“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, Amen”
(Matt. 6:9-13 KJV).
My friend Rudy knew this prayer well and intellectually could recite it at will. He likely learned it a very young age as many in his generation spoke it as a daily prayer in school. Long gone are those days. But Rudy, especially in these last years, as he prayed, you could tell it was no longer just words memorized in his youth but that he was growing in a relationship with the Father to whom he spoke. Rudy was on a lifelong journey to get to know his heavenly Father.
At our weekly Bible studies Rudy occasionally brought forth questions that showed that he struggled on this journey. He wasn’t afraid to admit it nor was he unwilling to raise a question when something didn’t sit quite right with him. And we would go down side roads through the Word looking for the answers.
But there was one question, that was really bugging him, that finally came to a head last summer. He often heard people talking about encountering God or hearing God’s voice and as he put it, he was pretty sure he hadn’t experienced God in these ways. This bugged him so much that one night he and Laura came over and what he said to me nearly knocked me off my chair. “Pastor I’m not sure that I have Jesus in my heart!”
How could this be I questioned? How is it possible that a man who has dedicated thousands of hours to Gleaners, who led our church quite often in the hymns we sang, who has prayed the Lord’s Prayer and took communion among us, how is it possible for Rudy to feel as though the Lord was not with him?
I thought to myself, “Was he just baiting me?” Or was he facing a crisis of faith? There was no doubt in my mind that Rudy was a man of God! Not a perfect saint but just the real deal. And yet here he was asking me to lead him in the sinner’s prayer.
It was like he knew his name was called up yonder and so he needed some assurance and directions before answering the call.
I of course reminded him that the Bible says, “…everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). And we talked about how he had done that. How he had been baptized and had gone to church for a long time now. Certainly in the 13 plus years that I’ve known him, Rudy walked as a believer walks, again not sinlessly perfect just real.
For a trucker he had a pretty clean vocabulary. In fact I couldn’t remember a time when I ever heard him swear. He was genuinely interested in helping people come to faith in Christ and enjoyed his ministry with the Gracemen singing his heart out for Jesus. His passion for Gleaners and for his church and his love for his family, especially his bride of more than 60 years showed he was committed to Christian ideals.
I can’t remember if he brought it up or I was just reminded later of what Jesus words in Matthew chapter 7, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
It seemed as though Rudy felt like he had missed something along the way and was in danger of missing heaven’s narrow gate on the journey home. But I did remind Rudy of what the rest of what that passage says.
Yes Rudy struggled with the same things that every Christian struggles with. The passions of the flesh, the pride of life, doing things that caused rifts in his earthly relationships but frankly I reminded him, that those very things that we call sin are exactly why Christ died on the cross for us.
The Bible says, “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. … God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” (Rom. 5:8).
I reminded Rudy that the Bible says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9). And I asked Rudy if he had repented of his sins and called upon the name of the Lord to be saved? He said something to the effect of, “that’s exactly the point, he’s not sure that he has”. And then he asked if I would help him do exactly that.
So there in my living room, with his bride of more than 60 years by his side I led this man of God in the sinner’s prayer and I prayed and asked God to reveal to Rudy just how visibly active He has been in Rudy’s life.
Folks sometimes we don’t recognise God’s still voice or experience the hand of providence in our lives the same way others do. But I can say for sure that Rudy was a Christian long before he prayed that prayer in my living room. As Jesus told us in that passage of Matthew that I read to you, you can recognize His disciples by His fruit in their lives.
Now in our valley we harvest much fruit. But I’ve noticed something that kind of startled me to begin with and still does bug me a bit. When I’m out picking for my friend Graeme the fruit that goes into the bin must be without blemish and of the highest quality or he goes behind me and pulls it from the bin and chucks it on the ground. “Those are culls”, he says. “Not fit for market.”
But God isn’t like Graeme in that regard. He doesn’t look for perfect specimens plucking only the finest fruit and tossing all the others aside as worthless. ‘Cause if he did, not one of us would make that cut. We’d all be culled.
Like Rudy we all have fallen short of mark. But my friend Rudy learned something that assured him he was chosen of God, holy and acceptable in God’s sight. Rudy learned that God’s perfect Son enabled all who call upon His name to be chosen and kept by the Master as his very own.
