Tuesday, July 5, 2011

CWAS Excerpt Number Twelve

This excerpt is from the twelfth chapter of Conversations with a Stranger by Larry Tate

The Light

On the first morning back home I returned to my favorite coffee shop. The person behind the counter did a double take and said, “Where have you been? I thought you had left us.”
“I just had to leave town for an extended business trip. I’m back now…for good, I hope.”
“I’m trying to remember; you’re a black coffee and bagel man, right?”
“Yes, you’re right.”
“Here you are. Have one on the house and welcome back.”
“Thanks,” I said as I headed off for my favorite table. Then I stopped in mid stride. I no longer desired to be in a dark corner of the coffee shop by myself. Spinning on my feet, I headed toward a table near a window.
This time, instead of just drinking my coffee and staring off into space, I found myself busily reading over my Bible notes. This was a refreshing change to my routine. In the past, I usually nursed my coffee while dreading the long day of work ahead of me. This time, I felt energized. I even caught myself locking eyes with other people and smiling at them.
While engrossed in my reading I heard a strangely familiar voice ordering coffee at the counter. Surely not, I thought. The stranger told me he was just passing through. What would he be doing here four months later?
I turned around, saw that he had already discovered me, and was making his way to my table. From thirty feet away he hollered out, “Good morning, friend. It certainly is nice to see you again. How was your trip? Did you have a good time?”
“The trip was good,” I said. “It can be a little rough living in a motel room, but I made it safe and sound. Sir, I thought you were just passing through. I’m surprised to see you here this morning.”
“Oh, you never know about me,” he chuckled. “I could turn up just about anywhere and at any time.”
We talked for half an hour about my job and various other subjects. Eventually he said, “Since we’ve crossed paths again, would you like to take up where we left off? I’ve found more proofs that God exists. The last time we talked, you still weren’t convinced that God actually exists.”
Not being one to mince words I answered, “No, sir, I don’t.”
There was a bit of surprise in his face. After a moment of silence he asked, “Have I offended you, friend?”
“No, sir, you haven’t. I’m sorry that I sounded so blunt. Please forgive me, sir, and let me explain.”
With a look of relief, he said, “Whew. Thank goodness. You had me worried for a minute. Please continue, friend.”
“Sir, if you remember, I made notes on all of your proofs. I took those notes with me on my trip with the intention of reading them a little closer. They made a certain amount of sense, but they just didn’t go far enough to convince me that there is, in fact, a God. I was able to find objections to just about all of your proofs.”
“Friend, they are not my proofs. If you remember, I told you that the proofs were from some great religious thinkers.”
“Again, I am sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to imply that they were your own proofs. Sometimes I am just a little too blunt. However, my point is that the proofs are not one hundred percent water tight.”
“Friend, I thought you might say that. I was expecting such a response from you. Even though it is possible to voice legitimate objections to each and every proof, you might consider that when taken as a group, the proofs can weigh mightily toward ultimately proving the existence of God.”
“Your point is well taken, sir, but when you add it all up, everything you’ve told me is merely an accumulation of theories developed by men.”
“I’ll give you that, my friend. They are theories indeed. But theories can be very convincing. A theory is based on certain assumptions that cannot be one hundred percent proven or validated. But in spite of that, we benefit from theories every day. We have real, material things in our lives as a result of the application of theories. Even though theories are not one hundred percent provable, they help us to have better lives. So friend, is it really such a leap for you to believe these theories on God’s existence?”
“Sir, you make a strong case for everything you say. But if you don’t mind, I would like to be the teacher today. I am not as eloquent as you, but if you would bear with me, I believe I have something of importance to relate to you.”
He looked at me with a little uncertainty in his face. Then after recovering he said, “Be my guest, friend. You certainly were attentive when I was the one doing the teaching. I’m anxious to hear what you have to say.”
I swallowed hard and began, “Sir, I studied and considered all of your proofs. After a few days though, I gave up on finding an absolute proof of God’s existence. Then one day I noticed a Bible in my room. I realized that you had exclusively promoted the thoughts and ideas of intelligent men, but not once had you referenced anything from the Bible, which is considered by many to be the Word of God. I decided to read the Bible and see if anything might stand out on its pages and convince me of the existence of God.”
He hesitated for a few seconds. Then with a weak voice he said, “Okay, friend, what was your conclusion?”
“I read the Bible from cover to cover, making notes as I went. One night, I woke up with a sudden realization…no I woke up with a sudden revelation of God’s existence.”
He sat up straight in his chair and said, “This I’ve got to hear. Please, friend, tell me what you discovered.”
