Although my mother was born and raised in the bible belt and my father always refered to himself as a "protestant" who went to sunday school, we did not have a true knowledge of Jesus Christ in our home. Both of my parents had very strong moral centers and a deep sense of shame which could no doubt be traced back to their exposure to the bible's teachings at sunday school, some church attendance and while being raised by morally conscious parents of their own. In many respects my parents disciplined me in much the same way my christian friends discipline and train their kids. Both of my parents were exemplary role modes in many respects. As a family, we did almost everything together and I can honestly say that I wouldn't trade my experiences growing growing up on Ackerman St. for anything...except that my parents would have taught me about spiritual realities. But, God is sovereign over all things and He planned that I would grow up the way I did, in the home that I did and that I would find Him in another way which He used to magnify Himself even greater.
Upon graduating high school I took my first full time job at a factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts. I would have to say that everything in my life was perfect at that time. I had a beautiful girlfriend, plenty of money, a car and it seemed as though the world was my oyster. Everyone always thinks upon hearing the account of my salvation that my life must have been spinning out of control through one vice or another, but on the contrary, my life was going great...at least according to world's definition of "going great". The fact of the matter was, I was "going" straight to hell and did not even know it. By this point, my conscience regarding sin was seared so that I no longer blushed or felt ashamed about anything. I measured my personal "goodness" by how I compared to other people...usually people more immoral than myself. In fact I would have to say that my sins were just starting to blossom from boyhood/teenage sins to those of a full grown man. I was increasingly daring and prideful. I prided myself in being very measured and calculated in the sins I participated in. It didnt take me long to discover that moderation was the key to a sucessfully sinful pursuit. I never took sins to extremes, because as I reasoned, that was how fools got caught.
I am thankful to God, because it was at this critical phase when my sins and the course of my life was just beginning to pick up speed on that highway to perdition that God stepped into my life. I can remember it like it was yesterday...it was my first day on second shift and it began like any other day but, it was to end like no other in my life. When I was on third shift a month earlier, I would often bring reading material to work because the giant machines we operated pretty much ran themselves. I can remember bringing my brother's Air Force edition bible a few times, and I was intrigued by how Jesus continually bested His rivals whenever they tried to catch Him in their arguments. But, beyond just a wonderment over His artful logic, I did not perceive that Jesus was anything more than a very wise man. No...it wasn't until that first night on second shift that God would open my eyes to His terrifying justice and unfathomable grace. At 7:15 that first evening our floor went on its first break...and as the providence of God would have it, the only chair available in the plant cafeteria that night was with the guy who trained me...who also happened to be a christian preparing for ministry. When I sat down I noticed that he had a bible open so I asked him if he was a christian, to which he responed "yes" and I quickly told him that I was also, to which he responed, "what makes you think that you are a christian?" to which I proclaimed that I was a good person and that I didnt try to hurt anyone...and that I loved my mom and dad...and that I never murdered anyone, etc. etc. etc. (I recoiled because no one had ever asked me to give an account of why I believed what I believed) When I finished my akward response, he didnt say a thing...he just looked back down at his bible, which I found annoying because I could tell that he didn't think I was a christian based on whatever his definition was. And just like that our 10 minute break was over...but before we got up, he asked if he could give me something...and my heart just sank. In fact I swore at myself under my breath for being such an idiot and opening up a can of worms! Now, I thought to myself, this guy was going to hound me to the grave and try to get me to go to his church and he will want to talk about Jesus every time he sees me...but...he was a slight sort of fellow and I really didnt want to hurt his feelings so I relectantly asked him, "What is it?". It was not what I expected at all, just a tiny little booklet called "God's simple plan of salvation". Not so bad I thought to myself, at the very least I've got something new to read.
