Per Omnia Saecula Saeculorum

By the way, for some thoughts on Easter, see Some Easter Thoughts.

I remember as a small child going to the big St. Paul Cathedral in St. Paul, Minnesota, with my grandmother. This was definitely in the “old days” when it was in Latin and you pretty much sat there and listened. But there were a few times when the priest would turn to the congregation and say something in Latin and we were expected to answer in Latin. The one I remember hearing first was “Dominus vobiscum,” to which the response sounded to me like “et cum spiri 2-2-0.” I kept looking in the missal for those numbers, but I couldn’t find them. Of course in English it is “The Lord be with you,” followed by “and also with you” or “and with your spirit,” the Latin being “et cum spirtu tuo.” So no numbers at all.

During a High Mass the priest would sing (chant, actually) some of the words, and the congregation would sing back. One expression I remember that the priest sang was “Per omnia saecula saeculorum,” to which the congregation would reply “Amen.” Later, when the Mass was set in the English vernacular, this became “for ever and ever, amen.” It is a Latin idiom that translates as “unto the ages of the ages” but simply means “for ever and ever.”

Which brings me to what I was thinking about. In John chapter three, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, one of the teachers in Israel. At one point Jesus says:

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:14-17)

Why are there two different expressions, “eternal life” in verse 15 and “everlasting life” in verse 16? Are two different thoughts being expressed? Well it turns out that in Greek they are the same word. But after doing a little more research there are some subtleties in the usage of the word. It can mean “without beginning or end”, “without end”, or “without beginning”.

An example of the last usage is in 2 Tim 1:9:

Who hath saved us, and called [us] with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, (2 Tim 1:9)

God’s purpose and grace existed without beginning, before the world was created. An example of something that never ends can be found in Hebrews:

Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom [be] glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21)

Hey, there’s that “for ever and ever, amen!” Here we see that there is an everlasting covenant that will never end, which was sealed with the blood of Christ at Calvary. God Himself is, of course, an example of the other usage, having neither beginning nor ending. So is there a difference between “everlasting” and “eternal?” In the King James Version of the Bible it appears that the words are used interchangeably even though they sometimes have slightly different meanings. I thought of it this way: when everlasting life is being contrasted with perishing or death, it seems to have the meaning of “never-ending,” i.e., you won’t perish (end) but will live forever (everlasting). On the other hand, when it is mentioned in the context of the life of Christ, it seems to mean “no beginning or ending.” since Christ has no start or end. As an example of the first:

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any [man] pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave [them] me, is greater than all; and no [man] is able to pluck [them] out of my Father’s hand. I and [my] Father are one. (John 10:27-30)

Once saved our life will never end, we will never perish, we will live forever. In contrast to that we have:

And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; [and] he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11-13)

Here we see that we have obtained an eternal life that in God’s Son, a life that is “eternal” in the sense that it has neither beginning nor end. So when God saved me, he gave me the life that is in His Son, not just to live forever, but having that eternal character that stretches into the infinite past and into the infinite future. This may seem like a difference without a distinction, but as a one-time math major I see a difference. I will live forever since God saved me. But I will always be able to tell exactly how long I have been saved (at least relative to time on Earth). Since I was saved on Feb 18, 1973, today on April 20, 2014, I have been saved 15,036 days (Excel is very useful). So even though the time ahead of me is infinite, my experience of that time always has a finite measurement. The last verse that is usually sung in the hymn “Amazing Grace” alludes to this:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

But we have more than that, we have the life that is in His Son, an eternal life without beginning or end, a truly infinite life:

And you [hath he quickened], who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [his] kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:1-10)

On this Easter, know that God has raised Jesus from the dead, and through Him, His work on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead, God is able to save everyone.

The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:4)

The choice is yours. Where will you be “for ever and ever?”

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Why The Flood?

Why The Flood?

The movie “Noah” is now in the theaters. It is difficult to produce a movie based on a biblical story and make it appealing to a wide, secular audience, so I understand some cinematic liberties were taken. I guess some people are upset because it shows Noah getting drunk after the flood, but that really happened (Gen 9: 20-21). It happens to be the first time either vineyards or wine are mentioned in the Bible. I’ll probably take a pass on going to see it since my taste runs more to comedies and cartoons. The last movie I saw was the Lego Movie, and before that was Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs II, not to mention Frozen.

