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.
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?”
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?”
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.”
MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY
There is a story in the Book I have come to love since that world changing day in 1978.
It seems there was this commander in the army of Abram. He was victorious in all his battles, a mighty warrior, and highly regarded by his king.
His name was Naaman, and it seemed he had it all, but he had a skin disease.
A while back, a band of Arameans had gone into a village in Samaria and captured some of its inhabitants and sold them as slaves.
Naaman had a slave girl he had bought from this band.
One day, the slave girl told Naaman’s wife, “There is a prophet of the most high God in Samaria who performs mighty wonders. Your husband should go to him and be healed.”
Naaman went to his king to ask for some time off. He told him what the servant girl had told him.
The king granted his request and even wrote a letter to the king of Israel, telling him to cure his commander, Naaman.
When the king of Israel received the letter, he was terrified. “I can’t heal a man,” he cried out.”This king if Aram is trying to start a war with me. What can I do?”
Elisha, the prophet the servant girl was speaking of, heard about the king’s troubled state, and sent him a message to send Naaman to him.
Naaman came to Elisha’s house, and Elisha sent a servant out to tell Naaman to go dip in the Jordan River seven times.
“Where is the prophet,” Naaman asked.”Why can’t he come out and do the thing to heal me?”
He was enraged. Didn’t Elisha know who he was? Aren’t there better rivers, cleaner rivers in Damascus? Why did he have to go into the Jordan River?
One of his servants asked him, “Master? If the prophet had asked you to do some big thing, wouldn’t you have done it? Maybe you should do what he said.”
So Naaman did. And he was healed. 2 Kings 5.
You, my friend, keep asking for evidence, physical evidence, that God is real. If Jesus could appear before his disciples after his resurrection, why can’t he appear before me right now?
I don’t think you really want that, though, do you? You would rather he not be true so you can continue as the god in your life.
But, just as Elisha made the rules for Naaman, Jesus made the rules for us.
“You must be born again.”
“Without faith, it is impossible to please God.”
“If you love me, you will keep my commands.”
Naaman could have gone back to his home, carrying his disease with him.
But he didn’t. He listened to his servants.
Maybe, in your scenario, I am your servant.
Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet, believe.
OR WOULD YOU RATHER BE A MULE?
My brother, Jeff, decided to have a second memorial for his wife, Ann. Just an intimate gathering of about 12 people (including the 3 or 4 workers who had to be there).
He had spent the weekend absorbed in old letters of Ann’s that he had found, including letters written to the God she treasured.
“She kept all of them,” Jeff said.
In the reading of the decades old letters, he discovered, (or remembered) the love that Ann carried for him, even to the point of writing to God to help her express, even better, that love.
“Randy,” he told me a couple of days later, “while I was reading these letters, crying, feeling her deep love and affection for me, her phone rang, and the caller ID was her number. I had the sudden sense that God’s affection for me was tied into everything, that there was something about light and darkness that I was supposed to understand. I walked by the front door, and, through the transom above the door, I could see the full moon, with wisps of clouds passing in front of the brightness of the moon. It came over me, an instant, overwhelming sense of the Father’s love that had been there the whole time.”
The evidence is in the difference between light and darkness.
Light overcomes the darkness.
I have this ongoing conversation with some friends that keep insisting that there is no “evidence “ that God even exists.
I keep repeating different versions of the same theme: you must be born again, he who has the Son has life, he who does not have the Son of God does not have life, the new creation….
Everything I say falls on deaf ears.
I look at Jeff. I see the evidence that they cannot see.
The world of the natural, where we live, has ways of swinging a club at us, knocking us backward, bringing our focus to a point. Just survive this one thing!
If that life is in us, we have access to that voice that whispers truth, that the world cannot hear.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love…and underneath are the everlasting arms.”
This scripture from Psalms jumped out at me last week.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you. Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him.”
Psalms 32:8-10 NIV
I put the spaces between the sections for emphasis.
The evidence for God is there. When our world overwhelms us, when our loss seems to be the overwhelming focus of our lives, if we have the son of God, we find the loving eye upon us, the teaching and counsel and instruction on what to do next, and, a sense of the evidence of God’s unfailing love surrounding us.
“Do not be like the horse or mule…”
I thought about the Disney film, “Pinocchio.”
Good old Jiminy Cricket, the conscience of the puppet who wants to become a boy. He counseled him, one time with a song, to encourage him “to swing on a star.”
Would you like to swing on a star?
Carry moonbeams home in a jar
And be better off than you are
Or would you rather be a mule?
A mule is an animal with long funny ears
Kicks up at anything he hears
His back is brawny but his brain is weak
He’s just plain stupid with a stubborn streak
And by the way, if you hate to go to school
You may grow up to be a mule.
I realized, that that life inside, the one that carries us when we can’t carry ourselves, that counsels us and teaches us, and pours the love of the Father out on us, is the evidence.
When you seek it with all your heart, you find it.
Or, would you rather be a mule?