Welcome to My Autobiography
††††††††††† You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:3)
The Angels Sang at Dawn
Beware of Falling Scales
It was spring of 1981, and there was an urging of new life in the air. But I didnít sense a spiritual connection to the feeling inside of me. This was still all about me. I was going to change. I wanted to get out and meet people, so I joined a local theater group. I also wanted to be healthier, so I signed up for tennis lessons and started running about a mile every afternoon after work. I didnít want to do it because it was Godís temple. I wanted to do it because it was my temple.
To further that end I cut back on smoking, both cigarettes and dope. I knew I couldnít quit cigarettes, because I had tried many time before, so I just worked on cutting back. For me the first cigarette of the day was the easiest one to hold off on, so I worked my way up to not smoking until at least after lunch. Some days I made it until I got home from work. Knowing I was eventually going to get a cigarette, made the process tolerable. Also, I kept myself from getting high until night, sometimes even waiting until just before I went to bed. But I couldnít go to sleep without at least one joint. I was actually starting to breath and feel a lot better, and I was doing it all by myself. I thought.
I was in the chorus line of Annie Get Your Gun. I had one speaking part and was the only guy in the play who got to kiss the leading lady. I donít think the leading man even got a peck on the cheek. I was jogging, taking tennis lessons, and going to rehearsals almost every night of the week. I had figured out the key to success was to stay busy. I was The Man.
I was still oblivious to the light that was apparently coming on in my spirit. There were still scales upon my eyes. I was still into pornography, but for the first time in many years, I was beginning to feel some guilt about it.
For some strange reason, I woke up one Sunday morning in late March or early April and thought I would go to church. I really didnít know why. I just felt like going. After all, my aunt and uncle had been asking me to come, so I thought I would just surprise them. But when I got to their Sunday school class, I got the surprise. As I was going into the class, everybody else was coming out. The time had changed and I had forgotten to set my clock ahead.
I saw Lindi and, even though she hadnít seen me in six months, she remembered me, but she sat with me in church anyway. Nothing I heard in the service seemed to penetrate my thick skull, because my mind was on the lady sitting beside me. She exuded loveliness like I had never seen before. And she was just plain sexy without trying. Even if all you could see were her eyes, she would still be sexy. I just sat there trying to figure out how I might get her to go out with me.
The first thing I had to do was go to church on a regular basis. The second thing would be to stop smoking, everything. Now, I could pretend not to smoke, but she looked like she was pretty smart. After all, she was a schoolteacher.
On April 16, 1981 I sat on the edge of my bed, all alone, and prayed, ďLord, if youíre really there, help me to stop smoking, everything.Ē I honestly didnít believe it would happen. There was, absolutely, no faith. None. But since that night, I havenít smoked one cigarette or joint. Now, I know some skeptics will remind me that I had cut down considerably on tobacco and dope and that made it easier to quit, and that is true. But after years of going to sleep with a sleep-aide (ie. marijuana), I never had another problem, from that moment, getting to sleep without motherís little helper.
The cousin living with got married and I felt that it was time to move again, since I felt like a third thumb on a pair of small hands. After all, newlyweds should live together / alone. Besides, I was pretty sure I, too, had found the right woman. It never dawned on me that I hadnít found anything.
Lindi had been waiting on the Lord, Who was waiting on me to quit doing the wrong things with the wrong people. When you finally get your act together, so God can give you the person He has for you, then youíve, ďGot some Ďsplaininí to do,Ē about what took you so long. I made Lindi have to wait, but Iím sure glad that she did. She waited for me. I just wish I had waited for her. God might have put us together years earlier. But then, I wouldnít have had this story to tell.
When you meet the person God has for you, youíll know. That person will compliment your good points, tolerate your bad points, and just because of whom they are, youíll want to strive to be better.
I started going to church every Sunday morning and Sunday night for only one reason, just so Lindi would go out with me. I even joined the choir, because she was in the choir, and it gave me an excuse to be with her on Wednesday nights, too, for choir practice. There was also that extra hour before the Sunday night service. Boy was I sneaky. Nobody suspected a thing, especially me.
God knew why I was going to church and I donít think He cared why I was going. In fact, Iím beginning to suspect it He was in on it all along. Even though I didnít realize it, His Word was penetrating my heart, if not my brain.
