Proclamation, Invitation, & Warning

Why I am the Way I am

Jesus is the Way, the Great "I AM"
4/23/07 updated 6/16/07


Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. Ephesians 2:11-13

Raised in a Semi-Religious Home - At the Naval Academy - 1975-1976: Nuclear Power, Mormonism, TM, Divorce, and a Miracle -

Raised in a Semi-Religious Home

My father is a preacher's kid. My grandfather was a clergyman in the Evangelical and Reformed denomination and pastored a German-speaking Church in Nebraska with my grandmother. Grandpa Baumgaertel was from Saxony in east Germany and immigrated to the US before World War I. Growing up in Nebraska in this strict religious household it was expected that my Dad's two sisters would become nurses (they did) and my Dad and his older brother would go to seminary (my uncle did, but not my Dad). My father rebelled against his father and became a Navy pilot. Both he and his clergyman brother expressed great bitterness toward their father as I was growing up. They alleged that he was harsh and hypocritical. My late uncle had a long career in the United Church of Christ denomination in Chicago.

My father was a stereotypical Navy pilot: very dedicated to the Navy and golf and martinis and bridge. He and my mother took my two sisters and me to United Presbyterian Churches usually and sometimes to the Base Chapel in the various places we lived. I don't recall hearing the Biblical Gospel in any of those settings.

At the age of about eleven I spent a couple of weeks at a Boys Club camp on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia. One Sunday, a few of us went to an outdoor meeting where a man in his thirties talked about Jesus in a way I had never heard before. He said Jesus was coming back. I filed that away but didn't respond.

My mother's father was a pharmacist in Nebraska and also a prominent member of Rotary and Freemasonry. My Mom's Mom was a leader in Eastern Star and interested in Christian Science and the Unity School of Christianity. My mother once described refusing to be baptized at her grandmother's Church of Christ because she was afraid of the long, dark stairway to the baptismal font. This grandmother, her father's mother, was described as harsh and narrow minded. My mother was interested in Yoga while I was a child. I grew up with Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz on the coffee table and Yoga For Americans on the shelf.

Though I was not raised as a disciple of the Jesus of the Bible, I am very grateful for how the Lord blessed me through my parents and sisters and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. They have all been so good to me and my wife and children and I pray that those still alive would trust in the Lord Jesus.

In junior high I decided going to church was a waste of time. I told my parents I didn't want to go anymore. Through high school I variously called myself an agnostic or an athiest. I was into Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and The Virtue of Selfishness.

At the Naval Academy

At the age of ten, my parents brought me for a visit to Annapolis. My father had an old aviator buddy who had left the Navy, became a clergyman, and reentered the Navy as a Chaplain. He was currently stationed at the Naval Academy. It was while watching the Midshipmen march into the Chapel one Sunday morning that I decided I wanted to go to the Academy.

By the time I arrived at Annapolis as a plebe, I was a professing agnostic but we were all required to attend Chapel or a religious service of some kind. Those four years were also a spiritual desert for me in which I experienced a new kind of loneliness and longing. Little by little I began to wonder if there was a God. I began to care about the possibility there was a God.

The first year (my "plebe year") the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that West Point Cadets and Annapolis Midshipmen could no longer be forced to attend chapel or religious services. At first, the Academy set up an alternative, the "Morals and Ethics" class on Sunday mornings. I was one of the first to sign up, as I describe in my article, "Agnostics for Jesus". That was a turning point for me. The Morals and Ethics class was held in a large amphitheater classroom which was close to full the first Sunday it was held. It was moderated by one of the Navy Chaplains. One by one, Midshipmen would stand up and say, "I think truth is..." or "I think reality is like..." blah blah blah. That's when it hit me... the futility of humans ever being able to figure things out on their own. Everyone had their own opinions. Everyone conjured up in their own imaginations who "god" was or what's right and wrong or what "truth" is. It was still to be five more years before I would surrender my life to Jesus Christ, but the "Morals and Ethics" class was an important step the Lord used to prepare my heart and mind for him.

One day that first year, I was standing on the sidelines watching an Army-Navy soccer game. A third classmen (sophomore) came up to me and asked if I was a Christian. I thought to myself, "I'm not Islamic or Buddhist, and I live in America, so I must be a Christian." I said yes. He invited me to a Navigator's Bible Study. They very clearly presented the Gospel to me, but I was so argumentative that they said it was probably best if I didn't come back. I don't blame them. I thank the Lord for those people.

At night, I would walk alone or stand and stare across the Severn River at the houses on the other side. They had lights on inside. I would wonder who was sitting cozily with their families. I would wish that someday I could be cozy in a home with a family.

One summer, our midshipmen training took us to Virginia Beach. A number of us were out on the town in the evening, enjoying the boardwalk's carnival atmosphere. We were wandering between taverns when we saw a crowd on the grass near the beach. The fifty or so people were surrounding two young women, probably in their teens, playing guitars. They were singing, "Country Road, take me home, to the place I belong..." When the song ended one of the girls began to talk about Jesus. I was very touched by the song and impressed by the humility and boldness of their testimony.

