Okay, Now What?

20 05 2013

I was reminded of two different episodes of my life this week that happened some years Imageback.  Different, yes, but in how they turned out were striking in similarity, so much that I decided to combine them in this week’s blog.

The 1st story involves my conversion to Christianity.  When I began to seek understanding on what it was I now believed, there was a discovery that a main premise to calling yourself a follower of Christ Jesus was forgiveness.  The Bible tells us we need to forgive each other just as God had forgiven us.  That part wasn’t too hard for me seeing I never liked carrying a grudge toward anyone for any reason.  But what about people that I needed to get right with for the way I treated them; Whoa, there’s a whole different subject!  I’ll be first to confess I haven’t always treated people the right way, sometimes out of something as simple as a misunderstanding, but sometimes out of my own arrogance and self-fulfillment.  This weighed heavily on me, professing to be a new person, a new creature in Christ but having one who held grudges against me just didn’t sit right.  After talking to my Lady, some wonderful Christian friends, and a whole lot of prayer; I realized there was only one resort, seek out as many of the folks that I wronged and ask for their forgiveness. Some, it was easy for they were still a part of my life in some aspect.  I could just say to them, “Look, I just want you to know that I now realize how I hurt you, I am so sorry and hope you can forgive me.”  It was remarkable to me the effect it had on those people, healing was not only happening for me, it was happening for them as well to hear the words I had to say.  Some were harder to track down and in many cases I ended up sending a letter telling why I was contacting them.  Again, many wonderful responses came back.  I just knew I was doing what God wanted me to and as long as I did that, everything would great. “TILT!”

I remember the day I walked up to an old friend’s front door and knocked on it; this was someone I had brought great emotional pain to years earlier.  The man who answered had aged since the last time we were together, but still I recognized him as he did me.  “What do you want here?” were the first words out of his mouth.  “Dude, I’m here to tell you I was wrong, it was selfish on my part and hurtful to you.  I just want to tell you how sorry I am for what I’ve done and hope you can find it in your heart to forgive.”  Well, my old buddy didn’t waste time or words; “I don’t want your apology; no, I don’t forgive you; no, I don’t believe you’ve changed; I don’t trust you now and I never will; now get off my property and don’t ever come back here!”  SLAM!!!  The air thrust from him closing the door made my hair blow back, and it also made me angry.  I stood there for a moment giving thought to putting my foot through the door, marching right in, grabbing him by collar and saying, “You stubborn jackass, can’t you see I’ve changed!  Now you forgive me or I’ll knock you into next week!”  I’m totally sold out that there’s something to the Holy Spirit and even angels directing a person’s life.  My face was flushed with anger, but I could hear a small still voice saying to me, “You’ve done all you could, it’s time to leave now, let’s go.”  As I drove away I could hear another voice, not so quiet, not so still saying, “You Failed!  And you call yourself a Christian!”

The 2nd story is about a young man I got to know shortly after moving to Indiana.  I had become a volunteer with the local youth probation office working with kids with troubled pasts.  Over the course of nearly 40 years, I have worked with literally thousands of young people in many different settings, but few have stayed with me like the memory of a boy we’ll call Tommy.  Tommy came from a home where his father was a hard core alcoholic.  He had been removed from the home on several occasions, living in youth shelters and foster homes, but always returning to his place of origin and always in trouble with the law or at school.  Over a 2-year course, we had Tommy in our lives often, getting him out of trouble at someplace or with someone, receiving a call and going to pick him up somewhere when he was too drunk or stoned to get home, doing everything possible to help in school and finally allowing him to move in with us when he had no where else to go.  During that period Cathy and I felt we were in a living hell so to speak.  He disrespected us at every turn, disobeying any and all rules we put before him. Try as I might and praying so hard and so long for that boy that my knees were growing calluses, we could not get him to straighten up.  It became so bad I finally had to ask him to leave.  And I heard that voice again, “And you call yourself a Christian!” Some fifteen years later I get a call from a familiar voice, it was Tommy.  He had moved around the country and was back in the area looking for a place to stay.  “John, I’ve never forgotten you and all that you did for me, you were one of the greatest people in my life and I love you!”

Sounds good doesn’t it?  I agreed to meet with Tommy, but first contacted a police friend of mine to see if he could get me any background on what he’s been doing.  Seems Tommy had learned how to work the system has he grew older.  He bounced from California, Texas and Florida, then home to Indiana for a while before starting his hobo existence all over again.  “Yep, our boy Tommy has become quite the conman, moving from place to place, taking people for money or possessions, getting into trouble and then moving on knowing whatever he did wouldn’t be enough for the authorities in each state to come looking for him.”  I met with Tommy after that for lunch and listened to his story of how he’s now a changed man and just wanted a fresh start and knew he could get that here living with me and my Lady again.  But now I had 3 young impressionable children of my own and there was just no way I could let him anywhere near them.  The words came easy, “No, Tommy, I can’t have you in my home.”  Hearing those words threw him into a fit, the real Tommy was now on display.  And for the 1st time I was hearing those words coming from a human being. “AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A CHRISTAN!”  I paid the lunch bill, laid some extra money on the table for him and said, “Yes, yes indeed I do; but more than that, my Savior calls me that also.”

Here’s a quote I keep in my desk at work;

“The longer I love, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.  Attitude, to me, is more important than facts.  It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do.  It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill.  It will make or break a company…a church….a home.  The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.  We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way.  We cannot change the inevitable.  The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.” Charles R. Swindoll

I was not drawn to Christianity because it was a nice religion or that it would make me a nicer person that everyone could see and love.  What hooked me was learning about a God whose love for me was so great He was willing to except me just the way I was and make me a new creature in Him.  Does that mean perfect, never doing anything wrong, loved by all?  Heck No!!!  What it means is this, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

I’m never going to be able to control how people look at me; I can only hope my words and actions are doing the name of my Lord worthy.  But no matter what anyone else believes, I have assurance that God knows the real me and loves me all the more anyway.





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