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“You’re the Voice”

Testimony - "You’re the Voice" (Acts 26:19)

A Personal Tithing & Ministry Initiating Experience

            I was much younger... just had turned 20 less than a week before... just settling in my first job... faithfully paying tithes and offerings, on the gross. Recently in my newly birthed-again Christian experience, I had made the deliberate decision to stop listening and collecting secular music and was now actively, gradually replacing them with Christian Music: Traditional, Gospel and Contemporary. Following a lesson-learned experienced where I had blown the rear speakers in this, then my first car by having tried to show-off the bass in this used-car-sale-included Kenwood system to a fellow SDA friend, by “pumping” a secular track, (although I did have several Gospel tapes in the car and, which, it must be underlined, had customarily so been “pumped” many times in the past, without any problem), on the Sabbath, and no less, in the Church Parking lot, while Church was still going on (in between Sabbath School and the Divine Service), all the while hearing the distinct voice of God telling me: “Don’t do it” as I defiantly turned that volume knob even higher. Well, quite surprisingly to me, as soon as that speaker blew, I could distinctly hear that same still small Voice, now, oddly, disappointingly say: “See what you’ve done!” (i.e., ‘with what I had/have given you’). I was more surprised that that continuing Voice was now actually indeed more disappointed with me than, as expected, “vindictively gleeful,” and so I, in direct and corresponding response to this indication of non-condemnatory mercy, then became resolute to, from then on, after having repaired and then greatly upbuilt and upgraded my car stereo system entirely, to z-|j-ealously dedicate every available wattage to Christian Music, which by now had become the very, everyday Psalms of my soul.

