I remember the morning I walked downstairs and believed. For the first time in over twenty years, I believed that the Bible is true and that Jesus died on the cross for my sins.
For over twenty years I was an agnostic, denied all religions and the existence of a personal God. I'd grown up in a Christian home. As a child, I talked to Jesus as I walked to school. But doubts about the truth of Christianity began to plague me as a teen, and grew stronger as I grew older. In my second year at a Christian college, I met weekly with a group of students and discussed religion over coffee. At the end of that semester we all discarded our faiths.
Afterward, I felt desperate. I had planned to be a pastor or missionary. When I gave up my belief in God I felt as if I were standing on the edge of a great, bottomless chasm. Everything ahead was black. But I needed to go with the truth and I'd come to believe that Christianity was untrue, that it was a fabrication, a device to reassure weak people, and used by governments to maintain morality and social control.
I looked for something to believe in. I tried the isms. I liked the idea of pantheism. From that I could understand the idea of nirvana, the Hindus' idea of heaven.
I enlisted in the Air Force and decided to be a chaplain's assistant for the sole purpose of giving Christianity one last chance – to see if it would prove true or false. It didn't hold up. There were some top-notch chaplains – outstanding men; others were envious, hateful, greedy, and unforgiving. These men were like men without Christianity. Some were good; others were bad.
The next twenty years were tough. I married and divorced three times. I worked in and started several businesses, finally owning a regional stock brokerage. My attorney malpracticed and cost me the company. I sold my interest for almost nothing so the company could continue, but it failed later.
At thirty-seven I decided to go to law school. I borrowed, used the last of my G.I. Bill, all my savings, and graduated summa cum laude three years later.
I couldn't get a job. Though I graduated with the highest grades in the history of the law school, no one would hire me, so I started my own law firm. I was busy immediately; the practice prospered.
Then I met Darlene. I first saw her when she came to visit another lawyer. She was newly divorced by her lawyer husband. When we dated I knew this lady was different. I called her my "quality lady." I remember telling her that there were two things wrong with her – she didn't dance and her religion. She was a Christian.
My practice was located in affluent Newport Beach, California, a city of beaches, gorgeous harbors, thousands of pleasure boats and innumerable expensive homes. I traveled in the Newport Beach party crowd. At our parties frequently no one was married. The couples often lived with each other. When I first took Dar to a party, she just sat. Afterward my friends asked, "Doesn't she talk?" Later she told me, "I didn't have anything to talk about with those people." I started spending more and more time with her.
In retrospect, Dar says she married me out of rebellion against God. She knew she shouldn't marry an unbeliever, but her prior Christian marriage hadn't worked. She soon learned ours was a mistake. In the first week she learned about my temper. Incompatibilities began to surface. We tried, goodness knows, but had a difficult time. I regretted having married again. Apparently I couldn't have a successful marriage. How many times did I have to learn the obvious? Dar determined she would not be a doormat, the way she thought she'd been in her first marriage.
Dar often went to church, even though it was over twenty miles away. When we moved the law office, we moved to a home much closer to it. Sometimes I'd go with her. Enraged, I'd give Dar a one-hour lecture about the stupidity of the twenty-minute sermon. Yet I was drawn to her Christian friends. They were warm and loving to me, even though they knew I was an unbeliever.
Dar and I went on an Alaskan cruise with a group of lawyers. I bought some books for light reading about after-life. They recounted the experiences of people who had clinically died but were later resuscitated. They fascinated me because they were consistent and the evidence made me believe that they were true.
In a typical scenario, a man in a hospital bed suddenly had a sharp pain in the chest. When it stopped he felt himself leave the body. He found himself near the ceiling of his room. He saw the door open and a nurse look in, heard her call for help and saw the resuscitation team rush in. From his vantage point, he saw all the people there, watched them put plates on the chest and the body convulse. Suddenly he felt himself being drawn back into his body and again felt the sharp chest pain.
All this convinced me because the patient later could identify the people who were in the room, even those who said nothing. He described the kinds and colors of their clothes. All the while his body seemed lifeless with eyes closed.
