Saturday, April 16

Faith Stories: How the Lord Made Me into a Christian

This piece is by guest blogger Scott Gilbreath. Scott goes to the same church I do, and has graciously allowed me to post this here as one of the faith stories.

In what follows I am going to tell what the Lord did to me in the spring of 1982 to cause me to follow him. The experience I am about to recount can well be described as a Damascus Road type of experience--an unexpected work of amazing grace. I would not have believed it possible if it hadn't happened to me.

In the spring of 1982, I was working at the Vancouver regional office of one of the big five banks. In hindsight, I can see that it was an act of God that I had been hired for that job in mid-1981. The bank didn't really knowwhat to do with me: I thought I was being hired to work as an economist, but it turned out they wanted to make me into a banker. They failed, and I quit after working there about 2-1/2 years. They shouldn't have hired me in the first place; but, due to divine intervention, they did.

At the time, if someone had suggested to me that supernatural intervention was involved, I would have scoffed. I didn't believe in the supernatural; I was a convinced unbeliever. In actual fact, I knew very little about Christianity, but I thought I knew enough. Moreover, I was prejudiced against Christians. According to the opinions I held at that time, Christians were lacking in several important areas of life--strength of will, personal autonomy, intellectual abilities, simple rationality. I was completely wrong, but I had no doubts. I had no idea that, even then, the Lord was directing me to the place where I would see how deeply mistaken I was.

In the divine plan, the bank hired me because there I met a young man named Gord, who also worked for the bank. And, on the evening of Friday, 30 April, 1982, Gord and I knocked on the door of his sister's apartment and he introduced me to Judy. But we weren't there so I could meet his sister; we were there so I could check out the size and layout of her apartment. The apartment I was living in at the time was in Kitsilano and, although it wasvery nice, I thought it was overpriced. Gord and Judy had apartments in a building in the West End, which had cheaper rents as well as some vacancies. So if I liked one of their units, I could take one in the same building. Gord had a bachelor apartment that was too small for my liking, so he arranged for me to see Judy's one-bedroom apartment.

When I walked into Judy's living room, the first thing I saw was a three-foot tall entertainment unit and book shelf on my left. On the wall above the unit I saw a portrait of a man's head and shoulders. The picture had no identification on it but I, an unbeliever, immediately recognised it as a portrait of Jesus. I had never seen a likeness exactly like that one, and I was impressed by its quality; in fact, it was remarkably beautiful. He had long flowing brown hair, a beard, and a soft light from behind that created a subtle halo effect. In his face I saw peacefulness and intelligence and strength of character. But the most striking thing about the picture was his eyes--clear, piercing, grey eyes. The face was so life-like and attractive that I stared right at it.

Although I admired the beauty of the portrait, I said nothing, because I was also more than a little disappointed to see it. I knew what the presence of that picture on that wall said about the person who lived in the apartment. My suspicions were confirmed when I looked below the picture to the books shelves and saw a Bible and other Christian books. I thought to myself, "That's too bad; she's one of those Christians. And she's quite pretty, too." Too bad, I thought, but that's life. What can you do?

I looked around the apartment for a few minutes, and then Gord and I left.

Later that evening, Gord and I returned to his apartment to sit around and talk for a while. I said Gord, "So your sister's a Christian." He replied, "I am too." (I hadn't known Gord for very long.) Then he proceeded to witness to me about Jesus being his Lord and Saviour, but I tuned him right out. I'd heard it all before and I knew what I thought about it. I had no
interest.

In the days that followed, I forgot about Judy and her apartment. (I found an apartment in a building around the corner from where Gord and Judy lived.)

I forgot all about Judy until a Friday evening a few weeks later. Gord had invited me and about a dozen other people to a hotel lounge where a particular band was playing; the band was made up of some of Gord's friends. Judy was there, and she and I ended up dancing together for a good part of the evening. This caused me to think, "Well, she may be a Christian, but she can still have some fun." And I began to wonder if I should ask her out, even though she was a Christian.

So I thought about this for a few days and then called her up for a date and she said yes. But there's a little story behind that, which I was told later: God was at work there, too. Judy had only recently become a Christian and didn't want to go out with self-centred yuppies anymore, and so she had decided that she would only accept dates with Christian men. Before I called Judy, I asked Gord if she had a boyfriend and if he knew of any other reason why she might not agree to go out with me. Gord only told me that she didn't have a boyfriend, and then, unbeknownst to me, went and told Judy that I might call her for a date. Judy asked Gord if I was a Christian and Gord said I wasn't and Judy was not impressed. Judy protested to Gord, "You know I'll only go out with Christians now". Gord then recommended me to her with these words: "At least he's not a jerk". Every man that Judy had previously dated was, in Gord's opinion, a jerk. Judy knew this too, hence her resolution to date only Christians. Judy respected her brother's opinion and so, when I called, she agreed to go out to dinner with me.