But let’s answer a different question: why did God send the flood anyway? And what difference does it make today?

The story begins in Genesis chapter 6.

And GOD saw that the wickedness of man [was] great in the earth, and [that] every imagination of the thoughts of his heart [was] only evil continually. And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD. (Gen 6:5-8)

Man’s wickedness was so great, that even his imaginations and thoughts were evil, ALL THE TIME! And notice that the reference is to the thoughts of the heart, not the mind (see “Your Heart“). All of man’s affections and desires were captivated by his own evil thoughts and imaginations. But Noah was different. It has been said that mercy withholds punishment that is deserved and grace provides blessing and happiness that is not deserved. Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.

Unlike what the movie portrays, God actually spoke to Noah and gave him instructions, and when he does he provides more information about why he has come to this destructive decision:

The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make thee an ark … (Gen 6:11-14)

The earth was filled with violence. This was the main reason that God decided to destroy the earth. Man exhibited his violent nature right from the start. After Cain and Abel were born, Cain turned in rage on his brother and killed him. God said to Cain, “the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.” It was the first human blood shed, but not the last, and now the earth is filled with blood and violence. So God tells Noah that he will destroy the earth.

Even with this depravity before him, God is merciful and patient. Noah spent a hundred years building the ark, and during that time was “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Pet 2:5), telling all who would listen about the judgment that was coming. Noah’s grandfather was Methusaleh, the man who lived longer than anyone else. His name means “his death shall bring judgment” and if you add up the numbers in Genesis chapter 5 you will see that he died the same year as the flood. So 969 years before the flood, a child is born and given a name that predicts that God’s judgment is coming, but then God lets him live longer than anyone else. God is indeed gracious and merciful!

So what does this have to do with us today, other than maybe spending an afternoon at the movie theater to see a story loosely based on the scriptural account? Well, Jesus made a prediction that mentions Noah and his times.

And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is [in your midst]. And he said unto the disciples, The days will come, when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see [it]. And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after [them], nor follow [them]. For as the lightning, that lighteneth out of the one [part] under heaven, shineth unto the other [part] under heaven; so shall also the Son of man be in his day. But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. And as it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all. Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed [them] all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed. In that day, he which shall be upon the housetop, and his stuff in the house, let him not come down to take it away: and he that is in the field, let him likewise not return back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. I tell you, in that night there shall be two [men] in one bed; the one shall be taken, and the other shall be left. Two [women] shall be grinding together; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two [men] shall be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. And they answered and said unto him, Where, Lord? And he said unto them, Wheresoever the body [is], thither will the eagles be gathered together.

“As it was in the days of Noah… so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man.” The days when the Lord shall come again will have the same character as there was in Noah’s day – a world full of violence. Now there have been many times in history that were particularly violent: the days of Genghis Khan, the “eastern front” in Russia in World War II, the concentrated violence of the nuclear weapons exploded in Japan, and the destructive nature of communism in the 20th century that led to the deaths of perhaps 100 million people. But I marvel at the nature of violence that currently surrounds us. Obviously there are places in the world that are suffering from war and revolutionary resistance, but here in our peaceful nation we are surrounded by it as a means of entertainment.

In the first place, we can watch all the contrived violence we want at the movies and on TV. Not like the “old days” when the bad guy was shot and he clutched his chest and fell over. Now we have exploding heads and disembowelled teenagers. Video games are becoming more realistically violent at the behest of those who play them; the more violent, the more successful they are. And one of the most popular memes on the internet is the “epic fail”, which tend to show people getting hurt or vehicles being destroyed in various ways. And this violence is not meant to shock or cause moral outrage, it is for entertainment!

The character of our age appears similar to that of the days of Noah. The judgment may well be upon us. So what is the solution, what can one do, where is God’s grace? Here’s more verses from Genesis.

And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation…
For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. And Noah did according unto all that the LORD commanded him…
And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights…
And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in. (Gen 7:1,4-5,10-12,16)

When I read this passage in Sunday School, I ask the kids, “Where was God when he said this to Noah?” Obviously, he had to be in the ark or else he would have said “Go into the ark.” Deliverance from judgment is not obtained by our own efforts, but by responding to an invitation from God, an invitation to be with God. I don’t know what is portrayed in the Noah movie, but notice that Noah didn’t shut the door, God did. Noah and his family and the animals entered the ark, and the door still stood open. Anyone else could have joined them, but no one did, and God finally shut Noah and his family in. The way of deliverance was now closed, and everyone else who had refused the invitation perished.