Many experiences I read about were more advanced. One patient felt himself traveling through a tunnel until he came to a figure of light. It exuded warmth and love. The patient usually wanted to stay in this new environment, but reluctantly returned to his body.
Surprisingly, the same type of experience occurred whether the person had religious beliefs or none at all. The books convinced me I'd been wrong about there being no conscious existence after the death of the body, but delighted me when I found that everyone had a good experience.
A book about an after-life experience was waiting for me at home after the cruise. My sister Linda had sent it though she knew nothing of my reading on the cruise. When I saw the subject, I quickly read it. My delight changed to apprehension, however, as I read about a man's experience in hell.
Then someone gave me still another book by a cardiovascular specialist, one who resuscitates those clinically dead. He started listening to his patients after one came back to life screaming, "Doctor, doctor, bring me back from hell!" He discovered that many resuscitated patients had terrible after-life experiences, but within twenty-four to forty-eight hours seemed to lose all memory of it. I remembered that the books I read on the cruise were researched months following the subjects' after-life experiences.
A doctor friend I'd met at Dar's church gave me a book about after-life experiences. Unlike the other books, this author explained that the figure of light could be Satan; Scripture said he could appear as a figure of light.
The after-life experiences in hell reminded me of the biblical descriptions of hell. I began to read the Bible again. This time it seemed different; I had no problem understanding it. Then, months later, I walked downstairs one morning and believed; I believed that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and that I needed him as my Savior.
Dar's friends – now my friends – regarded me as a new believer. So did Dar.
Did our marriage improve dramatically? No, it didn't. It actually became worse. I learned scriptures I used against Dar. I reminded her frequently that Scripture commanded her to submit to her husband. She told me that Scripture commanded me to love her as Christ loved the church.
Months sped by. Before I'd been reading the Bible to discern whether Christianity is true. I no longer read the Bible. I just carried it to church like most of my friends. I began to wonder if this was all there was to Christianity. I enjoyed new friends; I abandoned my Newport Beach party crowd. I gave up profanity. But somehow Christianity began to bore me.
I started reading Scripture again. This time, seemingly everywhere I read, the word "obey" seemed to jump out at me. I started asking my friends at brunch after church about the need to obey. Most assured me it was impossible to obey. They said we all sinned hundreds of times every day and that we had only to confess our sins to God and he'd forgive us. I asked them about being holy. They assured me that was impossible.
Something didn't ring true. By that time I knew that the Apostle John said that if we continue in sin we don't know God and have never known him. I also remembered that Scripture said that without holiness no one will see the Lord. I continued studying Scripture.
One day I had a talk with the Lord. I said, "Lord, it seems to me your Word says I'm to obey you. I've never heard a sermon on that and my friends disagree. But you've educated me well and I believe your Word says I'm to obey your commands. If obedience is what you want, obedience is what you've got. Lord, I'll try my best to obey you the rest of my life."
My life changed! I began to experience love as I'd never guessed it existed. Though my practice was overloaded with work, I had a sense of peace that I'd never experienced before. As a baby believer, I didn't know that I was experiencing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. And our marriage changed, all for the better.
Four years after my life really changed, believing the Lord led me to do so, I terminated my law practice to serve the Lord fulltime, though I had no idea what lay ahead. I tried studying the Bible at home, but my law clients found me. The next year I continued helping them but then without benefit of secretaries and office staff.
In order to divorce myself from the practice, Dar and I bought a motorhome, sold our house, and drove away. For three-and-a-half years we lived in the motorhome. The first year I only studied the Bible. The second year I studied and began to write. Dar caught up on her reading.
In the ensuing years I've not forgotten that when I became a "Christian" the way others told me to, my life had only surface, cosmetic changes. But when I pledged to obey Jesus as my Lord, there seemed to be a new me – a person who experienced love, joy, and peace in great measure.
The Lord has kept in the forefront of my mind the wondrous change that transformed my life when I finally came to know him and pledged to obey him. The subject of a saving faith continues to be a consuming one. That's what I want to share with you now.