How could the God of all eternity hide Himself in such a tiny little booklet? Little did I know what troubles awaited in those tiny little pages. After loading my machines I sat down and began to read...it was nothing but a bunch of bible verses arrainged in various themes with brief explanations of what God was teaching, none of which particularly struck me. But then as if by appointent something terrible began to happen...I felt a thick gloom descend upon me and a dreadful horror at the realization of hell and God's justice. I remember thinking as my mind raced, "this must be God...surely and angel could not terrify me like this." It was so powerfully true to my mind that I felt my knees begin to buckle as I stood nakedly sinful and guilty before a holy God. I remember muttering the words to myself, "I know what I'll do, I'll go home and talk to my mommy", which they say is the point at which the mind and body, under extreme duress, metally and physically reverts to a fetal postion. It was at this moment, which I can only say looking back, that God was simultaneously holding me up. No one can possibly understand what if feels like to have God pull back the veil and expose our mortal mind to the realities of eternal damnation unless you have experienced it yourself. God in His infinate wisdom judged that it was right and necessary for me to see this and to taste divine justice. I am forever thankful that, although He brought the cup very close to my lips, He never made me drink from it.
My mind continued to race...why hadn't anyone ever told me about this...I might have done something to avoid it and sought the Lord before it was too late! I began filling through every person I knew to see if I could think of anyone who I knew God truly, perhaps they could help me...and in frustration I couldnt think of a single person! This did not bode well for all of my dead catholic and protestant friends. (God kept me however from considering the "slight fellow" who gave me the booklet 15 minutes earlier). In my madness I even went so far as to accuse God of neglecting my own parents by not telling them about these eternal realities...because if He had shown my parents, surely my they would have listened and taught me so that I could avoid hell. But then I felt sorry and ashamed that I had accused God, who I thought was probably innocent and that my parents were actually guilty of spurning all of Gods advances in their own lives.
It was there...in that dreadful moment, suspended between heaven and hell in utter terror, that I just happened to look down at my thumb...and I noticed that it was still in the first page of that little booklet, and I thought to myself..."I havn't finished reading the booklet!". And the very next paragraph which followed my being over come by horrors of judgement, began to explain how God in His grace had provided a way for men could escape hell.
I remember taking a cautious breath not knowing if this applied to me because it seemed that the judgements pronounced upon me were so final, I didn't think that God would change His mind concerning my eternal destiny. I thought it was talking about how other people might find mercy before God pronounces final judgement. And as I read the final paragraph, with the terrors still upon me, though slightly lessened, I found myself transfixed and in complete amazement at the realization that God the Father loved Jesus the Son so much...these were my first conscious theological thoughts. I love the fact that it was not about me, or my predicament...but it was as if God let me look into His very throne room and look at the Trinity looking at each other. I am still so very glad that God made Himself more important than me at that terrible hour. As I thought about how the members of the Trinity loved each other I took what seemed to be a vain hope, that if I had acted sooner, and Jesus had asked the Father for me, then the Father would have given me to Jesus and Jesus would have granted me forgiveness and I wouldnt be going to hell. My first concious theological memory was of the total adoration that the Father had for Jesus.
Although I still felt hopeless I followed the instructions in the booklet about how to come to the Lord, confessing my sin, repenting and asking God to forgive me in Jesus name...and I assure you, never has any man prayed a more hopeless prayer, BUT by His amazing grace it was heard by an Almighty ear!!! And just like it had started...that thick gloom rose up off me and a peace that passes all understanding decended down upon me. I felt such joy that I cannot describe it...I ran over to the guy who gave me the booklet and told him what had happened (you should have seen the look on his face!) and I asked him what was going to happen next!?!? And in utter disbelief, he just starred at me and after a moment or two just said "read your bible and pray and God will show you what will happen next" and then he added "you have passed from death unto life". I wasnt sure what to make of that answer, but it sounded like good advice.
As the hours that evening wound down toward the end of our shift...I began to notice that my heart softening and that I had feelings of love toward God that I had never experienced before. Up until that point, God was a stranger to me, but now I could talk to Him and He would hear me. As I headed to my car in the parking lot, I barely made it to my seat when I began crying like a baby and I was so excited I felt like I was going to explode...all I could think about was that I loved God so much for saving me and that I didnt want to sin against Him ever again! Shortly afterwards I began to attend church and read my bible and pray. God just became bigger and bigger to me. It was nearly a year later, while sitting in Pastor Stringer's office having a chat about my future that the Lord, by my pastors voice called me into the ministry and now by His grace I am a missionary in Thailand helping guilty souls like me understand the grace that thirty years ago saved me from hell and gave me a hope and inheritance that cannot fade away reserved in heaven. The last time the Lord spoke to my heart, He said to me, "I go to prepare a place for you" (John 14:3)