Tuesday October 17, 1978 Bob Weiner and the Praise Band
Ellen and Randy (not their real names), before they left the frat house that Saturday morning, asked if they could pray with me.
I remember Ellen and Randy’s prayer session clearly.
Of course I had plenty of experience praying in groups. The Baptists, at least at that time, had their famous “hour of power” prayer meeting every Wednesday evening and I also participated in public prayer sessions at the Baptist Student Union.
So when they said, “Can we pray with you?” I said, “Sure,” expecting a prayer some thing like this, “Dear God thank you for our time and thank you for your son and bless this man and keep him safe and so on.”
I dutifully bowed my head and was promptly blown away and taken on what seemed a religious mind trip (I imagine a small shot of LSD would have the same effect on me that this prayer did!).
For no sooner had I said yes to their request than they both hunched forward and laid their hands on my head and shoulders.
Okay, I was not so thrilled with Randy’s hands on my head, but with Ellen laying her long slender hands on my shoulders I thought I could put up with this for a bit.
Then Ellen cut loose with (and I am transliterating) the following incantation:
“Shabalaa lla la shaball la la oja balla Dear Jesus, oh sweet Jesus!, we thank you for you saving power ohsballalalaa la and for leading us Dear Jesus here today oshaballa bal lala la. We thank you for you salvation and mercy and for the power you have given us and we pray for your child Tik ooshabalala ba labsha halas and we ask for your spirit to touch him and to convict him and to heal him and to open his eyes; for he surely is seeking you oshabalabala and we thank you Dear God that you said that he that seeks shall find and that if anyone knocks at the door you shall open it and guard his heart and open his eyes and keep him safe and I command the demons to leave him alone AMEN and AMEN! ”
And along in the background Randy, like a bass guitar playing accompaniment, is murmuring the entire time in a deep voice, “Thank you God, thank you Lord, Yes Dear Jesus, Thank You God, Yes Dear Lord.”
And when Ellen finishes we, all three of us, just sit there for a minute or so.
Me in this stunned, “What in God’s earth just happened to me?” fog and Ellen and Randy smiling like they had just prayed, “God is great God is good let us thank him for our food, amen.”
And then they stood up and Randy puts his arm around me and says, “Tik – please come tonight for what could be a tremendous service; the House is just down the road on East Magnolia…and remember: we don’t bite!”
With that they strolled to the front door and headed down the street. I watched them walk down West Magnolia thinking to myself, “Wow now THAT was different from anything I had ever seen!”
But on Saturday night USC was playing someone, Notre Dame, I think. This game, headlined by the networks as a season maker for either team, was a high scoring thriller. Earlier that day Auburn had their brains beaten out by Bill Battle’s Tennessee Volunteers, and I briefly considered heading down to the Maranatha House to take a break from football and studying. In the end the prayer, or whatever it was they had done, scared me off so I decided to continue to study and watch football in the deserted frat house.
Sometime that evening, however, I took a break and went to look at the poster that Ellen had placed on the bulletin board in the dining room. There it hung, alright, with blazing purple writing showing the dates for Bob Weiner’s preaching and the performances of the Praise Band for the next two weeks on campus.
Then I noticed another poster that had the headline “Presenting the Praise Band with Bob Weiner” hanging on the opposite wall. Someone had handwritten the name of my fraternity into the blank where and time space in a blue marker. It announced a concert by the Praise Band at noon on Tuesday at the Frat House.
Funny thing was I could not remember either one of them writing on the second poster or hanging it up.
Had the couple returned after our meeting this morning? I looked closely at the poster and saw that the smiling female lead singer in the photo of the band, with her dark hair and beautiful dark eyes, was none other than my new friend “Ellen”.
Now, this was getting interesting!
The next morning I hitched a ride to First Baptist Opelika church service. During the the Sunday school that morning the talk of our college aged group centered on Coach Barfield [Auburn’s beleaguered head coach] and the “butt whooping” that Tennessee had administered his team in a driving rain storm yesterday, the latest dating gossip, what people thought of their chances of making the Dean’s list that semester, and, “Where we in the world would we have lunch after church?” and, “All of the little things,” as Samuel Johnson, noted some three hundred years ago, “that make up the fabric of what we call life.”
And throughout that morning I contrasted this seemingly trite buzz with Ellen and Randy’s proclamation about the overcoming life, the first century church, and the power of Jesus to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.
Ellen and Randy showed no shyness in their faith and although the “sha balaing” puzzled me, their prayers seemed to have both power and conviction in them. They had clearly stated that Christians must be sold out like the idealistic first century Christ. The phrases “sold-out” and “over-coming” they had mentioned over and over again kept flashing in my mind like neon sign boards the entire morning during Sunday school and the later church service .
