Around 1971 or '72, I read (as best a four year old can read) a cartoon Gospel tract. To this day I can still see the wire magazine rack in the sunlit linoleum-floored waiting room of a doctor's office and I can still recall finding the little black and white booklet on the bottom shelf. Of course I could not read the words. But the pictures showing sin and God's judgment were quite clearly understandable and I really did “get” that part. Since I'd come from a largely nonreligious family with no spiritual upbringing to speak of, I don't recall ever telling anyone in my family about it and eventually relegated the memory to the back of my conscience. But I never forgot it. It remains the single most vivid memory of my earliest childhood.
During high school I did attend church for a while, heard the Gospel and thought I’d believed it, and was water baptized in a creek because that's what I was told needed done. Yet at the same time, I was fornicating with the daughter of one of the church elders; the girl who brought me to church. As best I can now recall, I never saw any contradictions in my life at that time…after all, I’d convinced myself that we’d marry (we never did) which always makes this particular sin much easier for nominally conscientious teens to indulge. Once I went into the Navy, then college, my sin grew to be pretty much unrestrained.
But during my senior year in college, and for no discernible earthly reason, I began to come under increasingly heavy guilt for how I was living; I later learned this is called conviction – the hand of God on a sinner’s conscience. I did not know what it was but I clearly recall resisting and dreading the vague suspicion that it might be from the God I more or less believed existed yet did NOT want in my life. But that nameless, constant, pervasive sense of self-disgust and dread, blaring louder and louder in my soul no matter what I did to try to drown it out (and I tried lots of things to do so) just would not go away.
Around that same time, I also began to notice odd, humanly inexplicable "alignments"...random people saying things of a spiritual nature that a year before would have been meaningless that now went *click!* in my mind...picking up and reading things left laying in public places, things that I'd not have given a second thought to before but now spoke to me...or when the Christian radio station I'd begun monitoring would play things that precisely echoed the unwelcome spiritual thoughts that had just begun creeping into my head. And the whole time, the memory of that Gospel tract, with it’s biblically accurate depiction of the final judgment and the Lake of Fire, stuck with me.
But I resisted, resisted again and resisted God some more.
One night, Christy, a friend who'd disappeared and left town a few years before, and with whom I'd had no contact since, suddenly reappeared and caught my attention in a darkened college theater I had gone into one night purely on impulse (I almost never went there but that night, for some reason, I did). She was a few seats down and spotted me when I came in late. Christy caught my attention and whispered that we had to talk after the show, so we did.
At the DQ up the road, we got a few years of catch-up out of the way when Christy bluntly announced she was now a Christian. I was stunned as I realized her reappearance out of nowhere, combined with my ever-increasing sense of conviction and all the other weirdness...well, now things were getting REALLY weird. I did share some of what was going on but I was still very resistant and unsure (and secretly afraid) about where all this might be leading so, for the time being, we left it at that.
The climax: Not long after - a few weeks at most - conviction was getting even hotter. I was driving down a gravel road in broad daylight and suddenly lost control. Now picture this: I'm driving only about 35-40 mph on good gravel when my '78 Buick Electra - a pretty big car as heavy as some modern trucks - starts fishtailing on me. To my left is a very shallow ditch, a few inches deep and about two feet wide, with a steep but soft embankment behind it. To my right is a creek, no guard rail, with a large culvert pipe running under the road that empties into the creek. There was about a six foot drop off of the road into the creek. My car, out of control, was heading right for that drop.
Next thing I know, I find myself on the OTHER side of the road, nose up to the embankment, almost even with the creek drop-off. I had been totally without control of the car but even if I had been in control, I could not have reacted fast enough to have turned a car THAT size going THAT fast THAT tightly to bring it from where it was going to where it came to rest. I never wore belts in those days and likely would have died had I gone off the drop. I was completely fine. Rattled? You'd better believe it...but physically fine.
When the shock wore off, I realized that I must have panicked because my foot still had the gas pedal floored and the engine was still screaming.
All this had to occur in the space of about two seconds, max. Not only do I not recall it happening: I had neither the time nor the presence of mind to even try turning the wheel. Besides, my foot was planted on the gas the whole time, even after the car hit the embankment. By all the laws of physics, the car should have gone into the creek. It didn't.
I walked to a phone (this is before cell) and called a truck to pull me out of the brush. Then I called Christy and told her whatever church it was she was going to, I wanted to go immediately because God just told me in no uncertain terms that He really wanted to get my attention. Now He had it.
Not long after I heard and believed the Gospel of the grace of God and was saved. Not as spectacularly as some claim, but saved nonetheless. That was in 1996. Two years later the pastor's secretary, also a student, became my wife and we've been blessed with the two most beautiful children I've ever seen, who in earnest prayer my wife and I have dedicated to the Lord.
One more thing. Right after the tow truck arrived Christy and I went back and checked the culvert pipe. Sure enough, my tire did make a sizable dent in it. I knew it was mine because it was fresh in the dust that coated the pipe. The Buick absolutely DID hit that pipe with enough momentum to dent it badly (messed up the alignment too, I later learned) yet ended up safe almost exactly on the opposite side of the road. It was a miracle because it should not have happened.
That was a warning. Had I ignored it and kept living in sin I have zero doubt that with the wicked trajectory I was on, I would have self-destructed within ten years, probably less. God could have let me die right there in my sin and the result would have been what I'd seen depicted in that tract when I was a toddler. But by His grace, He did not. That's all I can say - God did not let me die when by all rights I should now be dead, and deserved death for years of breaking His holy law.
That was not the only miracle God has graced me with the privilege of witnessing but it was the first and it's why I'm here today. God has since allowed me to see and appreciate the abundant evidence that the Bible cannot possibly have been written by men. I have also witnessed a few more miracles. One of them - which I will never have the words to describe - was to literally see a young man named Jason be born again by the Holy Spirit right before my eyes.
All that, taken together, is why I believe and I thank for His patient grace and mercy, even for sinners like me. And if He can save me, as wicked as I was, He can save you, too.