A TRUE STORY October 31 – November 1, 1986
November 1, 2014 § 1 Comment
Exactly 28 years ago, sometime between 11:00 pm, October 31 and 2:00 am, November 1, I was converted. Though I understand now that what happened then was the working out of God’s foreordination before creation through his wise and inscrutable hand of providence by multiple means; and though I understand I was likely regenerated some weeks or even months before (or else I would not have begun to seek as I did)–the bottom line is that during that late night and early morning I experienced the reality of conversion. It was nothing less than the conscious engagement of my mind with the reality that I was at one moment one thing and then, in the next moment, I was something else; at one moment I did not trust in the grace of God in Christ and then, in the next moment I did.
What follows is my testimony, originally written in the spring of 1987. Testimonies are, I fully realize, dangerous propositions. They can actually be mostly (or even all) about the testifier with little real testimony of the Gospel. Often they are long on the sordid past of the testifier and short on the present reality of being a new creation in Christ–allowing listeners the religious equivalent of rubber necking while driving by an automobile accident; you know you shouldn’t look, but you just can’t resist.
This testimony, I hope, does what genuine testimonies are supposed to do: testify to the fact that 1.) I once was lost but now am found and 2.) Jesus was the one who found me.
It is in two parts; the first I have left virtually unchanged from 1987 so that it reflects as genuinely as possible what I experienced 28 years ago. The second part has had only minimal editing, most of these being updates concerning the passage of time; it is an excellent window on how, in 1987, I was growing in the faith and learning to understand the world through the new eyes of God’s grace.
Lastly, though this is long for a blog post, it explains why Reformation Day has special meaning for me.A True Story October 31-November 1, 1986
There was no use in even being in bed—there was no way that I could sleep. The ceiling never moved or changed at all the whole time I was staring at it. I didn’t see the ceiling anyway; I was looking past it. I don’t remember actually thinking of anything. It was more of an acute awareness, a stinging realization of what I really was and of where I was going. And through it all the emptiness weighed more than it ever had before, dragging me down, pulling me backward as if my very soul was being drained away at last.
But there was no relief waiting on my soul. I knew that where my spirit was sinking toward was infinitely more painful than anything I could imagine, than any reality I could claim awareness of in this world.
I squeezed my eyes shut. The emptiness grew. My eyes popped open again; at least there were no shadowy images looming over me when they were open. Weight after weight—every failure, every disappointment of my life—piled into the vacuum inside of me, the hole that was screaming to be filled life instead of the lies it had met at every turn. The utter helplessness began to swallow me, and as I slowly sank downward I realized that I wasn’t dying; I had always been dead.
I had received all the warnings; I just hadn’t cared to heed them. At every fork in the road, at every junction of decision in my life, I had taken the route labeled “The Hard Way.” Only I hadn’t learned a thing. That is, until now. Now the futility of my life was laughing at me, pointing to every stupid choice, every lie I had believed.
You should have known!
You should have listened!
You can’t play with fire and not get burned, boy!
Empty. Emptier. An unlived life mocking me—so cruel, so finite—as I lie in bed staring at the ceiling.
It hadn’t always been this way. I had such dreams! I was going to make music, music for the world to sing; I was going to make people happy with my guitar! I was going to take it all around the world, and be rich, famous, admired, do what I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to…how did I get so mixed up?
That first cigarette. If I had known it would grow into three packs a day I would have never touched the flame to it. I cough blood into the sink; my lungs churn.
That first joint. If I had known it would slash out whole pieces of my memory and cause me to forget what I was saying in mid-sentence I would have turned away in disgust.
That first tab of acid. If I had known that it would dissolve what was left of my emotions—I carried my grandfather’s coffin, totally void of any grief; I couldn’t even cry when I saw the grave—I would have run away in horror.
STUPID! What a fool you’ve been! You chose to destroy yourself. In the face of death you thought you could handle it all. How it’s mishandled you.
I see that I am not an island, I am not the captain of my soul, but I see it too late…I can only steer myself toward death.
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!”
“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands…all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”
My life—all of it, spinning in my brain—the dull pain beginning to numb my entire body, my senses…I have done nothing…I am doing nothing…I can do nothing. Oh, that solid ground were under my feet, that assurance and love cradled me….
“Their throat is an open grave…destruction and misery are in their paths…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . . the wages of sin is death….”
