Go Home and Read It 100 Times...
My life was a mess back then. I was a high school kid in the 60's. That meant, like too many teenagers in my generation, if you remember the 60's... you weren't there! Actually, what I remember was the hurt. The fear. The anger I carried. The failed attempts at trying to overcome the hurt I'd already experienced. For one thing, I was on my way to becoming an alcoholic like my father—and I hadn't even met him! He had left my mother and us three boys. I was two months old when he took off. I hated my father. And hadn't ever met him.
Then everything began to change. It happened when one of the most incredible people I've ever met walked onto the practice football field at Arcadia High School in Scottsdale, Arizona. No one came to football "practices" except a few cheerleaders who were paid and perhaps once in a great while a parent.
But there was Doug Barram, our Young Life leader. I didn't go to Young Life yet, but after meeting Doug, a former college offensive tackle at Chico State, and hearing so much about him from my friends, I started attending "club."
Club meant fun. Cute girls. Skits. Cute girls. Football friends. Cute girls. Guitars and singing. Cute girls. You can see what I was looking for when I first attended. But going to Club also meant that at the end of all the fun, there was a message.
I know most people think that EVERYONE has heard the Gospel. That everyone knows Bible stories and Jesus stories. But they haven't. I hadn't. Amazingly, hearing about this guy named Jesus became a huge part of why I'd go to club. The way Doug talked about Jesus was like he KNEW Him. Really knew him. And that it really made a difference in his life. Every day.
Then it happened. The first night that Almighty God showered His "Blessings" upon me... as a Believer. It happened at the movie theater above. The Kachina Theater. I couldn't even find a color picture of the place. But I see it in my mind's eye like it stood in high school.
It's gone now. Torn down for a resturaunt and shops. It was on Scottsdale Road after all in what is now some really pricy real estate. But back then it was "the" theater if you were a kid in Scottsdale. And a Billy Graham movie was playing.
Doug Barram asked five of us guys on the football team, and a couple of our friends who weren't on the team, to go to the movie with him. After the film, a man in a suit got up and went to a microphone, which wasn't all that unusual. After all, businessmen wore suits in the '60's, even at night and even in the summer in Arizona. What was unusual, for me at least, was hearing an "invitation" to come to know Jesus. To ask Him into my life and heart.
What I remember most was how he started his short talk. He stood there for a long time in silence. I wondered if he'd forgotten his speech. Then he said, "Do you want to change the pictures of your life story?" That's all it took. That's when God's Spirit graciously opened my eyes to see Him.
The more that man in the suit talked, the more I kept looking down the row at Doug Barram. The more I looked at Doug, the more I saw Jesus. I'm not sure when I meet Jesus if he'll be 6'3" and a former offensive lineman in build. But back then, I wasn't reading the Bible. I was reading Doug Barram. Watching his love for Jesus was so REAL. Watching his love for his kids that was so incredible to see. Watching him come to my games and wrestling matches... because he loved kids like me who didn't know Jesus... even though he could have been doing so many other things.
On that night when the man in the suit asked if anyone wanted to "accept Jesus," to come down front, it only took one more look at Doug. Then a quick look at my twin brother, Jeff. Then down the row at Chuck Savale, who played linebacker alongside me. And on down the row. And as a group, six of the seven of us all got up and walked down front. We all gave our lives to Jesus. And all us drinkers and fighters and kids who were lost as a goose. But now a whole team amazed that there was this guy named Jesus who'd given His life for them.
A lot of time has passed since that night at the Kachina Theater. Doug Barram is no longer a Young Life leader. But he's STILL perhaps the clearest picture of Jesus lived out in someone's life I've ever seen.
As if it wasn't enough that Jesus saved me that night. Redeemed me. Freed me from guilt and shame. Pointed me towards Him all my life. Doug Barram, Jesus' friend, handed each of us a Bible when we got down there. He'd brought 7 and I'm sure he's still praying for our 7th friend. But each guy who came down front got a Bible. And each guy was given a verse to read in that Bible by Doug.
When he handed me mine, he told me, "John, go home and read Hebrews 13:5b - which means the second half of the verse, 100 times." He had the page dog-eared and the verse underlined. He showed me where it was and read it to me to make sure I knew what it said and how to get back to where it was in the Bible. The verse read, "For He (Jesus) Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'"
So I went home with my twin brother, now my brother in Christ, too, as if we weren't already close enough. And that night I opened a Bible for the first time.
I read Hebrews 13:5b once. Then twice. Then the third time. I kept reading... twenty-five times.... fifty times... sixty times... What I didn't realize (and didn't find out until later) was that Doug had meant, "Go home and read that verse... a lot." But what he had said was to go home and read it 100 times. So I thought he was serious. And that night was also the first time in my life I found out how the Bible, through God's Holy Spirit, begins to read YOU.
I had been so broken about my Dad bailing out... so hurt about my mom being so sick, which added to the loneliness with her having to be gone so much with all her medical problems. I was lonely. Angry. Hurt. Lost. And yet things had changed that night. When I got to about number 64 or 65 of reading, "For He (Jesus) Himself has said, I will never leave you nor forsake you." I began to cry. I hadn't cried for years. I sobbed. I was totally confused as to why I was crying, but it seemed like forever when I finally stopped. I had been shaken to the very core of my being.
As if God's Blessing of a new life and my being a "new creature" weren't enough, there was that "Blessing" linked with reading Hebrews 13:5 100 times. I knew—at my very heart of hearts—and have NEVER forgotten that Jesus has said to me, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."