NEW DAYS OF A NEW LIFE
In 1978, shortly after I had tasted the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living, we left the traditional church of my youth and ventured (a bit gingerly, even a little bit scared) into a different kind of a church for us.
My brother-in-law and sister had urged us to come and try this “fellowship” that met in a building in Casa View in Dallas.
Not a church building, just some business building.
Chairs were set up, a makeshift stage in the front.
Seriously, I didn’t know what to expect.
I had heard that there were some “ who spoke in tongues “.
That also made me uneasy.
But, I didn’t even know what that meant.
All this stuff was new and foreign to me.
People were friendly, as Elaine and Johnny introduced us to their friends.
They had been asking us to come for a while.
Fear of the unknown kept me from giving in.
I knew I was in a different life now, since the day I was born again, but I figured I could stay where I was, and just live the new life.
The Saturday before this first trip to this new fellowship, Johnny had invited me to play football at Central Park with some of his friends.
I loved pickup football games, and I said I would go.
We chose teams and started to play.
No arguments, no bad sportsmanship, just a fun competition.
The quarterback on the other team really impressed me.
His skills were amazing; perfect spirals, long distance, into the hands of his receivers.
But his demeanor was so peaceful. His speech was so calm, so quiet.
He enjoyed the play, but it was only a game to him.
I asked Johnny after the game who he was.
“His name is Bob, “ Johnny answered, “he’s the preacher at our church.”
I talked to Bob a little bit afterward, and his humble gentle spirit impressed me so much.
I told Wendy when I got home, I was ready to try that church.
So, here we were, strange surroundings amid people we didn’t know.
The music began.
Three people onstage, a husband and wife, William and Aurelia Drake, and another man, Gary Warner.
Aurelia played the piano, and sang, William played the guitar, and sang, and Gary, well, he just sang. And he could sing!
The songs were pulled straight from the scriptures, with music added by the Drakes, and they were delivered with a joy I had never seen in a church service before.
There were joyful hand clapping dancing songs, with some people lifting their hands in praise, their eyes closed, sometimes flowing with tears of love.
There were songs of worship, slower, more deliberate, sung to the One, they were worshipping.
Did you hear that?
They weren’t singing about Jesus.
They were singing to him.
As if he were there.
We all closed our eyes, but we were listening to the words.
The guy praying was talking directly to God.
As if he knew Him!
“I wish I could pray like that,” I thought.
Then Bob stood, prayed again.
Just like he was talking directly to God.
And he preached from the book that he loved, and explained it in such a way that it spoke to this young new believer in such a way that made me want to discover it for myself.
And, you want to know what was even more amazing to me?
After church was over, people didn’t leave.
We stood around, in small groups, unplanned, unprogrammed, and, even though we had only just met these people, we shared a love, new for me, not as new for them, of a One who had captured us by His love, and had started us on a brand new path of Life.
And the joy I felt as I walked from that place was something I had never felt before.
And it began that day with songs of joy, sung with joy, to the One who came to make our joy complete.
I really miss that kind of worship.
Psalm 40:3 (ESV)
He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
MY TAKE ON BEAUTIFUL CUPCAKES
I was reading a blog the other day by this guy who says there is no evidence for God, and that we (believers) have been brainwashed to believe that something totally unbelievable is true.
But, the blog I was reading wasn’t about that.
His daughter has a bakery, or works at a bakery. I don’t know for sure, but he posted pictures of some very beautiful cupcakes she had baked and decorated.
And then, over the next few days, he posted photographs of flowers, and birds, and cats, and commented on the beauty that he was seeing in nature.
He takes very beautiful photographs.
I didn’t have permission to show them, so I have removed them. But trust me, they were beautiful pictures of birds, a cat, a flower.
I wanted to comment on the cupcake post how impressed I was with the creative ability of his daughter; how I could see the “image of God” in her, through her ability to design such beautiful and appealing food.
I wanted to ask him if he thought anyone would ever doubt that there was a creator behind the creation of these cupcakes.
And then, I would ask how he could doubt the creator behind the other beautiful natural pictures he had displayed in the following days?
I could see the “image of God” in his creative ability as well.
Maybe he will read this.
I’m sure he will come up with something.
AUGUST 10, 1972
Or was it?
I had spent the summer working for Kraft Foods on the nighttime cleanup crew, wearing a uniform of white pants, and white shirt, and white hair net.
I have always said that August 10 was our first date, but, today, I looked back at a calendar from 1972, and August 10 fell on a Thursday.
You see, I worked nights, Monday through Friday, from 10 pm to 7am. So, most likely, the first date was on the 12th.
But the 10th was the most important day.
