Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Who Are You, God?

For you have been my hope, 
O Sovereign Lord,
my confidence since my youth.
Psalm 71:5


As all conscientious parents are wont to do, both my father and mother stood firm in their resolve to constrain me in obeisance to their parental parameters.  And as all rebellious teenagers are born to resist, I was having none of it.  I stormed out of the house, determined not to return.  They can't tell me who to love. They don't understand. They're too strict. 
I'll show them, I threatened, as I left.

I had been walking for miles, rehashing the heated conversation of hours earlier.
By the time I had reached the rural roads on the outskirts of the county, the sun was sinking deeper into the earth, leaving contrails of faded violet and blue streaks across the distant horizon. Night was eminent. The need to find a place to sleep for the night began to increase in urgency, if not in subtle blips of panic. The  barn I was passing seemed a logical place to lodge. I stood and surveyed it for awhile-- fenced in, surrounded by nothing but fields as far as the eye could see and containing a loft that would keep me safe from anything wild below. Problem was, I couldn't muster the courage to hop the fence. I'll just walk a little further, and see if something better lays ahead.
The humiliation of having to return home, after an aborted and admittedly foolish decision to run away, was looming heavy over my heart. But eventually, that's exactly what I did. I seceded  in shame and turned towards home, the security and comfort of my own bed trumping my defiant attitude.
It wasn't long after my U-turn, however, that a car with three teenagers pulled up along side me.  No... I'm not lost.  No... I don't need a ride.  Your what?...born-again Christians? On a driving mission, looking for those who might need to hear the message of salvation?  Whats THAT?  There's a what?... revival at your church to explain?  Apparently they had prayed for God to lead them to someone who might need to hear the gospel message.  Guess I was the answer!
Buoyed by an opportunity to save face, I joined my new friends in the car.   
Here's an answer to the conundrum of avoiding home, I gloated.  And as a bonus, more time away, meant more worry for the folks I'm in!   Serves them right!
First on the evening agenda was a trip back to the home of the older boy. Family, fried chicken, and mashed potatoes were waiting for us and we took our seat around the table.
Much conversation took place over that meal.  I heard in detail what it meant to be a christian that night. It was somehow vaguely familiar to my soul.
God's timing is amazing,  I'm convinced those boys had a dinner hour commitment and I suspect they found me at the 11th hour. I believe we made it back to their home just under the wire.
The intersection of our lives took place at just the right time on the providential calendar of Almighty God.
After supper we headed off to church for the revival...First Assembly of God on New Florissant Road.  I heard the message of salvation for the first time in my life that night, and at the conclusion of the service, was asked if I wanted to make a commitment to become a christian.
Nodding in the affirmative, I was taken to the altar at the front of the church by my three new friends. Acknowledging the bible as the inerrant word of God, I was simply instructed to confess my sins, and acknowledge belief in Jesus' death as the cure for those sins. I did. I was baptized. I returned home a new creation.
Naively thinking my safe return and change in attitude would be enough to placate my parents and avoid grounding,  I quietly slipped into the house. Sauntering quietly into my bedroom, I prepared to round off the day with sleep. With lights off, I waited. Nothing.  NOTHING.  Got away with it!  whew!
But the peace was short lived as my bedroom light switch was forcefully flipped on, revealing my parents outlined menacingly in the door frame as a united front of anger.  Where have you BEEN?!  my father barked.
He expected an argument, not an answer.  I expected a lecture.
But apparently they were so disarmed by my response;  I went to church and have been SAVED,  all they could do was turn around and go to bed.  I still chuckle at the scene.

My three brothers and I were not brought up in church.  My mother, being the only child of a strict catholic family, was constrained to keep the denominational allegiance. My father had an equally solid tie to the protestant persuasion.  Compromise was not an option.  Solution?... No church at all!
In addition, it was drilled into us from an early age, that church attendance and affiliation, were taboo subjects around the grandparents. Breaching that mandate was subject to discipline.  Mum was the word, God was presumed believed in, but never discussed.
I was 12 at the time guilt and conviction convinced my parents to "do something" with the kids. Apparently baptism was the "something", and a trip to John Knox Presbyterian church was put on the calendar.
We were baptized all right, but not much else really came about from the adventure. Church attendance was sporadic, and short lived. Life soon resumed it's previous normalcy. Securing the souls of the children, through baptism, was checked off the spiritual parental duty list. Our parents consciences were now clear.... religion had been instated.
So they thought... But God had a different idea.

Around the age of 8 one night, I started to entertain the notion of God. I wondered, Who are you, God?  It seemed to me, even in my young mind, that He had to be more than church attendance, a denominational affiliation, or even religious tradition.
I began to feel a supernatural compulsion to read my children's bible. A whole whopping 33 pages of it. It took me maybe an hour, but I couldn't wait to share my accomplishment. Bursting into the family room where my parents were peacefully watching television,  I proudly announced my feat. Their response was not an overly enthusiastic one. That's nice Linda, now go back to bed, please.
I suppose in their minds, this was just another ploy of mine to avoid sleep. But I knew something happened that night. God had spoken, and even in my 8 year old heart, I knew it was so.

Around this same time, I also started to have a persistent and uncanny feeling that "someone" was always missing at the dinner table. It was so strong, that I recall numerous times when I would literally pause and count family members...1-2-3-4-5-6.  Yep, we're all here, no one missing. So why do I feel like someone isn't here and should be? Yet even after establishing the presence of all six of us, the vague feeling still didn't abate. It hung heavily in an unsettled place deep inside me.
I wonder now if that "someone" wasn't  Jesus.

Enter my three friends.  Like the visitors of Lot, they came to offer salvation to me with a message of deliverance from God. That night, I discovered what it meant to be a follower of Jesus...

                                The Salvation Message:
                I tell you the truth, you must be born again.
                                              John 3:7

Scriptural references of Salvation:

 Acknowledge the universal, sinful state of ALL man--
For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God--there is no one righteous, not one.
 Romans 3 :23, 3:10

Confess and repent of your sins--
 If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:9-10

 If any man be in Christ he is a new creation
2 Corinthians 5:17

There is no magic mathematical formula of words, or patterned prayer, that needs to be recited. Simply present your heart before the master and receive eternal life.
Sometimes even just a simple question can be a prayer, as was my case...Who are you, God?

"You may feel unworthy and unable to pray as you know you should. Accept this heartily and be content to come to God anyway and be blessed in your unworthiness, simply trusting Gods' grace. This is true humility.  Humility is the strength behind great faith. Don't let your littleness hinder your prayers for a moment." *

 May the love of your Father
 be like the lights in the windows of heaven
 that are always on for you.

* Andrew Murray