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.
Every Christian’s life story is different. Some people have to hit rock-bottom…addicted to alcohol or drugs, ruined marriages, and careers destroyed…before they can reach the point of admitting they need God.
Some people grow-up in a Christian church…and at the age of being able to make a meaningful decision…invite Jesus Christ into the hearts and lives…and begin their life-long journey of faith.
For me…it was a case of starting to achieve success in surfing…yet surprisingly discovering that this beginning of experiencing success in my chosen sport did not bring the satisfaction I thought it would.
At the time I did not recognize that there was a hole in my life…and if I gave any thought to it I would have merely concluded that I needed more success and acclaim…that this would produce fulfillment and happiness.
Christian evangelism calls this the “God-shaped hole”…that only God can fill…that no amount of personal achievement can satisfy…and I unknowingly had a bad case of this God-shaped hole in my life.
By this time I had seen and experienced enough of life…to sense that there was something wrong with the world and with me…but as yet I did not know what it was.
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…that I am living my life as if I actually know what life is supposed to be about…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 a part of the real truth about God.
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.