Her arrival on that Saturday morning was only after a stressful period in our marriage. It all began many weeks before when, for no particular reason, we got up on an ordinary Sunday morning and I said, "Let’s go to church today."
The only motive that I can recall for making that statement was that I thought it would be fun. I wanted to see whom I still knew from when I attended this church years earlier. In those days, I had mostly gone to the church to be with my high school friends who went there. At any rate, my wife quickly agreed, for much more noble motives than my own. So, we went.
We spent the morning in polite greeting and going through the motions (or so I thought). Church had not really been a part of our married life - primarily because I exercised no leadership in the area of spiritual things.
So, after that visit, I was done. My curiosity was satisfied, and that, was that. But, not so much for my wife. The next Sunday, she got up and said, "Let’s go to church again!"
My reaction inside was, "What! Are you nuts, woman?! I have absolutely no interest in that - at all. And I don’t really understand why you do."
My reaction outside, however, was a quiet, "Oh, I made plans to go target shooting this morning. But, you go, if you want to."
So, she did. She dressed our two year old daughter, and off they went.
And, the next Sunday - same thing. And, the Sunday after that - and the one after that, and so on for weeks. My girls went to church - without me.
Every Sunday, I made up another lame excuse. And, every Sunday that I did so, I felt guiltier. And my guilt started to take an emotional toll on our relationship.
Eventually, after my wife's Sunday excursions to church, I started to puff up like a big angry puffer fish. Even in those days, I would never dream of physically abusing my wife, but I certainly emotionally abused her with my angry silence of disapproval.
When she would attempt to address the problem, I would not respond to her questions as to what was wrong. So, from her perspective, her husband was turning into an angry person for one or two days a week for no apparent reason.
Then, it started to become three or four days a week. And, as my guilt became heavier, it eventually became all week. And then the weeks started to string together.
I knew this behavior was horrible, but I couldn’t stop. The whole episode, spreading over those weeks, only demonstrated what a dark and confused person lived in my skin. Eventually, however, after many weeks of this emotional mess, on that fateful Saturday morning, I saw her coming.
Because it was Saturday, I was the only man in the shop. I had come in on Saturday to finish a job, and get the truck out to a customer who desperately needed it.
My heart was in my throat as my wife pulled in the drive way. I instinctively knew trouble was coming.
I walked out to meet her. There were tears in her eyes, but there was courage and resolve there too. She said, "Larry, I can’t do this anymore. I think we ought to separate."
I glanced at my little girl, whom she held in her arms. She was so innocent and so completely unaware of what was going on.
I know that my actions over those months did not indicate it, but emotionally, I deeply loved my wife; and I found my worth in her love for me.
I have since understood that love is much more what you do, than what you feel. But, in those days, all I knew was the shallower, emotional side of love. So, when I heard my wife's difficult declaration, my heart broke.
Tears began to sting the edges of my own eyes. As I started to speak, my bottom lip was mostly uncooperative and began to quiver a bit. But these involuntary reactions were merely temporarily masking the stupidity which was about to erupt from inside me.
But, the words that I next spoke made that stupidity instantly recognizable. I said, in the most arrogant tone, "Well, whatever we’re going to do, let’s just get it done." (The male insanity is its own peculiar brand)
I could see the pain in my wife's sweet face as those words impacted her. I knew she had hoped for, and certainly deserved, better.
I should have fallen on my knees and begged for her forgiveness. But, one more time, I just let my base and backward emotions rule the moment. And my wife walked away with our child, in even more pain than when she had arrived.
I watched them drive away. Then, I turned to go back into the shop. I no longer had either a reason or the ability to restrain my own tears. They were gushing as I entered the door of that massive truck shop.
But, as I walked across the shop, something happened. I had what psychologists would probably call an epiphany. And it really was that. But it was more than that, too. It was a divine confrontation. And, I clearly understood it to be such, even in that moment.
Suddenly, everything was crystal clear. It became very obvious to me that I didn’t have money problems (though, I did). I didn’t have health problems (though, I did). And I didn’t have marriage problems (though, I very obviously did).
Suddenly the real problem became so so very clear. "I have spiritual problems!" was the clarity which went off like a siren in my head.
Suddenly, I found myself at one of those crossroad moments where life can break either way. But, my desperation made me to know exactly what I needed to do.
I raised my face upward toward the high rafters of that truck shop. And, it was as if I were looking directly into the very face of God (though I did not actually see Him). And, with tears still rampant, I said, "Lord, from this point on, if you will tell me what you want me to do, I will do it."
Instantly, with that humble commitment, there occurred a kind of personal “release” inside me. With that simple but heart-felt promise, came a peace that literally seemed to wash over my soul.