I continued, “I’m warning you, sir, it’s not going to be the kind of proofs you may be expecting to hear from me. I doubt that you would even call them proofs at all. There were several passages of scripture that stuck with me. I’ll share a couple of them with you. There was one in which the disciple named Thomas said he would not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead unless he first saw Jesus with his own eyes. Eventually when Jesus appeared to him Thomas finally did believe, and he called Jesus his Lord and God. However, it doesn’t appear to me that that Jesus was pleased with Thomas’ doubt. Jesus more or less chided Thomas for requiring an absolute proof before he would believe. Jesus said that the ones who believe in Him without having to see Him are the ones who are truly blessed. This chastisement made me think of my own situation. I had wanted undeniable proof before I would believe that there is a God. But Jesus just wants me to simply believe in Him, and He wants me to simply accept Him in my heart.”
“Are you sure about that?” asked the stranger. “I have been giving you strong proofs, which you have not accepted. Then while you were gone, you decided to accept a concept that is nowhere near a proof?”
“Yes, sir, I am sure. Another scripture speaks about a time when Jesus’ disciples attempted to keep little children from pestering Him. Jesus rebuked the disciples and said that whoever doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, the same shall not be permitted to enter into His Kingdom. This passage caused me to recall that a child doesn’t normally question his father’s authority. The child trusts his father and he blindly accepts what his father says as truth. God’s Word tells us that He exists. We are expected to accept God’s existence by faith, not by proof. We are not a judge and jury who must be presented a proof of his existence. He tells us that He exists. That’s all we need to know. We are to trust what He tells us just as a child trusts his father.”
The stranger just sat there, staring at me. I didn’t know if he was mad or embarrassed or just speechless.
I was on a roll, so I continued saying, “Over and over again, the Bible instructs us on one primary theme—that we are to simply believe in Him. We don’t need proof; we don’t need intelligent men to show Him to us; we don’t need to see him face to face. Sir, we are to believe in Him and accept Him into our lives. Sir, while I was away, my life changed. I came to be a believer in God. I didn’t become a believer because of your proofs. Instead, I became a believer because I simply made up my mind to be a believer. Sir, I have accepted Christ into my life. I am a new person.”
Still, he sat in silence. I couldn’t read his face. For all I knew, he might have been getting ready to reach across the table and hit me.
I went on, “Sir, please understand that I am not trying to ridicule you. I think your heart may be in the right place, but I believe that you are putting too much emphasis on the knowledge and intelligence of men. Sir, I suspect that you are not much different than I was. It looks to me like you decided to believe that God exists, only because of proofs that men have developed. I suspect that you believe, only so long as you have been provided a definitive proof of God’s existence. I am reminded of passages in the Bible that tell us that the wisdom of this world is as foolishness with God. Not once did you speak to me of anything that is written in God’s Word. You only spoke from the vantage point of man’s wisdom. As intelligent as some men are, they cannot begin to comprehend the nature of God. Now, sir, there is nothing wrong with using man’s wisdom and knowledge—nothing whatsoever. Man’s wisdom and knowledge is good, up to the limits placed on him by God. But in the end, regardless of man’s knowledge, a person must make the decision to simply believe in God and accept Him by faith.”
The stranger may as well have been a statue. He sat rigidly in his chair. His eyes didn’t move. His face didn’t change. He never even touched his coffee.
Swallowing hard, I continued, “I can’t really put my finger on it, sir. But that’s the beauty of accepting Christ. He wants us to accept him by faith, not by fact. If he expected us to accept him only after absolute facts were presented to us, he would have made us like mindless little toy soldiers. He would have programmed us to believe that he is the master and maker of all that is and that we are to believe in him and accept him because he told us to, and we have no other choice in the matter.”
Silence was the only thing coming from the other side of the table.
I was in too deep to back out so I continued, “You, sir, have based your own belief that God exists on man’s wisdom and knowledge. I am not suggesting that the theories you presented to me are wrong. I am not suggesting that those great thinkers are wrong. As a matter of fact, I believe those men were great men of God. I am not suggesting that man’s knowledge and wisdom shouldn’t be taught. What I am suggesting is that belief in God should have its roots in the Word of God. Then and only then, man’s wisdom can be presented as a supplement to God’s Word. Then, after you have accepted Him, you should turn around and tell others about Him, using God’s Word as the basis, and man’s wisdom as a supplement.”
Breaking his silence, he said, “You’ve certainly developed quite an opinion.”
