I guess it all mainly began when my little grandma died in 1970 (Wow! has it been that long now?).
I remember being very angry over her sudden death (mostly because I didn't visit her more often and felt guilty). And after storming into her bedroom and shaking my fist at the crucifix she had on the wall and then telling God that she of all people had better be in Heaven and if she--of all people--was not, I then went on to use some plain foul language to tell Him what He could do with His Heaven in no uncertain terms.
I hated "death" and felt helpless over the devastating loses it left behind. I remember afterwards knowing that I shouldn't really have swore at and blamed God for her death.
Then around 1972 or so and still carrying two chips on my shoulders--mad at the world, poor, hurting, and sick of life and what it held ("death"!)--when one day a priest of my old Catholic Church called me in to tell me that I wasn't attending church or paying enough and (to make a long story short--I hadn't gone in a few years) went on to threaten me to attend and pay lots more OR ELSE (whisper--the Big Casino: "excommunication").
Perhaps he thought that by using his "power" as a priest over me that he would get me down on my knees begging, but instead it really fired up my hatred and rage against such an uncaring and insensitive world, and he was directly in my line of fire!
Well, I got done telling him in very clear terms using four letter expletive deletes what he could go and do with himself, his church and his God, and slammed the door behind me as hard as I could. I walked out, excommunicating myself.
I wouldn't know until 1976 that what I had officially slammed the door on was a "dead" religious system based on merits, works, and sacraments instead of having and knowing a "Living and Personal Savior" by His grace!
This brings us to events in 1976. I had hated my father with a passion--possibly to the point of murder! He was so set in his ways, and we always argued. I did not fit into his mold! Everything I said was white (and mostly it was), but everything he said was black (just the opposite).
I was starved for his love and hungered for his approval, but I kept failing to measure up to the imaginary goals of perfection he had set and expected of me! Yet I wasn't doing anything worthy of honoring thy father.
Then one day while I was sitting in another room, he began telling a story of his account of the depression to a friend of his in the kitchen. I was so sick of him I didn't even want to hear his voice . . . nevertheless, I was listening (probably to find something I could use against him later on) when he began to tell his friend how poor his family of 10 kids were. "We were so poor," he said, "that I had to wear the hand-me-down socks of my older brothers, and these had holes in both ends." He called them his "holey baseball socks."
As he continued, he told his friend that while in school one day, the teacher told all the kids to take off their shoes and socks because a nurse came in to inspect their feet to see if they were healthy. My father protested. At first he refused to take off his shoes, but then the teacher made him, against his will. When he took them off, that was when the other kids (who had better clothes) saw his "holey socks" and made fun of him. My father ran out of school totally embarrassed, and soon he never went back! (If it were me, I would have stayed and fought them all!)
As he was telling the story, I looked up from the book I was pretending to read and saw how he was getting all teary-eyed and choked up and how--even to that day--it still deeply affected him.
"Hey it wasn't your fault," I said to myself. Then it hit me as I realized my heart was actually going out to him: "WAIT A MINUTE," my thoughts were now shouting. "WHOA BOY! OH NO YOU DON'T. I DON'T CARE WHAT HAPPENED TO HIM OR HOW HE FELT. HE'S THE SAME SELF-CENTERED KNOW-IT-ALL I'VE GOT NAILED TO THE WALL AS UNCARING AND UNLOVING, AND THERE HE'LL REMAIN UNTIL HE DIES. HE'LL NEVER CHANGE. HE'S HEARTLESS--CRUEL--TOTALLY WITHOUT LOVE AND AFFECTION. HE NEVER LISTENS TO ANYONE--ALWAYS CLAIMING HE'S RIGHT--I'M NEVER GOOD ENOUGH FOR HIM--UNABLE TO LIVE UP TO HIS EXPECTATIONS! NO! I DON'T WANT TO SEE THAT THIS MAN HAS OR HAD SOME HUMAN FEELING IN HIM. IMPOSSIBLE! HE NEVER HAD BEFORE, SO WHY SHOULD HE HAVE ANY NOW. NO! I'VE GOT HIM PEGGED ALL RIGHT! HE DESERVES ALL MY CONTEMPT!"