Jesus Christ offered the same invitation when he was here:

“Come unto me, all [ye] that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke [is] easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt 11:28)

He invites each and every person to come to him. When the door of the ark stood open, there was no more work to be done, Noah had finished it. It was as simple as walking through the door. The same is true today. Christ’s invitation rests on a work that is completed, his death on Calvary. And he also said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9)

Judgment is due. It may not be today or next week, but it is inevitable. There was only one door to the ark, and there is only one door to eternal life, the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the last verses in the Bible still offers the invitation to all:

And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Rev 22:17)

The door is still open, will you come in?

Your Heart

English is a language that is full of nuance. The meaning or concept behind a statement can change depending on the tone in which it is spoken (for example, sarcastically), or on the emphasis that is given to different words. I’m not sure if other languages are like this, but it lends a versatility to English that can be very useful.

When my children were young, it was always difficult to get them to do what they were told. I know this is not unusual, but with my oldest daughter (you can find her here) every direction I gave was met with a “discussion”, i.e., an argument. I remember one day I had reached the end of my rope, so I said to her, “Clean your room. Clean your room. Clean your room. Clean your room.” I then explained what I meant by each of the ways I said the same sentence.

Clean your room. Of all the things you can do to your room, clean it.”
“Clean your room. Of all the rooms that can be cleaned, clean yours.”
“Clean your room. Of all the things you have that can be cleaned, clean your room.”

There is a statement in Proverbs 23:26 that can be stated in the same manner:
My child, give me your heart.

My child, give me your heart.
My child, give me your heart.
My child, give me your heart.
My child, give me your heart.
My child, give me your heart.
My child, give me your heart.

I am going to look at this from the point of view of a person who has accepted Christ as Savior, who is born again, and has been made a child of God.

My child, give me your heart.
To whom do we belong? Each of us is a child of our parents, but here is a reminder that each of us is God’s child as well. In fact, his claim on us takes precedence over earthly relationships. He sent his only Son to die for us, to pay the price of freedom, to redeem us out of our slavery to sin. 1 Cor 6:19-20 says, “ye are not your own… Ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

My child, give me your heart.
What is my relationship to God? I am his child. I am not just a servant or a hired hand or a friend, but I am, in fact, his child. “But as many as received him, to them gave the power to become the sons of God, which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13). We not only belong to God, we have been born again into a heavenly relationship with Him. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)

My child, give me your heart.
We have a heart full of desires, and God wants it. How will he get it? Will he steal it from us without any input from us? Will he bribe us for it, buying our affection with gifts and promises? I suppose he could do those things or maybe others to gain our heart. But he won’t. He wants us to give it to him. Without any strings attached, he wants us to just hand it over to him. He wants us to give him all our affections, our desires, our longings, our love, without any thought from us that we will gain anything in return. Why would we do this? Because that’s what he did for us.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 3:16.

He gave the greatest gift ever given to show his love for us. He sent his only son to become a man to win our hearts, and our response was to crucify him. Yet this was so he could create in us a new heart, one that would love him unconditionally (Ezek 36:26).

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
And hath raised [us] up together, and made [us] sit together in heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus:
That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in [his] kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
(Eph 2:4-7)

By the way, he doesn’t want us to lend it to him just for a while so we can have it back to turn our affections towards other things – he wants us to give it to him.

My child, give me your heart.
Of all the people and things we could give our heart to, he wants us to give it to him. Well, what does this even mean? It sounds kind of poetic and not very practical. How do I give my heart to anyone? Well, in a simple sense, what do you spend your time doing? You work to make a life for you and your family, to make sure they are well provided for, that you have time to enjoy the life you have built up. You have ambitions about what you will do with your life to be productive, to leave a positive mark on the world. There is nothing wrong with these things. God has left us here in order to be good stewards of the time and talents that he has given us (see Matt 25:14-29). But there is something else to consider.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:
But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
(Matt 6:19-21)

Our heart will follow wherever our treasure is. If we value the things of God, if we view our life from an eternal, heavenly perspective, even the treasure we gain here on earth will only reflect the treasure we are gaining in heaven: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. (1 Cor 2:9)”

My child, give me your heart.
When all is said and done, it is still my heart to do with as I please. Even though he paid such a high price to make it possible for me to even have a clean heart, he has left it under my control. It is up to me to give it to him or not. We all have a tendency to keep track of those around us and evaluate their behavior according to our sense of right and wrong. We always have a lot of advice for other people to follow as to the best course of action for them to take, especially as it relates to important, essential things. In fact, I am doing that right now, telling you how you ought to relate to God and eternity. But let’s look at the verse. God wants my heart. Yes, I know he wants your heart, too, but he wants mine. So this section is for me. I need to reconsider where my heart is, bring it back from wherever I have given it, and give it God.

