Hello once again, dear follower of our Lord. Today I pause to look both backward and forward on the spectrum of my life. I hope that as I reflect upon my life to date and how our heavenly Father has graciously worked with me, you will in some way identify with me, think about how He has been with you, be thankful for who He has made you in Christ, and be inspired to pursue your personal path of righteousness even more enthusiastically than you are already.
What would life be like without “The Man,”Jesus Christ, walking with us through this minefield of a world? If I stop and think, I can answer that question, because I can remember my first 22 years. Well, at least after about age eight. Everything before Little League is pretty hazy—nothing traumatic (no drug wars), nothing spectacular (no angelic visitations). For me, childhood was pretty idyllic.
Even through high school, nothing stands out as a life-changing memory—good or bad. Family life was generally pleasant, a la Leave It To Beaver. My mom stayed home and took good care of my brother, sister, and me, my dad came home every evening for dinner, and we went on a family vacation each summer. School was basically a drag, probably because nothing I was taught ever skirmished with my attention, much less arrested it. I hope that your high school days left you replete with knowledge you use to this day, but my most vivid learning was that a cow’s eyeball placed between two paper towels on a lab table will hold a 185-pound biology teacher standing on it for about two or three seconds before it bursts and elicits an ear-splitting, blood-curdling, scream from every girl in the class, while the boys collectively say, “Cool.” So much for “the wonder years.”
My father was an elder in a Presbyterian church, and each Sunday of my adolescent years I was garroted with a necktie (don’t tell Ralph Lauren, but I may have worn a clip-on in my early years) and accompanied him and the rest of our family there. Why? Because he was much bigger than I. I considered taking karate, but decided that was too rigorous, and that I could put up with the boredom of our church, which seemed little more than a social gathering of well-to-do people. Once I got to college, I stopped going, except when old Betas died and our whole fraternity had to go to the funeral.
The one thing I got excited about was sports. Our backyard was the neighborhood basketball court, baseball diamond, and football field, and my dad spent countless hours out there building his character with us prospective superstars. My parents taught me not to use “four-letter words,” and had I not included “work” among them, and put all I had into it, I honestly believe I could have had a professional career in any one of those three sports. I played all three at Kenyon College, a small liberal arts school in Ohio, and it was my college basketball coach who stayed on me for four years and was the first to succeed in making me learn to work. He was institutionalized shortly after my graduation.
Ah-h-h, college. Freedom (no parents and a car) without responsibility (my dad paid the bills). Playing ball and taking many road trips to other colleges, fraternity parties, movies, gin rummy, television, throwing water bags off the roof, playing cards, and then of course visiting guys during the summers and mooching off their parents. Oh, did I mention going to class? No? Well, that is probably because I didn’t go that much, except when I needed to catch up on some letter writing. Yes, I did escape with a degree in Economics, much to the chagrin of the faculty, many of whom changed their names and became dockworkers in an attempt to avoid academic ignominy as those who allowed this scholastic travesty.
OK, at this point you are thinking that my picture was in the dictionary next to “aimless.” If you are also envying me, I understand. The point I am circuitously making is that although I had what many people would call a great life, with many friends because I was a kindhearted guy who made people laugh, I lacked purpose and direction. No kidding (I hope you’re reading that with the same inflection that I’m writing it). My life was not making much of an impact on anyone else. It was pretty much all about me.
I cannot stand up today and testify that I was delivered from a drug addiction, other than ESPN (a sports news channel). I am not a reformed alcoholic, or a former Mafia boss who Jesus rescued from a life sentence on Alcatraz. I have not come through grievous child abuse, nor been snatched from death at the hands of a fatal disease. I’m just a regular guy who wasn’t that bad. HA! Have you read Romans 1:18-3:20 lately? Hey, that’s talking about me! I had, and still have, the same potential for evil as anyone who has ever manifested it in a more visible way. And in my case, it may well be harder for me to recognize “the sin that dwells in me.” Bank robbery is fairly obvious, and you can usually notice when you have stopped it, but pride is subtle. Heck, you can become humble and then be proud of that!
Had it not been for the Viet Nam War raging when I graduated from college in 1965, I would have signed a baseball contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers and tried to make it to “The Show.” But in those days, “the Draft” was more than a small wind, and I did not want to be snatched from baseball and inducted into the Army and sent to Viet Nam as a private. So I volunteered for Infantry Officer’s Candidate School (OCS) and became “an officer and a gentlemen.”
After 39 rigorous weeks of being trained to lead 44 men in combat in Viet Nam, God miraculously saw to it that I was commissioned as the Sports Officer for the 82d Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, NC. I never did go to Nam, but stayed at Ft. Bragg my whole two years as a Second, and then First, Lieutenant, conducting sports tournaments and periodically jumping out of airplanes and helicopters (with a parachute) to maintain my airborne status. One summer I was responsible for a large swimming pool, and I patriotically “threw myself into it,” even purchasing an “O.D.” (olive drab, that nondescript Army green) bathing suit. There you go, envying me again.
After my grueling college career, I knew I needed “one last fling” in the “Summer of ’65” before entering the Army, so a friend and I went to Hawaii and surfed for eleven weeks. During that time, my parents became involved in some lay-Christian groups, got excited about the Lord, and began writing me about it. Some of what they shared must have penetrated me, and some spiritual hunger began to stir in my heart. That Fall, just prior to entering the Army, I attended a Christian conference with my parents, and prayed aloud in a group of men for the first time, as far as I could recall. That week I decided that I wanted to get into the Bible and know the Lord.