"And yet", said a wee small voice, "you see how that incident had deeply scarred him for the rest of his life!? You see how this man, who, as a small boy, was completely innocent yet was so embarrassed that when this happened it was on the same day that he put up a huge wall between himself and the outside world, never again allowing himself to be in situations that would embarrass him in any way. With such a wall as that, no one could get through to him, and it's amazing he ever married or had me. He rarely showed love or affection, at least not in any normal way, because he was stunted and was afraid to open up and give it."
More and more I began to admit that maybe I was the one who was wrong. Maybe I had him wrong all along! (This kind of admission was new and frightening to me, yet I could not shake it off.). Finally I was brought to where I could finally admit that I was wrong--Not only wrong but also Always Wrong to have nailed my dad to a cross and judged him so harshly. This was the first time I can remember that I had deep feelings towards my dad. I wanted to reach out and comfort him, put my arms around him, hold him close and just hug him. Although I never did (at that time), but his story of the "Holey Socks" had forever--in one sudden swoop--completely changed my attitude and understanding about him. I was stunned by the sudden turn of events!
It was shortly after this time, still feeling quite sensitive, when I was led one evening to pick up the Bible and read it. I don't know where I began, but I ended up in the Gospel of Matthew. And when I reached where Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane crying out to the Father, (Mathew 26:36-45), I stopped. I knew something was there, but I didn't know what. I kept reading it over and over again. I knew it was important for me to see it and to understand it. Then, suddenly, it all began to unfold like a butterfly spreading out its wings. I SAW it! Now I know WHY Jesus is in an agony of His soul in the garden. "IT'S BECAUSE HE'S ABOUT TO DO THE FATHER'S WILL AND GO TO THE CROSS! AND THE REASON HE IS GOING THERE IS . . . IS . . . OH MY GOD . . . FOR ME?! HE'S DOING THIS FOR ME!?"
I see! Now I understand! My God, I am sitting in an amphitheater, and only feet away from me the scene in the Book of Matthew 26 is being played out in magnificent splendor right before my very eyes. I cannot take it! I cannot take such love for me as I see here! Oh my God! The tears pouring out of my eyes and onto the pages of the Gospel of Matthew in no way blur the view of Him who loves me with a love I cannot even comprehend and who gave Himself to the cross for the likes of me . . . me??? Me of all people.
Dear reader, I will unashamedly tell you here and now that I could not put down that Bible and that I cried so much and so long that all I could do was thank Him over and over and over and over again. The pages of Matthew 26 and several layers deep were sop and wet, may I joyously say.
It was very shortly after that that the Lord revealed Himself to me by making His presence known. It was as if the skies parted and He spoke clearly and directly to me, saying. "I am the Lord God the Almighty!" I was trembling in fear yet overjoyed to tears at the same time because He had rolled back the clouds of darkness that had always separated us and made Himself known to me. "There is a God!" I said. "You are real! Oh my Lord and my God!" "Oh Lord, I told Him, "I love you now and want to do what you want me to do." And the Lord spoke and said, "If you love Me, then be reconciled to your father." "Gulp." I swallowed, "Oh Lord, anything but that (Eph.6:2)! I'll crawl to you on broken glass. Anything! It would be easier to be hit by a semi than to ask my father's forgiveness for having hurt him all my life. Shouldn't he be the one asking me for my forgiveness???" Then the clouds began to roll back in, and before they closed, the Lord's parting words to me were, "If you love Me, you'll do it!"
For two days I trembled. Even my mom saw me shaking, and though I tried to explain the 'war' going on inside, I knew she didn't understand. (She has since died in August of 1998 of a terrible stroke and is deeply missed. She always set a fine example and was such a wonderful mother and gracious lady that everyone loved her, and we all felt special just to be around her. In every way to me she was the complete opposite of my dad. She was as fine a loving mother and lady as there ever was).
