Seriously, guys, I totally do not blame you for your aversion to making Jesus the king of your life. After 44 years on that path, I have concluded that Jesus is not safe.
You have found a life, with pleasures offered, and you have concluded that the journey from pleasure to pleasure is the best that you can do. You have also concluded that Jesus would expect you to give up those pleasures before you could ever come to Him.
Jesus hates sin. Sin is defined as anything that stands in the way of God’s will, and his will is for you to know him, and the one he has sent.
Sin is like a cancer, and, if left alone, will grow and consume the life that it inhabits.
Jesus is like a surgeon. He knows that if he doesn’t remove the cancer, it will destroy you.
But you do not have to give up your pleasures to come to Him. You can come just as you are. But, there is one condition.
You have to sign the consent form for him to remove the cancer.
Jesus is not safe.
There are times that you will scream in pain.
You will find yourself in most disturbing and uncomfortable situations.
It always kind of bothers me when people say, “I have never heard from God… I mean , like an audible voice.”
The thing is, God is spirit. His voice rings out. Just not like you would expect.
The Bible even says, “Today, if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart…” That sounds to me like we should be able to hear His voice.
The first time I heard His voice, I thought it was my own thought. “What does it mean to be born again?” I had never heard him before… not when I read the Bible…not when I went through my daily routine…never. But that day, I came to life. I started to hear him.
I was just starting out in this brand new life. I knew less than nothing. My sister and her husband became God’s voice to me. Speaking words of life, God’s voice, brought life to my new baby spirit.
I would read the Bible. It was almost like there was a light shining on the words. They jumped off the page, throwing truth at me. God’s voice.
I had never heard it before, because I was dead. I had to be brought to life. Dead men don’t hear.
But, I’m not dead anymore. I hear Him. I have to admit, I don’t always get it… I am, after all, little more than a sheep.
The black and white ball was skirting across the field. I had the angle, and I was racing for it. I was flying. As I planted my right foot and swung my left leg to make the cross the field kick. . . .
“Oww! Randy, wake up! Stop your stupid soccer game!” Wendy cried as she kicked me back.
Obviously, this wasn’t my first soccer dream.
From my earliest days, I remember loving to run. Playing chase until my side ached. (I never did find out what caused that. But when the pain subsided, we would all be running again.)
Playing baseball and stealing bases.
Touch football. (two below)
Then, in college, soccer.
My favorite because I was always running.
I wasn’t always the fastest, but I could always compete.
Not distance running, though.
I was more of a dash man.
So when I was sixty, I played in a student faculty flag football game, and I hurt so bad and so long after that I made Wendy promise to never let me do that again.
But, I still think the running is the most joyous expression of life’s movements.
Of course, my knees hurt now, as arthritis sets into the various joints of my body, my ankles don’t feel that strong, I hobble for a few steps every time I get out of my van, when I get up during the night, I think about the steps I am taking.
Yes. I am 70.
Last Sunday, our Sunday School class had a fellowship lunch after church in the gym.
Wendy and I sat with the youngest couple in our class, and their three boys, 4, 6, and 8 years old.
We talked. The boys played.
At the end, I said to the boys, “I think we need to race around the gym. You want to?”
I don’t know why I thought I could do this, the words just came out.
I had on cowboy boots.
So, I said “Go!” let the three get started, and I took off.
Now, this is a little hard to explain, but this is what happened.
I ran. I wasn’t watching the boys as I passed them. I wasn’t aware of anything except the fact that I was running. I think I was running fast.
It felt effortless, as if I were being carried along.
The oldest boy cut across the gym so he could beat me.
He was smiling and grabbed my hand.
We had only gone halfway around the gym, but I wasn’t even winded.
The six year old came up behind me, hugged me, and said, “Mama, Mama, I didn’t know old men could run so fast!”
I thought,”This is gonna hurt tomorrow.”
BUT IT DID NOT.
At least, not any more than usual.
This is what I think.
My running joy was given to me by my Creator.
“When I run I feel His pleasure.” (Eric Liddell)
My life will not end when this tired old body lays down for the last time.
We hear that there is a new one waiting for us, when we beat death at its evil game.
If I get there before you do, when you get there, you will probably see me as I run past, laughing with joy.
I’m sure, I won’t be the only one.
Holler at me, and I will stop. We’ll talk, and I will have some things and places and people I will want to show you.
But, I may challenge you to a short race.
Did I tell you that I love to run?
