Sunday, August 3, 2008

A witness

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God." 1 Corinthians 1: 18
The first Bible I ever owned was given to me when I was a 3rd grader in the Methodist church in my hometown.  It was an RSV, fake leather with red page edges, complete with the red words of Jesus, maps, and a few choice illustrations.  Other than when I took it to Sunday School now and then, it sat on my bookcase, unopened--mostly because I found it impenetrable. At my grandparents' house, I'd read plenty of blue bound books of Bible stories--the same ones that lived in doctors' and dentists' offices in the sixties--and I'd liked those stories.  But the actual Bible was jam-packed with sentences that made no sense to me whatsoever.  Even in the Revised Standard Version.  And if my grandmother left her King James open on a table, it was like reading French to me.

But something happened on August 3, 1971 to change all this.  And the verse above not only says it all, but was the first verse I actually noticed after that historic event. That summer I'd read The Cross and The Switchblade and Run, Baby, Run--books that were busy inside me, wetting my spiritual appetite, though I didn't see it then, so when I went to camp, I wanted a Bible.  Not mine, however--it was too big and obvious.  I didn't know if I'd even open it, but I stashed a pocket-sized white Eastern Star New Testament of Mom's that she'd had to rummage through her underwear drawer to find into the bottom of my suitcase.  Didn't think about it again.

Three days later, a bunch of kids were sitting outside the dining room at camp, and one of them started witnessing.  That's what we called it in those days.  Remember?  Now it's just called 'sharing the gospel' or 'sharing your faith,' but in the early 70s, at the heighth of the 'Jesus movement,' when kids barely older than me stood on street corners and, well, cornered anyone who walked past them to talk about Jesus, it was witnessing.  And though I hated the word, hated the pressure I used to feel to do it, there's something true about the word witness.  The first disciples were actual eye-witnesses, and when we come to Christ, we are witness to what He did in saving us, and witness to what He continues to do in our lives to make us like Him.  But I digress.  This girl, Judy, was taking on all comers that day.  There were some pretty hardened characters sitting out on that walkway that sunny August day.  There was a girl from my hometown, smart and thoughtful, who was clearly in the 'questioning everything about the universe' stage.  There were a couple of kids self-involved enough to just want to talk about what happens when we die.  And there was me.  And after a few minutes, I'm sure it became fairly clear to Judy that she had a live one on the hook--not that she thought of it that way.  But I was just hungry enough, just open enough, that she caught me at that particular moment in life.  Wait, I mean, God caught me and Judy was awake enough to be His vehicle.
She asked if I wanted to go somewhere a little more private to talk, and I agreed, so we walked toward the outdoor chapel.  Unfortunately, a counselor was dancing to some kind of hippy music, her long skirt dragging on the ground as she lifted her hands to whatever she thought she was dancing for...So Judy and I stopped on the trail and sat down.  After not so many more sentences--like I say, I was a starving little creature--she prayed for me.  And I prayed for the first time in my life.  (Honestly, I don't remember any previous prayers, except the nightly prayers I learned with my parents: "Father, we thank thee for the night and for the precious morning light.  For rest and food and loving care and all that makes the world so fair.  Help us to do the things we should, to be to others kind and good; in all we do, in all we say to be more loving every day.  Amen."  And I'm not sure--given how easily I can rattle it off even now--that I was ever actually praying when I rotely by rote, with exactly the same intonations every night!)  So I prayed with Judy.

And He answered. That is my witness.  My real, life-long witness: that today is my birthday, the anniversary of the day I was reborn.  And in eternity, this day, when heaven rejoiced over me with an angel chorus (I really believe that, you know!), this is the birthday that counts.  37 years with Jesus.

And that verse at the top?  It's absolutely true.  One of the confirmations to me of His actual presence in my life.  When I got back to my cabin, I dug into my suitcase and found that little white Bible, took a deep breath and opened it.  Did what folks around me now call the "Flip and Dip" method of finding something to read. 1 Corinthians.  As I began to read in the ol' King Jimmy, my heart began to beat even faster than it had been.  It was making sense.  I was getting it.  Then I came to verse 18: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us--to us--who are being saved, it is the power of God."  The power of God! With Him in me, I could understand His Word. 
And the hunger that gave me for the Bible, His now-to-me LIVING WORD has been insatiable. I'd be embarrassed to tell you how many Bibles I own.  Let me just say this, it rivals the pairs of shoes my daughters own, and that's saying something.

So this is my witness, that He gave me life and LIFE again.  And I celebrate that this day. Hallelujah!

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