The First Impression:
Revelation While Riding A Red Vinyl Pony
I grew up in a spiritual vacuum and my parents divorced when I was 5. Yet I had a favorable impression of Jesus at a very early age, thanks to Jean Camara, a neighbor of ours who used to baby sit me.
I was around 3 years old when, one day, I was running around inside of Jean’s house (I think on top of a toy stick horse embellished by red vinyl with torn ears), when I suddenly noticed a portrait of Christ on top of her refrigerator. I asked her who that man was and she simply answered, “Bobby, that’s Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” I uttered a quick, “Oh” -and resumed
galloping the horse after a bunch of imaginary bad guys. But when she spoke those words, “Jesus Christ, the Son of God” the witness of the Holy Spirit impaled my heart and somehow I understood. However…
Though I believed what Jean had said, and I even prayed to Jesus often as a kid, it would be a long journey before accepting Him as my Lord and Savior.
Having a Blast but My Tank is on Empty
High school was fun. It was then that I became a photography freak. I was absolutely passionate about images. I soon discovered a creative force and ambition rising inside that drove me to work through many late nights in the darkroom. Wow! A workaholic at age 15!
I threw myself into this artform because photography had given me a new sense of mission and identity. I won lot’s of photography awards, even one from the former photo editor of LOOK Magazine (a nationwide photojournalistic type
publication-now defunct-similar to LIFE Magazine).
The awards banquets and praise I enjoyed during this time were especially gratifying since I had a “black hole” in my childhood from the absence of a father. It was like a whole new vista had opened up. I had an absolute blast! For the most part, instead of getting lost in drugs, partying, or racing my hot car on the boulevard, I had the power of images!
This was a very important era of my life. Yet, as much fun as I had walking down this “path of glory” I often cried myself to sleep through those high school years. During so many nights, I would gaze at the stars beyond the pine trees right outside my bedroom through a window which stretched the length of my bed. Almost every night, I’d sit there and suck in the awesome
breezes that swayed the tree tops against the moon feeling this strange dichotomy of emotions inside. I loved my life. I loved all the neat things that were going on in school and with my photography. I had neat friends. I had the best mom in the world, and I had a sister that I actually sort of liked-at least when she wasn’t yelling at me for stealing her precious Cokes from the fridge. But mixed into these fabulous feelings of youth-aptly epitomized by so many of the Beach Boys’ songs of that day, there was a deep pit of utter lostness.
Eventually, I did try stuff, like any kid, at least a few times. My friend, Aron, and I decided to get drunk once. So, one night when my mom and sister were gone, Aron and I wasted several six packs and got drunk. Yep. There we were. Drunk. In my house. Nothing magical happened. There was no enlightenment. We both staggered around like idiots. Then Aron went off to
the bathroom and puked for the longest time. While he did that, I sat on my front porch, hardly able to sit up straight. I thought to myself, “This is stupid! I like my motor skills. I like being able to walk. I like being able to talk. So why am I drunk? Dumb, Bob, dumb, dumb, dumb!”
Okay. Then another time we tried pot. Weird experience, a psych-yourself mind trip that was quite meaningless. I felt horrible for doing something illegal. So drugs and alcohol just didn’t have a place in my life.
Then there was the possibility of sex. This one could have “sunk my ship”. If I had thrown myself into this indulgence, my whole life would have changed for the worst. But I firmly believe God was protecting me. There was one particular situation in high school where I KNOW His grace kept me from falling into a temptation that would have ruined me. An especially gorgeous
classmate of mine, Heidi, blonde and very Scandinavian, sat for a portrait assignment in photo class. The portraits I took of her came out pretty good and so she wanted some copies which I had at home. So we arranged for her to come by my house and pick them up. When she arrived, at one point, she virtually cornered me in my bedroom and said with coy confidence, “You wanna go to bed with me?” She was fully expecting a ‘yes’ answer. Inside, I was reeling with intoxication from her beauty, but the grace of God rose up and I heard myself say with calmness and a gentle force, “Nope.” She was absolutely shocked, “Why?!” I said, “Well, Heidi, I’m saving that one for marriage. That’s just the way it is.” We completed the transaction and off
she left in a huff.
(When I married my wife seven years later, I was still a virgin, even after having been propositioned by other women on three other occasions. It wasn’t will power, it was the grace of God.)
I Thought I Had a Better Plan
God was watching out for me, but I still hadn’t committed my life to Jesus. So God set something up for me. My two best friends in high school, neither of whom knew each other, both became Christians. Soon, both found a great opportunity to “witness” to me. That hit me right between the eyes! Even so, I argued with them! Even though I was a God-fearing guy and I believed that Jesus was a special leader of spiritual importance, I rejected the notion of accepting Jesus as the only way to salvation. So I argued, and in both cases I felt like I had “won” the argument.
