Daily Sobbing Sessions
I was going through sobbing sessions nearly every day in Vallejo, California. My first wife was divorcing me. I was twenty-three years old. I had come within about a week of being "baptized into the Mormon Church". I was still doing Transcendental Meditation every day for about 20 minutes. During one of my lonely crying sessions the Lord broke through. He reached out to me. He spoke to me, but not audibly (and I almost never use that phrase, "God spoke to me"!) But God somehow let me know that everything was going to be all right; that he was there; that he existed and he cared about me; that I should leave the Mormon situation, but I should continue to seek Him.
A Simple Fellowship and The Gospel
In my Navy Nuclear Power school class at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, there was a fellow officer, Jeff, who I knew to be a "Bible thumper"; a born-again type; a "one way Jesus" type. I asked him if I could be his roommate when we got to Idaho Falls, Idaho. He said yes. In Idaho, I began to go with Jeff to a small fellowship that met in the basement of a building. There, Tim, a brother from Australia, preached 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! Still, there were times I would be with that fellowship, we would be singing or praying and worshipping the Lord, and I would 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?"
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 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.
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!
The Teton Dam Busted
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.
Surrendering to Jesus Christ
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.
Growing in the Lord
Over the next year or two, my life continued to be a mess in many ways, but I continued to fellowship with believers everywhere I went (I moved seven times in six years, 1975 to 1981). Each time I met with a new assembly of Christians I was overwhelmed by the way I could love people I had never met before and they could love me, because of Jesus in our lives. By the grace of God, I've continued in a walking, talking, laughing, crying, moment by moment and day by day relationship with Jesus Christ (I heard that description somewhere along the way, I don't remember where!). I've continued to learn more and more about the fruit of the Holy Spirit and obedience and maturity our Lord expects and works in our lives. I've continued to grow in the knowledge of what God reveals in his word about who he is, and what he has called us to as individuals and as the Body of Christ. My life has been blessed by the Lord with a godly woman named Kim who has been my wife for 20 years, and with four awesome children.
Over the past 26 years (it's now 2002) there have been times that I have felt far from the Lord. And I have foolishly wondered if he loves me or even if he exists. And I have allowed myself to wallow in discouragement. And one of the ways Jesus encourages me is to remind me of how he got a hold of my life. How he pierced my heart and brought hope and direction and purpose into my life, the summer of 76. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord. "Lord, I just want to thank you. Lord, I just want to praise you. Jesus, I just want to thank you. Thank you for being so good."