My Conversion Story
At age 17, as a junior in high school, I almost made it into the ranks of professional surfing in Southern California.
I got fourth place in a 2A/3A junior-age division surfing contest in the old WSA (Western Surfing Association)…which if I had gotten first-place would have allowed me to have an automatic entrance into the professional contests as 3A regional junior champion.
I was in the Windansea Surf Club in the junior division…ages 15-17… and was a member of the Greg Noll surf team…a legendary big-wave surfer from the 1960’s and a successful surfboard manufacturer.
When I was 18, I worked at the Greg Noll surfboard factory part-time while a senior in high school and the summer after graduation…selling surfboard foam blanks, fiberglass, resin, and fins to people making their own homemade surfboards in their garage…which was popular at that time.
Two of the guys on the surf team ran into me at the surfboard factory while I was outside watering the potted plants…in late July of that summer…and began to tell me about their becoming Christians…about the house near the beach where I surfed that was a “house church” long before there was such a thing…and gave me some Christian tracts to read and asked me if I was interested in going.
I listened politely and took their literature…but said I was not interested. They probably walked away thinking that I was a hopeless case…unreachable in my carefree worldliness.
I am sharing these details to show that my mindset was not anywhere near the stereotype that atheists paint of Christians…inaccurately projecting their own viewpoint of skeptical confusion on to other people.
I was a fairly normal and well-adjusted person focusing on surfing as the main interest in my life…not unlike many other young men at my age living near the ocean.
The personal story I am about to recount has been and is today being repeated for hundreds of millions of Christians around the world…with variations as to their individual backgrounds and how they came to Christ.
After this discussion at the surfboard factory…over a two-week period something unexpectedly new changed inside me. Even though I had no idea what I was getting myself into…thinking I would be walking into some social clique-ish type gathering with boring people I could not relate to…I surprisingly decided to go…by myself… on a Sunday evening.
I knew where the house was…on a large corner lot across the street from the ocean. I had walked by this house many times on the way to the “village” for donuts or hamburgers…after surfing just down the beach a short distance away.
This house had a very large living room with a high ceiling…which seated around 125 people sitting on fold-out chairs…with young people sitting on the fireplace hearth and on the stairs, and overflow people in the hallway.
As I walked in the front door…I found a seat in the back where I could navigate a quick and easy exit if I did not like the service.
When I first sat down I immediately noticed something different. The people already there ahead of me were seated quietly…not up and walking all over the room visiting with friends before the start of the service.
When the music and singing started, I noticed that people were enjoying the experience and genuinely glad to be there…and not looking at their watches with thoughts elsewhere on getting home later to watch the end of a baseball game on television…or their favorite TV show they were missing.
When the message started…I could not tell you now in hindsight what it was about. All I remember is that God opened up my life before me…and showed me on His score-card how I was doing. I did not sense condemnation or judgment on His part…but a very real offering of a new life option that I had never before contemplated.
During the preaching of that message…I encountered two new revelations that changed my life…first that God existed…and second that He knew all about me.
God knew all about my flaws as a person. But I sensed a supportive optimism in His evaluation and intimate knowledge of me…that offered hope in a new future me that was encouraging on a level I had never previously experienced. God had faith in me…despite my checkered past and numerous shortcomings.
As God opened up my life before me…He separated the two realities regarding me into two parts…that I was not aware of until that moment in time.
God showed me on the one hand what the world thought of me…and what it would continue to think of me going forward…having the worldly conventional acceptance of a blond-haired, blue-eyed California surfer who was well-known and well-liked…enjoying my life on my terms and according to my standards…because that was all I knew about.
Then God showed me His more discerning and insightful assessment…as my Creator…of how I was falling short in so many areas…being self-centered, unthoughtful of others, lazy in school and not using my God-given intelligence, and basically without any plan or direction for my life other than fulfilling the first priority of me, myself, and I…so universally prevalent and socially acceptable in the world…a world ignorant of God’s higher ways and thoughts.
Until that night…and meeting God for the first time…I had no idea there was another option…that there was another way.
Again, I did not sense any condemnation from God…just an honest and insightful appraisal of the direction I was going…from the informed perspective of the one single Person who would have the inside information.
One of my first reactions was: “oh no…I am undone…I am exposed as the imposter I am presenting to the outside world…when I am really something else not very commendable or admirable.”
At the beginning of the alter call…looking back now…I can remember having the sense that God at this point actually stepped back…and more or less said: “now that you know the truth…you can continue onward in the way that you are going but you will always know from here onward that it is a lie…or you can ask Me into your life and I will make you into a new person and lead you into becoming the person I created you to be.”
While heads were bowed and eyes closed…I sat momentarily on the fence…knowing that a decision for Christ would alter my life forever…and that it would cost something in that I would have to give up some if not all of my past lifestyle.
I remember that I was the fourth out of five people to accept Christ that night by raising my hand…and the procedure which I like the best…is that I did not have to go forward to be singled-out along with the other four new believers…but that all of the people in the room stood and said the sinner’s prayer together as a group.
