A Twentieth Century Testimony
“Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what He has done for me.” Psalm 66:16
Remember how it was in grade school when your class went out on the playground during recess? Doug and Sam, the two big guys, started choosing up sides to play kickball. And the rest of us just sort of stood around and hoped one of them would pick us for their team. And how affirming, how exciting it was to hear your name called and know that you were wanted.
And it’s the same in this big lonesome world that doesn’t seem to need us very much. It’s easy to feel left out, unchosen. But the Good News of the Gospel is that God is choosing a team, and He has chosen me and in every likelihood He is calling your name as well. Ephesians 1:3-5 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. He destined us in love to be His sons. . . “ That’s it! Chosen! Destined in love! Holy and blameless before Him! Blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing! This is where I am right now and I want to tell you how I got here.
Now I realize it is unfashionable to talk about oneself. “I, me, my, mine!” “No! Tell us about the Lord Jesus! We’d rather hear about Him!” Well and good. But the Bible does say, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so” (Psalm 107:2). The Apostle Paul shares his testimony in the letter to the Galatians. And in our text David says, “Come and hear. . . and I will tell what He has done for me.” So in that spirit today I want to share with you my testimony.
“What I Was Saved From”
Most testimonies begin something like mine. “I was born at a very early age.” Seriously, I was born into a Christian home. No greater privilege could one ask for than a mother and father who fear God, who worship Christ, who love each other, who work hard, who provide a loving home, and who exercised their spiritual authority over me by baptizing me into the covenant when I was only a few weeks old. I was baptized not because I loved God as an infant, but because God loved me. It was a covenant my parents made with God for me to train me up in the ways of Christ and encourage me to have faith.
From my earliest memories I can recall church nurseries, flannel board Bible studies in tiny classrooms, children’s sermons, family prayer at mealtime, and being pinched when I misbehaved in worship. There were church suppers, youth fellowships, Bible studies, choirs, Christmas plays, and more sermons than I can remember.
By the time I was ten or eleven years old I knew the parables, the Christmas stories, the Easter story, John 3:16 and all four stanzas of my favorite hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy!” And I wanted more! Not content with the covenant my parents made for me at my infant baptism, I wanted to make my own covenant with God. I wanted to profess my own faith in Jesus, and I wanted to do so publicly!
So, I was enrolled in a Confirmation Class. And there was no more eager student than me. But in Confirmation Class I was not taught the Bible. I was taught the church; instead of being taught Jesus I was taught John Wesley and John Calvin. But still, in all of this weakness I reached out in faith and accepted all of Christ I could understand and gave Him all of me that I knew how to give.
So, a new Christian was born. But in my church home I was not taught how to live the Christian life. No one told me about the Holy Spirit or prayer or how to study the Bible or witnessing. And I did not grow. And slowly I began to move backwards so that by the time I was sixteen I had a teenage body with teenage problems with a twelve year old’s faith. And the great sadness was that I thought I knew all of God there was to know.
This time of the year doctors are busy inoculating people against the flu. And do you know how inoculation works? A person is given just enough of the flu so that he gets a mild case, builds up his immunity, and can’t therefore get the real thing. And if we are not careful the same thing can happen to us in church. We get just enough religion so that we cannot get Christ.
So, here I was a sixteen year old with a twelve year old’s faith. God was in my life, but He was not in control. My knowledge of God was grossly overshadowed by my ignorance of God. And I began to turn to the world and things, giving them the commitment only God rightly deserves.
There was football and driver’s license, wearing the right clothes, being accepted by the right crowd, and girls. And by age sixteen I was really into these things as a way of life. And Jesus became just one more thing I had going for me, and a not very important one at that.
Yet deep within I was not at peace. Jesus says He is the Bread of Life and if we eat His bread we’ll never again hunger or thirst. And I was missing His bread. And I was hungering and thirsting. I was finding out firsthand that the human soul is so big that all the world cannot fill it – – – All of the sports, all of the clothes and popularity and cars and girlfriends can’t ultimately satisfy.
So here I was a sixteen year old who had it all, and yet deep within knew that something was missing.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Most men live lives of quiet desperation”, and I was one of those men.
Imagine for a moment that you are lost in the forest. It’s getting dark and you are afraid. With sundown comes the cold. And you look around yourself for an answer. Off in the distance you see a tiny glimmer of light. So you run through the forest, the briers and limbs tearing at your face and hands. Eventually you come to a campfire burning brightly in a clearing. You don’t know to whom it belongs, but you don’t care. There is light. There is warmth. And with your present needs met you curl up and fall fast asleep.