I had, earlier in September, noticed work going on at the defunct and derelict CHI PHI house on West Magnolia. Swarms of people worked feverishly on the old house; painting it a gleaming white and planting fresh, beautiful, flowers and shrubs around the old house. Now the house looked brand new and constructed to the right of this columned house sparkled a beautiful fish pond. The refurbished Maranatha House, standing at the northern edge of campus, seemed to gleam like a miniature version of the Parthenon in Athens.
Well, my friend and I drove by the Maranatha house that Sunday and I noted a black and white sign out front. “Maranatha House” the sign read …and below this marquis in removable letters (like you see under a McDonald’s sign) appeared the words “Jesus is God”.
That message struck me as stark and unusual. I thought of Jesus as God’s Son and the Trinity as some vague concept.
Was Jesus God?
I found the question provoking and made a note to ask our pastor Chris, at BSU, about it.
I turned and asked my friend, and frat brother, “Know anything about that group?” as we drove up Magnolia Street.
Kent shook his head “Not sure what they are,” he said, “I hear that they are an offshoot of a Methodist Group and that there are about 10 guys living in the house and that it is a church, not just a youth study group. Whoever they are they are sure spending a LOT of money on that house and on advertising.”
This certainly seemed true because their colorful posters had shown up all over campus and the house was truly beautiful and immaculate.
On Tuesday morning I woke up and headed to class making a mental note to be back to the frat house by 11:30. During morning classes my head swirled with thoughts of Ellen (lovely Ellen) and Randy, and their prayer, and the mysterious, and dynamic Bob they had spoken of, and the dull First Baptist Church of Opelika I had attended Sunday, and my seemingly staid Baptist “home” church in Birmingham.
I could not wait to see what Bob would say today.
On Sunday night the Social Chairman and the VP of the frat had accepted my explanation of the Praise Band; especially after I pointed to Ellen and said, “She had this big smile on her face and asked me if they could play here… pretty please???”
Jack, our social chairman, said, “Well if she is as pretty as her picture I could care less if she can sing!”
So that morning I walk into the frat house’s parking lot to a trailer blocking the back door where about six guys were loading equipment into the large dining room. There I saw Randy talking to a short guy, almost overweight, with a sport-jacket (expensively cut) and a tie, wearing a gold bracelet and what seemed beautiful Italian leather loafers.
I walked up to Randy and he gave me a big smile and a clap on the back and said, “Hey Tik- thanks for setting this up!”
Then he looked to the short guy, who had jet black hair with combed over bangs and amazingly blue piercing eyes, and said, “Bob this is the guy I told you about, Tik.”
The short guy, Bob stared at me with those amazing blue eyes.
Albert Spear, the young architect, and later Nazi wartime armaments Minister, described his first meeting with Hitler in his book “Inside the Third Reich” like this: “I don’t remember exactly what he [Hitler] said to me but I do remember the eyes; staring, cold blue, sizing me up, looking into my soul, captivating me, and freeing me at the same time.”
I will not try to improve on Spear’s prose; but I will tell you that I had a similar reaction to this meeting and, like Spear, recalled it afterwards as a very important event in my life [I still do]. Years later when I read Spear’s description of meeting Hitler for the first time it rang true to me because I had the exact same reaction that day meeting Bob Weiner for the first time.
I felt a primal powerful presence and the sense of standing in front of a very special person. This visceral reaction to Bob occurred in split seconds and I reacted immediately to the force I felt coming from him. I imagine that a rat must feel this way when confronted by a cobra: fascinated and frightened at the same time.
Bob looked at me for three to four seconds, his face expressionless, and then suddenly he broke into a big smile and shouted, “Praise God!”
I looked around and a couple of my frat brothers turned our way with frozen expressions on their faces.
“God is doing great things here in Auburn and we are at the center of it my brother!”
He shook my hand and then said “I hear you are president of the fraternity here. God needs leaders like you; He has given you talent: are you giving it back to Him?”
The guy nailed me, right in my sweet, weak, spot, for I do have a talent with people. I don’t like bragging, nor do I believe in false modesty, at least not any more. People seem to immediately like me and trust me, I try focus on their needs, and am genuinely interested their stories; I am reasonably attractive and confident.
BUT I always feel like I am not doing enough, not achieving enough, not giving enough.
And 30 seconds after meeting me Bob probed deep into my psyche; pushing those hot buttons of mine and asking deeply personal and meaningful questions of me.
Oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly in retrospect, I found myself wanting to please him and to be with him and his cause.
Well I introduced Bob and Randy to the 70-80 frat brothers, pledges, and little sisters that had gathered for the concert and, with a wave to my friend Ellen, I sat down.
