Growing up on a cotton farm in southwestern Oklahoma was for most days very uneventful. So I can remember with clarity when things out of the ordinary did take place in my life. Does cotton burn? That is the question, my cousin, and I were wondering about one day. We were both five years old, and while our mothers picked cotton for a neighbor we played in the cotton trailer. I knew where some matches were, and that day when we went to the field with our mothers, we planned to find the answer to our question.
Our mothers were half way up the cotton row when I got the matches out, and began to see if cotton would burn. Yes, cotton does burn, but you have to work at it. The trailer was almost full of cotton, and we were both working hard at our new game of burning cotton. Thankfully, someone drove by, saw the danger we were in and rescued us. The cotton and the trailer burned up. I can’t remember my mother ever taking me to pick cotton with her again.
It has occurred to me that sin is much like the predicament I was in that day long ago in the cotton trailer. Sin looks like a lot of fun, and most of the time, nothing so bad happens in the beginning. Sin is a deceiver, just as the fire was that day in the cotton trailer. I worked so hard at starting something that could have painfully destroyed me. We work so hard at what we think is a good time, and what we are really doing is working to destroy ourselves. I never realized the danger I was in while playing with fire. Most people involved in sin never realize the danger they are in until it is too late.
The burning of the cotton trailer was a shock to a five year old boy, and eventually I realized how close I had come to dying. I believe God began to use that in my life to reveal at the very least that I was not immortal.
Another incident occurred a few years later that I know now had a tremendous impact upon my life. I grew up in a family that was nominally Christian, that is, infrequent church attendance; but no real personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. A highlight of most summers was Vacation Bible School. It was a big deal to a little boy trapped out on a farm far away from any friends to play with. One summer in particular was exciting, because I not only went to the Methodist Vacation Bible School, but I also was invited to go to the Nazarene Vacation Bible School.
The Nazarene Vacation Bible School was located at a little country church, and there I encountered more than fun with my friends. My first day in class our teacher asked us if anyone knew the Lord’s Prayer. Without thinking of the consequences, I held up my hand that I knew it. I did not want anyone to think that I didn’t know anything. I had no idea what the Lord’s Prayer was, so I was not prepared for the teacher’s next question. She wanted me to say it! How could I say it, when I didn’t even know what it was. My Vacation Bible School teacher had a very fitting assignment for me during the rest of the week. My project was to memorize the Lord’s Prayer, and say it, during the program Saturday night when all the parents would be there to see what their children had made and learned during the week. I can tell you that it was very lonely up there on the stage Saturday night when all by myself I recited the Lord’s Prayer. It was my first experience with Scripture memorization, and with being in front of so many people. I now knew what the Lord’s Prayer was!
When I was about 10 years old, my family began attending church on a regular basis for about two years. One Sunday, my parents, my sister, and I walked up to the front at the end of the worship service and joined the church. We were all sprinkled with water. After that if anyone were to ask me if I was a Christian, I would tell them that I was a Christian. Because I was a member of a church, and I had been sprinkled with water. Our church attendance ended when my grandfather became ill, and for a while weekends were spent traveling to spend time with him.
One summer, when I was 14-years-old, I was invited to go to a church camp by the church where I was a member. It was an exciting event. While there at the camp, I believe God was speaking to me trying to get my attention. I remember being off to myself sitting on a picnic table one afternoon. The surroundings were beautiful in a place called Devil’s Canyon, although I think they have a different name for it now. While sitting there I began to think about my future life. What would happen? Where would I go? What would I do? At the time I didn’t think that I would go to college. I thought I would most likely get a job, marry, and have a family. I wanted to make a lot of money, and start a business. Then, I would retire early and live on all the money I had made and enjoy life. Finally, as I was looking into the future, I arrived at death. I couldn’t see anything after death, it was just black.
If only someone had told me then about Jesus, if only an invitation had been given at the services. What a difference having Jesus in my life would have made during those teenage years.
The Christmas before the church camp I was given a guitar and began to work hard at learning to play. It wasn’t long before I was playing lead guitar in a rock band. I arrived at college in the midst of the Vietnam War in 1968 far, far from God. Illegal drugs were beginning to arrive even in Oklahoma. My second semester in college I did not have a roommate and was very lonely. Something was missing and wrong in my life, more than just not having a roommate. God was what I needed.
My uncle once shared with me how his father handled his college wildness. He told me that during his freshmen year his dad paid all of his expenses and had bought him a car. However, my uncle said that he began to party and go to the bars in Oklahoma City. As a result his grades were not the best as you can imagine. When he arrived home for the summer my uncle expected to be severely reprimanded for what he had done, but his dad never said anything. He worked on the farm that summer with his dad, and eventually the day arrived for him to return to college. My uncle said he went to get his car out of the barn, but he couldn’t; because his dad had nailed boards over the doors, so there was no way to get it out. He went back to school that year on a bus, and worked in a hamburger stand to make enough money to pay his own way to college. It definitely had an impact on his life!
Have you ever been blind? Most of us can say that we have at some point been spiritually blind, and I was; but have you ever been physically blind? During the summer after my freshmen year at college I found out what it was like for a brief period of time to be blind. My sister and her husband were visiting us, and had brought their trail bikes with them. I had never been allowed to ride a motorcycle, because my dad had a bad experience once on one when he was young. But that day I talked my brother-in-law and my sister into allowing me to learn to ride. They took the bike out to the pasture where there were very few things around for me to hit, and off I went. Before I had gone very far I thought of something I wanted to ask them and turned around. Somehow instead of slowing down, I accelerated, veered off to the right, ran up a fence post and fell through a barbed wire fence.
When I fell, I was cut up by the barbed wire, and I hit my head very hard. When I stood up and opened my eyes, I couldn’t see. Everything was just black. I began yelling, “I can’t see!” “I can’t see!” “I can’t see!” They led me to the house and called an ophthalmologist in a nearby town. After several minutes, I began to see some light, and the blackness just fell away. Except for the cuts, there appeared to be no permanent damage, and the cuts would heal. Being blind is a frightening experience, not being able to see you are likely to run into things, and things are likely to run into you. Being spiritually blind is similar. When we are spiritually blind, we cannot see how badly we are stumbling, but we are
During that summer, I met and began dating my future wife, Jeanie. Her brother-in-law was the uncle of our bass guitar player, and we were practicing in their garage. During that summer, I attended a Baptist church several times because Jeanie’s dad required that I be at church on Sunday evening, if we were going to see each other afterwards. It seemed like a strange rule to me at the time, but God would use that to draw me closer to Him.
By the end of the first semester of our Sophomore year, Jeanie and I were engaged, and had set our wedding date for the end of January 1970. I decided that I was going to stop playing in the band. It seemed the right thing to do, I wanted to please my future wife and her God.