I needed no minister to tell me that I had just said the right thing. It was as if I had needed and wanted to say those words all of my life.
And, in that same instant, there was a clear confirmation within me. It absolutely affirmed, without words and without equivocation, "You are forgiven."
This whole encounter lasted no more than fifteen or twenty seconds. But it was absolutely amazing. And, at the end of it, there was left no doubt in my mind that everything had just changed.
The God Of Happy Endings…
It took me a while to gather myself after this "conversion moment." Obviously, I was not really a religious person as a young adult. And, I had, long before this quarter minute, lost the childhood innocence which could bring such reality to God's presence. So, it took a while to process what had happened.
But after a bit, I called my wife at her mother's house and briefly apologized. I took full responsibility for my insanity. And, I asked for her forgiveness.
I also asked her to meet me at our home, so that I could explain what had happened. My explanation of what had happened was dismal. I simply had no good vocabulary to describe it well to her. But, she sensed a real change in me and she forgave me. And a true renewal came to our marriage.
The Journey Begins...
And everything else also began to change after that day. From that first day, I remained always aware, on some level, of the unseen Jesus. He had truly become my invisible but constant and very welcome Companion.
The conversion moment is, in deed, a personal epiphany. It is a beautiful event and the door way to many more. And following my conversion, I began to experience some wonderful times.
But again I was certainly struggling to keep up with all that was happening. And eventually, through much misinterpretation of my new reality, I began to enter into what can only be called "the great mistake." I started working on myself.
I could clearly see that I was, indeed, very broken. So, it seemed the obvious priority ought to be to fix me. But, what I didn't realize was that I had the right priority, but the wrong mechanic.
I have since understood that redemption, long before it is about what you do, is about who you are. That has to be so, because what you do, flows directly from who you are. Thus, it is impossible to fix, in any enduring way, what you do, until you fix who you are.
Now, I understand what I did not in those days. God didn’t really want me to work on me. He simply wanted me to understand that I really needed working on.
And the plan worked. I eventually reached a point where I became absolutely desperate. I could see the high road; but I could not find a way to walk it consistently. And, that failure eventually became an every day heartbreak.
Nevertheless, I did not want to be the man I had been. That old man was a failure in all the ways that mattered most. And now, as I became more exposed by the light of God’s Word my brokenness became increasingly obvious.
Thus, what had started out as a time of great personal release and and a new beginning began to morph into something else. It was turning into a time of great heaviness due to my now more visible personal flaws and failures.
I was bewildered. I had no idea what God was doing until one late Friday afternoon several weeks into this lingering heaviness.
Again, I was at work; and the sun was setting. It was actually after normal business hours. But, I was awaiting the arrival of a customer to whom I was to give an estimate on some work on his truck.
As I sat outside the shop watching the sun set, I was, in one way, happier than I had ever been in my life. And yet, at the same time, I was also burdened, as I described. I was very aware that I was not only failing my own expectations everyday, but those of the God who had given me a new start in life.
My Metaphysical Merger with Christ
That afternoon, as I waited, I decided I would walk into the edge of a forested area near the shop and pray. As I knelt to pray, it seemed the weight of the world was on my shoulders.
I began to pray, "Lord, you said ask..." But, that was as far as I got. In that moment, instantly, I became immersed in the Spirit of Christ for the first time. And it was a very dramatic thing.
I will not waste the reader's time trying to describe an experience that words are wholly inadequate to describe. Suffice to say, it was a very perceptible moment of divine encounter.
And, though I could not have put it in these words at the time, this was the moment of my personal merger with the living Christ, my personal Spiritual Baptism into Him. However, I was so inexperienced and had such a low awareness level regarding the redemptive process, that I did not know what the experience was, or what to call it. (Ref. 2 Peter 1:4)
Later that evening, I spoke to my pastor about it. I described it as well as I could. I told him that something had absolutely changed inside me. My heaviness was gone, and there was a profound peace.
My pastor generally encouraged and reassured me. But sadly, he really could not put a name to the experience, either.
A few weeks later, I was sitting in a revival meeting, and an old silver hair’d preacher began to talk about the Baptism of the Spirit. He said that it was a natural part of God’s redemptive plan for believers. And, he began to describe its purpose and something of its glory. I sat spell bound as he described my experience to a tee, not in the details, but in the main.
Now, at least, I knew what had happened, and what to call it. I had been literally connected by the divine Spirit to the character essence of the Living Jesus. I was so relieved to know that this was a normal and expected event in the Christian experience, and not some aberration. But, even with this explanation, I was still pretty unaware of the bigger picture of the redemptive work. But that was soon to change.