            In, then, the early days of building up my Christian Music collection, which would go on to grow to now over 1100 albums, thanks in large part to CD exchange stores and Christian Mail Music Clubs; in the days when that collection was in the ca. 30's, I had found in a couple of stores a collection of one of my absolutely favorite Christian singers, the late Keith Green. Having literally grown up on his music as the local Christian radio host for WCHP 760 AM was an avid Keith Green fan, and played his music as often as he could conceive another reason to do so, again. I thus grew to myself love his music and overall message in these songs, even long before I listened and appreciated the intricate genius in the actual lyrics of the songs. So here I was now, having “relocated” the music of Keith Green, after then several years of separation due to a physical, country move, to a place where the local Christian station simply did not play his music, I therefore just could not wait to purchase this 2 Volume, 4 CD and 72-song spiritual, “Ministry Years” treasure; a virtually complete anthology.
            The lowest of two store prices of $26.99 price was still quite steep for me in these my: early college life & couple-of-notches-above-minimum-wage part-time job income, however no price really was too high for such a rare collection. When I had discovered these CD’s in that Music Store on a Saturday night, after Sabbath, I couldn’t buy it right away for the tight budget for my paycheck, cashed just a couple of days before, had no “disposable” funds left in it, but the next week, the very next Saturday Night, as I would be making my weekly round of CD Exchange stores in that area in search of new Christian Music “arrivals”, I would, I then thought, then surely be able to buy it. 
            When I got back home, I excitedly sat down to crunch the numbers for next week’s expected pay and set budget, but to my dismay, I found out that my planned disposable income from that next paycheck alone would not be sufficient to meet that $53.98+ tax price tag. I would have to wait until the week after to have these funds. Right then and there, I was initially ready to accept this, not that I had much choice as my necessary budget was almost set in stone, but I came to be in an increasing sense of panic, and then anguish, as I now also took into consideration the fact that in all of the months that I had scoured every known music store in the area that had Christian music, it was only in these two stores that I had ever seen this limited collection, and one of these stores had priced this collection at $36.99 each. Definitely not affordable for me. Furthermore the store that sold it at $26.99 had only a couple of sets of this collection. What if they sold out if I waited 2 weeks! It clearly seemed to me that it wouldn’t be right to missed out such  savings. It was indeed quite logical to think that this could very well be my greatest, if not only (stewardly economical) chance to have these CD’s. Twenty+ dollars, as these savings would bring, went a long way in my budget then. That troubling thought stayed with my throughout the remainder of the week. Finally, I reasoned, based on my opinion, a passable/acceptable way in which I could purchase these CD’s right away: I would forgo, but postpone, returning my tithe and offering that week, and then, with a little other minor, but still quite sacrificial budget cuts, I would have the extra money needed to buy the CD’s that week. In fact, I planned, on the Thursday evening when I cashed my paycheck, I would expressedly drive the ca. 25 miles to that store and buy the CD’s, before they sold out, forever(??), even if that “forever” would only come to be for a season - for it would still seem then like an eternity to me. I wasn’t sure, and sure did not want to wait; nor to find out. I just wanted that collection, now. After all, I spiritually rationalized, this music would be greatly contributing to my Spiritual up building and “well-being”. In some ways, I tried to convince myself, it would be just as “beneficial” as (faithful - i.e., immediate = “first-fruit”) tithing. And furthermore, I surely was going to pay that postponed tithe the following week. I even planned to give an extra offering to “make up” for this deliberate lapse.
            However, that Thursday evening, after work, came and went without the purchase for I just could not act upon my supposedly “spiritually-tight” rationalization. My conscious would just not let me withhold my tithe for any reason. I now conversely tried to deceive myself that in now thinking like this I was just being a legalist, but even that didn’t stick. Faithful, firstfruit tithing was clearly Biblical to me. Friday night was of course out of the question to purchase this so I did not dwell on this dilemma too much, however, for locational circumstances mentioned below, a lingering “showdown” was now going to take place on Saturday morning while sitting in Church. And indeed it produced itself, and culminated as I reached out to take the passing offering plate. At that time, just to cover myself in case I would fail, I did not pull out my sealed tithe offering envelope, as usual, habitually prepared from home. As the offering plate came to me, the two reasonable yet still conflicting thoughts were virtually taking swings at each other in my head: “Be faithful” vs. “Great Christian music”; “Be a “cheerful”, timely giver” vs. “cheerful week of Keith Green Music”; “Malachi 3:8 and Mal 3:9" vs. “Volume 1, Disc 1, Track 8 - the incomparable, “anthemic”, Prodigal Son Suite”; and, literally, so on, and so on.
            But here was the Moment of Decision, the person next to me was putting their offering in the plate, they then passed it on to me, and in that very instant, almost mindlessly, I gave in and pulled out the tithe enveloped still hiding in my inner vest pocket, and with an inner groan, deposited it in the plate. All that I could then think about, and that for the rest of the service was how long a week it will be until I could buy the albums, if they would even still be available then. That latter thought really terrified me, to the point that I then actually got up shortly after, part way through the sermon, and went to the Church’s reception desk and ask the Sister at the desk, who I was familiar with (stemming from the episode related in here), where could I see the collection deacons so that I can retrieve my given tithe. She told me where, and I went to the room, the Senior Pastor’s office, knocked on the door and a deacon answered the door. In behind him I could see other deacons busily, still counting the collected tithes and offerings. It then struck me how ridiculous it would be to ask them for my tithe check back. They may not even have opened my envelope yet, still I gave up, this time for good. I then mopingly found my way back to my seat.
