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Friday, December 17, 2010

MY SALVATION, Part II: a certain slant of light

I Feel My Savior's Love by Greg Olsen
Where did I first hear about the Prayer of Salvation - the Sinner's Prayer? It could have been the Evangelical Covenant Church or the Mennonite Church or the playroom at the Evangelical Women’s Conference on the Canadian border, but most likely it was through Christian Radio.

We didn’t have a tv but we did have radio.  80% of the time it was tuned to the Christian station.

I loved Jesus before I dedicated my life to him. The music coming out of the 1970s Jesus Movement taught me how Wonderful he was. “Welcome to Agapeland” anyone ? Bullfrogs & Butterflies - they must be born-againChildren's Bible Hour with Uncle Charlie out of Grand Rapids, Michigan - Calvinist country? Baptist hymns? That was my childhood. Through praise songs, modern parables and gospel hymns and Bible stories and more Bible stories and talks with my parents, I KNEW Jesus loved me.

I just didn’t know that I had to do anything but love Jesus back.

And then I turned 5. I turned from Mary as my intercessor, private goddess and turned to Jesus. I prayed and prayed and prayed. I talked to God and told him mundane stuff. I discovered the need for the Holy
Spirit and talked to God again. I discovered the need for Christ to die on the cross and be buried and rise on the 3rd day in order for my past, present and future sins to be wiped away so I could live in his heavenly presence for eternity when my physical body died. I talked to Jesus. I asked the Holy Spirit to talk to God. I asked Jesus to talk to God. I asked God to talk to Jesus. I thanked all of them for their sacrifice and love.

Finally, I prayed for Salvation with utter conviction.

My prayers matured, but I didn’t stop praying for 22 years.

I felt so blessed to know. My heart would burst and ache and burst and ache thinking about how beautiful God was, how amazing His Power was, how gorgeous His Creation. Chills in my spine. Kundalini Rising.

The Holy Spirit worked in my heart. I felt it in the music. I felt it when I sang. I felt in it every cell of my body. I saw it in Everything. I knew something so Wonderful as eternal life through Christ's sacrifice was not only possible, but REAL! I was full of Love. I was excited. Once I prayed the Prayer I KNEW I was saved. I could feel it in my skin, in my bones, on my lips. And I wanted people to know.
Suffer the little children to come unto me... "Jesus With Children" by Frances Hook
I told my parents. There was joy, joy, Joy.

I went through a phase when I asked my parents for forgiveness when I did anything remotely sinful (never really learned how to misbehave). They explained if Jesus was in my heart I didn’t need to be forgiven by them. There was a difference between human mistakes that hurt no one, and willful human sin. God could tell the difference. God was the Only Judge and Jesus’ Blood, His Grace covered ALL.

I loved talking to God as I fell asleep. I loved listening for his voice.

And we did talk. He comforted me. He told me I was His child. He told me I was a child of the King. He told me I was forgiven. He told me everything would be okay. He told me to be a Light unto the world – to create happiness and peace and laughter.

And I did shine. I was more than just a good little girl. I was a happy little girl. I was so happy to be alive that it hurt. I was so excited to go to heaven that that hurt too. I was willing to risk being made fun of to tell the people around me about Jesus. I wanted more people to know about the Beauty Within.

For those fundagelicals who have made it this far, you’re wondering, ‘Sure, she prayed the prayer, felt the Spirit move her, and believed – but where, o where, is her Baptism?’

Lucky me. In addition to our Sunday morning church and church shopping we started home-churching on Wednesday and Sunday nights with deep Bible studies with a new, like-minded Baptist family. With them we started a Southern Baptist Mission Church in northern Minnesota.

The Southern Baptist church not only believes in baptism by immersion, but also in going forward. Yes, I was saved – but my salvation was not complete until I went forward and was baptized.

Go Forward? (you heathens...!)

Yes. Go forward: you walk to the front of the church and declare to the elders that you believe, have asked Jesus into your heart, are cleansed of sin and want to demonstrate (and complete according to some doctrines) your salvation through the symbolic rite of Baptism.

By the time I COULD go forward it was around 3rd grade for me. For over a year we had met in abandoned storefronts and in our homes. Then we bought an old white-washed country Lutheran church on the edge of town. Once we settled in I started squirming during the Invitation.

The Invitation?

Yes. The Invitation after every single service and often every single prayer – asking new believers to come forward, publicly declare their faith and be baptized… inviting sinners to Come Home.

I squirmed because I knew this was a step I wanted to take and a step I had to take. But I didn’t like going up alone. Satan was playing with my soul, trying to keep me from making a public commitment.

