My “Spiritual” Birthday

I didn’t forget about it. It’s been a busy week, and I just didn’t have a chance to share it with you. On June 19, 1988, I knelt at the alter and was adopted into the family of God. That was 20 years ago.

When I was a kid I had a drug problem (stop me if you heard this one). I was drug to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night prayer meeting, revival, etc. My dad “shopped” for a new church every few years, always independent Baptist, usually 20-30 year established ones. Most of the churches we attended during my youth, I later found out, we’re started when a Southern Baptist church split, or else by a group of Southern Baptist members that left a church and started their own. One such church was starting their Jubilee, a week long meeting featuring a different revival preacher each night. They kicked off Sunday night with the Rev. Sammy Allen. As with many of my stories, you might have to be from the South, possibly growing up in a small town to fully understand. Small towns have a way of creating small town celebrities. Even now, my wife and I are getting to be big fish in a very small pond. When we went into the county tag office, the clerk recognized us as Joseph and Mary from our church Christmas program, broadcast throughout the week on the local cable channel. Remember your SAT’s? Sammy Allen is to Calhoun, GA what Billy Graham is to the United States. Sammy Allen is old school; the run down the aisle, hellfire and damnation type. We’re talking the modern equivalent of Johnathan Edwards or George Whitefield. And Maranatha Baptist Church had him on Sunday night to kick off their week long Jubilee.

At age 12, I had no reference to any other type of church or church service. I knew there were other churches where people sitting on the front row didn’t get spit on by the preacher, but had never been to one. Quite churches were “dead,” and considered undesirable. The members weren’t shouting all service long, therefore not happy, ergo perhaps not even saved. I’m not making fun of anybody’s church, alright, I just want you to get where I’m coming from. That Sunday evening I responded to the invitation (alter call to some of us), and a young pastor named Johnathan Reavis knelt beside me and led me in the sinner’s prayer. Sammy Allen gave me a Bible that night, and told me the only condition was that I read it. Over the years the red leather cover changed to pink, then to orange, and now has almost no color left at all. Since then, I’ve been given a Bible for graduating college, a family Bible after getting married, and most recently another upon being ordained into the ministry. I even bought a Bible once, believe it or not. And I still have them all.

Some things have changed in the last 20 years, some never will. My parents still attend small, independent Baptist churches, read only the King James Bible, and grumble about things like churches that build a gym. My wife and I belong to a Southern Baptist church that reads Bible versions other than KJV and has, of all things, a gym. Dad and I now have, though, an adult relationship built on mutual respect, which is more than I can say for some years of my adolescence after age 12. As an adult, it seemed for a while, that the older I got the smarter Dad got. And I still believe now what I had the good sense to be grateful for even then; that getting saved had a lot to do with having a praying mother and father. The ones that drug me to church, sometimes kicking and screaming. My parents have been married 47 years, and raised two sons, now both happily married themselves. I’m proud of the parents I was once ashamed of, and for the same reasons. My parents worked hard, ate vegetables out of the garden, and had the “Jesus is Lord” tag on the front of the car. We never missed a church service no matter what else was going on. And I thank God for them.

Well, thank you for indulging me on this personal reflection of my journey. I really just meant to say, “Hey, 20 years, how ’bout that?” I have this habit of telling every I know. It’s a good thing I have a blog.

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