I became a Christian at the age of 9 years. God has been so very faithful to me since that wonderful moment. I wish that I had been as responsible during all of these years, but even so His grace and mercy have always been so perfect. There are a million or more facets to my growth as a Christian, but as I seek the Lord’s Spirit for the purpose of this letter, I write as His hand leads me.
I have always been preoccupied in my own little world. I had a vivid imagination as a child, and spent hours playing out whatever was paramount at the moment from super hero stories to baseball and football games. These were mostly by myself for the simple reason that every part of the moment was controlled by my imagination, and was not interrupted or distracted by external influences.
It was April, 1966. I was four months shy of my tenth birthday. I had apparently been unaware of my sister’s awakening in the Spirit over the last few months. She was (and is) two years younger than I, but at that time of our life, she was miles ahead of me from a Spiritual focus. We had both been in church since the crib, but with my disconnected view of life, she passed me in the Spirit much as the tortoise did the hare.
On this Saturday morning, I found that the Pastor of our church was coming for a visit with my sister, and that I was to join the conversation at the kitchen table. Of all that was said on that partly cloudy morning while gathered together, I remember two illustrations from Pastor Jesse Owens, but that the Spirit of God Himself was actually speaking through this man.
Romans 3:23 says that “For all have sinned and have fallen short of the Glory of God.” Pastor Owens showed me that as an athlete shoots a basketball that falls short of its mark (an air-ball), we fall short of obeying God, even as hard as we try. Pastor Owens then shared Romans 6:23 which says that “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” These verses I had never heard before. But then he shared John 3:16, which I knew and could even then recite, but had no clue until this moment what it meant. It was one of those beautiful mind-opening experiences that sometimes occur in our lives. I understood in that little setting that God had sent His Son into the world so that — if I believed in Him — I might not perish, but gain this eternal life that Pastor Owens had just mentioned.
Then he did something that I will never forget. He held out a nickel, and said that eternal life was a free gift from God, but that I had to reach out, take it and accept it just as I would that nickel. He extended his hand, and I reached out. I grasped and took that nickel from his hand, and in the same glorious moment gained oh so very much more – eternal life with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
To borrow a phrase from Paul Harvey, then came the rest of the story. To put it another way, then came puberty and a whole host of other life shaping experiences that tend to obstruct one’s path to maturity. But in His pattern with my life previously, God used three separate ‘new beginnings’ to revitalize my spiritual growth in Him. In each renewal experience, the first at 14 years old and the second at 18 years of age, more scales dropped from my eyes. The third, and greatest of these began at age 24 with my marriage in 1981 to the one for whom I had been born, and in whom I find the most cherished of God’s gifts to Man.
It is indescribable in any human language how God begins such complex circumstances with two lives that ultimately intersect at the most perfect of moments. Clearly, the most important ingredient in my growth in the Spirit of Christ has been God’s influence through my wife. I hasten to say, however, that I could never deny my appreciation for the foundation of Christian principals that God established in me through my parents. Yet, without the Grace of our Lord by His ensuing influence through my wife, I never would have grown to be the man that I am today in Christ. Here again, this testimony could go so many directions because of all that my Lord has done for me. Let me sum it up in three points.
First, God has taught me that my most primary gift of the Spirit is serving others. This is the commission with which God sent me into the world, and it continues to be manifested in me through various ministry opportunities for Him. It also allows me to freely embrace my role as Husband and Father. It makes me who I am in my service within my church body. It also provides the basis for my approach to the career work that God has given me to do.
Secondly, alcohol, which was once part of my life, no longer has any place with me, lest for any reason it become a stumbling block to anyone. I have seen the lies that alcohol creates even under the most sincere of circumstances. An onlooker, seeing me or any one of us as Christians partake of even a small amount of alcohol will not be able to discern whether or not we are drinking to excess. It has therefore been made known to me, as a conviction of the Spirit, that I and all Christians should fully and completely abstain from the consumption of alcohol. If we stay so focused on our ‘rights’ without consideration for how that might affect others, how can we yield ourselves completely to the Spirit of our Holy God?”
Thirdly, a complete submission to Christ and an absolute commitment to Spiritual things rather than things of this world – this I seek as my most cherished goal in this earthly life. To put it in words that I have recently come to know – to ‘Line up’ my flesh under my soul, my soul under my spirit, and ultimately submit my spirit under the complete authority of the Spirit of our Holy God.
This last, yet most vital element is the key to the all of the other facets of my life. And yet it remains as my greatest challenge. In every way, the attacks of Satan through the flesh threaten this resolve. Therein lies the need to be daily, and even moment-by-moment, aware of His presence and His touch in my life that I may stay focused on my call to service in HIM.