Nevertheless, what had been the external leadership of the Spirit after my conversion, had now become the internalized presence of Christ. And as Christ literally took up residence within me, the great pressure of self-adjustment was relieved.
Now my aspirations of "character newness" became based in the Living Christ living in me, not in my own sufficiency. So becoming a new and better person became a much more natural and comfortable process. It became a matter of just letting my (His) light shine, instead of trying to make it shine.
And so, success did slowly begin to come. I was different inside; and so I started to behave differently outside. And entirely new appetites were a real part of that awakening newness - appetites for things spiritual, and right, and holy.
As a part of that awakening, I developed a burning desire to know and understand God’s word. And, I wanted desperately to discover the big picture of what was going on in my own redemption.
I no longer saw the study of God’s word as a duty. Now, I pursued it more like an impassioned hobby, though it was certainly no game to me.
Sometimes I would get up hours before work time and go to my church and pray, and study, not because I had to, but because I wanted to. I just had this deep need to know and understand, and to truly discover the God behind it all.
But, one morning about 3:00 AM, the police came to the church to
investigate the lights. I was very embarrassed. I stumbled all over the
explanation as to why I was there at that hour. And it was fairly obvious at
first that they just weren’t buying it.
But eventually, I think they just took me to be a harmless religious nut
and they left. And, I was very happy to let it go at that since, for a while, I
thought I was about to go from God’s house to the “big house.”
So, in what I remember to be only a few weeks after my personal merger with Christ, God changed my vocation and I found myself working in an auto parts store.
It’s hard to imagine God as a "head hunter," but He certainly found me a new job quick enough. No more freedom, no more big (but always misspent) commissions, and no more free ride, it was time for my baptism of fire.
I worked in that parts house for four years before it was over. But, after the first six months, I was begging God every day to let me quit. Nevertheless, He steadfastly refused.
Every day I dealt with irate and cursing mechanics, impatient customers, and more phones ringing than we had people to answer. It was constant stress, constant pressure, and constant confrontation of one sort or another.
But, this was the place where I was to be educated and immersed in learning to love the unlovely. This was the place where I was to learn to embrace the power of the Spirit to manage my temper, my fleshly appetites, and my small pay check.
This was the place of my early "schooling" in Christ. And this was to be the place where my personal humbling would take on a greatly lengthened dimension.
I now know that this "Humbling Process" is a normal and necessary part of our experience in Christ, even if it is a somewhat painful part. Since those days, I have come to understand that redemptive faith is best understood to be simply - an all-encompassing humility before God. So obviously, getting there must necessarily involve a humbling process.
And my humility in the face of God’s will was certainly tested in those days. Eventually, it became an everyday event that I would go down the street to a small city park where I would eat my lunch and cry on God's shoulder. I would ask (more like beg) Him to release me from that job. Some days, I would threaten to "quit anyway," though I knew I wasn’t about to do that against His clear will and stern warnings.
Needless to say, there was real stress involved in all of this. But, I obeyed Him in love and faith - and our relationship and my personal growth flourished - even if my nervous system did not.
The good thing about those fiery exchanges in the park - He was there. And when I would go to calmly pray in my private place - He was there too. When I would cry, He was there to encourage me. When I would discover some glorious, graceful answer, He was there to celebrate with me.
He was and is always there to talk with me, to guide me, to threaten me (in love), to encourage me. He is and was always there, and I knew it. And I know it now. And it is so easy to become addicted to this wonderful divine companionship.
I was literally walking life's road, bumpy though it may sometimes have been, with the one true and living God. His constant presence somehow made up for everything. I was getting to know Him at a much higher level. And I was discovering how very worth knowing He really is.
In those days, I discovered new layers of my own brokenness, and I discovered His strength on every layer. The temper thing was no small issue. And loving those unlovely people who had no intention of loving me back - a real obstacle.
It was in these days that I learned that love is much more what you do, than what you feel. And I experienced His divine implementation of that awareness in my everyday relationships. The unseen Christ, everyday, was expressing Himself in me. And He was changing me, day by day.
But, apparently, "spiritual primary school" doesn't last forever ( it just seems like it). Nevertheless, eventually God decided that it was graduation time. But, it was not exactly "school’s out." It was more like, "Let’s move to a new grade level and a new campus."
So, one beautiful Sunday afternoon after church and lunch, I felt an urgency in my heart. I felt a real need for personal privacy, to just be alone with God.
At this point, I was 30 years old, the Lord and I had been walking together for about five years. Not a long experience with God, but long enough that I could sense sometimes when something was up.
