In my last post, I mentioned two sisters whom God used to ignite my interest in Him. After my relationships with these two girls ended, God sent other friends into my life. I am convinced that He used these friends to deepen my spiritual interest and to eventually bring me to a full commitment to Him.
Two of these friends were male and two were female, but all four were Southern Baptists. Each of them frequently invited me to attend services and youth outreach events at their churches, and occasionally, they prevailed upon me to go with them. I was particularly interested in the events at which food (preferably full meals!) was served. I specifically remember one time when one of the guys asked me to go to a youth meeting, and I asked, “Will there be food?” When he replied in the affirmative, I said “Absolutely!” (Note to all youth leaders: Never underestimate the power of pizza!)
Nearly every time I went to a church service or youth event, I heard preaching that was powerful, biblical, and relevant to my life. Speaker after speaker challenged me to quit living for myself and to devote myself fully to God. And I cannot tell you how many times I raised my hand (usually “with every head bowed and every eye closed”) or signed a card saying that I was giving my life to Jesus. Still, these “decisions” never stuck, as I soon went back to living my old, essentially self-centered lifestyle. God, the church, and the Bible remained no more than a hobby for me.
In addition to bringing me to church events, my friends also testified to me about their faith in God. Slowly but surely, bit by bit, they broke through my stubbornness and skepticism and convinced me of many of the fundamental truths that I still hold today, including the truthfulness of the Scriptures, the love of God, and the importance of regular Bible study and worship. They never gave up on me; instead, they patiently and lovingly shared their beliefs with me. And while nearly all the speakers that I heard at the services were helpful, the personal witnesses of my friends were invaluable.
By the time I headed off to Austin to attend college, I decided it was time to explore some other Christian traditions besides the Episcopal faith. During my first semester, I lived on campus, but had no car. So I visited nearly every church that was within walking distance: Baptist, Methodist, non-denominational, and yes, even Episcopal. (Unfortunately, I had not even heard of the Orthodox Church, even though I lived but a short walk from St. Elias’, near downtown Austin).
In January, I moved off campus, into an apartment that was a few blocks away from a very large Southern Baptist church. Naturally, I decided to check it out. The strong preaching there reminded me of what I had heard at my high school friends’ churches, and the seriousness with which the people there seemed to take their faith greatly impressed me. And the short distance from my apartment didn’t hurt either!
Although I still felt some loyalty to the Episcopal Church, primarily due to my love for my mother, I felt like I could stay in that tradition no longer. The Baptist church’s preaching, along with the enthusiasm of its people, were something that I had never seen in my own church, and they drew me like a magnet. I correctly guessed that my mother would be hurt by my decision, but I prayed that she would agree to disagree with me about religion (which she eventually did).
For the next two years, I alternated between living in Austin and living in my parents’ home in Pasadena, where I worked as an engineering co-op student at IBM in Clear Lake City. In my church involvement, I alternated between my church in Austin and various Baptist (and occasionally other evangelical) churches near my parents’ house. In spite of attending church fairly regularly, and staying in touch with my high school friends, I still was unwilling to change my life. I wanted the ruler of my life to be ME, not God.
Over those two years, however, God gradually broke through to me, and convinced me that I could not be my own ruler and receive all the blessings of Christianity at the same time. I fought and fought him, but I finally had to give up. On January 15, 1989, at the end of the morning worship service at my church in Austin, when the invitation was given, I went forward and once and for all dedicated my life to Christ. I was baptized a week later, and I thus became a full-fledged member of the church that I would belong to for life.
Or so I thought…