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  • Shawn Thornton

Independent to a Fault

Wednesday - February 24th

Devotionals from the Book of James

Scripture to Read Today: James 4:1-10


You desire but do not have, so you kill.

You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.

You do not have because you do not ask God.

James 4:2

While leaving the State Correctional Institution Phoenix in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, on Thursday morning, February 11th, Joe Ligon took with him ten more boxes of belongings than prison regulations usually allow. "I'm a special guy," Ligon explained. It appears he earned some privileges over his sixty-eight years in the prison system. Ligon held the title of being the oldest and longest-serving juvenile lifer incarcerated in the country. He went to prison in 1953, when he was just 15 years old.

Ligon went to prison when most American households did not own a television. He went to prison seven years before John Kennedy became President. He spent the 68 years from 1953 to 2021 in prison. Think about that!

Ligon, now age eighty-two, received his life term for taking part in a spree of robberies and assaults in which two people died. He admits participating in the crime with a group of drunken teens but denies he ever killed anyone.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that automatic life terms for juveniles are cruel and unusual. That meant Joe Ligon and more than five-hundred other Pennsylvania prisoners were all re-sentenced to terms contingent on lifetime parole. Ligon, re-sentenced to 35 years to life in 2017, rejected the very idea of parole after nearly seven decades behind bars.

"I like to be free," Joe said. "With parole, you got to see the parole people every so often. You can't leave the city without permission from parole. That's part of freedom for me."

Inmate advocates and former fellow prisoners tried to coax him out into the free world. But Ligon refused to apply for parole, let alone take any required programs to move the process along toward his eventual release. An advocate lawyer fought three more years to get Ligon released with time served.

So, after being locked up for nearly seven decades, Joe Ligon decided getting out of prison and being out on parole would limit his freedom too much. He chose to stay in prison for three years longer than he needed to, based on the Supreme Court decision. Some of his friends say he was independent to a fault.

As James wrote the scattered church throughout the Roman Empire in the first century, he confronted the believers for being independent to a fault. He scolded them in James 4:2 for jealously wanting what others had, doing aggressive and harsh things to get what others had, and refusing to ask God for what they wanted. You might not be aggressive in getting what you want, but do you go to God and ask Him in prayer for what you desire? Or, are you independent to a fault? You want what you want in your timing and in your way. You like being a self-made person.

Grow in your dependence on God for all things. Earlier in the Book of James, we learned that every good and perfect gift comes from our Heavenly Father. Why be stubborn and independent to the point you hurt yourself and others? Go to God for what you want and need!

When we come to Jesus as Savior, we move from self-absorbed independence to dependence on Him!

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