Will and I met Richard Parke in 1998 when we first started attending McLean Bible Church, where he is a pastor. Richard has the rare gift of remembering everyone and everything. It is such a large church with so many services that we have literally gone years without seeing Richard. Yet years passing matter not, when you run into Richard, he is predictably warm and personable and the notion that he may have forgotten you is absurd. I don’t know how many thousands of people he knows by name, but I’m quite sure I’ve never met anyone else like him. Obviously, he is in exactly the right profession, and I am so pleased to share his sweet testimony here on my blog which tells how Richard became a child of God, and how you can too.
You know, in the spring of 1964 I found myself in a time of brokenness in my own life, and I’ll tell you about that in a moment, but let me flash back twenty years before that!
I was raised in a Christian home, the eldest son of an Episcopal priest and grandson of another Episcopal priest, as well as the grandson and great-grandson of two Methodist clergyman on my mother’s side of the family.
My mother was an Irish woman who came to America during World War II for graduate studies. In our home it was our custom to have Bible-reading and family prayers after candlelight dinner… every night. So I was raised with knowledge of God, but it was never truly personalized because apparently—as I look back—I never realized my own personal need for God and for a Savior. I just kind of took Him for granted and “rode piggyback” on my parents’ and ancestors’ faith so to speak.
I was sent to an excellent boys prep school in Massachusetts called Groton School— the same school from which President Franklin Roosevelt graduated in 1900. I got an excellent education and basically entered the University of California prepared well enough to start my sophomore year.
I was prepared well academically but not emotionally or spiritually.
In prep school I was small of stature, smooth-skinned–did not begin to grow or to shave until I got to college. Over a five-year period I experienced lots of teasing that was very hurtful and left scars on my life that remained until only a few years ago when God healed me emotionally and enabled me once again to relate to men of my same age.
Remember, I was in a boarding school. I lived there! These classmates were with me every day and weekends! And my parents lived 3500 miles away…in California! There was no escape!
Not only did I experience merciless teasing and was the butt of many jokes, also I was in school with a lot of spoiled, bratty rich kids! And many of them were very gifted intellectually and academically so that I always had to struggle in the “submarine section” of my class—you know, below C-level!
Anyway, by the time I arrived at the University of California in Riverside—about 60 miles east of Los Angeles—I was in a needy condition, but unfortunately at that time in 1961 did not realize how needy!
I was still hurting from five years of struggle at Groton. My self-esteem was low for those reasons I have already stated—and for other reasons, too—so as a new student on a large campus I decided to go on a search for significance, for meaning and purpose and direction for my life.
I got involved in student politics. I got involved in fraternity life and wild parties…had a great social life. I played varsity football for two years, and worked every summer as a conductor on the Santa Fe and Disneyland Railroad.
I did the mathematics one time and figured that over three summers and other vacations I circled that theme park at least 4500 times—25 times per day, 125 times per week, 500 times per month, 1500 times per summer! Some folks have a hard time believing me on that, so let me prove it to you this way,
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard the Santa Fe and Disneyland passenger train. This train is typical of the celebrated pioneers of the rail which spanned our growing nation around the turn of the century. As we take this scenic round-trip tour of the Magic Kingdom, we ask no smoking, please remain seated, and keep your hands and arms inside the train at all times! Beyond the embankment of tropical foliage lies Adventureland…”
Well, you know my life for the first three years at the University were just like Disneyland, also known as the Magic Kingdom where we were trained extremely carefully that the guest was always right…no matter what they did! We were told that 500 other college kids were waiting in line for our job if at any time we did not measure up! We were told to leave our problems at home and put on a smile, for at Disneyland this was a Magic Kingdom, a place of no problems, and if there were, you did not show it…or risk losing your job. Well, despite all the rhetoric and rigid rules for employees, still there were benefits…like $1.98 per hour and like attending any of Disneyland’s attractions and rides after hours when your friends would let you in for free!
My life was like this “Magic Kingdom,” smiling on the outside. Nevertheless I was crying on the inside! I was searching, searching, searching…for love, for self-acceptance…for meaning and significance and for direction and for purpose for my life.
Well, to shorten my story I found myself one night at a beach party in Newport Beach where my family lived—and we only lived 20 miles from Anaheim–better known as the home of Disneyland.
Well, at this beach party I listened as several Christian students had opportunity to speak spontaneously to a large group of college students like myself who had come together for fun and frolic.
They spoke of their changed lives. They spoke with confidence. They spoke with enthusiasm. They spoke of peace and purpose! They spoke of pardon for sin, and most of all, they spoke—every one of them—about Jesus Christ. Jesus was the common denominator in each person’s story. He was the One who transformed their lives.
I was intrigued. I was impressed. My heart yearned for what I heard about. Maybe I felt, in a way, like that Prodigal Son who yearned for something more than pigs’ food…not yet knowing, not yet understanding that my heavenly Father already had a banquet table completely set and lavishly prepared…for me!
