When I was about 3 years old my family visited friends that lived on a farm. After the evening meal our two families were visiting on the lovely lawn of that farm home. The other family had a little daughter quite a bit younger than me. She had probably just learned to run. Everyone was watching her and enjoying her. When she ran past me I stuck my foot out and tripped her. I have no idea why I did that. I was not jealous of her, I was enjoying her. Instantly I was ashamed of what I had done. I didn*t even need my mother*s disappointed reprimand: Ronnie! I remember that experience 66 years later as if it happened yesterday. It was my first memory of sin. Although it wasn*t premeditated it was the first time I had violated my own conscience.
There is another sin that is engraved upon my conscience. This one was deliberate. Actually there were many more deliberate sins that later wore down my conscience to the point that they didn*t bother me. I stole a toy tractor from the Gamble store in my home town. I hid it behind some trees near my home. I didn*t dare play with it. I just knew that someone would figure out that it wasn*t my tractor and I stole it. I was tortured by my conscience. So tortured that I couldn*t sleep at night. So tortured that I sneaked the toy tractor back into the Gamble store a couple of days later. I was relieved that no one else would ever know about it. But I still knew about it.
My parents saw to it that I was in church, Sunday School and summer camp regularly when I was growing up. I was often aware of the Lord*s tug at my heart. Most of the time I resisted it. A number of times I made clumsy attempts to respond to Him. Once at a summer camp I responded to His tug and walked down the aisle at the invitation. Two or three adults walked down the aisle that same evening. No one counseled me to receive Christ so I was unchanged. I had done what I thought I was supposed to do and had a self-satisfied feeling for a few days. But there was no meaningful change.
For a while after I did receive Christ I was angry with the man who preached the evening I walked down the aisle. Why didn*t he help me to receive Christ? Perhaps he was busy with the adults. Perhaps he didn*t help them either. My anger finally cooled off. I eventually understood that salvation is so completely a gift of God that even the moment it happens is chosen by Him. He has given me some ministries that I would not have had if I had been saved as a child. Perhaps the Lord knew that I had at least tried to respond to Him. He knew that it would be best for me to be saved later. I certainly enjoy my salvation more for having been lost so long. He has given me more opportunities to serve Him than many who were saved as children.
A few days later I sensed the Lord tugging at my heart again. I went to J. Leslie Otteson and told him I*m not sure I*m saved. He had seen me walk down that aisle a few days before and thought I had received Christ so he didn*t know how to help me. He was the caretaker of the campgrounds and was working his way through Bible College. He became a pastor soon after. He loved all the young people at camp and we loved and trusted him.
A couple of weeks later I made my way downstairs one night. I got on my knees beside my parents bed and told them I*m not sure I*m saved. They got me back into bed and the next morning my Dad gave me John 1:12: But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Mom had seen me walk down that aisle and Dad knew about it. They thought I had received Christ. I had not.
I knew that a Christian was supposed to read the Bible so I started doing that. I read the first 5 books of the Bible. It was like sawdust to me. I then read 3 or 4 books of the New Testament. Sawdust again. I lost interest.
I was a fairly well-behaved child so a number of others who knew that I had walked down that aisle believed that I was a Christian. Someone asked me a few years later if I wanted to be baptized. I agreed to it. I still didn*t know I needed to receive Christ. Since others believed that I was saved sometimes I even believed it myself.
After a few years of boredom with church I told my mother I*m not going to church anymore. I sleep better in bed. I broke her heart. I thank the Lord for the joy He gave her when I received Christ some 25 years later. During those 25 years I went my own way. If anyone spoke about being saved or born again I thought they were phonies. How could I think anything else? I had a fairly logical reason to believe they were phony. I had been a phony. One exception was my mother. I used to tell people she was a religious nut. I had enough respect for her not to tell her to her face. Now I am honored when a couple of unregenerate relatives try to insult me by telling me I am just like my mother.
I ran up against some dead-ends that I hadn*t planned on. For all appearances I was a success. But all I could see were my failures. Things I had should have made me happy but didn*t. All I could see was what I didn*t have, what I couldn*t have and what I would never have. I was empty and unsatisfied. I was helpless to change it. I was at the end of myself. I couldn*t find any answers. I was on a merry-go-round of misery for months. Finally, the Lord rescued me from myself. People usually just refer to being saved from sin. Sin is such an ingrained part of us that what we need to be saved from is ourselves.
