In telling this story, please know that my aim is not to bash anyone or to take a stab at any group on any way. These will simply be reflections of the longing of my heart to refocus on Jesus alone.
|St. John's Cathedral (Parma, OH)|
However, even though I paid as little attention as I could to what was happening in the Mass, I realized enough to know that I was not the person God expected me to be. I can't say that it was something the priest said. I just don't know. I just knew I was a sinner, even if I didn't even know to use that title to describe myself. I didn't know that God's Law condemned things like lying, anger, idolatry, and lust. I just knew I was guilty. I knew I needed to be forgiven. I knew I was not in a "right relationship with God." In fact, in trying to describe what I was going through I realize how many theological issues were going on in me, but I had no clue what they were. I couldn't articulate it then. I just longed to be right with God.
I wasn't what anyone would call a "bad kid." I had a great home with loving parents. I had never gotten drunk or tried drugs or had premarital sex. I wasn't known for my profanity. But, I somehow knew that it didn't matter how I was compared to other kids. What mattered was a perfect God's assessment of me.
Around the age of 11 or 12, I can remember my first exposure with "born again Christians." The title they used sounded fanatical. All I knew is that is what Jim and Tammy Faye Baker were called. I really didn't want to associate myself with that bunch. But it did strike me as odd that there were people who knew that they were forgiven and who claimed to have a personal relationship with God.
I found myself developing a "spiritual thirst." It consumed me. I remember looking into the night sky overwhelmed by the reality of the bigness of God and the eternality of eternity. I had to get right with God, but I didn't know how. So, I began by trying to become the best Catholic I could. I gave myself fully to every practice and every ritual. Yet, the need within me only intensified.
I had relatives who lived in Florida who were born again Christians. I started telling my cousins about what I was watching. Now they started encouraging me to listen to Christian music, knowing that music was one of my biggest loves. Now there was music that was all about Jesus! It is as if my heart was beginning to race. I was like a hungry man who finally found where to find a meal. I couldn't get enough of hearing about Jesus and what He had done for me. There must have been something missing at least in what I was picking up on in my Saturday nights with John Jacobs. Every week, I began praying the "sinner's prayer," but still had the aching need in my heart to be right with God. So, I figured it didn't "take" and I would try again the next week.
|Canton Palace Theater|
Just before the concert was over, the guitar playing began to talk. He again told the story of Jesus and what He did on the cross for our sins. He talked about the need to confess our sins and trust in Jesus to save us. He talked about what it meant to follow Jesus. He closed by inviting anyone who wanted to surrender and follow Jesus to head to the back of the theater where counselors were waiting to speak to us. Well, I bolted out of my seat! I had a friend with me, who followed me out, but I wasn't even thinking about him in the moment. I had to resolve things with God once and for all. The counselor didn't have to say much. I just wanted to cry out to Jesus to save me. By the time my parents had come back to pick me up, I knew that I had been forgiven and saved by a gracious God!
It didn't matter to me if I exercised free will in the process or if it was the sovereign working of God. He made it clear to me that I needed to be saved and I ran to Him to save me and He did. That's all I know. It wouldn't be until about 5 years later that I would even find out that people were debating how the process worked. I didn't care. At last, I knew my sins had been forgiven. I knew I belonged to Him. I knew His Spirit was in me. It was unlike anything I had every felt before.
Continue to Part 2