This particular church where we were going had an alter-call every Sunday night. And every Sunday night I felt The Tug stronger and stronger. But I wasnít ready. I didnít want to let go of all that great stuff that I would have to let go of, if I let God in. I knew He would want me to stop listening to a lot of the music I loved. I knew He would want me to get rid of my pornography. I knew I would have to change a lot of things in my life that I just didnít want to change. After all, I was going to church three times a week. What else could He want? He wanted it all! What can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matt. 16:26b)
I struggled with the Truth for weeks. I was right there on the edge, but I just kept holding on to that handful of air. I knew He didnít want me to die. He wanted me to turn from my sinful ways and live. (Ez. 33:11)
Whenever I stop thinking I have all the answers. Whenever I stop trying to make the bible fit the way Iím living. Whenever I finally realize I canít do it by myself. Then maybe, by the grace of God, I will become somebody.
On a warm Sunday night in June, 1981, I walked down to the front of that church and knelt down, all alone, before God. I argued with Him awhile. I rationalized and even manipulated, but just before my hip popped out of its socket, I cried, ďJesus, forgive me for the sinful, ugly life Iíve lived. Please take my life, all the bad and even any good that might be there, and cover it under Your blood and make it all brand new.Ē If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17)
At that moment all those things I had been hanging onto didnít matter anymore. My perspective was suddenly different. I just wanted to know more about God and His Word.
If someone wants in your house, you have to unlock the door and let them in, otherwise, they wonít get in, unless they force their way in. But I can tell you this from firsthand experience, Jesus wonít force His way in. When you do, finally, let Him in, there will be an immediate change inside of you. People will notice. If there is no change, I question whether you just asked Jesus in, or did you just unlock the door and stand there?
There was an immediate change in me. There was a joy, like my face was trying to rupture. I wanted to explain it to everyone, but I just couldnít. I could tell by the look on the other Christianís faces (I was one of them, now.) that I really didnít have to. They knew the feeling.
The scales had fallen from my eyes (Acts 9:17-19). I was part of the family of God (Ps. 68:6). I wanted to be holy (I Pet. 1:13-16). Then I stepped outside and went home. Everything was still seemed to be the same outside, even me.
I wanted to do what God wanted me to do, but the tugging of evil was waiting for me to get alone, away from other believers. As soon as I got to my apartment, instead of turning on the TV, I opened the only bible I had. The one my mother had given me when I was twelve. The one I had been hanging on to for the last twenty years. I never looked at it or opened it, but I could always tell you right where it was. It was just an old kidís bible with pictures and a broken zipper. It was the Word of God.
I opened it up and turned to Romans, because thatís the book most people were quoting to me. Then I began reading Chapter 7. I was wanting to understand, but I couldnít. It was all very confusing, until I got past all the IÖIÖI, and began reading verses 21-25.
At the time, I donít think I knew that Paul wrote the book of Romans, but I did know, it was written by someone who knew my nature, because it was everybodyís nature, and I was not alone. Thank you, Jesus.
After a few weeks of reading, mostly in the New Testament, I came to some conclusions, as all new Christians do. Youíre so gung-ho, youíve just got to let everybody know what you found. Itís too bad that fire tends to burn down after awhile.
My first conclusion was; a Christian believes the bible is the indisputable Word of God. I had heard it said that Christians argued that point. Christians do not argue that point.
My second conclusion was; that Jesus was not just a good man. There were occasions I had agreed with people who said He was a good man, but not the Messiah. I realized now that if Jesus wasnít really the Son of God, then He was a liar who fooled more people than any scam-artist in history. And that would make Him a very bad man. †
My third conclusion was; you canít be a reclusive Christian. I wanted to discuss practically everything I was reading in the bible, and you canít do that alone. Well, you can, but thatís when people get weird and say that God told them to kill all those people. As a Christian, youíre part of a family. More figuratively, you are part of the body (I Cor. 12:12-27). If those weird loner Christians were really listening to God, He would have told them to join a church and meet with other believers. (Heb. 10:24-25)
The bible talks about some things directly (absolutely), some things indirectly (non-absolutely), and some things not at all. In-other-words, the things in the bible are black and white, gray, or itís not there at all. If the bible is the truth, then the black and white is not arguable. If itís not even mentioned in the bible, then what is there to argue about? And Paul tells us not to argue about the gray areas at all. (Titus 3:9 & 2 Tim. 2:23) And if on some point you think differently, God will make that clear to you someday (perhaps in heaven, but someday), but first letís live up to what weíve already attained. (Philippians 3:15-16)
I had an urge to be baptized as a symbol of the old manís death and
the new manís birth into Christ. (
taste in music had not changed, only my taste in lyrics. But I had my mind
made up that I was going to listen to Christian music and that would mean
ancient hymns and country/western music. But I got a pleasant surprise. There
was this new (to me) category: contemporary Christian music. They even had
some hard rock with groups like
did I know the name, John Schlitt,
I soon discovered a lot of old friends, some of whom I had wondered what had happened to them. For the first time it dawned on me Bob Dylan was a Christian and I could keep right on listening to Slow Train Cominí. It was a Christian album. I was down-right giddy.