I spent four years with almost thirty guys in the same company in the class of 1975. It was a rich and diverse group. Some were religious Catholics. Some were Protestant church-goers. Most were nothing... like me. I love them all. 

There was only one classmate in my company who was clearly a born-again believer in Jesus Christ. He was a very humble person named Tom. One evening he showed me a magazine article that outlined end-times prophecy. I was very intrigued. Even though I had some good conversations with Tom, my only response was to try to get him and the Mormon in our company to debate each other. Neither took the bait.

The Mormon ended up being my roommate for a portion of those four years. He had a great impact on me. To this day I highly respect him and I love him. He was a very good friend to me. Right at the time I began asking questions about God, my Latter Day Saint roommate had all the answers! The LDS system is very systematic and comprehensive and my friend was well trained... and very loving and sincere. It was because of this roommate that I became a very dedicated "investigator" of Mormonism. I attended Sunday and Wednesday services and Family Home Evenings in Maryland and after graduation in California and Idaho.

My last year at the Naval Academy, I impulsively pursued the former girlfriend of a classmate and married her the week after graduation. She was a church-going Lutheran.

1975-1976: Nuclear Power, Mormonism, TM, Divorce, and a Miracle

I was so foolish. My career was taking me to California. She was committed to school on the East Coast. Plus we were two very self absorbed people. Soon there were conflicts. I didn't help when, after a Lutheran Church communion service I reminded her that there were four billion other people that "God" cared about.

In San Diego, I paid my $125 to be initiated into Transcendental Meditation (TM). I had been introduced to TM by several Naval Academy classmates and had been interested by the hype in the media. At my initiation I brought a handkerchief and some fruit which was placed in front of a photo of Guru Dev. My instructor recited a lengthy prayer in Sanskrit and then gave me my mantra. After that I meditated twice a day.

Also in San Diego, I attended meetings at the local LDS ward. I was very inspired by the high quality LDS visitor center. I asked the two young missionaries assigned to my ward what the LDS position was on TM. After checking into it, they came back with a wishy-washy answer to the effect that it was not prohibited but that they did not need it.

The submarine I was stationed on made a temporary move to Mare Island, California. I was a regular at that local Mormon ward and attended family home evenings for single people.

Another new officer on this submarine, Zack, was a born again believer in Jesus. When he realized that I was close to converting to Mormonism he invited me to his Bachelors Officers Quarters (BOQ) room. We discussed the Mormon idea of eternal marriage. Zack opened the scriptures to Matthew 22:23-34 where Jesus answers the Sadducees' conniving question about marriage and heaven. Zack and I discussed this and though I was not convinced, it had a lasting impact on me. Even though I brought the question to my LDS Sunday School teacher and he came back with a party-line apologetic, Jesus' words would continue to affect me.

I continued to pursue my LDS involvement for much of the six months I attended Nuclear Power School at Mare Island. During that time, I lived in Vallejo.

The room mate I lived with in Vallejo was also attending "Nuke School". He had recently been baptized as a Mormon. And he was doing TM! He was yet another good guy who also had been another one of my Naval Academy classmates from my company. I was still an "investigator" so not officially Mormon and my roomate and his LDS fiance were very eager to encourage me. One day she read me 1 Corinthians 13. I was dumbfounded. I had no idea that something so profound was in the Bible.

I started to become very serious about getting baptized as a Mormon. I even called my former Naval Academy room mate who was now a pilot in Corpus Christi, Texas, and asked if he could fly up to baptize me. I came very close to scheduling this ceremony.

During this time, my marriage was definitely going down hill. I was starting to go through daily sob sessions. I had had such an easy life compared to many people that this was the first real tragedy I had experienced. It was when I was alone one day during a sob session that God miraculously intervened in my life. Somehow it was as if God spoke to me. Not audibly, but somehow. And He said that He did exist and He cared about me. And that I should keep seeking Him, but that I should leave the Mormon situation.

I started attending a local Lutheran Church. It was there I first heard the song, "He lives!", sung by an exuberant and colorful pastor. "You ask me how I know He lives... He lives within my heart!" I was very impressed by a young man, a teenager in the youth group and his mature and committed example. I made an appointment to talk to the clergyman pastor. He was a nice jovial guy. But he didn't have much to say to me about Jesus, if anything. When I started to press some Mormon doctrine points with him, he got a little mad and said he wasn't going to argue.

But one of the most important things to happen in my life was when the Lord gave me wisdom to approach another fellow student in Nuke School. I knew him to be another "born again" type. I asked Jeff if I could be his room mate when we got to Idaho Falls, Idaho for prototype training. He said yes.