Before the Lord came into my heart and life I was antagonistic and negative with the born agains. I learned how to avoid them. I got good at it. It was like a science to me. I thought they were arrogant and critical. I thought they were looking down their nose at me.
During the 1960s I joined a Lutheran church mostly because of the Pastor. He was a genuine Christian. I told him I wanted to be a Lutheran. He asked me questions. I knew the answers. He confirmed me. Love and faith poured out of him in every direction. Jesus and the Bible were supreme in his preaching. I have never known a stronger Christian. His wife died at about 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning. They were in their 70s. He was so faithful he preached the Sunday morning service. Never missed a beat, even with the tears in his eyes. What strength! I knew he had something I didn*t. I just assumed it was because he was a pastor and I wasn*t. At the time I got off work about 11:30 at night. They didn*t lock the church. I don*t know how many times I went in there after work and just wept. I didn*t know what I was looking for or what I needed. That Pastor couldn*t help me. He didn*t know how to tell me to receive Christ. Lutherans don*t phrase it that way. He probably didn*t even know how Christ came into his own heart and couldn*t explain it. I*ve been studying it for 25 years and still don*t understand it completely. Somehow faith in Christ comes to some people by being in the presence of others who have Christ in their hearts. They learn to trust the Lord through someone*s example. I wonder if I would have eventually become saved there if I had stayed in that church hearing that Pastor. I knew one woman who did.
I believe she was genuinely saved but I don*t believe her husband ever was. Some years later they relocated and became members of a second Lutheran church where I was also a member. After I gave my heart to the Lord I told her husband about it. His comment: Boy, it*s a good thing that didn*t happen to me! One Sunday I was asked to read scripture in that church. The first verse of the text I was asked to read was Isaiah 61:1: The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; After the service my friend*s wife sought me out and said: You should be a pastor! She and I were the only people there that knew the significance of that verse and that God had now applied it to me and given me some sort of a call. Somehow she had been brought to Christ through the spirit-filled preaching of the Pastor of the first Lutheran church but it didn*t happen to her husband or to me at that time.
Before I gave my heart to the Lord I was asked if I was willing to become the vice president of that second congregation. I agreed to it but had a sense of unworthiness. I breathed a prayer and asked the Lord to make me worthy of it. Within a few days and at the right moment Jesus reached out to me, offered Himself to me and I received Him.
That church was in the process of losing a pastor and looking for another one. I inquired about filling the pulpit during the interim. I wanted to get the whole congregation to receive Christ. Without going into great detail the leadership there prevented that. The Lord had different plans for me. I have been conducting worship services in nursing homes for about a quarter of a century, teaching the Bible and writing articles for the website. Hundreds have come to Christ as a result of the ministries the Lord has given me. I believe a majority of the leadership of that little church were unsaved. The outgoing pastor and I were golf buddies. When I shared with him that I had given my heart to the Lord he and I had some vigorous debates about how the Lord saves people and impacts them. He believed that I had been a Christian all along. I have come to believe that he is unsaved. A few weeks later after the Lord led me to another type of church I brought some items to his church for a rummage sale. As I was leaving I noticed some jokes on a bulletin board near the exit. I stopped to read them and was suddenly aware that he was standing beside me. He said simply and softly: I*m too old to change. He was only about 30 years old. Unknown to me the Lord had been speaking to him during our debates and telling him that he needed to receive Jesus as I had. Oh how I wish I had been mature enough as a Christian and wise enough to recognize his nearly open heart and lead him to Christ. I still pray for him sometimes.
The moment I received Jesus was at work while I was listening to Christian radio on earphones one morning in November of 1985. The preacher made me understand that Jesus would need to do some work on my heart. I asked Him to be my spiritual heart surgeon. I had a wordless understanding within me that He was going to make changes in me and I knew that I needed those changes. It was the first moment that I completely trusted the Lord. When I prayed that prayer I actually had a pain within my chest. But it was the most delicious pain I have ever felt. Like something harmful was cut out of me and something wonderful replaced it. (Jesus came into my heart and amputated my sin.)
Moments later the Lord arranged a conversation for me with a Christian supervisor. The most significant part of the conversation was that I told him I know I*m going to heaven! It was something that I had never known before. That knowledge has thrilled me ever since. Here are a couple of verses in the Bible that very accurately describe what the Lord did to me that morning.
Colossians 2:11: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:
Romans 2:29: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.