But the Holy Spirit had the upper hand. Each time “Just As I Am” started playing I would bare-knuckle the back of the pew ahead of me like a life-long philandering alcoholic afraid to give up the bottle and dames. I wanted so very badly to go forward! I wanted to be baptized!

One Sunday, our parents gathered the clan and made a pre-Sunday night church announcement. They were going to go forward and join the church. They were already baptized and saved but the Southern Baptist Convention required that in order for them to be members with voting privileges or to participate in communion they had to physically go forward and share their testimony.

And if any of us felt the Holy Spirit was moving us to declare our Salvation too, they encouraged us to consider going forward as God called us.

That night – sweaty palms, shallow breath, beating heart. The Sunday night sermon was a blur but I was acutely aware of my physical surroundings. The pitch-black tundra cold screeching up against the white-washed wooden church. The quaker-esque steepled windows. The kind drawl of our old Southern Baptist preacher. My fist in my lap. The squeak of the pews. The shuffling of my siblings spread out on either side.

The church glowed white and bright that night.

Behind the pulpit, my dad led us into the invitation hymn. My mother at the piano.

When my mother left the piano, everyone continued to sing. My dad stepped out from behind the pulpit – reached out to my mother and turned to face the preacher and the deacon.

I couldn’t sing anymore. The words choked my throat. My older brother and sister, more than just shuffling next to me, left the pew and walked forward.

That was when the damn broke for me. The Spirit moved mightily.

You’ll hear this in quite a few born-again stories, but I don’t remember walking down the aisle – if I walked – or floated – or ran. Time fast-forwarded. It was one of those time warps we all experience in life here and there. Before I knew it I was standing next to my siblings and my parents. Crying.

The enormous weight lifted as I faced the wee congregation. Crying and happy and o so relieved! I was safe and saved – and not afraid to show it.

And I’ve never had stage fright since.

Problem is – I was pretty young, 10ish, and my family being so large, we ALL went forward, even the babes younger than I. Not all of us were allowed to join the church that night because of an arbitrary age limit around 8-10. After I explained that I had prayed the prayer of salvation, I had asked Jesus into my heart, I believed dagnabit!, they were convinced that I was old enough to know what I was doing.

Duh. In my mind I had been saved for at least 5 years by then – but jump through the hoops I did.

Now the problem of Baptism. The Lutheran church we had bought had no baptismal tank. Lutherans don’t Baptize by immersion. So – we had to go elsewhere to be baptized.

Baptismal tank? That's another story.

Like I said – I’ve been holding off from trying to write this.

How can I explain how it felt to stand up there with the family I loved, knowing my mother and father and brothers and sisters would all be together for eternity?! How can I explain the Love in my heart for the world, for the people in that room, for Everyone and Everything?! How can I explain - the certain slant of light - within... the darkness without?

Trying to explain cheapens it.

But I hope – you can understand – that night  – we, the wee church, formed a Circle. We held hands. We sang “Blest Be the Tie That Binds” harmonized a cappella.

If I have to explain anything more – then obviously you have never been born-again.

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.

Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.

We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.

This glorious hope revives
Our courage by the way;
While each in expectation lives,
And longs to see the day.

From sorrow, toil and pain,
And sin, we shall be free,
And perfect love and friendship reign
Through all eternity.

Lyrics by John Fawcett  
Music by Hans G. Nageli


Ex-Fundie said...

Oh boy! Thought I was the only one who remembers Uncle Charlie!!! Used to record him on my tape player.

The Spirit is moving me mightily to go back and read those other posts.

Donn Escapeons said...

Fantastic testimony. I hear ya.

I remember the halcyon days of having all-the-bases covered..I was a up & coming young businessman with 3 young children and the perfect wife..sigh..nothing was gonna stop me now.

Now I recognise it as a form of Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome and my captors had me by the balls.

That being said, that memory of psychological homostasis is still
percolating in my mind and rears it's head from time time. It takes some doing to wrestle it back into the an even wants me to rely on my 'right-thinking' and accept that I am now completely bamboozled by the enemy. That's powerful stuff.

Christine Vyrnon said...

Ex- I'm actually very relieved to know that other people know who Uncle Charlie is! Was beginning to wonder if it was a figment of my imagination :)

Donn: yes - Stockholm Syndrome totally makes sense. It goes through my mind nearly every time I write about the origins of my belief... also glad I'm not the only one who sees it this way. It is more complicated than that syndrome, and might not be totally accurate with all the other factors involved, but - too close for comfort.