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Prison break: New York

Ryan Denison is the Senior Fellow for Theology at Denison Forum, where he contributes writing and research to many of the ministry’s productions.

He is in the final stages of earning his PhD in church history at BH Carroll Theological Institute after having earned his MDiv at Truett Seminary. Ryan has also taught at BH Carroll and Dallas Baptist University.

He and his wife, Candice, live in East Texas and have two children.

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This combination made from photos released by the New York State Police shows inmates David Sweat, 34 (L) and Richard Matt, 48 (R), both convicted murderers, who escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, Saturday, June 6, 2015 (Credit: AP via New York State Police)

Officers at New York’s Clinton Correctional Facility were greeted Saturday morning with the realization that two of their inmates were missing. Richard Matt, 49, and David Sweat, 35, had managed to acquire power tools that they used to cut their way through the back of their prison cells, a brick wall, a series of pipes, and ultimately a manhole cover in order to escape. They left dummies made of pillows and adorned with hooded sweatshirts, along with a sticky note with a smiley face on it that read “Have a Nice Day!,” in their beds in order to avoid detection during the night. If this story sounds familiar, it’s probably because it seems like something that belongs in a movie rather than real life.

However this is not Shawshank Redemption and Matt and Sweat are not innocent men mistakenly forced to serve time they did not owe. Richard Matt was serving 25 years to life after abducting William L. Rickerson in December of 1997. He would go on to kill Mr. Rickerson and dump his dismembered body in the Niagara River. After fleeing to Mexico, where he would murder another American man at a bar, he was brought back to New York in 2007 and was found guilty of killing Rickerson. Sweat was serving a life sentence without parole for killing Kevin Tarsia, a sheriff’s deputy, in 2002. He and an accomplice shot deputy Tarsia more than a dozen times.

Given the nature of these men’s crimes, officials are understandably eager to apprehend them. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a $100,000 reward for information leading to their arrest. Additionally, the U.S. Marshals Service issued federal warrants for Matt and Sweat on Sunday, thereby allowing for the federal government to use its full resources in helping to apprehend the two criminals. However, their efforts have thus far proved relatively futile and, as Maj. Charles E. Guess of the New York State Police noted, “They could be literally anywhere.”

Others are more hopeful though. As Lenny DePaul, the former commander of the U.S. Marshals Service task force in New York and New Jersey stated, Matt and Sweat likely “think they’ve got it figured out, that they’ve done the right thing and they’ll never be found again…But they’re going to screw up. Someone’s going to screw up.” The hope is that when they do, officials and police will be ready to capitalize on the mistake. To that end, they remain vigilant in their search and are doing what they can to help expedite the capture of the two convicts.

Remaining vigilant without knowing if your efforts will yield the desired outcome can be one of the more difficult tasks for any individual. However, such vigilance is often the only way to accomplish something truly great. I had a professor in college who defined luck as what happens when preparation meets opportunity and I think he was right. One of life’s greatest tragedies is when the opportunity for which we’ve been waiting comes and finds us unprepared to take advantage of it. That is especially true in our walk with Christ.

Towards the end of his ministry, Jesus told several parables about the need to be consistently ready for the day when the Son of Man comes (Matthew 24:36-25:30). While these parables are often used to warn us to be ready for the second coming, and that is a valid and important application of the texts, they have far more to teach us. That same principle of vigilance can, and should, also be applied to how we interact with God’s kingdom now as well.

We cannot know when Christ will return, but God has given us this time to help expand his influence by being his ministers of grace to those around us. So while we need to be vigilant in preparing for the time when Christ comes back, we need to be equally vigilant in preparing for the next opportunity that God gives us to share his love and message of salvation with the people around us.

When in the course of conversation, you are given the chance to share the gospel, that’s not luck. When you see someone in need and have the chance to meet that need in the name of Christ, that’s not luck. God gives each of us divinely appointed opportunities to be his hands and feet in our world. Will you be prepared for your next opportunity?