A Psalm of David To Get God’s Attention
Again the next day John was standing there with two of his disciples. Gazing at Jesus as he walked by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When John’s two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Jesus turned around and saw them following and said to them, “What do you want?” So they said to him, “Rabbi” (which is translated Teacher), “where are you staying?” Jesus answered, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. Now it was about four o’clock in the afternoon. John 1:35-39
Our town had a small number of hills bordering another town in the northwest. Growing up here, I can recall taking many a relaxing drive on the roads that spread out like a spider’s web through those hills. As time marched on and as the population continued to increase, these hills began to serve as land for developing housing tracts and senior retirement centers. In order to provide a necessary supply and demand for the new populace, grocery stores, schools, movie theaters, shopping promenades including video stores and the like, oh, and lets not leave out credit unions and banks began to emerge. In the last several years one of the more popular money saving business ventures banks seem to be using is to open express centers within popular grocery food chain stores.
It happened that one night, being short of hard cash, I drove to one of these grocery stores express centers to access an automated teller machine. With a wallet filled with WAM, (walking around money), safely resting in my front pocket and heading towards my car, a hole in a wall video store front for the first time came into my view.
Thinking to myself that I had a little time to spend I embarked on a recon mission and walked through the door entering the business establishment. Taking me back to my youthful days John’s accented greeting, “Good evening” sent me back in time to call to mind Alfred Hitchcock’s opening greeting of his show.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents is well known for its title sequence. The camera fades in on a simple line-drawing caricature of Hitchcock's rotund profile. As the program's theme music, Charles Gounod's Funeral March of a Marionette, plays, Hitchcock himself appears in silhouette from the right edge of the screen, and then walks to center screen to eclipse the caricature. The camera then pans to a scene in which Hitchcock provides a humorous introduction to the episode. He often begins by saying "Good evening." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_Hitchcock_Presents
Somehow we began to talk, well that’s not all together an accurate account as to what occurred. As an attorney may say, strike that; allow me to rephrase that last statement. Once responding to his introductory greeting, I commenced to talk while John responded in listening. Right from the start of our first conversation, we seemed to hit it off. I talked, John listened adding witful quips as needed.
We quickly began to our commonalities, political causes, Native American causes, not to mention movie genres and the like. It turned out that John had an interest in the Lori Berenson matter that I happened to have volunteered on behalf of. http://www.freelori.org/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lori_Berenson Thinking back to that time, John happened to be the only other person that I have ever met that had first, any pre-knowledge of Lori and secondly, an authentic genuine heart felt concern for her and her family’s plight. Reflecting back now a good ten years ago, that may have been the catalyst that initiated our first conversation.
From time to time as the mood struck me for a good conversation or to rent videos or both, I would visit John at the video rental store. John, I soon surmised, was a savant, a man of learning. Whatever subject I happened to bring up, John was able to converse about it. This may include about historical dates, times and events along with historical and modern political issues and famous people. John was not limited to subjects on the subject of Europe and the United States either. His container for knowledge was full of data and information covering Africa, Central and South America as well. I am saying, the subjects that John knew about consisted on literature, history, the arts, people, you name it. I have new met a person who was so literate and willing to share and to humbly listen. Granted there are great minds out in the world community however they certainly don’t take a shine to me nor should they. My whole world view was enlightened. I would bring up a conversational topic and share, John, listening, would add references. As I write this is has dawned on me that this may be what it was like for someone who was tutored during the middle ages. Occasionally, just for fun, I would look up an obscure subject that I would bring it up to John. Yep, you guessed it, John would know what I was talking about. Still, there was a meek humility about John.
Over time, I began to share with him the Good News of Jesus Christ. Yes you got it; he was well versed with the Hebrew Prophets and the teaching of the Savior however John was not a believer. He claimed he was an Atheist, and a Communist.
