and how it all began . . .
“YOU ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD!”
For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance . . .
I Thessalonians 1:5
This Is my Christian testimony . . .
I guess it all mainly began when my little grandma died, in 1970. (Wow! Has it been that long ago?)
In looking back, 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 losses it left behind. Therefore I hated God who I felt was the author of death and could take away whosoever He wanted whenever it suited Him. (I remember afterwards feeling some remorse and guilt 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!), 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, sacraments and self . . . at the time I had not known of or ever been told of the singular importance of having to have and to know personally / first hand, the “Living Lord and Him crucified” by receiving a “living revelation” of Him–of Him in person and full of grace and glory (Matthew 16:17-18). No one had ever told me about having to have and know inside for myself Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior!
So . . . that 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 always believed that I felt that I had failed to measure up to the high imaginary standards and goals of perfection he had set and expected of me! And yet, I admit, that I wasn’t doing anything worthy of honoring thy father either.
I realized later (see below) that it wasn’t so much him as it was me who caused the communication gap between us. I realized later that his expectations of me were no more than a normal father would expect of his son. But at the time I was still an unregenerate and hurting rebel at heart!
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 he and 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,” with half a laugh.
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, who was in the sixth grade at the time, protested. At first he refused to take off his shoes, but then the teacher made him take them off, against his will. That was when the other kids (who had better clothes than he did) saw his “holey socks” and laughed at and made fun of him.
My father ran out of school that day totally embarrassed, and soon afterwards he never went back, probably because of embarrassment! (However, if it were me at the time and in that situation, I probably would have stayed and fought them all including the nurse!)
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 I came to see, almost 50 years later, how it had still deeply affected him.
“Hey it wasn’t your fault,” I said to myself.
Then it hit me as I found my heart 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, EGOTISTICAL KNOW-IT-ALL I’VE GOT NAILED TO THE WALL, 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–NO ONE IS ABLE 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 ALRIGHT! 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?”
I saw how he built up that wall of “pretended toughness,” 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 the normal way I would have liked to have known and had him hug me once in a while. I believe he was stunted and was afraid to open up and give genuine affection and hugs and kisses once in a while . . . perhaps because then everyone would see him as the “softie” he really was behind that facade.
(THAT is what every kid is starved for: DISCIPLINE YES, BUT GIVEN WITH LOVE, WITH GENUINE AFFECTION AND COMPASSION BEHIND IT!)
The more I thought about it the more I began to admit that maybe “I” was the one who was wrong–maybe “I” had him wrong all along–maybe it wasn’t him but “me” all along to blame for our falling out!
(WOW! This kind of admission was new and frightening to me, yet I could not shake it off. And the reason that I couldn’t was because the commandment of my not honoring thy father and thy mother suddenly became very clear to me and had nailed me right to that wall.)
This was a wee small voice in my head or somewhere showing me these things, and at first I really thought it was the devil. I had no idea it might be my conscience or God! But the voice kept speaking to me, and to my surprise I kept on listening, until it finally broke through, and I knew right then and there that I needed to humble myself and admit that I was wrong about my dad and my putting him on the wall like I had done and deeming him to be worthy of death.
Finally I came or was brought to a place (a place of seeing, of recognizing the whole scope) where I could finally admit that I was wrong. Not only wrong, but I was always wrong to have nailed my dad to a cross judging and treating him so harshly, in thought, word and deed. This admission of my guilt had my head spinning, as I came to this obvious conclusion! I was in shock!
This was the first time in a long, long time that 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 and comfort 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 it’s wings. I saw it! My God, I see 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?”
Now 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 blurred 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. I could not put down that Bible, and I cried so much and so long that all I could do was thank Him over and over and over and over again.
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 before my very eyes 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 keep my commandment and honor thy father.”
Gulp. I swallowed, “Oh Lord, tell me anything but that (Ephesians.6:2)! You know that! 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 many ways to me she was the complete opposite of my dad. 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 be 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 promise to NEVER hurt you again. Please forgive me!”
This was a complete surprise to him. A real shock! His jaw dropped to the floor, 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 hard-heads and sinners who ever lived, had finally repented of his sins (Luke 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 ruled over the “OLD” Adamic creature so long as “I” was still alive and in charge (“I promise to NEVER hurt you again”) . . .
17 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?