“Yes, sir, I have. I have determined that the central theme of God’s Word is that you are to make the decision within your heart to believe in God. After you accept Jesus into your heart by faith, you will receive salvation. He made you with a free will. He wants you to use your own free will to choose to believe in him. He wants you to accept him unconditionally. He doesn’t want you to attempt to prove that He exists by way of man’s wisdom and intelligence. No, sir, he wants you to accept him by faith.”
Appearing to be somewhat humbled he said, “Do you have any more to say, my friend?”
“Yes, sir, I do. Sir, you believe there is a God. I believe in God.”
“Well, friend, it sounds like we both believe the same thing.”
“Respectfully, sir, I don’t believe we do. Even the devils believe there is a God. Sir, you only believe with your mind that God exists. On the other hand, I believe in God. I believe with my heart. Sir, please don’t take offense at this, but I suspect that your belief is rejected by God, while my belief is accepted by God.”
“Friend, now you’re going out a limb. Do you have an explanation for that last statement?”
“I’ll try, sir. When a person merely believes something, they only passively believe. But, when a person believes in something, they actively believe.”
“Is there a difference, my friend?”
“Sir, when people believe in something, they become actively involved in their belief. They join forces with others of like belief. They promote their belief. They sell their belief. They defend their belief. They are activists. Suppose that we have an elected leader who is suspected of being involved in corruption. Anyone can believe that the corrupt leader should be removed from office. But activists take their belief to the next level. They organize, they march, they take their belief to the streets, and they make their voices heard. Things may get so far out of hand that the government is forced to bring in law enforcement personnel to maintain peace and civility. Due to belief with action behind it, the leader is likely to be removed from office. Passive believers don’t get anything done. Active believers advance their cause. Sir, you passively believe, but you’re not actually promoting the Kingdom of God. All you have done is tell me that God exists from an academic point of view. Back in Jesus’ day, most of the Pharisees, priests, and other Jewish religious rulers did not accept Jesus Christ. However, there were certain ones among them who actually did believe that He was the Son of God. However, they so enjoyed being praised by the people, that they would not openly admit that they believed in Christ. Sir, I believe they were passive believers, just as you are. Jesus tells us that there is no way to get into the Kingdom of God except through Him. Sir, God is love, first and foremost. We cannot see love and we cannot touch love. We can only feel love. God’s love is all around us and in us. We don’t need to see God to know He exists. We only need to experience his love for us. Then we will know He exists.”
“Friend, you are definitely frank and to the point.”
“Believe me, sir, I am telling you this with utmost humility. I would like to suggest that you do what I did. I realized that Jesus became the Sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. You, sir, need to believe in Him and accept Him into your own heart. When you do, you, too, will be a changed person. God will live within you. He will be a part of your very being.”
“You have certainly stated your case with conviction. Friend, I am impressed. You’ve become a different person since I last saw you.”
“Yes, sir, I have. Sir, may I ask one last thing?”
“I’m afraid to say yes after the beating I just received from you, but go ahead.”
“Sir, I have two requests to make. First, I would like to formally ask you to accept Jesus into your heart and become one of his followers. Secondly, I would like for you and I to become friends. Do you realize that we have never been formally introduced to each other? My name is Bill. May I ask yours?”
His face began glowing. I thought I had embarrassed him. Was it because I told him his teachings were wrong, or was it because he had never asked my name? But then, I realized that his face was not turning red. Instead, his face was turning white. I wondered if he was about to faint. No, he couldn’t be about to faint. If he were, he would be taking on a somewhat ashen appearance. Instead, he seemed to be glistening in the brightest and whitest hue I had ever seen. Whiter and brighter he became, so bright I had to start shielding my eyes. Not just his face, but his whole body, clothing and all were glowing. The whole room was bright. I could never have imagined a brighter or a whiter white. I was in such a shock I couldn’t find any words to say. I may as well have had cotton in my mouth. Then I began to notice scars about his forehead, and horrible gashes in his hands.
Eventually it came to me that sitting right in front of me was none other than Jesus Christ himself. After an eternity of moments I managed to find the strength to speak, “Jesus, is that you?”
“It is I, my friend. I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”
After another long and painful silence, I asked, “Lord, was it you who met with me all of those mornings right here in this coffee shop?”
“Yes, my friend. It was I.”
“And Lord, was it you who explained to me all of those proofs of God’s existence?”
“Yes, my friend. It was me.”
“I feel terrible, Lord. I just got through correcting you, and yet you sat there and listened to me. Lord, why didn’t you reveal yourself to me on the very first day? Why did we have to go through all of those conversations? Lord, I was never convinced by those proofs. I finally became convinced when I searched for you in the Word of God. What if I had never picked up a Bible and searched for more?”
“Friend, I only answer that which has been asked. On the very first day, you said that no person had ever given you an absolute proof of God’s existence. You said that you would believe only if someone could furnish you with undeniable facts.”
