Epicenter 1 - God Seeks Us

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I was watching this video, it’s pretty cool. It starts off with a girl laying in her backyard smiling at the camera, then it starts zooming out—have you seen it? It starts zooming out so you can see her neighborhood, then her city…

So, the girl, then the Googleplex compound in San Francisco, then the city, and the bay, the west coast, the whole earth. That girl is still down there laying in the grass—you and me are somewhere down there, too. Just floating in space. The moon. Other planets—Venus, Mars, Mercury, the Sun, Jupiter, Saturn—Uranus (my favorite planet name)—Neptune, poor little Pluto who can’t decide what he is. Then there’s Voyager 1, that’s what we’re getting some of these images from. Then it gets crazy cool—we keep going—all the way out so we can see the Milky Way Galaxy. You and me and the girl in the grass are on some tiny blue spec somewhere in there—it’s crazy to think about isn’t it? But we keep going—now our entire galaxy’s just one of many galaxies and they’re as small as a spec. This video goes to some unimaginable 10 billion light-years snapshot of the universe. Somewhere in there, smaller than a subatomic particle is our planet—with you and me and all our drama, all the things that make up our life.

God’s Eye. I wonder if God ever zooms all the way out and looks at us from this perspective?

I can’t believe I get to be here with you all at Epicenter! This is gonna be such a great time. I can’t believe they picked me out of the billions of people on earth to come hang out with you for this. I still can’t believe they really picked me for this—I keep waiting for someone to walk out and say, “Just kidding! We just wanted to see the look on your face.” And they’d get that really pretty mean girl from school to be the one to come out here and break it to me in the worst possible way. “Ha! Now get down off that stage before you embarrass yourself and ruin everything!”

Is someone sneaking up behind me? I don’t wanna look.

Life is awkward. No one ever picked me for anything like this. I was always the last kid picked for any team—like it’d be down to just me and the team captains would flip a coin over who had to take me. I was a fat kid who lived inside my own head most of the time. They called me Fat Frank—and I hated it so much that I would chase them and try to murder them—and I might have actually killed someone if I could have caught them. But I couldn’t, because I was too fat. Everybody say, “Awe!”

One day I was sitting in the back of the class, just minding my own business, drawing pictures of race cars in my notebook—and I sneezed. Have you ever sneezed and projected a tube of snot out of your nose that is so thick and gross that it just hangs there and you don’t know what to do with it? I’m in the back row and I stand up—the snot’s just hanging there like a rope, dangling, I’m leaning over trying to keep it from touching my clothes—I start walking slowly toward the door, which was at the front of the room. Everyone is silently watching me in horror, people are starting to gag. Snot my best moment. Feel free to groan.

But between the sixth and seventh grade, two things happened that were pretty awesome. Pretty much over the summer I grew to my adult height and got skinny—I really was just short for my weight. And my family moved to a new town—I got to start over.

First day in the new school. I’m the new kid in town. I’m taller than everyone else, I got my new school clothes on, new shoes. I see a cute girl when I go into my homeroom and smile at her, she smiles back. This is gonna be good. I’m sitting there at my desk and all of a sudden I notice that I hadn’t cut my fingernails in a while—what if someone notices my gross fingernails—this is gonna ruin everything! So I start trying to bite them off. I had never chewed my fingernails before—clearly, since they were like crazy long and dirty and disgusting. I’m biting them and the dirt is crunching in my teeth. So stupid. It took me ten years to stop biting my nails after that.

The next day the cute girl was laying her head on her desk when we came back from P.E.— I didn’t think anything of it—but there was a smell in the room. A few minutes later some of the kids were standing up and moving away from her. Someone said, “Uh, she threw up on her desk!” She had puked on her desk and was trying to hide it so no one would know. I felt so bad for her. I kinda knew how she felt.

Life is awkward. It’s full of gross and embarrassing moments. We all have a story, and when we’re in the middle of it, it’s pretty hard to see where it’s going. It’s pretty hard to know where we are. The thing is, God has a really great story for you to live. But, sometimes it’s hard to see anything good about it when we got a tube of snot coming out of our nose or when we’re hiding vomit with our face.

