At this junction, I want to share some of my thoughts about my early faith development. I didn’t have a ZAP-BANG conversion or experience when I suddenly believed in Jesus Christ. I learned of Christ over time. My affirmation in affirming Christ was more a process in building up to a point of being able to say “I believe”. I continued and continue to struggle with what it means to believe in Jesus Christ. What I recall are a variety of experiences throughout my teenage years that brought me God and belief that Jesus was, for me, the living Christ. Feeling the presence of God and learning of Jesus from scripture, in the context of the church, brought me into this relationship with what I describe now as the “living, vibrant presence of Jesus Christ.”
The Sermon on the Mount found in ancient New Testament scripture, was the basis, from what I recall, in accepting Christ in my life. I recall a Sunday worship service, fidgety as usual, thumbing through the Bible looking for a text I had remembered the preacher use in a previous service. Thumbing brought the Bible, I found the text I was looking for, Matthew 7:7:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. NIV
It was at a later time, perhaps that same day, I found myself sitting in my bedroom looking, once again, for this verse. Hoping to remember it, I went looking for it once again. I liked what this scripture said about God opening doors. I suppose I was carrying with me some questions looking for some doors to open in revealing what God would have me do in searching for some answers in my life.
Active in the church youth group, we had regular camps and retreats. My parents were always open to my attending these church-related events—they kept me out of trouble. Living in the Denver area, many of these retreats were in the mountains. One of my favorite activities during some of these retreats was worship when we were asked to go off by ourselves for a few minutes of private prayer and mediation. There would often be scripture or a question we were asked to contemplate. We would then come back to discuss our thoughts in a larger group.
One recollection was a warm day, fresh air, with the sun coming up over a grand mountain. Pine trees covered the hillside. Majestic mountains could be seen all around. There was a small stream separating me from this majestic view on the other side. I found myself trying to imagine what it was like for Jesus to stand on this mountain preaching to the crowds – a sermon on a mount:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you
This leads to part of the story I’ve never shared before — questions I would ask over and over again:
Who am I?
What am I going to do after graduation?
Do I leave home?
What does God have planned for me?
Will I fall in love and find the girl I will marry?
There was some pressure from my mother to live at home and attend a local college. This was one reason why I made the decision to find a college away from home. My mother, a teacher herself, wanted me to be a teacher.
I had in the back of my mind being a music teacher. I liked to sing. I played the baritone. I even took a class one summer on “Music Theory” – one of the most valuable classes I ever had during High School!
I also had in the back of my mind the idea of becoming a minister. I was clueless as to how this could be done. College was going to have to come first!
What I new for sure was the fact that I had loving, forward thinking parents who would help me with whatever I wanted to do. I never felt the need to worry about money – that was my parent’s job! I also knew, somehow, that God was going to be part of whatever decision I made! Perhaps a bit naive, but I thought everyone carried God with them in making important decisions!
I had some close friends with me on this spiritual journey. Casey and Darrel and Doug – we were best friends and “partners in crime”. There are some things we did as teens that probably shouldn’t be mentioned in this journal.
Casey and I went to the same church. As a group of friends, Casey and Darrel and Doug and I did lots of things together. We played handball and tennis. We would see movies together. We enjoyed going camping. It was on these camping trips we would explore our closet beliefs and what we would do with our lives. All of my friends, seeing how active I was in the church, affirmed my thinking that ministry might be the right thing for me.
How close were these friends, my peers, my earliest spiritual advisors? Later in life, December of 1976 or six years after we graduated from High School, these good friends would all make the trip to Pittsburgh for my wedding. As I write this, Nancy and I will be celebrating our 40th Wedding Anniversary. Our daughter Emily just turned 36! J
Rather than get ahead of myself with my writing, I want to back up and describe a particular retreat when I was in high school. While on this retreat I again found myself on the side of a hill preaching to the trees. Sound goofy? I could imagine my friends laughing at me…..but when I told them what I as doing, they took me seriously. I was discovering, with the affirmation of good friends, that I had a voice and heart for preaching. I started to think I could be a pretty good minister.
Two things came to the forefront in my thinking. Ministry, for me, would need to be grounded in relationships and experiences. I can see now that I was beginning to develop my own theological approach in becoming a “process theologian” – God’s love is known through the processes that evolve and grow with us as we live through various stages in life.
I don’t remember the day or time. I do, however, remember that I was attending a “Young Life Camp”. It was a cold winter day. There were dozens of youth from churches around Denver gathered in a lodge listening to a guest speaker. We were sitting on the floor with pastors from our various churches sitting or standing around the edges of the room.
While I don’t remember the specific theme that day, I know that this speaker was going to ask us to consider, privately, dedicate our lives (give our lives) to Christ. The powerful moment came to me:
This speaker asked us to bow our heads in prayer.
We were instructed to keep our eyes shut.
We were also asked to raise our hands if we were ready to give our lives to Christ.
I raised my hand.
Later that day my pastor, I think it was Dr. Blackstock, came to me and said he noticed I raised my hand. I had a brief conversation with him about my contemplating ministry as a possible career. He told me I should plan a visit with the senior pastor, Rev. DeYoung, about my feelings. He also totally floored me in sharing:
“You were the only one to raise his hand
when asked to give / dedicate your life to Christ!”
Whew! I was the only one! This powerful experience would remain with me the rest of my life. I never saw this as a “thunder-bolt experience” with flashes of God’s spirit swirling around me. It was a quiet experience – me and God – and a decision – a decision to continue exploring what it would mean to give my life to God. My life would never be the same!