As time passed and our friendship developed, one evening during a vigorous conversation, John seemed a bit down. Inquiring my concern, John told me of his nervousness about passing the qualifying examination by the dissertation committee for his Political Science PhD. A few weeks passed before he announced that he passed his examination. Having received a PhD from a prestige University, I said “you’re now Dr. John …, congrats!” Being John he smiled respectfully.
Having a PhD degree conferred upon a person who is employed working at a video store may seem a bit far fetched to the average on looker, yet, I knew a man working as a door to door salesman selling cable TV program accounts who held a PhD in psychology. Getting his first break, becoming a part time teacher at a Christian University teaching for the first time, Motivation Psychology, as a student in the class, I heard him share his story firsthand. Dr Rob … is now a local, successful, subject classified, psychologist specialist.
Getting back to John, it turned out that John had himself a female friend, Rivka. Like John, she was a working class person. Working in immigration law and civil rights, her legal practice, was located in the inner city. John helped her as needed from time to time as her legal assistant. John had met her late husband and her at a political protest back in the day. John and the couple remained friends keeping in touch. Having contracted the Big C, her husband passed away.
Time again passed and John had huge news. John and Rivka were not only going to be married, the two of them were planning to move to Johannesburg, South Africa. Rivka had received a faculty position at a law school there and arrangements were made on John’s behalf also for employment through Rivka’s legal connections.
Shock And Unbelief
Everything that John had told me about himself was untrue. Since there wasn’t a graduate degree in political science there was no dissertation committee. Since there was no attorney fiancé named Rivka, there was no marriage coming up and there was no job waiting for either of them in Johannesburg, South Africa. None the less John’s vast array of knowledge was unmistakably real. Why the Walter Mitty impersonations?
John’s explanation was simple and direct, “I needed to be this successfully person in order for you to accept me.”
I don’t know if I could buy John’s explanation because I found out later that his employer, his co-workers, customers and any later in life friends which he had made a rapport with, all were hearing from John these same stories.
When Jesus came to the area of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They answered, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “You are blessed, Simon son of Jonah, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven! And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will have been released in heaven.” Then he instructed his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
The question that I had was, “I know who John says he is, still, who is John really?”
Our friendship continued after I had found out that he was not being the person he said he was.
O Lord, do not continue to rebuke me in your anger!
Do not continue to punish me in your raging fury!
For your arrows pierce me and your hand presses me down.
My whole body is sick because of your judgment; I am deprived of health because of my sin.
For my sins overwhelm me; like a heavy load, they are too much for me to bear.
Over the many years that I had known John, before and after this new revelation re John, we bother have shared together our ups and downs. Our friendship, as far as I respected it, was committed, like Jonathan and David’s were. We visited one another at our residences. I emotionally supported him when first his mother passed and then his step-father passed away. During times of despair and depression, John expressed thoughts of suicide. I was there for him. When I was experiencing a bully boss John heard me out. All along the years I continued to share with him the Good News of Jesus Christ. He continued to deny becoming a Christian.
I am numb with pain and severely battered; I groan loudly because of the anxiety I feel.
O Lord, you understand my heart’s desire; my groaning is not hidden from you.
My heart beats quickly; my strength leaves me; I can hardly see.
Because of my condition, even my friends and acquaintances keep their distance; my neighbors stand far away.
Those who seek my life try to entrap me; those who want to harm me speak destructive words; all day long they say deceitful things.
But I am like a deaf man, I hear nothing; I am like a mute who cannot speak.
I am like a man who cannot hear and is incapable of arguing his defense.
Yet I wait for you, O Lord!
You will respond, O Lord, my God!
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4
Then hard times really fell on John. First, he was evicted from his apartment. Having a key to the business, for immediate shelter, John used the video store back storage closet for temporary relief. Within a week, John told me, move in arrangements with his brother, Matthew family’s residence was granted. John, without a vehicle and relying solely on using the bus system to get to his part-time job, a few cities away from his brother residence, appeared to place an added strain upon him to get home from work.
