During my first few years of life, we lived in a small house at my grandma and grandpa’s house in North Denver. When my dad finished college, we moved to Casper, Wyoming, where he worked for Sears. After about two years we were back in Denver and most of my growing up years were spent in an unincorporated subdivision just North of Denver. I can remember when the Boulder Turnpike was a toll road and the days before I-70 existed. Mom and Dad were average, steady, people, we had a good dog named Rusty, and I would have to say that my life a kid was good.
The Mysteries of Religion
Religion was not mentioned in our house but Mom and Dad were moral people and tried to teach me to do the right thing. My contacts with the religious world were limited, but always a bit mysterious and I determined that people connected with it were a little odd. For example, one of my friends was a Catholic and went to Catholic school. He would tell about how the nuns were very strict and that they frequently smacked kids with a ruler or paddle without much provocation. He would get on the bus every morning and it would stop in front of our house. On the side of the bus big black letters pronounced that the bus was from Our Lady of Immaculate Conception or Assumption Schools. I had no idea what that meant, but, it definitely sounded heavy and somewhat foreboding. His mother would say a short prayer and cross him and herself every morning before he left the front porch to get on the bus. To me it seemed that he was sent off to the gulag each morning and maybe he needed prayer for extra protection.
One day, my best friend invited me to his church for Sunday school. To me regular school was bad enough and I saw no need to go on Sunday as well. As you might guess this turned out to be another experience that raised doubt about the good sense of people mixed up with religion. As it turns out, these people were Baptists. Sunday school consisted of looking up verses in the Bible and then the teacher asks you what it means. Of course, I had never seen a Bible before so looking up verses was impossible. The Bible was a mystery as there was no table of contents, no index, and the stories in the book were not even in alphabetical order. To complicate matters, they kept talking about looking in certain books in certain chapters for certain verses. I didn’t get that at all because they only gave me one book and it just said Holy Bible on it. I kept looking around the room for other books called Timothy and stuff.
Finally, the teacher says to me “blah, blah, blah, what do you think that means?” So here I am new kid and really on the spot. So, I am thinking, “beats me—how am I supposed to know without reading the whole thing?” I don’t remember what I actually said, but some of the other kids reactions showed me that I had just exposed my self as some kind of ignoramus. I went one more time, but after that, I never went again and my friend never asked me, which was just all right with me. In hind sight, I suspect that the Baptists must have been having one of those “round up the heathens and get ‘em into church” campaigns.
The Gospel Revealed
My Aunt D was another interesting character. She is still one of my favorite people. My Mom was from a rural area and her side of the family lived in and around south central Nebraska. Aunt D was the Sunday school teacher for my age group at the Wesleyan Methodist Church. It seemed like we would visit every year for about 1-2 weeks. Of course, one of the many “chores” on the farm involved doing your Sunday school lesson before bed on Saturday night. Since Aunt D was the Sunday school teacher, I never had the sense that this chore was optional. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it because there were real lesson books and, for most of the other kids, preparation was optional so Cousin T and I always got the right answers. In my book, Wesleyans were much better organized that the Baptists. They also seemed tighter knit than the Baptists did, and, on occasion, we got to eat at the pastor’s for Sunday dinner. If I were to walk into the church today, I bet folks would know who I was.
The distance between towns was not that far but most of the roads were gravel and it took time to get from one place to the other. One day, on one of those long rides between towns, Aunt D gave me a tract to read. It was the Four Spiritual Laws or something similar to it. I must say that I found the content to be very disturbing. It said that I was going to die and that I was going straight to the burning fires of hell for eternity. It said that I was not acceptable to God because a long time ago Adam and Eve disobeyed God and some how that was counted against me. It also said that I had done bad things like lie, steal, etc., and could not get to heaven. It said that it didn’t matter if was perfect for the rest of my life because I was born unacceptable to God and that I had already done wrong things. It did say that there was one way to get out of this mess, which was to accept Jesus as my savior. It said that Jesus was God’s son and that Jesus led a perfect life and was crucified and died in my place so I could go to heaven and that Jesus was resurrected to prove that this was so. There was a prayer at the end of the tract and the tract said if I said the prayer I would be forgiven, have eternal life, and live in heaven forever. This was the first time I really heard the gospel. The problem was that, even as young second grader, I was a thinker. First, I reasoned, nobody has ever been resurrected from the dead as far as I know and I do not think that there is any way to prove that it happed as they say. They could easily be wrong about this. Secondly, the whole thing is not very fair at all. I am a good person and generally do not do anything really bad. It is not right that I should be condemned because some guy named Adam ate an apple in the Garden of Eden rather than on the basis of my deeds. Likewise, if I really was deserving of everlasting punishment, how could Jesus dying on the cross do me any good—it doesn’t change the fact that I had done things that I shouldn’t have done. Yet, on the other hand, if I said this prayer I would be covered. So, just in case, having nothing to lose, I said the prayer.
