…and how you can too!
“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…”
– Romans 1:16
I was raised in a Christian home in Germantown, TN. My parents were Methodists, so we went to the Methodist church. Somehow, however, I never really got the imperative gospel message to make a decision for Christ there. That happened later during my 11th summer. My older brother, who was a teenager at the time, was starting to associate with an outspoken group of Christian teens at high school. One day he left a tract laying out in our house, and I picked it up and took it to my room to read. I saw the clear scriptural quotes and a brief explanation of the sinner’s salvation prayer. I immediately prayed that prayer, realizing I hadn’t a moment to lose!
That was the beginning of my Christian odyssey. My brother also had brought home a Living Bible, a type of bible I hadn’t seen before. I was delighted at how easy it was to understand; I had only seen KJV and RSV bibles up until that time. I read from that Living Bible Genesis, Matthew, and parts of other books. I was amazed at what it said. I felt that finally I had truly found the meaning of life; spelled out so clearly, it made sense to me.
Two years later in 1972, again taking cues from my older siblings, (I wanted to tag along and do whatever they were doing!) I managed to attend one of the earliest “contemporary” Christian music events. The band that played there later became known as The DeGarmo & Key Band. I invited a new friend to go to that concert, and he accepted Christ while there. We continue to be good friends to this day. He later invited me to his church, which was non-denominational, a novel concept in those days. I really liked it there, and began attending regularly.
However, being just a boy, I kept most of my feelings and thoughts to myself, and I failed to seek out a steady, serious Christian role model. As a result I waffled around and did not mature. I got distracted by the usual sorts of worldly, youthful lusts: women and song, (but no wine – didn’t like alcohol as a teenager). For years I strayed farther and farther away from Jesus. At the darkest point I openly questioned the Bible, and the Christian faith in general; although I had no evidence to doubt it’s veracity, it just didn’t correspond with my sinful desires.
More years passed and at age 22 I joined the US Coast Guard, still groping in spiritual shadows. But I can remember certain points of light even during that time. During recruit training, I shared a barracks with about 80 other young men. We appointed a “chaplain” for ourselves, and every night at lights out he would pray aloud for us all as we struggled to survive the Coast Guard’s rigorous boot camp. When he finished, all 80 of us would say “Amen!” together as we each lay in our bunks, bone-tired. We even had a small bible study group which I sat in on. And on Sundays, we all went to chapel, where they had a band and we sang and clapped our hands to the music. That was the highlight of every week in boot camp, the only time we could let go a little and have fun.
Later I reported for duty in Louisiana. I vacillated back and forth there between short stints of affected piety and long slogs through worldly, fleshly, sinful thoughts and behaviors. I was what the bible calls “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways”. (James 1:8) Then I got transferred to New York City for more training. For the first 6 months there, I swung completely back into the worldly, spiritually-dead side. I was exploring, and having fun doing it; God wasn’t included. I partied, and partied some more, hitting every conceivable New York night spot. Rock’n’roll landmarks were big on my agenda, and I spent many an hour at (in)famous Manhattan clubs, just sober enough to find my way back home through the dense urban jungle. I became enamored with the Greenwich Village scene. Drugs were not part of my life, however; their destructiveness has always been apparent to me.
But at the center of all this activity there was a vast emptiness. Eventually that still, small voice deep inside me was starting to be heard again after several months in NYC. I bought a Billy Graham paperback, just on a whim; it looked more substantive than the pulp fiction beside it. About that time I visited a church on the upper east side a couple of times too. I was unaware of the small flame that was burning inside of me that was waiting for the right fuel. That church I visited only reinforced some of the negative doubts I was holding about modern Christianity though. It struck me as boring, staid, and uninspired. But I read the Billy Graham book, and the little flame inside got a bit bigger; I didn’t realize how close I was to a personal, spiritual revolution.
One Friday night I was in Greenwich Village snooping around alone when I passed a small storefront Christian church. I stopped and read the signs in the window, and peered inside. This, I thought, looked like a church that could be interesting. That following Sunday I came back and visited their service.
I was awed by the passion the people in this little church had not for their meeting, not for their building program (which they did not have), but for JESUS Himself. The singing and music was the best I had ever heard in a church, and nearly everyone in the congregation got up before the sermon started and shared testimonies of their experiences the preceding week. They spoke of witnessing experiences, personal struggles and triumphs with Christ, and referred to Jesus as if He were their closest friend; the faith of these people was focused sharply on their personal relationship with Jesus, and not on some doctrine, behavioral code, or organizational agenda. This captivated my attention, and I continued attending that little church.
After my second visit, the bottom fell out of my resistance to God. My sinful ways were so obvious to me that they made me sick to think about. I began reading my Bible hungrily -starting with the gospels- and suddenly it became crystal clear to me that what was missing from my life was Jesus Christ. His message in the Bible showed me that in order for His influence to have full reign in my life, I must surrender all to Him and begin to turn from my selfish and sinful habits. His atoning sacrifice on the cross had been my first step. If I would take the second step, He would help me with the third. I prayed fervently to Jesus to forgive me and to clean me up.
I was 24. My world was overturned in ONE day. I felt such strong conviction, I decided that day to completely expunge everything in my life that I thought Jesus would not completely approve of. I remember throwing a switchblade and a set of brass knuckles into New York harbor. I finally realized that rebellious music had become something of an idol, and a negative influence in my life, and that it had helped to separate me from God and even from other people. So, I drug my entire record collection to a dumpster, and snapped each of them in half before tossing them in; I didn’t want to chance them leading anyone else astray either. That probably sounds pretty strange, but it was what was necessary, at that time. My new friends at the little church were also very helpful and instrumental in my life at this time. They prayed for me, pointed me to the scriptural passages I needed to know, and fully accepted me and nurtured me spiritually and personally.
I became an outright “Jesus freak,” a zealot; but it was a very special time in my life. We went out for street witnessing in Greenwich Village twice a week. We’d sometimes get up on a short ladder in Washington Square and just preach spontaneously to anyone who would stop and listen. It is a dark, sinful place, and almost nobody listened, but we knew that God was listening, and that He wanted us to speak out as living Christians in a pagan, dead world.
Eventually my fiery passion grew into a faith anchored in reason and knowledge as I continued studying the Bible, archaeological science, and Christian history. I settled into a larger church that better suited the Christian I was maturing into being. I have remained on this path ever since.
I enjoy a good rock’n’roll tune now and then, but I never forget that it once played me. I have kept a steady church attendance since that time in 1985 (it seems like yesterday!) and I try to keep myself moving forward in my walk with Christ. I have endeavored to memorize a fair amount of scripture, in order to make it a part of me.
God has blessed me over these years with many wonderful relationships, experiences, and things. And I owe it ALL to Christ; these could not have occurred without His influence in my life. I remind myself daily that it is all a gift, and He shares His riches with me as long as it serves His purposes. And if and when He wants to take any of these away from me, it will be His will and that will therefore be good also. God is the creator of all things, and the Owner of all things; we are silly to think anything “belongs” to ourselves.
“But all these things that I once thought very worthwhile – now I’ve thrown them all away so that I can put my trust and hope in Christ alone. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, in order that I can have Christ. . .”
– Philippians 3:7,8
The Living Bible