Then the drummer Carl started in with a Led Zeppelin beat and the lead guitarist starting making his guitar sing like Lynyrd Skynyrd playing “Free Bird” [the long version] and the Praise Band started cranking out their hit song “the Race” with two beautiful female singers, Ellen with her dark hair, and a gorgeous blonde, Vicki (none of the names are real other than Bob’s) lit out with a fast paced beautiful two-part harmony duet.
The band proceeded to crank out three hard-core rock and roll songs that had the crowd clapping and stomping their feet. I had never heard Christian Rock, this being 1978, and I am guessing that none others in the audience had either. The band was talented and the music was fantastic that was for sure.
At the end of the third song Randy stands up and brings Bob up who grabs a microphone which he did not need given the size of the room.
Bob starts off like this: “I am here today to tell you about Jesus. Not the namby -pampy Jesus you hear about in nursery school, not the meek and mild Jesus who hopes you will ‘pretty please say a prayer’. I am here today to talk to you about a real he man, a man who came here to earth and battled all the forces of evil and all of the sin that is destroying mankind; the very sin that has many of you in bondage. ”
He looked directly at one of our little sisters, sitting at a table, and pointing at her with the mike in his hand Bob shouted, “I know that some of you, probably most of you, have said a sinner’s prayer and go to church on Sunday. But God is speaking to me right now that there is a girl here who is involved in sexual immorality; who has this secret sex life that she thinks she can hide from God, who has sacrificed her virginity to a guy who could care less about her, who pretends to be a Christian but who acts like a harlot.”
“She will cry out “LORD LORD!”
Bob opens his bible and points to a scripture and says in a low voice, “and Jesus speaks to just such a one like her, ‘and I will say to them DEPART from me you evil doers.”
With his voice rising Bob continued in a sing-song voice, “For anyone who acts like a Christian and professes to be a Christian, but lives in the sin of lust and idolatry blasphemes the name of Jesus who SUFFERED for us.”
I kid you not the girl at the table starts crying openly.
Sobbing like a baby.
My mouth dropped open in amazement.
“WOW,” I thought “this guy sounds just like an Old Testament Prophet like Nehemiah or Jonah- unbelievable this guy minces no words. He is power personified and somehow he knows just what to say.”
And then his tone changed and his voice then became soft and gentle again. “You see he loved you, you, you, you…” and as he said this Bob turned to look people in the eye and pointed at them. Finally he slowly turned to the sobbing girl and, in a barely audible voice, he whispered “….and you.”
“My sister he cared enough about your sins to die a vicious death, He who could have summoned an army of angels ….he died… because of your sin … your sin…”
He then turned and now looked squarely at me.
“Some of you have been given gifts and you are not using them to God’s Glory. You are like the servant who hid the gold coin instead of using it for good. And I tell you YOUR sin is as great as the one who commits a sexual sin of immorality…in fact it is far greater. ”
And with that the Praise Band broke into soft music and Bob shouted “I Know that God has brought people here that He has spoken to, a direct message He has given you. Don’t ignore God. ”
“The only sin that cannot be forgiven is the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit…and that means ignoring what the Spirit is saying to you now.”
Then he asked everyone to close their eyes and that if God was speaking to them they should raise their hands.
My hand shot up involuntarily.
Next he asked everyone who had raised their hands to open their eyes, look up, and look him in the eyes.
I did so and I found myself locked in the grip of those piercing blue eyes for ten… twenty… thirty seconds… maybe for an hour, I am not sure.
He then broke the spell and said, “Jesus said that ‘if you deny me before men I will deny you before God in Heaven.’ If you are willing to make a stand for Jesus, to be a real follower of Jesus, not a Sunday only Christian, I want you to stand now. Everyone, if you want to answer God’s call stand up. If you don’t stand up you are denying the Lord God Almighty.”
With that I stood up and I saw that Becky, the little sister at the table, was also standing with her body racking with sobs.
“Come up here,” Bob said to both of us.
I walked up front and Bob and Randy put their hands on my head and shoulders while Ellen and the other female singer put their hands on Becky, the sobbing little sister. The band played soft music in the background, and Bob ripped out a prayer about salvation, demons and the power of God.
Afterwards while the band members stowed their equipment Randy, Bob and I went out and sat in Bob’s Mercedes. We talked about my experience and my feelings about my Baptist Church and Christian life and everything that had been swirling in my head the past week since meting Ellen and Randy.
Bob locked eyes with me and said, “Brother God has big plans for you, big plans. It is NO accident we met today. I want you to come to the service tonight because I will be preaching on the Great Commission tonight and how we are going to evangelize the world with this generation.”
I promised both Randy and Bob I would be there.