Some hours later you awaken. And something is very wrong. The campfire has gone out! And it’s dark again. And you are cold again. And you are lonely again. And there is nothing left for you there but cold, unfeeling ashes. And off in the distance you see a tiny flicker of light. Running there, you discover another campfire. Quickly you curl up beside it and fall fast asleep. But that fire goes out too. So you’re on the run again.
And some people live their lives running from one campfire to another. “If I can just get a new car, I’ll be happy!” And you get the car. Then it’s, “If I can just get a girlfriend I’ll be happy!” So you get one and its now, “If I can just make the team I’ll be fulfilled!” So you make the team, but you’re still not at peace. And so it was with me. I was on a search for meaning in life, for fulfillment. Mine was no orgy of sex, a sordid trail of drug abuse, cruelty and dishonesty. It was more of a quiet clutch of materialism, substituting things for God.
About this time I read a book, J. D. Sallinger’s Catcher In The Rye. It’s the story of a kid who flunks out of prep school and takes off on a three day escape. You can feel how lonely he is. You can feel his confusion. His conversation is full of bragging, showing off, and smart remarks. He never lets on to others how tender he feels inside. And as I read the book I saw myself and was ashamed. “My God!” I cried, “That guy is me! God help me!” I prayed with all my being.
And God answered my prayer.
Over a period of a year the Lord began to jealously strip me of all the idols that crowded Him to the corner of my life. We lost the state championship football game. Popularity proved again and again to be a fickle game. Clothing styles changed faster than I could keep up. And all I was left with that was meaningful was a girlfriend who lived 500 miles away. So, come Easter holiday, I sold my ball glove, my tennis racket, my bike, whatever, and bought a ticket to go see her. And while I was there she told me this would be the last date because she had fallen for another guy.
“What I Was Saved To”
That Easter in Ohio we went to church for no other reason than it was Easter, and that’s what people did then. And the preacher, I still don’t know his name, God bless him, told the story of the caterpillar who crawled around in the dust when he could have sprouted wings and soared like a butterfly. And he said many of us lived like that as sinners, less than God meant us to be. But if we were born again we could live life abundantly. And he quoted St. Augustine, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in Thee.”
There in my seat, in the quietness of my own empty heart, I believed. “God, I want that new birth. I want you where you’re supposed to be in my life right now,” I prayed.
Most men come to God by a process of elimination. They try drugs and burn out on them and look for something else. So next they try sex or money or power or things or travel and education, moving from one thing to another until they finally come to Christ. Me, I’d half tried the Lord in my youth, but allowed the world to crowd Him out in my teenage years. And now frustrated and unfulfilled, I was returning to Him, a beaten and errant lover who’d not kept faith.
Flying home on the airplane with all of these things climaxing in my life, I can only say to you bluntly that the Lord spoke to me. In an undeniable inner way He simply said to me two words, “Why not?” I knew what He meant. His question was, “Why not sweep all this material clutter away and love me and serve me all your life as a minister?” Sitting in my seat I panicked. I wasn’t near ready for that sort of commitment! “Lord,” I answered Him, “Ill tell you why not. Because I am young and there’s a lot I want to do. There’s fun I want to have. When I get out of college I’ll commit myself to you then!” And God took His hand and surveyed in a flash of insight the rubble of idols in my life – football, popularity, girlfriends, unfulfillment. And I saw that it was no good apart from Him. And I sighed and with a simple prayer of surrender prayed, “Why not.”
There and then a great feeling swept over me. It was as if someone had opened the door of a hot, stuffy attic in August and let in the cool, scented spring air of May. And for the first time since I was twelve years old I was at peace with God.
When the airplane landed I was scared to tell anyone what had happened to me. They’d sure think I was crazy or maybe they’d expect too much from me. So there followed months of intense frustration as I tried to live the Christian life quietly, without any edifying fellowship.
Outwardly I became a very moral person. I quit swearing. I tried not to lie or covet or tell bawdy jokes. But inwardly I was growing considerably vexed. I was confused, lonely, tired, and very discouraged.
It was then that God brought into my life a young Christian couple fresh out of seminary. They got me involved in a small group Bible study and in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. They began to teach me how to live the Christian life. The discipline of worship, prayer, walking in the Holy Spirit, witnessing, and honest fellowship began to be incorporated into my life.
Then I was invited to attend a rally where Bill Glass was speaking. Bill was a pro-football player who had everything I thought was important in life, and, what’s more, he was a committed Christian. So, I went to listen.
And Bill preached on the parable of the sower from Matthew 13. He talked about how some seed fell into good soil and began to grow but the cares of the world grew up like weeds and chocked the plant’s life. And I knew Bill was talking about me. When he gave an invitation I went forward asking Jesus to be more than the Savior He’d been to me since my childhood. I went forward asking Him to be my Lord. And I didn’t care who knew it or what they expected for from then on I was unashamed of loving God.
