I write this on the occasion of my 52nd birthday, and I am thankful to God for bringing me through another year of His grace and mercy.
I was baptized as a baby at Redemptorist Catholic Church in Kansas City, MO. Although my mother and step dad both believed in God, we did not attend worship regularly, nor were we active in the church. My mother was estranged from the Catholic Church due to her divorce, and my step dad was angry with God about bad things that had happened to him along the way. So because of their attitudes toward church, I grew up without any experience in Children or Youth Ministry, except on rare occasions when we did visit a church and I dropped in on a Sunday School class. On a brighter note, my grandparents were devout Catholics, and would take me to Mass whenever I stayed with them for a weekend. They talked with me about their faith in God. Occasionally, they would ask my parents if it was planned for me to be enrolled in Catechism or First Communion classes, but that did not get very far.
Still, I always believed in God. We prayed before dinner and at bedtime. I often prayed before challenging things at school like tests, sports competition, and concerts. The sad thing was, I never felt like I had a relationship with God as One who loved me. It was more like trying to appease One who judged me. I thought that maybe if I could be good enough, and not do the things that I shouldn’t, then God would answer my prayers and give me what I wanted. I did not have any assurance of heaven in the after-life, because I thought my acceptance by God would be based upon my good works outweighing my bad ones. This was not a very peaceful kind of religious or spiritual way of life.
I remember a time or two attending church with friends, and occasionally with my high school choir if we were a guest choir, and hearing preachers talk about asking Jesus to come into our hearts, and repenting from our sins. I even went forward one time when the preacher asked, “If you were to die tonight are you certain that you would wake up in heaven?” He said that if I came forward and confessed my sins and asked Jesus into my heart, then I would be saved and would have a place in heaven. I think that moment was a time when a either a new seed of faith was planted in my heart, or maybe the seed that planted in my baptism or intermittent faith experiences was watered. In any event, it was not a time that produced much spiritual fruit.
There were key people in my life during high school and college who had profound impact on my spiritual life and helped usher me into a place where God could truly come into my heart and change my life. One of these people was my high school baseball coach, Tom Petke. Tom was a great guy, and wonderful coach, and a devout Lutheran. Tom wore a wooden cross necklace everyday when he taught at school. Tom would lead us on prayed before and after every game, and his prayers sounded more like he was talking to a good friend. Tom always seemed to have a sense of calm and peace about him. I always felt that Tom cared about us as player s and as people. Tom was also a good singer and a member of his church choir, which was also very good. Tom invited me to come and sing with the choir whenever they did something big like Handel’s Messiah, or Vivaldi’s Gloria. Tom was a real person, with a real faith in Jesus. I think that Tom watered the faith seed that had been planted.
The person who ultimately led me to Christ however, was my football coach at Pacific Lutheran University, Frosty Westering. Frosty was a great coach of a great team (Division 3 National Champions in 1980). During my freshman year, Frosty let me walk on the team, practice, attend team meetings, and dress out for games. Even though I was by far the worst football player on that great team, he let me be a part of it. (I believe that was a God thing, because by all rights I should have been cut; LOL). Frosty taught us all about how to play football, but he also taught us about having faith in Jesus. His sons: Brad, our quarterback, and Scott, our tight end, were both strong believers in Jesus, and regularly shared their testimonies and encouraged us to live out our faith.
One night, I believe it was the last Friday of October, 1979, Frosty made arrangements to take the entire team, coaching staff, and some others to attend a showing of The Jesus Movie. This was a brand new, feature-length film produced by the Billy Graham Association, that portrayed the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We all boarded the buses and went to the theater. I remember watching the movie, and for the first time, I really understood that Jesus loved me. I saw that He endured betrayal, torture, and ultimately death by crucifixion because He loved people; because He loved me. When we returned to the athletic facilities, we met for a brief discussion which was led by a Pastor, who was the father of a player on the team. He answered several questions, and then explained the plan of salvation to us: 1. God loves us. 2. We have all sinned and turned away from God. 3. The wages of sin is eternal death. 4. The gift of God is forgiveness of sin and eternal life because of what Jesus did for us. 5. If we confess our sins and by faith ask Jesus to be our Lord then he will come into our heart and make us a new creation.
As I walked back to my dorm that night by myself, I stopped and prayed. I said something like this, “Lord, I’ve been running my life my way for a long time. Now I want to you to take over. Please forgive me of sins, I turn from them. Please come into my heart and be my Lord.” Immediately I felt a sense of warmth inside, release of pressure, and love, peace, hope, and joy that I had never known before. I felt that I had been truly forgiven and that something was different inside of me.
I wondered if the feeling would go away, but as I woke up the next several days, the feelings just got stronger. I began to attend worship, I bought my first Bible from the campus bookstore and started reading, I joined a Bible study on our floor, and I started going to the Christian sing-along sessions in the dorm lobby, led by students with guitars. I was introduced to Contemporary Christian Music (The Imperials, Larnelle Harris, Amy Grant, Keith Green, etc.). I began to have faith conversations with other students, and I felt like I finally understood what the guys on the football team were talking about when they gave their testimonies.
This year, on the last Friday of October, I will mark my 34th re-Birthday. Even though I did experience a “born again” conversion, my spiritual journey since that day then has been a long and winding road, with many joys and sorrows, with many mountain top adventures, and several trips through the dark valleys. Through it all I can honestly say that God has always been there with me. He has never left me or forsaken me. The Holy Spirit fills me whenever I ask, and is my constant companion and guide. Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and I am grateful to Him for all that He has done for me. I pray that as I offer my life to Him each day, that he will continue to guide me and use me for His glory. I have more growing to do, and I look forward to doing that through prayer, Bible study, worship, and service.
If you have never asked Jesus to come into your heart, to forgive you of your sins, and to fill you with the Holy Spirit, let me encourage you to take a moment and do that right now. God will be happy to begin a new personal relationship with you. I believe that you will be glad that did.
Matt Guild, Director of Traditional Worship