Prayers abound today for our many listeners who have been battling the fierce rains and their aftermath in So. California. May you be safe with minimal damage, or, better yet, none at all!
Today’s podcast is an atypical one—more of a “personal remembrance” than any of our previous offerings. I pray it will be a blessing to you. Again, thanks for sharing The Church’s One Foundation, and another warm welcome to our new listeners who have joined us this past month or so.
Stay warm and stay strong through this winter season!
God’s Inquiring Gardener
If memory serves, it was in June of 1977 that I was cast to play an unassuming, Illinois blacksmith, who in 1837 designed and built a steel plow (versus a traditional cast-iron one), his source material a discarded and broken, steel saw blade. In so doing, he turned one man’s trash into a remarkable success that eventually became the global, multi-billion-dollar John Deere & Company.
Without checking the specific market shares, John Deere seemed to be at the top of its game back in 1977, with the domestic market and burgeoning foreign competition trailing behind. Presently, Mahindra Tractor Brand, an Indian company, is the #1 selling tractor in the world, with John Deere a strong second, and still retaining its #1 position as the world's leading, farm-machinery manufacturer.
After three weeks of rehearsal in August, preceded in July by a blistering heatwave, the terrorizing blackout of NYC on July 13/14, and an elusive, murderous “Son of Sam” still roaming the streets, I and my five fellow thespians were more than happy to bid the city adieu and fly off to the pastoral, corporate grounds of John Deere in Moline, Illinois. For a week, we would sing and dance our hearts out for the top executives and sales reps from around the country, the early curtain going up on the first show at 8:30 a.m.—an obscenely undignified hour for we merry band of “party-hearty” actors.
And “party-hearty” we did! Those high paying “industrial shows,” as they were called, were more than bread and butter for many an aspiring actor, paying as much as three to four thousand dollars a week, a tidy sum in those days that could keep a struggling artist (and his family) afloat for several months. After a late night of revelry with my convivial colleagues, I suffered through one of those early morning shows with a splitting headache. During the 30-minute break before the ten o’clock show, I found myself walking aimlessly around corporate’s impeccably manicured grounds—puffing on a cigarette—protocol, in those days, for the young actor working within the theatrical zeitgeist of Marlon Brando and Jimmy Dean.
The headache soon subsided, but deep down a pain remained. Predictably, in 1969, I had closed the door on Christ and my faith upon entering the permissive portals of the theatre, convinced, at the green age of 24, in my own strength and ability to handle any obstacles that might come my way; that is, until when I was 32, God chose in the spring of ‘77 to give my wife and me our second daughter—a small, precious girl with Down Syndrome. I soon, and perhaps for the first time ever, was at my “wit’s end.” And I was miserable.
Taking another drag on my cigarette, I walked by a groundskeeper who was watering a lush patch of green foliage. Suddenly, he turned around and called out to me:
“Hey, are you a Christian?”
I stopped, nonplussed: “I beg your pardon?”
“Are you a Christian?” he asked again.
“Why…why…why do you ask me that?” I retorted defensively.
“Oh, ‘cause I heard you whistling a song.”
“Really, and what song was that?”
“You were singing, ‘The Savior is waiting to enter your heart.’”
“I was?” I asked incredulously.
“Yeah, you know, ‘The Savior is waiting to enter your heart, O how He wants to come in. There's nothing in this world to keep you apart, what is your answer to Him?’”
I don’t recall our saying much more. Unwittingly, I must have been whistling that melody, which I knew from my youth. There may have been a few more words exchanged, but I walked away as this … this mysterious gardener put his tools into a motorized cart, headed up a narrow roadway, waved at me as he drove by, and veered off to the right at a fork in the road, disappearing into the trees’ morning shadows.
I stood there as more unsolicited lyrics came to mind:
If you'll take one step toward the Savior, my friend,
You'll find His arms open wide.
Receive Him and all of your darkness will end,
Within your heart He'll abide.
A quickening conviction gripped my heart and I began to pray: “I’ve been going down the wrong path, dear Lord. Forgive me. I want to follow you. Take me … all of me … I want to follow you.”
At that moment, it seemed as if heaven’s floodgates opened and the oppressive burden that I’d been carrying around for years was swept away in an instant. It was as St. Peter describes it: a “…joy unspeakable….” After dodging and diverting his “still, small voice” for years, I had come home, and I sensed his loving arms fully embracing this prodigal son. Yes, my friends, his “…Spirit…bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God!” (Romans 8:16, NMB). From that moment on, nothing has ever been the same—through good times and bad times (at a later show, I severely sprained my ankle!), whether on a straight or circuitous path, Christ never fails, and He never fails to “make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
I often find myself wondering about God’s inquiring gardener. What if he’d never turned around and asked me that question? What courage it must have taken for him to do so. I keep thinking he had to sing in a church choir to know that old Ralph Carmichael song verbatim.* He appeared to be in his late 30s, early 40s. I wonder, is he still alive? Might he be part of that “great cloud of witnesses” looking down from above, encouraging me and others on in our faith? This I do know—I anticipate greeting him in the “New Jerusalem” with a heavenly hug of thanks for witnessing so boldly to me on that surprising summer morning in Moline, Illinois.
In many ways, this “personal remembrance” is my way of asking myself, “D. Paul, when was the last time you’ve asked someone if they’re a Christian?” Oh, perhaps not so bluntly as my Arcadian angel, but as an opening word of inquiry, of concern, of encouragement to the many people whom I daily interact with—my friends at the grocery store, the bank, the auto shop, the dry cleaners, the gas station—an appropriate word that reflects the “good news” and, when anointed by the Spirit, points them to that fork in the road, and to Jesus Christ. How often I have failed to do so.
My brothers and sisters, as followers of Christ, may we, like that obedient gardener, put aside all hesitation, doubt, timidity, fear, and “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel [urge] them to come in,” (Luke 14:23, KJB), knowing that “the fields…are ripe for harvest” (John 4:35, NIV), and if we but say a word in Jesus’ name, “…it will always produce fruit. It will accomplish all [He] wants it to, and it will prosper everywhere [He] sends it” (Isaiah 55:11, NLT).
And even as it was true in 1977, so is it true in 2024:
Time after time He has waited before,
And now He is waiting again.
To see if you're willing to open the door,
Oh, how He wants to come in.
* “The Savior Is Waiting,” Music and Lyrics by Ralph Carmichael, 1958, © Trio Music Co., Inc., Lark Music Inc. (To hear a very cool guitar version of The Savior Is Waiting, check out Walter Rodrigues Jr. on youtube.com
The Church’s One Foundation IS Jesus Christ Her Lord!
An early promotional piece for John Deere: