Today is my spiritual birthday!
Forty-five years ago today, in a little Nazarene church in Fresno, CA, I finally laid down my arms, my fight, my excuses, and my (very, very) sinful lifestyle. I waved my white flag and surrendered my worthless life to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The battle had been a year in coming. Maybe a little longer.
I was an executive in a San Francisco hospital, but my life was in shambles. I was going downhill fast and my fondest dream was to throw myself through my apartment’s picture window. The only thing that stopped me was knowing that, since I lived on the second floor, I’d probably just maim myself.
I had a friend from high school who had been going downhill just a little faster than me. Then one day she wrote (a real letter back then) that she had given up on non-Christian men and had married a Nazarene minister with three kids. I thought she’d lost her mind! I had no idea what most of her words meant, but it couldn’t be good.
We corresponded for a few months. I argued that I’d worked too hard to get where I was to give it all up to become a “poor” Christian (whatever that meant since I really didn’t know any).
She responded, “Read Matthew 6:33.”
“Sure,” I thought. “If I ever find a bible, I’ll check it out.”
God Had a Plan
Not one week later I was forced to switch offices at the hospital, and in my very messy new office (because the previous occupant had left quickly) what do you think I found?? Yep, a Gideon New Testament!
I’m pretty smart, so although I knew nothing about the bible, I found my way to Matthew 6:33: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” Wow! It was as if those words were in neon lights! I quickly wrote to my friend and asked dozens of questions. After all, I was all about “things.” Now I was all ears.
A couple of months later I was passing through Fresno and stopped to visit my friend. When she opened the door, I was hit with a wave of supernatural LOVE so strong I didn’t know what to think. We talked and talked, and by the end of our time together, I knew I had found a great life insurance policy. When I hit bottom, (and it was when, not if), I would pull out Jesus and all would be well.
Running from the Hound of Heaven
I ran from the Hound of Heaven for another several months. I knew I was only delaying the inevitable, but still I resisted. Then it finally dawned on me. Why did I need to hit bottom? (I really was pretty smart…). I could accept Jesus before I crashed!
Then in January I had occasion to go to Fresno to celebrate my niece’s first birthday. I could barely contain myself as we celebrated on Saturday. I left as early as I could Sunday morning and reached the church just as the service was starting. I was shaking like a leaf. What was I doing??
My friend was playing the organ. Her hubby was the pastor. I don’t remember much of the service, except that when John gave the invitation, I was propelled forward by a force I couldn’t resist. I must have cried for an hour—or so it seemed.
When I could finally contain myself, we went back to their house for lunch while I asked a million questions. Really important ones that were essential to my new faith, like who was Peter’s mother… Several hours later, I finally kicked the remainder of the resistance to the curb and went home a new creation. Hallelujah!
I Gave God an Ultimatum
When I got home, I gave God an ultimatum. “OK, God. You’ve got me. Now, I want friends and I want them fast or I really will check out.” (I didn’t know much about prayer yet.)
God Had a Plan I Couldn’t Even Imagine
One week later, I attended a church simply because it advertised free parking. (Remember, I was living in San Francisco. Those things were important, even back then.) After the service, I met several people who introduced themselves as part of a Christian singles group. They invited me to lunch. When we got there, I was amazed. There must have been 20 people there. They were all very kind and welcoming. One lady invited me to a coffee hour that night. Another invited me to the women’s bible study. Another offered to disciple me (whatever that was!). Another invited me to dinner later in the week. Then there were so many group activities I couldn’t keep up.
Within a couple of weeks, God and I had another chat. “OK God, I get it! Now I need an evening at home to do my laundry!”
That group, San Francisco Careers, was my lifeline to spiritual health, happiness, and maturity in Christ. The word on the street is that when the leadership saw me, they said “We’ve got a lot of work to do!” To their credit, they did it. They discipled me. They taught me. They loved me. They became my closest friends, and to this day, they still are. Everything I teach today, especially regarding small groups and leadership, originated with that group.
So, many thanks to all who had a part in my growth. And most of all, a huge thanks to Jesus for rescuing me from the miry pit and setting my feet on solid ground. Here’s to the next 45 years—or whatever portion of that God continues to give me.