Hymn 110, “Afar From God”, was sung.
John 1:29, “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.'” What was interesting to me when I read this chapter some years ago was noticing the mention of days, for there is something odd about this account. It is John who wrote this gospel. That is not John the Baptist but the brother of James, and this was the first day that he mentioned. He begins by writing, “the next day.” It seems like he just picked up somewhere in the middle of John’s ministry and he just says, “The next day,” but it was a significant day. I was looking at our lives, and if we live seventy years that would be over 25,000 days, and a good number here would have surpassed that number. For a child of God there are some very significant days and this is one of them, very significant for in them we have found salvation. John did not really mention what was the first day, and I suppose it was when these Pharisees and priests came to John earlier in the chapter, but it is not so clear. He just does not say, “This is day one,” and maybe that is good for my little part in this meeting, because the beginning is not like a definite time.
Sometimes people ask the question, “When did this way start?” I hope you do not say, “A hundred years ago or so.” I hope you would not say, “Two thousand years ago,” for the answer is in this chapter and I will read you the answer when this way of God that we are teaching started. John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, the same was in the beginning with God.” This is where it all began, it began with God in the beginning and as far as we know it was before this world and its society started. It was the Word, which we believe is Jesus. It is nice that John referred to Jesus as the Word, because Jesus did everything that God asked Him to do, so He was the living manifestation of His word; the Word was the expression of His will. When we see Jesus walking in this earth, we have a little picture of Him, and getting to know God’s will and His plan, so God and His Son had a plan before man ever came on this world, that there would be a family in Heaven one day that would be bought by the blood of Jesus, and Jesus was willing for that in the eternity that has gone.
So that was the beginning of the way; it was in eternity and it was in God’s heart, then Jesus came and lived it. He just asked people to follow, He did not want people’s ideas, He did not need our improvements, all His salutation was, “Just follow me.” Then was the beginning of our days, and that is another thing.
John held up Jesus as the Lamb of God, and I can remember when that was just like history to me, this whole Bible was a history to me. There did come a day when I realized God sent His servants to me with a very specific message for this man right here. When you are serving God, it is not just God sending His servant John to the world; it was that He sent His servants to me, a very personal message that had my name on it.
There were many days that went on, long before that, that prepared us for that day. It was like the plough that goes through the field and prepares for the seed. I believe God deals with every boy and girl that comes into this world, else how could He judge them on that day, but He will be able to say to each boy and girl, “This was the day that I sent you a message, but there was no response.” I can’t remember really the day this happened to me, but I was very young. David knew that God called him in his mother’s womb but about the earliest that I can remember is when I was about six years old. The religion that I was brought up in consider themselves to be the biggest and the first and greatest and consider themselves to be the ones who are right. They used to have a saying, “You give us a child, and by the time they are six or seven, we will make them a part of our religion for life,” for they were going to indoctrinate them.
What they did not know was that for this little boy, there was someone else getting into my heart besides themselves, and that was God Himself. Now I was six years old and a nun says to me, “God can see you everywhere.” Whether it was her idea or mine I don’t know, but I do remember this day, going into my bedroom and into a closed wardrobe. It had sliding doors. I was inside and closed those doors. I remember it was so dark that I could not see my hand in front of my face and I asked myself, “I wonder if God can see me here?” and He let me know that He saw me there; He spoke to me. I got myself out of that wardrobe pretty quickly, for that was a fearful and wonderful experience, because in a little six year old boy’s heart, I knew God existed and that He saw me and He knew me. He did not preach to me, He did not tell me that He had a way on the earth; He just said, “I see you there and I know your little heart and you cannot hide anything from me,” so that was the beginning that I can remember knowing God’s dealings.
That was not the only time, for I know that God is speaking to everybody by their conscience, trying to develop an honest conscience, this voice showing what is right and wrong and some of my early dealings as a boy with my conscience, some of those are very clear, like your first time of being rewarded for doing what is right and then being made to feel shameful when you have done wrong. One of the times is when I was a little boy. I grew up in the city and I had little friend a couple of blocks away. His name was Billy, and we were allowed to go and play with Billy, but we were never allowed to cross the main highway.
I remember one day playing with Billy and some of these other boys who lived across the highway wanted to play with us and then they said, “We have something going on in our neighborhood,” so we were all going to go over there but it meant crossing the highway, and I remember my mum and dad telling me, “You do not cross over that highway.” I did not know these boys so well, so I said that I cannot cross the street and they said, “Why not?” I was about seven years old, so then they called me a little sissy, but I just said, “No, I am not crossing the street and you cannot make me.” So they all left and went across the highway. I was left alone and I can remember walking back home, but I do remember God was smiling in my little heart. Because I had obeyed Mom and Dad, I felt a little peace in this little heart. Then I remember the other times when I crossed the highway and I cannot tell you all that we did, but I can tell you that I did not enjoy it because I was smitten and I had no peace. That was like God first dealing with this little boy’s conscience, just helping me to understand He is watching and He is rewarding for good and He is punishing for bad and we are accountable to Him.
