As a child I had thoughts about God that came from attending church sporadically with my parents, from a church-based pre-school, and most strongly from a grade school teacher who taught me about infinity numbers. Most of all, I remember growing up trying not to think about God. I wanted to live my life my way and did not want any god messing with it. I reasoned, “If there was a god, why couldn’t he keep my parents from getting a divorce?” Even with these innermost thoughts, I was confirmed and baptized in a liturgical church at age 14 while living with my father. At age 15 I attended a charismatic church with my mother where I repeated “the sinners prayer” after a well meaning gentleman in order to please him—not God. Next, I even read all four of the Gospels about Jesus with fascinated interest. However, I was still lost and in spiritual darkness. I walked away from it all, saying, “Well, I have tried religion. Now let’s get on with life!” I tried to push the little truth about God I understood right out of my heart, concluding that God did not exist. I embraced evolution—it must be true! The problem was that I was miserable, angry, sin oppressed, conceited and very empty. My favorite song was by the group Kansas, “All we are is dust in the wind . . .” At the same time I was trying to convince myself that all was well, saying, “I’m good!”
In high school my love for excelling in sports and seeking adventure were the dominant passions of my life. Long-distance running consumed my thoughts and activities with grueling twice-a-day workouts and the zealous reading of each Runner’s World magazine. I also loved nature and enjoyed being alone on long runs on beautiful rural roads near Roseburg, Oregon. My own body and nature were the gods I worshiped. In my Junior year I got into rock climbing and mountaineering which combined my desire to push my body to the limits with my love for nature. Shortly before my Senior year my climbing friend Keith and I made big plans to climb Oregon’s second tallest peak—gorgeous Mt. Jefferson. Without going into all the details, we had difficulties reaching the summit. Keith got altitude sickness and returned to base-camp. Three of us continued with headstrong and senseless determination in spite of an ice avalanche that narrowly missed us. Late in the afternoon we triumphantly signed the summit log book. The view was breathtaking; however, we did not take long to celebrate. Our more experienced lead climber, now worried about getting off the mountain before nightfall, chose a quicker but more dangerous route down. The major problem was all the unstable rock that forced us to make a decision to jump onto a glacier and arrest our falls with our ice axes. The lead climber had made the jump successfully and was out of our line-of-sight. As he was putting on his crampons, the rocks gave way under our feet. We yelled, “Rock!” Seconds later he screamed in pain, cursing God viciously! As he fell down the glacier we heard his voice fade. Fear gripped me. I don’t know why but I began to pray, “God, if you are up there, will you please save us?” I even pleaded, “I’ll even go to church” to leverage my prayer with God, who I really did not know. The two of us left made the jumps and went as quickly as we could to give aid. From our perch hundreds of yards above him, he appeared to be alive. We picked up his gear as we worked our way down to where he was. Miraculously, he had come within inches of falling into a deep crevasse in the ice that looked bottomless. He was shaken, bruised, and scratched—but alive. Relief! About midnight we made it to tree-line totally exhausted, built a fire for warmth, and dozed until dawn.
Back in town the next week, I had no intention of going to church to keep my side of the bargain with God. I skeptically thought, “How do I know if God really heard and helped?” I was back to my default mode—pushing God out of my life! Things were going great until I met up with a Christian schoolmate at the local Douglas County Fair. Jim was an upper classmen who had already graduated. He had been on the cross-county and track teams with me and had tried to share his faith with me. Sure enough, what I dreaded happened. He invited me to come to church with him—as he always did—even though I had already told him emphatically not to ask again! Time seemed frozen as I relived the mountain fall and prayer in my mind. I’m not sure what showed on my face, but fear was in my heart. I thought, “God, I can’t get away from you!” I stammered out to Jim, “OK, just this once! What time should I show up?” The look of surprise and joy on his face made me feel uneasy, but curious. I did not sleep well that night!
The next morning I met Jim at his home, and then we walked to his church just a few blocks away. I had not been to church for about 3 years, so I acted cool and watched Jim for the cues to know what to do next. I can’t remember if we went to Sunday School or not, but I will never forget what happened during the sermon. Pastor Roy Campbell explained the meaning of a verse that I had memorized as a child in pre-school—John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV). He said, “This little but powerful verse is the Gospel in a nutshell.” Then he explained the gospel, or good news, to me! He started with something uncomfortable but true. He told me that I was a sinner. I had to admit to that! “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 KJV). He told me that Christ died for my sins. “But God [showed] his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 KJV). He told me that I could call upon the risen Christ to save me from my sin and be born into God’s family. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12 KJV). At the close of the message he gave an altar call for those who would like to trust Christ as Savior to come and talk with him. I wanted to go forward, but at the same time I didn’t want to go forward. I clung to the pew in front of me! I worried, “What would the kids from my high school think?” I cared more about what people thought of me than God. After the service, Jim asked, “Well, did you like it? I responded nonchalantly, “It was ok.” He then invited me to come back for the evening service and come to a Meet-N-Eat. I said, “What’s that?” He explained to me about their youth group meetings where they eat food, talk, and play games. I responded, “I’ll think about it.”
However, I did not think about the youth group meeting much that afternoon. I couldn’t get the words of the preacher concerning my need to yield to Christ out of my mind. I had made my mind up to go forward after the evening service. The preacher preached that night, but it was not a salvation message, and there was no invitation to come to the front to trust Christ. I thought, “What am I supposed to do now?” So, I went to the youth meeting. Many of the kids in the group had just come back from summer Bible camp and were giving testimony about the work of God in their lives. I found it fascinating and wanted to know God too through Jesus His Son. I began to remember the Jesus I had previously read about in the four Gospels and at that moment believed the message for myself. The best way I knew how, I said to God in my heart and mind, “Ok, God, I give up! I am tired of running from you; I believe! Please save me! I give you my life. Help me to know you and live for you.” I can’t really explain what happened at that point, but I knew God was real and I was a new person. The weight of guilt was gone. A peace that I had never experienced came over me. I thought, “It is real! He is real! God loves me! I love God!” That night the direction of my life changed 180 degrees. Before that night I was walking away from God, and after that night I was walking toward God with an open heart to seek and know Him more. After nearly 35 years I am still seeking and desiring to know God more. I love Him because He first love me!
With prayer, Mark