“For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
The story of my salvation experience is not a typical “hear the Gospel, walk down the aisle, shake the preacher’s hand, pray the sinner’s prayer, and join the Church” type of story. It is a little more like a “Saul on the road to Damascus” type of story.
I was never really a religious person. Oh, I was polite and considerate enough. If a group of men were standing around, and the talk leaned toward church, or prayer, or God; I would nod my head knowingly, as if agreeing with what was being said, or as if I understood the conversation.
But I really didn’t.
I didn’t consider myself a bad person. My parents had occasionally sent me to church as a child. I had even been baptized, but only because I didn’t want my sister doing something that I wasn’t able to do.
I had grown up, gotten married, had a child, loved my family; even decided every New Year to try to do better, cuss less, maybe even start going to church or read the Bible. But every time I would start thinking about God, something strange would happen.
Terrible, wicked thoughts about God would come into my mind, and I certainly knew that was wrong, so I decided not to think about God at all. Little did I know how all that was about to change: my loving wife was praying for me.
I worked as an independent contractor for the Dallas Times Herald, distributing newspapers and servicing newspaper vending machines on the east side of Dallas, Texas in the good old USA.
On Saturdays, we would have to make two trips down to the newspaper: the first, to pick up an early Sunday edition and put them out for the Saturday night revelers, and then back to the newspaper to wait in line for the late edition that would come out about 2:00 AM Sunday morning.
It was during this waiting time that most of the men would stand around and talk or nap in their trucks.
On this particular night, as I was trying to catch a nap while waiting for the late edition, my best friend Calvin came running up to my truck window. I had noticed that he was late getting back from the early edition delivery.
“Raymond”, he said excitedly, “You’re not going to believe what happened to me tonight! I stopped by a tent revival meeting out on my route, and man, I got saved!”
“Great”, I said, trying not to sound too incredulous. “Good for you”, I thought as we talked for a few more minutes and he further explained the details of what had happened.
But something happened in Calvin from that night on. There was a peace about him and a joy that was not there before. His whole conversation changed.
He quit cussing, quit drinking, quit telling dirty jokes, and started listening to a Christian radio station instead of his rock-a-billy country music. I began thinking, “Maybe there’s something to this salvation thing after all.”
A week or so had gone by, and I continued to see the change in Calvin. Then one particular evening, after I had sat down in my favorite chair to relax a little before going to bed, I happened to pick up a magazine that belonged to my wife.
As I began to glance through it, I saw something that grabbed my attention.
It was an article on the Shroud of Turin, which many people believe to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
When a photograph of the shroud is taken, the negative reveals the distinct image of a man, which is not discernible in the regular photograph. The man appears to be lying in death, hands folded with eyes closed, and has the exact same wounds in the forehead, hands, feet, side and back as the Bible describes were inflicted upon Jesus.
Experts have debated for years over the authenticity of the shroud, but it wasn’t the shroud or necessarily the article that captured my attention. It was the face of the man in the picture.
It was evident that this individual had gone through excruciating pain and torture.
Yet this face had such nobility, peace, and regality about it. It was as if pain, sorrow, and even death could have no victory over him because he was of such royalty that he was above all of it.
I thought, “What if God really did have a Son, and this was Him? Could I really be looking at the face of the Son of God?”
I could not get that face out of my mind.
Over the next few days I asked around to see if anyone else that I knew had ever heard of the shroud, but no one had, and I put it to the back of my mind. But, there was just something about that face.
As time went by, I began to think about that article less and less, but God was orchestrating all of the things in my life that would bring me to a crossroads, a turning point, and a decision from which there would be no turning back.
I had just gone to bed one evening, and for some reason on that particular night I remember being extremely tired and discouraged, as if I had hit rock bottom and didn’t know why.
It wasn’t long until I was in a deep sleep and began to have a dream, a vision, or whatever else you might want to call it. All I know is that it was as real to me as the bed that I was lying on.
I was walking down a typical neighborhood street. It was a beautiful, sunny spring-like day. I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face, I could hear the birds singing, and there was not a cloud in the sky.
I could even hear what sounded like music coming from radios through the opened windows of the houses as I walked by.
Then suddenly, it began to slightly rain, like sprinkles on a sunny day.
However, as the raindrops hit my arm, they burned my skin like acid. I started rubbing the spots on my arm where the raindrops had landed, thinking “What in the world is going on?”
All of a sudden there was a rumbling noise louder than thunder, and a portion of the blue sky in front of me began to open and peel back from top to bottom, like a two handle scroll when it is opened up.
There stood Jesus (the face from the shroud), radiant in white, with the expanse behind Him in the opening pitch black.
In a mild, loving voice, He said, “Accept me or reject me now. This is your last chance.”
I fell to my knees and said, “Lord, I accept you. What must I do?” He said, “Get your family, find a boat, and sit in it.” Then the opening rolled back together, and the sky was blue and clear as before.
I started to run home as fast as I could, and as I ran, I could hear the radios through the windows of the houses.
The announcer was saying that there was a problem with a cloud of acid rain, there was mass hysteria, and that some people had even said that they had seen Jesus; but not to worry, everything was alright and under control.
I ran into my house, got my wife and daughter by the hands, and said “Hurry, come with me.”
We ran down the sidewalk, looking in between the houses, trying to find a boat that someone had parked there. We finally found one, crawled up inside it, and sat down.
As soon as we had sat down, it began to pour down rain. As the water fell upon us, we started to get drenched and soaking wet; but as the rain touched the ground and houses around us, everything began to burst into flames and be consumed by the fire.
I started to feel the heat, when suddenly I awoke bathed in sweat and out of breath. As I lay there panting, it seemed as if a small voice spoke in my ear.
“Go back to sleep, it was just a dream.” the voice said.
I lay there and thought, “What if it wasn’t just a dream? What if this really is my last chance?”
I crawled slowly out of the bed, so as not to wake up my wife, and knelt down on my knees. I didn’t know how to pray, so I just began to say what I felt from the bottom of my heart.
“Dear God”, I began, “I’m sorry for the way I’ve lived my life. I believe that this dream was from you, and that this really is my last chance.
I accept you now, and I want to change my life and live for you, but I don’t want this to be a game or something that I just try for a while, so no matter what it takes, or what it costs me, or what I have to give up, I’m going to live for you with all of my heart, and do whatever you tell me to do, and never go back. Amen.”
When I said “Amen”, it was as if someone had hit me with the proverbial “two-by-four” and a presence, a power came over me, and as I crawled back into bed, there was a peace and happiness inside of me that I never knew existed.
And something else, which I had never felt before; I felt clean from the inside out. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I had just been saved.
I bought a small paperback Bible and began to voraciously read the Word of God. My whole lifestyle changed. I even changed the radio station in my truck and began to listen to Christian programing through the night as I distributed my newspapers.
It wasn’t long before I experienced another intervention by God which I later was to find out was not the norm for most new believers.