GUTS, FEATHERS AND ALL:
ã 2005 by John W. Cowart
In February, 1996, I gave this talk at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Jacksonville, to a group which had requested an autobiographical speech.
My name is John.
I wear size 11 shoes.
My birthday is July 15th.
My blood type is A Positive.
I weigh 224 pounds. and when I stand straight I’m 5’11”.
I've been married twice and I'm the father of six children, three sons and three daughters. Ginny, my present wife, and I have been married for 29, 30, maybe 35 years... something like that. I am a native of Jacksonville, Florida, where I've been a member of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd for about 25 years.
When I first came to Good Shepherd I was working as a grave digger in Evergreen Cemetery. My latest job has been working as a sitter, taking care of an adult invalid with severe neurological impairment from being hit by a car. So recently I spend most of my days changing diapers and wet bed linens and teaching him how to swallow because his injuries knocked out his swallow reflex. My work is a lot like taking care of a large strong toddler.
Other jobs I've worked at include several years working on the religion deck at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., flipping hamburgers at an all-night burger stand; and being a night watchman at a city dump.
For a few years when Ginny and I were first married we drove a tractor trailer, a Mayflower moving van, all over creation. I've been to Mexico and Canada and all the continental states except Maine, Washington and Oregon.
For eight years I worked for the Duval County Florida Mosquito Control Board where I grew mosquitoes for test purposes. Back then I could identify on sight most of Duval County's 53 species of mosquito -- Here's an inside Mosquito Control joke:
How do you spell Psorophora?
When a cutback in funds caused 18 of us to be laid off from the board, I discovered that a 40-year-old white male who knows how to grow mosquitoes can write his own ticket in the job market...
Well, not exactly.
For months and months I could not even find a job as a security guard. Nothing. Zilch.
What was I to do?
Well, I figured that I was not the only person in the out-of-work boat so I wrote a magazine article about coping with unemployment. It sold! But not for much. So I wrote another article about coping with poverty. Eventually I wrote and published a couple of hundred newspaper and magazine articles and I also wrote three little paperback books which got published but didn't sell worth diddly-squat. Virtually all of the great literature I produced disappeared without a ripple.
For a few years I also worked part-time for the Florida Times-Union newspaper as an editorial assistant -- that's the job title for a mail clerk who can be blamed for a lot of things that go wrong at a newspaper.
When my writing career finally went belly up for lack of sales, I got the job of night janitor for a church where I scrubbed floors and cleaned toilets until I began the job I have now as a sitter.
My hobbies over the years have included hiking, camping, karate study and building model ships. In fact one of my proudest accomplishments in life was building a model sailing ship inside a beer bottle.
My besetting sin, the one I have to struggle with most all the time, is petty theft -- too sorry and lazy to be a bank robber I guess.
The third hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life was to kill my dog.
Sheba, a black lab, lived with our family for over 17 years. She did as much to raise our children as Ginny and I did; she considered us all as her puppies. No better natured animal ever lived: she even got along fabulously with the three family cats and my daughter’s bunny. I recall laughing as this huge dog, the three cats and the bunny all gathered headdown in a circle to eat out of the same bowl at the same time!
A few years back Sheba suffered a stroke. For months she could not walk or even sit up to eat. Ginny and I soaked bread in milk and hand-fed her till she got well enough to resume her role as family dog.
After a few years Sheba suffered another stroke. She went blind and appeared to suffer a dog’s equivalent of Alzheimer’s Disease. For weeks I postponed the inevitable. I’d go out to her shed several times a day to check if she were still alive.
Poor feeble thing hung on.
I suppose I could have taken her to a vet but I felt that no stranger’s hand should do it; it had to be someone who loved her.
One day I dug her grave and led her to lie beside it in a sunny spot. I cooked her favorite meal of meatballs for her. I poured some campaign in her water bowl. When she passed out and I was sure she slept, I was so afraid I might bungle the job and merely hurt her. I had visions of my mangled dog clawing her way out of the grave in frantic pain.
I prayed for God to give my arm strength.
I lifted the ax.
I bashed her head in.
I buried her with her favorite dog toy.
Then I sat beside her grave, drank the rest of the campaign and cried.
Killing Sheba was my third hardest thing. The top two hurt me too much to want to talk about just now. Is that Ok?
Let’s see … What else?
