When I was eight years old our family attended a revival service at the First Assembly of God church in DeLeon, Texas. Though my parents had always attended and served in Baptist churches, the year was 1973 and the “Charismatic movement” was going full steam. My parents were experiencing spiritual renewal and associated with friends from many different church backgrounds, some of whom were charismatic or Pentecostal.
I remember little about the church service that night, outside of the preacher, his message, and my response. The speaker was a veteran of the Vietnam war. He had been a committed Christian as a soldier. He told many stories of how God divinely protected him and other soldiers around him – even giving dreams to warn them in advance of upcoming danger. I was a typical boy. Most of life for me and my two brothers revolved around fighting or pretending to fight and shooting BB guns. Playing “army” was as much a part of life’s routine as eating and sleeping, definitely more important than taking baths.
The Holy Spirit captured my full attention that night. I hung on every word. The preacher told of how God used the circumstances of war to bring many soldiers to an awareness of their need of salvation. Many soldiers in his outfit came to know Christ through learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus died for sinners, to bring forgiveness to them and eternal life. Jesus could help a person come to know God as their spiritual Father. Before the night was over I felt compelled to respond to the “altar call” and to believe the truths of the gospel. I had been awakened to my need for a Savior. I realized that my heart was not right before God. I knew that if God was just and gave me what I deserved, that my lying and disobedience would shut me out of heaven.
Can a little boy really understand such things? Or was I simply caught up in some sort of religious hysteria or mind control? I think it is amazing that 30-40 years later I can still remember so much of what happened that night! There was no hysteria or group-think going on. God had spoken very personally to my heart. Actually, in the Bible Jesus said that unless you are converted and become like a child that you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven!
The preacher (along with my dad who had accompanied me to the front) prayed with me and helped me confess my sins and consciously receive by faith the promise of forgiveness of sins in Jesus. When I stood up from that Pentecostal altar of prayer I was a different person. I knew that my sins were forgiven. I knew that I was a real Christian. The child had entered the kingdom of heaven! I had a deep peace in my heart and was not afraid to die. I knew I had met God.
God had spoken to my heart that night through the wonderful testimony of a soldier who loved Jesus and who regularly heard from the Lord – even on the battlefield. I know that God still speaks. And I heard His voice for the first time when I was eight years old. I was water baptized a couple of weeks later in the First Baptist Church in Gorman, Texas. It would be a few years before I remember dramatically hearing God’s voice again.