After OCS and Jump School, I wound up at Ft. Bragg in December of 1966, and, by way of my father’s acquaintances, met some enthusiastic “charismatic” Christians, among them Ruth Carter Stapleton, whose brother Jimmy, then a Georgia peanut farmer, would later become President (of the United States). I became very involved with these wonderful people, and in May of 1967, Ruth and another lady “led” me (that may be a bit euphemistic, but they did help me) into speaking in tongues, something I had never even heard of before meeting them. They told me that what I experienced that night was the “baptism of the spirit,” and I was pumped. I became the only male member of the Ft. Bragg Thursday Morning Women’s Bible Study, which Ruth led, and this association resulted in many free meals. Ruth and I often traveled and ministered together, and she had a big impact on my life.
It was while I was in the Army that Ken Klug, with whom I went to college and played ball, and to whom I had witnessed after getting turned on about the Lord, wrote to me about a Bible class he had taken in the Summer of 1967. I met him at his home in Cleveland on my ensuing Christmas leave from the Army and sat through the whole class in three and a half days. Although I completely grabbed on to the truths I heard, things I had never heard before in all my Christian circles, little did I know then the degree to which I was in the right place at the right time, or what my life held in store.
Along with about a dozen other young men my age, I got in on the ground floor, so to speak, and participated in what was one of the most significant movements in Christian history, based upon how many people (in 60 countries) heard that amount of biblical truth during the next 20 years.
And so here I am today, looking back at my life to date, very conscious of how the hand of God has been on me, sometimes to lead and guide, sometimes to stop me just before I went over the edge, sometimes to pick me up after I fell flat on my face, and always to encourage me and call me forward into the light of His love. If you know me at all, you are well aware that I have made many mistakes, but to the best of my ability I have allowed the Lord to help me get back up and take another step with him. One thing that continues to motivate me is the fact that somehow, in my journey from birth to now, I have become the recipient of a great treasure—the Word of God. In light of what it has cost God to make His Word available to me, I cannot squander that .
What about you? Certainly you have your very own story of how the Lord has made known his heart to you and led you to where you are today. I don’t know if you can identify, but I am tempted to think that my story is not very spectacular, and I also lament the fact that I should be a lot farther down the road of spiritual growth than I am. No doubt I could have been, but my heart is well expressed by Paul in Philippians 3:12, right after he speaks of his passion to know Christ and be like him, certainly the same desire you and I have: “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.”
I love that mind picture. At the moment of my new birth, it was as if the Lord Jesus Christ reached down and “took hold” of me with a tenacious, forever-unrelenting grip. When he did so, he gave me the potential to fulfill the personal curriculum he would develop with me as I walk with him step-by-step. That being the case, it is up to me to “take hold” of his moment-by-moment invitations and directions for my personal growth. In situation after situation, the Lord extends his hand to me as the only means by which I can do what he asks me to do. It’s like someone reaching down from above to assist you to step up about three or four feet, which you can do only if you take hold of his hand. Similarly, the Christian life is all about the reciprocal relationship between each of us and the Lord Jesus.
In taking both an internal and external inventory of my life, I am once again reminded of the theme verses for this column:
1 Peter 5:6 and 7
(6) Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may lift you up in due time,
(7) casting all your cares on him because he cares for you.
It is the “mighty hand of God,” continually extended to each of us by Jesus Christ, that will, if we take hold of it, always lift us up in His timing. Our responsibility is further clarified in the next two verses:
1 Peter 5:8 and 9
(8) Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the Devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
(9) Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Excuse me, but you and I are targets of the Adversary—every minute. Therefore, we must be alert and “keep our eyes open,” as the saying goes. Your life is a big deal, both to God and to the Enemy. Each of them knows what one person who trusts God can do.
Another key phrase, in verse 9, is “standing firm in the faith.” What is “the faith”? It is the Author of Scripture’s one and only originally-intended meaning of each verse, that which we are to have faith in. To stand firm for the Lord, it is therefore imperative that we have the proper understanding of the great truths of God’s Word.
To me, the last phrase of verse 9 is most comforting—“your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” Think about that. It is not comforting to me because other believers are suffering, it is comforting to me because we are in this thing together and we can help one another. I am not the Lone Ranger. Neither are you. What we go through, internally and externally, is not unique to us. When we overcome something, we can share with a brother or sister how to do likewise, as the following verses point out to us:
2 Corinthians 1:3 and 4
(3) Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,
(4) who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
And the good news is that once we pass through such a trial, looking to and leaning on the Lord en route, we get to keep the strength and comfort we receive! It’s called “growth.”
Christianity is a family, with all the challenging dynamics of family life. None of us can do this thing without being intimately connected to other Christians, and that is what Spirit & Truth Fellowship International is trying to do for people. We want to see believers stand and move as one, showing the world a body of people united by the love of God and a common belief of the truth. What you could call “the camaraderie of the committed” is a wonderful thing that strengthens us, comforts us, edifies us, and inspires us to walk our own personal paths of righteousness.
Did you know that wherever you go, there you are? Well, here I am—where I have gone, and I will make the choice to rejoice in God’s abounding goodness and let that motivate me to “forget those things that are behind and stretch for those things that are before me.” I know that what ultimately lies before me is the appearing of our Lord Jesus, and the rewards that he will give to each of us after he takes us “beyond the edge.”
1 Peter 5:10 and 11
(10) And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
(11) To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.