            After Church, I (eventually) drove the 27+ miles back home. In order to save on gas money if I had chosen to withhold my tithe, I had packed a cold lunch to stay in the area near the Church, at a large local park, as this was where that particular music store located. I would stay at that popular park until sun down, and then go and purchase the CD’s. With this quite significant savings in gas money, I would not be overly limited in trying to meet my budget in the coming week. But since I had decided to not withhold my tithe money, there now was no reason not to make this drive back home. However, I, melancholically, preferred to first still hang out at that local park, the plush Tropical Park, and sorrowfully eat alone that cold lunch that I had prepared (or else it probably would eventually be wasted), instead of going back home immediately and having a hot lunch.
            After that cold lunch at the park, I then drove back home, wherethen, after I had arrived, I spent the entire early part of the Sabbath afternoon thinking much more about what had literally transpired and still, if my decision to pay my tithe instead of buying this limited Christian gem had been a Biblically clear-cut decision, I also could now only think on what I can do to manage to squeeze these CD’s in my present week’s budget. Being so pre-occupied and relatively depressed by this, I had remained, in my church clothes, tie still in neck even if all I did was lie, face up, in bed thinking, rethinking and calculating on how I could make this happen, easily one of my worst Sabbath afternoons. I had felt quite guilty for not having had built up my savings, but still living, actually ‘mostly discretionarily “expending”’,  from paycheck to paycheck, since I had started to work, so It categorically for me was not even an option to ask anyone, even my parents, to lend me the missing money, especially as they had repeatedly chided me for this.
            Later on that afternoon, still feeling quite depressed, I skipped returning to the Church for Choir practice and vespers programs which also meant that I wouldn’t do my normal weekly round of CD exchange stores in the area. What was the use anyway, I thought. I’ll just wait things out till next week.
            The next day however, Sunday, after work, feeling relatively better, I instead more pragmatically reasoned that even if I could not buy the $54+ CD set that week, I still had enough money to buy a couple of $7.95 CD’s at a CD exchange, if I found a Christian CD I liked. That’s the thing about these CD exchanges, inventory changes almost every day. So I decided that it really was not wise to skip a week and probably miss out on a great find. (Some thing are worth the trip, and to me Christian music was.)
            Now after having driven the 20+ miles south to the CD exchange stores in that area, I was  driving by the store, that was selling the CD’s set at $36.99 each! Spec’s Music by name, currently on the opposite side of the road in reference to me. I personally loathe that store for its constantly highest-than-all prices. In fact I outrightly skipped it in my weekly rounds because it was just a waste of time to browse their collection, because their prices were guaranteed to be the highest of any (brand-new) retail music store. I still regularly shopped at retail music stores in hope of finding a deal on new Christian music, which was somewhat of a rarity at used CD exchanges; however that particular store, due to these constant exorbitant prices, I exultingly always bypassed. However, strangely enough, as I was driving by it then I heard a voice, oddly enough being the very same voice that kept telling me the day before to put that envelope in the offering plate, among other such related urges. It was now telling me of all things to stop by that hated store, to “look” around. I could not believe it! Why in the world would I go there, I said, of all places, and that solely to “look around”. That store clearly, and guaranteedly, had the highest of prices, even for the CD sets I wanted. Again the voice insisted, even suggestively adding that I should indeed look for the CD’s I wanted.  What’s the point in “just looking” at something I here definitely now couldn’t afford. That indeed was the last straw. By this time I was literally hopping mad. This was clearly the recognizable voice of God’s spirit, but I here felt really played and laughed at by Him, and in all reverence, I let it, i.e., “solely”(!?!) that Voice, have it. Why in the world, I mentally blurted out, did He allow me to go through all that mental anguish and internal fighting if He, now evidently, supposedly really wanted me to have the CD’s I so dearly longed. Hadn’t he noticed that passionate and sincere desire in me the day before, at Church. Why did He not speak so “favorably” then. Why make me go through all this mental arguing if all this time He knew He was going to so now audibly constrain me to go look at them, and in that “rip-off” of a store, no less. As I mentioned, I was hopping mad by now, as an intersection was coming up for me to make the necessary u-turn and then drive a little ways back to the strip mall entrance where that store was located, I then, out of the corner of my eye saw the time on the dashboard and suddenly realized that my time was quite limited for me to make a complete round of the other stores. What if I missed out on a great new arrival at a CD exchange store, because I had wasted my time by going to that useless store. I was about to stop slowing down a press the gas pedal again to accelerate on to my planned destinations, when it was as if someone in the empty seat next to me had surreptitiously sneaked up right next to me and blared in my right hear: “TURN and GO LOOK!” (cf. Acts 10:13). I now felt literally, ‘manifestly tangibly threatened’. (I can now begin to understand what happened to Moses in comparable circumstance Exod 4:24-26 (cf. in this forum post)). It is one thing to so scream at me to e.g., jump out of the way of a coming car, but it is quite another thing to do so to make me go do this wasteful, even textbook “covetous” thing. Though genuinely really angry, I was also now too terrified by that Tone of Voice to even begin to resist it, even that seemingly contradictive “command.” So all the while, while pestering some outward sign of helpless, but self-satisfying, disgruntleness, like a little child thinking he is defying his father’s ultimatum by stomping back to the very room where he was ordered to go, I made the left turn, drove into to parking lot, deliberately parked right in front of the “unsightly” store with its, in-my-disillusioned-opinion, “false-advertising”, luringly blaring lights, stomped inside and headed straight for the Christian music section, all within the “W” and the “r” of a protracted swooping-sassy, capitalized [-in my futilely-thought-to-be secludingly partitioning mind-], but muffled-grumbled: “What-ever!”
