My grandfather was a doctor who started his practice in the small town of Philippi, West Virginia, where my mother was born in 1934. Even today Philippi only has a population of 2870, so he was a true small town doctor in the early 1930′s. Later he moved his young family to Kokomo, Indiana, where mom grew up, married, and I was born and raised.
One day when I was 17 and visiting my grandparents, granddad used my visit as an excuse to eat his favorite snack; a bowl of Breyers vanilla ice cream – the kind with specks of vanilla bean. As we sat down to our bowls at the kitchen table he began telling me about beginning his practice in Philippi:
“One day Mrs. Richardson called and made an appointment with your grandma to come to the office because she was sick, but she didn’t show up for the appointment that afternoon. (My grandma was a nurse and my grandfather’s assistant at that time) I was worried she was too sick to come, so I walked to her home and knocked on the screen door.
It was summer and back then we didn’t have air conditioning, we just opened the doors and windows. After I knocked on the front screen door Mrs. Richardson said ‘Hello. Who is it?’, so I replied, ‘Mrs. Richardson, this is Dr. Good. You didn’t keep your appointment so I wanted to stop by and check on you. Are you alright?’”
He paused for each of us to take a bite of rapidly melting ice cream, and I became puzzled, as he was holding back a smile and his eyes glistened as he remembered: “She said again, ‘Hello, who is it?’. So this time I said a little louder, ‘Mrs. Richardson, this is Dr. Good. How are you feeling, do you need help?’
“By this time I thought she was delirious from fever, or maybe too weak and disoriented to respond properly, so I was very concerned for her. I quickly ran around to the back door at the kitchen, and it had a screen door like the front. The kitchen was empty except for a parrot in a cage, so I knocked on the door and peered through the screen with my hands cupped around my eyes as I called out quite worried, “‘Mrs. Richardson, this is Dr. Good. Do you need help?’” (I was on the edge of my seat as now I was worried for her).
But granddad started to laugh so hard he had to wipe tears from his eyes, leaving me confused. I remember suddenly realizing I may not have many times like this with him left, so etched every detail into my young mind, as I tried to guess the reason for his laughter. Grandma made herself busy putting away dishes to allow him time to tell the story, barely containing her giggles, which I suspected came as much from enjoying him laugh as much as remembering the story.
Hardly containing himself he continued: “John, as I pressed my face against the screen door the parrot talked to me in a loud and clear voice: ‘Hello, who is it?’”
And with that we all burst out laughing as he stated the obvious; “I had been talking to a parrot the whole time!” For me, the laughing was partly due to the story, partly due to the site of grandma and granddad laughing so hard together, she touched his shoulder gently over the shared memory, and suddenly I felt like a by-stander privileged to witness something marvelous and poignant, and which would never come again.
Less than 2 years later grandma died unexpectedly and he lost the will to live. I submitted that story to Reader’s Digest for publishing in one of their humor columns, but I was privileged to hear it directly from him. And Mrs. Richardson? He later found out she had begun to feel better so walked to town for some shopping but hadn’t bothered to cancel her appointment.
Know the Lord, or just know the Word?
My grandfather thought he knew Mrs. Richardson’s will because of her word. She had called my grandparent’s house, talked to grandma, described her symptoms, and made an appointment. Then grandma told granddad what Mrs. Richardson had said. He knew Mrs. Richardson by her word relayed through someone else.
Some Christians know the Lord in the same way my granddad thought he knew Mrs. Richardson. An intermediary, a go-between, has told them about Him, telling them what He said, so they think they know Him for they have His Word. But when a crisis comes when they really need to hear from Him, well….
My grandfather discovered he didn’t know Mrs. Richardson’s voice or else he wouldn’t have been talking to her parrot. So too when believers try to follow what they think is God’s Word in a crisis or time of decision, they discover they really don’t know His voice – and can’t imagine why He is being so mean to them, or why faith isn’t working or why He seems distant and uncaring. But they don’t know Him, they know His Word, what others say about Him, some teaching about principles and concepts. But they don’t know Him.