I believe that God has eternal foreknowledge and foresight…living in a timeless environment (Isa. 46:9-10). As God stepped back…to enable my free-will to choose Him…He knew beforehand that my response would be yes.
But this is one of the realities that compellingly argues for a divine origin of the God of the Bible…having a complexity and integrated blend of God’s timeless existence…coordinated with human beings living in the four dimensions of space and time…that is the diametric opposite of being simplistic or simple-minded.
God’s foreknowledge and my free-will came together that night so many years ago now…in the mystery of the creation of a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) that is beyond human literary imagination to invent.
This is why I have included this essay in my book.
As previously said above…this is the common salvation experience of tens if not hundreds of millions of born-again Christians across the globe…with slightly different circumstances but the same result…of meeting the living God for the first time and being changed forever.
If atheists and skeptics want to characterize my salvation experience as a delusion…so be it.
What happened next is what separates my experiential perspective…from the viewpoint of atheists and skeptical critics of the Bible.
Over the next two weeks I felt a very real release from the weight of my past failings and shortcomings…the uncertainty of the future no longer being a nagging concern…my spirit rejoicing with the angels in heaven that another lost soul…me…had obtained eternal life…had escaped spiritual darkness and entered into light.
I literally became a new person. The internal reformation was an unmistakably supernatural event.
It was not a personal epiphany…not self-realization…not an intellectual recognition of a system of thought I agreed with…and not some satisfying of a previously unseen internal deficiency I needed to remedy through self-reform or wise outside human council.
This salvation experience had its grounding…its roots…its substance…in meeting the living God on a personal basis…for the first time in my life.
What will infuriate some atheists and skeptics…if they even grant any credibility to my testimony…is that this does not fit within the stereotype of the person raised in the church and partially brainwashed by its teachings.
I was not only an unqualified sinner…lacking any good-works merit to attract the positive attention of God to be singled-out for salvation…but I was not even searching for God.
I didn’t find God…He found me. I wasn’t searching for God…He called me and I simply responded to His invitation.
When a person discovers that God actually exists…and that He is the God of the Bible…this changes the outlook on everything.
When I started reading the Bible for the first time in my life at my conversion…because I then had been introduced to the living God…had been spiritually born-again…and was living in a new walk of faith following Him…the supernatural in the Bible was not a problem for me.
I knew from that time forward…on independent grounds…that the supernatural was real.
If God could transform me…like He did…then He can raise Jesus from the dead to be the Savior of the world…or perform any number of other miracles recorded in the Bible.
I was not reading the Bible as mere human literature…like we do in university religious studies classes. The Bible came alive as the Word of God…unlike anything I had known previously or since then.
I have no idea in terms of absolute mathematics, physics, and chemistry how God opened up the Red Sea for the Israelites to safely cross on dry land…or the composition of the manna that fed the Israelites on the exodus to the Promised Land…or how God can make the lips of a donkey move while generating clearly articulated words understood by the prophet Balaam…when donkeys do not possess vocal chords that can produce intelligible speech…or a number of other supernatural events that atheists and skeptics choke on…in the Bible.
I am not sure that these one-time, non-repeating events will ever be understood through the human enterprise of scientific investigation. The God created reality of the orderliness and intelligibility of our natural world may not extend into the transcendent capacity of God to perform the actions of miracles that fall outside of the normal experiences and observations of everyday phenomenon.
My Christian Life since My Conversion
Space will not allow telling about my clear calling into a career in building construction…how I began writing books on housing construction at age 30…being a C-minus student in the two required English composition classes I took years earlier in junior college…and after 13 years of drawing illustrations and writing the accompanying text…I got the first of four books on building construction accepted for publication by McGraw-Hill (1995-98 under Bart Jahn).
I could tell about the origin of my seven Christian books…this being my seventh…and my struggle to accurately listen in the Spirit to what God was telling me through my life experiences and reading of the Bible…as a non-scholar…to articulate into words…sophisticated ideas and concepts that I still feel ill-equipped to tackle.
My goal in this testimony is to offer the contrary rebuttal to the atheistic viewpoint that assumes that God does not exist…critiques the Bible and Christianity in this same shortsighted light…and then assumes that Spirit-born and Spirit-led Christians approach the Bible and their personal journey of faith…in a similarly doubtful and uncertain way.
This has not been my experience…or the experience of the many Christians I know.
I may not be practicing my Christian faith at the high level of the analogy of playing tennis at the professional level as at the U.S. Open. An outsider critiquing my life may or may not see a “professional” Christian in action.
But my experience is real and genuine…and is based upon a personal relationship following God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son of God, and the Holy Spirit.
I cannot emphasize enough the rebuttal to the false charge that faith in the God of the Bible…is a delusion. My personal relationship following Jesus Christ within a God-composed adventure of faith…is not a product of group-think or conformity to organized churchianity.
I hope the complex, specified, and coherently integrated information in the topics discussed in this book…is itself plausible and compelling evidence of authenticity as to the genuineness of the existence of God, the divine origin of the Bible, and the truth of Christianity…played out through God-composed life-scripts for imperfect people like myself.
I want to close out the book with the following verses from Romans 8:35-39:
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Not height, nor depth, nor any other creation, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.