Crooked Paths Part 2

“A man must completely despair of himself in order to become fit to obtain the grace of Christ.” -Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Dallas, Oregon 1927

Excerpt from Shiny Shoes on Dusty Paths, Vol 1, chapter 1: Dusty Boots on Crooked Paths

“None of the customers listening to the humorous rendering of my latest escapade could have imagined that below my cocky facade was an anguished soul. Exhilaration, thrills, fast buddies, and alcohol were supposed to relieve boredom and fill a nagging emptiness. Instead, they increased the vacuum and pointed a nagging finger at the crooked path my dusty boots were walking.

“The night before, heedless of prohibition restrictions, my friends and I had been to a party in Portland where drinking provided the main recreation. Driving back, in a state of drunken stupor, we had difficulty following signs and signals. We barely recognized the fact that we were driving on railroad tracks. By some miracle we connected to the PortlandSalem road, but my foggy head was unable to keep the car on the right side of the road. Through the haze I saw headlights facing us that grew increasingly bright. Before we came to a complete stop three cars had collided. As I flew through the air  a voice resounded in the back of my head, “This is your last chance, Abe.” In a few moments I saw my life displayed before my eyes…

“When all the noise of the crash had subsided, I found myself still sitting on the car-seat but on the ground outside the car. I jumped up quickly as if to adjust my outward mask of touch nonchalance, but the cracks within were widening and bordering on desperation.

“For several years I’d chased around with my motorcycle gang, mocking the religion “thou shalt nots” of my fanatic Mennonite family… That was not for me. Recklessly I plunged into the fast life…

“I joined a lodge that met on a dance floor in town and made frequent visits to all the taverns where my repertoire of jokes, adventures, and nonsense gave me the reputation of prime entertainer and good customer.

“One night after drinking a few too many glasses, my gang stood on the street outside the church mocking the singing inside. Someone must have tipped off the cops, for they soon appeared and arrested us before the pained eyes of my parents. After a night in jail, the emptiness I’d tried so desperately to fill was more hollow than ever

“Some time later the men’s chorus from the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (Biola) came to the Dallas High School for a concert. I couldn’t help but notice the serenity f the faces of the fellows as the sang and told how God was part of their lives. Nor could I repress an acute longing gfor the peace of which they spoke.

“The final blow came when evangelist William Peach came to town for a week of meetings. He was then assistant pastor for the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles. I sneaked into a few services, just to please Mother, though she was never aware of my presence. To my astonishment the evangelist spoke on my wavelength.

“The following Friday I was miles from town when I felt an irresistible urge to attend the service. Taking shortcuts on dusty roads, I stepped hard on the accelerator, managing to arrive just as the meeting was starting.

“The place was full with standing room only. I don’t recall the message or text. I just knew God was speaking to me through that preacher. When the invitation was given, I ran outside and cried like a child.

“Finding me in this condition a neighbor friend asked, “What’s wrong Abe?”

“I didn’t answer. There was plenty wrong.

“He insisted we go back inside. I hesitated, but finally turned my dusty boots toward the door. As I walked in the evangelist was quoting John 6:37, “All that the father giveth me shall come to m; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Those words penetrated my soul. Was there still hope for someone as low as I?

“The attendance at these meetings was so large that the church became to small. So the dance floor, where my lodge met, was rented for the Sunday evening service. That night Evangelist Peach spoke on Revelation 3:20, “Behold I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door (of his heart and life), I will come in to him (live in him), and will sup with him (communicate intimately with him), and he with him.”

“When the invitation was given I walked to the front and knelt on that floor. I was oblivious to who was there and what people thought. My heart’s door had swung wide open. Overwhelmed that God would bother Himself with such as I, my heart now ached to give Him my all.

“The sense of gratitude, relief, and joy continued in the days that followed. The emptiness that had driven me to wild pursuits was filled with God’s immeasurable grace. For the rest of my life I’ve tried, unsuccessfully, to understand and express that grace means to me. The closest I can come is through a sense of identification with John Newton, the hardened slave trader who penned the words of the song:

Amazing grace how sweet the sound,

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

“Having all my sins removed was like having my dusty boots polished to a shimmering glow. They were now ready to walk  the paths of life.

“By this time news had already traveled to all the taverns and to my gang. The gossip of the week was, “Have you heard the latest? Abe’s got religion.”

“Abe! Imagine him falling off the deep end!”

“Yes, and get this, he’s even talking about being a missionary. Can you imagine? Abe in Africa?”

“Yeah, I can imagine him chasing savages, but… what does he know that we don’t?”

“For me the only shadow was regret over wasted time….”

Joanne’s Comment

One of my fondest memories of my Dad is the way he always referred to his past life as if no-one out there could have been worse than he, and thus the most undeserved recipient of God’s mercy and grace. “If God can do it for me, He can do it anyone,” was one of his most repeated phrases.

 

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