Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God. Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone—and even by the truth itself. We also speak well of him, and you know that our testimony is true.
I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.
Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.
– 3 John 1:11-14
As a preamble, our church’s Evangelism Team leader has requested that our Sunday school class write their testimonies, the classic three-part variety: what were you like before you came to know the Lord, your conversion story, and what changed afterward. I had wanted to clean up my many attempts of writing it, but there was always something else in the frying pan that seemed more urgent to write. After all, I have posted a couple of testimonies, of sorts, and I have included bits of my testimony in other posts.
As for the Scripture above, a few things stand out in John’s letter that tie into my testimony. 1) Demetrius is well spoken of by everyone. I cannot claim that. Some people would love to run me out of town due to my uncompromising beliefs, but I was always a good kid. 2) This testimony is true. And 3) John wanted to write more, but not with pen and ink – rather face-to-face. I think this is where the team leader is going with this. Write it out so that you don’t ramble for a half hour but be prepared to tell others face-to-face.
So, here goes.
Life Before Jesus
I was the ultimate, might I say quintessential ‘good kid.’ Sure, I am an Eagle Scout, but my ‘goodness’ goes far beyond that. I never did any group ill-advised adventures. I was invited on boat rides down a flooded creek and playing war using sticks and stones. Each of those left people in the hospital. They sounded like fun, but I saw the danger and declined the invitations.
I was in church twice each week if not more often. There was Sunday school and church in the morning every week of the year – no summers or holidays off. On Sunday night, there was Sunday night worship and youth groups. Wednesdays was prayer meeting that started with a Southern Gospel sing along. For the life of me, I cannot remember when we had choir practice.
I lived all my first 22 years of life in Mississippi, all but four years in my home town, Pontotoc. But we had lived three years in Tupelo, only 18 miles to the east. Tupelo was the big town with bigger schools and a lot more to do. When I returned to Pontotoc as a high school junior, I felt out of place. I knew everyone, but I didn’t know them either. They had changed. Of course, there was puberty during those years of absence, but there was also something else. I remember one girl who had this smile that never stopped. I asked what was wrong with her. You know, crazy or plastic surgery gone wrong? My friends said, “Nothing is wrong with her. She’s been like that ever since she met Jesus.”
I had no idea what they were talking about. By this time, I had the Bible read to me or I read it myself, at least fifteen times from cover to cover. My family read the Bible every night before bed. I knew everything that there was to know, or so I thought. What had happened to this small town, opposed to the big town next door in another county, was the Jesus Movement, a mass outpouring of the Holy Spirit. From my graduating class would come Bible translators in Ghana, foreign missionaries, inner-city missionaries, preachers, wives of preachers, Sunday school teachers, church organists, etc. I wanted the Joy that they had. At night, I would pray the salvation prayer, but nothing ever happened. “Dear Lord, come into my heart. I am a sinner; I need You.” I said the words, but I wanted God on my terms. I did not want God messing with my plans. I prayed the salvation prayer over 400 times, but it never worked.
Then one night, October 17, 1969, I stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep, my usual problem. As tears rolled down my cheeks in utter despair, I prayed, “Lord, I don’t care what You do to me, but I give up!” A soft voice whispered in my ear, “That is what I have been waiting for.” Peace came over me. It was as if I was hearing angels singing, and I fell asleep.
My morning routine was always the same – go to the bathroom, brush my teeth, get dressed, then run to the kitchen for breakfast before running down the hill to hitch a ride with the bus driver (to go to the bus). That morning, I picked up the Bible next to the bed as soon as I woke up. I began to read a book I had read over fifteen times. I opened to a passage I had read more often than that, but the words meant something different. I got excited. The Bible stayed with me all the time for months. Every break was filled with reading it and learning what God meant. Before I surrendered unconditionally to God, I understood in my mind what the words meant, but not what God was saying to me through those words. The more I read, the more excited I became.
Life After making a Total Commitment to Jesus
For a few years, I was a volunteer on the mission trails of northern Mississippi, talking to high school and college students, one-on-one. I was shaky in front of large groups. But my plans were totally derailed by the Vietnam War and the resultant future military commitment. By the time I completed my military commitment, I had a wife, two sons, and a totally different career path than what I had planned. While I agree with C. S. Lewis that the middle-aged boring years of life are the Devil’s best recruiting grounds, I feel that God has always been in control, and He was preparing me for something. They were not wasted years after all.
From my pre-teen years on, I was writing stories. My youthful stories were bizarre tales that often made no sense – think fantasy without dragons, elves, and talking animals. They were just funny, and my friends loved them. My art form was closer to a painting of a soup can than it was to a van Gogh or Rembrandt. As an adult, I wrote plays and novels, but usually read them, realized how bad they were, and then never sent them for publication. A few short stories were rejected.
When I was forced into retirement, being laid off while in my sixties, I started writing Sunday school material. Maybe that could provide some income. I had written Sunday school material before for use at the church I attended at the time. One day while writing a Sunday school lesson, that voice from nearly fifty years ago whispered, “Give it away. Don’t worry about the money. I will provide.” An argument ensued. Most people don’t consider retirement without seven digits in the bank. We barely had five. We needed the money. But the voice never got angry. You could almost hear a smile. “You write. I’ll take care of the rest. Write a blog. Go where people get their information these days. Give it away.”
A blog? I hardly knew what a blog was. I had only read one person’s blog in my life. God had to be kidding me. But I did what He told me to do.
In the past 14 months and over 400 posts later, I have had people from six continents read my blog. Some are daily readers, some binge read three or four posts, twice each week. Of the readers who are registered – thus recorded on the statistics page, I have had readers from over 80 countries. God’s message is reaching people in almost all the corners of the world where a lot of people live – on the internet.
And I finish almost every post the same way, inspired by three letters that Johann Sebastian Bach wrote on every sheet of his musical compositions, S. D. G.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.