VBS. But I didn’t know anything about God. I didn’t grow up going to church, I didn’t know anything about Jesus. One time a lady who lived down the street did a VBS, a Vacation Bible School, for all the kids in our neighborhood—she had it in her tiny living room. She invited us over and gave us chocolate chip cookies and cherry Kool-Aid. It was just me and four or five other kids, I don’t remember much about it but I do remember that she told me Jesus loves me and had all of us repeat a prayer after her. She said that God the Father loved me so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to save me. She said If I ever wanted to talk to God, all I have to do is think of it like talking to my dad.

But that was a problem because my dad didn’t like me. He really didn’t. I remember being a kid and just sitting there staring at him, watching him light cigarettes with his chrome lighter and drinking Falstaff beer out of a can—he burned me with the red hot tip of his cigarette once, I still have the scar on my right hand. I would just sit there, searching his face, wondering why he didn’t like me.

After VBS was over, I was riding my bike with the other kids and a couple of the mean girls told me I was going to hell because I wasn’t a Christian. I said, “I am too a Christian! I was at the lady’s house, I prayed too! I ate the cookies and drank the Kool-Aid!” But they all went to church together so they were pretty sure I wasn’t one of them. Mean girls are the worst. Don’t be a mean girl.

Grandma’s House. My dad was a violent alcoholic. One night my mom took me and my brother to grandma’s house—we didn’t know why but mom was upset. While my brother and I were asleep in the back room and my mom was hiding in a closet—my dad showed up with a shotgun, pounded on the door, demanded to be let in. When my grandma wouldn’t let him in, he blasted the front door with the gun and forced his way inside. The damage from the gun sprayed shotgun pellets all over the side of the refrigerator—for years I looked at the dents on the side of that old fridge. Fortunately, dad was really drunk—my grandma and my aunt were able to wrestle the gun away from him and keep him away from us until the police arrived. He was arrested and sent to a psychiatric institution. I never saw him again. Crazy right?

Life can be terrifying. We’re all living a story, and God has a really great story for us, but it can be really hard to see where it’s going when you’re in the middle of it. The difference between a happy ending and a tragedy is just where you stop telling it.

The nice VBS lady had told me that I should think of God as my heavenly father. But if God wanted me to think of Him as my father, and if He wanted that to be a good thing—He should have given me a better dad, you know?

And then He did.

One day my mom called me home for lunch. She had a way of standing outside the front door and yelling my name—screeching my name—I mean it could pierce through concrete walls and thunderstorms—range of up to fifteen miles.

I came home and there was a man sitting at our kitchen table. “Frankie, I have someone I want you to meet. This is Bob Hart. He’s gonna be your new daddy.” As if it was the most normal thing in the world.

I sat down at the table and mom put a plate of polish sausage and mashed potatoes in front of me. I stared at this stranger. Nothing else was said, just the squishy sounds of people eating in silence. I pushed the food around on my plate and made up the missing dialogue in my imagination. I watched him shovel food into his mouth and imagined him saying things like, “I like to eat mashed potatoes. I put them on my fork and then put them in my mouth. Mmmm. Then I take a bite of sausage. First I dip it in gravy and then I chew it up.” The thing about strangers is they usually seem strange.

But he was everything my first dad was not. He was kind, patient, quick to laugh, and he knew how to work hard. He knew how to fix things. He knew how to love my mom and he knew how to be a good dad. God used him to rescue my family from poverty and violence—of course none of us knew anything about the God who was making all this happen yet. This was a really good turn in my story.

Years went by, we moved to the new town, I wasn’t the fat little unloved kid anymore. I got more confident. I started telling people I was an atheist. I said God was an illusion created by group hypnosis. That people were superstitious, they inherited the idea of God from their culture and then shaped it into their own image. They got together with other people who believed roughly the same thing as them and when the preacher counts to three and snaps his fingers, they would all say AMEN and go home. Religion was like the Emperor’s New Clothes except no one could even see the Emperor. All the religious people were victims of an elaborate prank and I was gonna be the brave, honest young boy who would dare to tell the truth. Point out what everyone else already suspected in their heart—there’s not really a God.

It was like Santa and the Easter Bunny. It’s fun to pretend, but it’s just pretend.