"IF you love Me!" That "IF" was a killer! Of course I loved Him!? Certainly I loved Him!? He first loved me with a love beyond comprehension. "IF!" Yes, I loved Him but did I REALLY love Him by going and apologizing to my father and being reconciled to him as He wanted? "Finally," I stood up knowing what I had to do. I know I loved Him enough to do what He said. I went over and put my arm around him, looked him square in the eye, and said: "Dad, I'm sorry for hurting you. I'll NEVER hurt you again. Please forgive me!" This was a complete surprise. His jaw dropped, he began to choke up, and his eyes became wet like mine. I kissed him and walked into my bedroom, and as I had turned to go, he said, in a tiny, choked up voice, "It's about time you woke up, boy!"
In the bedroom the tears poured out, my head and hands were lifted to the heavens, and all I could do was affirm what my father had said by replying, "Oh dad, how right you are!" The heavens rejoiced, and the angels sang, giving glory to God that, I, the chief of all hardheads and sinners who ever lived had "'finally" repented of his sins (Lk 15:7, 10).
(Boy what a good place to end this!)
However, in order to understand what is about to shortly take place between me and my dad, we need to understand the "Power" of sin that is present in and rules over the "OLD" Adamic creature . . .
Rom 7:17-24, "Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18 For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19 For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20 Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21 I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. 22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin."
Paul understood this! I did not! I had vowed to NEVER hurt my dad again. I didn't realize that the Power to Keep that vow was Not "In me" but "In Christ"!
Within several months, believe it or not, I was back to hating my father again. I was hurting him all over again, and I promised him I never would and really meant it when I said it. All of this bothered me more than anything in my life, and I even wanted to kill myself over it because I couldn't seem to stop sinning and didn't know why. I hated myself! I wasn't doing the good I loved but the evil I loathed. I was powerless to stop and was most wretched and miserable. I saw a way to escape, to get away from my dad and God for a while. So I gathered up a few thousand dollars and left for Florida to bet on the horses. I was a pretty good handicapper, and I was intent on making a nice living and retiring off them.
However, I began to lose in mysterious ways. My bets would go lame in the lead just before the finish line or get beat out by a 100-1 shot by a nose. Like clockwork my horses would find mysterious ways to lose. I kept scratching my head. The more I lost, the more I was "consumed" by my work, spending upwards of 16 hours a day handicapping 9 or 10 races, which normally take no more 15 minutes each. My head was constantly buried in the racing form. I kept losing and losing. I was stunned. I couldn't believe my streak of bad luck. Then I realized what I kept myself from realizing: "The Lord was taking a personal hand in this!" It was the only explanation that made sense. For I was never that bad and managed to at least break even--even in the worst of times.
All I had left was maybe $50 (plus the money I needed to get home on). I had been in Florida just over two months, and I was broke. I couldn't believe it. I still went to the track, trying to handicap and play only a few of what I considered as the premier picks of the day. I still lost! It was becoming embarrassingly obvious that the Lord had other plans. I had turned my back on Him. He knew it, and I knew it, too. Finally, down to my last $5 or $10 dollars, I went into a store to buy me some cheap food, and a little black kid in dirty and torn clothes came up to me and said, "Hey mister! Can I have 50 cents, so I can buy some cookies? I'm hungry"!
The shortage of cash in my pocket and my only thinking of myself and my needs almost caused me to brush him off, but as part of me thought, "Hey, I need all the money I have," another part thought, "Gee, he sure looks like he could use a bite to eat," so I went with the last part. Looking at the kid I said, "Sure kid." I had also been "Holding Back" the Lord all of those months in Florida, keeping Him at a distance, keeping Him from telling me what I knew He wanted to tell me and what I knew I didn't want to hear. I stepped outside after giving the kid the paltry 50 cents because the tears started up again. And as I headed to my run-down apartment, the Lord began to show me something. (I did want to hear what the Lord wanted to tell me BUT not until AFTER I made a killing off the horses and enough to retire on easy street for the rest of my life . . . THEN I would follow Him).
