And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life
 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11–13)
Do you remember having your eyes opened to the gospel- the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ?
My parents were good to get me in church a lot growing up. Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Bible sword drills all began the process.
I remember, Jack Rutledge, father of Alabama QB Jeff, putting his arm around me and quietly asking me to give my heart to Jesus. I tensed up and was unwilling… little did I know that those faithful seeds were going to root in time…. ( I was excited to tell him years later of my conversion).
My first ‘experience’ with God was at the age of 8 when I was baptized at Ruhama Baptist Church in Birmingham. It was during a revival and I felt like I was ‘supposed’ to go down the aisle. I remember a Pastor meeting with my mother and me. During this meeting, he showed me a Good News Bible and pointed to a picture of a shepherd and sheep. I just shook my head “yes”. I really did not know what I was doing.. no understanding at all!
The baptismal ceremony was performed in freezing cold water because the water heater was broken. It took my breath away as I went under. In later years I laughed that this was a little humor from the Lord about my “cold” baptism.
I tried to be a good boy for about 2 weeks but eventually regressed to being the same ole me.
All of these were important experiences with God… but it wasn’t the ‘eye opening’ experience that precedes conversion. I do, however, vividly remember that initial time of understanding….
It was in 8th grade, I remember a Sunday School teacher explaining the gospel in a way that I actually understood it. My sin was real and Jesus’ sacrifice made complete sense in bridging the separation I had with God.
Even though the good news had been presented maybe hundreds of times before that.. I did not understand.. it did not ‘click’. But that day.. it made so much sense..I was in sin… Jesus was the substitute for sin… but it created a PROBLEM!
I vividly remember thinking“I’ve already been baptized, so I can’t tell anyone that I’m not a real Christian”And I lived in conflict off and on for a long time. I knew I wasn’t living for God and I believed that I was going to hell. It disturbed me whenever I thought about it.
I was playing a video game in the mall and a little girl came up with a gospel tract. I treated her very rudely, but inside I still felt condemned.
Another time a girl I knew well told me that I couldn’t be a Christian because of my behavior. I told her that I had been baptized. She said that baptized or not, I lived like I was going to hell. Deep in my heart, I knew she was right.
Getting to high school actually provided escape from these thoughts and found that I was hardening to the idea that I was not a believer. Sports were a great diversion and offered some reward as an idol. I received recognition and relationships and I experienced a lot of success.
Spring of 1980
My realization about eternity abruptly came back up in the summer before my junior year. An acquaintance of mine was tragically killed while robbing a convenience store. He was with a group who was doing it just for the thrill. I was heartbroken and our school was in despair!
I remember receiving this news from my mom as I was coming home from Sunday School. I don’t know why I went to church that day and remember nothing from the visit.
All of the students were grief stricken and I was confronted once again with the idea of death.
We had a student gathering at a home and I was very impressed by the message. It was my first experience with Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham. A minister, Tom Caradine, gave a clear gospel presentation along with Biblical answers for grief and loss. I was stirred immensely.
After the meeting, a college student who had been an athletic role model for me, Benny Parks, found me and shared a gospel tract with me. The tract had a drawing of two lives (see below) and I knew that my life was not being directed by Christ.
The above image was me… and I wasn’t happy with my life at al!
This is what I desired… and it led me to a desire to get it right with God!
I went home and re-read the tract and knew it was time to make a choice. I got on my knees and prayed that God would forgive me and take me back. At the time, I thought I was re-dedicating my life to Christ. I now know from thinking through Scripture that this was my actual conversion.
Right after that prayer, I got up and went to sleep..no smoke or fireworks. But when I woke up the next morning..I remembered and I knew something was different.
Some immediate changes took place. I told my mom and a few friends that I had re-dedicated my life with Christ. This was a big step for me. I also began to read the Bible with great interest. I read the whole New Testament in about 2 days and the words seemed to burn in my soul. I have not had that sensation since, but it was a really cool moment.
I had a friend of mine make a poster for me to put in my football locker. I wanted coaches and teammates to know that I had made a change.
I also had a real sensation of peace with God. My anxiety about eternal destruction was completely gone. I have had this peace for so long now, that I have almost forgotten what the stress of condemnation was like.
Looking back in the light of Scripture like Romans and others, I now see that prayer night of my Junior year as being my conversion. And though there were times I did not live like a believer after that, I know that that was the moment of repentance and faith. And I now have been with Jesus for over 38 years! I have failed Him many times since then.....He has never failed me!
My prayer is that right now... anyone reading this will think back and consider your journey and whether you believe you have the Son or not....
He is only a prayer away... a simple request.... Lord, I don't want to be in control, I want to humble myself, admit my sin, and ask that You forgive me and help me....
And then walk in faith and peace... as you read His word and grow.... you will never regret it!
update 2/28/22 - God's gift is still my only hope and chance to enter into His eternal rest. I am closer today than when I wrote this 4 years ago. Life is harder...but in many ways, it is sweeter.
I have a grand-daughter now and my wife and I are 'empty-nesters'- but where would I be without the mercy of God? I would be in trouble!