Have you ever wondered about God? Does He actually exist? If so, what’s He like? What does He expect from me? These are mind-boggling, change your whole life kinds of questions, aren’t they? I’ve been exploring these issues for many years, just like a lot of you. While I don’t pretend to have all the answers I’d like to share with you what I have discovered with the help of a close friend of mine. His name is Jesus. He and I have walked many, many miles together on life’s journey. It hasn’t been an easy journey, and still isn’t, but it’s been a good one. I wouldn’t trade my friendship with Jesus for anything else in life.
Over the next few months I’d like to explore some of these spiritual issues with you. I’ll start by beginning at the beginning. Let me explain how my spiritual journey got kicked into gear. I’m going to tell you something which may surprise you. My conversion to Christianity came before I was old enough to read or write. School was still a couple of years off for me (no public kindergarten in those days). My name then was “Timmy” and I was four years old.
My family lived in an old farmhouse, 100 yards off of a gravel road in Hobart, Indiana. I’m pretty sure that it was my father, Russell Underwood, who explained the gospel to me and my twin brother Tom. He told us, as well as one can tell a four year old, about Jesus and what He’d done to save sinners. He asked us if we wanted to pray and ask Jesus to save us. I remember kneeling down next to my bed and praying some sort of prayer. It’s been well over fifty years now and the memory, although somewhat vague, has not disappeared. My brother Tom also recalls the moment.
Is a four year old a sinner in need of salvation? The sinner part I don’t doubt. The issue of when a child is old enough to be spiritually accountable I’ll leave to the theologians to debate. Can a four year old adequately understand the gospel? All I know is this: in some way I gave my life to Jesus on that day and I never forgot it. When I was seven, and a bit more knowledgeable, I prayed once more to receive Christ, wanting to make sure of my salvation.
To be sure, my grasp of spiritual things and my level of spiritual commitment needed a great deal of development. My beliefs and my actions, in those early years, were largely formed by my parents. My parents functioned, in a sense, as God to me for a long time. This heavy dependence became apparent when I entered my junior high years and became more independent. As I pulled back from my parents I also pulled back from God. My spiritual interest, for several years, was almost non-existent. I looked okay on the outside, but then, I’ve always been somewhat of a rule follower. On the inside, though, I was spiritually cold. I found some pornography on a country road, brought it home, hid it in the doghouse out back, and read it with excitement and without a trace of guilt or remorse. I had little interest in spiritual things. For two or three years my faith, whatever it had been, lay submerged, barely breathing.
When I was in ninth grade God sent me a messenger in the form of my older cousin Jerry Kissinger. Jerry was cool. He was fun. And he also loved Jesus. He began to invest time in my brother and me – calling us up to participate in projects or just to have fun. As we worked or played we would sometimes talk of spiritual things, of Jesus and what it meant to follow Him. These conversations felt natural and unforced. Jerry’s enthusiasm for Jesus slowly rubbed off on me. Something inside of me began to wake up. I can’t tell you when it happened, but at some point I made a solid commitment to live out my faith, to follow Jesus seriously. This was no longer mostly the faith of my parents. Somehow it had become my own. And here’s what amazes me the most: that commitment to Christ, made around 1970, has continued on to this day. In my teens and early twenties, a time when many Christian youth pull away from their spiritual heritage, I was able to stay on course with Christ. My wandering had come early, like Winter in the Fall, and so the Spring came early as well. I say this without pride since I now know that none of this would have been possible without the gentle Shepherd Jesus, quietly guiding, encouraging, and protecting me. Without Him I would have fallen off of the rocky cliffs where I had wandered.
Despite what I’ve just said, don’t think that my journey with Jesus has been a smooth uphill climb. While my early salvation helped shelter me from some temptations, somehow the seeds of sin still remain stubbornly implanted with me, eagerly awaiting an opportunity to shoot up into full-grown plants. I’ve still had to fight lust, greed, pride and selfishness. I’ve still struggled with old wounds and failures. I want to be like Jesus, but often I’m not. My transformation has been a slow process.
I’ve also had to deal with the church, which, no surprise, is full of people like me; people with lots of growing up to do. Fellow Christians, at this stage of eternity, are a mixed bag-a collection of delights and downers, of healing and hurting, of love and of indifference, of truth and of error.
Then there’s been the rest of life with its roller coaster of fortune and misfortune, of victories and defeats. It’s just not always easy to live on this twirling green planet.
And, I must be candid, God Himself hasn’t always been easy for me to live with. He’s certainly not my domesticated God-on-a-leash. Half the time I can’t figure out what He’s doing. He’s more silent than I would like. He lets my trials on go on way too long, in my humble opinion. And though I’ve gotten a taste of Him, I want more; way more.
Yet I’m still His and He’s mine – for well over 50 years now. Why have I stuck with God? Tune in next time to find out.