I had driven past her house, over and over, just hoping for a glimpse.
She had run into my sister (who I guess had been operating as my “wing man”) as a guest of a friend at Elaine’s youth group at church.
“Wendy,” Elaine has said, “Randy was just talking about you!”
I had looked through her yearbook, seen Wendy’s picture, and I might have mentioned that I would like to date her. We had worked a short time together at Safeway my senior year in high school, her in the snack bar, me as a stocker.
I wasn’t that bold with girls, and, I guess Elaine knew that, so, a little nudge couldn’t hurt.
“Really? How is he doing? Tell him to call me sometime,” Wendy answered.
Elaine passed on the message.
I found her address, and her phone number. (We had phone books back in those days. And maps. I had to actually use a map to figure out how to get to her house.) And I drove by. More than once.
One day, I stopped, walked to the door, rang the bell, and was met by someone I presumed to be her older sister, but it was actually her mom, and, when I asked about Wendy, she didn’t smile, or act friendly, and said, “She’s not here. She’s in modeling class.”
I went back the next day, Thursday, August 10, around 6:00, and we talked out in the driveway, leaning on my car, for three hours.
I was smitten.
When I told her at 9 that I had to go to work, she thought I was making an excuse to leave.
The next day, I called her and asked her out for Saturday night.
She said yes.
And, that Thursday, August 10, was the day that this adventure began.
We each only had a passing acquaintance with each other.
Now, we know each other so well.
A lot of life has happened over the last 47 years!
That driveway conversation began it all.
August 10, 1972.
I have chosen well!
We married on December 30 of that same year.
And the two became one!
I love you, Wendy Gayle Wright Epps!
Dear anonymous friends who need proof,
You don’t understand how seriously I take our “discussions”.
Especially the part where you said you would believe if He would show himself to you.
I don’t think you would, though.
Jesus, once when asked for a sign to prove to them that he was “the one” said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.”
He went on tho compare Jonah’s three days in the fish’s belly to his coming three days in the grave.
Jonah came out of the fish, Jesus would come out of the grave.
But there is something else in the reference to Jonah.
The men of Nineveh.
They were bad.
When God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he went the other way.
He hated them.
And he didn’t want them to be forgiven by God.
Because he knew of God’s capacity to love.
So, when the fish vomited him out in the vicinity of Nineveh, he reluctantly went through the town with a simple message, “In forty days, Nineveh shall be overthrown.”
Now it may have been the message, or it may have been the sight of Jonah after the three days in the belly, but, whatever it was, the people, from the king on down, changed their ways.
They repented of the life they had been living and turned to the God of Jonah.
What I have been trying to tell you guys, all along, is that the sign you are looking for, you can see, but you have to do something first.
Repent of your life with you as god, and turn to the One true God.
Your endless rants about the impotency of the One who made everything show that you have no “sight” to see the kind of Life He will give.
But, one day the door will shut.
And you will remain outside.
Then you will “see”.
I really would like for you to “hear His voice” today, before it is too late.
You must be born again!
Blair turned 92 on July 5th. We gave him a card and a promise: dinner on us at Flying Burgers and Seafood in Longview.
So, today after church, that’s where we went.
We ordered our meals and picked a booth.
After the meal, Mary Jane reminded me,
” Randy, take your receipt up there and get our free cinnamon rolls!”
Oh, yeah! Free cinnamon rolls with dinner on Sunday! I grabbed the ticket.
“We would like four cinnamon rolls, please.” I handed her the receipt. Being the good son in law, I asked, ” Do you have coffee?”
“Yes, we do.”
“We would like four coffees, too, then.” Coffee and cinnamon rolls. Now we’re talking.
She turned and grabbed four nice ceramic mugs. She handed them to me with a smile. There was a k-cup inside each mug. I looked by the drink machine and there it was; a single one cup do it yourself keurig coffee maker.
“That will be 5.60,” she smiled.”Do you know how to work a keurig?”
I know, free cinnamon rolls, but you pay for the right to make your own coffee.
I started the first cup. Two servers came out from behind the counter with four hot cinnamon rolls. I pointed back to our table, and they delivered them.
The first cup took at least 4 minutes. So, I started the second cup, looked for the powdered “cream” and Splenda, then stood there until the next one finished.
I started the next one, carried the first two back to the table.
“Randy, you are all right! ” Blair said. I gave him a thumbs up. I could smell the cinnamon.
I love the smell of cinnamon.
I hurried back for the third cup.
Oh, great, the keurig is out of water.
I went to the counter. “I need some more water for the keurig, please?”
A couple of minutes later, one of the girls brought out a Styrofoam cup half filled with water, and poured it in.