I suppose that’s why Rudy was as passionate about Gleaners as he was. He recognized that together with thousands of volunteers he could be part of God’s plan to feed millions in Christ’s name. Rudy found that God can use what man rejects for the glory of His Kingdom if only we are willing to be used. And he worked hard for Gleaners. Much harder than a man his age ought to at times. But he loved what he did and knew it was worthwhile. Love and generosity, the giving of one’s time, for the glory of God and to help the needy, these are fruit of the Spirit, the real evidence of Christ within. Even if others don’t see it.
The Bible says of Jesus, “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isiah 53:3-6).
As Rudy’s health failed I think one thing that really bugged him a lot was not being able to serve the Lord as he once had. He couldn’t sing, he couldn’t drive… in his eyes he was becoming useless to all around him.
Rudy wanted to give God his all but he realized that the journey this side of heaven was coming to an end. So he wrestled and fought the good fight as best he could not losing his faith but he sure was grappling with such great loss. Looking back I can see he was grieving that loss much like we are grieving his loss today.
At times he got pretty down but then he was so blessed by how all his family came together and showed their love to him and support for he and Laura. I remember one day, after a surprising visit by a family member, Rudy phoned me up from his hospital bed with in tears in his voice as he realized that God had done a mighty miracle for him, a real answer to prayers. He was so excited about it that when I saw him two days later, he again cried and we prayed to his Heavenly Father and gave thanks for such a tender and timely mercy.
It was so hard to watch my friend fade away losing over 50 pounds and unable to hardly speak. But he and I knew this would not be the end of the story. Jesus had already made that very clear to him through God’s Holy Word.
Though we don’t understand the reasons God does what He does, we must accept by faith that God has a divine purpose beyond our understanding for all things. And most of all, we must never forget that He knows the tears we have shed… for God himself put on flesh and walked amongst us.
Jesus knows the grief in our hearts because He experienced it in ways we fail to comprehend. He had friends and relatives who dearly enjoyed his company. He had to look down from the cross at His mother who with tears streaming from her eyes gazed up upon her beloved Son as he was breathing His last. Jesus knows those strong emotions, that we call grief, that often come in waves when someone we love is taken away.
We see this so clearly in the book of John 11th chapter.
There we find that a friend of Jesus, named Lazarus, had died and had been in the tomb four days by the time Jesus arrived. When Jesus found two disciples, the sisters of Lazarus, overwhelmed with grief and his reaction was not a stoic disconnected high priest.
He tenderly reminded one of the sisters, “Your brother will rise again.” And Martha “answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?
“Yes, Lord,” she told him…” (John 11:23-25).
Martha understood that death is not the end. And so she called her sister Mary and they walked to tomb of Lazarus with Jesus at their side. The mourners were wailing and the sisters continued weeping, as they grieved the loss of their brother.
As they got closer to the tomb, John 11:35 records the shortest verse in the Bible, just two words, “Jesus wept”.
Did you know it’s only the shortest verse in our English translations? In the original language there is no punctuation, the thought of that short sentence began with, “When Jesus saw Mary weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.” John was telling us that Jesus felt their pain, he knows what it means for us to lose a loved one. For when: “Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” John 11:33-36 (NIV). They saw a man hurting just as they were.
Jesus is the God of compassion. His tears were genuine expressions of the sorrow he felt. He entered into their sorrow and began to carry their burden.
And Jesus is moved by your sorrow today, He loves you even as He loved them! And He wants you to know His compassion for you. He is walking with you through this deep loss you’re facing, and if you’ll let Him he’ll carry you when grief threatens to overwhelm you.
Grief and loss are unavoidable in this life but understand this, Jesus has overcome this life and His Word declares Rudy has too.
In the same book of the Bible, Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going. “ (John 14:2-3).
Rudy knew the way, and now so do you. I know it is Rudy’s desire to see every one of his family and friends reuniting at our Father’s house. And the way is clear.
The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved” (Roman 10:9-10).
Rudy fought the fight of faith, battling with all the doubts and questions that each of us face, hurting deeply at times but through Jesus he won the victory! This trucker truly found his way to his Father’s house and now what once grieved him has been swallowed up by inexpressible joy and peace.