Then, in my religion, comes the indoctrination process and we are taught, as in Isaiah, and Jesus quoted this verse, “They taught for fear the precepts of men,” and what that means to me is that they are teaching you that if you don’t obey their commandments God will punish you. Now that conscience has been tailored to their commandments and that was how my conscience was developed. Some of the rules were ridiculous but, if I disobeyed them, my conscience would begin to smite me and I would think that I was going to a lost eternity. This had nothing to do with the Bible; it was their commandments, so my conscience began to be twisted. There was this sin that began to enter into my heart like it did in everybody else’s and I began to feel this guilt of sin, a very uncomfortable, unpleasant feeling. I then went to confession to tell my sins to a man, a very terrible, dark experience, then he tells you to go away and say these prayers for your penance, then after you say those prayers, you are still going to burn in purgatory. You are never free from your sins, and they are always praying, always hoping that they will get that time shortened.
So the guilt grows and the fear grows and the fear that you are going to a lost eternity that you never want to mention to anyone and then the guilt of all your sins just keep piling up. When I was very young they would come into the classroom, they would ask the question, “How many of you want to become ministers?” Everybody raised their hand because they taught that if you become a minister you have your best chance of going to Heaven, and what little boy that wants to go to Heaven would not want to become a minister? So that is what I did and was like a little servant to the minister in the service.
Sometimes people ask me, “What started you going in a different path; what started you going in a different direction, which shook you from that religion?” One of the things I would say, when I was about twelve years old, they had this great Council and they introduced a lot of changes in the church. I remember reading a book when I was in the seminary, so thick, with all the changes that would come in, and in my twelve year-old heart I’m thinking, “If I have to read a book this thick with all the changes that are coming now, in ten years’ time I may have to read another book of more changes.” I can remember in religious classes, asking the teacher, “Why are there so many changes from the way that Jesus lived?” To me it seemed so simple, so humble. He said, “Oh, you cannot live like that today, times have changed, but don’t you worry, the leader of our church gets the revelation and we just have to listen to him.”
That was how my understanding was, so then when I was in high school, I went to this seminary, four years of high school seminary, not that we learned so much about theology, though we took it, and everybody that was there had this thought that they were going to be a minister, and if they did not, then they had to leave. I would say that I put my best effort to get close to the God that touched my heart when I was in the wardrobe. I went to service every day, confession every week, I put little notes on my locker telling me when to pray and was very interested in God and yet I could never get the feeling that He was there to speak to me. He seemed so far away.
After four years, I had to make a decision whether to go on to the major seminary or go to a different belief, so I decided to not go on to the seminary. I then went to university and I really did not know what to take up so there was this brochure that I was looking at of all the courses you could take and one mentioned was psychology. These days everyone knows about it, but back then not many people knew about it. It said, “The Study of Life” and this is what I wanted to know about, life, so I said that I was going to take psychology. I did not find it too hard but also I did not find any answers to life in it. It might have some help to people with mental health problems but it did not give me the answers to life.
During that time, it was the Hippie era; it was the time of the Vietnam War, and many people had a bad thought about the hippies. A lot of it they earned but there was something good for me that came from that, what they did; they were willing to question and to challenge what they called the “establishment.” That was the establishment of government, establishment of religion, establishment of their forefathers, and they became a little like the conscience of America. So that was the kind of mode of thinking that I was in and it was very good for me, otherwise I may not have been able to break away from all that had been before me. They challenged, they questioned, but they did not have the answers either. They would just say, “Peace, baby,” but that was not the answer. They could say peace all day long but it did not give you peace. They had some very idealistic views of life but they were not real, and then as the hymn says, “The darkness seemed to deepen,” and that was how it was going in my life.
In my third year of university I lived with five other fellas and one of those men was an atheist and at the end of that year that’s how I was. So I went from the seminary into psychology, and now I am an atheist, so the darkness was deepening. I got to the place where I thought all religions were wrong and even came to the place where I felt there is no God, because I had not seen His evidence; I had long forgotten that experience in the wardrobe. I asked this man who was the atheist, “What happens after you die?” He threw up his hands and got mad saying, “It doesn’t matter, you don’t have anything to do with it, nothing is going to happen.” I learned not to argue with him, because I was going to lose, but I also thought to myself, “I don’t know anything about a God but I know that there must be something after death, because life has no meaning if there isn’t.” I felt that whatever comes after death I have to get it now, and that is going to be my goal, because what else in life is worth going after, when you think how short life is and how long is eternity.
