Wednesday, February 21, 2018

World Aflame

When I was about seven or eight years old, my Mom took me and my brother to the Princess Movie Theater to see a film.

Actually, I'm sure that she wanted to see the film, and just took us along instead of leaving us with a babysitter. We would probably enjoy the movie, too, and she wouldn't have to be alone.

Mother didn't have any friends that she spent time or went places with. She knew other ladies in the neighborhood, but they never developed any kind of meaningful or lasting relationship with any of them. She had her acquaintances from work, too, but her biggest buddies were her sisters and and her brothers. She always had fun when she was with them . . . and they all sought each other out as often as they could for laughter and good times. I remember watching them together as a child, and even then, marveled at the joy they had when they had the chance for a Browning Roundup.

Spouses didn't really know how to fit into their group. They were often present and always welcome, but they would always be slightly on the outside of the circle. 

I don't remember the exact time of year or the day that Mom took me and Danny to the Princess for that occasion. A local church (I don't know which) had borrowed, or rented, the theater to show  a religious/family film that had been produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. 

Billy Graham was a pioneer in Christian Cinema. There had been epic Bible Story movies like The Greatest Story Ever Told, Ben Hur, and The Ten Commandments - but few had ever attempted to make movies that would take the Gospel of Jesus to the masses on the Big Screen.

I had been to the movie theater before (I really liked the drive-in movies the best), and I don't remember very much about this show, its plot, or story. But I do remember that leaders from the sponsoring church stood at the front of the theater after the movie's conclusion and extended and invitation for anyone present to become a Christian if they would like.

I know that I had been in Church a few times before this event, and there is no doubt that I had witnessed an altar call or invitation like this before. But I know that I had never been moved, or touched as I was that day.

I'm sure that the Gospel was presented very clearly that day. I can't say that I remember hearing it. I don't remember any particular message or information that was in the story of the movie. I'm sure that I was too young to grasp the intricacies of the play as it ran before me. I know that I was still, quiet, and attentive because that was the way that I had been raised to be. But I can't say that I was mentally or intellectually introduced to the thought or idea of spirituality or salvation on that day.

Also, though I have alluded to the fact that I was moved or touched during this experience, I was not awash with emotion or any particular feelings of ecstasy or elation. I was not happy or sad, crying or laughing -- just watching and listening.

I wanted to leave the place where I was standing next to my Mother and brother and join the others who were going forward in response to the invitation. But it never occurred to me to actually GO. I was too shy and much too deeply introverted to make such a real and physical step. I did not know what I would say to someone at the end of the aisle. I did not know what they might say to me. I didn't want to get separated from my Mother. And so I continued to watch, and wait . . . and want.

Want what, I did not know.

Ever since that day (and I have never forgotten it) I have thought of that moment in my life as the very first time that I became aware of the Presence and Reality of God. This was that moment when He reached down and opened my heart. The time when He made it possible for me to receive anything and everything that He was to ever offer me in the future and into eternity.

It was like God calling out to young Samuel in the night (if you know that story). I didn't know what it was but I was now open to it and willing to receive more. "Here am I," Samuel was instructed to say.

No, I didn't hear a voice. The ground didn't move. The Earth didn't shake. There was no lightning or thunder. No angels, or visions, tongues or confusion. A door had been opened.

Just the opening of a door.

Nothing more or less. Nothing more or less was required.

I wasn't in Church, no Holy Man attended to me, my little heart and mind contained very little scripture and NO doctrine. 

I didn't raise my hand, walk the aisle, pray a prayer or sign a card.

But . . . that is the day . . . the moment . . . when I began my journey to, and with God. He opened the door for the very first time in my life. The door to Him. The door of Him to me.

I am very grateful to the Church . . . and I love the Bible. I appreciate all of the many believers who have loved and lead me during my journey of faith. But my story is not about someone who got religion, took up Church-going, became a Bible-thumper, or a Holy Roller.

God opened my heart as surely as He opened the heart of Lydia (Acts 16). My heart has been open to Him ever since.

I never mentioned what had happened to my Mother. I really do not think that I had the capacity to put into words what I had experienced.

But I do remember that as we left our seats and spilled out into the lobby with the exiting crowd . . . I noticed a display table with free books. Hundreds of copies of the book, World Aflame, by Billy Graham. I asked Mom if I could have a copy and she got one for me to take home.

It was the first grown-up book I ever remember having. I never read it until many years later. I saw the book in a Christian bookstore (I have no recollection of what became of the original) and purchased it. I took it home and read it. It was good . . . but really unremarkable.

As I clutched that book on the way home, gazing into the flames that bled on the cover, I only knew that Someone had said Hello to me . . . securing this paperback book was the only way that I knew to say Hello, back.

I know that I believe in God today because He reached out and introduced Himself to me. Since that day my life has been filled with the Touch and the Movement of God in my life. He has opened many, many other doors and windows of awareness, nearness, and Presence.

I have never needed to rely upon messengers, messages, or music to move me, inspire me, motivate me, or stir me forward or onward or upward.

I was not won, swayed, convinced, mesmerized, or persuaded . . . I was contacted.

When I learned who Billy Graham was I fell in love with him and his ministry. He never became my favorite preacher or author, but I always loved and respected him. I will always associate him and his service to God with the day that God chose to reach out to me.

God used him . . . and my Mother . . . and the Church that sponsored that event . . . and all of the people who were praying that day.

Today Dr. Billy Graham died at age 99. I believe that Billy's spirit, his mind, his memories, his personality . . . everything that he ever was apart from his physical body . . . is now with God. The last door of Billy's life opened up . . . and he was invited into the Presence of the One Who had made contact with HIM so many years ago.

That is where I am going.

I've been going there ever since I was eight years old.

Farewell, Billy. I look forward to meeting you some day.

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