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.

My Testimony

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.

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HOW TO READ THE BIBLE

A PROVERB A DAY, PROVERBS 30

The controversy rages, self distancing, government forced quarantine, or getting back to work.

But I’m going to mention a different controversy.

Among Christians there are arguments (some friendly, so adamant) about which is the best version of the Bible to read? Which one is most true to the original? Which one is really “the word of God”?

KJV, NKJV, ESV, NIV, NASB, TLB, NLT, TPT…?

To add to the controversy, I am about to give you the answer.

Yeah, that is bold, I admit.

Before the distancing began, I was a part of a weekly gathering of men studying the comparative texts of the life of Jesus, mainly Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

When these texts would mention something from the Old Testament, the question would come up, ” If the new Testament was originally in Greek, or maybe Hebrew and Aramaic translated into Greek, and the Old Testament was originally in Hebrew, how can we trust the translations of the Bible we now have?”

In our studies, we would use the original language words and definitions to bring greater understanding to the passages we were studying.

Layer on layer on layer of deeper meaning would reveal itself to us.

“But the average guy, just reading the Bible, he doesn’t have all this information. How can he know the true meaning?”

““Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭30:5-6‬ ‭NIV‬‬
That is the Proverb for today, April 30.

In the book of John, at the very beginning,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
‭‭John‬ ‭1:1, 3-5, 9-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬

The Word was not a book, the Word was God.

That day in our study, I had a thought.

“Do you think God knew that we would be translating His book into other languages?”

Yes! Yes he did!

Jesus told the religious guy in John 3, Nicodemus, that no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.

Something happens when one is truly born again. A light that has been dead begins to shine.

A love for the One who gave the light begins to grow.

A love to read about the giver of light and his personality begins to develop.

What do you read? Do you learn Hebrew and Greek?

No. You begin to read the version of the Bible that you have.

And the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us? His voice grows within you to lead you and guide you into all truth.

You must be born again! John 3
The Comforter (the Holy Spirit, the inner voice of God) will come to lead you and guide you into all truth. John 16
God has given us eternal life.
This Life is in His son.
He who has the son has Life.
He who does not have the Son of God does not have Life. 1 John 5: 11-12

The question is not “which version should we read?” the question is “Do you have the Son of God?”
Do you?

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PLAYING CATCH

PROVERBIAL APRIL, nearing the end, Proverbs 29

It seems now that we did it a lot, my dad and I, playing catch in the back yard, my little Manchester Chihuahua, José running back and forth with every throw.
Dad had played on the Monica Park church softball team.
Outfield. He could really run.

I don’t remember when it became a regular thing, so we must have started when I was pretty young.

The game was simple; throw the ball. Catch the ball.

I remember my dad’s quickness to catch my wild throws, sometimes having to leap high, stretching to keep that ball from going over the fence into the mouth of the neighbor’s slobbering boxer.

I could have played for hours. I never tired of the game.

Dad would mix it up. Grounders, fly balls.

“Be on the balls of your feet, knees bent, ready to go any direction.”

He would zip one to my right, I would stretch and sidearm the throw back to him.

“Runner’s out,” he would grin.

Pop fly, over my head. Back, back…

“Both hands whenever you can. Keeps the ball from popping out of your glove, and also makes you ready to throw the ball where it needs to go.”

Every once in a while, we would play burnout.

I would throw it as hard as I could. He would let it hit right in the palm of the glove, so it would pop, and take the glove off , shake his hand like it really did burn.

Then he would zing one back to me. I had learned to catch them in the webbing so they didn’t hurt, but, every once in a while, I would let it pop in the palm, take off my glove, and shake my hand up and down.
It really did burn.

On Saturdays, we would watch the New York Yankees on TV; Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Tom Tresh, Clete Boyer, Bobby Richardson, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford.

I learned the rules of the game from my dad. I learned the joy of playing by the rules, how to win. How to lose.

When I played, my dad would be in the stands. I could hear his voice, “ Two hands!”
“Be ready, balls of your feet.” “Keep your eyes on the ball.” “Good catch!” “Good throw!” “That’s my boy!”

He loved watching the son he loved playing the game he loved the way he taught him to play.

“A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father….”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭29:3‬a NIV‬‬

When I was given new life from above, I discovered the God who made me, and learned the joy of being with him and hearing his lessons on how to live life, reading his book and learning more and more about his character.

He is a good Father.

I can hear Him in the stands, “Don’t be afraid, I’m here.” “Be alert, be ready.” “I’ve taught you this.” You can do this!” “You’re my son.”

He loves watching the son He loves, living the Life He gave him, the way He taught him to live

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PICTURES IN HIS WALLET

I came across an interesting little proverb today, one verse.

“Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.” Proverbs 27:11 NIV

We have all done it, carried pictures of our kids or grandkids and whipped them out whenever we saw someone we hadn’t seen in a while.

