Friday, March 21, 2008

Light into Darkness

Today is a special day for me. Of course it is Good Friday, which is special because on this day we commemorate Christ’s death for us on the cross. But for me, personally, March 21 is special for a different reason. This is the day when I remember God’s amazing grace that he showed in rescuing me, a scoffer and a blasphemer, from the path of destruction. This is the day when I was born again.

I was fourteen, which might seem a tender age to be considered a scoffer and a blasphemer. What can I say? In this respect I was quite precocious. I had always been interested in science. From the time I learned to read I devoured every science book and magazine I could get my hands on. I watched science TV shows, and whenever I had the chance went to science museums. When I attained the age of reason, which for me was about age twelve, I began to question the Christian upbringing my parents had given me. At that age, in seventh grade, I also came under the influence of a young and energetic science teacher. In my sheltered Bible Belt childhood, he was the first adult I ever met who freely admitted he didn’t believe in God.

Under these influences I decided I didn’t believe in God either. I became an agnostic. I wasn’t actually willing to state that God did not exist; I simply believed that it was impossible to know whether or not he exists. I had decided that I would only believe what could be scientifically proven. It seemed to me that if God exists he is by definition supernatural, so it is impossible by natural means to discover any evidence of his existence. You can’t see him. He doesn’t register on any scientific instruments. His existence is effectively undiscoverable. And though I didn’t say it explicitly, by implication his existence is irrelevant. What I did say, explicitly, is that anyone who does believe in God is a fool or an idiot.

My parents still made me go to church and Sunday School, although I argued with them about it. I also argued with my Sunday School teachers. Later, while sitting in the church service, I would occupy myself by looking around scornfully at all the foolish, and hypocritical, people around me in the pews. You probably have a pretty good picture by now that besides being an agnostic I was also an arrogant little twerp. It was a wonder I had any friends at all, but I travelled in a circle of friends who thought and acted just about the same way I did.

In ninth grade I had two godly women as Sunday School teachers. I was very rude to them. I told them I wouldn't believe in God without hard evidence. I ridiculed their faith, but they were very patient and loving. Their heart's desire was to lead each of us into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. One week they invited the class to attend a youth evangelistic service at another church. I only went because a couple of cute girls in the class asked me to.

At the service I saw hundreds of teenagers excited about Christ. The speaker presented the Gospel in a clear and moving way. He kept saying to give God a chance. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I despised hypocrites. So I quietly prayed, “God if you’re real, show me.” At that moment I felt an incredible rush of joy and ecstasy flow through my body. I was amazed. I realized that God had answered my prayer. Yet I began immediately to rationalize what had happened. I must be doing that to myself, I thought. It must be some sort of subconscious wish fulfillment. But the experience was so real and so obviously from outside of me that I could not easily dismiss it. So I prayed the same prayer again and it happened a second time – less intense, but accompanied by an absolute conviction that God is real, that everything the preacher had said about Jesus was true, and that my whole life had just changed. I was thunderstruck. I knew immediately that the foundations of my worldview had been overturned, not leaving a single stone on top of another. It was Sunday, March 21, 1971 at about 8:00 pm.

Tonight I remember that moment thirty-seven years ago, when the boundless grace of God miraculously rescued another miserable sinner, whom he loved even when I was unlovable.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:6-8 NIV)


Anonymous said...

Bill, this is a beautiful post! And it reminds me of my own life-changing prayer 33 years ago.

I love the 1928 Book of Common Prayer because it has for me the fragrance of salvation. I was an unrepentant rebel against the Lord my God when I attended Holy Communion with an Episcopalian college friend in early 1975. It was precisely during the call to confess my manifold sins and wickedness which I had most grievously committed and whose burden was intolerable that I was undone. Down on that kneeler I prayed with mustard-seed faith asking God to forgive me and help me "if You're even real." And during the prayers of consecration and humble access, He made Himself gloriously known, flooding my soul with His healing love and deep peace--Real indeed! I left that service a new creation.

Not having the evangelical influence, I couldn't even describe what had happened--I had no words for it. But it was the hinge of my life. From there on out I sought to know Him and follow Him. My attempts were pretty feeble and halting for a while, I'm afraid. But everything in my life can now be dated Before Christ or Anno Domini, in the year of the Lord's Presence in my heart.

Who were the Sunday school teachers in your story? I can guess one of them (but can't remember how to spell her last name) but can't fathom who the second one might be.

I'd love to discuss this with you in more depth, Bill. We need to make an appointment to talk! I'm wondering what lessons you've learned regarding discipleship in light of your own experience. And I'm praying for fruit from this post.

Bill Hensley said...

Wow! How is it I had never heard that story before? At least, I don't recall it. We must talk...

My Sunday School teachers were Joyce Schaerdel and Phyllis Estill. Joyce passed away about ten years ago. Alas, I haven't kept up with Phyllis Estill.

Your comment about "not having the evangelical influence" brought back another memory of that night for me. After I got home from church I went to bed and lay awake until 1:00 a.m. worshiping and praying. Having no vocabulary for it, however, I merely repeated the Lord's Prayer, the Doxology and the Apostle's Creed over and over again! I marveled at how it felt to know that they were all true.

FancyPants said...

Thank you for sharing this, Bill! Praise God.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the Sunday School teachers that you refer to, Bill, and I must confess that I was a very new Christian myself when Joyce persuaded me to help her with that 9th grade class. I just followed her lead, and I do remember that we prayed often for the members of the class. But the real truth: God was after you all along! We did very little evangelizing, and were as amazed as you when the Lord began to move upon the 9th graders in our church. Our faith was built up by what we saw happen and as for me, He continues to build it as I see Him move in such wondrous ways. Thank you for searching me out and letting me know that He indeed completes His good work! Phyllis