As a young man, I loved listening to Keith Green’s contemporary Christian album So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt. I laughed at the foolishness of the Israelites he described, and couldn’t fathom how God’s Chosen People could experience such miraculous encounters and then fearfully refuse to follow their Savior. Little did I know that decades later, after having experienced many wondrous revelations of God, I would similarly fail to follow.
A Lutheran Upbringing
I was raised by loving parents who in 1963 presented me for infant baptism at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Seattle, Washington. It was a great gift. My parents, both immigrants from Norway, did not regularly practice their faith. In the first decade of my life, I can recall going to church only a time or two with my parents, usually at the invitation of their friends. Even so, I distinctly remember as a young child having an awareness of, and attraction to, a Presence far greater than myself.
At the suggestion of a believing Christian friend, my dad began to take me and my siblings to Sunday school when I was about 10 years old. He would pack us in the car, drive fifteen minutes to the nearest Lutheran church, and leave us there. My first Christian formation, presented by kind Sunday school teachers whose names I no longer remember, planted seeds that began to grow.
I don’t know the exact age, but sometime during my early teens, I realized the Lord was calling me to come closer. I felt an inexpressible love for God who, by virtue of my Lutheran formation, I now knew as Jesus. The attraction was so strong that I committed my life to serve Christ. In my Lutheran tradition, that translated for me into a desire to become a pastor.
Nearly simultaneous to that desire, a missionary pastor started a Lutheran Church nearer our home. He was very kind, and upon hearing of my interest, he invited me to become more involved. I served as an acolyte and lectored at the church, and was invited to sit in on pastoral meetings. At the same time, in my private devotional life, I fell in love with the Bible and began devouring it, read- ing through its entirety, and marveling at its mystery.
Introverted by nature, my high school years couldn’t pass quickly enough for me. A good student, I proudly thought I was ready for college, and having decided to become a pastor, I also decided that I would go to a Lutheran college. And so I did, traveling halfway across the country. My first year of college proved to be quite a shock. I was surprised to find so little evident faith. My first religion class was taught by an apparent non- believer, who within a few sessions had used the science of Higher Criticism to tear down the frail faith of most of my classmates. Only an adult student and I challenged the professor’s weighty pronouncements. My apologetics weren’t perfect, but I knew Scripture well enough by then to push back on some of the basics.
Not finding the faith I’d come looking for, and being surrounded by worldly temptation, I fell into depression and wondered how I could so miserably fail in my attempt to follow Jesus. I returned home after my first year, humbled and quite depressed, still desiring to follow the Lord with all my heart, but realizing I didn’t know how. God seemed so distant.
A God Who Reveals
One weekend during summer break, I was alone at home reading a fictional book by C.S. Lewis. In the story, Lewis described a man surrounded by the presence of God and in direct communication with his creator. The passage resonated with me, stirring a longing deep within my soul. I offered up a simple but very earnest prayer: “That’s the kind of relationship I want with you, Lord.”
Suddenly, God was in the room with me, or perhaps it would be better said, I was in God. The experience was far beyond words. Physically, it felt as if a cool electrical wind was blowing from infinity to infinity as it passed through every cell of my being. Psychologically, the peace of God enveloped me, instantly driving away my depression. Spiritually, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had revealed Himself to me in an undeniable way. The entire experience seemed outside of time, though I think it lasted only moments.
This encounter with God became a pivot point for my entire faith life. In the Lutheran church I attended, discussion about the Holy Spirit was rare, at least in any concrete personal manner. My pastor, a wonderful man, was not comfortable with charismatic experiences. But, as always, the Lord provides.
The following Monday, I had a dental appointment scheduled. In the morning, the phone rang. It was the dentist’s office. They had an emergency to deal with and needed to reschedule my appointment to another day. Just minutes after I hung up, the phone rang again. It was my pastor. He said someone who’d committed to assist a contractor in building an addition to the church had cancelled at the last minute. He asked if I was available to come to the church that morning to help. I happily noted my calendar was now free for the day and said I’d be there shortly. After the call ended, I wondered at the coincidence.
I immediately liked the contractor. He was about 30 years old and filled with radiant joy. He engaged me in Christian conversation as we worked, and it wasn’t long before I shared my recent encounter with God. His face lit up and he began sharing Scriptures that explained what I’d experienced. Everything he taught seemed new to me even though I’d read the Bible often. He spoke of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, revelations from God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and more. Our friendship grew quickly, and he invited me to go to church with him.
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