After Nuke School, I visited my parents in San Diego, drove over to Phoenix, Arizona and then up through Salt Lake City, Utah, on the way to Idaho Falls. I made a stop at "Temple Square" in Salt Lake City. I took a tour of the visitor center and grounds around the temple and the world famous Tabernacle. The year before I had been able to tour the Washington, D.C. temple before its dedication. On the tour in Salt Lake I admired the murals by a Seventh Day Adventist artist; heard an explanation of the sea gull monument; and was intrigued by stories about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

Once I moved into our apartment in Idaho Falls and began my Navy prototype training, I decided to try the Latter Day Saints one more time. I visited the local ward on a Sunday morning. It was different from the ward meetings in Annapolis and San Diego and Vallejo. The previous Mormons had been really big on "welcome" so to speak. This group wasn't so friendly. And just as well for me, of course. This was my final interaction with the LDS system as an "investigator".

In an attempt to save my marriage I agreed to meet with a Lutheran counselor south of Idaho Falls who had been recommended by somebody my first wife was being counseled by on the East Coast. After discussing my situation with this professional he really thought that divorce was the best option for us. That kind of suprised me...

At some point I began to go with Jeff, my room mate, to his church. It was a little charismatic fellowship that met in the basement of a building beneath a Christian bookstore. It was called, "The Christian Center".

This was the first place that I began to experience the love of Jesus Christ in the family of God. As I describe in my testimony, "The Summer of 76: Jesus Pierced My Heart", we would sing: "He is our peace, who hath broken down every wall. Cast all your cares on Him, for he careth for you." "Little Country Church on the edge of town." "Prepare ye the Way of the Lord". "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but I will trust in the name of the Lord my God." "I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart." "Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord. Let us lift up our hearts and our hands. Lift our hearts and our hands unto God in the heavens. Let us turn again to the Lord." "Lord I just want to thank you, thank you for being so good."

There was a young man who played the trombone for "Prepare ye the Way of the Lord". There was a young woman who sang with an angelic voice, "Let us search and try our ways..."

There were times I would be among these people and think, "I can't believe I'm here. What am I doing here? What would my friends from High School or the Naval Academy think if they saw me with these Jesus people?" But this is where I wanted to be.

I remember very clearly one Sunday morning when the pastor, named Tim was preaching. Tim and his wife were from Australia. That morning, Tim presented the simple Gospel of Jesus Christ. He contrasted the Gospel of grace through faith in Jesus Christ with the false gospel of works of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). And even though followers of Jesus had presented the Gospel to me over the years, this was the first time I understood it in a way that pierced my heart! Glory to God! Praise His Holy Name! Thank you, Jesus!

I don't know if that was the moment I was saved. But something happened.

There was a group of young people in this fellowship, older teenagers and young adults, that spent a lot of time together. They often provided the music for the fellowship meetings. I spent most of my time off from work with this group; studying the Bible, singing, spending late evenings in coffee shops eating carrot cake (with Bibles on the table?! and holding hands and praying in public?!), traveling to other cities to give singing and musical presentations to other fellowships. The group was called, "His People".

I remember telling the church fellowship one morning, "I didn't know I could love so many people at one time!"

One day there was a knock at the door of my apartment and on my door step were two older ladies from the fellowship. They, very kindly and very gently, confronted me about Transcendental Meditation. I had actually faded out of the habit of meditating, by the grace of God, as I had shifted my attention more and more to the things of God. But their admonition confirmed to me that a follower of Jesus should have nothing to do with the occult. I was thankful that they would love me enough to confront me and warn me!

Another time I said, "Good Luck!", to the lady who led the youth group, "His People", and she responded, "Pray for us!". I could tell that saying, "good luck" wasn't the right thing to do. I had a lot to learn! But I was eager to learn.

My first wife was to fly out to Idaho to spend the summer with me. We were going to try to get things together. But I then was told it was just going to be a month, then a week, then it was down to just one weekend. When she arrived I found it was just to get me to sign papers. That was the weekend the Teton Dam broke. I spent most of the weekend riding in pickup trucks and filling sand bags to help protect Idaho Falls from the rising Snake River. At the end of the weekend, after I had taken her to the airport to say good bye for the last time, I was back at my apartment building standing outside. It was early evening and I was looking at the horizon after the sun had gone down. I was grieving about a life that felt like it had just gone down the drain.

But then I remembered the fellowship in the basement of the building. I thought, "That's where I'm headed. That's where I'm going. What those people have, that's what I want. That's going to be my new life." I don't know if that's where I went from darkness to light or not. I don't know if I specifically put my trust in Jesus right then. I don't know if I repented of my sins right then. But I did experience the proverbial lifting of the ton of bricks off my shoulders. I felt released of a great burden. I felt comfort and hope for the future.

Sometime during that summer of 1976 I was reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Sometime that summer I became a child of God, a disciple of Jesus, and I went from darkness to light. I can't pin point the moment, but it was sometime that summer. My understanding of the Gospel was confirmed and refined over the next few months. I remember reading one popular tract and officially committing to Jesus Christ through a "sinner's prayer" as it invited me to do. I just wanted to do what I understood the Lord wanted me to do in putting my trust in him.

"His People"

 


But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ..."
Philippians 3:7-8

 

 

 

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