29 July 2022
One of the first things I ask a new Christian acquaintance is this: “How did you come to Jesus?”
My 54th spiritual birthday comes around on the last day of this month, so let me share how the Lord brought me to Himself.
Not “Bad Enough” (but No Apologies for That!)
I don’t have a “lost in depraved sin” kind of testimony, but I make no apology for that. Those of us who didn’t have to “hit bottom” before giving ourselves to Jesus can consider our testimonies to include a blessèd dollop of the prevenient grace of God, which kept us from such traps and ensnarements. But we may have had the opposite problem: thinking we were “too good” to need Jesus. After all, weren’t we Christians just because we’ve been good church-go-ers?
I was taken to church every Sunday of my childhood life, from the day I was infant-baptized. As soon as I was old enough for Sunday school, that got added to the never-miss weekly list, as were the dangle of perfect-attendance pins. Junior high brought along the additional weekly attendance at youth group. When I was old enough, I earned my God & Country medal in Boy Scouts even before I earned my Eagle medal.
There was just one small problem. I had no way to know that all my life I had been attending churches that didn’t preach salvation by faith, didn’t encourage Bible reading. Heaven? All good people went “up there,” right? The sober truth is that I could have gone to hell from the comfort of my church’s pew.
The Moving Experience(s)
But God moved me. I mean, He literally moved me and my family nearly 3,000 miles (~4800 km) from upstate New York to Southern California at the beginning of my eighth-grade year. Then, six months later, He moved us from our temporary home in Santa Ana to a permanent home in Costa Mesa. That was two years before I heard the Gospel, and probably four to five years before anybody knew that God was building steam for a monumental outpouring among the youth that would soon be called “The Jesus Movement.” I went from a place where I knew only the “liberal” version of “Christianity” to a place where God was moving so powerfully that even the local Lutherans and Presbyterians were filled with the Holy Spirit, alive in Jesus, and enthusiastically evangelical!
One thing I had managed to pick up by “osmosis” in all those years of Sunday school and VBS was that the Bible was true and God wrote it. My heart was stirred (by the Holy Spirit, as I later came to understand) at the end of my sophomore year in high school. Though still not saved, I began to read through the Bible; but I confess that I got hopelessly overwhelmed in the confusing quicksand right about the middle of Leviticus.
God was still moving me, but He was now focusing on the realm of spiritual hunger. The story is too long to tell about how and why that summer of 1968 I wound up visiting youth groups other than the one at my liberal church. God’s sovereign grace arranged it so each group I visited, no matter the denomination, had a clear Gospel bent. I realize now that I heard the Gospel shared at each place, but I still didn’t have “ears to hear”; yet God was patiently working.
Flying Saucers?! (No, Jesus Returning!)
I remember the night — July 24, 1968 — when I “took the bait” and God “set the hook.” No, that wasn’t the night I was saved. The 24th was the night I attended a youth-group home Bible study associated with St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach. This was within a mile of the famous beaches. Nevertheless, there were about 30 “surfer-dude” and “beach-bunny” types in attendance on a perfect-beach-weather evening. That made me suspicious. My thought was that there must be weed or booze available after the meeting, because… well, why else would all these beach-types be cramming this living room for a Bible study?
But that Bible study was about Jesus returning! That might not seem like a big deal to you, reader, but in my sixteen years of attending church and Sunday school, I had never once heard of such a thing! My immediate thought was this exactly: “What flying-saucer book are they getting this craziness from?” So I whispered to the girl next to me, asking what they were reading. She pointed to a page in 1 Thessalonians. In the New Testament! Yes, really! That night God “set the ‘hook,’” and I determined in my heart to return the next week to learn more…
…only to start the next Wednesday night, July 31st, with great disappointment. Nobody else showed up! Not even the youth-group leader (at least at first). At 7:10 p.m. the friend who came with me and I got ready to leave; just then the leader, Andy Scott, appeared, followed five minutes later by his assistant. Attendance had plunged from 30 the previous week to… well, just the four of us. How wise God is! He knew that the chances of me “going forward” or “raising my hand” in any sort of group environment were next to zero.
“I (Don’t) See that Hand.” (But I Do See that Heart.)
Andy decided to throw his prepared Bible study “out the window” and “to fellowship” (whatever that meant!) instead. That gave him one-on-one time with me and my friend. As he started witnessing and sharing from the Bible, about sin, and Jesus’ death, and needing to repent and “asking Jesus into the heart,” my natural response was, “Well, if that’s what the Bible says, and what Jesus wants me to do, I’d be happy to do it. It’s just that no one ever told me these things before!” And that’s what I did.
