Stephen Canup


I never dreamed my life testimony at age 58 would be written from prison. Yet, I really should not be surprised since I had been running from God, and living against Him, for 20 years. In fact, I had not truly served Him for 40 years. When asked, I told others I was “a Christian”, but who did I think I was kidding? I only deceived myself, not God, and I reaped what I sowed (Gal. 6:7-8).

I can only blame myself. I alone accept full responsibility for my actions. I definitely do not blame God. He didn’t cause this. He didn’t leave me or forsake me – I was the one who left Him. Neither can I blame my “environment” or my family. I was raised in a middle-class home in a good neighborhood by both parents who were dedicated Christians. I cannot blame the justice system. As a first-time offender, I would never have even been locked up for the past three years if I had only initially obeyed the terms of my probated sentence. It was my own fault. I gave myself over to worldly temptations, pursuits and pleasures. My addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex and pornography only made matters much worse.

Where did I first “go wrong”? Twenty years ago, my own pride, selfishness, impatience, greed and lack of self-control devastated what, in the world’s eyes, was a marvelously successful life. At age 37, I was at the top of my profession as a CPA earning a salary well into the six-figures. I had been blessed with a wonderful, Godly wife and a healthy infant son. I had a new, custom built home and two nice vehicles. My credit record was spotless. I had credit cards with over $100,000 available credit and, except for my mortgage, was totally free of consumer debt. By any worldly standard, I was “on top of the world”.

Outwardly, I was the definition of success. Inwardly, however, I was lost, confused, bored, empty and restless (Eccl 2:10-11). I realize now I had everything but the one thing that mattered; I did not have God. I was not thankful. I did not desire or seek God. I thought I was wise, but I was a fool (Rom. 1:21-22). My ego, conceit, selfishness and pride were about to destroy my life (Prov. 16:18).

In 1989, I suddenly, foolishly and selfishly left my wife and son to pursue worldly desires, fame and riches in Nashville’s music business. I became my own “god”, determined to create and control my own life. For this vanity and foolish pride, God gave me over to my own desires, lusts and addictions. It was a gradual, but steady, descent over 20 years into sinfulness, depravity and reprobation (Rom1:24-32).

Most of the next 20 years was spent as a mental, emotional and financial wreck. I filed bankruptcy twice. I was severely and constantly in deep depression. From 2002-2008, I was unemployed and existed only by the kindness of strangers and one friend, who loved me in spite of myself. He allowed me to stay free with him for three years. Eventually I alienated even him. I got an apartment and a menial job for a few months (after I could no longer stay with him), but was soon fired and homeless. It was 2006. I lived in a tent on a wooded hillside in South Nashville for 1 ½ years. Then I lived for 6 months at the Nashville Rescue Mission for Men. I was there when I was arrested in May, 2008, for violating the terms of my probation. My probated sentence was revoked and I was sent to CCA-Nashville’s medium security facility to serve my sentence.

I was so empty inside for so many years. In spite of everything I tried, nothing filled the void in my soul. I felt unworthy of love and, over time, I had pushed away every friend and family member. I was without hope and without God in my world (Eph. 2:12). So often I wanted to die and tried several times to take my life, but a merciful and loving God rescued me in spite of myself. Thank God, He was not finished with me yet.

I see now that He had His own plan for my life, but He would not begin to reveal it until I finally realized and admitted what a mess and failure I had made after I made myself “god” of my life. My first act of submission was to ask for a Bible from the Chaplain – a Gideon New Testament which I read daily for about 15 minutes. Ten months later, I “came to myself” like the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:17-18). I had finally reached bottom. I could not go any lower. When I finally surrendered to Him, and cried out in true humility and brokenness, God heard me. He lifted me out of the miry pit of hopelessness and despair. He placed my feet solidly on His Rock - Jesus (Psalm 40:1-3).

I realized I could not fully accept God’s forgiveness for my many sins without forgiving myself and others. I also knew I had to seek forgiveness from those affected by my pride, selfishness and other sins. I confessed, sincerely repented, and asked Jesus to take over my life. What a heavy burden of guilt, shame, remorse and embarrassment I had been carrying. As I sought, and gave, forgiveness for myself and others, these burdens were lifted off my soul and spirit. Now, instead of those oppressive emotional and spiritual burdens, the Holy Spirit within me has filled me with the incredible lightness of His fruit – more love, real joy, true peace, increased patience and self-control,
etc. (Gal 5:22-24).

On April 20, 2009, my 57th birthday, I re-dedicated my life to Jesus Christ. I have since been re-baptized too. Even though I am still locked up, I am free on the inside! Jesus is not only my Saviour, but He is now truly my Lord and in-charge of all my life. I am determined that my remaining 15-20 years on earth will be drastically different from my most recent 20 years. I am so thankful God impressed upon me to use these last 20 months of confinement as a time to grow spiritually in His Word and, thereby, to be “transformed by the renewing of my mind” (Rom. 12:1-2). God has allowed me to spend this time in spiritual education and Christian life training programs sponsored by
the Chaplain. Additionally, many Bible correspondence courses, frequent Chapel service attendance and intense personal Bible Study hours have prepared a solid foundation for me and, prayerfully, sown seed in fertile ground.

I am now a living witness of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness and power. God has never been more real to me. The differences in me are real and permanent. God has changed me from the inside out. My attitudes, thoughts, desires and speech have all drastically
changed. I am truly a “new creature in Christ – old things are passed away, everything has been made new” (II Cor. 5:17). After having now experienced the fullness, love, joy and peace of God in Christ Jesus, it is absolutely unthinkable that I would ever again be lured by Satan back into the emptiness, self-hate, anxiety and depression of that “old man” and his addictions. Truly, God’s love and abiding presence of His Holy Spirit have worked a life-saving miracle in me through Jesus Christ!

Now, God has called me to minister to His lost and forgotten children – inmates, ex-cons, homeless, depressed, addicts and sex offenders. Since I am now, or have recently been, “classified” as each one of these, perhaps God will use my experiences to reach others like me for the Kingdom. As I answer God’s call on my life to be an ordained and licensed servant of the Lord, I pray God will work through me to bring the hope, love and grace of Jesus to many who are unloved, lost, hurting, forgotten, needy, despised, depressed and forsaken – people who are even now just like I once was.

I am humbly and eternally grateful to our God for second chances! My feelings are like those of Paul when he wrote to Timothy nearly 2,000 years ago:

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display His unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (I Timothy 1:12-17, NIV)

In sincerity, truth and love I am, and will remain, a humble and grateful servant and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ!

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