How did they do it?
Christians in our day are doing things backwards from what the first century believers did, yet they turned their world upside down in a matter of years while we find ourselves having less influence in our world with each passing year. New Greek and Roman believers in Jesus didn’t know a lot about Jewish culture, they didn’t know the Old Testament, and the New Testament hadn’t yet been written.
What if all your Bibles and teaching cd’s, MP3′s and reference books were suddenly non-existent? What if you had no chapter and verse in your memory because there was no chapter and verse to memorize? Answer: You would be faced with getting to know the One who lives in your spirit.
Today we put all our efforts into the written Word and knowing Him by the Word. While that is well and good of course, the first century believers didn’t have the New Testament – they got to know His presence within. He was their guide. He was their instructor. He was their leader and help in time of crisis and decision. There were no scrolls to turn to chapter and verse, there was only Christ in them, the hope of glory. They HAD to know Him. We seek principles, they sought God.
Classic commentators believe Mark’s and Matthew’s gospels were written as late as 66-70 AD, after the deaths of Peter and Paul and some 40 years after the cross, though some believe Mark and then Matthew were written in the 30′s or 40′s AD, and some say the 80-90 AD time frame. But those are just 2 gospels out of the whole of what became our New Testament.
Luke ends Acts with Paul in Rome in a rented house, around the year 62 AD so we know Acts was written after 62, and Acts is just part 2 of the gospel of Luke, each originally written to a Roman Christian named Theophilus who wanted to know about this Christ who now lived in his born-again spirit. (Luke 1:3, Acts 1:1)
Peter and Paul both died around 66 AD, and John didn’t write his gospel, his 3 letters, and The Revelation until the late 90′s or early 100′s AD. There was no New Testament for Christians to turn to!
So how did new believers in the first century know God if not by His written Word? It was by knowing HIM. Conversationally, naturally, walking through life with Him. If they needed to know about what the Father had for their future, there was no prayer line to call, no hotline to call where for $20 per month they could call and get a personal prophecy.
There was no Christian conference on deliverance, no conference on getting your kids and family saved, no bookstore with a theology aisle or the study of Old Testament history and culture. They had no resource except the God who lived in them. And that was enough to turn the Roman Empire upside down!
Think of it!
When Paul told the Ephesian believers to no more be ‘children tossed to and fro and carried about with every new doctrine coming to them by cunning and deceitful men, but to speak the truth in love and grow up in Him in all things’, how were they going to do that without a chapter and verse to stand on? (Ephesians 4:14-15)
When Paul wrote to the Romans, educating them about the Jewish law, and told about how part of him wanted to do right and part of him wanted to sin, and how to overcome sin by walking in the newness of life in Christ, how do you think they were able to do that without chapter and verse, a prayer line to call in time of temptation, and no page to turn to for ‘standing on the Word’?
They had to know the Lord inside. Theirs was a determined faith. A purposeful faith. They had backbone, they knew Christ lived in them made a majority in any situation, even in the face of martyrdom. No devil, no Caesar, could separate them from the fact they knew, they felt, they walked with God who lived inside them. They had no chapter and verse on which to stand, they knew His presence inside them.
They had to walk in His presence in them, for there was no other way to know Him. Are you too dependent on what others say of the Father and Lord? What if you had no Bible, no Christian TV, no teaching at all other than the testimonies of those around you as to what the Lord has done in their lives, and your own memories of His faithfulness in your life?
So maybe for a season be like Gilligan and the castaways: No phone, no lights no motor car, not a single luxury, like Robinson Crusoe, as primitive as can be…set aside our modern helps, and learn to depend on knowing Him, living in His presence, switching your attention back and forth through your day from the world around you, to Him on the inside, and then back again…and converse, offer a thought, ask ‘What do you think of this Father?’…and tune your ear to His still, small, voice floating up from your spirit.
And never again lose your single mindedness of first and foremost knowing Him who lives in your spirit; let all else just be support, not the primary focus of Christ in you, the hope of glory.
New subject next week, blessings,