My blood pressure is finally down to 120 over 90. On the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test I come out as ISFJ; and folks who keep track of such things tell me that I have a character profile which they call a "dishonest passive aggressive personality". I have only a vague idea of what those facts mean -- functionally sane but wobbly, I guess.
As you can see from this fascinating account, I'm just an ordinary person. I get up. I go to work. I come home, click on the TV and put my feet up. Nothing unusual. Nothing special. I just plod along through life making it as best I can. Not bothering anybody. You know: John Cowart, human manatee... Want to see the propeller scars on my back?
Now you have a pretty complete picture of my entire life except for one element:
Jesus Christ is my Lord.
And because He is my Lord, He has done certain things to me.
And for me.
And through me.
And, mostly, in spite of me.
At 3:30 in the morning on November 12, 1957, while driving a car down Phillips Highway on Jacksonville's Southside, after months of struggle to avoid the conclusion, I decided that Jesus Christ is actually God come to earth in the flesh.
Before that moment, I regarded Him as only a human teacher who had the bad luck to bug the wrong people and get himself killed, a nice guy but certainly no more divine than Socrates, Buddha, Mohammed or any other important human teacher.
I considered myself an intellectual, too smart to be taken in by the common ordinary Christianity taught in every little church on every other street corner in town. No. That stuff was for people who had never given comparative religion much thought. You know, Believers.
None of that for me. I investigated the esoteric faith patterns of the exotic mysterious orient. I dabbled in theosophy. I read the scriptures of other religions, The Koran, the Vedic Hymns. When asked, I identified myself as a student of Hinduism, praying to Siva and Vishnu, the gods who create and destroy in perfect balance.
A Christian missionary who was in Jacksonville on leave from French Equatorial Africa told me about Jesus. I regarded that message as dribble. But being an open-minded person, I decided to disprove the ridiculous claim that Jesus made to being the exclusive way to God. So I read the entire Bible -- looking for loopholes. The missionary later told me that she'd given up on my ever being converted because I was such a hardcase.
However, something about the claims of Jesus disturbed me.
Follow this thought process through with me quickly:
In one Gospel alone Jesus constantly went around saying odd things like:
"He who has seen me has seen the Father..." (John 14:9)
"I and my Father are one." (John 10:30)
"Before Abraham was, I am" (John 8:58)
"I have come as light into the world..." (John 12:46)
"I have come down from Heaven..." (John 6:38)
"I am the bread of life..." (John 6:35)
"The hour is coming... when all who are in the tombs the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and come forth ..." (John 5: 25-28
"I am the way, and the truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me..." (John 14: 6)
Well, these statements of His are either true or false.
If they are false, then Jesus either knew they were false or he did not know they were false.
If he knew what he was saying was false but said it anyhow, then Jesus Christ was deliberately deceiving people, he was a liar.
If he went around saying that he was God and he did not know that what he said was false, then he was as crazy as a bedbug. Like the guy who goes around saying he's Napoleon.
So if what Jesus said was false, then he was either a liar or a lunatic.
However, if what he said is true, then he is LORD.
Now, if Christianity is false, then there is no reason in the world you or I should pay it any attention whatsoever. It doesn't matter that nice people think that way or that it's customary to attend church or that Christianity upholds high moral standards; if it's false, then it's false. Nothing to it.
But if it's true... What then?
If Jesus Christ is neither a liar or a lunatic, then He is the Lord God Almighty, murdered by men but risen from the grave as Lord of Life and what He says counts for everything. Nothing else on earth matters but following Him.
Now as I considered these claims that Jesus made, as I read the whole Bible cover to cover; remember, I was looking for loopholes. I wanted to escape the conclusion my own mind had arrived at because that meant that if He were Lord --- then I wasn't!
And I wanted to be Lord of my own life. I had my life mapped out. I'd won a small academic scholarship to Florida State University and I intended to devote my life to the study of archaeology, I planned to get my master's at the University of New Mexico because of the availability of Pueblo ruins there, then study for a doctorate in Germany then spend the rest of my life digging up ancient ruins. Yes, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. It's my life and I'll live it exactly as I please. I am the lord of my life, the master of my fate, the captain of my soul -- and I like it that way.
Who does Jesus think he is, intruding on my well-thought-out plans? Does He think he's God or something?
That's exactly who He says He is.
He says He's God and that He cares about me.