Here I am. The emptiness is sucking me into the pain that I have earned. I wait for my wages.
Sinner. Selfish, dirty, greedy, as filthy rags.
How painfully clear I see myself as I am. The weight of reality is heavy, indeed! A burden pins me down, a weight too heavy for me to lift. What can I do? Where can I go? Who will give me life? I am a sinner…help me…!
Silence. All is still, quiet. Did I hear that?
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”
Suddenly, arms are stretched out…waiting to catch me. So warm, reassuring. I know that they will catch me. He has promised that He will.
I guess I’ll just fall into those arms.
The few dewy seconds of semi-consciousness melt away. My eyes no longer flutter and I am awake. But, I am not simply awake; I am alive…as if newly born, a new creation.
Something is different indeed. My step is not dreary, no burden traps me in bed to sulk. There is a new sweetness in the air that I breathe.
The emptiness…could it be? No sagging weight pulls my mouth downward into a scowl; it is gone…it really is gone!
I am free!
I shower my first shower: through the window the first beaming rays of sun stream through the crystal spray. Dazzling tiny prisms—millions of them—dance in the steam.
I eat my first meal, tasting food for the first time. What has happened to me? It is as if new life has settled into me—my thoughts, my perception.
The new day goes on; what is this that has happened to me? Slowly, the night before comes into my mind. Only, now it seems so distant and foreign; I see another person lying in that bed, staring at that ceiling. Who is that despairing soul? Why does he agonize so over something he cannot possibly do for himself? Does he not know that Jesus has alre—Jesus?…that Jesus has already paid the ransom…and has overcome the world?
It sinks in.
Yes…yes! I know! My Lord and my God!
TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS LATER
Most everyone has carried a large, heavy box up a flight of stairs. You struggle against the awkward weight, gasping and grunting, your fingers squeezing the corners of the box with less and less control as it begins to slip from your grasp. Your back feels as if it will break, and your arms grow painfully weaker with every wheeze—but looking up, you see that the top of the stairs is only a few more steps away. Once you at last reach that final step you can finally let go. Oh, the flood of relief that flows over your tired, pained body when you are freed from your heavy burden!
My life had become like that box. Only it was empty; empty with the heaviness of despair and purposelessness–and the stairway seemed to have no end. There was a void in my life that was screaming to be filled with the assurance that I was somebody, that my life had a purpose, and that I was loved. I had no idea who I was, nor any solid place to plant my feet and say, “This is how I know I am loved and why I know who I am.”
I had bought the lie that as long as you believe in something and are sincere you will be fulfilled. I had believed in peace and love. I had believed in rock and roll. I had believed in drugs. Yet none of these were worthy of any faith. There was no truth in them; they were all counterfeit.
Yet in this discovery I realized that it is not faith itself that is fulfilling but, rather, the object of faith. If you need to cross a stream, all the faith in the world in a rotten plank will still land you in the water; but only the slightest faith in a strong plank will get you to the other side. The important thing is that the plank will hold weight! Only Jesus Christ—and Him alone—is worthy of any faith. It isn’t a matter of trying to earn God’s favor by being good or going to church; it isn’t a matter of tithing, or of attaching yourself to the right religious leader, like a pastor or the Pope. It isn’t even enough to simply believe that there is a God—Satan himself meets this requirement! None of these things will bring us life and joy and peace, the promise of God. Only knowing Jesus Christ will bring that life.
That night in bed something happened to me that no amount of wishful thinking could ever accomplish. What happened was a completely supernatural event: According to 2 Corinthians 5:17, the infinite, personal Creator of the universe made me into a completely new creature.
In the months prior to that Halloween night I had become convinced of the reliability of the Bible, of the truth of Christ’s claims to be God, and that mankind was in a moral dilemma caused by sin: nothing less than spiritual death. I came to believe that Christ had left His position in heaven to take on human flesh and be born of a virgin, live a totally sinless life, and offer Himself as the sacrifice that would allow for the reconciliation of sinful man to God. The historical evidence convinced me that He had risen from the dead and was alive. But none of this alone meant a thing: “You believe that there is one God. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder” (James 2:19). Mere intellectual assent of these truths is not enough.
