I remember that warm summer night in 1978, sitting on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, where I gave my heart to Jesus. I had always believed in God, but had long rejected the religion of my youth.
So, I sought after my counterfeit affections, awash in my prodigal world of “drugs, sex, and rock and roll.”
I was actually pretty happy with my life. As least, as I understood the idea of happiness at the time.
The conversation was with my future wife, Maureen. I was home visiting my mother in Iowa. She was living in my hometown. I was playing with a band and we had met at a party after one of my gigs. I was almost instantly infatuated and love struck!
But there was something else going on, especially, on that night. She kept talking about Jesus. And she was so different than the “Jesus freaks” I had talked to since the early 70’s (that’s a whole other story!).
She talked about Jesus like she actually knew Him.
I realized I was missing something. So, I wanted to know Him too.
Right there…no altar call, no “sinner’s prayer”…just a beautiful moonlit night, is where I decided to give my life to Jesus. And He took me up on the invitation. And, right there, I threw away my counterfeit high for the Most High!
I was radically infected with Jesus! I would be found driving down the road in my old boxy Ford station wagon, screaming out the words to “Amazing Grace” while crying and laughing at the same time. I was a sight! It was like my whole world went from black and white to color. I couldn’t get enough of this Jesus…and my future wife. 🙂
And this blissful encounter went on for months, including the only angelic visitation I have ever seen with my natural eyes. And the longer story involved me staying the whole summer, moving back from Texas, getting to know Maureen and enjoying my new life.
Then, it happened.
We started getting involved in a church, going to Bible studies, learning about what’s wrong with us and with the world.
Then instead of basking in Gods’ love and grace, it became about sin-management and behavior modification.
I learned who to stay away from, to fear this wicked world, to watch out for false teachers, cults, the government, wrong movies, evil music, and that God knew all my secret sins and was generally NOT happy with me. At least, that’s how I understood it.
And slowly, almost methodically, the innocent childlike joy went away.
Looking back now, I realized that I went from being the prodigal son to the elder brother!
I traded my rebellion for religion. I had lost even the level of joy and happiness I had as a sinner. Actually, I secretly wished I could still do a lot of the things I used to do, and I resented God for taking these “fun” things away.
Oh, I knew a LOT about the Bible because I studied it incessantly. I was discipled by the best, I was trained, I read all the books, watched Christian TV…then later, found talk radio, where I could hear about what was wrong with everything and stay angry…
But I knew nothing about the Father’s heart…or about how to open my own heart to love and intimacy.
Like the Grinch who stole Christmas, my heart grew very small.
I had lost my soul.
The rich vibrant tones of my life became this religious pallor. My world of color turned to a pale hue of black and white.
I became rigid, stoic and Spock-like. I traded the wild wonder of God’s love and freedom for a world that I could control…one guided by human limitations and reason. Doctrine and the Word of God became my god instead of the God of the Word.
The absurd irony was, I called myself “Spirit-filled,” I spoke in tongues, prophesied, and did all the “stuff.” But I often used it to prove my worth, or to look down on those who didn’t believe in or do such things.
More concisely, I was a self-righteous and judgmental hypocrite. Honestly, my heart was more like a Charismatic Pharisee than a Charismatic Jesus.
Then the worst thing imaginable happened. I became a leader! I was now “ordained” to drill others to march to the tune of this awful, empty, religious life. Now, I was in the business of hatching spiritual progenies into this “church of the poison mind!”
Can we say, horrid.
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit harsh on my pointy-headed self here. But, compared to what I should’ve been, maybe not…
But then, something truly wonderful happened!
My life came to a resounding crash as Summer came to a close in 2001. Yes, I had my own personal 9/11.
By this time I had become cynical, unfaithful, full of shame and self-loathing, mad at God, my marriage was over, my previously very successful business was failing, and we were losing our very nice home we built in the country and were going bankrupt. There was nothing in my life that was working…except this glorious crash.
I think my theme song at the time might’ve been Bob Dylan’s, “Everything is broken.”
Now I know it was my foolishness and God’s mercy that had just blown up my world. But little did I suspect that I was about to encounter this God of love like I had never know before!
I think the Message Bible says it well… “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (Matt.5:4 MSG)
I was about to be introduced to a ridiculously loving Father that I had never known in my natural life. And He took my brokenness and began a slow process of healing my heart and giving me His.
I got my soul back.
I can tell you now that I have never loved God more than I do now. My whole world was turned upside down. Or, should I say, turned right-side-up.
I love again! Yay! I love my wife more than ever…Yay! I love people…even the worst of them. Hallelujah!
I’m far from perfect, but I can feel His pulsating grace constantly flooding and overflowing my heart. I’m not afraid of or mad at the world anymore. For His love has conquered my fear.
I have joy again!
My world is in brilliant color now!
My Bible is living and breathing, my spirit is soaring in the heavenlies with my Father (more on those adventures another time.)
I hope and pray that my story will encourage someone. Don’t give your life to Jesus and then lose your soul.
Open your heart to Him. He is not far away. He will teach you how to rest in the overflow of His heart. He will restore your soul.
You are loved much!