I did not know where to look, but in my mind, that was the most important thing in life, to find this thing that outlasts this life. I looked into some of the eastern religions and I did not care for their viewpoints, their concepts of God, their view of eternity. I then went to a different university, as I was coming to the end of myself, as I had all kinds of questions and no answers, and it was at that time that I met this young man who was a classmate who was walking in God’s way. I saw he was different and I was drawn to him and now I am sitting next to him in class and as far as I’m concerned this man must not be religious because he never said a word about his religion, for a religious person feels that they must talk to everybody about their religion, but he went three months and never breathed a word to me about what he believed, but he sure lived it, he was upright. He was not a steady light on Wednesday and a blinking light on Thursday. He was steady and I could predict after a while what he would say and do. One day a man showed me an article in the paper that was not good and he looked over at my friend Greg and said, “He would not enjoy this, would he?” I said, “No, he would not,” because I knew the standard that Greg had. Some people laugh at this, but I thought that he was taking some kind of vitamins! It is just when you don’t know, you don’t know, because he never told me that he was religious, and there were a lot of religious kids in that school who would try to preach to me. They saw me as some long-haired sinner. I remember in time thinking that whatever this boy has got, I want it. It was just his spirit, his contentment, he knew what was right in life and he did not care what anyone else thought. He was righteous and yet he was humble. So I said to myself that I am going to try to be like him, and I would try in a small measures and I would think that this is how Greg is but the big thing was missing. You cannot imitate peace, or joy; you either have it or you don’t, and I knew that I did not have it. I did not have God’s Spirit and I knew I did not have the main ingredient. After three months, I remember asking him about studying together on a Sunday for we had a big test on Monday, and he just looked at me and said, “I will tell you why I won’t. I usually spend Sundays with the people of our fellowship.” Then I asked him, “What is the name of your religion?”
He looked at me and I really appreciated his answer, “You know that Jesus never gave His disciples any name but that of His own Father,” and when he said that my heart beat with joy, for here is the religion in the goal. I have been reading the Bible and have been asking somebody in my religion, “Where is the name of our religion in the Bible?” They could not tell me because it’s not there, so now here Greg is telling me that what he believes is like they were in the Bible so it was like my dreams were coming true. Is it possible that there is a people on the earth that are like Jesus?
I went and told my older brother, who was going to the same school, and said that Greg has got this religion like the early apostles, and he looked at me with disdain and said, “You could never live like him because that is too strict, too straight.” He just sized him up. I stopped asking questions for a while and then I went through an experience I won’t mention from the platform. It wasn’t pretty bad, but when that experience was over, I was very much convinced that there is a hell and that is where I was going, and unfortunately that was all I knew. I still did not know if there was a God. That night was like the night of nights. I wept, I prayed all night; I was so scared that I would not let my brother turn the lights off, and I was twenty-one years old. I didn’t even know to kneel; I was just lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling and crying with all that is in my being. I could not have been any more hurt if someone had put me on fire. With all the intensity of my being I said, “God, help me.” That is all I could say. I didn’t know what else to say. I didn’t say, “Do you have a way on the earth?” I just said, “God, help me.” After a couple of hours of crying and praying and then a little voice said to me, “You don’t believe in God,” so then I said, “If there is a God up there, would You speak to me, would You help me?”
We know now how God speaks but then I didn’t, so I thought He was going to speak to me in an audible voice because I was praying with all my heart, hour after hour. Finally there comes this thought, and I know now where it came from, “You go back to that school and ask Greg about his faith and he will tell you what to do.” That was the only thought that night that had any hope or comfort attached. So the next morning, with zero sleep, I go to that school and start asking Greg questions, and it was from that experience and those questions that led me to my first Gospel meeting, and it was this day that I met a man like John the Baptist, one of God’s true servants. Actually, there were four in that first Gospel meeting. Greg told me, and we agreed that we would greet and meet at the building, and he said, “If you get there first, don’t go in.” I don’t know whether he thought that I might scare anyone, or what anyone would do to me. So I did get there first, and remember being so very nervous, my stomach was in knots, and I remember sitting on that bench outside the building where they were having the Gospel meeting. Greg had told me that these workers are like Peter, James, and John, and these friends are like the early Christians and that is what I had in my head, and I said to myself that if it is anything else then they will never see me again or if this is just some social gathering, I will not go there again. So I am waiting with this anxiety and desperation in my heart and the first ones I see were some of the ladies and I don’t know what I would have done if they had been dressed immodestly, if they were dolled up, but they were Godly women, and I am so thankful because this would have been the worst thing that I could have received at this time. Everything about them, their countenance, their dress, their hair, their spirit, all spoke to me of God, so what a comfort that was to me.