“For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” 2 Chronicles16:9
“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” Psalm 27:13-14
“But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
First off, I’m what they call an avoider. You know, in the fight or flight scenarios, I’m the one that would just pretend that we can all just get along. Conflict cannot be good, right?
Well, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we were created for conflict. Think about it. Every good story has to have it, something to cause a level of tension, discomfort in our gut. I hate that feeling, in the gut. But, I love it when the feeling is fixed, when something is resolved, and things get good again. (I’m a bit of a good chick flick fan, but don’t tell anyone.)
I said we were created for conflict. That presumes that we were created, not that we evolved. What if things weren’t happening by random chance, and every difficult circumstance that came to us were orchestrated by a master coach, who knew what kind of training we needed to succeed in the “game” we were playing?
The Bible says that we should be really, really happy when these conflicts come, because they reveal weaknesses inside us that prevent us from “winning the game.” They cause us to find the strength to overcome. (James 1:2-4)
For the believer, that strength is revealed to come from an external source, the Creator.
But, even in a non-believers life, conflict can push him to overcome, to grow stronger.
The difference lies in the end result.
In a believer’s life, the weaknesses are replaced by a trust and dependence on the One who grants true life.
To the non-believer, a path to life may be given, but pride and self-reliance will often blind his eyes to this path.
The Bible also says that we can believe that we are deciding our own ways, but that God directs every step, orchestrates every conflict and trial. (Proverbs 16:9)
Is your latest conflict about to bring you joy, or do you just want to escape?
A Facebook friend and I were having a discussion on science vs belief in God.
Now, I think science and the desire to learn more about the creation comes from God, but the argument was about things that can be observed and verified with reproducible experiments as opposed to “faith, legends, myths, and imaginary beings.” I believe these were the words he used.
He sent me a video explaining “string theory” and “the theory of everything.”
I have to say, this little video was simple enough for my simple brain to sort of grasp what it was talking about. But, the funny thing was, it was all about tiny subatomic particles that are too tiny for scientists to observe, so they observe them by the effects they have on light or sound waves.
I asked my friend if he believed in these “invisible” particles, and he said it had nothing to do with “belief”, but that it was a study in the scientific process of learning what is real and true.
After a little back and forth between us, he politely left the conversation with the statement “neither one of us is going to change his mind.”
That’s when I realized something…he used the word “faith” alongside fairy tale words, as if faith is some ignorant notion of “religion” that has no real basis to it.
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God. For, to come to Him, you must believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.”
He is invisible…but not imaginary.
He plants the desire to find Him in me, and then I can respond by seeking Him…or not seeking Him.
When I seek Him, I begin to see Him. I begin to see how He works. How my faith grows as I learn to trust Him. How my faith in Him becomes as real an object as the sun in the sky…how, with my faith (that He gave me. I didn’t get it on my own.) I can see everything else.
My friend had said that he could believe in a creator if there was any evidence.
“Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
The atheist’s blog that started the whole discussion that prompted the series “Was Nan Right?” posted a new blog that made the statement that most Christians say they believe the Bible, but they, for the most part, don’t know what it says. They don’t know because they don’t read it. If they read it, then they would be able to see all the contradictions and falsehoods, and, if they weren’t afraid to be honest with themselves, they would realize that their religion is just like all the other religions.
The writer was correct about one thing.
Many Christians do not read their Bibles.
I remembered the before and after of the time I was born again.
Growing up in church, I did not love the book we used.
Frankly, to me it was quite boring.
My friend, Earl (preacher’s son) showed me the revelation story about the dragon and the beast when we were in the 4th or 5th grade.
That was pretty cool.
But overall, I had little interest. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t get it.
When I was born again, Wendy bought me a little burgundy pocket New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs in the back. NIV version.
I began to carry it in my pocket.
When I was waiting in line, waiting at a back door of a store to be checked in, waiting for Wendy; any time I was waiting, I would read this little book. (“They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength…”)
When I would read it, it was almost as if there were a light shining on the individual verses.
Verses I had heard hundreds of time, and knew from repetition, suddenly took on a new, deeper meaning. It was like the words were alive. (“The word of God is living and active and sharper than any double edged sword….”)
The words began to pierce my heart, push me to read more and more and more.
It was almost like food to this New Life. (In the beginning was the Word. …I am the Bread of Life…If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will be my disciple.)
I was becoming a disciple of Jesus.