My child, give me your heart.
Of all the things I have to give, God wants my heart. I can give him my time, my treasure, my talents, but he wants my heart and the love that is in it. He wants it all directed towards him. Most people are familiar with the “love” chapter from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13. It is commonly read at weddings to express the feelings of the bride and bridegroom for one another. But read it again as if it is the love in your heart that is being spoken of and then make sure you have given it to God.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not love, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, and have not love, it profiteth me nothing. Love suffereth long, [and] is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Love never faileth: but whether [there be] prophecies, they shall fail; whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease; whether [there be] knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these [is] love.

My. Child. Give. Me. Your. Heart.

O the bitter shame and sorrow
that a time could ever be,
when I let the Savior’s pity
plead in vain, and proudly answered:
All of self, and none of thee!

Yet he found me: I beheld him
bleeding on the accursèd tree,
heard him pray: Forgive them, Father;
and my wistful heart said faintly:
Some of self and some of thee!

Day by day his tender mercy,
healing, helping, full and free:
sweet and strong, and ah! so patient,
brought me lower, while I whispered:
Less of self and more of thee!

Higher than the highest heaven,
deeper than the deepest sea;
Lord, thy love at last hath conquered;
grant me now my supplication:
None of self and all of thee!

Theodore Monod, 1874

Lost and Found

So, Charlie picks me up on the UConn campus and we make the 85 mile trip to my girlfriend’s house in New Milford, CT. (By the way, part one of this story is here, and part two is here.)  He drops me off and heads to his girlfriend’s house in Watertown, and I sit and visit until we head to the Gospel Meeting in the Brookfield Gospel Hall on Pocono Road (see pic below).  The folks there had a Gospel Meeting every Sunday night from 7:00 until 8:00.  I had never been to any of these meetings, so my girlfriend filled me in on what to expect.  The meeting started with a couple of Gospel hymns and a prayer, and then two of the brethren got up (one at a time) and preached the Gospel.  That night the first man preaching was my Facebook friend Jim Rosania who was visiting from the Terryville Gospel Hall and the other was Jack McGrath from Brookfield, who is now with the Lord.  Jim, if you’re reading this, I confess that I don’t remember what you preached about.  But I remember Jack’s message.  He read the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus from Luke 16.  Here’s the passage:

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that [would come] from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

I remember the story from when I was a kid.  In fact, I used to listen to (and sing) a Peter, Paul, and Mary song called “Tramp on the Street” that was about this story (see below).  But I’m not really paying much attention.  I’m lost in my thoughts about what is going on in my life.  I am not doing well in school, but for many reasons I am more concerned about what I call “cosmic” things, what I would refer to today as “eternal” things.  What if what these people are telling me is true?  Am I really going to Hell?  Since I started to read the Bible and talk to other Christians around campus in the previous few months, it seemed that circumstances were leading me to really consider the question: “What will happen to me when I die?”  There had been many “coincidences” that culminated in today’s sequence of events that now finds me listening to a preacher teach about Heaven and Hell.  “But,” I think, “I’m a rational guy, a math major, a scientific kind of guy.  I want some PROOF that this is true.”  As I stare out the window, I see a big pine tree and think,”If a branch falls off that tree right now, I’ll believe it’s true.”  But then I realized that I would just claim it to be another in the long line of coincidences that I have been experiencing.  As I complete that thought, Jack reads the last line of the passage: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”  Then he says, “If you won’t accept God’s word, you won’t accept any proof of the truth, not even if someone came back from the dead!”  My immediate thought is, “What a coincidence!”

But now I can’t deny it.  God is, in fact, speaking to me, in a very direct way.  Oh, I’m not hearing voices or seeing visions, but it is not reasonable to ignore  the “messages” I am getting.  After Jack closes the meeting with a prayer, we sing hymn #77 from the Gospel Hymn Book (see pic below of the page from the hymn book).  The tag line of the hymn is, “Thou wouldst be saved, Why not tonight?” and the “Why not tonight” tag line is set separately over to the right, so it appears five times.  The thought is now my own.  If I want to be saved, why NOT tonight?

