EDGE OF ETERNITY

I recently told a friend that I find myself huffing and puffing more now as I work.

“It’s probably congestive heart failure,” he replied. “That’s what my cousin had.”

Ouch.

A few months late, I mentioned to his wife that he had told me this.

She made a face that made me think that that was just what he did, that I shouldn’t worry, that I was fine. All this without a word.

I chose to believe what I perceived was her advice, even though she didn’t say a word.

This week, the first two days I worked (yep, you caught me. I worked during the corona virus self-isolation order.) I found myself huffing and puffing, and my muscles were tired instantly.

I wasn’t having any fun, either.

I couldn’t stop thinking about what my friend hand said months earlier.

I must have congestive heart failure.

I was so tired when I got home, I told Wendy that I probably needed a check up.

Now, this is significant. I seldom complain about anything, except maybe being really tired when I have had a really long day.

Her worry flag went up, immediately.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

She got out her google machine and started asking me questions, symptoms.

All I could think about was how much insurance I would leave her with.

I thought about the age my mom died. 72. Heart. I’m 68.

Insurance payoff is really good before 70, pretty good before 75, okay after 75.

Funny thing, I wasn’t afraid to die, as long as she was provided for. I guess this “religion thing” is working.

I asked her how old my grandfather was when he died.

“Around 80,” she said. “Why? Do you think you are about to die?!?!”

“No. Actually, I was just trying to remember how he looked when he was my age.”

I kinda dreaded the third day of work.

Wendy had taken my words seriously and she fought valiantly all day in the spiritual realms against that lying devil that keeps trying to take away the joy of this life. Pleading with God, yelling at the devil.
I was totally unaware.

It was a difficult job. I had no shortness of breath. My muscles didn’t get fatigued. When I got home, she asked how I felt.
“Really good!” I exclaimed. “I can’t believe how much better I felt today than the last two.”

“I prayed for you all day long. All day long!”

We worked together on a project fixing up a spare room for her craft room. All better, I am.

But, I do think I will set up a check up.

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HAVE THINE OWN WAY

Hey, Clay,

Saturday March 7, 3020. Elaine called me. “Clay didn’t wake up this morning.”

The first words that came out of my mouth were, “I can’t think of anyone more ready.”

There is a question that I wanted to ask you.

Of course, my mind spent the next several days remembering things about our childhood; spending the night at your grandmother’s house in Garland, recording stuff on a tape recorder, watching Johnny Carson, Joey Bishop (remember when Regis Philbin walked off the show?), and “One Million Years, B.C.” (Raquel Welch), walking to the train station in Highland Park, croquet, 42….

The last time I remember seeing you before “the change” was probably 1970 or ‘71.

I and a couple of my friends ran into you and some of your band members (I remember Iggy Cantu) somewhere after dark. We both had pretty long hair, and I don’t remember much except you mentioned the band name was “The Feat of Clay.”

Jeff White told me last Saturday that that was only a thought you or your dad had, not a reality.

We kind of lost contact . I was going to school in Houston, then got married to Wendy, and we lived in Houston for a while( though, you probably came to the wedding. It’s all a little foggy.).

I learned at the celebration we had for your life that my brother, Jeff had a meeting with the Creator in ‘72, told you about it in ‘72 and or ‘73, you had a meeting with the Creator, and then cousin Glen wanted what he saw that you had, and he became a believer as well.

I didn’t join “this family” until 1978, and, looking back, I was totally unaware of this spiritual side of life going on with you three.

But, after the light switched on in Wendy’s and my lives, I remember you and Sally and your kids coming to our house in Garland on a Friday night for dinner, us talking about the glories of this new life, and in a few minutes, ya’ll were leaving to go home as the sun came up.

From that time, every time we got together we had that invisible connection, that shared joy.

I was able to see you a couple of times in your last year down here. You had been through quite a lot of difficult times, physically and emotionally.

Yet, you always carried this joy, this vibrancy of life, and I always walked away with a sense that the spirit of the Lord was in this place.

I have seen the refining fire of the silversmith working in your life for years.

Your life was an example for all your friends, family, and some that you probably never realized were watching.

Jeff, Kelly, and Nathan led the worship as we celebrated the life that Jesus lived through you.

They played Keaggy’s “What a Day, That Will Be” and we all thought, “That’s right!”

The music inside you carried through to your sons.

What a day!

But, the question….

You were named Alfred Clayton Armstrong III.

We always called you Clay.

Did you never lead worship and sing the hymn, “Have Thine Own Way Lord”?

I can see you singing

Have thine own way Lord,

Have thine own way.

Thou art the potter

(Then looking at the congregation, with a smile)

I am Clay.

Did you?

You turned into a beautiful vessel of Life.

I’ll see you on the other side, cousin/brother.