I soon found Richie Furay (Buffalo Springfield), Joe English (Wings), Dan Peek (America), Kerry Lingren (Kansas), Jon Anderson (Yes), Mark Farner (Grand Funk Railroad), and Van Morrisson.
I didnít know who Phil Driskoll was when he came to our church one Sunday night, but I soon found out he played trumpet and backed up a lot of bands, but especially the Rolling Stones, my very favorite band from 1964 until 1981. In fact, I was having the hardest time not listening to them anymore, and they were probably the main one I needed to stay away from. Their lyrics werenít sug-gestive. They were in-gestive. Besides, even if the lyrics had been acceptable to my new lifestyle, the songs reminded me of that old life, and I didnít want to lead myself into temptation. But it was okay. I had plenty of great Christian music to listen to. Thatís a sentence I never thought I would ever say.
My old friends didnít believe I was for real. They were wondering what happened to me. I think some of them were just waiting for me to come to my senses (I never did). Some tried to let me know that there were many ways to God. ďWhy tie yourself down to just one way?Ē
knew a couple that got lost trying to find a short cut from
ďThereís only one way to get to Branson from here. All these other ways will just get you lost. My way is so easy it will be hard to accept, but trust me, Itís the only way.Ē And with that he sat back down.
The room was deathly silent for several long seconds, then the other men burst out in laughter. They called the old man a fool and a few other choice names. They admitted that his way was one of the ways, but it wasnít the only way, as they continued to give and argue their directions.
Finally, the husband began walking over to the old man, but his wife stopped him. ďWhere are you going?Ē
ďIím going to Branson,Ē he answered.
ďYouíre going to listen to him?Ē
ďHe says his is the only way.Ē
ďBut the others say his is just one of many.Ē
ďThen why take a chance? If heís wrong, and his is just one of many ways, weíll still get there. But if we choose one of the many and theyíre wrong, then we could be lost.Ē
††††††††††††††††††††††† Sheís like
††††††††††††††††††††††† With hills and valleys in all the right places,
††††††††††††††††††††††† And gold fringe along
The canyon edges.
††††††††††††††††††††††† Sheís a dream that moves slowly
††††††††††† ††††††††††† Across my valley like a river.
††††††††††††††††††††††† And my day opens up with sunshine,
††††††††††††††††††††††† And all I want to do is give her
††††††††††††††††††††††† The happiness she deserves.
††††††††††††††††††††††† Sheís the woman God gave me.
††††††††††††††††††††††† How could I not write a love poem?
††††††††††††††††††††††† Sheís the reason Iím here right now.
††††††††††††††††††††††† Sheís the reason Iíve been alive this long.
††††††††††††††††††††††† I want to say, ďSheís the greatest thing
††††††††††††††††††††††† That ever happened to me.Ē
††††††††††††††††††††††† But the truth is, sheís the result
††††††††††††††††††††††† Of the greatest thing that ever happened to me.
††††††††††††††††††††††† Sheís Godís gift to me
††††††††††††††††††††††† For doing absolutely nothing of worth,
††††††††††††††††††††††† Except asking Him into my life
††††††††††††††††††††††† And accepting His new birth.
††††††††††††††††††††††† And He brought her along
††††††††††††††††††††††† To be a friend to me.
††††††††††††††††††††††† So I just have to say,
ďThank God, sheís loser friendlyĒ
††††††††††† God knew just when to bring Lindi and I together. Heís so smart. Itís almost like He knows everything. Any sooner and we wouldnít have been able to stand each other. She was so straight the closest she ever came to smoking marijuana was when she went to a Willie Nelson concert. And she didnít like Willieís long stringy hair. And thatís exactly why she wouldnít have liked me either. God had gotten rid of the long hair several years earlier but He still had to clean me up on the inside and change my way of thinking or she wouldnít have looked at me twice, and I probably wouldnít have cared.
††††††††††† We had been a steady item for a couple of months, and she seemed to really like me. Almost every night we were out somewhere or I was at her parentís house (Thatís how straight she was. She was 31 and still living at home.) watching old movies on t.v. I wanted to ask her to marry me, but I was afraid she would say, ďNo,Ē and I wasnít sure how I would handle that, or even if I could handle that. I donít remember ever feeling that way toward anyone before. It must have been true love, the kind that comes when God truly puts a man and a woman together.