Isn’t it wonderful that God knows exactly where He is in each of our lists of priorities right now? But regardless of where we put Him, God always puts us first.
God doesn’t wait for you to start loving Him before He starts loving you.
He went to the cross to pay for your sins. He thinks you’re worth dying for and rising for! He thinks you’re worth choosing for His team! You’re worth the filling of His Spirit!
It is customary in this part of the nation to greet someone with the question, “How’s it going?” And you can fairly ask that of me these thirty years since my commitment to Christ. “How’s it going?”
Honestly, it’s going hard but happy. The Christian life is the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. But then, again, it is the happiest thing as well.
The big surprise is that the Lord hasn’t taken away from my life so much as He’s added to it! It’s like when I was twelve and played marbles. It was fun. It was all I knew. But then Coach Boswell came along recruiting for the football team. And when he asked me to try out, I said, “Okay, I’ll play, but I want you to know I’m not quitting my marbles game!” And he said, “Sure! you can always play marbles if you still want to!” But when I played football I somehow never went back. I’d found something better! And it’s been the same with Christ. I’ve found something better! The old idols of things and sports and popularity are still there. It’s just that I never went back. In Christ I’ve found an involving, freeing, exciting arousal in which green becomes greener, fun becomes funnier, and love lovelier.
Since I’ve committed my life to Christ there have been many successes. The challenge of college, grad school, winning people to know Christ, writing books and magazine articles and news editorials, marriage to my wonderful Kathryn, friendships with the Wests, the Smiths, the Brokhoffs, the Hoffmans and so many others who have mentored me. There then is my children, meaningful church work in Augusta, Atlanta, Greenville, Virginia and Burlington. Funneling money and people to missions, the inspiring work of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, traveling in Mexico, Israel, Russia and even sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the President. . . . . of the Rotary Club of Asheville, NC.
But Christianity is not all rainbows and mountaintops. There have been many failures as well. Oh, the misunderstandings, the conflict, the rejection and the weariness of it all. God! The intense spiritual warfare, the wounds, the betrayals, the defeats, the casualties. Yes, there have been times I’ve thought about quitting, times I’ve wished for death. But in Matthew 10:22 Jesus said, “He who endures to the end will be saved.” So I live on in Him and He sustains me.
Now it seems the older I get the more precious Christ and His promises become. When I was younger God’s Word seemed to me like water. A few years ago the scriptures were like milk. But now the Word is like fine wine!
Life in Christ with its joys and disappointments is like a beautiful love story in which God pursues me with His affections and gifts, and I learn to respond emotionally, willfully and intellectually. To so love God and my neighbor as myself is the meaning of my life now.
Life in Christ is also an adventure story. It’s like a good book. Page after page
I simply can’t put it down until it’s finished. Why, with Christ, life is so serendipitous that a simple trip to the supermarket is like a safari through darkest Africa. You just never know what the Good Lord has next for you!
All of this and the Bible says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23). Praise the Lord! And magnify Him, o my soul!
The first question in the Bible is, “Where are you!” God asks it of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 as He comes looking for them. And right now, in behalf of the Lord, I’d like to ask that same question of you. “Where are you!”
Where are you in your relationship to God? Are you inoculated so that you’ve got just enough religion so that you haven’t gotten Christ? Are you living a life of quiet desperation running around from one campfire to another? “Why not?” Why not right now, where you’re sitting, turn to Jesus in faith asking Him to forgive your sins and come into your life giving you New Birth?
Christ offers so much more! If you give Him yourself He will give you Himself., and He is all that you are looking for!
A few years ago I was flying to Colorado. Seated next to me on the jet was a businessman, and he was finishing his third martini. We got to talking and he began to brag. “I’m in big business,” he volunteered.
“Why, what a coincidence,” I crooned, “I am, too!”
“I’m in business with my father,” he continued.
“I’m in business with my Father also,” I countered.
“Yes, but my business is so big it takes me all over the country!”
“My business is so big it takes me across the nation and around the world,” I said.
“My business last year netted hundreds of thousands in profits.”
“Last year we gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars,” I said.
“Just what sort of business are you in?” he finally inquired.
“I am a full time minister of Almighty God and the Gospel of His Son, Jesus the Christ,” I boldly told him.
Well, the gentleman reddened, took a few more sips of his drink and fell silent. Then, after a few minutes he sobered up and said, “You know, Reverend, you’re not just in big business, you’re in the biggest business!”
Lord Jesus, you make sense for my life. Yes to you! Forgive! Come! Indwell! Free! Mature! Love! I accept you and commit my life right now. Amen.