The twenty-fourth of July, 1975, was on a Thursday. It was a day just like any other summer day in South-western Kansas; probably hot and dry. But something happened on this particular day that would change my life forever.
Raised in Church
I was raised in church. My Mother drug me there every Sunday whether I wanted to go or not.
And most of the time I didn’t.
Staying at home with my Dad was not an option. The consequences for not going to church were far worse than the hour or so I had to endure when I went. So most of the time I went without a whole lot of complaint.
To make a long story short, by the time I was six years old (yes, you read that right) I had done everything my church said I needed to do to have a relationship with God.
I had made a “public profession of faith” (which entailed repeating a phrase with the Minister).
- I had been baptized in water.
- My name had been placed on the church roll.
- Budda-bing! I was in!
Everyone patted my head and said what a good boy I was. Little did they know…
I want to make this very clear: I had no idea what I was doing or why I was doing it. I had no comprehension of the issues at stake. The process they put me through was badly flawed to say the least.
The Wheels Came Off
During the course of time, other influences came into my life that were anything but good. It wasn’t too long before I was a mouthy, mean, fowl-mouthed kid with lots of attitude. Of course, not a lot of people knew this. I was the classic hypocrite. I still went to church, sang the songs, prayed the prayers, gave all the right answers, but my life outside was completely different. My church friends who knew of my dual life never said anything about it. Unfortunately, most of them were in the same boat I was.
I will never forget one particular day when I was sitting in Mrs. Smith’s fourth grade reading class. Her students had made little plaques out of Styrofoam trays and black yarn. One of the plaques read, “God helps those who helps themselves.” (That isn’t true, by the way) When I read that little plaque, the name “God” stood out like it was six feet tall.
And I was terrified.
The wheels completely came off my world. In that moment I knew there was something desperately wrong between God and I, and I had no idea how to fix it. I had done everything my church told me to do (mostly), and now I had screwed everything up. I had a world class dilemma on my hands with no way to resolve it.
The remedy my church gave for someone in my situation was to “rededicate your life.” This meant little more than walking to the front of the church, shaking the Minister’s hand, and repeating the phrase that you had made when you were baptized. I did that several times, in several different places, over the next few years. I would feel good about myself for a little while, but it never lasted. It wouldn’t be too long before I would be right back in my sinful lifestyle with the same aching hole in my insides.
By the time 1975 rolled around, I was fifteen years old and desperate. Either I would find a way to get right with God, or I was going to completely lose my mind.
I will forever thank God for Mrs. Doris Morris. Mrs. Morris had been one of my Sunday School teachers along the way. Years earlier she had given me a book to help my spiritual life along. It wasn’t until the summer of 1975 that I finally picked up that book out of sheer desperation.
Although the book was on the subject of praise, in the middle chapters the author wrote about the Holy Spirit. My church didn’t say a lot about the Holy Spirit, but I was familiar enough with the Bible to know that what the author was saying was in accord with the Scriptures. Among other things, the author wrote that the Holy Spirit would make Jesus real. That was what I needed. I needed Jesus to be real to me.
On July the twenty-fourth, sitting in my Mother’s chair in our living room, I asked God for the gift of His Holy Spirit.
And He came.
The lightening did not flash and the thunder did not roll, but everything changed in that one throbbing moment. I stood up and said right out loud, “Jesus Christ really is my Lord and my Savior.”
And for the first time in my life, I believed it.
I looked at the clock on the living room wall. It was 11:20 am when my darkness turned to light.
Everything Was Different
Everything was different from that moment on. It was almost unbelievable.
The Bible was a new Book.
When I prayed, I knew God was listening.
The aching hole inside of me was filled with the assurance that God and I were on the same page.
I even started enjoying going to church!!
But the most telling difference, beyond all the others, was that, for the first time in my life, I was able to genuinely love others. Through various things I had become an angry, hateful kid. I didn’t love anyone, especially myself. But all of that changed. I didn’t know until later that 1 John 3:14 said,
We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death.
That perfectly described my experience.
My search had ended. I found what I was looking for.
His Name was Jesus.
Forty Years Ago
That was forty years ago.
I wish I could tell you that all was perfect from that moment on.
Far from it.
I have certainly been anything but perfect, and there were times when the road was extremely difficult. But forty years on I can tell you…
Jesus Christ is more fascinating today than He has ever been.
The Word of God is richer today than when I first started reading it.
Prayer is more precious than ever.
The love of God is sweeter than ever.
God is as faithful as ever (even when I’m not).
Life with the King ever gets old or tiring. It just gets better the further you go.
Although the road has been long and full of all kinds of twist and turns, I’m still walking. I’m still doing my best to follow the King day-by-day. Should the Lord delay His return, and should He be pleased to grant me another forty years, I hope I will still be found following. I want to spend the rest of my time on earth showing others what life looks like when we are living in the Reign.
17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might
to all the generations to come.
Your power 19 and your righteousness, O God,
reach the high heavens. Psalm 71:17 – 19a
The Scripture quotations contained herein are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.