Back in the days of the church, people would ask about your testimony and how you “got saved”. Some would have dramatic tales of their conversion experience and others would testify to God’s amazing grace. I am hesitant to share my own story because I don’t have a stirring story to tell of my own experience of salvation. I’m fact, it isn’t very exciting and not what people would assume.
I grew up as a preacher’s kid and was raised in the church. My life revolved around church. I went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and other times mixed in. Church was my dad’s business.
Most would assumed that I was “saved” under my Dad’s preaching. I was not. For the first 14 years of my life, I sat on the pew every Sunday and listened to his sermons. Sometimes I was even the subject of them. The fact of simply growing up in church and being there every Sunday did not automatically earn me salvation. Salvation also wasn’t something that I inherited simply because my father and my grandfather were preachers. I also don’t have a story to tell of when Jesus reached His hand way down to me and pulled me out from my sinful ways as I often heard others testify about. Not that I was perfect – far from it – but my story was different from others. I even had a pastor once who belittled my experience by saying that I cut my teeth on the church pews. While I may not have been the typical idea of what a sinner was to look like, I still had my own experience.
While growing up in church I knew about Jesus and was taught about Him but I never had a personal experience until 1978 when my dad scheduled a revival with a young African-American man named Bruce Scotton. At the time, Bruce was an evangelist who was in high demand for revivals within our church denomination in Georgia. The best description I could give you of Bruce was that he looked just like the character “Rerun” on the 1970s “What’s Happening” television show. While we had evangelists in our home before but Bruce was different. When evangelists would come stay with us, I would be forced to give up my room for the evangelist during the week they were with us and was mostly ignored. Bruce was different. During the week Bruce was with us, he spent time with me. He didn’t ignore me like others had done. He took an interest in me. I clearly remember how we would play games with my Mattel Handheld football game as he would rock back and forth as he was trying to score a touchdown.
During the week he ran the revival out our church and preached, I saw another side of God. One that was personal to me. A God that knew me. God was finally relatable to me and not just a church. I think the example Bruce showed me during his stay with us helped me to see that God could be a friend.
My dad wasn’t a bad man, he was just really strict and more of a preacher than a father in those years. My image of God and relationship with Jesus was not real until Bruce was there that week. That week I felt like I connected with Jesus for the first time in my life.
I eventually lost contact with Bruce in the years that followed but I will never forget the impact he made in my life and how he helped me to my first experience with God. My relationship with God has grown since then. It has been a journey of ups and downs. I have also had to unlearn things that the church taught me. It hasn’t always been easy but I have relied upon my personal experience with Jesus. I know people feel a bit uneasy when you say “Jesus” but when you have had the experience I have had and gone through what I have gone through, you know the one who has been there and not ashamed of it.
I may have cut my teeth on the church pews and may not have a dramatic testimony of being saved but I needed a personal relationship with Jesus too. The key word is “personal” which I did not have until that revival week. Perhaps the worst thing of all is to go to church every Sunday and never have a personal relationship with Jesus. To be so close yet not know Him.
We all have our stories of salvation. We have all sinned and come short of the glory of God whether we are sitting in the church or in the gutter somewhere. People need to drop the pious, self-righteous attitude and realize that we are not perfect and we all make our way on this journey the best way we can.