††††††††††† I told Lindi how close to hell I had been, even though she could see my tail feathers were singed. But that was all behind me, now. I was a new creation. I was on fire for God. But I had to beat my body daily to make it submit to Godís will. If I am a nice person, it is only because of God in me, because itís not my nature to be nice. In fact, I want to be a hateful smart aleck.
††††††††††† I donít remember the exact date, but it had to have been summer, because I was sweating, and it was after ten oíclock at night. We were standing on her parentís front porch and I finally asked her to marry me. Well, there it was, all out there on the line. I was completely open and vulnerable for the first time in ten years. She said, ďyes.Ē Whew!
††††††††††† I donít remember how many days in a row I was smiling, but when I finally stopped, my face hurt like I had been lifting weights with it. Whoever said, ďItís easier to smile, than to frown,Ē never wore my face. Frowning is easy. Smiling hurts. Smiling does not come natural for me, even now, that Iím a Believer.
††††††††††† Mommyís brother (my great uncle) was a jeweler, so we went to see him to pick out rings. The one I wanted to give her cost $987.00 (with the tax), and I didnít have $987.00 (with the tax). But I gave him $50.00 and told him to hold it for me. I would be back in a week with the rest.
††††††††††† The only thing I had that might be
worth that much was my í72 Lincoln Continental (with the moon-roof). And
since I didnít drive it much after I bought the í79 Oldsmobile Cutlass Calais
††††††††††† The ad ran from Monday to Friday and I got three calls all week. The first two showed no interest, after they heard the price. At least, thatís what I suspect, since they never showed up. The third call came on Friday.
††††††††††† Two Irish lads were very
interested in seeing it. They said they would be by the store before we
closed. They never showed. I was real depressed when I went to get Lindi to go to the first night of the Bill Gothard Seminar at the
††††††††††† The next day, Saturday, I had to
work until 2:00 pm, so Lindi got a ride to downtown
††††††††††† At about 10:00 am the Irish lads called and apologized for not showing up the day before. Their car had broken down. By the time they got to the store I had decided to drop my asking price to $1,000.00 (They hadnít even asked the price during either phone conversation).
††††††††††† They looked at the
††††††††††† The total of their money, and the paycheck, which he endorsed over to me, came to $937.00. The exact amount of money I needed to pay off the ring. We had a deal. In fact, we had a miracle.
††††††††††† I donít remember praying much before I ran the ad or at any other point during that week. If I did it was probably one of those desperation things like, ďOh please, oh please, oh please, God, I beg of you.Ē Iím not even sure I did that, but I was sure thanking Him and praising Him on my way downtown that afternoon.
††††††††††† Iím pretty sure I wasnít speeding, but I thank God I didnít get a ticket, if I was. I couldnít wait to share the news with Lindi. I whispered it to her as soon as I took my seat, probably annoying the people around us. She just smiled that beautiful smile of hers and showed me her workbook, where she had written in the margin earlier in the day, something Bill Gothard had said, and she thought it was worth remembering. ďSometimes God will give you exact, odd amounts of money just so you will know it came from Him.Ē
The Wedding Machine
††††††††††† The next several weeks were like a blur as the wedding machine took over. Wherever I went there was always a group of women looking through a big book. Itís amazing how one question, between two people, can change the lives of so many.
††††††††††† In the midst of the chaos, Lindiís dad took me aside one day and, in the slow, calm way in which he met every situation, offered me $2,000.00 to elope. (I think he meant for me to take his daughter with me.) Sam was one of those Bob Newhart types. You never knew if he was kidding or not. I just kind-of smiled and looked at the top of his bald head (he wasnít a real tall man) and said, ďIíll ask Lindi.Ē He just shook his head and walked away, because he realized his new son-in-law wasnít going to be man enough to stand up to his daughter. I think, up that moment, he had hope for me.
††††††††††† When I told Lindi about the offer, she assured me he wasnít kidding and, also, that eloping wasnít going to happen. Later I found out the wedding cost less than $1,200.00. Sam wasnít trying to save money. He had already been through two other weddings with Lindiís older brother and her sister. He just didnít want to see all those groups of women everywhere in his house looking through big books.
††††††††††† Lindi and I were married September 12, 1981. I write it here so Iíll never forget it. I had a new life, a new wife, and a new brother, Jesus, my joint heir with my new Father. (Rom. 8:17) This time my mother was happy, because my real dad wasnít invited and my best man was my uncle standing in for my brother, Joey.†
††††††††††† Our honeymoon consisted of dinner
at a quaint little restaurant with secluded corners with tables for two. It
was very romantic. Then we stayed the night at, what was now, our
apartment. Sunday morning we got up and drove to East Texas, the little town
††††††††††† All the great screen porches that were on three sides of her house had been torn down. The house looked so small. In fact, the town looked small. It was a bit sad seeing many of the great old homes now in various states of disrepair. I took Lindi around and showed her all the places I went as a child. Iím sure it wasnít very interesting to her, but you would have never known. Even now she seems to be happy just being with me. I mean, even Iím not always very happy being with me. More so now than before, though.