It was time for me to face and hear the Truth. I did! That's when the Light of God finally broke through, and I saw and even smelled this sinfully hopeless, wretched, evil, ugly, vile beast. The most foul creature I ever saw! I was stunned that God would allow such a creature to even be allowed to exist for one second without incurring His full wrath! The moment I saw it, I cried out to the Lord: "Lord! Kill it! Destroy it! How dare such a foul and putrid thing be allowed to live before the holy and great Lord God the Almighty. This evil creature has no business being here in your holy presence. I abhor it. It reeks to high heaven! What are you waiting for? Destroy it and throw it into Hell, Lord, where it belongs and 100% deserves to be. How dare this vile . . . "thing" live before You, the Great and Holy God!!!"
"I" had spoken (and my words were based on the Truth I saw and heard, so I knew they carried weight)! The Lord saw, tasted, and smelled what I had, for He was in the same Exposing Light I saw by! The depraved creature I testified against was so filthy and hopelessly rotten to the core that I knew the Lord would deal with this 'thing' as I asked Him to and destroy it. For He is holy and cannot look upon such wickedness as this! I knew this absolutely!
Then, suddenly and without warning, this evil and polluted creature slowly turned and faced me. SHOCK OF SHOCKS!!! I could not believe what I was seeing! Yet, in His All-Knowing Light, I had no choice but to believe. This vile and disgusting 'thing' had my name on it. My name! How did it come to have 'MY' name? Somehow the Lord had tricked me, much the same as Nathan the prophet got David to confessing what he'd do before he was told that, "You" are the man: 2 Samuel 12:5-7.
(I could only stare in shock at this foul creature in awe and utter amazement as I realized that this rotten to the core 'thing' I had utterly loathed, hated, and detested above all was . . . me? me! "ME!!!" "Oh what a self-righteous hypocrite I am! Oh, Woe is me, most wretched man I am and totally without strength. In me is no good thing!" The reality of it all struck me harder than any sledgehammer ever could).
After what I had said and Who it was I said it to, I fell on my knees and begged for mercy. I was in a state of "Full Realization" with total fear and trembling before Him as I asked Him to please reconsider what I just said. "Oh Lord, please forgive me! Have mercy on me, Lord!" He was the one who had shown me my "self" for what I was (Jn.16:8) and brought me low to this place: to the end of myself. Then He spoke. His words were cold and matter-of-fact: "You cannot serve both God and mammon! You'll love the one and despise the other."
(I knew Exactly what He meant, for I had one foot in the kingdom and one foot in the world, and I was trying to live and walk according to both. I also knew He was about to get up and close the door and chop off my kingdom foot forever. I learned right then and there that you cannot play God for a fool). "Chose today whom you will serve! Either Come To Me with both feet and turn your back on all else OR walk away from Me now and forever . . . with no regrets and no remorse. Chose you now!" And that pretty much was it.
I was stunned! I expected chastisement or punishment, but this? He wasn't kidding around! I knew He absolutely meant business! I was about to be "spewed out"! Well I sure didn't have too far to look. I was bruised and injured and sat facing the Truth. In this world my cupboards were bare, and in the next I reeked to high heaven. "What a mess!" After gathering all my thoughts, I considered all the angles, searched desperately for an easier, wider way into the Kingdom thus preserving my own life in the bargain (and found none), weighed all the costs, and examined myself to see if I still retained some spark of love in there towards Him who first loved me with a love that blew me away, I think I found a teeny ember barely aglow for him in some dark corner of my heart. I knew that I loved Him. He knew that I loved Him . . . at least I thought He did.
Here was my dilemma: If I decided to Come to Him, it would spell death to the Old man (the Old me, the old way I was). But, HEY I'm the only me I know! I saw no other me than a dead me . . . forever! Yet, if I turn away from Him, it's death, too, only it's death to my New man or the man I really never knew but was hoping one day like Lazarus' Martha to receive in the resurrection.
So there it was! "DEATH!" Death either way! Death was what was facing me! I said to myself: "Some choice! Either way I die if I don't, and I die if I do!" That's when He said to me, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? John 11:25-26 "His personal word gave me the faith I needed!"
I remembered in the Song of Songs that Love is stronger than Death . . . so strong, in fact, that no flood can quench it . . . a flame reaching to Heaven itself. And all the while I'm reflecting on that, I know that I really haven't any choice . . . but one. I knew in my heart that I did love Him and that I still did and that to me He was worthy of all!