Music Store
            So there I was. Sure enough that store was still in stock of the Keith Green CD’s. (Why was I not surprised at its prices) I then picked up on of the CD sets as if by holding it, it would lessen by waiting time and it accompanying longsuffering pain. I then turned it over to consolely sigh at the extremely high and unaffordable price. What I then dropped was not a sigh but my lower jaw. On top of a previous, partly still visible price sticker, another price sticker had been placed. I could not believe it because the indicated price was almost half that .... of the other store that also had this set. I couldn’t believe it, This had to be a serious mistake. I then picked up the second set to verify this and sure enough it to had been similarly almost halved at $13.99. I still could not believe it. (Unfortunately, because I had put some out-of-budget gas in my car to remake this 50+ mile round trip, I only had enough money for one set that night, and had to, the next day, sell some CD’s from my collection to get enough money for another 50-mile trip to purchase the second set, all at the worth it risk of not finding these sold CD’s when I returned to purchase them on the upcoming pay day. (Thank God, they were not bought.)) So I nervously brought the CD’s set to the cash register, even tentative to audibly respond to the greeting of the cashier lest my response would somehow make him realize that a tremendous mistake had been made here and that these sets had been wrongly priced. Who knows perhaps someone had somehow thought that it was a single CD in each box and had “adjusted” the price for such. Even single CD were not priced so low in that store. Whatever was the case, he scanned the barcode on that reduced sticker as such and a few moments later I was sitting in my car with a first of the CD’s sets that I had virtually sweated all of my brain cells for over these past few days, and if not 7 times more that very day. I was completely, fear-fully, stunned even too much in equally brain draining post processing of this event to open the CD and listen to them on, now my way back home.
            I was instead literally mentally replaying every single key and pivotal episode of that day (related above), and incredibly wondering how in the world did I not go wrong by m/t-aking the wrong decision/choice (i.e., since they were all clearly left to my own optioning). I now, pointedly copiously experientially understand that that God-intended end was arrived at by, at every “fork” along that way, always making the right decision (=Righteousness’ Right-Doing), manifestly including seemingly purely temporal ones such as me deciding to still go, as usual then every Saturday after Sabbath, CCM/Gospel CD shopping at CD Exchanges (which that night would have also been up to 8+, over an area in South Florida of a ca. 32-mile range, [from, South to North, South Miami (Dade County) to Lauderdale Lakes (Broward County) {-and deliberately via “scenic”/long vs. highway/direct ways[1]}]], had it not been from that “choice” to heed that voice and “TURN” one my way to that first, southernmost store.] And in such Spiritually pressing/pivotal/crucial instances, it is manifest that the “Spirit/Hand” of God will then variously make itself “strongly” (e.g., Ezek 3:14; cf. Matt 4:1|Luke 4:1) quite readily perceivable and discernable, yet without inescapably overwhelmingly preventing one’s Free Will choice.
            It could have been a profusely apologetic ride back home, but actually it was a solemnly thankful ride back - with thanks to God particularly for indeed having persisted, and then virtually constrained me to obey that Voice over these past days.
Store Receipts
            Why did I include this perhaps seemingly trivial personal experience, in such detail, in this “heavy-topic” blog, especially when I am sure we all can share a similar type of experience with God, if not for a much more substantial amount of money and/or outcome as I myself have heard many times. Well the only reason is: if you are reading this blog and anything that it has to offer along with all of the related grand projects that are associated with it, it is solely because of this experience. For after I listened to that Voice despite my then great distrust, anger and doubt, and now to this day, and after, up to now, having seen all of the great things it has similarly spoken into my life, I never again from that day entertained the thought of ignoring, disobeying or even rebelliously defying it and haven’t regretted one received whisper of it. (See more on this in this post) (Nor did I ever second guess returning, a faithful, cheerful tithe). And just to think that the best of the tens, nay hundreds of distinct things it has variously spoken thus far is still to be realized! In retrospect, this young adult experience was indeed a fullest (i.e., with a confirmation) initiation to the unmistakable/undeniable overt Voice of God. (See a similar, and now fully understood, related, “spoken” experience here). Indeed it was from, especially then on, much easier to discern and heed to the many times following this when God told me to do something that visibly made no sense to me but has always worked out to be the absolute best idea. And thankfully, by the Grace of God, He has not had not raised His Tone in such a way again... Come to think of it: probably/“fully” also at another time... a time when it potentially may have saved my life-- Succinctly recounted:

