I have a confession. When I was 13 years old I went with my friend Jeff and his mother, Mrs. Gilmer to her parents’ beach front colonial home in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Jeff and I were ready to head out to the board walk when Mrs. Gilmer told us that her sister and her family, which included two boys no more then six years old, were coming and would be there that evening. She told us that we had to be on our best behavior… that her sister and husband were born-again Christians. I had no clue what that was, so I asked, and she replied, “They just really love Jesus. So, no comments about him.”
At that point in my life I knew everything, and the one thing I did know was organized religion was for brain-dead people who couldn’t think for themselves. I hated Christianity and every other religion with a passion, but Jeff and I conceded and assured Mrs. Gilmer we would be on our best behaviour.
After a night out on the boardwalk, we decided to head home. On the way we came across a band setting up in a pavilion right off of the board walk. We stopped to see what was going on. I was checking out the equipment looking for any instrument that would tell me what kind of music they play. There were drums, bass, electric guitar… Hmmm… possible rock band. This might be worth the wait.
As we stood there watching the band set up one of the band members approached us. He had a mullet and a jean jacket with the arms cut off. He asked us if we were interested in listening to the music, and he handed me a business card with the band’s information. I asked what kind of music they played, and he said, “Christian music”.
Being the jerk that I was, I held out my hand and Jeff gave me a lighter. I proceeded to burn the card, and then arrogantly flicked it at the man’s feet. I then turned and walked away.
When we got home Jeff did the unthinkable! He ratted me out! He went right up to his mother and told her what I did! I was dumbfounded and in shock! I couldn’t move! I am still bewildered to this day – why did Jeff rat me out?
Mrs. Gilmer was frozen too. Her face was turning bright red, and not because she was getting angry, which I am sure she was, but because she was mortified! There was a moment when no one moved or spoke. You could hear a pin hit the floor. Then something caught my eye. I turned my head and standing there no more than a few feet away were the born again Christian sister and brother-in-law, and their two son’s. I turned back to Mrs. Gilmer whose face was now completely red with humiliation. That is all I remember. I still feel sorry to this day for having put her through that.
But, here I am today with a life dedicated to Jesus Christ, and studying to be a certified minister. What happened? When did everything take a u-turn towards Jesus? My only explanation is that I had a lot of people praying for me my entire life, including Mrs. Gilmer’s sister and brother-in-law… and maybe even their two kids.
But this is not where the story ends. Fast forward to 2012 and I am in a meeting with a group of Christians to discuss the promotion of a huge event coming to Philadelphia – America for Jesus. This is a two night event for Christians in the Mid-Atlantic region to come together to pray and worship at Independence Mall. When I heard about the event I wanted to be involved – this was an opportunity to help promote a cause for the Kingdom and I was all in.
There were about twelve of us in the living room of a condo sitting and chatting. One of the lead coordinators scooted himself to the edge of the sofa, got everyones attention and began the meeting. I cannot remember his name, but I remembered what he said and how it shook me. He said, “I am [John Doe] from [such-and-such-a] Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia…”
Everything went silent. It was like a giant wave crashed over me… a numbing feeling that overtook me as I drifted back 30 years to the night of the card-burning event in Virginia Beach. The entire event played over in my mind, and I felt ashamed. Again, I found myself dumbfounded as I realized that this moment in time just book-ended an event 30 years earlier.
Everything was interrupted when I heard laughing. The laughing was not from in the room, but in my head. And I heard Him speak to me and say, “I get the last laugh!”
Getting the last laugh didn’t end there. The following weeks leading up to the event I would walk from 7th and Chestnut streets to Suburban Station about 9 blocks away handing out pamphlets promoting the event. I was one of those guys who try to hand-out tracts that nobody wants. The guy you try to avoid. I didn’t want to do this, and it was humilating, but the Holy Spirit prompted me to do it. And when I was conjuring up excuses why I wasn’t going to “do the walk” he reminded me that it is not a good idea to disobey God. David danced like a fool for God, so can you!
That was not the end of the humbling experience. One Saturday I ended up going to JFK Boulevard and 16th Street, which is a hub for buses and the commuter trains, to hand out pamphlets for the event. It was quite intimidating as I was alone – I had tried to recruit people, but no one wanted to go. I felt so unwelcomed, especially because a group of Muslims camped out to watch me make a fool out of myself. I know this because they were giving me a hard time about Jesus and told me they were going to watch me make a fool of myself. However, I had something they didn’t have, which made me the loudest and most tenacious person on that corner for the next two hours – I had the Holy Spirit.
I had fun that day, but in all honesty I was happy when it was over. The thing I took away from this entire experience is how much God rules in our lives. We may think we are independent people and masters of our own fate, but the reality is God will always have final say in every situation on earth, and it’s better to be apart of God’s plan than it is to get run over by it.
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and just as the LORD had predicted to Moses, Pharaoh refused to listen.
— Exodus 9:12