††††††††††† The night I surrendered my life to Jesus I became a celebrity. All of heaven rejoiced (Luke 15:10). But I have to admit, I hadnít lost my desire to be famous on earth. It was just that now I wanted to be a Christian celebrity. I thought it would be easier now, since God was on my side. And it was all about Him, right? No. It was still all about me.
††††††††††† But all thoughts of fame quickly went on the back burner, as life became less about me. Three weeks after we were married, while still discussing what kind of contraceptive to use, a new life was conceived. It wasnít exactly immaculate, but it was definitely a God-given child. Iím sure a lot of the good people at our church were counting the weeks from our wedding to the babyís birthday.
††††††††††† The hypocrites were still in the church, but I wasnít going to let them get between God and I this time. I was determined I was going to do right, no matter what anyone else did. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matt. 46:21b).
††††††††††† December 25, 1981, our first Christmas together, was the best Christmas of my life. I bought our unborn baby a teddy bear with a t-shirt that had, ďSomebody you love needs something to hug,Ē printed on it. I really had changed. The cool James would have never done something so corny. I was so sick of trying to be cool. We were going to have a baby!
Giving - A New Concept
††††††††††† Before Lindi and I got married, I had determined that I wanted to tithe, so I asked my uncle, ďDo I give 10% of my gross or my net?Ē His answer was, ďDo you want God to bless you on the gross or the net?Ē
††††††††††† Well, Iíve always tithed on the gross and God has always blessed that decision. In most of the areas of my life, Iíve failed God on some level, but I have always been faithful in financial giving, and God has been faithful in return. In all the years Lindi and I have been married we have never had a bill that wasnít paid on time. (There were two times in twenty-three years, but those were late due to human error, not because the money wasnít there.) There were a few times the money didnít show up until the day before or the very day the bill was due, but we always got it on time.
††††††††††† Weíve certainly never gotten rich, but God has always supplied our needs and many of our wants. And with year after year of His faithfulness in this area, I have slowly learned to trust Him. It is finally getting through my thick skull, God will provide.
††††††††††† Our second great example of Godís provision (the first being the money for Lindiís wedding ring) came in the spring of 1982. With a baby on the way and the lease on the apartment about to be up, we believed it was time to buy a house. We contacted a realtor and the ride began.
††††††††††† First we looked at condominiums and decided that would be like still living in an apartment, besides, most of them were out of our price range anyway. So we began to look at older houses, mostly small Fox and Jacobsí.
††††††††††† After seeing so many places to hang oneís hat, our collective heads were spinning (there were three of us now). All the possibilities began to run together. We couldnít remember which house had what good points and bad points. Iím sure there were times when Lindi wanted to either scream or cry. I know I did.
††††††††††† Finally, even though it was in the Land of the Gar, we were sure we had found the right house. It seemed perfect in everyway. It had a large tree in the large front yard and a wide-open pasture across the alley. It was all neatly plowed (the pasture, not the ally). It all seemed so perfect. The people selling the house even had framed scriptures on their walls. The house was blessed, even though it was in the Land of the Gar which I really didnít want to move back to.
††††††††††† We wrote up an offer and only had to wait a couple of days before they gave us back our earnest money. Our offer was too low and they accepted someone elseís. My first reaction was a combination of frustration and anger, because I didnít have enough faith to realize that God had a better house for us. And being that He knew my nature and lack of patience, He didnít make us wait any longer.
††††††††††† After the realtor gave us the bad news, he said he had another house one street over with exactly the same floor plan. The yard wasnít quite as big and the tree in the front yard was only about five feet tall. But it did have a large fruitless mulberry tree in the backyard, perfect for a tree house.
††††††††††† It turned out the owners were
waiting for this house to sell so they could close on a new home in
††††††††††† I made a very low offer and the realtor warned me what happened the last time I did that. But I hadnít lost my stubbornness when I got saved. I still tended to buck up when somebody tried to tell me what to do. They took the offer without a quibble and we were in our new house about two weeks before our baby was born.
††††††††††† We lived in that house for
seventeen years and watched the first house we had bid on, go downhill in
disrepair. Even the big tree in the front yard died. And I was so glad over
the years that I didnít have that huge yard to mow every week during the
growing season, which is about seven to eight months out of the year in
God made it real easy for us to learn to trust Him. In fact, like the
Israelites coming out of