“Just stare at the water glasses in the center of the table. You don’t have to close your eyes to pray,” said Ted.
With those words I began this glorious journey called life. Yes, I was obviously alive before this event, but that evening in Foster Dining Hall on the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was the first day of my new life in Christ.
That was December 1, 1977 and I was a junior in college. But I was a mess. I was irresponsible, spending my days looking for the next party and my nights partying. Such a life style had gotten me into a pickle. It was Thanksgiving, 1977 and I didn’t have a ride home. All my regular rides were booked. In desperation I remembered this guy, Ted, who lived in Philadelphia and could drop me off on his way. He had space and off we went.
I knew Ted was “religious” and since I drew the front center seat (6 passenger Chevy Impala) on the way back to school, I thought I’d be clever and ask him about end times. Ted adroitly shifted the conversation and shared the Gospel with the car. He dropped me off last and sort of apologized. I remarked that I wanted to hear more and we set a date for dinner in the dining hall that coming Thursday.
The story of my conversion though begins earlier than December 1977. In the summer of 1977 I was seeking. I was lost. I thought that if I read the Bible, I might become a better person. I was home that summer (1977) and my house didn’t have many Bibles (not an excuse for what followed). One day I was in a bookstore and spied an attractive New Testament and shoplifted it. Yup, I took it without paying for it.
So, the illogic went something like this: reading the Bible will make me a better person, so stealing it was justified.
I didn’t know where to start, but in God’s providence I began to read the Gospel of John, a chapter a night. On the fifth night I ran into these verses, in John 5: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” Jesus was originally speaking to the Scribes and Pharisees, but at that place and time His words reached across time and spoke to my heart. I was dumbfounded and in awe. How did He know? But, I was hard-hearted and put the New Testament away for the remainder of the summer. My heart wasn’t ready.
You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. • John 5.39-40
Back to December 1, 1977… Ted began to re-share the gospel; I remember stopping him, saying something like, “I know all that, I just need to know what to do about it.” So, he led me through the prayer to bring Jesus into my life and thus began what Steven Curtis Chapman calls “The Great Adventure.”
It took me years to connect the stealing of that New Testament with December 1, 1977. What I didn’t know was that God was softening my heart, was preparing the way. He used my irresponsibility to reconnect with Ted, a student I had known my first summer at IUP. If my circumstances had been different, I would have had a ride home and would not have had to call on Ted.
Recently, Ted shared this quote with me: The brothers of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favour as they did him with their malice and hatred (Thomas More, sixteenth century). I had to go through a period of irresponsibility on my journey to arrive at Foster Dining Hall, staring at water glasses, not knowing the blessing I was receiving.
So I am thankful for that time in my life. He did use that stolen New Testament after all.
PS — I tried to make amends, but the bookstore was no longer there…