I used to envy people who could wax eloquent about the day, the year, and the time of their conversion to Jesus Christ. I could never do that.
My mind can still replay some of the testimonies I’ve heard: “I got borned-again on July 10, 1965 at 5:37 p.m. in my Chevy convertible. I do believe that I heard the angels quake with glee at that very moment.”
Similar words could never fall out of my mouth.
If I had to guess, I was approximately ten years old when it happened. Or some age close to that. (I couldn’t tell you the year if there were a gun to my head!) I take comfort in the fact that I don’t have the vaguest recollection of my physical birth. Yet I’m quite sure that I was born.
(To contemporize Descartes, “I think therefore I be.”) In the same way, I can’t quite remember the specifics of my spiritual birth. But I know it happened.
I grew up in the beautiful Catskill mountainous region of upstate New York. “God’s country,” as my relatives like to call it. Peaceful lakes, countless trees, swervy roads with endless hills, and breath-stealing snow covered mountains filled your horizon from any direction. If there is such a thing as “God’s country,” that was it.
If memory serves me correctly, I attended a summer vacation Bible school at the Assemblies of God where my parents would take my sister and me. It was an evening service. The gospel was preached, and I respond to the altar call.
My cousin Vinny was sitting next to me, and I confidently asked him to walk up to the front with me. (Yes, I really do have a cousin Vinny.) Vinny is one of the most tender-hearted men I know. When I think of the words “pure in heart,” he comes to mind.
Vinny was reluctant to walk up with me because he had already “said the prayer.” Nevertheless, as an act of kindness (or perhaps because of my pressuring), he walked up with me.
I don’t know why I wanted him to escort me forward, except that I was somehow afraid to do it myself. Even so, something dramatic happened to me that day. I met the Lord.
Ironically, I recall saying “the sinner’s prayer” countless other times after that evening. It was usually when I was lying awake in bed pondering something I had done wrong that day. I wanted to re-state the prayer just to make sure it “stuck.” I eventually outgrew that (thank God).
If you’ve ever read any of my books on church practice, you know where I stand on the traditional church. I believe it needs a complete overhaul. But no matter how much I may disagree with its practices, God still uses it. I owe my salvation to it. Some may wonder why God would use a system that they believe He didn’t authorize. The reason is quite simple. His people are in it.
Christians who have left “institutional Christianity” can sometimes become strident and demeaning toward those who are still part of it. But such an attitude betrays the gospel. And we have not so learned Jesus Christ.
From the ages of ten to sixteen, I was a typical kid experiencing the typical struggles of typical kids my age. Four things were most important to me: My family, baseball, baseball cards, and music.
I wasn’t terribly interested in school. I didn’t like to read, and I was a tad bit hyperactive. (The latter is actually a titanic understatement. My poor parents.)
The evidences of my conversion were real, but superficial. Two indelible marks were left on me.
First, my conscience came alive, and it became very sensitive. Unlike my peers, profanity, drugs, and pre-marital sex were things that I had strong convictions against.
Second, I had a keen awareness that God was real. Beyond that, there wasn’t much to my spiritual life as I recall. I don’t remember reading the Bible much nor praying a great deal.
When I was sixteen years old, however, a new chapter opened in my life. I had a profound encounter with the Lord Jesus that utterly ruined me. I’ve never recovered from it till this good minute.
In Calvinist terms, it was at that age that the Lord captured my heart. I was smitten, and I began to follow Him wholeheartedly. As a result, I lost most of my non-Christian friends (we no longer had anything in common). But God was faithful to replace them with new friends who shared my newly found spiritual interests.
The net effect was that I lost all passion for most everything else. I also began to read. And for the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed it. The only material I read at that time, however, were Christian books—including the Bible. Anything else was drudgery for me. That includes all those famous novels that my English teacher required me to read. For me, they were little more than a yawn.
(Interestingly, I’ve never been able to read fiction books, whether Christian or secular. Somehow I’m wired with the narrow capacity to read non-fiction only. When it comes to movies, however, it’s the exact opposite. I much prefer fiction films. So when all of C.S. Lewis’ fictional writings are set to the silver screen, I shall learn them then.)
I began devouring the Bible and attending church services every time the doors were open. Out of my hunger for the Lord, I developed a relationship with a number of adults who had attended the traditional church to which I belonged.
They had a prayer meeting on weekends that I rarely missed. The prayer meeting was populated by people in their 30s. They all had families. The age-gap didn’t bother me too much, though, because I was finding the Lord in tremendous ways. Authentic spiritual manifestations were a frequent occurrence, and the Lord ministered to us at a deep level.
Among that group were two men that I shall never forget: Ken Trantham and Earl Leonard. Those two brothers encouraged my walk with Christ, and they were, in the truest sense of the word, my friends.
There’s something about having a young person on fire for God that gives more seasoned folks a renewed sense of spiritual mission. I believe that I brought this intangible element to these people in that prayer meeting.
Some of them told of their deliverance from all sorts of vices. Their conversions were dramatic. I used to envy them. For I had never been involved in any such things. Consequently, I felt that my salvation story was rather boring.
My perspective changed when someone in the group said something that has stuck with me till this very day. He said, “Frank, the same power that delivered me from all of those horrible vices is the same power that’s kept you from them. You’re testimony is more powerful than you think.”
From that moment on 2 Thessalonians 3:3 has had special meaning for me: “But the Lord is faithful, who shall establish you, and keep you from evil.”
The delivering power and the keeping power of God are two sides of the same coin. And both are grounds for rejoicing.
To wit, I no longer feel that my conversion story is boring.