May 31, 2015
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
The guy who first realized that Jesus was the savior, the son of God.
The guy who also, in obedience stepped out of the boat and walked on water.
The guy who said he would fight for Jesus and die with him.
The guy who took up a sword to defend him and cut off an attacker’s ear.
The guy who fled into the night.
The guy who denied him three times in fear.
The guy who decided to go back to his old job.
I am not good because of things I do.
Most things I do are because I love me.
Jesus did not die to make me better, or to make me find happiness.
Jesus died to make me alive.
To follow him means to trust him.
He will sometimes terrify me.
Sometimes I will feel completely alone.
He will lead me to places I don’t think I want to go, to do things I don’t think I am capable of doing.
He will ask me to give up my pursuit of happiness, and to learn what it means to really love somebody.
To learn what it means to really live.
He will give me joy.
“Randy, do you love me more than these?”
May 31, 2018
We would have two guys standing in front of us, taking turns. One would pick, then the other. Back and forth.
I usually wasn’t the first, but, thankfully I was usually not the last.
That next to the last person…you could always see a visible sigh of relief…he wasn’t chosen last.
The last guy, head down, joins the team that chose him by default.
The games begin, two enemy teams warring against each other, playing by the rules.
We didn’t need umpires or referees.
It was just more fun to play fair.
Who wants to win with the cry, “You cheated!” echoing through the air?
The game would end.
One side wins, the other side loses.
No one remembers who was chosen last.
They all head home.
Now we choose sides.
We know we are right, so we choose the ones that agree with us.
We battle against the enemy on the other side, this time with words instead of rules of play.
We can ignore our own little “sins” because we see the “shortcomings” in everybody else.
Somehow, that makes us better…that, at least, we are not like them.
Or, are we.
Sometimes, we walk away as friends.
I realize as I write this that there are really just two sides, though, when you think about it.
Born once crowd.
Born twice crowd.
C.S. Lewis once said, “Christianity is like the sun. By it, I can see everything else.”
When you have that second Life inside of you, the Eternal One, your viewpoint changes.
I wonder which side you are on.
From a simpler time, when the cans were metal, and garbage bags were nonexistent….
1. My little brother, Jeff had the chore this week of taking the trash cans to the end of the driveway for the garbage truck that day.
My dad would put the grass clippings in one of these metal cans. Jeff saw the full can, carried it to the curb, filled it with water, then hid to watch the two men struggle mightily to lift this 400 pound can of “grass clippings”. Back in the day where a trash man had mighty arms, when there were no hydraulic can hoists to dump the can into the truck, they were unable to lift the can.
I believe my mom punished him for this.
2. Once, when I was 9 or 10, it was my day to gather the trash from the house, take it out to the big cans, then take them out to the curb.
Remember, no garbage bags.
Every waste basket had to be carried out, emptied into the cans, brought back in.
You know me. I do everything fast.
After the trash was picked up, my mom discovered trash left on the floor in the bathroom beside where the can was.
To help me remember, she told me to write 100 times, “I will remember to pick up all the trash.”
My dad was a salesman for Nabisco, so he always had large forms that had all his products listed on one side for his orders. The other side was blank, and we would always use that for writing, drawing, etc., so Mom gave me a sheet to get me started.
I dutifully wrote, “I will remember to pick up all the trash” across the first line.
Then thinking highly of my clever resourcefulness, I spent about 30 minutes putting ditto marks (“) under every word, for 99 more lines.
It wasn’t that quick.
She didn’t accept my cleverness.
She handed me another sheet of paper, and I wrote, 100 lines, “I will remember to pick up all the trash.”
Fifty five years later, I still remember to pick up all the trash.
Oh, and I never duplicated my little brother’s prank, either.
Susan stood in front of the mirror. She was barely one year out of journalism school, and was beginning to grow weary of the fluff pieces she was assigned by the small market tv station where she was an evening news reporter.
She stood straight, looked directly into the mirror, and said, “This is Susan Quinones reporting for CNN.”
“One day…” she murmured as she walked to her car.
Peter Flores was handing out masks. He was glad that he was able to get his tour bus back on the road. The past two and a half months had taken all his savings just to keep from closing his business all together.
“The mayor says we all have to wear a mask…sorry…but you will really enjoy the trip…beautiful day, huh?”
Thirty seven people, he thought, angrily. A third of the bus capacity. That’s all they will let me carry. We haven’t seen one single case. Not one single case. Ridiculous.
With everyone on board, families together, groups spaced apart as per the regulations, Peter pulled onto the road. The mask was causing his glasses to fog.
“Stupid mask,” and he pulled it slightly below his nose. He swatted at a fly buzzing around his head.
A little boy sat in the first row next to his mother. “Mama, I’ve never been on a bus before. I like this bus. This is fun!”
Peter saw his mother in the mirror as she smiled and patted his leg.
He swatted at the fly.
“Mama, did you see that bee? It’s a bee!”
It landed on Peter’s cheek, crawled under his mask. Allergy, he thought, as he jerked the mask off his face. The ear loops threw his glasses to the floor. He tried to grab them, felt the lurching of the bus.
He couldn’t regain control.
“Hey, Susie Q, boss wants you in his office,” said Jake, the weatherman from his desk.