The meeting ends and my girlfriend and I get in her old 60’s Volvo (see sample pic below) to make the hour and a half trip back to UConn.  I’m driving and I’m talking about my reaction to the day, especially the gospel meeting, while she sits quietly and lets me ramble on.  I really want to tell her I’m saved now, but I know I’m not.  And here’s the dilemma: I know I have three spiritual enemies: the world, the flesh, and the Devil.  This is old information from my childhood which has been recently reinforced by the Christians I have met.  I had already come to the conclusion that the world didn’t want me to be saved, as represented by my friends who were just like I had been, more interested in scoring some hash, LSD, and the occasional lump of opium.  They were not going to help me with my eternal destiny, in fact, quite the opposite.  So the world was out. As I’m talking, I realize that it’s Satan that is trying to get me to say I am saved even though I know I’m not.  He’s definitely not on my side, so I reject the idea of lying about my condition. So Satan is out.

Now I am faced by the final enemy: me.  The arguments start in my mind against the truth that I have just learned about my soul’s need for salvation.  That truth is that I am a sinner, and my own sins condemn me to Hell forever.  But Jesus died on the cross in my place, so I don’t have to go to Hell.  But it is up to me to accept him or reject him, and if I accept him, I’m saved and I get to go to Heaven.  As I face this ultimate truth, my own thoughts begin to tell me, “Don’t worry.  You’re OK.  You’re better than most people so you’ll probably go to Heaven.”  This has been my guiding principle through all of my life, that I’m not so bad, that I’m better than most, but now I see it for the lie that it is.  My next thought is, “I’m a math major who can’t even pass my math course, How will I ever get into God’s Heaven?” I have no place else to go.  I’m LOST!  I have no ability to do anything about it, I’m going to Hell.  And the worst part of it is that the only one who can do anything about it is God.  This is the same God that I have railed against silently in my private thoughts and loudly in public.  One time I shouted that if Jesus came into the room I would spit on him!  Why would he ever save me?  I am truly lost, there is nothing I can do!  But in my desperation I turn to God anyway, and in my mind I say, “God, SAVE ME!”

And he does.  Right there.  In the drivers seat of that Volvo, somewhere on route 84 near Plainville CT at around 11:00 at night.  God shows me that Jesus loves me, and when he died on the cross it wasn’t just for “everybody” or for “all the sinners,” it was for ME!  He saved me!  I’m saved! I turn to my girlfriend and say, “I’m saved!  God saved me just now!”  I expect shouts and tears of happiness and joy (that’s what I am feeling) but all she says is, “Are you sure?”  But I am not offended, because I AM sure.  I have never been more sure of anything in my life.  I am no longer “lost,” no longer on my way to Hell, but I have eternal life and am on my way to Heaven. I’m FOUND!

By the way, the next day I ran into Connie Wynn, the first born-again Christian I ever met, who had been praying for me every day for five months, and when I told her I got saved, she did shout and cry and hug me, and we thanked God together that he saved me.

Here I am, 41 years later.  Jesus has been at my side all that time.  Most days I feel like I haven’t accomplished much on his behalf, but I am grateful for all that he has done for me, and that I have the ability and opportunity to tell others about the God who loves everyone, each person, even though each one is a sinner who doesn’t deserve his love.  And I can tell them that when Jesus died on the cross, it wasn’t just for me, it was for you, too.

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Here’s a link to the Google Maps Street View of the Brookfield Gospel Hall.  I actually got married there.

Here’s a link to YouTube of the song “Tramp on the Street”  by Peter, Paul, and Mary

Here’s a pic of hymn #77 that we sang that night:

Why not tonight?

Hymn #77 from the Gospel Hymn Book

Here’s what the Volvo looked like, though it was gray and much more beat-up:

Old Volvo

Example of old Volvo

So how did phones work in the old days?