"For the love of God is commended toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us".
Now, here's an old Cowart Family joke:
When I was about five, my father came home with a chicken for Sunday dinner. A whole live chicken. He rung it's neck in the back yard, then cleaned it over the kitchen sink -- a process I found fascinating. As he worked I stood at his elbow full of questions and comments:
"What's that gooey lump?"
"Yuck. You don't eat that do you? What are those stringy red things?"
On and on I babbled till finally, my daddy got so exasperated at my pestering him that he said, "John, if you don't shut up I'm going to make you eat this chicken -- guts, feathers and all!"
In our family that expression became a byword to stand for "the total thing, all there is, completeness, nothing held back".
Well, that night in the car on Phillipps Highway I prayed my first Christian prayer, "Dear Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God and I want you to take complete charge of my life guts, feathers and all".
Not much emotion was involved, just a settled conviction that Jesus, the murdered and risen God, was now my master, my boss, my Lord.
One little problem...
At the time I was taking a civics course called Problems of American Democracy. One segment of this class was for every student to give a report on his or her particular religion. A few days before I'd already given my report on Hinduism. My talk had been acclaimed as outstanding by classmates and the teacher gave me an A+ grade...
What do you suppose I should do about that?
My stomach crawled when I asked the teacher if I could give an amended report. She said I could in a week or ten days, after everyone else in class finished their turn.
What a long week!
When you know that you absolutely positively have to eat a live frog, it's best not to spend too long looking at it beforehand.
But I had to eat that frog. Jesus was now my Lord and I'd publicly discounted Him. I had to retract just as publicly as I had denied.
Having Jesus Christ as a Lord is not all peace, security and joy.
I spent a miserable ten days waiting to eat the frog I'd hatched myself.
It's a shame that the only way I can learn humility is by being humiliated. But that was the deal. I'd said guts, feathers and all; and God took me up on it. If He is Lord, then He is Lord -- and John Cowart's precious sense of dignity can stand a little humiliating now and then.
Using a Bible passage from the Book of Joshua, I backed down from all my former statements... "Chose you this day whom you shall serve, whether they be the gods of your fathers which lay beyond the flood, or the gods of the Ammonites in whose land ye dwell... but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord".
At the end of my recanting from my former idol worship and admitting that Jesus is the Son of God, I asked if anyone else in class wanted to ask Christ to be their Lord too. Seven people came to kneel weeping at the front of the class. Word spread all over the school that something strange was happening in civics class. Some of the people who came forward were Jews, some Roman Catholics, some Baptists. It created a furor as the ranks of those confessing Jesus as Lord grew to 13 students.
The Lord was doing something. Claiming His own.
Well, I ended up in the United States Army as a private E-2, the lowest creature on the military's earth.
Word came that an old lady -- she must have been at least 30 -- got burned in an apartment fire and she needed blood. I had blood. I gave some for her. As I did, I felt that God would also have me give the nurse $10 to send her.
Word came down that General so and so wanted to see Private Cowart. Now in my lowly eyes a sergeant ranked as the forth person of the Trinity so I was scared to death to be called into a general's office...
Somewhere in Scripture it says words to the effect that when we follow Jesus we'll stand in the presence of kings; well, that may be so but we sure don't stand there as equals. I actually felt queasy waiting to go into the general's office. What had I done wrong enough to warrant the attention of a general?
The old lady who needed blood was a friend of his and he wanted to know why I'd sent a woman I'd never meet $10 out of the $78 a month that I was earning at the time as a soldier?
I told him that it was because Jesus is my Lord.
The General and I ended up kneeling on the floor beside his huge monogamy desk crying and praying together.
Now, I hope you realize that I'm compressing a lot of time into a brief presentation. All this stuff did not happen on the same day but over the span of my life as a Christian. In Scripture David the shepherd King only killed one lousy giant and that's the story that's told; but while he tended that herd of 30,000 sheep, David spent 99% of his time scraping his shoes. That's how I spend 99 % of my time too, but it's just the high points of a humdrum existence that make for a story.
Because I was an active scout as a boy, I felt God would have me serve him as scoutmaster of a troop in one of the worst slums of Washington, D.C. That's where I was the night Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated./
Mobs smashed liquor store windows and got rip roaring drunk. Thugs threw bricks. Looters grabbed tv sets and stereos. The mayor called out the military. Tear gas choked the air. The government closed down. Fear choked the city as rioters set fire to hundreds of stores..
