Like Those Who Dream: Chapter 3, I
Don’t Believe a Whale Swallowed Jonah
-Roy Lessin, Meeting in the Meadow
has not called us to the place of perfect service,
But to the place of faithful service…
Not to the place of work without rest,
But to the place of rest in our work…
Not to the place of making everyone happy,
But to the place of pleasing Him.
One of the things that didn’t change in my life was my smoking habit. I had been at it for a long time. As a young boy of twelve, I would visit the tall metal cigarette machine that sat near the entrance to a small city park about three blocks from our house. The machine took quarters (a pack was only 25 cents). Across the front, hidden behind a protective glass cover, was an assortment of various brands of cigarettes. When I dropped my quarter into the slot I usually pulled the handle in front of the package that read “Chesterfield.”
I selected Chesterfield, not because I was a connoisseur on cigarettes, but because it was the brand my mother smoked. I had stumbled across her cigarette supply one day while she was out shopping. There they were, several packs stacked in the top shelf of the linen closet. They all read, “Chesterfield.” I immediately took down the top pack from the shelf. It was open. I carefully pulled out one cigarette and then replaced the pack on the top of the stack. It was the first cigarette I ever smoked. By the time I reached college I was smoking two or three packs a day—by this time I had become a “Marlboro Man.”
“You’re a hypocrite.” Don yelled.
“What are you talking about?” I responded.
“You claim to be a Christian and yet you still smoke. What a hypocrite!” (At that time I wasn’t familiar with the phrase, “If you want to know how to live the Christian life, just ask a non-believer.”)
“What’s the big deal?” I murmured.
“Hypocrite!” He reiterated.
His accusations didn’t impress me and I saw nothing wrong with my habit, except that it was a habit. The assaults from my brother continued for many days as he continued to play the “hypocrite card.” Even though I remained unresponsive to his assault, I was soon to learn another very important lesson about the Christian life—just because the Lord doesn’t make something an issue right now, it does not mean He never will.
My smoking habit became an “issue” one night around bedtime. I developed what seemed like the world’s worst toothache. I was in agony. I laid down as gently as I could upon my bed hoping for some relief. It didn’t come. In desperation I cried out to the Lord, “Help me, Father, and take away this pain.” His answer to my prayer was instant and unexpected. Instead of the pain leaving, the sound of a still small voice entered my spirit, “Your smoking is keeping your brother from coming to Me.”
That’s all I heard, but it was enough. In that moment I understood why my brother was giving me such a bad time about my smoking. It wasn’t that he was really having a problem with me; it was that he was having a problem with his sin. God was dealing with his heart and rather than give in, he was using my smoking as a way of excusing his own rebellion.
“God,” I prayed, “take away my desire to smoke. Break this habit in my life so that my brother may come to You.” At the end of that prayer my toothache instantly went away. I got up, took the pack of cigarettes off the table and threw them in the trash. I never picked one up again.
Without being able to use my cigarette smoking to attack me, my brother grew strangely quiet. His manner and disposition seemed to change and I could sense, as the days went by, that something was stirring within him. In the meantime, I continued to attend classes at Valley College. While attending a science class one fall afternoon, I became troubled by the comments of my professor. Out of nowhere, he began to speak negatively about Jesus Christ, mocking Him in a joking manner.
“I don’t get it,” I thought, “why is He saying those things, and why is Jesus such a problem to him.” As the days passed, and I started getting deeper into my studies, I became more and more restless.
My long-range goal to become a high school football coach started to feel like an old pair of shoes that no longer fit my feet, at the same time a new desire was beginning to form within me.
“I know nothing about the Bible,” I thought, “I wonder where I can go to learn more?” Like a new sunrise breaking forth upon the land, I began to sense that God had something very different planned for my life—different from Valley College, different from coaching, and different from living in my apartment. By late fall I dropped out of school.
“I think it’s time for a move,” I told Don one night. “I have no plans of going back to Valley College and I want to learn more about the Bible. I’ve talked with dad and he told me there’s a small vacant cottage just below his house that I could stay in for free. It sounds like a perfect setup for me right now and I’ve decided to take him up on the offer.” (At this time, my dad was remarried and he and his wife Carol had started a second family.)
Don looked at me without responding. I had no idea what he was thinking and I was not prepared for his response when he finally gave it…
“I’d like to move in with you, if it’s okay?”
I was shocked, amazed, and bewildered all at the same time—after all these years of me following him, he wanted to follow me.
After catching my breath I said, “Sure, come along.”
The rustic wooden cottage we moved to was located on a hillside property in Eagle Rock, California. My dad’s house was located at the top of the hill. There was a large shaded patio area in front of his house and around the back were some stone steps leading down to the cottage below. Not far from the front door of the cottage a long flight of steep steps led straight down the hill to the street below. The cottage was secluded and sheltered by tall Cyprus and Eucalyptus trees with Jasmine bushes bordering the yard. It was the perfect place for privacy and quiet study. It stood in great contrast to the treeless, all cement apartment building near Valley College. Gone were the drinking parties, the noise and activity around the community swimming pool, and the constant coming and going of the residents that lived there.