Paul came to understand this dilemma and wrote about it in Romans. I did not. Remember how I had vowed to never hurt my dad again? And I meant it! “I” was still alive, still thinking as a man being under the law, not realizing that the power to keep that vow was in me but in Christ! It was still “me, myself and I” who was trying to live the Christian life–for God, of course! What I needed to find out is that “I” (the “I” in me, the “Old Creature”) didn’t have the kind of righteousness necessary to keep such a promise. “I” needed to be crucified and buried–to be put to death with Christ in order for Him to come alive in me and live His life in and through me.
In other words, I felt much like a hammer that kept pounding down my sin whenever it appeared, but it just kept popping back up so fast that I didn’t know what to do about it. I was still producing sin and alive to it and I didn’t know what to do, and I wanted to stay far away from my having to obey Him perfectly thus be put to death in order to live the Christian life the only way one could. I looked and looked for ways out of this dilemma, ever trying to do His will yet always preserving my own life.
So within a few months, believe it or not, I was back to “hating” my father all over again. Arrrgh! I found that in me I did not have what it takes, in order to love him the way that God said and live the Christian life. I was hurting him all over again, and I promised him that I never would, and really meant it when I said it. I didn’t know what to do about it!
This powerless condition that I saw myself in, not able to do as God had said, had bothered me more than anything had in my life. Satan’s thoughts were in me and seemed to make sense, as I even wanted to kill myself over being unable to keep God’s commandment. I couldn’t seem to stop sinning and didn’t know why . . . I didn’t know why. Raised as a Roman Catholic I was always taught that this “power to do good” was in me, and that God gave it to me, so it was all up to me.
I hated myself! I wasn’t doing the good I loved but the evil I loathed instead. I found myself to be powerless to stop sinning and was most wretched and miserable, just like in Romans 7. I didn’t know what to do short of killing myself or running away.
I thought I saw a way of escape, a way to get away from hurting my dad, away from the pounding of my conscience and even away from the voice of 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. I left with the assurance that I couldn’t lose. I thought I could leave my worries far behind me.
However, shortly after I arrived at the race track I began to lose bets, sometimes in mysterious ways. Some of my bets would go lame in the lead just before the finish line, or get beat out by a 100-1 shot in a photo at the wire. Like clockwork my horses would find many mysterious ways to lose. I kept scratching my head as I kept on losing.
Well, let me tell you, the more I lost the more determined to win I became! Soon I became consumed in my work, spending upwards of 16 hours a day handicapping 9 or 10 races, which normally takes no more 2 or 3 hours. 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 wanting to realize: the Lord was taking a personal hand in this! It was the only explanation that made sense. For I was never this bad, and managed to at least come close to breaking even, even in the worst of times.
Within a few months all I had left for betting the horses was maybe $50 (plus the money I needed to get home on). I had been in Florida just over two months and I was nearly 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. It didn’t matter; I still lost! It was becoming embarrassingly obvious that the Lord had other plans.
I had turned my back on Him because I felt He let me down. I figured that because He didn’t keep His word when I made up with my father, then why should I keep mine? (Who knew that I had believed the lie of “me” doing it, as Romans 7 said?) He knew I had turned my back on Him . . . and I knew that He knew it too.
Finally, down to my last $5 or $10 dollars of betting money, 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, “Beat it Kid, I need all the money I have,” another part thought, “Gee, he sure looks like he could use a bite to eat.” I went with the last part. Looking at the kid I said, “Sure Kid, here.”
In the same way 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 to well up again. And as I headed to my run-down apartment the Lord began to show me something.
At the time 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 thought, I would follow Him . . . but it would be under my terms and conditions, being wrongly taught. (Hmmm . . . did I just hear Frank Sinatra in the background singing, “MY way?”)
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 (and it was)! I was stunned that God would even allow such a creature as this to 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 in your presence, before You, 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! 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, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:5-7)
I could only stare in shock at this foul and loathsome creature in awe and utter amazement as I came to fully realize that this rotten to the core “thing” I had utterly loathed, hated and detested above all was . . . me? Me! ME! The power of sin that I saw in me existed because “I” lived.
Oh, what a self-righteous hypocrite, a white-washed sepulcher – I saw that I was and am within! Oh, woe is me, most wretched and miserable man that I was and totally without strength. In me, I clearly saw, was no good thing! Only evil. The reality of it all struck me right between the eyes, harder than any physical sledge-hammer or freight-train ever could. (see Job 42:5-6)
Suddenly realizing 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 myself for what I was (John 16:8), and brought me low to this place, to the end of myself. He was the one who was all-powerful. 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 wanted 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.)