The real trouble with the burning stores was that thousands of people, most of them poor elderly, lived upstairs over the stores. In a few days they were homeless and starving.
Christians and socially conscious people from all over flocked into the riot areas to help. So one day I found myself with a Quaker friend shoveling dead fish.
I mean really dead fish. Aromatically dead.
What happened was that when rioters burned a fish market, the wall to the freezer room partially collapsed cascading tons of fish into the alley. An old blind man was trapped upstairs over the smoldering ruin. He was trapped because some citizens had tried to steal the refrigerator out of his apartment but when they tried to get it down the stairs, the flames got too intense so they abandoned it wedged in the narrow stairwell. To get to the refrigerator, we had to shovel these rotting fish out of the way and the more we shoveled, the more fish cascaded out of the breach in the wall.
Serving the Lord is so glamorous.
A gang of looters with rifles came into the alley. One punched his gun into my belly button. "What's you doing here fat boy," he said.
I said the first thing that came to mind: "I'm serving God. What are you doing here?"
Right then, a squad of National Guardsmen appeared at the end of the alley. A gun battle erupted between them and the rioters. As the bullets from both sides zipped over our heads, the Quaker and I both hit the ground -- except it wasn't ground underfoot. It was rotting fish we borrowed in... My friend said, "Do you suppose this is what Jesus meant when he said He'd make us fishers of men".
And we lay there in the dead fish laughing with pure joy as buildings burned around us and both rioters and Guardsmen shot at us.
O the joy in serving Jesus.
Incidentally we did get the refrigerator moved and rescued the blind man... but was that why Jesus my Lord placed me in that awful spot? I doubt it. I think He had something even better in mind for me because it was in connection with the riots that I first met Ginny. And she is without doubt the best thing that ever happened to me in my whole life!
Lord, if it's all the same to you I'd prefer picking up girls at Club Med next time, OK?
Now I am just a common, ordinary, garden variety Christian. I hope you understand that practically all of God's dealings with me have simply involved my obeying the same obvious Scriptures that every other Christian does. You don't need a burning bush to tell you to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to care for the sick, or to comfort the feebleminded. A huge part of obeying Jesus as Lord means just doing the obvious duty right in front of your eyes; you don't hear any voice from Heaven, or see any beatific vision, or get a visit from an angel -- you just follow the Standing Orders posted on the wall we call the Bible.
There have been a few rare exceptions to that kind of divine instruction in my life; here's one of them:
One afternoon I was driving my tractor trailer across Ohio on Interstate 80 when I felt an urgent impression to take the next exit and drive north. That was crazy. My delivery schedule called for me to be in New York the next day and I was pressed for time. But the urge came on stronger and stronger. So I exited and drove north through miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles of nothing...
I came to a crossroads diner with a big parking lot and decided to stop for supper. I sat down and began my meal. Another truck driver entered the diner. He walked straight over to my table and said, "Hey, Driver, I'm going nuts and I've just got to talk with somebody. Would you mind if I sat here and just talked?"
It turns out that he had a wife in one town and a girlfriend in another and his marriage was breaking up and his girlfriend was making demands and the conflict was tearing him apart. (Neither woman sounded like a prize to me).
I listened for a long time then said just a few words about Jesus. The man accepted Christ as his Savior and Lord right on the spot.
As we left the diner he told me that he had been driving south on Interstate 75 when he felt an urge to exit the highway and drive east. He had no idea why he was to do this but the urge felt overwhelming. We thanked God for our meeting then turned our rigs around and drove back in opposite directions to the two Interstates we had left in the first place.
Here's something that strikes me as even odder:
Back here in Jacksonville every day I rode a city bus to school changing busses at Hemming Plaza. The drab unhappy faces of people in the park began to haunt me. I thought, Somebody ought to do something to tell these poor people about Jesus...
Well, in my experience anytime you think the phrase, "Somebody ought to... whatever", that's often the voice of God saying, "John Cowart, YOU ought to... whatever".
Who? Me? I thought. Look God, you may be Lord, but You are also crazy as a bedbug. If you expect me to get out there on the street corner and preach the gospel like some religious fanatic... then... then... Hey, I'm an Episcopalian, for Heaven's sake! We don't do stuff like that.
