It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions; Hebrews 10:31-32
It was a typically warm December day in southwest Florida but the air was less humid than during the oppressive summer months of the year. It was a little past two o'clock in the afternoon and, unknown to me at the time, this would prove to be a pivotal day as I stood at the crossroads of eternity faced with a life-changing dilemma of making a yes-or-no decision, whether to accept or reject the path before me.
I had been home for three weeks while on Christmas break. I was a young nineteen years old, a sophomore in college, preparing to transfer during the semester break from Mississippi where I had been playing football to Nebraska. Like any other college athlete, the holidays were spent training for the next season. This year would be no different, or so I thought. A close friend of mine from high school, Travis, who was playing football in Illinois was also home for Christmas and we took advantage of our time to work out together, pushing one another to lift more and run faster.
I had sensed that something was different about him, however, and that his demeanour and speech had somehow changed since I had seen him last. As a matter of fact, I noticed that his entire outlook on life seemed to have been completely realigned. Virtually every day during the three or four weeks of our Christmas break, my friend Travis spoke to me about going to see his pastor and persisted in encouraging me to to visit him. Unfortunately, I had no desire to accommodate his wishes at that time, but not for the reasons you may think, for seeds had already been planted.
Eleven months earlier while in my first year of college in Mississippi, I had met a young man who was the RA, or Resident Advisor, of the dorms in which I lived. He was likely an upper class-man whose responsibility was basically to oversee the behaviour of the students and athletes housed in the dorms (a task only slightly easier than storming the beaches of Normandy!). Although he did not play any team sports, we occasionally worked out together and happened to cross paths regularly while on campus. One evening following a workout session, the RA began to tell me about a man he met, one who had revealed all that the RA had ever done wrong in his life and who knew of every sin he had ever committed. He then assumed the penalty for these sins and paid the ultimate price for each and every one of them, sentenced to death on a cross. In his conversation, he used the terms "saved" and "lost" as if they were adjectives commonly used to describe people. I was interested in what he had to share, convicted even, because I had heard these terms before.
A full year and a half before my friend Travis' first invitations had been extended, “BJ, come meet my pastor. You'll like him. He's just a good ol’ boy.”, I was a recent graduate from high school and was just over a month away from entering college, working as a lifeguard. I had enrolled in Lifeguard and Water Safety classes with several of my high school friends and we were all looking forward to earning some money over the summer before we left home to go our separate ways. One of the other students we became acquainted with in our classes was a young man whose name was Troy. As each class would come to an end and we became more cordial with one another, our new friend Troy began to hang around us more, but I noticed he did not really "become one of us". As we received our individual assignments, Troy and I began to work together at the same swimming pool and began our workouts together as well, training for the next football season. Troy would often invite me to the youth group at his church where I had attended a couple of times. He would discuss the Bible and the need to be “saved”, using that term again and again in stark contrast to another more foreboding term, "lost". I was skeptical and would rebut my new friend with some typically ignorant remarks, challenging him with irrelevant questions about dinosaurs and aliens, but all the while in my heart, I knew he was right. But why?
Turn the pages of your calendars back with me eleven years to when I was but an eight year old little boy visiting my grandparent’s farm in central Alabama. For some strange reason, as everyone else was busy working around the farm, I found myself walking through the house alone. Almost as if I was drawn to them, I discovered two pamphlets that rested on a very cluttered kitchen counter and I ran to the back room with them firmly in hand. I sat on the hard wooden floor with my back resting against the bed and began to read the brochures, vivid in their detailed accounts of a time when the earth would be filled with unimaginable violence and of a world ruler who would emerge from the chaos seeking to destroy anyone who chose not to worship him as a god. In retrospect, this one was so detailed I doubt it was intended for any eight year old child to read. The second tract was about a day when Jesus would return to earth in the air and everyone who knew Him, all who had been "saved", would ascend into the skies to join Him and live with Him forever. I was amazed that this also included those who had died and been buried! There was a picture in the leaflet of Jesus standing in the sky above a city with souls traveling in what appeared to be beams of light speeding toward Him, including pilots and drivers whose sudden disappearance caused planes to crash and cars to collide.
Now at nineteen years of age, in that valley of decision, on the last day of December in 1990, I finally complied with my friend Travis’ request and agreed to visit his pastor. I found myself seated in the office of Dr. James Ellis on this Monday afternoon, my eyes drawn to a book that rested on his desk between the two of us with its title boldly printed on its binding, "The Book of Revelation". In those moments, thoughts of what I had read eleven years earlier were recalled and conversations with my friends Travis, Troy and the RA were replayed. It came to me suddenly of all of the ground work that had been laid and all the seeds that had been planted which led to this very moment. I had to make a decision and was presented with a choice to accept the precious gift of salvation and become “saved" or to reject the offer and remain “lost” forever. I remember glancing over my right shoulder as I sat in that chair across from Pastor Ellis as if to say to God, “You caught up with me. You win.” I surrendered myself and chose the offer of salvation. I remain grateful today for all of those people, now my brothers in Christ, that the Lord placed in my life who would eventually win me to the Lord Jesus Christ so that I could be gloriously saved and born again.
My friends, I offer this testimony as a means of encouraging all who witness and testify to others that do not see any immediate fruit. You are planting seeds in eternity that will render the fruit of everlasting life. Press on and remember that it is indeed a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Philippians 1:3
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