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Ahh, LORD GOD,

You have made heaven and earth.
And me.
It seems you gave us all a choice to love you or not.
The consequences of not are proving pretty scary for the world.
You tell me not to fear, because you know my natural default position is to fear.
Every time I go there, my stomach starts to hurt.
Is that a built in reminder to trust in you with all my heart and to not fall back into my own understanding?
This Corona virus thing seems a lot like the work of the one who only comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy.
I am joining with my true brothers and sisters (in you) to ask you to deliver us from this evil one.
As I learn to abide in the secret place of the Most High God, I begin to realize the rest I find in your shadow.
You promised those that love you long life!
There is no life longer than eternal life, right?
May you use this attack against the world to bring hope to those still living in darkness?
And, if I can, help me be the light.

Always in your hands,
Because of Jesus,
Your servant,
Your child,
Your friend,
Randy

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CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

James 1:17 NIV

Every once in a while, you read a scripture that you have read a thousand times, and a part of it stands out, for some reason.

You look at it, and you can’t see any reason, so you kinda figuratively walk away.

But it keeps drawing you back.

There must be something there that I’m not seeing.

What are the good and perfect gifts?

And why does the scripture tie them to the creator of lights?

What is light anyway?

The result of something dark, lightless, becoming overwhelmed with intense, terrifying, transforming heat.

When God stepped into His creation, when it was still shrouded in darkness, He let there be light.

Everything changed.

When God raises His creation to Life, He overwhelms the darkness that resides there with an intense, transforming heat.

Those good and perfect gifts.

Those trials that we are told to count as joy, that are designed to change us into what we were created to become.

The trials that burn as light.

AND EVERYTHING CHANGES!

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MEDIOCRE, DULL FRED

I always considered myself a pretty good athlete.

Not great, but coordinated.

Good hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes.

Ping pong, oh yeah. Not a great serve, but pretty good defense. Could play with anyone, but usually lost to the good ones.

I played soccer in college. I was a walk-on, never having played in my life, having no skills. I made the team, became a starter, but only because I liked the running. My Greek teammate, Tasso, can tell you how bad I was. But on defense, I was irritating as all get out. I scored one goal. My teammates jokingly called it “a banana kick.”

Same in basketball, what I lacked in natural ability, I tried to make up for with pesky defensive tactics.

I didn’t win much, so I learned how to lose, and still love to play.

Baseball, good infielder, decent on base percentage, stole some bases, usually second place or lower. Once I made all stars. My family vacation was during the all star tournament, so I never played in an all star game. I never hit a home run. A few triples though. I dreamed of playing for the Yankees.

I was a good student, graduated third. Not vale- or saluta-. Third. No speech for me. I was kind of relieved.

I guess what I am trying to say, I wasn’t the best at anything.

The Smothers Brothers used to sing a song, “Mediocre Dull Fred.” (I don’t know why I thought of that.)

You know what, though?

I do a pretty great me.

Something else?

God couldn’t love me any more than He does right now!

That’s pretty good, yeah?

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Changing Our Minds

“I think it’s time to call a truce and move on. We are not going to change anyone’s mind, so I need to back out of this.

Thanks for the opportunity to make the points I wanted to make. Adios, amigo.”

This is how our conversation ended; the one on whether or not there is evidence of a creator.

My first thought was, I am right, you are wrong.

My second thought was I won’t change my mind, but if you don’t, well, that does not make any sense.

Because I’m right and you are wrong.

My third thought was, wait a minute, how can I expect him to be willing to change if I’m not?

Today, though, I looked back and saw what he really said.

“We are not going to change anyone’s mind….”

Now that may be deeper than he thinks.

Maybe all we can do is change opinions.

I remember when my mind was a lot like his…I was always filling it with all the knowledge and experience my little world had to offer.

I was quite pleased with myself.

But, one day, in 1978, I changed my mind.

Well, to be honest, I didn’t change it.

I had tried many times with no success.

But, I sure could change that opinion.

Then, I came to the point where it wasn’t getting any better, and if I didn’t change my mind…it wouldn’t get any better.

I found someone who would change it for me.

Forever.

And I can’t, nor would I want to ever change it again.

“But, we have the mind of Christ.”

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THE FIRST TIME I SAW GOD’S HAND

A friend of mine, looking for proof of God actually doing anything in this physical world, asked me what I had seen. I asked him if he wanted to hear my story.
“Randy, of COURSE I want your story!!!! Thats what I’ve been asking for. What did you see? What did you witness?”

So here is a short (still pretty long) version. I never tire of sharing it.