Even as I thought this, a Scripture popped into my mind:
"And at that time some of his disciples turned back and followed him no more. And turning to the twelve he said, will ye leave me also, But Peter answered and said, Lord, to whom should we go, You alone have the words of eternal life..."
Well Lord, if you absolutely insist... But I need a crutch. I can't go out there cold turkey, You're going to have to show me how...
Soon afterward in the park I met an evangelist from Australia, an Anglican evangelist with a group called Open Air Champagnes, sort of an Australian Salvation Army. He was in town for one afternoon and he preached in Hemming Plaza using an easel with simple line drawings to tell Bible stories. Something clicked. Immediately I understood that I could do that. So I made an easel (I didn't know you could buy them ready made) and I figured out how to do three or four Bible stories in drawings...
Can you imagine me preaching on the street? I sure can't.
My first story was about King David featuring a voluptuous stick-figure Bathsheba in her bathtub. A woman came up to me crying after I told the story and said she was waiting for a bus to take her to an abortion clinic. She'd decided to think it over for another day or two. Poor heart-broken child, whatever she eventually decided to do.
For several years after that, since I worked nights I went out to various parks and such places often.
As a rule I never spoke until someone asked me what it was I was drawing. They had to ask me and I'd never raise my voice, yet I spoke with hundreds of people about Jesus.
Once, I was painting my stick figures near Friendship Fountain on Jacksonville's beautiful Riverwalk when two prostitutes off a party yacht asked what I was painting a picture of; it felt odd to waste a picture on an audience of only two girls but I told them the Bible story and they walked away in tears.
A few minutes later, a man in work clothes walked across the park straight at me. "Say mister," he said, "I'm foreman of a work crew, a dozen guys, putting a roof on that building across the street and from up there we saw you drawing a picture for those girls. The guys sent me down off the roof to ask if you'd come over and draw a picture for them during their lunch break!"
How about that!
Once after the bar closed at 2 a.m., I ended up in the far corner of a bar parking lot painting a Bible story under a street lamp. A gang of guys in black leather jackets noticed and came over to ask what I was doing.
"Painting a picture that tells a story," I said.
"Painting in the dark. That's the dumbest thing I ever heard of," said one guy. "You cain't see shit in this light. Wait a second before you draw anymore."
He and several of the guys wheeled over their motorcycles in a semicircle and cut the engines with their headlights pointed at the easel. I drew Bible stories for them the rest of the night. We held an impromptu prayer meeting at dawn with 18 motorcycle people holding hands and praying in a circle.
Sometimes, Sam Thompson, a Christian friend of mine who was born blind, used to go out in the parks with me and read his Braille Bible aloud, a thing which fascinated people. But more than anything Sam wanted to be able to draw a picture to illustrate a Bible verse. The idea obsessed him. Sam, who had no idea what a color was or what anything looked like, wanted to draw a picture. Ridiculous. Impossible... but the two of us prayed to do the impossible.
God sent us a simple idea.
Sam could not see but he had a sharp mind and he could feel things. So we took different colored strings of knitting yawn and tacked them to a long board in a certain order. Then we nailed short nails into the board leaving the nail heads sticking up. The nail heads formed patterns so that Sam could take a strand of yawn and weave it among the nailheads to form simple pictures!
I was amazed. Who but the Lord God could use a blind man to draw illustrations of Bible verses?
As a volunteer for several years I taught Bible lessons at a sort of half-way house for drug addicts at Jax Beach. The great parades held on the day the beaches officially open for the summer draw thousands and thousands of people; Someone ought to...
For five years running I designed parade floats illustrating Bible verses: Four years in a row our floats won trophies as outstanding in our division; and one year we won the "Most Outstanding Float in the Parade" award.
Each year we'd park these floats along the beach and use them as platforms to give out tracts and for me to draw the Bible pictures and tell stories.
The odd thing about this venture is that we were competing against commercially sponsored floats with huge budgets. Operating on a shoestring we constructed our floats out of materials found in the city dump. The float named "Most Outstanding" cost a total of $5 cash.
That brings me to the fact that Jesus is also Lord of my money -- or He would be if I had any.
For whatever reason -- I'd prefer to think it's because of my commitment to Christ rather than because of my own ineptitude -- Anyhow, for whatever reason I have spent most of my life in abject poverty. I don't mean not having enough cash to pay my bills; I mean in actual want. Not knowing if there'd be anything for supper.