            Driving back to Andrews University Campus at night, in a driving rainstorm, so blinding I missed a large left curve in the rode and drove straight off the road into the grass. Tried to slam on the brakes... car only “hydroplaned” on the slick grass. Tried to steer back to the road... it was as useless as steering on black ice. Then, still within those ca. 3-5 slow motion [seeming to be 7-10 seconds - why is that?!?] seconds as this was unfolding, I heard God’s unmistakable Voice. “It just said: “Stop braking and let go of the steering wheel.”  I couldn’t believe it. How come I could only think still holding on to the wheel and keeping my foot on the brake pedal, but not (uselessly) trying to brake, nor steer. Mind you, I had in essence obeyed, but not as fully as God had so specifically stipulated... “LET GO!!!” It was again, clearly, and now ‘unequivocally,’ more forcefully commanded. -“Okaaaaay...” I acquiescely, quasi-audibly, responded, “...What do I know, right!?” I also fleetingly mused, still immediately obeying by pulling my foot back and taking my hands off the wheel, actually raising them in the air as more of an indication to ‘take it easy!’ As I was familiar with this road I knew that following the abrupt left turn there was a right turn to a side road which I was going to take. So maybe God was telling me this because I would eventually end back on that side road. So that was probably just for a “shortcut”. However I suddenly remembered that there was also an iron fence along the road that I had just left and not being able to see exactly where I was because of the bad weather I then suddenly thought that I was going to keep on rolling straight into the iron fence. Furthermore, if that fence didn’t stop me the trees in the woods behind it surely would. Just great. 
            A moment later, there came the thud, and to my surprised the front of the car then suddenly started to go upwards to almost 35 degrees. I probably snapped a tree in two and now was stuck on its remaining trunk. However I was unharmed. With the car now fully immobilized, I jump out to see what I had hit. As I was about to walk towards the front of the car, I had to slam on my brakes as I nearly then fell into a gapping hole of several feet which had a huge cement junction pipe completely exposed all around. I had driven straight into the dirt mound that had been formed from the digging of that hole. (The car hit that mound with such force that a tow truck was called {by, as related later, a second stopping by cop} to dislodge it from it.) I then looked at the car and then looked at the hole. And then I got it. If I had continued to try to steer the car back towards the left, towards the road I would either have steered it right into that gaping hole and plunged head first into it, unto that pipe windshield first (no airbags in that '88 minivan) or at the very least, if I had kept on steering, or even braking, it would have caused the car to skid and veer of slightly either to left or to the right and, if to the left, I would have partly hit that mound with the right half of the car and it would have caused me to flip sideways right into that hole, hitting that pipe now driver’s window first. If instead I had veered off slightly to the right, I at the very least would have flipped the car sideways to the right. Preferable but still not good. However all I wanted to do was to steer back to the left, so the worst case scenario would have probably occurred here. So when God told me to “Let Go of everything” as soon as the car drove off the road, He saw that it was headed straight and squarely towards that mound. When He shouted this much louder at my initial non full compliance, He more than likely wanted to make sure that this would happen as angels probably then and only then, in this state of full obedience, had the green light to contain the car from either side in that safe trajectory. 

