When I look back at my childhood, I guess I didn’t grow up much differently than most kids. The only difference I remember was that my parents separated when I was very young.Even so, I wasn’t without things to do, and I had the things most kids had. Like most kids, my mom made me go to confirmation classes. I went because I had to, and remember learning very little. I was very happy when they finally came to an end. After that, I don’t remember going to church again until I got married.
At that time, I believed that God existed but I never thought about going to heaven or hell when I died. I just thought everyone went to heaven when they died. I figured it was automatic. Nobody talked about going to hell, unless you were a murderer or something bad like that.
“At that time, I believed that God existed but I never thought about going to heaven or hell when I died.”When I was about 18, I met a girl and started going steady with her. In 1965, we got married and soon after we had our first son. Three years later we had another son. During those years, I was not very happy with my life or my marriage, even though I was mostly to blame for my misery. I certainly wasn’t able to put the blame on myself at that time, though.
When I was 21, I got a part-time job as a taxi driver. This was perfect for me, because I got paid by the fare and did not have to account to my wife for the amount of time I worked, or the amount of money I brought home. That way, when I was supposedly at work, I could quit after a few hours and spend the rest of the night running around and drinking. I never wanted to be at home. But I wasn’t truly happy with this life either. I can remember many times being surrounded with people I knew in places I loved to be, and still feeling lonely inside. Needless to say, after a few years of this kind of life, my marriage ended in divorce.
After about five more years of the bar scene, I began to get tired of it. It seemed as though there had to be more to life than blowing your money on booze every night and ending up the next morning with nothing but drunken tremors and a hangover.
By this time, I had met another young lady and we began living together. We had my boys almost every night, and this helped cut my drinking drastically.
Anita and I got married in 1979, and things really started to look pretty good to me. Between the two of us, we had a good income, and we wasted no time spending it. I had all the toys I wanted. First it was camping gear, then a pop-up camper, then a travel trailer. I had four motorcycles in two years, and a pop-up trailer for motorcycles to boot! I remember feeling that life doesn’t get any better than this. “You would think that with all the things we had, and spare change on top of it all, that we would be content.”You would think that with all the things we had, and spare change on top of it all, that we would be content. But, there seemed to be something missing. I did not know at the time that what was missing was the Lord Jesus Christ in my life.
In 1986, my wife and I went through a major crisis in our marriage. I found out very quickly that there are some things in life you just can’t easily make right. I had been a very selfish person thinking mostly in our marriage of things that would make me happy. My hobby is trains, and if I wanted to go off for a weekend alone to watch trains, I just did it. I did not give a lot of thought to what make my wife happy. When all this came to a head, I could see this marriage crumbling around me. Feeling helpless, I began to do something I had never done before. I began to pray for God to help me straighten out my life.
God did straighten out my marriage – and my whole life to an extent I could never have expected. Shortly after this, my wife and I started to talk about going to church. It turned out to be more talk than anything, as we spent the next two years talking to anyone we thought could help us figure out what church to go to. I remember praying to God and asking him to just send us to the right church.
In 1989, two men out visiting from the Lehigh Valley Baptist Church, knocked on my door and asked if they could be of any spiritual help to us. I was interested in what they had to say, but my wife was recovering from minor surgery and I asked them to return in a couple of weeks. To my surprise they did return, and in the course of our conversation they told me something I had never heard before. They told me I was a sinner, and that my sins would keep me from going to heaven. They told me the only way to get there was for God to forgive my sins. What I had to do, they said, was to truly repent of those sins and give my life over to the Lord and call on Him for forgiveness. “They said that Jesus had already paid for my sins by dying on the cross.” They said that Jesus had already paid for my sins by dying on the cross. I believed what they said, but I could not imagine God forgiving my sins. There were just too many of them. I did not believe God could forgive anyone as bad as I was.
These men showed us what the Bible has to say about our eternity. Even after a few more visits from the two men, I had trouble understanding how I could be forgiven. These men had no idea how bad I really was. It also occurred to me that if we did start going to church, we would have to change our lives. I guess I would not have minded changing a little – I knew I needed that. But I certainly did not want to become a “holy roller.” I figured that then I could never have any fun anymore because I’d always have to be in church, and I did not relish that thought.
About six months after the first visit, I got a card from one of the men inviting me to a men’s night at their church. My wife had ceramics that night, so I figured “Why not? I’ll go.” There were four speakers that night. Soon after the first was done, I began to wonder what I was doing there. I knew it was going to be a long, boring night. The first preacher didn’t interest me at all. The second was a bit better. I was grateful to be able to take a break and sample some of the food the church ladies had prepared for us. Then the preaching started all over again. By this time, the third preacher was sounding pretty good. It was only a few minutes into the next message, though, that I knew God was having that speaker preaching directly at me. I knew then that God had answered my prayer and that I had found the right church. Little did I know that the Lord had one more surprise for me.
At the end of the preaching, everyone stood up with their heads bowed, while the question was asked, “Do you know for sure that when you die, you’ll go to heaven? If you don’t know for sure, come to the front of the church and someone will take you and show you from the Bible how you can know for sure that heaven is where you will spend eternity.” I knew I wanted to go forward, but I was so scared I was shaking. I guess the man that invited me saw me shaking and he asked me if I wanted to go forward. I said “no” – and immediately knew that was the biggest mistake of my life. My pride, though, kept me standing where I was. My friend asked again, saying, “Would you like me to go up front with you?” I nodded “yes,” and on that night, Jan. 20, 1989 I was, as the Bible says, born again – forgiven of my sins and saved from the pits of hell.
God forgave me of all my sins the moment I admitted to Him that I was a sinner, and that there was nothing else here on earth that I could do to pay the price for my sins and be allowed to enter the gates of heaven when I die.
I wish that my words could be adequate to have you understand the joy and peace and happiness that I have in my heart today. I no longer have all the toys. The motorcycles, and the trailer , and the excess money are gone. But, I would never return to the lifestyle I had before God saved me.
I found out that heaven isn’t automatic. Where we spend eternity depends on what we do about our sins here and now. I have never experienced happiness as fully as when I knew heaven would be my home. You can have the same happiness and assurance.