Then, I found out that living with his brother, like the other stories that he told me about himself, was just that, a fictional story. Right after finding this out, going to talk with him at the video store one night, I learned from his co-worker that John, having worked for this same video store owner for several years had disappeared without giving any notice. His latest employment check was left behind too. Without a local residential address, phone number and now work location, unless John would make first contact, meeting up with John again seemed unlikely.
Months went by without hearing from John. With nothing man made lasting forever, I began having car problems so I started using the bus system. One afternoon, while riding the bus, I saw John walking in the downtown area through the bus window pane. Then, being a passenger on the bus on the way to word, I saw John sitting in the back of bus. He greeted me and exited before I was able to talk with him at the next bus stop.
A few more months had elapsed before I saw John again. While visiting the local library I caught a peripheral glimpse of who I made out to be John. This guy was like a ninja. As on the bus with his quick exit, he again was fast as lightning to disappear from my presence. I really don’t know what had gotten into him. Were we not friends? This time, I decided to hunt him down. Finding him, attempting to avoid me while hiding between a book stack aisles I confronted him. “We, as human beings all go through tuff times.” I began, “It was just your turn John.” “There was nothing to be ashamed about.”
I found out from him where he was staying. He said that he was homeless and sleeping within a local wooded riverbed in the area. Insisting that I would not give up on him, I demanded that he give me his brother’s phone number. He did so and later that night I attempted to get a hold of John’s brother, Matthew.
A few days went by before I saw John again. We had a friendly chat. Later that same afternoon, I got a hold of his brother. I told Matthew where John was staying. Mathew explained how he and his family were desperately seeking John for the past year. He had been driving around the city and up to my phone call was unable to locate him. We agreed to meet later that evening.
Bringing along his mother in law and his young teenage daughter as an entourage, Matthew arrived on time. I joined them in his car and off we went. Showing Matthew where John had said he was sleeping at night, after walking through the wooded area a long time and having just about given up on our search, John happened to appear walking around a bend.
My wounds are infected and starting to smell, because of my foolish sins.
I am dazed and completely humiliated; all day long I walk around mourning.
For I am overcome with shame and my whole body is sick.
By the time Michael was able to track down his brother, his beard was unkempt and his body odor, well you get the picture. John, being bald, having been weather beaten and significantly sunburned, the top of his head was covered with scabs. I had told John earlier, when I had last seen him, that I was afraid that if he would not accept medical treatment the worst case scenario would be that some of the cells and living tissue around the top of his head may develop an infection causing necrosis and that maggots may be found on his head area after a night sleep in the open brush and woods. I had given him for temporary relief a hat and some medicated sunburn lotion. He was wearing the hat when we found him.
As I would have pictured the father embraced his prodigal son as described in holy writ, Matthew embraced his brother John. The kind and tender words spoken by Matthew to John moved me to tears, “I’m taking you home brother.” “You won’t be sleeping outside again.”
arrogantly taunt me.
For I am about to stumble and I am in constant pain.
Yes, I confess my wrongdoing, and I am concerned about my sins.
But those who are my enemies for no reason are numerous; those who hate me without cause outnumber me.
They repay me evil for the good I have done; though I have tried to do good to them, they hurl accusations at me.
Do not abandon me, O Lord!
My God, do not remain far away from me!
Hurry and help me, O Lord, my deliverer!
At home with his family, speaking to John over the phone, He had an incessant cough and his voice sounded raspy. I asked him had he had the cough checked out. He told me he had made a doctors appointment for the following day. The next thing I found out from his brother was that John was in the hospital and that the doctors had found fluid around his heart muscle. Being in intensive care no phone calls were aloud. I left a message for John to call me once he was able.
It was now December 2007 and a few weeks had gone by since John and I had last spoken by telephone. Still, John’s nagging cough persisted. This time, I strongly urged him to see a physician in order to have his cough checked out. As before, he promised that he would. I called John up to see what the doctor had to say regarding his cough. According to his brother, Matthew John was back in the hospital.