Last of all was my mother (I had no wife back then) whom I loved and gave her to the Lord, setting her aside, because I loved Him more. And I began to lift my head and open up my heart that the Lord would know--ohh I prayed He would know that surely I do love Him and wanted to obey Him with all my heart and Come to Him. And in my spirit, or heart, or whatever, I began that long turn away from my old life and towards Him. All I saw and expected was death! I knew that even death didn't matter anymore! All that mattered was He!!! His will was also mine! All that was in me united to follow through completely on only one choice and that was to Come to Him, lock, stock and barrel, laying it all down at His feet forever with no regrets, no remorse, and no strings or baggage attached.
I took that step of no return in coming to Him with my heart wide open intent on proving to Him that I did love Him and would rather die now under His feet than live without Him for the rest of my life. And as I took that step towards Him, that tiny spark of love hidden in my heart for Him suddenly became a flame, and the flame suddenly burst forth into a blazing inferno of love . . . for "'me" (John 14:23)! All things became new (2 Cor.5:17)! And after 20+ years of reflection, I know what happened to me: The Old me DIED, and the New me went to Heaven! The 'Old Man' died . . . yet "lived"--yet it wasn't "I" any longer ("Gal.2:20")! No one can come to the Father except they go through Christ and Him crucified first! And to come to God through Christ is to come to the foot of the cross and die with and for Him there. The cross spells 'Death' to the entire Old Creation! And so, from out of the ashes of that old me glowed a little spark of love towards his God, put there when I first believed, and then came God's power and caused that spark to blaze up into a flaming fire reaching Heaven itself.
It was in this inferno: this melting down fiery love of God in being raised to new life in Christ--with Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory--that a NEW MAN was created, one raised in the same fashion and manner as the Crucified Christ in the furnace of God's Resurrecting Power and Melting Love, one filled with New Life in the power of regeneration in the love of God until he is bursting at the seams and can't take any more. For such is the passion, purity, and the power contained in His life and His love! His power of love is perfect and His purity of love is so clean it lacks nothing! God is Love!
What we have here in my testimony is no different, really, than the "Prodigal Son" returning home to his rightful birthright or squandering it all away forever! It wasn't until he was brought down to eating slop with the pigs that brought him to his senses. And upon coming to his senses, he realized the utter fool he had become and what he had squandered away: His Inheritance! Then, remembering that his father, the King, was a man who was quick to forgive fools like himself who come to their senses and repent, he turned around and went back home and willing to become the lowest servant if his father would let him. But before he came halfway home, his father was there to greet him and love him and take him on into his kingdom and shower him with his riches and love.
"This was my story, now hear my song. "Those who Come to Christ out of love for Him and His words will be born again never to die or fall away so long as they remain in His love. Those who have yet come to Christ, including those who have come part-way but lack commitment to go all the way, are in danger of falling away by becoming ensnared in the cares of this life and the deceit of riches (as I was). You have read my story and seen my testimony. God is serious! Please, above all know that! He cannot be untrue to Himself. He will do everything He says that He will. He is to be greatly feared or respected in that respect! "Today is the day of Salvation!" Tomorrow is the day of death! The proof in our saying we love Him is shown by our 'doing' what He says! He says, "Come To Me, and I will give you Eternal Life, and no power (neither sin nor death) will ever snatch you out of My hand!" Talk on our part is cheap! The Kingdom of God is not in words only but primarily in POWER--the Power of a New Life in Christ . . . namely it comes in Resurrection Life in the Power of His Love! Surely He is worth laying it all down for!
"COME TO ME" is the high calling of God in Christ to you and to me.
So, if we are seriously intent on selling all and have kept that spark of love for Him (that first love) alive in our heart, then we are the ones who will answer--who must answer that call intent on loving Him ALL the way with our whole heart . . . until we arrive at our destination: At the foot of the cross . . . (to lay down our old man with His) and then beyond and on into the Father's Blessed Arms . . . (to receive our new life by Him . . . a life that's in Him . . . and one lived through Him).
May God deeply bless "you" in Christ as He has so wondrously and graciously blessed me.