During the darkest days of Johnny Cash’s spiral downward due to drugs, alcohol, and poor choices, an important incident happened in his life in Lafayette, Georgia. On November 2, 1967, Cash was visiting a friend there, and went out by himself that evening and got lost. In an effort to get directions back to his friend’s house he knocked on the door of an elderly woman who lived alone, and she called the police on him. It must have been obvious to her that he was high or drunk, or both. Deputy Bob Jeff responded, and in patting Cash down discovered prescription drugs on him (which were legal). He took Cash to jail, and Johnny spent the night in a cell.
The next morning, Sheriff Ralph Jones awakened Cash and took him into his office. Cash was sick and despondent, and expected the lawman to come down on him hard. But instead Jones opened a drawer, took out the money and pills taken off Cash the night before, held them out and said: “I’m going to give your money and your dope back, because you know better than most people that God gave you free will to do with yourself whatever you want to do.”
Cash could throw the pills away, or go ahead and take them and kill himself, said Sheriff Jones, adding, “Whichever one you want to do, Mr. Cash, will be all right with me.”
Johnny was dumbfounded. What was going on here?
As sorrowfully as if he were talking to his own wayward son, Jones explained to Cash that he and his wife had been Johnny Cash fans for over a decade—had every record he had ever made, in fact.
“We love you,” he said. “We’ve always loved you. We’ve watched you on television, listened for you on the radio. We’ve got your album of hymns. We’re probably the best two fans you’ve ever had.”
The night before, continued the sheriff, upon finding out that the great Johnny Cash was in his jail and why, he went home to his wife and told her. Jones said he actually felt like resigning right there and then because it was so heartbreaking to see how far a man who meant so much to them and others had fallen.
Then Jones told Johnny to take his money and pills and go. “Just remember—you’ve got the free will to either kill yourself or save your life.” Indeed, Cash, like all of us, had free will.
God will not force His way or will in our lives. He will set the choices before us, and even give us the strength to follow through once we have made them. But the Lord will not choose for us; that is up to us.
1. And Joshua said to all the people . . . “Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:2, 14–15 NKJV)
What idols and influences are trying to distract you from wholeheartedly serving the Lord?
2. I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:19–20 NKJV)
God has given us free will to choose life or death, blessing or cursing. What do you choose today?
3. Whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. (Romans 13:2 NIV)
This wasn’t the first time Johnny found himself inside of a jail cell. When we break the law, who are we sinning against?
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