[Click to Enlarge]
Topographic View of Incident Site
            With this done in God all-knowing way, all that I needed to fix the damage from that incident was a good pressure wash for the front of the car when I got back on campus to remove all the packed-in mud.[2]
            It is safe to say that this would have not been the case if, by then, in these brief seconds, I had not become fine tuned into God’s “direct frequency”, and also if I had not had the initial experience related above.

Thanks be to God for all He has done, is doing, and ‘would-will surely do’. (Isa 46:9-11)

[1] Which would include, typically, (e.g.): here –> here –> here –> here|here –> here|here –> here|here –> here -of course, at night; all the while while “jukeboxingly” going through my CCM collection. [Some of my SDA friends would go to dance/night clubs on Saturday nights...I gladly drove by... in my “CCM club”!!]

[2] No doubt seeing the tire marks and “impression” of my run-in with the hole’s dirt mound, and/or having been warned by a second* policeman who had stopped, and had taken a report for this incident, (and had probably overheard me muttering something about suing for this careless and hazardous construction site), the crew that was working on that site put up delimitating fluorescent barriers around the hole by the next couple of days.

* I had come to here feel so “invincibly,” and thus, in the present “non-sequiturly, quasi-frivolously,” giddy by how God had powerfully acted in this close call, that a first stopping police car (with two Michigan State policemen, (patrol car #5408)), who actually caught up with me at a nearby phone booth, (where I was calling my friend to come and help me dig the car out of this dirt/mud mound), actually gave my a full “roadside” sobriety test. (Just before they finished ascertaining that I was indeed not drunk, despite my uncontainable, profusing giddiness, (and actually, also shiveringly shaking from being now completely soaken wet from the still pouring rain), they had asked ‘if I had smoked “a little something.”’ Not ever expecting such a question, I was visibly quite offended, and realizing from past sanctioned encounters that I couldn’t use the corroborating, supposed-to-be disculpating reason that ‘I was from Andrews’ to reinforce my categorical "NO" reply, I was, justifiedly, betrayedly, most tempted (ala. Ezek 9:5, 6) to tell/(inform(?)) these law enforcement officers that: ‘If they really wanted to catch people who “smoke a little something”, they just had to go up the road to that masquarade of a SDA University over there,’ but I refrained to audibly emphasize this. They then abruptly left, without helping me, nor making a report, when I mentioned something about suing them for conducting an Unlawful Search with this sobriety test; to which they retorted that “I had left the scene of an accident”, to which I immediately replied: (a) “what “accident”?!?” (since I was the only car involved and nothing had actually been damaged), and (b) “I had to come here and make this phone call for assistance” (not expecting that any car would drive by this back road at this hour of the night with it being, if I recall correctly, ca. 2:30 A.M.). [Since they did leave (the so-termed) “scene” without ‘serving, nor “protecting”’, then I guess there really was no “accident”].

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