons. “It’s hard don’t get me wrong,” he says, “inmates are told what to do everyday, so when I try to tell them what to do they don’t always want to listen, especially since I’m just another inmate.”
Besides struggling with directing a inmate choir, Rhodes also has to deal with other inmates. “One night I woke up with a shank to my neck. My bunkmate wanted to rape me,” he says. “I pushed him away and we started to wrestle and fight. Finally, I began to just pray aloud. I was praying that God would allow me just to get away from him.” With a surprised face and mildly laughing, “It worked. I guess, it freaked him out because he said sorry and just got back in his bed.” Rhodes says he stayed up the whole night out of fear, but that man never messed with him again and soon after he moved out of their cell.
It is through this tribulations that Rhodes places his hope in God. “God is sovereign,” he says, “he has placed me in prison to not only learn from my mistakes, but to show me how he has poured out his grace on me and the men around me.”
With nine years left on his sentence, Rhodes plans on being released in 2020. With a small smile, “Yeah, I’ll be 39.” He says he will be able to live with his parents after he gets out. “My dad owns a storage company, and he said I could have a job.” Rhodes also has dreams for when he gets out. “I have written over 200 worship songs since I’ve been locked up. I would love to be able to record them onto a CD or lead worship at a church somewhere,” Rhodes says. He also would like to go back to school. “I still have that passion for engineering. I would hope to be able to go back to West Georgia, or who knows, maybe even Georgia Tech,” he laughs.
Paul Rhodes is a inmate in prison. He is someone who has had everything taken away from him. But, he is not hopeless. “There are four verses I read every morning after I wake up and every night before I go to bed: Romans 8:35-39.” Closing his eyes, he begins to recite, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, for your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angles nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation…,” he opens his eyes, “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Great comments by John Piper from his latest sermon:
“But you do not believe, because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Notice three things. First, when the Father gives his sheep into the omnipotent hand of the Son, they are still in the Father’s hand. Verse 29: “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” Even though the Father has put them into the Son’s hand, they are in the Father’s hand. What does this imply?
Second, notice that Jesus explains this with the words of verse 30: “I and the Father are one.” His final answer about his identity is way beyond messiahship. It is oneness with God the Father.
And third, notice that Jesus takes us to this answer by showing how this oneness serves our salvation—our eternal safety and joy. The Father and I are one. No one can take you from me because I am stronger than all. And no one can take you from my Father, because my Father is stronger than all. When you are in my hand, you are in his hand, and when you are in his hand, you are in my hand. Our omnipotence, and our unity are your safety, your salvation.
Now there is a lesson here, and I want to drive it home. Jesus takes us to the heights of doctrinal truth about himself. He is one with the Father. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh” (John 1:1, 14). But he does it by showing us the immediate implication for our lives: No one can snatch you from my hand. Or the Father’s hand. Which are one hand. In other words, doctrine, theology, biblical propositions (like “I and the Father are one”) are always related to their implications for human life. Don’t be afraid of doctrine. Just be afraid of disconnected doctrine. Doctrine that doesn’t make a difference for life and eternity.
“So she gleaned in the field until even.”
— Ruth 2:17
“Let me learn from Ruth, the gleaner. As she went out to gather the ears of corn, so must I go forth into the fields of prayer, meditation, the ordinances, and hearing the word to gather spiritual food. The gleaner gathers her portion ear by ear; her gains are little by little: so must I be content to search for single truths, if there be no greater plenty of them. Every ear helps to make a bundle, and every gospel lesson assists in making us wise unto salvation. The gleaner keeps her eyes open: if she stumbled among the stubble in a dream, she would have no load to carry home rejoicingly at eventide. I must be watchful in religious exercises lest they become unprofitable to me; I fear I have lost much already—O that I may rightly estimate my opportunities, and glean with greater diligence. The gleaner stoops for all she finds, and so must I.
High spirits criticize and object, but lowly minds glean and receive benefit. A humble heart is a great help towards profitably hearing the gospel. The engrafted soul-saving word is not received except with meekness. A stiff back makes a bad gleaner; down, master pride, thou art a vile robber, not to be endured for a moment. What the gleaner gathers she holds: if she dropped one ear to find another, the result of her day’s work would be but scant; she is as careful to retain as to obtain, and so at last her gains are great.
How often do I forget all that I hear; the second truth pushes the first out of my head, and so my reading and hearing end in much ado about nothing! Do I feel duly the importance of storing up the truth? A hungry belly makes the gleaner wise; if there be no corn in her hand, there will be no bread on her table; she labours under the sense of necessity, and hence her tread is nimble and her grasp is firm; I have even a greater necessity, Lord, help me to feel it, that it may urge me onward to glean in fields which yield so plenteous a reward to diligence.”
Charles H. Spurgeon
“It seems to me that God would have our whole dependence be upon the Scriptures, because the greater our dependence is on the Word of God, the more direct and immediate is our dependence on God himself. The more absolute and entire our dependence on the Word of God is, the greater respect shall we have to that Word, the more shall we esteem and honor and prize it; and this respect to the Word of God will lead us to have the greater respect to God himself.” (Jonathan Edwards, The Miscellanies)