Popular Texas megachurch pastor and author Robert Morris preached before hundreds of inmates at the state's largest prison last week, assuring that God is not "mad" at them.
The 58-year-old Morris made a surprise visit last Wednesday to the delight of members of the 36,000-member Gateway Church's newest campus: Gateway Coffield.
The H.H. Coffield Unit in Anderson County houses over 4,000 inmates in East Texas. Since the Southlake-based church opened up its Coffield Campus last November, hundreds of inmates have attended the service and over 1,000 have made decisions for Christ.
At least 439 men gathered for the Gateway Coffield service held last Wednesday expecting to hear a sermon from the campus pastor, Stephen Wilson. However, they were excited when Morris appeared on stage. They greeted him with an ovation.
"I'm actually more glad to be here than you are glad that I am here," Morris told the inmates. "I have been looking forward to this since we started this campus. I wanted to be here so I am glad to be here."
"We love you guys very much and our vision when we started was to not just pipe our services in but was to have a campus here," he continued. "The reason is because you have gifts and callings from God that you need to use for the kingdom of God."
In his sermon, which was shown at Gateway's seven other campuses this past Sunday, Morris told the inmates that "we've all made mistakes."
"The Bible is pretty clear about that," he stressed. "All have sinned. All have come short of the glory of God. We have all made mistakes and yet God, in His Grace, uses all of us."
Morris explained that revered Old Testament figures like Abraham, Moses, and David were all "jerks" to some extent.
Morris pointed to Abraham, whom he called a "heathen."
"There was no nation of God. As a matter of fact, the nation of God started with Abraham. [It was] Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and then the 12 sons," he said as he explained the formation of the tribes of Israel. "There were no Ten Commandments. That was 500 years later. Abraham is a heathen and God shows up and says, 'I want to talk to you.'"
"Here is what [God] says [to Abraham], 'I am going to bless you,'" Morris added.
The pastor told the inmates that Abraham was no saint. Even after Abraham got saved, he lied about his wife, slept with his handmaid and had a child out of wedlock. But still, God chose to bless Abraham.
"I hope it just starts donning on you that God is not mad at you," the pastor told the crowd. "God actually wants to bless you no matter what the world tells you about God."
Morris' statement received applause from the crowd.
"This is so amazing because church and religion have made God like the bad guy," Morris said. "And everywhere in the Bible, the only reason [God] ever shows up is to bless people. The reason He sends Jesus, in Acts 3 it says, is to bless you."
Morris reflected on his own life, recalling that he got involved in "drugs, immorality and all sorts of junk" during his upbringing in East Texas. He even detailed how he used to hustle people out of money while playing pool in high school.
"What I would do is act drunk to get the bet way up and I would just clear the table," Morris admitted, adding that he got beat up the first time he hustled somebody.
But eventually, God began to use Morris' talents to advance God's kingdom.
"When I used to do revivals, the guy that would sing for me was fourth in the nation in college bowling. We would go to the bowling alley. He would hustle the bowlers and I would hustle the pool players," he said. "But what we would do is that if [they won], we have to give [them] 20 dollars. But if [they] lose, [they] have to come to church."
As a result of this hustling scheme, 28 people made decisions for Christ after coming to church following a pool defeat, he said.
According to a press release, Gateway's Coffield Campus operates similar to its non-prison campuses. Inmates serve as greeters and ushers, while other inmates operate the sound, video and audio equipment.
Wilson, the campus pastor who also pastors Gateway's other prison campus at the Sanders Estes Unit in Venus, is an ex-offender who has been ministering in prisons for years.
"Since we started having Gateway services at Coffield, men's lives are being changed," Coffield chaplain Allen Barker said in a statement. "Men who were convicted of felonies are turning their lives around and reconnecting with their families."
Not all Coffield inmates can attend the services regularly.
While 2,000 minimum-security offenders are able to attend each week, medium-security offenders can only attend on special occasions. Although maximum-security prisoners can't attend services, they can receive materials from the church, including its magazine, devotionals and books.