A couple of months ago I was asked to do the Bible reading at the Church of God of Alabama’s annual prayer conference. I was honored to be able to do it and excited about my assignment to read John 17. Now I know what you are thinking, what is the big deal about that. The truth is that I have been reading the Word of God in front of a congregation for over twenty years now. The thing is that if you knew the story behind the picture, then the story takes on a whole new meeting of the power and grace of God. So in the word of the late great Paul Harvey, Here is the rest of the story.
I was born to Raymond and Anita Rhodes. They were a very young couple, and I was their first child. My mother was sixteen and my father was nineteen when they had me. When I started school my mother was very involved, but she was a very young mother and this was her first time of having a child in school. I attended a brand new elementary school where I made very good grades through the fourth grade. What my parents did not know was that the school I was attending was an experimental school. You see the department of education was trying out a new open classroom program. What that meant was the entire grade was in one large room and the classes were separate from blackboards and office like petitions. I can still remember sitting in my class and hearing the teacher of the other class because she was so much louder than my teacher. Stay with me, I’m getting to the power part of the story.
When I was going into the fifth grade my family moved to Smiths Alabama, where I attended Smith Station Elementary school. The principle of my former school ensured my mother that I would do great in my new school and more than likely I would be far ahead of the other students. He was wrong and needless to say the fifth grade was a terrible year for me. No matter how hard I tired I just couldn’t make the grades. My dad thought it was because I was going to a school with my friends from church and I was playing and was distracted. That year my mother and I worked every night but no matter what we were done I just couldn’t seem to get it. Two weeks into the sixth grade a teacher, that I will forever be indebted to, name Mrs. S William (I still have no idea what the S stood for) told me to stay after class and later called my mother for a meeting. She had come to realize my problem. I could not read. The experiment seems to do well in math and even science but in reading, it was a complete failure. I was in the fifth grade and I could not read on a first-grade level. That year Mrs. Williams took her break and part of her lunch and taught me to read. She sent books that she had picked out home for me and showed my mother how to teach me. She cared; I still get choked up thinking about the love that she showed to me. She did not have to, she could have just sent me on my way but she didn’t. I know that God placed her in my life and God allowed her to see what so many had missed.
For the next several years I worked hard to catch up and find my way. When God called me to preach at nineteen, one of the things that I remember saying was “God I have a hard time reading”. He was not moved. Since that time has earned two degrees and I am working toward my Master and then will go after my doctorate. I am an ordained Bishop in the Church of God and have been a lead pastor for the past twenty-one years. I have read countless books in my lifetime and read every week in front of a wonderful congregation.
So this picture may not mean anything to you, but when I look at it I see the power and the grace of a wonderful God. I see an example of a God that saw the destiny of a young boy and sent people into his life to help him achieve his purpose. When I look at this picture I am reminded of God’s conversation with a young Jeremiah, when God said: “I have called you before you were in your mother’s womb”. When I see this picture I am reminded that God has loved me from before I even existed. That night, as I was preparing to take the stage in front of hundreds of my peers all I could think about, was how far God had brought me. I thought about my mother working all those nights to help me and I thought about a sixth-grade teacher named Mrs. Williams that took the time to help a student. But most of all I thought about the power and the grace of God. You see when I look at that picture what I see is a miracle.