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Monday, December 27, 2010

The story of how I came to faith in Jesus

            Today, it’s been a record snowfall day in Hampton Roads.  For whatever reason, as I laid down this evening, a song I’ve not heard done in years came to my mind.  It goes:
I heard the Lord call my name,
Listen close, you’ll hear the same,
I heard the Lord call my name,
Listen close, you’ll hear the same,
I heard the Lord call my name,
Listen close, you’ll hear the same,
Take His ha-a-and, we are glory bound.

His Word is love, love’s His word,
That’s the message that I’ve heard,
His Word is love, love’s His word,
That’s the message that I’ve heard,
His Word is love, love’s His word,
That’s the message that I’ve heard,
Take His ha-a-and, we are glory bound.

And to the Father, all His days,
With the Son and Spirit praise,
And to the Father, all His days,
With the Son and Spirit praise,
And to the Father, all His days,
With the Son and Spirit praise,
Take His ha-a-and, we are glory bound.

I can’t make up my mind whether the theology of the song is good.  I look at it one way, and it seems OK.  I look at it a different way, it doesn’t.  I heard the Lord call my name, back on a day that was almost a polar opposite from today. 
            It was in the summer, in western Michigan, on my dad’s farm.  It was between my freshman and sophomore years of high school.  About 3 weeks before this day, my aunt and uncle from Kalamazoo came up to my parents’ house, and I was going to stay with them for a week.  They were both former public school teachers, with my uncle now the head of county schools, and my aunt a librarian.  They didn’t have kids, and my parents were farmers who were just scraping by.  They took me places where my parents couldn’t have.  Anyway, that day, when they came up, my uncle told us that he wanted to put off my visit for a couple of weeks.  It was 1968, and there had been riots in the inner cities.  What he told us (and this isn’t something I’ve ever seen in any historical reports of the time) was that a group of people were going from city to city to instigate these riots, and the police told him, from his position as head of schools, that this group was intending to start riots that evening in Kalamazoo, which was near where my aunt and uncle lived.  They stuck around until 11pm that evening, as, at that time, CBS had a national newscast on Sundays at 11.  The lead story was a riot, but the city wasn’t Kalamazoo, but Detroit.  As we were to see, that riot would last for eight days.
            Two weeks later, I went down to their house to stay with them.  As my uncle had taken his vacation back at the time I was to originally go to their home, he was working that week, so we couldn’t go so many places.  We did go to Tiger Stadium in Detroit for the first ballgame after the riots.  Let me fill in that in 1968, the Detroit Tigers were the best major league baseball team, and that Tiger Stadium was in the riot area.  When we got there, the smell of still smoldering buildings was heavy in the air.  The Tigers had done some schedule adjusting to avoid being home during the riots, so they had been out of town for two weeks.  The game was, in a way, a marker of normalcy coming back to the community.  There was a feeling of it in the air.  As history would show, that feeling was in error—Detroit may only be beginning to recover from the social, and later, political, turmoil that would result.
            That week, though, was the week of the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago.  The Vietnam War was going on, it had increased in unpopularity over the years, and many disparate groups unhappy with the war converged on Chicago to protest.  The Chicago 7 came out of that week.  So did a piece of film shown over and over again in the proceeding years showing a row of shielded Chicago police marching at a group of protesters, beating at them with billy clubs.  A national commission, years later, would call it a “police riot.”  Only in the last couple of years have I heard that the protesters egged the police into their acts by throwing glad bags of human manure at the police.  May I point out that, in 1968, glad bags didn’t really seal contents in at all.  I had the time, at my aunt and uncle’s house that week, to see the reports of what was happening.
            Now, it was a weekday, I no longer remember which one, the next week.  I was back at my parents’ farm.  Some of the day, I practiced kicking a football, and riding my bicycle.  At some time in mid-afternoon, I decided to do my weekly chore of mowing the lawn.  I was most of the way done, the walk behind mower was making plenty of noise as such machines do, and I was thinking about things going on in the news.  A voice spoke into my head, saying, “It’s not the politicians, or the radicals—it’s Me.”  I didn’t have to be told that the words were from God, even though I had never experienced such a thing.  When God speaks, He doesn’t have to introduce Himself.  I instantly knew that what He was saying was that what I had to deal with was my problem of being sinful and separate from Him.  That was a burden upon me instantly.  Many years later, I was to read Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in which the character Pilgrim is carrying a burden, and when he kneels before the cross, the burden falls off.  That is a perfect description of what the burden of being made aware of one’s sinfulness by God feels like. 
            That evening, I laid down to go to sleep.  The head of my bed was by a window, and I could look up into the sky, up at all those stars so very far away.  I was so aware that, as little as I was in comparison to the vastness of the universe, I felt the pressure of being so aware of the God of the universe speaking, in my spirit, to me, directing me to make a choice.  In our day, there have been written, by well-meaning believers, theologically precise prayers of repentance for persons to say. I didn’t know anything about them; I turned over, crying over my sinfulness my prayer into my pillow.  As I did so, the burden fell away, I realized that, somehow, everything had changed, and I could go to sleep.
            I heard the Lord call my name—not with my physical ears, but I heard, nonetheless.  Listen close, you’ll hear the same.  I don’t know about that.  I now know, from the Bible, that, to be specific, it was the Holy Spirit speaking into me.  Every story of a person coming to faith in Jesus is different.  When a man, however well meaning, attempts to put even a small part of God in a box, it doesn’t work.  I know of some of the most intelligent persons on the planet who have heard and responded to the Lord calling their name, and I have heard of some of the most intelligent persons on the planet denying that there is a God who does such things.  If I plug in “minimally” for “most,” the same holds true. 
            I have grown in following Jesus.  Over the years, I have held totally incorrect ideas about what is correct in desiring to follow Jesus, and changed my mind.  I have seen persons who I sincerely believe are desiring to follow Jesus who have not changed their minds on the same issues.  I’ve seen persons who I have believed were sincere doing things that look insincere, possibly for fame, power, or money, and sometimes for totally inexplicable reasons.  I think of what the Lion tells the kids at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia, “It’s not your story.”
            The story above was from 1968.  My parents, aunt, and uncle have long since passed away.  I haven’t set foot in Michigan in years.  Many things have gone less than optimally over the years, but, conversely, I haven’t faced the trials of many of my fellow believers in other parts of the world.  I can ask myself, “How can I help one of my brothers and sisters in Jesus move closer to him, or one of my not-yet-brothers and sisters in Jesus come closer to dropping that burden.  God has told us, “you have not chosen Me, I chose you.”   

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