“Thank you,” I said as I started the third cup.
I played a game on my phone. Finally the familiar ending spurt.
I started the fourth, carried the third to the table, and hurried back for my cup.
“What? One inch of coffee? Come on?” (Silent words, not out loud.) I saw the add water light flashing. “This is worse than self checkout!”
I asked for more water, waited a few minutes, and they handed me another cup of water.
I poured it in the reservoir, hit the brew button, and waited.
Another game on my phone.
Twenty five minutes to get 4 cups of coffee.
I went back to the table and they had finished their cinnamon rolls and their coffee.
Wendy’s mom was finding pictures on her phone and showing them to Wendy across the table.
Blair hadn’t said much while the catfish was on his plate.
“That’s the one time he doesn’t talk much,” Mary Jane said,” When he’s eating catfish.”
She found another picture, turned her phone toward Wendy. They both laughed.
“You know,” Blair began, “these clouds remind me of a time when I was about 10. Me and my friends were outside my house breaking up little pieces of wood so we could build a fire. Three guys were about my age and one guy, Douglas Teasdale, who was older, but he liked to hang around with us.
“I was swinging the axe, and it slipped and hit my little toe.”
He held is fingers about 3/4 of an inch apart and said, ” About this much of my little toe was just dangling there.
“It was bleedin’ pretty good, and none of the guys my age knew what to do. No adults were around, but Douglas said to one of the guys, ‘Go inside the house and get a needle and some white thread. And some alcohol. Get some alcohol.’
“He ran into the house, found the stuff and came running out. Douglas poured the alcohol on the needle and the thread, and sewed my little toe right back on.
“You know, it never did really hurt at the time. I guess I must been in shock a little bit.”
“What ever happened to Douglas Teasdale?” I asked.” I hope he became a doctor!”
“I don’t really know,” he chuckled, “but, if you look at that little toe, you can still see a little bit of a stichin’ pattern.”
That little toe still works, too, 82 years later.
THE SECOND TIME I WAS BORN
On November 15, 1951, I was born into this world to the family of Houston and Ruth Epps.
On May 8, 1978, I was given life a second time into the the family of God.
In celebration of that day, I will share again the story.
On the day of the 38th (now 41 years7/17/19) anniversary of my second birth, I feel compelled to share the story of that day, in order to bring glory to my Lord, my savior, my friend, Jesus. I will attempt to make this as concise as I can so that those that don’t believe may not get too bored.😉
My family, being a southern traditional Christian family, always belonged to and attended church religiously. I grew up with Sunday School and church attendance every Sunday. Every Sunday. Vacation Bible school every summer. Every summer. Summer church camp from fourth grade through my senior year in high school every summer. Every summer. In fourth grade, as was the tradition of my church, in the spring we would have a “pastor’s class” to instill in us the beliefs of our denomination. In the spring, at the end of the class, we all “joined” the church, making us eligible to take communion, and we were all baptized on Palm Sunday. I felt warm and happy.
In my senior year in high school, I dabbled in marijuana and cheap wine. (Boones Farm and Spanada) I explored different moral choices than those I had been taught.
In college, I did not deem it important to be in a church. I joined hippy-type activist groups, let my hair continue to grow long, looked for hippy-type girlfriends. I remember one time when a campus crusade guy came to my dorm room, showed me a pamphlet that showed a cross on a throne and a person on a throne, and asked me which one was I? I laughed at him, he talked a little bit, smiled and left. I also took a Jewish girl that I was hanging around with to a “Jesus freak” rally. (Actually, it was her idea) When they started holding up one finger (for One Way) we kinda slipped out the back. I was totally untouched.
I started dating a girl, Wendy Wright, I had gone to high school with, we lied to her parents, lied to mine, and moved in together while I was still in college. She got pregnant, we got married, and we still are. One good thing from the messy way my life was turning.
Sometime during my senior year, I left school ( yeah, I know, why didn’t I stick it out?), moved back to my hometown, got a job, and settled in to “adulthood”. Man, when I look back, I realize that every thing I did was for myself.
I worked for Safeway, then got a job as route salesman for Dr Pepper. I loved it, I was good at it, and I got fired for stealing. Later, I got another grocery store job, and I got fired for leaving out the fact that I had gotten fired from Dr Pepper on my application. That was really a low, low time for me. And yet, I still considered myself a good person by comparison. Finally after having a few fill in jobs that I didn’t love, I was hired by Pepsi as a route salesman. I became top salesman 3 of the five years I worked there, was written up in an article in the national Pepsi magazine. I felt pretty good about myself again. After a while, I figured out how I could make a few extra bucks by changing some tickets, and one day as I was leaving one of my stores, I thought I had been discovered. Horror gripped me, and as I was driving back to the plant, I thought I would be fired immediately.