She hated that name. It seemed like all the old people had some problem with pronouncing Quinones. “It’s Susan,” she replied.
He shook his head, grinned, and pointed to the office.
“Quinones, I’ve got a big story for you; bus crash out on Highway 19. Take Adam to film it. We need to get this on the evening news.”
She spied Adam at the coffee pot, and hurried toward him.
“Hey, Susie Q, what’s up?”
“Not you, too. It’s Susan. Big story. Grab your camera.”
Susan was walking toward the flashing lights, saw the paramedic tending to the survivors.
“Well, look who’s here folks…it’s Susie Q.”
“Susan Quinones. Is it all right if I talk to someone? Ask a few questions?”
“Go for it. These guys were the lucky ones.”
She saw the bus lying on its side.
“Can anyone tell me what happened?” She asked the group.
A little boy jumped up, “It was a bee!”
“What?” Susan asked, “ a bee? What was a bee?”
“ A bee was flying around, and it landed on the bus man’s face, and crawled under his mask….”
“His mask? He was wearing a mask?”
“We all were!” said the boy. “You know, because of the virus.”
“The virus,” she whispered. “The virus.”
She spent a few more minutes asking details from the others, then walked past Adam as he turned the camera off.
“Turn it back on, Adam, we need to film the tease.”
“You want the bus in the background?”
“No, the town. Get the town in the background.”
“You sure, Susie Q?”
“Susan. Yes. I’m sure.”
“Okay. In three, two, one…”
“A town completely untouched by the pandemic through the entire lockdown, suffers twenty two COVID 19 related deaths in one day, just three days after the lockdown ends. Details at six. This is Susan Quinones, KRTV Evening News.”
Adam’s mouth was open, stunned, as he turned off the camera.
“That’ll bring the eyes. I’ll fix it at six. CNN, here I come.”
As she walked past Adam, he began to sing, “Oh Susie Q, Oh Susie Q….”
She stopped. “Why do you…wait…Is that a song? Is that a real song?”
Well, this has been an eye opening weekend.
I finally am starting to understand how this virus works.
Sneezing: thousands of droplets being shot into the air, virus missiles, remaining in the air for hours, or long minutes.
Singing: droplets catapulting virus on the melodic strains.
Talking: hundreds of virus carrying droplets hanging on every word.
Loud talking(Randy, use your inside voice): even more droplets, holding their ears, still hanging onto every word.
So, here are the rules.
Mask your face so no one can see you smile. They will think you are as scared as they are.
Whisper so that any virus that does squeeze through the openings in the mask at least won’t have that water slide “wheeee”.
If you go to church and keep the distance rule, DO NOT SING OUT LOUD, DO NOT SHOUT FOR JOY TO THE LORD, DO NOT PRAISE HIM WITH UPLIFTED VOICE, AND MAKE SURE THE PREACHER SPEAKS IN A QUIET WHISPER!
WEAR A MASK AND DO NOT TOUCH!
AND IF YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE TO SING, well, humming may be okay…quietly, mouth closed.
And silent prayer will be okay.
But, don’t ask, and don’t touch.
“He who strives to save his life will lose it. He who loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16: 25
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5:48 ESV
This has always been one of those scriptures that I wanted to believe…but I kept getting in the way with all my imperfections.
My brother, Jeff, brought it up the other day, and it felt like inspiration to me…you know, one of those things that can happen in a day, and I say, “I’ve got to write about this.”
Jeff told me that when Jesus told Peter, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me. Three times!”
Jesus could have said, “Hey, Peter, this is gonna be a tough day for you. You’re gonna have to be really strong and remember everything I’ve told you, and, no matter what, DO NOT DENY ME!”
Peter, of all the disciples, would have tried really hard to do good, to be the best of all the disciples, the bravest, the strongest.
But Jesus just told him what would happen,
Just the facts.
And it happened just the way he said.
Peter crashed and burned.
Three days later…well you know that part.
But, Peter, knowing how he had really messed up, went back to fishing.
He figured that was something he could do right.
Jesus didn’t have to tell him anything.
“He just asked him, “Peter, do you love me?”
He told him that he was still useful, he still had something to do.
Jesus was being perfect, as was his Father, showing love to one who felt unworthy of love. A perfect, complete, forgiving, unselfish kind of love that mankind, to this point, hadn’t comprehended.
And he had said, sometime earlier that they (and we) were to be this same way.
Now, it sounded at the time like we would have to try, really buckle down and try to be perfect.
But it wasn’t that.
Being perfect meant being complete. Having everything you need to be what he tells you to be.
It’s all a part of the Gift.
You must be born again, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, accept the very Life into yourself that Jesus carried with him.
Being perfect is not something you can do.
It’s who you are.
If you have been made new.
After Peter was born the second time (see Acts 2) he changed.
He even wrote a letter later on telling other believers (those that had received this new life) that they already had EVERYTHING they needed to become “partakers of the divine nature.”
Being perfect means loving Jesus. Loving Jesus means trusting him and his providence no matter what the circumstances are.
But, here’s the thing, you can’t even do that unless you receive the gift that is offered to you.
A free gift.
A gift that gives you the presence of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
And then, you can find out how to be perfect, as the Heavenly Father is perfect.
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 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.