I remember my days as a four-year-old waking up early so I could run out to the barn to see my dad. We had a dairy, ind that's where my dad was every morning, of course. I remember how hard it was to pull the big swinging door open. It was spring-loaded, and I'd struggle to pull it back far enough to get in. In my excitement to let Dad know I was there, I'd stick my head in the doorway as soon as there was enough room for it- before getting it open far enough for the rest of my body- and yell, "Poo Poo!" (My vocabulary wasn't very developed!) I just wanted Dad to know I was there. That was the fun of it.
The years rolled by, and my joy continued. My fourth grade teacher wrote on my report card, "Keep up the happy disposition." (I'd never heard that last word- my vocabulary still wasn't very developed!)
At home, I was becoming a responsible young lad who could manage a significant portion of our family dairy operation. From record keeping to animal health, and, yes, the morning and evening milking, I knew what was up and felt good about being trusted by my dad with responsibilities.
But as I entered high school, I started wondering about my future, and my smile faded into uncertainty. I still loved the dairy and my dad, but I had a nagging emptiness about my career's long-term value. Would I be happy? Would I be a success? Would I find it fulfilling?
I was sort of in free fall for a couple of years. I was lonely, a little confused, and very fearful of making wrong choices. Every scenario I played out in my mind seemed pointless and meaningless.
I entered college, enrolling in Animal Science, but still sensing a diminishing confidence that I would be happy with a career in it. Worse than that, I had no confidence I'd be happy in any other career, either. Something was missing.
Walking back to my dorm a couple of days into my freshman year, I stopped to receive a piece of paper from some people positioned along my sidewalk. I chatted with them for a bit, and invited them to visit me in my dorm room.
I don't remember what we talked about those first couple of times we talked; I was too busy observing them. They were genuinely happy, and it seemed to be coming from what they were doing. They had differing degrees and pursuits, but their joy didn't seem to be coming from their career choices.
About two weeks went by and I talked to my new friends many times. One Sunday evening I was trying to study, but my emptiness and their fullness invaded my mind and took over. I had to get to the bottom of this. If there was any way I could have what I saw in them, I wanted it.
By that time I had learned where some of the men were staying, so I went over t their house, interrupted what they were doing, and started pouring out my concerns to them. Why wasn't I happy? Why was I so fearful of the rest of my life? What about after life was over: could I be certain about any good then?
For the first time, as I listened to them, the Gospel of Jesus Christ sounded like good news that was relevant to me. They said that God was good and had a plan for my life. That sounded like the God I had heard about in my religious upbringing, so no problem there. But I felt so much outside of any satisfaction in knowing about Him. Inside I was in dark turmoil, feeling guilty about my private lust and sensing that I was God's enemy.
What really started to open up hope to me was the acceptance of two realities. One of them was that I was indeed a guilty sinner who had chosen to live against the standards of a hold God. I would have previously said that I was a sinner, but I had always softened that in my own mind by thinking in a general sense that everyone else was, too. I had never gathered up the courage and humility to say to the righteous Almighty God, "Yes, I am right now your enemy, by my own choice."
The second reality that came to me that night was just exactly what it meant to "believe in Jesus Christ." I had previously envisioned myself as a sincere person, hoping that my good intentions would merit consideration for Heaven. I had done the best I could, and I hoped that God would take it from there, that He would make up what was still lacking in my efforts. But that evening it became clear that nothing I could do would undo my past wrongs. There was no hope for me in my own efforts whatsoever.
Biblical truth became my reality, that "all have sinned and fall short of the (standard) of God." I knew this was true for me. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He save(s) us." I knew that night that it was going to be His mercy or I was sunk. "The Lord has laid on (Jesus) the (sins) of us all." "Christ died for our sins." That made perfect sense to me, too, that a substitutionary payment was necessary. And, lastly, "That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved." I remember that being the hardest part of the change in me. Could I be saved in that way? Could it be that the responsibility for my eternal destiny was upon my own shoulders? But then I reasoned that if that was the route of salvation, then my new friends had been in my spot at one time, too, sensing their own need and calling out to make Jesus both Savior and Lord to them too. They urged me to make a decision to trust in Jesus, and I finally did!
Oh what a course I have been on! I did not find immediate joy. I had a lot of doubts that I had "believed right." But God has been entirely faithful to bring me into and through many stressful life situations which have heightened my trust in Him.
Over the last thirty-five years, my joy has increased to way beyond childhood levels, because I have given the controls of my life over to Him, and I know I can trust Him to do the best with my life. I have experienced a job loss, a few conflicts in marriage, and a few problems in my parenting, just like anyone else; but like an athlete who knows that success in the game depends upon appropriate training, even the problems in life have a purpose for me. They give me numerous opportunities to ask Him what to do and to trust Him to turn problems around for good. My wife and I have been married for going on thirty years, and we have raised five wonderful children. We are consistently happy. We have hope and confidence even in troubled times.
I believe we were made to have a relationship with God. Our sins separate us from Him. Jesus died to pay for those sins, and rose again to prove the debt was paid. Now He offers eternal life as a free gift. If you will confess your sins as I did, and tell Him you want the gift of eternal life, and turn from your old life as I did, you, too, will be granted eternal life.
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