“Yes, Lord. So why didn’t you show yourself to me?”
“I answered the questions you asked. You wanted man’s ideas. I gave you man’s ideas. You were not really seeking me. You were merely looking for a scientific proof that I existed. Had you told me that you were seeking God and wanted to know God, I would have answered you differently. You now know me because you blindly accepted me, just as would a child.”
I was astonished at my foolishness. The Maker of all things had been sitting at my table day after day after day. But I was not able to know him as long I attempted to understand him using the knowledge and wisdom of mankind. It was only after I accepted him by faith that I actually came to know him.
As quickly as he had begun glowing, he started fading from my sight. With fear gripping me, I said, “Lord, where are you going? Are you leaving me, just at the very moment I found you?”
Still fading, he replied, “Friend, you didn’t find me today.”
Confused and trembling I said, “Lord, it was just a few minutes ago that you appeared to me.”
“Friend, I appeared to you a few minutes ago, but you found me back in that motel room. Now, I must go. There are others who are seeking me.”
“But, Lord, please don’t leave me now. I have so many questions. What about rules and regulations? How am I to know what I should and should not do? How do I know how to live my life?”
I was struggling to see him. I could just barely make out his image as he answered, “Now that you have accepted me in your life, I live within you. I am a part of your very being. So long as you love me and love your neighbor, you will have me with you as your guide. When you truly live for me, when you have me living within you, you will have no trouble knowing how to obey my laws. You will know within your heart if a thing is right or wrong; you will know instinctively what you must do. Tell me, friend, do you have to hold on to anything in order to keep yourself from floating out of your chair and up into the sky?”
“No, Lord, I stay on the ground because of the law of gravity.”
“That’s right, my friend. You are obeying the law of gravity right now, not because you are obeying written rules, but because you are an integral part of this earth’s system and its physical laws. If you were to ride in a rocket ship out into the vast reaches of space, you would no longer be bound by earth’s gravitational laws. You would be free of the law of gravity and you would float about in space. Likewise, as long as you are truly in the Kingdom of God, you will obey my laws. Do you remember the story of Peter walking on the water?”
“Yes, Lord.”
“As long as Peter kept his eyes on me, he had the power to walk on water just as I did. It was only when he took his eyes off of me and focused his eyes on all that was around him that he began to sink into the sea. Just as Peter had the power to walk on water, you have the power to obey my laws. All you have to do is keep your eyes and your heart focused on me. It is only when you take your eyes off of me that you will begin to disobey my laws. Keep your eyes and your devotion on me and you won’t have to wonder about whether or not you are doing the right thing.”
“But, Lord, I want you to be close to me.”
“Even though you won’t see me, I will be closer than a brother to you.”
Then he was gone. His chair was empty. The room lost its brightness. It must have been fifteen minutes before I managed to struggle out of my chair. I stumbled up to the store manager and asked, “What did you think about that?”
He answered, “What did I think about what?”
“The brightness in the room, the man at my table who just disappeared.”
“I saw nothing unusual. No one disappeared. What exactly are you talking about?”
“Are you telling me you saw nothing unusual just now?’
“No, sir, I did not. I’ve been here all morning and nothing out of the ordinary has happened.”
“What about the man I have been talking to for days on end? What did you think about him?”
“Sir, you have been a good customer. However, lately you have been acting a bit strange. You always come in alone and you leave alone, but lately you have acted as if you were with someone. The funny thing about it is that you have been gesturing and talking as if someone was at your table with you. It’s been rather amusing actually. The other customers didn’t seem to mind because you never got loud or out of line.”
I stood there for a moment with my mouth open. I could not believe what I just heard from the store manager. “You never saw me with another person?” I asked.
“Not one time,” answered the store manager. “You are the ultimate loner.”
I left the store and went on to work. For about a week, I went back to the coffee shop hoping to see Him again. Much to my disappointment, I never saw Him again.
For days on end, I replayed all of our encounters and conversations. I attempted to gain a better understanding of our conversations in the light of knowing that instead of speaking to a stranger all of those days, I was actually speaking to my Lord. I thought back to the many times I referred to him as a stranger, and I remembered that He always called me His friend. It was then that I realized that until I came to know him personally, He actually was a stranger to me. But through all of those days of conversation, He always called me his friend. Why was that, I wondered. Then I was reminded of the scriptures that tell us that the righteous ones are called the friend of God.Perhaps He had the foreknowledge that I was about to believe on Him and accept Him in my heart.

The above excerpt is from the copyrighted book Conversations with a Stranger by Larry Tate

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