“Choose you this day 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. Choose 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 at the end of this road, where all things became clear. 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 an awful mess!”
After gathering all my thoughts, I weighed and considered every angle as I searched for a way out of this dilemma, searching desperately for an easier, wider way into the Kingdom of God, wanting to keep and preserve my old, smelly, Adamic life with its power in the bargain. Although I looked and looked all over for an easier way into heaven, I found only the narrow gate which led to the cross and my death staring back at me. “Death!”
I sat down! After weighing all the costs I examined myself to see if I had what I knew (love to God first) it would take and if I still retained some spark of love in my heart towards Him who loved me with a love that first blew me away. I knew what I had to do! I searched and found a teeny ember barely aglow for Him in some dark corner of my heart; I began to blow on it.
As I blew on it I knew that I loved Him. My God, but how could I not love Him who first loved me? He knew that I loved Him . . . at least I thought He did . . . oh, I prayed that He did.
Now here was my dilemma: upon my recognition of what there was to see, I knew that if I decided to come “all-the-way” to Him (to plant both my feet in the kingdom) it would spell “death” to the old man (the old Adamic / sinful ME). “But hey,” I thought to myself, “I’m the only ME I know!”
God knows I tried and tried (Romans 7:18-19), but I saw no other me than a dead me . . . forever! (That was a shocker, let me tell you.) Although I had looked and looked for another way, an easier way into the kingdom and preserve my life with its power while doing it, I could find no other way than through Christ, through the cross. I knew that if I turned away from Him then it’s death too. Only it’s death to my new man, or the man I really never knew or had but was hoping to have one day like Lazarus’ Martha, and receive the new me in the resurrection.
So there it was! “DEATH!” I was looking death in the eye either way! Death was all around me, and there was no escaping it! I said to myself: “Some choice I have! Either way, I’ll die if I don’t and I die if I do! Give me faith Lord”, I cried out. “Oh Lord, I want to do what you want me to. Give me the faith to do as I must!”
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?
His personal word gave me the assurance I needed!
I remember reading in the Song of Songs how love is stronger than death . . . so strong is it, in fact, that no flood can quench it . . . a flame reaching to heaven itself. And all the while I’m reflecting on that verse I know that I really haven’t any choice . . . but one, the choice that was based on love. Keeping my heart, eyes and ears focused upon Christ; the other choice was no longer an option for me. No longer! I knew in my heart of hearts that I did love Him, and that I still did, and that to me He was worthy of every bit of me!
I began to lift my head and opened up my heart so that He could see that tiny glow, that teeny spark of love that was lit (that He first put in there) for Him. I prayed that the Lord would know–oh, I prayed He would know that surely I do love Him and wanted to obey Him with all my heart by coming 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! Nothing more! But I knew that even death didn’t matter anymore! All that mattered was Him and doing His will! His will was also mine; “Not as I will, Father, but as Thou will.” All that was in me joined up 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 was the one who took that turn or step of no return in coming to Him with my heart wide open showing Him that I did love Him and would rather die right now under His feet than live another second without Him for the rest of my life. This I couldn’t bear. This is the place (at the foot of the cross) where I found out that His love is more powerful than sin and even stronger than death itself!
You see, God didn’t just come to forgive us our sins, so that we can go on sinning, but He came in order to make an entire new man out of us with a whole new heart – one that is born after the image of God!
(As I look back on it all now I can recognize that it was when I arrived at the foot of the cross that God took and had the old me crucified and buried with Christ in order for a brand new me to become born through God’s magnificent love. It was there that I realized that in me dwelt the power of sin and death, but in Him dwelt the power of righteousness and life.)
When I took that step of no return towards obeying Him completely was when that tiny spark of love for Him hidden in my heart suddenly took flight and became a flame . . . and the flame suddenly burst forth into a blazing inferno of love . . . for me (John 14:23)! For Who? For me? What? How could this be? Don’t be ridiculous! I died, remember? All my love always was for Him, not for me. What love is this in return? I cannot take it; this is too full of joy! I am melting like butter! He is squeezing me to death! I’m going to burst at the seams!
It was at that moment that all things became . . . BRAND NEW! (2 Corinthians 5:17)