The new life that had been given to me had to be fed.
Because this new life was spiritual, it had to be fed with spiritual food. (God is Spirit.)
The Word of God didn’t touch me until I had received the spirit of God.
And every time now that I would read these words, I would grow stronger.
I would want more.
The atheist would pour through the Bible to find “contradictions” so he could convince Christians how blind and stupid they are to believe this book.
I would read through and discover new facets and understanding of this incredibly infinite God, who created everything.
And that He loves me?
How can this be?
I know how weak I am.
And yet, in my weakness, He displays His strength.
How could I ever find His purpose for me, if I didn’t treasure the book He provided to lead me to it?
How could you?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through Him, and apart from Him not one thing was created that has been created. Life was in Him, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, yet the darkness did not overcome it.”
John 1:1-5 HCSB
“The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
John 1:14 HCSB
“Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.”
So, Nan had tried to instruct me as a commenter on an atheist blog, that I had only become a Christian because I had been taught these principles from an early age. I just accepted them, wanted to believe them, then, after all these years of believing them, I was too afraid of all my beliefs crashing down to question them.
“I was just like you, Randy. I did all the church things , believed all the teachings, I even got born again. But, when I started to question things, I realized that it was all a lie.”
I can’t blame Nan.
After pouring through my journey of being unable to see the kingdom of God in its power, not recognizing all the entrances of God into my life because of my blindness, completely deaf to any words He might deliver to me, I have come to realize that I was dead.
I had a physical life.
I was concerned about physical things, things that made my physical life better.
If I was nice to people, it was because I liked the way it felt for people to think well of me.
If I was in desperate straits financially, I found ways to get extra money by less than legal means.
I lost jobs because of these choices.
One time, after losing two jobs, I had a job I really loved, but I did its again. Desperate times.
I thought I had been discovered and that, when I got back to the Pepsi warehouse, that I would be fired again.
Fear gripped my heart.
“Oh, LORD, please please please don’t let me be fired. I will give you my life if you protect me,” I prayed.
Of course, according to Nan, the only reason I prayed was because some man had told me when I was young, that God hears and answers our prayers.
But, I didn’t know Nan back then.
I did not get fired.
I forgot about the prayer.
But, God did not forget that prayer.
Around that time, my daughter, Chelsey was two or three. One morning, Wendy and I were standing at the door to her bedroom as she was waking up.
“I dreamed about God,” she said.
How cute is that? we thought. “What did he look like?”
“He had white hair and a white beard and a white robe.”
Wendy and I looked at each other. “Did he say anything?” Wendy asked.
Chelsey answered, “Yes. He said, (and she lowered her voice as deep as she could)’I love you, Chelsey.’”
Some time after that, we decided to get back into church.
But I was still untouched. I just thought it was neat that little Chelsey had had that dream.
The first time I was ever touched was when Wendy said, “ God doesn’t want us to have this house.”
The first time I was ever moved by a scripture was two days later, when I read, “You must be born again.” I could not see the kingdom of God.
Until, the next day, when I was born again.
Nan was right. She and I were at the same place, doing the things, but not being touched by the One who ordained the Words that we were being taught.
We were both blind and deaf to the world of the Spirit of God.
We were both dead.
God sent people to tell us, circumstances to guide us.
He touched me so I could hear.
He softened my heart so I could know what I needed to pray.
He answered my prayer.
I am not dead anymore.
Nan was wrong about something.
The things I was taught when I was dead were true.
I just didn’t really believe them.
I was a virtual atheist; I lived as if there were no God.
God says, “I AM THAT I AM.”
My prayer, is that God will open Nan’s eyes (and the others like her)
so she can become alive.
“He that has the Son has life. He that does not have the Son Of God does not have life.”
Elaine came home from youth group at the church and said, “ Hey, Wendy was there tonight. I told her you had mentioned her and she said to give her a call.”
Now, I had a mission.
I looked up her address. Back in those days we had actual phone books. Over the next few days, I drove by several times. I had to use a map the first time. Back in those days we didn’t have GPS.
I finally got the nerve to stop. I parked at the curb, knocked on the door, and a stern woman with a jet-black beehive hairdo answered.
“Is…is Wendy here?”
“No. She is at modeling.”
She’s a model. Wow! “Would you tell her that Randy Epps came by?”
No smile from her. I guess she said yes.
We talked the next day in her front yard for a couple of hours.
Two days later, around August 10, 1972, we had our first date, moved in together in Houston in September, married in December.