Days later I found myself invited to listen to a Christian man as he spoke to maybe 100 college students, many of whom were seekers or starters like me. I was sitting in the back row. I didn’t want to appear too eager. I thought I’d be safer on the fringe, but—wouldn’t you know it—the speaker pointed to me…me…sitting in the back row…and he beckoned for me to come on up on the platform where he wanted to ask me some questions about my relationship with God. Uh oh! It was all over!
First question: “Richard, where is Jesus Christ in relation to your life?”
And quickly—as I recalled the memorized the Nicene and the Apostles’ Creeds from my Episcopal Church background—I answered him, “He’s up in heaven, seated at the right hand of God the Father…”
But fortunately, he was not put off track or off target, for he said, “Yes, He is, but I asked, ‘Where is Jesus Christ in relation to your life?’”
I thought for a moment and shyly replied…“In me.”
He repeated the question because we had no microphone—and to be sure everyone could hear us—and again I answered, “In me!”
A third time he asked me, “Where is Jesus Christ in relation to your life?”, and a third time—with increasing volume—I replied, “In me!”
He said to me, “I want you to read something about Jesus”, and quickly he turned the pages in his pocket-size New Testament till he came to the 28th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, verse 18. He said, “Read it…out loud…right here…right now!”
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
Then the speaker stopped me and asked me,“Whose authority was given to Jesus?”
I answered, “The authority of God the Father.”
The speaker went on, “And where is Jesus Christ in relation to you?”
A fourth time I answered him, “In me!”
“Good,” he responded. “Now if Jesus is in you, whose authority do you have to live the kind of life God intended for you to experience?”
And I answered, “I have that same authority of God the Father because of Jesus Christ in me!”
Then he turned to me and asked, “Have you ever heard of William Shakespeare? Ever read any of his writings?”
“Yes, freshman English class. Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, and a bunch of others.”
“Richard, you yourself likely would never write a famous drama like Sir William Shakespeare did, but think, if somehow the spirit of William Shakespeare could enter your life, then would you agree that you could do as he did?”
I replied, “Yes, I guess I could.”
The speaker went on, “Likewise you cannot live the perfect life that Jesus led and exemplified, but somehow if the Spirit of God–the Bible calls Him the Holy Spirit–if somehow He could enter your life, then do you understand how your life would take on similar godlike characteristics?”
”Well, yes I see what you mean.”
He went on, “This is what becoming a Christian is all about… His life in you. Richard, it’s NOT you gutting it out and trying to obey the Ten Commandments by your own strength. It is God’s Spirit living in you and transforming your life, building godlike character qualities in you.”
“In fact,” he said, “I’m going to turn to a verse in the New Testament in the Book of Galatians where it explains what I mean. Here! Read this, chapter 5 and verses 22 and 23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
So I read it, out loud, in front of 100 other college students!
He went on to explain to me that the Christian life is supernatural: Jesus Christ living His supernatural life in and through me. Wow! That was a new concept for me. It sure made sense!
Years later I met this same man, and he reminded me that when we got to this point in his dialogue with me, he said my eyes got as big as saucers! For the first time I was really beginning to get it!
For me Christianity had always been a pile of do’s and don’ts kind of like “Don’t dance, drink, smoke or chew, and don’t go out with girls who do!”
Someone once put it this way, “Religion is spelled ‘DO’”—all the things we must do to please God—”but Christianity is spelled ‘DONE’”—Jesus Christ has already done what pleased God and offers to us His finished, completed work on the cross of Calvary as the price for God’s forgiveness of sin—past, present and future—free of charge…just by trusting in Him!
Well, I knew what I’d stated to the speaker who called me up on stage, but still, I had some serious questions as to whether, in fact, Jesus did live in me. I wanted to be sure!
Well, that night in the privacy of my own bedroom—on a hot July night—back in July 1964—I made a personal transaction with Jesus Christ. I asked Him to forgive my sin, to enter my life, to change my life and give it four things—all beginning with the letter “P”: pardon, purpose, power and peace.
I realized that God is more concerned with my heart attitude than He is with my words, but essentially this is what I prayed:
“Dear God, I want to be ready for heaven, but I need a new direction for my life here on earth, too, so I’m putting my life under Your management and placing my full trust in Your Son, Jesus Christ. I will rely on Him alone—and all He accomplished on the cross, shedding His perfect sinless blood to remove my guilt and the penalty for my sins. Please forgive me and cleanse my heart. I am truly sorry. Jesus—on the basis of your promise in Revelation 3:20—I invite You to enter the door of my heart and live in me! Make me the person You created me to be, so that my life can please and honor You. Amen.
There were four visible, tangible things that I noticed that changed in my life immediately: (1) I began to want to read the Bible; (2) I began to pray, talk to God daily and tell Him what was on my heart; (3) I began to openly share my faith; and (4) God began an elaborate “spell-check” on the computer of my mind and heart, and amazingly my foul vocabulary began to disappear!
Of course, as I later learned there were many other changes that happened immediately the moment I entrusted my life to Jesus, but, most importantly, I took on a new identity! I was now a child of God!
For the Bible says clearly, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12)