I was in every Christmas program, never missed Sunday School, went to Vacation Bible School every year, and attended Bible classes on Saturdays for five years, from 4th through 8th grade.
I knew a whole lot about God. But I didn't know Him. Didn't know you could know Him.
This was not my parents' fault, nor my teachers', nor the pastor's. Actually this was a fairly typical situation. Most kids go along happily with what they've been taught, until one day they come to a crisis in faith. And then they begin asking questions, such as "Is what my family and my church taught me really true? What is real? What is genuine?" As a parent, you have demonstrated what you truly believe by the way you live your life. (Hope your words and your actions lined up...) But God has given each of us freedom to choose, and sooner or later everyone has to make a decision for themselves.
I came to my crisis point in junior high. I was scrawny, socially inept and very unsure of myself.
I was looking for a purpose. I wanted my life to MEAN something. I started examining the various popular ideas of the time. There were all sorts of voices clamoring for attention, insisting that they held the path to true enlightenment. There was a tremendous spiritual hunger among young people, and there was no shortage of people claiming to know the answer.
Drugs were one of those ideas. An ivory tower professor named Timothy Leary promoted LSD as the door to spiritual awakening. The Beatles and lots of other popular musicians were singing about the joys of drug use. Of course, right about this time several of those artists' lives ended quite prematurely due to overdose - Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison died within a few months of one another. This caused me to view recreational drug use with a great deal of suspicion. However, a number of my friends were already experimenting, and it was readily available, even in my relatively isolated small Nebraska town.
Another idea advocated by the Beatles was Eastern mysticism, especially Hare Krishna and Transcendental Meditation, both expressions of Hinduism. Other popular paths included yoga, self-realization, Scientology, "free love" and vegetarianism. And then there was the Jesus Movement. A lot of young hippies got disillusioned with sex, drugs and rock & roll, and the hedonistic lifestyle. After indulging their flesh to the extreme and coming up empty, they started looking for something more. And the Holy Spirit started drawing them to Himself. A genuine revival began sweeping through the nation and around the world, as young people tapped into the real power of God and had their lives totally changed.
So I'm 14 years old and looking for what's really true. My older sister Janet went off to a youth conference in Denver and came back completely changed. She had been painfully shy before, but now she was making friends, writing songs and hanging out with a wide range of committed Christian teens. I was puzzled as to what had happened, but it was obvious she'd had a significant life-altering experience. And it wasn't some flash in the pan - she continued to grow in faith and understanding. God had invaded her life, and she'd never be the same. I was determined to find out what had happened.
My chance came in June 1972. There was a week long youth camp at a college 60 miles away, and I convinced my parents to let me go. (Probably wasn't very hard.) It was culture shock for sure. Meals in the dining hall, small groups, mandatory quiet time (a totally new concept for me), foot frolics in the gym (if they had called it dancing, adolescent males might have rebelled.) The camp director was a retired pastor. We figured he was ancient, like 50 or so. (He was 80 - and he was the one leading the foot frolics!)
On Thursday, June 29th, he sat down at a picnic table one on one with me. I don't remember if he did this with all the students or if I had been singled out. All I know is he challenged me to consider where my life was going and encouraged me to make a commitment to Christ. There was no walking the aisle, no organ wheezing out Just As I Am, no begging, pleading or raising of hands. He presented the truth, then let the Holy Spirit do the work. By the end of the day, I'd asked Jesus in. No fireworks, no angel choirs - but I had an immediate sense of total peace.
When I got home, God didn't leave me hanging. My sister and her friends had decided to start a Christian coffeehouse in a funky old building downtown, right on the square. I jumped in with both feet. The next three years were intense, filled with Bible studies, concerts, "prayer and praise" meetings, street ministry, church services, fellowship meals - pretty much something every night. And it wasn't a chore - we wanted to be where God was moving, didn't want to miss anything.
I was filled with the Holy Spirit the moment I yielded to Christ. (Romans 8:9-11) As I pursued God, the Spirit began empowering me to do the work He had for me. Which is exactly what Jesus said would happen. (Acts 1:8) This is what had happened to my sister. She had an encounter with the living God, and He came to live inside her in the person of the Holy Spirit. Her life was immediately changed, and she's still serving Him faithfully some 40 years later. (I told you she was a major influence on my life.) If you want, you can find out more about her here: http://janetbauer.blogspot.com/
Jesus also said without Him I can do nothing. (John 15:5). And I've found that to be totally true. Lots of times I've tried to handle things on my own, without God's guidance and wisdom. ("I can handle this one, God. Thanks.") After I hit the wall and pick myself up a few times, I recognize the wisdom of staying closely connected to the True Vine. Again.
This June it will be 40 years since I made that decision for Christ. And I don't regret one minute of it. I've seen lots of my friends and acquaintances crash and burn. Without Him we can do nothing.
My life has purpose and meaning, with an awesome retirement plan.
And I am truly thankful.