It’s hard to believe that night was 54 years ago. I knew instantly that something remarkably transformative happened and that, as the old song says, there was “no turning back, no turning back.” I had no idea that about a week later I’d begin to hear the voice of God in my heart; that nine months later I’d be baptized in the Holy Spirit; that only a year later I would sense a call to ministry. I had no clue under heaven what God had in store for the ensuing five-plus decades in terms of pastoring, missions work, preaching, teaching, masters-degree work, and writing. But I look back with great thankfulness that God moved me across a continent as well as moving me out of a liberal-church existence and mindset in order to make me His.
A Little “Chair”-ity in Guatemala
As Ricitos de Oro (Goldilocks) might say,
“These chairs fit just right!”7
I have a praise report from May’s Guatemala trip — chairs! And not just any chairs, but chairs for pre-K “escuela dominical” (“Sunday school”) kids. You see, churches in the southwest of the country have a BIG problem with little people — a good problem! There are so many new children, especially very young ones, attending Sunday school, that there aren’t nearly enough tiny-person chairs and tables to meet the need.
I learned of the need from Sister Gladys de Chávez while I was there. Since I always try to take extra cash on missions trips, in case I find a special need, I cleaned it all out of my wallet — $295 in all. That provided for about half of the pre-K chairs needed. After I returned, two of our board members almost immediately supplied another $300+ to purchase the rest.
Who knows? Maybe on one of those little chairs will be seated a future Billy Graham of Guatemala…
“Publish Glad Tidings” (and Other Stuff!)
I can now say, “Praise God, it’s published!” “It,” of course, is the first book in the series that I’ve been working on for three years — The John the Baptist Experience. The title of this first book is The Exceptional Messenger. This week it’s only available in Kindle ebook format, but we’re busy putting the final touches on the paperback “camera ready” copy. Many thanks to those of you who have been praying, especially because of my patience-challenging endnote-numbering problem.
And for those of you who may wonder if these newsletters are devolving into a book advertisement, always remember this — everything we publish is also available for free on our website, and a handy button turns every article and chapter into a fairly “clean” PDF file for you to download and print. We’re publishing books because they are another way to spread the teaching and joy that the Lord has given us to share. It’s working, and a case in point is that I’ve been interacting for days now with excited folks in Indiana who got hold of one of our 2007 titles.
We have updated the list of publications we have — a task that’s been long overdue. You can find this growing visual inventory at our Publications page.
Revisiting Some Giants in Prayer
Referring to last month’s requests: One “giant” that we mentioned in Give Me This Mountain! (last month’s communiqué) has fallen and two remain.
- Giant #1: My dental work turned out to be almost $2300 less than predicted, a definite praise report. This giant is now “pushing up daisies” with Goliath of old. That gives us more resources to deal with…
- Giant #2: Our 20-year-old broken-head-gasket car still needs to be replaced, but this, too, falls partly under “praise report,” as two encouraging gifts have come in to help with this. We don’t need “pretty” or “fancy” or “new”; we just need “reliable and capable of at-the-drop-of-a-hat ministry travel.”
- The “giant” Giant #3: The Book-Two chapter on sin. As soon as The Exceptional Messenger gets published in paperback (in less than a week?), I’ll turn my early-morning writing and research hours back to this project, the hinge chapter of The Extraordinary Message.
is not “out of the woods” yet!9
- Guatemalan “gigante”? Last month we asked you to pray for Pastora Carolina de Cojtín, who was severely injured in a motorcycle accident in May. Her husband, Giovanni, wrote me two days ago to report: “Mi esposa en recuperación ya que le detectaron hidrocefalia” — My wife [is] in recovery since hydrocephalus [water on the brain] was detected.
- Not a “giant,” but still important: God’s wisdom, guidance, and timing on possible upcoming trips to Florida and Honduras.
Thanks to those of you who are praying for the ministry, supporting it, and especially those of you who are sharing your prayer requests with us! It’s a blessing to hold you up in prayer during your times of need.
Much love in Jesus,
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- Basic map courtesy ofhttps://www.mapchart.net. ↩
- The attendance pin photo was found on the website www.churchsupplier.com. ↩
- Try as I might, I cannot find the original source of the photo of the toy Mayflower truck. ↩
- The cover of the 6/21/1971 Time Magazine cover was retrieved from https://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19710621,00.html. This site is a fascinating, um, well, time machine of magazine covers going back to 1/1/1923, a treasure trove for historians and nostalgia buffs alike.. ↩
- Image by 13smok from Pixabay. ↩
- The “skinny” photo was provided by good friend Steve Bryson, who may have also taken the photo himself way back when! ↩
- Photos provided by Pastora Gladys de Chávez ↩
- book cover by Murry Whiteman at mwart.net ↩
- Photo taken by one of the brethren in Guatemala ↩