They used to be stuck in a wallet, but we found we could carry so many more in our phones.

But, we were proud of the pictures that represented the reality of our continuing legacy, our kids, our grandkids.

The love we held for them was unbreakable.

Wasn’t it easy to pull out these pictures when they were young, innocent, and not yet making the stupid choices we all end up making as we navigate the paths to our adulthood?

Here’s a concept.

Suppose this proverb is a direct quote from Almighty God.

And you are that son, or daughter. (It’s okay to substitute daughter.)

One of His enemies screams at Him, “If you are real show me some proof!”

His answer, “Have you considered my son or daughter (insert your name here)?”

Your life is evidence that God is good, that God is love, that God is mighty. (After all, He took that life when you were making all those stupid choices, and completely transformed your mind. That couldn’t have been easy.)

And now, I am that picture in His wallet that He uses to show His enemies that they, too, could be that picture in His wallet.

If He could change me,

Well, He can change anyone.

Be wise.

You are the proof of God.

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AND SOMETIMES, HE CAUSES ME TO TREMBLE

When I learned that I couldn’t earn my way into God’s family, I sort of rebelled, thinking, ” Hey, I’m a pretty good guy, compared to him and her and him and him….”

I held onto that for quite some time.

I maintained the fantasy that God would love me just because I was a pretty dad gum good guy.

I couldn’t even tell that my heart was getting hard.

After all, I believed in God, (…you do well. The demons believe, and tremble. James 2:19)
but, I made all my own choices, keeping His teaching far, far from me.

My desire was for me, for what I wanted, my way.

Until that day, when my hard heart was shattered, I saw who I was, what I had become.

And I trembled as I prayed, “I am yours.”

That’s when the job description changed.

That day, I heard his voice and I did not harden my heart. (Hebrews3: 7, 8a)

The blessings came as my eyes and ears opened to that Voice that kept on speaking through the years.

Instructions on “working my land” (making my life a living sacrifice) started singing to my heart, and I found myself wanting to please the One who had quickened my heart to a new way of thinking, of living.

But, oh, the riches that followed, the Joy that ensued,
The pleasure of pleasing the One who loves me,
What more could I need?

“Blessed is the one who always trembles before God, but whoever hardens their heart falls into trouble.

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭28:14, 19‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I only wonder why it took me so many years.

I prayed. Sort of.

I found that answer today, as well.

“If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are detestable.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭28:9‬ ‭NIV

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LISTENING FOR THE TRUTH

I recently heard that the responsibility of the press is to look for inconsistencies in the government leaders and to hold them accountable.

That seems right, doesn’t it?

But isn’t there some responsibility of the press to ask the hard questions to all members of government, even the side that they support.

And isn’t there a responsibility to report the actions of the leaders when they get it right?

And isn’t the whole purpose of the press to expose the lies, and seek after the truth?

And us, don’t we have the same responsibility?

To seek the Truth above all else?

To allow wisdom and knowledge and the ability to “search out a matter” to lead us into a wise understanding of what is going on in the world we live in.

Sometimes, it is hard to find the truth.

Sometimes you have to think, “ What is not being said, and why is it not being said.”

We have to be careful who we believe.

And we have to be careful to love first.

And we need to be mindful of who the true enemy is.

“Enemies disguise themselves with their lips, but in their hearts they harbor deceit.
Though their speech is charming, do not believe them, for seven abominations fill their hearts.
Their malice may be concealed by deception, but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.”
‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭26:24-26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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CHRISTMAS SHOPPING

April 26, 2017

When I was a kid, probably nine or ten, I decided to buy some Christmas presents. I didn’t have much money, so I was with my mom in Big Town and went into some place like a dime store.

My grandmother, Mimo Epps (I had another Mimo, Mimo Mac (for McCrory), always dressed nice, and she usually had on some kind of fancy broach.

So I found her a fancy broach. (Maybe, fancy to me, but it had jewels. I cannot at this time ascertain their genuineness.)

My grandfather, Poppy smoked a pipe, and an occasional cigar. I found an ashtray, and, proud of my practical gift giving capability, went to the register to pay.

I could hardly wait to show my mom my proficient shopping skills.

She looked at my purchase, didn’t smile, or encourage me.

“Why did you buy that,” she asked.

“Well, it’s an ashtray, and Poppy smokes, and I thought it was perfect.”

Silence, at first, then, “Do you not know what that is?”

I’m thinking, “ashtray” but, I look at it, and horror grips my gut.

It was a toilet.

It was an ashtray, shaped like a toilet.

A toilet!

I can’t give Poppy a toilet! (They didn’t even show toilets on tv.)

I took it back, got my money back, and, instead, bought Poppy three Lovera cigars.

That’s right folks.

A nine year old boy, in 1960, could go into a store and buy cigars.

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