April 23, 1978
“Hey, Randy, we want you to teach the high school Sunday School class. How ‘bout it.”
This was my first foray into responsibility as an adult. I had left my church for my college years, got married, had a kid.
When we moved back to my hometown, we decided to go back to my home church.
“Sure,” I replied, l can do that.”
How hard could it be?
“They have just started the book of John. Chapter 1. You will pick up on chapter 2.”
Now, looking back, I was absolutely unqualified to teach anything, especially the Bible. I doubt that I had ever read more than a verse or two at a time.
Actually, I found it a little bit (or a lot) boring.
But I was a smart guy. I could do this.

April 30, 1978
“Turn in your Bibles to John chapter 2.”
I began to read, paraphrase, read, paraphrase….
I was right. It was boring.
The kids were looking at their watches, struggling to keep their eyes opened.
I even saw some eyes rolling back into their heads.
I figured maybe I could do better next week.
After church, I went to the church library, checked out a big heavy commentary to help me figure out how to make this a little bit more entertaining.

May 7, 1978
John chapter 3.
Apparently the commentary didn’t make this book more interesting.
Watch watching, eye rolling, boredom.
In this chapter some big religious guy named Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and tried to throw a little flattery Jesus’ way by telling him that no one could do these kind of things he was doing unless God was with him.
Jesus replied, “ I tell you the truth. No one can even see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
Nicodemus didn’t have a clue what he was talking about.

Neither did I.
I kept on reading out loud, hurrying to get past this statement. Luckily, no one asked me what it meant.
But, for the first time in my entire 26 years, a statement out of the Bible troubled me.
I continued to bore the kids and just pushed this verse completely out of my mind.

May 8, 1978
I was a route salesman/driver for Pepsi Cola at this time. I was pretty good at it. Top salesman three of the five years I worked there.
This Monday morning, as I drove to my first stop, I was really depressed. Tears behind my eyes depressed.
And I didn’t have a clue why.

I remember praying. I believed in God. I had been taught to pray to God when things weren’t going well, when you ate at a table with family, and before you went to sleep. Things were usually going pretty well for me, but my mealtime prayers were usually, “Dear, God, thank you for this food and help it go to the nourishment of our bodies.”
Bedtime usually something like, “ Dear, God, help me to do what is right and not what is wrong.”
But there was that one time, about a years before, when I had been cheating on my sales tickets a little bit at a grocery store, and I thought I had been discovered.
I had lost a job a couple of years earlier, before Pepsi, for falsifying records, and I thought it was going to happen again.
I considered myself a good person, too.
So when I was driving back to the plant the day I thought I was about to be discovered, I prayed, in abject fear, “Dear God, please don’t let me be fired again! I will do anything for you. Just please don’t let me be fired!”
I got back to the plant.
Nothing happened.
Huh.

Back to May 8, 1978.
“Dear, God, why am I so depressed? If you go to church on Sunday, shouldn’t you feel good on Monday?” I really wanted to cry…
“And, what does it mean to be born again?”
I arrived at my first store, Skaggs Albertsons on Centerville and Broadway in Garland.
I walked in the back door, head down, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone for fear that the dam would break and I would start crying like a baby.
I stepped over a pile of dirt on the dock that was to be dumped into the dumpster.
There was a paper on top of the pile that had the words facing up, “HAVE YOU BEEN BORN AGAIN?”
Huh.
I picked it up and stuck it into my pocket.
I needed to find the restroom, so I walked across the back aisle of the store toward the break room.
I stepped over another pile of dirt that had been swept up by the floor crew and hadn’t made it to the back room yet.
Right on top of that pile was a paper with the words up that said, “WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE BORN AGAIN?”
Huh.
I picked it up and stuck it in my pocket.

When I finished the work in this store, I went out to my truck, started the engine, and read the first one, front to back, praying out loud the prayer at the end.
I set it down on the seat and picked up the second one, read it from front to back, praying out loud the prayer printed at the end.

When I looked up, my depression was gone.
The sun was bright, the air was clear, and I felt like I was seeing color for the first time.
Something changed in me that day, for real.
That day, I learned what it means to be born again.

Now, I have quite a few years behind me, and, every time I retell this story, I realize stuff I had never thought of before.
Like, without April 23, then April 30, then March 7, if I had stepped over those two piles of dirt, I would have kept right on walking.
If I hadn’t been depressed and prayed a desperate prayer, I would have kept on walking. If some young man (or old, I don’t know) hadn’t left those Bible tracts in the restroom to be thrown on the floor and swept up, I would have stepped right over the piles.

So many seemingly inconsequential things had to be in place for God to be able to grab the attention of this 26 year old self-centered “good person” and bring him to a life changing decision that changed everything.
42 years later, I love him even more than I did that day.

And, I believe with all my being, that my Jesus is extending his hand to you, as well.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart….”

“For God loved the world (me, you, them) so much, that He gave His only Son, that WHOEVER believes, in Him has eternal (forever) life. For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

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