My friend came and we walked into that meeting and there were two brother workers and two sister workers. The older brother worker said to himself, “Who let him in here?” so it did not look too hopeful, but he did not know what was going on in my heart. He told me himself later, that that meeting was nothing short of a chastisement to him. He said that all the time I was preaching to you, God was saying to me, “My Son died for that boy.” The sister worker spoke a simple message, but God used her. She did her part in upholding Jesus and it just broke open my heart and I knew that I was standing in the light of Jesus and in the presence of God and there was no hiding. I had gone to the service of my old religion, who knows, maybe thousands of times and had never had that experience and now in the first Gospel meeting, my heart is all exposed in the presence of God, and that was a wonderful day in my life.
There was another day that happened soon after that. John 1:35, “Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples, and looking upon Jesus as He walked, he saith, ‘Behold the Lamb of God!’ And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and saw them following, and saith unto them, ‘What seek ye?’ They said unto Him, ‘Rabbi, (which is to say, being interpreted, Master,) where dwellest Thou?’ He saith unto them, ‘Come and see,’ and they did.” Now the disciples are not just listening to John, but they are talking to Jesus Himself, and so this was a very important day in their lives as was in mine. My friend told me, “If you want God to speak to you, He will.” He said something that could not have thrilled me more, because that was the whole thing with me that night, that if God spoke, I knew that He existed. Now I am waiting, braced in every meeting for this booming voice that is going to shake the building and is going to speak, and I am really bracing for that voice and it did not happen, because God does not speak unto men but I wanted Him to speak to me. Then in the meeting when I was not expecting it, He speaks and we know now how He speaks, to our conscience with that still small voice, and we cannot explain it but we know without a shadow of a doubt that He is speaking. I remember one time nearly saying something out loud in a Gospel meeting, for wow! When that voice spoke to me, it brought me back about fifteen years when I was a little boy in the wardrobe. He said, “I am the one that spoke to you in the wardrobe. I am the same one,” and I knew that was God and He has been dealing with my heart all these years and now He is saying, “Yes, I exist and I have a son, Jesus Christ and I have servants. These are My true servants, these are My people, this is My way.” Do you think that I could ever doubt that again? He spoke to me and it was a wonderful, wonderful day in my life.
Then there is the third day. John 2:1, “And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there, and both Jesus was called, and His disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto Him, ‘They have no wine.'” She brought the problem to Jesus and then she told the servants, “You do whatever He says for you to do.” You know what that day was? That was the day of miracles and that day has to happen. You do not get into the Kingdom of Heaven unless it does. Sure, you could be very aware that God sent His servants to you and you could even be aware that God is speaking to you, but then there is this day of miracles. All that the servants could do, they could not change the water into wine. You cannot make yourself a child of God, but all you have to do is set your heart to do whatever Jesus asks you to do; that is professing. People ask, “What does it mean to profess?” You just put your life there to do whatever Jesus asks you to do. It is not marking off a bunch of rules, but you set your life to do whatever Jesus asks you to do. You surrender; that is repentance, and that is what begins salvation. The servants did just what Jesus asked them to do; they filled those vessels with water and then they bore to the governor who said that this was the best wine.
I can’t tell you when that miracle exactly happened in my life but I can tell you this one incident, and that was a time between the meetings the Lord is dealing with me and I’m back in the same bedroom where God spoke to me in the wardrobe. I was sitting on my bed and I was thinking about those meetings and I still have this hippie spirit of questioning and challenging and the Lord is having a conversation with me, saying to me now, “How old are you?” “I am 21.” “Are you happy?” “No I am not, I have not been happy for a long time.” He then says, “How do you see these people?” “They are very happy.” “So then why don’t you do what the workers asked you to do, just humble yourself like a little child and become a babe?” and I remember saying, “Yes, I will do that.” I remember a wonderful peace coming into my heart and I can’t say that I was born again at that point, but I do remember that this peace kept increasing. The sisters gave me a chance to make my choice and the elder one said, “If there is anyone that wants to make their choice you can stand to your feet when we sing the last verse of this hymn.” She also said, “Don’t stand up unless you are willing for many, many changes.” I did not know what she was talking about or who she was talking to but I said, “What difference does it make? This is for eternal life and I know that I have found the way to eternal life, a life with Jesus.”