At first, I went outside and sat in my back yard, not really understanding what was going on - as usual. But the feeling, the need to somehow go aside with God grew in intensity.
Eventually, I explained to my wife what I was feeling. I asked her to take me to the edge of town to a wooded piece of property owned by her dad. Always perceptive, she agreed.
I took some matches, as I thought I might be spending the night in the woods. And, I told my wife as much; and I told her not to worry, that I would just walk home when all of this was over (long before cell phones).
We hugged for a long moment as I got out of the car at the edge of the property. She drove away. I walked into the woods about a hundred yards or so, and sat down at the base of a large tree. I didn’t really know what to do. I was just waiting, unsure of the significance of all of this.
Eventually, with the warm summer sun shinning on me, I became "dozy." I kind of drifted in and out for maybe an hour, still just waiting. I was in that blissful state of "I’m almost asleep, but not quite." I’ve sometimes wondered what God thought as he looked at me, dozing under that tree, waiting on Him to give me some direction.
I don’t really know what he thought about that picture, but I certainly got His direction. After some time, I awakened as if an alarm had gone off. And it was just there.
It was a perfect reality in my mind. God had called me into the ministry of His Word. I had gone to sleep (well, almost) a laymen, but I had awakened a minister.
I was not going to be a minister, I was a minister, already. I wasn’t going to be a minister after I finished school and got a degree. God made me a minister, in my heart, that very day.
Again, I was 30 years old. My life pattern was pretty well set. We owned our own home. We were active in our local church. And were feeling pretty stable in the community.
But now, none of that seemed to fit any more. In one hour or so, in those woods, everything had changed. So, I got up and started walking home, occasionally bursting into laughter, just because I felt like it.
A summer storm cloud had arisen in the area by this time; and, it was directly ahead of me and meeting me as I walked. I expected to get drenched before I got home, but I just didn’t care. I was actually a bit giddy.
Just before the rain got to me, I looked up and there she was. It was my wife, coming to get me. She just knew to come.
We went back home. And, after I explained to my wife what had happened, I called my pastor and told him. I asked him if I might preach in the service that very Sunday night. He agreed, though somewhat bewildered I think.
The sermon was horrible. I was petrified. And, I could not raise my eyes to make eye contact with the congregation because of my fear. But, I finished the sermon and started a new life as a minister, just that quick.
The next day was Monday. I went in to work and gave them my notice. And, shortly after, we started making preparations to move to Jackson, Mississippi where our denominational college was located. We moved there just before school started in the Fall.
When I figured up how long I had worked for the parts company, it was one day over four years. But, then I realized that I had forgotten to take into account one leap year. So, on the final day of my two week resignation, I had worked for that company (been in undergrad school) for exactly four years to the day. Thus, I felt that I had already earned my Bachelor’s Degree from the School of Hard Knocks.
Nevertheless, my new school, did not recognize that degree, and insisted that I start over. Eventually they awarded me a Degree in Biblical Literature and Pastoral Ministry.
Now, my ministry has spanned 45 years. And, in that time, I have spent almost every day practicing the art of bringing clarity to spiritual abstracts.
I have pastored 6 churches, had two jail ministries, and started one mission church, built Christian Schools in Africa, written Spiritual Guidance Books and articles and preached countless sermons. I no longer have trouble making eye contact; and most agree the sermons have improved (a little) from that first one.
I have raised four children, all of whom have willingly embraced the faith of their father and mother. And, they presently love and serve Christ. And my wife and I have now celebrated 53 years of a wonderful marriage (since God got in charge) which remains vibrant and happy to this very day.
And the Lord and I have spent every single day together, from the first encounter in that truck shop more than 45 years ago. And in every one of those days, He has been my unfailing guide, my teacher, my rescuer, my enabler, and my most intimate confidant. He has been my God in every sense of the word, and yet, my very dearest daily Friend.
And this very fulfilling companionship has really become the entire substance of my life. I am always nothing more than simply - His.
To know and walk with the one true and living God in a consistent and durable, daily friendship - with what does one compare that? How can you fully describe the impact of that?
How do you speak of the wonder of such a thing? Nevertheless, I have done it for all of these years. And I am doing it now, as easily as breathing. And, if these deeply meaningful years of Christ's intimate companionship have taught me anything, it is that He truly is the one authentic rescuer of mandkind.
And so, my very uncomplicated passion remains - still as vibrant as ever. It is simply to serve this wondrous process of divine renewal which not only secures our soul, but transforms our character and our life circumstance. And it all comes from the very hand of God - in the form of the loving Lordship of Christ. - LB