So, on the evening of Friday, 4 June, I arrived at Judy's apartment to pick her up and she invited me in for a few minutes. When I entered the living room, right away I noticed that the picture I had seen exactly five weeks earlier was no longer there. In its place was a large mirror. I just thought that for some reason she had decided to move it, although, as far as I could tell, everything else in the apartment was the same as before. In any case, I didn't say anything: I didn't want to take a chance of having a potentially disagreeable discussion about religion before our first date even got started.

So we went out for dinner and had a really great time. We enjoyed each other's company, had some interesting conversation, and got along very well. We hadn't made any plans for after dinner, but we decided to find somewhere the music was playing and go dancing. After we did that, I took her home and when I asked her to go out with me the following evening, she agreed.

So the following evening I arrived at Judy's apartment and she again invited me in for a few minutes. We sat down on the couch in the living room and I, feeling that I now knew her well enough to risk a question related to her religious beliefs, asked her what had happened to the picture that was on her living room wall five weeks before. She looked puzzled; she didn't seem to know what I was talking about. I said, "You know, that picture of Jesus that was hanging right there", and I pointed to the wall opposite the couch, right in front of us. She said there had never been a picture on that wall; the mirror hanging there now had always been there.

At that moment, I began to feel that things were getting strange. My head started spinning. It was a good thing I was sitting on the couch because if I had been standing, I would have had to sit down immediately. I couldn't understand what had happened. That picture had been as real as any physical object. I had stood a foot away from it and stared right at it! It was as real to me as any piece of furniture in her apartment.

But now Judy said the picture had never existed. She then began to tell me about her faith in Christ, but I wasn't listening to her. Now I hadn't listened to Gord because I chose not to, but I didn't listen to Judy because I could not. My mind was going around in circles: Had I seen something that wasn't there? How could that happen? It just did not make any sense.

I managed to pull myself together and I said to Judy, "Let's get going." (Or was it, "Let's get out of here.") I suppressed all thought of the picture and we went out to dinner and a movie. We had another wonderful time that evening, and we agreed to meet again the next day. It was Sunday, and we had lunch together and spent the afternoon walking in Stanley Park.

That evening I was alone in my apartment, trying to think about going back to work the next morning. But now there were no social obligations, no other people around, no distractions--and I could not get my mind off that picture. I had always considered myself a rational person, able to rely on my mental powers. But now it seemed that the most basic mental power--the power of sight--had failed me. I had seen something as clear as day that wasn't really there. How could that happen?

As I was having a shower, of all things, trying without success to think about anything but that picture, a verse from the Bible came into my mind. This was another strange and remarkable occurrence: I had not read the Bible since childhood; I had not been the least bit interested in the Bible for decades. But there it was--a verse from the Bible: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength". At exactly the same moment that this verse occurred to me, I was convicted of my failure to do what it said. And not just failure to do it, but failure even to try to do it. And also at that exact same moment, I knew why I had seen the portrait of Jesus that wasn't there: because he had caused me to see it. All these things came to me in the same instant and, suddenly, I knew the gospel was true. I knew Jesus is alive and I now believed in him.

I knew that, even though I had rejected and scorned God all of my life, he came and got me--seized me, really. For some reason--and I have no idea what it was--he wanted me even though I had never wanted him. He showed me that he is God and that he loves me even though I had wanted nothing to do with him. I felt so ashamed. I was as sorrowful as could be; I began weeping uncontrollably.

Somehow I got out of the shower, but I couldn't stand up. I was crawling on my hands and knees across the floor of my apartment crying my eyes out. This was, to put it mildly, a rather humbling experience. Beyond feeling sorry, I also knew that I had to thank Jesus for being so great and good as to reveal himself to me in this way. After this had gone on for a few minutes, I had the most powerful impulse that I should tell someone what had happened. And not just anyone, but Judy. So I phoned her even though I could hardly speak. Finally, she understood what I was saying. This was a bizarre experience for her too--a man she barely knew, really, phoning her up crying in her ear and trying to tell her that he now believes in Jesus.

Bizarre though it was, we both knew that God meant us for each other. After that, two days didn't go by that we didn't see each other. We were engaged before the end of July. We found a church home two blocks from our apartments, and we were married there near the end of October. Although not part of our planning, it was six months exactly from the day I saw the face of Jesus on Judy's wall. (Perhaps I should rather say "a face that I took to be that of Jesus". He showed himself to me in a way that I could recognise; I'm not saying that I know for sure what he looks like.)

So my conversion was in some respects similar to Paul's on the Damascus Road. Not the least of those similarities is the fact that, like Paul, I had no choice. The Lord did not make me any offers; he did not ask me to invite him into my heart. He set me up, and then he barged right in and took over. God simply overruled my former obstinacy and blindness. Considered in human terms, my experience was extremely unpleasant; from a purely human perspective, I would not wish it on anyone. But it was the way God selected to humble me before him, to make me see the truth about myself and my standing before him. If my standing before God were governed by my decisions, I would still be lost in my trespasses and sins. I would never have agreed to believe simply out of my own will.

I will thank him forever for compelling me to enter his kingdom.

Have you posted a Faith Story--someone else's or your own? You'll make my day if you send me the info so I can read it and link to you.
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