The Gospel Rejected
Most people are supposed to feel joy and relief from the weight of great burdens when they say this prayer. But instead of joy and peace, I reaped something else. I was a man (boy actually) of integrity. I felt awful having said the prayer without really believing it. I felt bad that I had gone against my own sense of what is true and right. Ultimately, I just could not accept that Jesus died and Jesus was resurrected. Almost immediately I tried to undo what I had done and said a prayer in my own words indicating to God (if he was really out there) that I really didn’t believe and was taking it back.
Ever since then I had rejected God and Jesus, but at the same time, I knew clearly what the gospel was and what I was rejecting. Either it happened or it didn’t, and I believed that it didn’t and would live my life accordingly. I believed that I had the power to make my life meaningful by the choices I made. In college I found confirmation that I was right through the study of philosophy and the atheists and existentialists. The college kids would try to witness at the student center but they all seemed to be a little sappy and perhaps a few bricks short of a full load. After college my career seemed to be going well. I had made the right choices and I was an officer in the U.S. Navy. I had power, lots of responsibility, and prestige. I this was good for my ego and it seemed to me that things were too good to be true.
During this time I also had time to think. I guess my expectations for myself were always a little too low. I had already achieved more than I thought I ever would in life. I had all the things that some people strive to get for a lifetime but never achieve. Though I was far from rich, I did not lack money either. I had time to wonder if that was all there was to life. Would I just live out my life like this and then die and return to earth and nothingness or is there more to it? I had also come to realize that I had done some things that made it impossible for me to claim that I was a good person and did not deserve condemnation. I never got depressed but I did experience fear. Fear of the future and that my life would not mean much of anything in the end. I also felt very alone in the world–like every good existential philosopher.
The Gospel Accepted
I had decided to go back to school, try other things and give up my Navy career. While I was waiting to get accepted to the University Graduate School I lived in Nebraska with my Mom. While I was in the Navy Dad and Mom split because Dad had a drinking problem and the situation became too difficult for Mom to deal with. Dad was living in Denver and after a short time it was decided that he would move back to Nebraska with Mom. He still had a problem with alcohol and one time I took him to a VA hospital for a check up and treatment. In the hotel room I found a New Testament—a readable modern English version. I began to read it and found that I was fascinated with it. So fascinated that I stole it from the hotel and took it home. I could not explain why I could not get enough of that book but I read it like it was one of the best thrillers ever written. I began in Mathew and read through John. As I read I could see how the parts of that tract from Aunt D unfolded through history. I wanted to believe and the more I read, I began to rate myself on how much I believed 40%, 60% 90% and finally 99%. But, I am a man of integrity and I knew that the last 1% had to be dealt with before I would accept Jesus. But how? There was still no proof that Jesus was who he said he was and that he was resurrected. The book of John was a different deal than the other books. I understood several things at this point. Jesus claimed to be God and that to be saved a person must have faith. For some reason I lacked just 1% of faith. Then I found what I was looking for in the book of John. John recounted the many witnesses to Jesus teaching and walking on earth after the resurrection. The story rang true and it seemed impossible that these people could be lying or deluded. This gave me the 1% faith I needed and I prayed the prayer in the back of that tract again. This time I meant it and I reaped a wonderful sense of relief and new standing before God as a clean and worthy person, forgiven, and pure. Later on, I read that when a person comes to Christ the angels rejoice. From that point on I must say that I never felt alone in the world again.
My Life Changes
When I got to College for the second time, God directed me to a church that taught from the Bible and the pastor made a special effort to help me learn and grow. Because of that, God has given me leadership positions and allowed me to teach others from his word. I met my wife there and we decided to be married after only a few dates. God has given me many abilities and talents and I have a desire to put them to good use. I pray that God will use me to good effect.
Confident Hope in Christ
I am not perfect and, like the Apostle Paul, I do things that I regret and do not want to do. Yet God is graceful and forgives when I ask. The truth I have and the position I have now In Jesus is far better than any earthly position of power and glory. Today two people from the Jehovah’s Witness came to the door to offer me “hope for the future”. I guess they were taken by surprise when I said confidently that I already had hope for the future in Jesus Christ. Generally, Jehovah’s Witnesses would take my words as fighting words. I think that I was so certain in tone that they departed without argument.