12:2—I think they call this a testimony.
In a previous message on Paul’s command to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” I likened that process to the transformation of an acorn into an oak tree. I now say a little about my own transformation in the hope it might be useful to someone.
In my “acorn stage” as a 24-year-old new believer in Christ I had little hope of ever growing into an oak tree. My horizon was near-term. Maybe I could make it to “sapling stage” before spinal muscular atrophy would cause all my limbs to wither. My internal challenges were also severe. How could fear of an uncertain future, insecurity, lust, and envy ever leave my heart? I found an answer in the power of God.
The life force in the genetic code of an acorn is nothing to compare with the life force planted by the Holy Spirit that propels a regenerated soul to seek hard after the Lord. I devoured the word of God and good books. I positioned myself with other believers, and chased after God. I sought the presence of the Holy Spirit. This transformation process Paul describes works! Many of you have experienced the same thing.
As a young man I enjoyed listening to classical music on KWAX, watching the Brooklyn Dodgers with my mother, listening to the Ducks with my dad and brother, and reading anything political with a hard leftist slant. Even in high school I was an ideologue. I was disdainful of religion, and if pressed for a definition of what I believed, I would say I was an agnostic, also a socialist. I enjoyed lengthy conversations with my Uncle Roy, who subscribed to People’s World and once toured the Soviet Union. My subscriptions included The New Republic and, as recommended by Roy, The Progressive.
I found it hard to believe that some of my best friends in high school became Christians. During my senior year at the University of Oregon I wrote a polemic against the Christian right as a term paper in a sociology class. I wrote well-researched letters to the newspaper opposing the Vietnam War and hosted a neighborhood gathering of my friends to hear Congressman Charlie Porter speak against the war. Sen. Wayne Morse, a man of outstanding character I honor to this day, opposed the war with such vigor that I had to commend him with a lengthy letter and supporting documents he could use in one of his filibusters.
God enters the scene
Eventually agnosticism and socialism left both my spirit and intellect dry. My cousins Bard and Tricia Pillette had become Christians, and I saw firsthand their own dramatic transformations. One afternoon in August 1968 I invited Jesus Christ into my heart, and he turned on a light that never dimmed.
A mere decade after graduating from the UO in 1966, I was a Christian pastor and married to an amazing woman. We were expecting our first child. God transformed me from an insecure, bitter, agnostic socialist to a contented Christian rejoicing in my soul. As I look back on the trail of God’s grace, I see immeasurably more blessings than I could ever have imagined (Ephesians 3:20). I will share one detail.
In 1972—four years after being born again—I began to cry out to God for healing of my soul and body. A friend and I dedicated ourselves to pray 15 minutes each day as a first step toward seeking God. I persevered through chronic insomnia, still desperate for God’s touch.
At a conference in August 1972 in Chicago a man introduced himself to me, and his interest in my situation led to a dramatic breakthrough. Dr. Clate Risley’s business card said he was head of Worldwide Christian Education Ministries. He was known as “Mr. Sunday School of America” because of his passion for Christian education and his prior service as executive secretary of the National Sunday School Association.
During the last night of the conference Dr. Risley gathered a couple of his pastor friends who were also attending the seminar and led me through demonic deliverance in a dormitory room on the Wheaton College campus. Results were immediate. I slept peacefully that night for the first time in months, and joy lifted my spirit.
Dr. Risley mentored me long-distance by lengthy letters and phone calls through the next several years as my spiritual growth accelerated. Two important things he taught me are to praise God always—a message reinforced by a young disciple of Dr. Risley who accompanied him to the conference—and to proclaim the word of God over my life. He was truly God’s gift to me at the right time.
So here I am, a Christian like my high school pals, still being transformed from the inside out by God’s word and the Holy Spirit.