December 12th, 1971, was a very special day for me. It was the day I was born - born the second time that is. It was the day I was born into the kingdom of God, the day I became a new creation, an act God Himself did in me, making me His own child. I like to share my story to celebrate my birthday.
As a teenager I had all sorts of problems, as most teenagers do, with peer pressure, temptations, and trying to find my place in this world. I began to wonder, also, about spiritual things. Who was I? Why was I here? Who is the real God? How do I know? How do I know which religion I should follow? Is there a heaven and a hell? If there is which one am I going to? Can I know? All these things, as well as all my teenage struggles would eat at me. And at the end of the day when I was out with a group of friends doing things my conscience told me was wrong, I would lay in bed and look up at the wall at a picture of Jesus that I had "won" reciting the correct order of the Gospels in Sunday School when I was much younger, and this picture of Jesus had eyes that would follow you wherever you were in the room. I would feel those eyes, and I would sense that God was watching me and knew all my sins, and I would be afraid. And I would pray, "God, show me the way to the truth."
Soon I began to withdraw from friends, and become sort of a loner. I tried cleaning up my act, but never quite could. I would see the Bible that was given to me when I was in 2nd grade sitting on my dresser and it was like everything else in my room was invisible and that was sitting there glowing brightly, drawing me to it like a magnet, and I could not resist picking it up and reading it. I began in the beginning, where you begin in any book. I read Genesis and Exodus, and saw the law of God, which absolutely condemned me. I remember actually skipping school one day to spend the day reading it and praying for God to reveal Himself to me. I was on my knees in horror as I read the law and saw how condemned I was, and fearful that there was no hope for me. I had broken the commandments, I had taken the Lord's name in vain, and I was guilty, and no amount of trying to rationalize or excuse myself could be done. It was as though I were in a court before the judge and all my crimes had been named and there was not one word to my defense. My heart sank, because I wanted to know God. I really did. But how was there any way for me to know Him now or find Him?
I would stare up at that picture and say, God I only want You as my friend. Please be my friend, as I felt I had no other real friends (my own doing). But there was a still, small voice, that would whisper in my heart, "I can't be your friend because of your sin." So I kept reading, I kept praying, I kept seeking. I would take long walks and ask God to appear to me, to show Himself to me. I kept hoping to see an angel or Jesus Himself. But that didn't happen. Then I heard there were "Jesus People" in town and that they were on the streets telling people about Jesus. I sought them out, but never found one. I prayed God show me what church to go to! Show me how to find if I can be a Christian or not. I didn't know if He would forgive me.
Then one day our social studies class brought in pastors from about 13 different churches in the area, one each day, to speak about their beliefs on marriage. We were studying marriage and religion. I carefully took notes of each one, asking God to show me where I should go for the answers. Then one pastor stood out. My teacher spoke to us before he came in…"now be careful of this guy, he likes to preach!" That got my attention. This pastor came in and spoke of what it meant to be born again, and how much God had for those who came to him in true faith to be born again. He had an excitement and exuberance about him. He passed out a book at the end of the class. My heart was on fire. I read some of the book, and told myself, I'd visit his church on Sunday. I walked up to the church to read the sign to see what time their service was.
The next Sunday, though I had all the intentions of going, I woke up very tired and said to myself, I'll just stay in bed, and maybe go the following week. But there was a compelling force that I felt all around me urging me to get up and go. I kept hearing "no you have to go today. Today is your day." So I got up. I told my dad where I was going. He said he'd drive me there and pick me up. He was warning me about "those crazy people." But he left me off at the door. I thought to myself, "hmmm, maybe I'll just walk around and wait for him to come pick me up again." Again there was the compelling force around me that was urging me strongly to go in. Again I was hearing, "No! you HAVE to go in. Today is your day." So scared as I was, I went in.
There was a lady standing in the foyer, nobody else around. I wondered where everyone was. She said they were all in Sunday School, which was strange to me. I thought Sunday School was only for children. I told her I had heard the pastor the week before in school and wanted to check out his church. She was delighted and I noticed a "look" on her face. It was the same look I noticed on the pastor's face when he spoke. What was that? How did they do that? Then I notice some girls from my school come up the stairs carrying Bibles and other material, and I wanted to hide myself, because they were more popular girls, from a whole different group than I hung out with, and I thought they would make fun of me. But they came right up to me, and said how happy they were that I was there and asked me to sit with them. I did. One of them sitting next to me was praying for me under her breath the whole time. I didn't know what to think of that!
The pastor spoke, and I don't remember all he said, but through it all I was realizing this was something I didn't have and needed. At the end he invited anyone who was not born again, and understood that they needed the Lord in their life to raise their hand. I knew I did but was so scared of what others would think. I thought for sure these girls would make fun of me. I was crying… a first for me in church. So embarrassed to be crying in church! What would they think. But again I felt that compelling force, and almost unconsciously, my hand shot up. I was shaking. Then the pastor asked those who raised their hands to come forward. What? Go up there in front of everyone!? I couldn't! I just couldn't! Again I heard, "you don't know if today is the last day you have, you don't know if you'll be here tomorrow or next week, today is the day of salvation."
Again that compelling force drove me up front and I knelt down, in tears and just prayed. A woman came up next to me and opened her Bible to John 3:16 and read, and said to me, "put your name in there and read it. Are you a 'whosoever?'" I read it, and it was like the light came on. "I'm a whosoever! I can come to Jesus!! He will forgive me!" She led me in a prayer of forgiveness and to receive Him into my heart.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
He came into my heart. I knew it. Just as sure as I knew it was Sunday, I knew He had come into my heart. She told me to go home and write this date down in my Bible next to John 3:16 and to tell someone I had prayed this prayer and received Jesus as my Savior. I remember the absolute relief and joy I felt in my heart…the huge burden that had fallen off of me when I left that day. A thought came to me, "but what if I sin again?" And just as quickly another thought came to me, "Jesus is in my heart. He will help me." I remember spending the next 3 days reading through the entire New Testament. It opened up to me and became alive in a way I had never seen before. I remember a time when I rolled back and forth in my bed laughing saying to myself, "I'm forgiven! I'm a child of God!" Nothing was so wonderful as that. I have had many trials, testings, fallings, and heartaches since that day, but He has never left me or abandoned me, and He has grown me, revealed Himself more and more to me, and made the reality of His presence more and more manifest to me. His reality, presence, and love is so deeply rooted in my entire being, that it is more real than the world around me at times. I have found Him to be true and His Word true. I wish with all my heart I could make others to see Him and find this life as well. How can you keep such a thing to yourself? You can't. I want everyone to have Him!