Back in the dark ages of the 1970’s there was no such thing as a cell phone.  There was no such thing as a wireless phone, either.  In fact, there was no such thing as more than one phone company.  Almost everywhere there was only AT&T, and the phones in your house belonged to them, not to you!  That being said, in Connecticut our one phone company was the Southern New England Telephone Company instead, fondly known as S-N-E-T.  The reason I bring this up is that because of this arrangement college students couldn’t afford phones.  So in every dorm there was a pay phone down in the lobby.  If you  wanted to call someone you would call that phone and if someone happened to be walking by, they would answer it.  You told them who you wanted to talk to and there was a PA system that they would use to page the person you wanted to speak to.  Then that person would run downstairs and get on the phone.

Anyway, back to my story to see why this is relevant.  After the radio show was over (see previous post), I decide to take a shower.  In those days a dormitory was just that, a bunch of double rooms with a communal bathroom and shower on each floor, not like the “suites” they have today.  So I gather up my soap, shampoo, towel, etc., get in my robe, and proceed across the hall to the bathroom.  I finish my shower and come out into the hallway, and I hear my name on the loudspeaker.  I have a call on Sunday morning!  So I run down the stairs in my bathrobe and get the phone.  It’s my buddy Charlie from off campus.  He got a call from my girlfriend asking him if he would pick me up and the both of us could go to Brookfield for their weekly Gospel meeting that night.  Charlie was up for this since it actually gave him an excuse to drop me off and then go home so he could see his girlfriend.

I am speechless.  She had never asked me to attend any of their church meetings in the five months I had known her, even though we talked about them often.  Now here I am having been shocked by a pinball / eternal life story on the radio, and now getting an invitation to hear more about it (eternal life, not pinball).  I absolutely want to go, so I tell him to come and get me.  I am also amazed by two things. One, someone was walking by the phone in the lobby on Sunday morning and bothered to answer it.  Two, I was in the hallway for about 15 seconds, enough time to walk across the hall and unlock my door.  In that 15 second window I was paged because I have a call.  If I had still been in the shower, I wouldn’t have heard it.  If I had returned to my room I may not have heard it since it isn’t that loud and wouldn’t have been listening for it.  It was perfectly timed.  “What a coincidence!” I think.  “First I turn on the radio at just the right time to hear the pinball story, and now I’m in the hallway to get a phone call.  Huh!  It is certainly starting out as a very interesting day.”

I had no idea where this day was going to end up.

[Part 1 is here.]

Feb 14, 2014 – First Post

So, 41 years ago today, while driving a 60’s era Volvo sedan on route 84 outside of Plainville, Connecticut, I asked God to save me from my sin, and he did! I realized that Jesus Christ had died for me on the cross so my sins could be forgiven.

I have been feeling nostalgic, so I am writing the story of how that all came to happen.

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February 1973, Sprague Hall, University of Connecticut. It’s Sunday morning, and I am actually awake. Usually I sleep all day Sunday and wake up when it’s time for my girlfriend to return to campus. She goes home every weekend so she can go to “meeting” on Sunday morning, what most people call “church”. Anyway, I turn on the radio to the one FM station we can get in Storrs, Connecticut, and they are playing one of my favorite songs: Killing Me Softly by Roberta Flack. All of a sudden, some guy starts talking over the song! How aggravating! But what he says catches my attention:

I saw a piece of life in a pinball machine the other day.

Cool! I love pinball! Before video games pinball was IT. I fancied myself quite the player, though not a pinball wizard. So I listen as he continues.

I was on my last ball, and it was heading straight for the ball dump, and that would be it, game over. But I caught the ball just a little bit with one flipper, pushed it to the other flipper, hit the Special Target, and I won a whole new game.

I understood this feeling exactly and there was nothing like it. See, in Connecticut and some other states, it is considered gambling to award a free game since that has actual value, so you could only win a free ball. But in New Jersey where I learned to play, a free game was what you got, and that’s what you played for. The machine would make a *knock* sound, and you knew you had won another game! It was really exhilarating! Then he said:

That’s what it’s like when you get Jesus in your life. Your life can be headed straight for the dumps, but get Jesus in your life, even just a little, and you get a whole new game.

I was completely stunned. Here was some random guy on the radio talking about pinball and he relates it to Jesus. It turns out it was a Christian radio broadcast relayed from some place in Texas, and it aired every Sunday morning on our station. And it was exactly what I needed to hear, because my life was heading straight for the dumps, and I sure needed something. I had recently turned twenty years old, and my life had been going downhill for some time due to my own actions. This incident was the continuation of God’s efforts to get me to pay attention to eternity, and to consider the fate of my own soul.

TO BE CONTINUED…