Incidentally, right this moment I'm in better financial shape than I've ever been in before in my life, so I'm not poor mouthing but trying to accurately convey information about this side of Jesus' Lordship in my life, OK?
But for years I supported a family of six on less than a third of what the U.S. government says is poverty level for a family of four. just so you'll know we are talking about -- that's an income of less than $7,000 a year.
Because of the grace of Jesus Christ we have never lacked for anything... 247 pounds -- Do I look like a guy whose missed many meals?
But once Ginny and I had to get up at 4 a.m. and go along the road collecting beer cans to turn in at the recycle center for cash enough to buy the children milk and cereal for breakfast.
Once we went without lights or water in the house for months because I could not pay the utility bills. To get water, at night I would take a beach towel and strung empty plastic milk jugs by the handles to carry water home from a public fountain on my back.
Public fountain? Yes. Because of some 18when-ever law, the city of Jacksonville is required to keep open a certain number of public water spigots -- blue stand pipes you see on certain street corners; I'd learned of their existence when I worked for Mosquito Control. Because I felt ashamed to be seen in such poverty by my neighbors, I'd sneak out late at night and fill our jugs with water for the next day.
Why did God put me in such awful straights?
I really don't know except that years afterward one of my neighbors told me, "Thank God for that time your water was cut off. When ours got cut off I remembered seeing you sneak out to that fountain at night so I knew where it was and I could go out and get water just like you did!"
And here I thought that no one had seen me.
Even though I'm fat now, getting basic food loomed large in my thoughts for years. Some gentle soul once helped us out by giving me a five pound bag of rice. Praise God!
When Ginny opened the bag, she found the rice full of weevils, tiny black lobster-shaped bugs.
I did not like it but God had prepared me for this. Remember that my hobby was building model ships and that I had once worked sorting mosquito lava? Well, talents gained in those activities proved handy now. I poured the rice out on the table and used a magnifying glass and tweezers to pick the weevils out of the five pounds of rice so we could eat it.
Got all of them...
Most of them...
Many of them...
Some of them?
For several summers recently I fed my family by going shrimping practically every night to catch food for the following day... We're not talking Forest Gump here, but hand casting a net to glean eight or ten shrimp at a cast. That's me: John Cowart, a food-gather in our High-Tech Society.
Why would the Good Lord treat His servant in such a shabby manner?
That question made me mad at God.
I'd be out there in the dark of night on a dock casting my net and raging at God. "Hey, Lord, other men have to drink heavily to get in such sad straights. What are You trying to do to me?"
Well, a servant is no better than his Lord, is he? Foxes have their dens. Bird's have their nests. But the Son of Man had no place to even lay his head, did He?
Why would God have me out there covered with shrimp meal, that's ground-up fish guts which shrimpers use for chum. So tired I could faint?
One night as I raged at God, a man came out on the dock and after a while he revealed to me that he was up late worrying because he'd been in a law suit gone bad and planned to shoot his lawyer the next morning. I talked to him about "Forgive me my sins, just as I forgive those who sin against me". He changed his mind about killing the lawyer.
Another night a policeman arrived at the dock. After we talked, he told me that because of trouble in his marriage, he planned to eat his gun at the end of his shift. He left the dock with hope.
One summer night, I borrowed our church van to drive to the dock. A different cop saw the words on the side of the van and stopped me to tell me that he'd been sitting in his patrol car just wishing that somebody would happen by to talk with him about God and about the problem of evil. So when he saw the words "Church of the Good Shepherd" (that’s all it says) on the side of the van, he just knew God had sent him someone. We talked all night and when I finally got to the dock, I caught more shrimp in an hour than I usually wound catch in eight!
What I'm saying is that when Jesus is Lord, He uses us for His own ends, for His own convenience... and that joy is a by-product of His Lordship, not the purpose of it.
No matter how great or tough things are for us, He accomplishes His own ends. Our life has purpose and meaning. Nothing about it is haphazard.
Before I leave the subject of finances, let me mention briefly that about six years ago our pastor, Jim Dannals, , told me and Ginny that we ought to buy a home near the church.. On that particular day, we were living in HUD housing and our cash assets totaled 79¢.
Today, through the goodness of God and His people, we are living in our own 3-bedroom home with new appliances, a huge lawn full of flowers and a swimming pool!