That night in bed I saw that I was absolutely lost apart from Jesus Christ. There was only one thing I could do: Turn from myself. In doing that I in effect said to God, “I know that I am a sinner, and I stand condemned before You in Your holiness. I can do nothing to justify myself before You. But I believe that You, Lord Jesus, have been punished for my own sins and have borne my guilt on the cross; Your death should have been mine—but you took my place, and died for me. I rest only in Your perfect sacrifice for my salvation.”
This act of faith—moving from mere intellectual belief about the facts of Christ to actually trusting in Christ’s death and resurrection alone—is nothing less than receiving the person and work of Christ into your life. The gospel of John says that, “…to all who received Him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Trusting in Christ, then, is recognizing your spiritual poverty and turning to the only one who can save: Jesus Christ. And you can only turn to someone who is really there. A fable won’t work.
Just as being born physically is necessary for physical life, being born spiritually is necessary for spiritual life. Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). And Scripture makes it clear that this birth is a completely supernatural act performed by God. In the verse quoted above John goes on to say that those who become children of God are “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (1:13).
Also, it is important to recognize that the Christian faith is not a faith against reason; it is in fact the most reasonable conclusion one can reach–no blind leap is required! But there is a leap that must be made, and it is a leap of faith. It is a leap into the light, not into the dark! As Anselm, building upon Augustine, said, “I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but rather, I believe in order that I may understand.” If we would make sense out of our lives, then we must turn to and trust the only One who can give us the truth.
Faith is the key. Faith is both persuasion and power—and it turns us away from ourselves and takes God at his word, believing his promise. And it is faith alone—not faith plus obedience, not faith plus penance, not faith plus the right church. It is simple—and it is alone. The beauty of faith alone is that everyone, no matter what his or her standing in this world, must come to God the same way. Both the most backward of men and the most brilliant of scientists must come to God on His terms.
Often Christians are accused of being more sentimental than thoughtful because they say things like, “I know that God is real because He lives in my heart.” Such statements are often attacked because they are said to be beyond the realm of verifiable proof. Ultimately, however, this is proof of God’s existence; those who have experienced the reality of His presence day by day through prayer, fellowship with other believers, and the study of Scripture are truly experiencing reality: They have come to know the living, personal Creator of the universe. The historical facts may lead to intellectual consent, but God stands on the other side of the chasm of sin with outstretched arms beckoning, “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8). Christ is the bridge over that chasm, and it is only when we cross that bridge, through trusting in Him, and step over to God that the reality of knowing God occurs. This is faith.
What are the results? Christ meets us where we are, as unique individuals enslaved by the universal curse of sin. In my case I was immediately delivered from a three-pack-a-day cigarette habit; I had absolutely no craving for marijuana, acid, or any kind of drug; I never experienced one minute of withdrawal symptoms. In place of these God gave me a consuming desire to know Him, and I was filled with a peace that I had never thought could exist. I became hungry for the Bible, and within its pages I met not simply printed words but the risen, living Savior.
27 years have passed since that October night. And in every step I have taken I have found Jesus Christ to be faithful. As I have grown in Him, He has given me comfort, strength, and confidence in the reality of His presence. Broken relationships within my family have begun to be healed, and I have learned that, in order to communicate with others, we must first be able to communicate with God. And that is exactly trusting Jesus Christ makes possible: True communication with the God who is really there. He has given us His Word, and because of the Holy Spirit, who guides us in the truth, we are able to understand God’s communication to us, and we are also able to communicate back to Him through prayer. And He has been faithful to His promise that He would give to me His peace, a peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27). I took Christ at His word. He kept it. His presence with me now by the Holy Spirit is His witness to me that He is not only with me, but that I belong to Him (Romans 8:15-17). On this witness I continue, in His presence my faith is realized and nurtured.
Faith is not “sweating it out” till the bitter end, keeping my fingers crossed that Christ will show up one day and I’ll get to go to heaven. Faith is trusting God now with full assurance that what He has promised is true: Through Jesus Christ we have forgiveness of sins and a covering of righteousness. God is with me both now and forever! But faith is both a journey and a destination; heaven is not secondary for the believer. It is Jesus that I hunger to see, to fall down before the One who is my peace, my breath, my every heartbeat. How I long to see the face of the One who is now my joy and my hope!
My life began October 31, 1986. The choice was clear: either hold on to myself, insist on controlling my own life, and utterly lose myself, or renounce myself, giving Christ complete control, and be found. I have been found! And all who come to Him will likewise be found. That is exactly what He has promised!