Because my eyes were drawn to a picture in a yearbook.
Our daughter, Chelsey Morgen was born, we moved back to our hometown, had typical struggles of a young married couple, negotiating the daily life events as they came.
We lived in a house at the edge of town, backing up to a cotton field. I remember, one day, standing in the back yard with Wendy, looking out over the field, saying, “We need to get back in church. It’s good for kids to grow up in church.” I had, Wendy hadn’t.
We went back to the church In had grown up in. I remember snapshots, singing in the choir, sitting next to Art Hill, so I could hear the tenor parts and blend my voice with his, church dinners, but nothing about ever being moved inside by something I heard or experienced.
My sister, Elaine and her husband, John used to come over to our house to talk about “religious things.” Wendy would get into the debate, I would doze off on the couch, untouched. Unmoved.
One day, one of our elders asked me if I would teach the high school Sunday school class.
How hard could that be?
I said yes.
They were in the gospel of John. They had just started, and I would come in at the second chapter of John.
Just to be clear, now, I had never read more than an occasional scripture, had definitely never studied the Bible in any way.
The youth room was filled with couches and comfortable chairs. Very casual.
As I “taught”, I saw the watches being checked, the eyes rolling back in their heads, the dozing off from boredom.
I figured, maybe I needed some help. So, after church, I went to the church library, and checked out a big reference book, a commentary, to help me bring this class to life.
Wendy and I were in the process of trying to buy a bigger house, in a nicer neighborhood, with a fenced yard, trees in the yard. Her dream house. The guy selling it, Gary Frazier, was going to seminary to become a missionary. I knew him from high school. He was two years older than I. Our financial situation, well, it wasn’t very strong, and we knew we wouldn’t be approved for the loan.
Gary said, “I know you are good Christian people, and I am going to help make this happen.” We met with his banker, he agreed to co-sign for us, and I was ecstatic . Wendy and I went to the car, waiting for Gary to come out and take us home, and Wendy looked at me and said, “God doesn’t want us to buy this house.” I remember this. I don’t remember any conversations before, ever that we brought into our conversations about what God did or didn’t want from us.
So, we didn’t agree to buy the house. Gary was very kind. I felt a funny kind of peace, that I did not understand.
As I began to read the 3rd chapter out loud, for the first time in my life, I saw what I was reading as a story. A true story.
A man named Nicodemus came to Jesus at night so none of his friends would see him, and tried to flatter him with praise of how God must be with him since he was doing these amazing things.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
Nicodemus said, “What?” (My paraphrase)
I thought, what the heck does he mean?
A couple of lines down, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”
Nicodemus said, “How can this be!!??”
I thought, what the heck does this mean?
So, I skipped on down, talked a little about 3:16 (a familiar verse), continued to see the watches raised, the eyes roll, the yawns, until class was over.
“Kids just don’t want to learn ,” I thought.
The next day was Monday, May 8, 1978.
I didn’t know why I was depressed. I figured it was because it was Monday.
I was a route salesman for Pepsi-Cola, and was driving my truck to my first stop.
Something was wrong. “God, why am I so depressed? I went to church, I taught Sunday School. Shouldn’t I feel good on Monday if I go to church on Sunday?” Good question, right? But the next words surprised me.
“And, what does it mean to be born again?”
Up to this point, I was probably in agreement with Nan. (Remember Nan?Part 1?) She told me she had done all the Christian things and had finally figured out that it was all a mirage. I may have been teetering on that brink. I probably could have been convinced of that as well.
But, for the first time in my life, a scripture had shouted at me. “You must be born again!”
I parked my truck, walked into the back door, head down, feeling like I was about to break into tears, and I stepped over a pile of dirt and trash that the floor crew had swept onto the back dock.
On top of that pile was a little “pamphlet” with the words “HAVE YOU BEEN BORN AGAIN?”
What would you do?
I picked it up and put it into my pocket.
I walked across the back aisle of the store and stepped over another pile of dirt and trash.
On top of this pile there was a little pamphlet with the words “WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BORN AGAIN?”
I know! Weird, right?
Yep, I picked it up and put it in my pocket.
When I finished my work in that store, I got in my truck, started the engine, and took the first pamphlet out of my pocket, read it all the way to the end. There was a prayer. I read it out loud.
I put it down in the seat, took out the other pamphlet, read it to the end, read the prayer out loud, and put it down in the seat.