But for about 20 years we did live in HUD housing in a slum area. Rent ranged from $59 to $107 a month and we were hard put to raise that much.
Here's something odd:
Most of the time we were living in the HUD housing, I was writing newspaper and magazine articles and selling one now and then.
I recall writing by candlelight when we were without lights. I also recall writing on a yellow legal pad while laying on my belly on the floor beside my father's bed as he died of cancer in St. Luke's Hospital; I was writing a piece on St. Patrick of Ireland.
That particular article (and a few others I wrote) was translated into 11 foreign languages and transcribed into Braille. It was also used as a radio script.
Through articles and books written in that HUD housing, about 12 million people world-wide have had the chance to wrap coffee grounds in my work.
While my writing never achieved any financial success -- for instance, an article that took me six or eight weeks to research and write would pay about $50 -- some of that work does appear to have touched people; I have letters from readers in Germany, Japan, Tiawan, all over.
A death-row inmate wrote to me from Uganda; a discouraged missionary from Costa Rica; an oil company geologist read one of those articles 3 years after it was published while he waited in a dentist's office in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (he called me long-distance), A lonely kid wrote to me from a farm in Nowhere, Kansas...
So... Was it worth following Jesus' direction even though it cost me and my family a little personal inconvenience?
Sometimes I honestly don't think so; but then again, sometimes I think it was.
Jim Elliot, a missionary murdered by Auca Indians in Equator, once said, "No one in Heaven will have one word of complaint about anything he lacked here on earth."
So you don't have to worry about having to give up this or that trifle if you allow Jesus to be absolute Lord of your life.
I think Jim Elliot was right. Personally, all things considered, I have never given up anything for Jesus; it's all been gain.
Now, don't get the idea that making Jesus your Lord automatically inducts you into an order of Saints, giving you a life filled with peace, obedience and freedom from sin. It doesn't.
Even though Jesus is my Lord, I have committed, am committing right now, or am likely to commit before all the returns are in, every squalid, nasty sin that takes my fancy.
I still say "No" to God Almighty more often than I say "Yes".
That brings me to two final incidents in my life with Christ that I need to tell about in order to give you even a hint of a balanced report:
While working at the Library of Congress, I met a young woman named Lucille. She was a clerk there.
One Friday, Lucille told me she wanted to talk over a problem that was bothering her. I knew I should make the time to listen to her problem; I just knew I should. But I did not want to. I was working through some problems of my own and I put her off. I told her that we'd have lunch on Monday and we could talk then.
Monday, a co-worker said, "John, did you hear about Lucille? Yesterday at the shopping mall she had a heart attack and died. Yep, between one step and the next she just dropped in her tracks. Such a young woman too."
I did not obey God's prompting when it came. When the LORD give you an order to obey, it's not subject to discussion and negotiation for obedience at your personal convenience. Could something I would have said helped Lucille be prepared to step into Eternity? I'll never know till my own Judgment Day...
I don't know the other woman's name. She was elderly. Ancient. I saw her as I walked to work one morning. I'd left home early to I could have a time of prayer in my work area before anyone else arrived.
This white-haired old lady tottered along carrying two heavy suitcases. She was headed in the direction of the train station a few blocks away.
I knew I should go up immediately and carry that woman's bags to the train for her. This came to me as an urgent impression. There was no mistake about what I ought to do.
"But," the devil whispered in my ear, "If you go off doing Boy Scout stuff like that, you won't have time to pray. It's only two blocks to the station, she'll make it ok. You have more important things to do than..."
I turned and went on to work. My prayers were ashes because I knew that I'd come to an irrevocable turning-point in life and I'd chosen the wrong thing. I'd missed something of unimaginable importance because I'd chosen not to obey God.
One Prophet tells us that, "To obey it better than to sacrifice".
Why is that?
We chose the sacrifice. We decide what and when and where and how much. We initiate the whole thing.
On the other hand, when we obey, the Lord God initiates the action.
My normal course is to make my plans and then pray, "God bless what I have in mind"
When Christ is Lord of our lives, there is only His plan and our question is the same as Saint Paul's, "Lord, What will You have me to do?"
Think about it: Is there any reason that you should not allow Jesus Christ to become the absolute Lord of your life -- Guts, feathers and all --right now, today?
John W. Cowart
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