Video starts to zoom back in to the girl laying in the grass, then goes to the subatomic world. So I felt pretty superior to all the poor hypnotized masses until the day I saw God. I don’t mean I saw a vision or that God appeared to me in the flesh, I just looked up at the stars one night and suddenly could no longer sustain the belief God wasn’t there. I was fourteen years old and I felt so small standing in my backyard. I could feel the grass, soft as velvet, under my feet, the dirt under the grass and the air between myself and the expanse of space. It was like God was all the way out there in the furthest reaches of the universe but He was also looking all the way into me. I could sense the microscopic universes making up each atom which in turn make up everything that exists. It all seemed too interconnected to be random. I couldn’t convince myself that given enough time and space, a godless universe could end up generating me staring at the stars trying to not believe in a God who wasn’t there. It wasn’t like I was contemplating the universe, it was more like the universe was contemplating me. It wasn’t really that I had seen God, it was more like I had felt God see me.

I went back in the house. My family was in the living room watching TV. I was still thinking about God so I walked over to the bookcase—I knew there was a big, white King James Bible, no one had ever read it, but it was there. I carried it over to the couch and sat down, cracked it to the middle and read the first thing I saw. It was this:

Psalm 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Day to day pours out speech, and night-to-night reveals knowledge.

There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out through all the earth,

and their words to the end of the world.

I thought, “Dude. That’s what just happened to me in the backyard.” I said, “Hey, listen to this…” and read it out loud to them. No one cared. I carried the Bible upstairs to my room and started at the beginning, I was going to get to know this God who wouldn’t allow me to not believe in Him.

I started in Genesis, the creation, Adam and Eve, the serpent and the forbidden fruit. Do you remember the story? After Adam and Eve did the one thing God had told them not to do, they were hiding because they were ashamed. God shows up in the Garden in Genesis 3:9 and He says, “Where are you?” God was looking for Adam and Eve but they were hiding from Him.

Do you think He didn’t really know where they were? I think it was like when you’re playing Hide and Go Seek with a preschooler—they’ll just stand there by the wall with their eyes closed, and they’re like, “you can’t see me. I’m hiding.” It’s like peek a boo. It’s stupid.

God knows where they are but He asks them anyway, “Where are you?” I think He asked them because He knew they didn’t know where they were anymore.

They had forgotten the story they were living, they got lost. Everyone’s pretty much been lost ever since. That’s why God the Father sent Jesus into the world—to find us. To find you. To remind us of the amazing, beautiful story He has for us. Life can be awkward and strange and scary and confusing—it can be pretty hard to know where we are, or where we’re going. That’s why God comes looking for us. None of us are ever where we’re supposed to be, God finds us anyway. None of us are ever doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, God comes looking for us and loves us and finds us anyway.

God has picked you. It’s His idea. He wants you to be on His team, to be in His family, to be His beloved child. He really does exist and He wants you to know that He loves you.

When they asked me to come talk to you guys, I was so nervous. I asked God what He wanted me to say to you, and He told me that He wanted me to say this: He has a wonderful story for you to live, it’s gonna be amazing—it’s gonna be awkward and painful and confusing—and glorious. So beautiful and powerful and glorious. He picked you. He chose you. There is so much that He wants to show you and so many things He wants to do with you—you have no idea. No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human mind has conceived the things God has prepared for you—because He loves you. Sometimes that’s gonna be hard to see in the moment. Always remember this: if it’s ever not okay, the story isn’t over. God wanted me to tell you that—He promises your story is going somewhere good.

Mine did. I’ve got to do all kinds of cool things, and it’s not over yet. I still feel awkward sometimes, I still wonder what’s going on, but I know God has good things for me. He has good things for you, too. He’ll never stop seeking you. He’ll never stop finding you and loving you. Luke 19:10 says that Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost. Where are you? God’s looking for you. He knows where we are but let’s tell Him anyway. Say this with me, “Here I am, God!” Louder… Here I am, God!

Let’s pray together, repeat after me:

Thank You, Lord, for choosing me.

Thank You for loving me.

Thank you for saving me.

I know You want good things for me.

My life will be an amazing story.

Help me to trust You.

When things don’t seem okay,

Then the story’s not over,

Because my story is going somewhere great.

AMEN



donna schulzComment