In the summer of 1979 I worked as a counselor at Camp Rockmont near Asheville, NC. Having no previous experience with camping I was thrown to the wolves, the dreaded 13 year olds, the veterans of the Camp, which I dearly loved. Each morning we had a devotional before breakfast, which I found challenging, to say the least. One morning we were awakened by an announcement that the whole camp would gather in the Gym for a special devotional time. Since my guys were perpetually late, except for food, we were the last group to get there. The only seats left were on the front row. At some forsaken hour, I sat there wondering why there was such a hushed tone in a room full of hundreds of boys. Then I noticed a middle aged man walk in from the right. It was Billy Graham in person. I did not realize that he was friends with the owner and lived just around the corner. Needless to say, we were all speechless.
Much taller than I expected, and a handsome man, his eyes spoke volumes. Some years later I had the privilege of meeting Professor Thomas F. Torrance in his home. He had the same eyes—apostolic eyes—the kind that stare into your soul. When that happens, you wither until the light finds something ancient within you that is quickened. I cannot recall much of what Billy Graham said, except for one statement. He gathered his breath and stared straight at me, at least it felt like it. With his Virginia accent he thundered, “You shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall set you free.” My heart knew instantly that the Lord himself was addressing me. I did not have the understanding at the time to process what was happening, and if I had, I would have probably run.
Nearly 35 years later things are clearer. On that sleepy morning near Asheville, through Billy Graham, the Lord answered my heart. This was the summer between my Junior and Senior years at Ole Miss, and although I certainly had been having a ‘large’ time, I knew that there had to be more. Many nights, after the parties, I would walk in a field behind my dorm and pray—cry is more like it. Now, at this moment, the Lord answered. “The answer is the Truth. It is the Truth that you seek.” Of course the answer begs another question, what then is the Truth? So through Billy Graham came the answer that then became a new question, which turns out to be the question of my life. What is the Truth that sets us free? And there was one other thing, a final word. “You will know that you know the Truth when it sets you free.”
Jesus is the Truth. Not Jesus alone, but Jesus in his Father, and Jesus anointed in the Holy Spirit, and Jesus as the one in and through and by and for whom all things are created and sustained. In his incarnation the Father’s Son and Anointed One established his relationship—the relationship he already had with us and with all creation—inside his own humanity. Submitting to our murder on the cross this Son established his relationship with us in our sin and darkness.
He came to seek and to save that which was lost. He found all of me, every broken, shame-riddled fragment. He found all of you, and all of us, in our sin, bound as we were in the trauma of evil. Under the spell of the wicked one, we rejected Jesus and damned him, cursing and mocking him in our profound confusion. He accepted us as we were. He bore our scorn, and died in the affliction of evil’s bitter enmity as it was vented through the world’s darkened heart. Through submitting to us he made his way inside the headquarters of the cruel one, the source of our blindness, sin and death, and hell. This is atonement. This is the Truth, Jesus himself inside our darkness, finding and accepting us as we had become in the wickedness of evil, loving and embracing us in our brokenness, to deliver us from what we had become in the dark. And he was not alone. He brought his Father and the Holy Spirit with him.
Now Jesus bears our pain in himself as he sits face to face with his Father in the abounding life that is the Holy Spirit. Now, inside the dastardly confusion that has captivated our minds and hearts, Jesus summons us in the Holy Spirit to break our agreements with evil and to agree with him about who we are, to take sides with him against our own way of thinking, and to live in the freedom of the Holy Spirit’s witness inside our own souls.
So, for me to return to Asheville, North Carolina, after all these years, and to speak with Paul Young and John MacMurray at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove, was a monumental moment in my life. Personally speaking, The Open Table Conference turned out to be a blessing beyond my wildest dreams. It was a gathering of hungry sisters and brothers from around the country, and even from the Motherland. I have never experienced such a beautiful, clear, sustained vision of Jesus Christ in my life. Tears and hope, life, freedom and healing rose in us all like an oasis as conversations cascaded around our meals and walks and debriefings. There was sadness, as we had time to share our hurts, and I am sure from some of the questions that there were a few feathers ruffled. Jesus has a way of doing that. One lady said to me, “Finally, I have a gospel that is actually good news to share.” Another person said, “I hope this is true; if it is not it will be the greatest disappointment in the universe.” I assured him that Jesus is the Truth, and that our issue is not that we have overestimated Jesus Christ. He is the One who has found us in the great darkness, embraced us, included us in his life with his Father, and in his anointing in the Holy Spirit, and he is setting us free by revealing the Truth in the Holy Spirit.
Thank you John MacMurray for your vision, and for your courage, and for making this Open Table Conference happen. It proved to be a quickening in the Holy Spirit in the vision of Jesus, the Truth. We had a ‘large’ time. And, as my friend David Kowalick likes to say, ‘the best is yet to be.’ I cannot wait for Hawaii. But first comes the event of the year, my daughter Laura’s wedding on September 21st. Speaking of ‘large’ times.