I gave my life to the One who put the prayer in my heart, because He had already prepared the answer for me to find.
This is the part that Nan never did.
When I looked up, the depression was gone, and I felt like I was seeing color for the first time.
I was born again!
Still am, to this day.
Wendy is too.
All these memories of God sending people my way came back to me after this day when I could “see” for the first time.
I realize now, He had been pursuing me for years.
My blind eyes were opened, my spirit became alive, and I could now see the kingdom of God.
Oh, and Nan?
Well, Nan just left a little too early. She doesn’t have the Son.
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
i was told that the only reason I am a Christian is because I was preached to when I was young, and that formed a pattern in my brain. “I was just like you,” Nan said, “I believed all the things I had been taught. But, I started using my mind, and I broke free from the indoctrination .”
This could be so.
i do remember, when I was in fourth grade, our church had a “Pastor’s Class” that taught us the basic tenets of our particular denomination. For four consecutive Sunday afternoons, we met in the preacher’s office. (There were maybe five of us. My best friend was Earl, the preacher’s son. He was there.) I honestly have no memory of anything said during that time.
But, I do remember, at the end of the four weeks, we all walked forward during church, the preacher asked each of us, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and do you now take him as your LORD and Savior?”
I said, “I do.”
The next week, Palm Sunday, we were all baptized by immersion in front of the whole church.
I felt warm and happy.
Now, I could take communion like the adults.
In high school, I joined Youth For Christ because there was a cute girl that I was interested in dating.
I have absolutely no memory of any meetings, any Christian words spoken, Bible studies. I’m not saying they didn’t happen.
I just don’t remember.
But, I do remember that girl rode with me in my car one time.
She wasn’t interested in me.
One summer, a young man came to the door of my house and tried to explain to me how evolution went against belief in God. I laughed at him, and said (I was so smart), “God is certainly powerful enough to use evolution to make the world and everything in it. Time is no problem for him, right?”
In my second year of college, this guy knocked on the door of my dorm room, and asked if he could talk to me.
He showed me a Bible tract, with a picture of a chair with a stick figure man sitting on it, and a chair with a cross on it.
“The man represents you, the cross represents Jesus . Which one of these pictures best illustrates your life?”
I laughed at him. “I am somewhere between those two pictures. Just because it’s printed on a piece of paper doesn’t make it true.” I remember nothing else in the exchange.
I was dating this Jewish girl on campus, and she wanted to go to a Campus Crusade for Christ thing. We sat in the back. I don’t remember a single thing spoken at the gathering. I don’t remember feeling the least bit challenged. But, I do remember, when they started holding up one finger (One Way, Jesus) and calling out the name of Jesus, I felt like we needed to get out of there. We left. I mocked them outside.
I was perfectly happy with my “faith” and I saw no reason to get all fanatical about anything. I was a good person, and nothing touched me at all on a “spiritual” level. I made my own decisions.
I was just like Nan.
Except, no one had yet convinced me that there was no God. I was taught that from my earliest days, and I never thought to question it.
None of these moments I have described made even a slight impact on my life. I only remember then in snapshots, looking back.
I think, I may have been moving in the same direction as Nan.
There is another defining moment that I remember.
That summer, I went home from college, and I was looking through my sister, Elaine’s high school yearbook. She was two years younger than I, and, in high school I had dated girls from her class. You see, I wasn’t real confident in the dating field, and I figured sophomores liked the idea of dating a senior.
“I looked through your entire yearbook,” I told Elaine, “and there was only one girl that caught my eye, that I might like to date. Wendy Wright.” I knew her a little, because I had been going with a girl during my senior year whose locker was next to hers. Wendy had also worked in the snack bar at the Safeway where I worked. She cooked a mean burger. I remember how cute she was in her Safeway waitress dress.
The next day was Sunday, and Elaine was still going to the youth group at our church. Wendy’s friend, Cathy, invited her to this youth group this day, and Wendy (who had never been to that church in her life) said “Okay,”
When Elaine saw Wendy come into the room, she went over and said, “Wendy! Hi! Randy was just talking about you.”
“Oh?” Wendy responded, “ well, tell him to call me sometime.”
And that was the beginning of a new direction in my life.
But, that is Part 2.
“A sower went out to sow his seed. As he was sowing, some fell along the path; it was trampled one, and the birds of the sky ate it up….The seed along the path are those who have heard and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved” Luke 8: 5, 12