I prayed, “God, please don’t let me be fired. I will give you my life, I will do anything if you will protect me.”
I was never found out. I did stop stealing. I got a new route, one in my own part of town, and stayed on top in sales. I and my wife Wendy decided we would begin to go to church, because we had a daughter named Chelsey and I thought it was good for kids to go to church. So we joined the church that I had been baptized in, 18 years earlier.
After a while, someone in the church asked if I would teach the high school Sunday school class. “Sure, why not?”
The class had just begun studying the Gospel of John, and I stepped in at Chapter 2. I had never taught anything, had only read tiny portions of the Bible in all my 26 years, and the kids were totally fall asleep bored. So, I took the bull by the horns, checked a big fat commentary out of the church library, and prepared for the next week.
The next week, Wendy and I were meeting with a guy, Gary Frazier, who I had known in high school and was selling his house. It was like Wendy’s dream house, four bedrooms, fenced yard, established neighborhood….
The problem was, our credit wasn’t good enough to qualify for the loan.
Gary said that he was going into the ministry and needed to sell his house to pay for seminary. He believed in us since we were “good Christian people,” and he was willing to cosign for us on a loan. We met with he and his Banker, and it became a possibility for us to get the house after all.
Wendy and I left the meeting, got in the car, and she said, “Randy, God doesn’t want us to get this house.”
We never in my memory had really discussed what God did or didn’t want in our lives, so this statement kinda shocked me, especially considering how much she wanted that house. So, we called Gary and told him we couldn’t accept his offer to help us.
I had always felt like I was a church going semi-religious person. Wendy wasn’t so much, so, in the back of my mind, I think I was thinking she was coming to a new place of embracing the type of religion that I was comfortable with.
Apparently, looking back, God was working on a much grander plan.
Sunday, I went to teach the Sunday School class. Chapter 3 of the book of John begins with this guy named Nicodemus coming to Jesus after dark so no one would know, and tried to flatter him. Jesus told him he had to be born again to even be able to see the Kingdom of God.
What?! What the heck does that mean? I had never heard of this, and I certainly didn’t know how to explain it, so I read on through, talked a little about John 3:16, bored the kids to death, and finished the class thinking, these kids don’t even care to learn.
The next day, May 8, 1978, I was back at work, driving my big Pepsi truck back to my first stop, doing what I knew I could do well. But I was so depressed. Tears were welling up behind my eyes, and I had no idea why. I prayed. “God, why do I feel so bad? Shouldn’t a person feel good on Monday after going to church on Sunday?…….And, what does it mean to be born again?” ( Now, I wasn’t that much of a praying man, but these two prayers I remember.)
I drove up to the Skaggs Albertson on Centerville Road in Garland, Tx, got out of my truck and kind of shuffled in through the back loading dock, hoping I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone just yet. I was so low. My head was down, and I had to step over a pile of trash that the floor crew had swept to the back room. Right on top of the pile, there was a tiny pamphlet that said in bold letters, “Have You Been Born Again?” Huh. I picked it up and stuck it in my shirt pocket. As I walked out into the store, I stepped over another pile of swept up trash, and right on top of it was a tiny pamphlet that said in bold letters, “What Does It Mean To Be Born Again?” Huh?! I picked it up and stuffed it into my shirt pocket.
After I finished my work in that store, I walked out to my truck, climbed in, started the engine, and pulled the two pamphlets from my pocket. I read them both from start to finish, reading the prayer at the end of each, out loud, with feeling! The prayer said something about believing that I could not attain heaven by anything I could do, I could not even get any favor from God for my own “goodness.” It wasn’t enough to believe in Jesus; I had to let Him own me. I had to belong to Him. That day, I gave up my right to myself, and I asked Jesus to take over, that I would follow Him wherever He wanted me to go.
Now, here is the part I want you to hear, if you can. ( When I was in the fourth grade, I got my first pair of glasses. I had never realized that I had difficulty seeing at a distance, until I walked out of the optometrist’ office and saw, for the first time individual leaves on trees.)When I looked up this day, my perception was as if I was seeing color, for he first time. There was no sadness, no depression, and I felt like I was alive to life for the first time!
For the first time in my life, I sensed love for God, I mean a real love for someone that I had hardly ever really thought about for 26 years of my life.