The first church I ever attended was Eagle Rock Covenant Church. I would accompany my dad and his family whenever they would go for a service or church activity. Once in awhile, without informing us, Don would sneak into a Sunday night service and sit at the back of the sanctuary. We never talked to him during those visits because he would slip out before the service ended. I knew something was going on inside him, but he wouldn’t talk about it and I never pushed him for information. After visiting the church for a few weeks I met someone who was an executive at World Vision. He told me they were in need of some help in the mail order department and through his recommendation Don and I were hired.
My time became divided between World Vision, Eagle Rock Covenant Church, and occasional Bible studies with my dad and his wife Carol. It was during those times that my faith was being built. I would often hear stories of how God taught my dad to trust Him to meet his daily needs.
One of those stories indirectly related to me. After my mom divorced my dad, he had the responsibility of sending her a weekly check for child support. At the time, he had no money in the bank and no regular paying job. Not knowing what to do, he got before the Lord and asked Him to provide the weekly support he needed for his two boys. That very week, on a Friday, a Christian business man was making out his weekly payroll (The man knew my dad through some earlier business contacts). When the man had written his payroll checks, and was about to close his checkbook, he heard the still small voice of the Holy Spirit speak to him, “I want you to make out a check to Joseph Lessin and mail it to him.” When my dad received the check in the mail a few days later, it was made out for the exact amount needed to send to my mom. The next week, when the business man was making out his payroll again, he heard the Holy Spirit say the same thing as the week before, “Make out a check to Joseph Lessin,” but this time, the Holy Spirit added one more thing, “I want you to continue to do this every time you make out your payroll.” My dad never lacked the support money we needed during that time.
One of the things I remained ignorant of during those early weeks and months of my Christian life was the work God was doing in my brother’s life. I didn’t find out until much later that just before we moved out of our apartment near Valley College, my brother had a major encounter with God. It happened one night while I was out of the apartment. Don was home alone watching TV. He was sitting on the living room couch with a can of beer in his hand when the Billy Graham Crusade from Philadelphia came on the air. Don watched with casual interest while he sipped on his beer. As the telecast drew to a close, Billy Graham turned his eyes toward the camera and said, “Jesus said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life…’” and then Billy Graham added, “There is no other way!” The Holy Spirit took those words and wrote them upon my brother’s mind. He couldn’t shake it. “There is no other way! There is no other way!”
Had I known what was going on within Don at that time, I would have better understood why he wanted to make the move with me to Eagle Rock.
The cottage in Eagle Rock was “cozy” to say the least. It had one small bedroom, a tiny bathroom, a small living room area, and an even smaller kitchen and dining area. I gave Don the bedroom and I slept on the couch in the living room. It worked out pretty well with the exception of one hair-raising night. I was tired and had gone to bed early. It was about 11:00 PM when I first heard Don’s voice coming to me in a very strong but hushed manner. “Roy, wake up…Roy, wake up.” I stirred and finally awoke. My head was foggy and I couldn’t make out what was going on. “Roy, get up slowly.” I turned and saw Don standing by the front door of the cottage.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“There’s a skunk under the couch.”
“What? How did that happen?”
“I stepped outside for a few minutes and forgot to shut the front door.” Don replied. “As I was coming back I saw the skunk come into the apartment. I came up to the door and watched him go under the couch.”
“What should I do?
“Get up as slowly as you can and head for the door as fast as you can.”
I felt like a track star in the Summer Olympics. My high school football coach would have been impressed with my quick move and lightning speed. I made it to the front door before the skunk decided to leave his calling card. The odor was stifling and permeated the entire cottage, including the clothes closet. The aroma settled into the fabric of my Sunday dress outfit. I had no other choice but to wear it to church that Sunday and experienced what the Bible “might have meant” when it said, “Come ye out from among them and be ye separate says the Lord.”
One crisp, cool morning in late November, as I was having breakfast in the cottage, Don came out of the bedroom and asked me a personal question,
“Roy, when you gave your life to Jesus Christ, how did you know you were saved.”
I was still very new in my use of Christian terminology, knew very few Bible verses, and understood almost nothing about Christian theology. My answer to Don’s question must have seemed ambiguous.
“Don, to be honest, I didn’t know how I knew I was saved, I just knew.”
With a puzzled look on his face, he turned, opened the front door and headed down the long flight of steps to his car which was parked at the bottom of the hill. He stood by his car for several minutes, just thinking, then turned around and climbed the steps back to the cottage. He walked up to me and with a confident voice and clear eyes he said, “Roy, I know!
He then went on to explain what had happened to him during the night…“Last night, around 2:00 AM, I got up very troubled. Mentally and emotionally I was spent. I felt as if someone had buried an ax in the middle of my forehead. I knew I had tried everything I could to change my life, but nothing worked. I decided I wanted to know if what I had heard from dad through the years was really true. I knelt beside the bed and prayed, ‘God I am miserable. I don’t believe that the Red Sea parted or that a whale swallowed Jonah, but if everything my dad has told me about Jesus Christ is true, I want to know.’ I got up from my knees but nothing happened. Everything was quiet. No lights, no thunder, nothing! I went to bed very disappointed. Life seemed hopeless. It wasn’t until I stood in front of my car this morning that I realized something was different. I had peace, Roy, I had peace for the first time in my life.
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