Talking with John in the hospital, He told me that he was feeling good and should be discharged in a matter of a few days. Then he stated some wildly alleged accusations regarding the motivation behind my being his friend for the past ten plus years.
He stated, as best as I can recall, something to the effect that I was really not being an authentic, genuine and sincere friend to him. Being a Christian, John stated, for the last ten plus years, he felt that I had been making use of him to achieve my Christian ministry goal aspirations.
I told him, “I can’t argue with your feelings.”
Was what I was hearing from John accurate? Did he just say that I extended my friendship to him in order to fulfill my Christian ministry goal aspirations? I did not believe I was hearing what I thought I was hearing. I asked John to repeat what he had just said. He acted in accordance with my request.
I asked him then was his faith prayer, accepting Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior sincere or did he just parrot a prayer in order to either get me from raising the subject again or please me. He said that his decision of faith and his prayer of salvation were real. I told him, okay. I also added that if he truly believed what he stated that I extended my friendship to him in order to fulfill my Christian ministry goal aspirations, I would not telephone him again. He agreed, being of the same opinion. Wishing him the best, I hung up my phone receiver. I honestly did not expect to hear from him again.
Coming home from work one lazy sunny mid-January 2008 day my telephone answering machine was blinking singling that I had one message. Pushing the button to hear the message I recognized one of John’s co-worker’s voice stating that John’s funeral service was scheduled for the following Saturday. Details would be forthcoming.
Just prior to John being evicted from his residence, he shared with me how unmanageable his life once again had become. Be familiar with the fact that I had been sharing the Christian Gospel with John for over ten years. As direct as any of the Hebrew Prophets could possible be, in heralding God’s call to repentance upon the nation of Israel, I called on John to repent and accept what God had for him via the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I told him that God was no respecter of persons.
“John,” I said, “you are nobody special.” “Your sins are no different from the rest of us.” “What do you have to loose anyway?” “According to you, John, your life is dreadful anyway, so again what do you have to loose?” “Remember the thief on the cross that was crucified along with Jesus? “He just asked to be remembered by Jesus when he came into his kingdom.” “And John, what was Jesus’ response to the thief’s request?” “Entrance into his kingdom, unhindered.”
Two other criminals were also led away to be executed with him. So when they came to the place that is called “The Skull,” they crucified him there, along with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Luke 23:32-33
The robbers who were crucified with him also spoke abusively to him. Matthew 27:44
One of the criminals who was hanging there railed at him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we rightly so, for we are getting what we deserve for what we did, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23: 39-43
“Don't you believe that there is in man a deep so profound as to be hidden even to him in whom it is?” St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo
“My longing for truth was a single prayer.” Edith Stein: An atheist Jew, converted to Catholicism, becoming a Carmelite nun, died in Auschwitz in 1942 was canonized by the Pope john Paul II in 1998.
Sitting in my car, we shared a moment of silence. Then Carpe Diem, I seize the moment and asked John to pray with me. He surrendered his will and together we prayed out loud to God.
Recently, I saw a movie by Ben Stein, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. During this movie Ben Stein interviews Clinton Richard Dawkins, FRS, FRSL who makes the position of his world view known regarding God. “Well, I will tell you one thing, Dr. Dawkins, had you been present and had seen what I had seen in my car you may be singing a different tune.”
Holy Scripture states, “But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ,]who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ” 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Parked in his unlit apartment complex parking lot and sitting together in my car, immediately following John audible prayer, I observed the appearance of John’s countenance literally transform from an ashen grey to an indescribable brilliance.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If then your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. Matthew 6:22
I saw scripture fulfilled, God had instantaneously answered John’s prayer and shined in his heart the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. I was mute.
After John’s funeral, Matthew shared with me about how John’s primary physician, when telling John that he was in stage IV Hodgkin's lymphoma and of his imminent death, John attempted to ease the doctor not to worry about him, with these words regarding his faith, “Don't worry, I know where I am going. I am going home to heaven.”