A lot has happened to us in our lives since this day, but that is a book in itself. God’s presence has NEVER left me, He has proved His truth to me countless times, and my love for Jesus grows even stronger by the day today. If you had asked me on May 7, 1978 if I was a Christian and if I thought I was going to heaven, I probably would have said yes. ( Though, honestly, I hadn’t given it much thought.) But if you asked me what I knew on May 8, 1978, I would have told you, I have LIFE, FOREVER!
When I think back to that time, and see how God was orchestrating all these little things in Wendy’s and my lives to cause us to want to turn to Him, I am still overwhelmed at the prospect that He even care about us at all, much less loved us enough to change our lives.
I never tire of telling this story, and, the funny thing is, this was only the beginning. The richness of my life since that day has made the first 26 years just seem like so much darkness, and self-centeredness. If you have never tasted the life that I am trying to describe, I would love to share with you anytime you would like.
January 19, 2016
While the gift is free, it cannot be earned, there is the condition that one must have the faith to accept the gift that has been offered.
Two prerequisites for that faith to be there:
1. A person has got to believe that God does indeed exist.
2. A person has to believe that God will reveal himself to the One who truly desires to find Him.
(Hebrews 11:6, my paraphrase)
An atheist cannot do that.
July 13, 2019
I was talking to one yesterday.
I don’t know his name, only his pseudonym. I assume he is a man, but I could be wrong about that as well.
He had compared God to an imaginary figure from an old South Park cartoon.
I felt like entering the discussion.
As a rule, this group just wants “evidence”, solid physical evidential irrefutable proof that this God we believe in is in fact as real as the doorknob on a door.
I told him he would never be able to “see” Him unless he was born again. I said that being born again (trusting in the payment God made for his rebellion) would open his eyes to the spiritual.
He asked me, “So what actually happens, then, like in reality. Brain synapses in a certain configuration or something?”
I responded with the Hebrews scripture that to come to God, you have to believe he exists, and you have to believe that he rewards those who diligently seek Him. The evidence of God is in those that have received this new life.
There are many. I am not the only one.
His response was that I was saying that something exists only if you believe in it.
I know, that is not what I said.
But, he did make me think.
Jesus said that one can’t see God unless he is born again, born from above by the Spirit.
In creation, God created all the animals before man.
He created each kind for a particular purpose, and the purpose appears to be built in (instinct) so the salmon knows when to swim upstream, birds know when and where to migrate, honeybees know how to build a hive and produce honey. The honeybee cannot say, “Meh, this is too hard. I want to be a sloth.”
All these animal occurrences had to be there from the beginning.
No learning process to discover their purpose, because they couldn’t survive one generation without already performing what they were programmed to be.
The animal kingdom does a dance of praise to their creator by living in their purpose.
Once, when Jesus was entering Jerusalem on a colt, the crowd was singing praises to him, and the Pharisees told him to make them stop.
“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
All creation, as it fulfills its created purpose, is “singing out” in praise of its creator.
Creation lives in “joy” by being what it was created to be.
Man was also created for a purpose, made in God’s image, so he would have fellowship with his creator. Made in love by the God who is love.
God knew that love had to be a choice, so he gave man His ability to think, reason, create, to search deep meanings, so that, in the process, he could choose to fellowship with God, or go his own way.
He chose to go his own way.
This is where I realized the meaning of the Hebrews scripture.
Since God is love, he made a way for man to come back to Him.
He paid the full price for man’s rebellion.
All he had to do was to realize that he was in rebellion to God (believe He exists) and accept the free gift of eternal life offered to him (and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him).
If an atheist doesn’t believe He exists (though,I think most just don’t want there to be a God) there can be no turning back to God.
My atheist friend proves that he can’t “see” the kingdom of God.
I asked him if God were to appear before him, would he be glad to meet Him, thinking he would say “No” again.
He told me to “go ahead, pray right now for your god to appear before me. You don’t know who I am, but, if he exists, he knows. I swear to your god, absolutely, as serious as a heart attack, I’ll wait right here in this room I’m in for your god to appear. And, if he appears, I will absolutely convert, and my blog will praise his name forever. I’ll change it to “the former atheist” even. Go ahead. I’m waiting.”
I wanted to.
But, I didn’t make the rules.
God is God, and He will not be manipulated.
I find a deep affection for this person and his followers, and a deep sorrow for their inability to discover the joy that comes from receiving this great great love.
So this is my prayer:
Father, I know that you alone can reveal yourself to man. I pray that you will open the eyes of my anonymous friends so that they will know that there is a choice they can make that will change them forever.
I pray that you will manipulate things in their lives to cause them to want you, to need you, to want to experience that love that you have had for them since the beginning of time.
I pray, beloved Father, that they will realize how great a love you have given to us, and that they might become children of God.
Because of Jesus!
Amen and amen!