So now the protective hand of God-that awesome protective grace which I had seen operate through my childhood over and over and which kept me from disasters of all kinds-began to lift from me. I was rejecting God even though I had seen Him spare my life many times. Like when I was at Paradise Cove hanging by threads of grass over a 50 foot shear rock cliff-a very Indiana Jones moment. Or the protection that came when He prevented me from jumping into bed with Heidi. This Hand of protection NOW began to lift from me because I had rejected the GOSPEL head on. Folks, this is not a good thing! However, in a very peculiar way, God’s allowing horrible adversity may be what it takes for some of us to come to Christ and be spared eternal damnation so we can enjoy eternal Paradise with Him! I can be grateful for such a God of love that works in our deepest shadows in order to ultimately bring us into His redemptive plan!
Nevertheless, the darkness that was about to enter my life was so grizzly, I could have never imagined it possible.
A friend of mine and I had often taken Pacific Palisades Highway to the beach during the summer months. Along this route there was temple for a Hindu cult. It was a very interesting looking place with foreign architecture, a lake and lots of trees. So one day we decided to investigate it. It was a cult that claimed that ALL roads lead to God, not just one. They even included Jesus as one of the many ways to God!
Well, I like to have an open mind. So I figured if they said nice things about Jesus (howbeit, absolutely false, inaccurate and loony) …they must be okay.
So my friend and I joined up. We got a mail-order guru with lessons on how to meditate and become one with the cosmic Christ consciousness as well as how to flow into the mist of bliss and commune with the divine mother.
O-o-o-o-o-kay. This took place in December of 1970 so the druggy-hippy-mantra scene was still infused within my youth culture at that time. It all seemed like progress to me.
Then it happened. As I started meditating on NOTHING, my thought processes started to get altered. I couldn’t concentrate. Unpleasant things that I didn’t want to think about were all that I could think about. So I meditated harder and longer. Things got worse. Darkness overshadowed my entire life.
Soon, this oppression from hell was going on full force every waking second. I felt like I was going insane. I couldn’t wait to go to sleep because that way I could escape this junk momentarily. Of course, it didn’t help much because I always woke up into the nightmare.
The hellish garbage-far more hideous than I could describe here-went on for 7 agonizing months. Finally, I remembered what Jean Camara had said to me when I was 3, “He’s Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” I remember the indelible impression left on my heart as she spoke those words, that it was TRUE! That impression was still resident in me even though I had shoved it aside to do my own thing. The words of my two friends who had shared their faith also came back to me.
I Finally Get Serious
By now, I had no choice. I got down on my knees and prayed a very unreligious prayer, something like, “Jesus…the one on the refrigerator, you know at Jean’s…the Jesus that Mike and Steve told me about last year. Okay. I’m here. Do whatever it is you want to do to me. I’ll become a priest, a missionary. Whatever, I’ll do it. Just come down here and save me, GOD! Save me! I’m being ripped to pieces and I don’t even know what this hell is!”
Immediately, something started happening. It was invisible. But He was on the move. I could feel Him. I grabbed the phone to get hold of Steve who had witnessed to me after school one day in his Volkswagen Bug. I had to talk to him right now! I wanted go to church and do the “thing”, whatever that thing was, to make myself right. But I found out that he was out of state. His mom volunteered to take me to church and I was so desperate, I went with her to church next Sunday.
That day, I was hoping to get lost in the crowd of the main church building but instead, I got intercepted by the youth pastor and was escorted into a tiny room packed with Christian kids. God was on my case.
I sat in that little room and before much of anything happened in the class, an outspoken kid to my left, with steel blue eyes and bright blonde hair, turned to me and looked me in the eye and said, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
Oh no! Not THAT question!
ALL of the kids were staring at me. I think I sloughed the question off-I was good at this sort of thing-“You know He truly is amazing and I’ve prayed to Him almost my whole life. He’s answered lots of my prayers. What is the class about today? By the way, is that Jade East cologne you’re wearing?”
“But have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” came back the steely blues.
(Why won’t this jerk shut up!?)
I was nailed. There was no escape. Too many kids sitting in chairs blocked the only exit. The fire marshall wouldn’t have been happy with this sardine-packed room, but I think God planned it that way so I wouldn?t run.
Okay….”No, I sure haven’t.”
“Would you like to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior RIGHT NOW? Is there any reason not to? RIGHT NOW?”
I was defeated. (I just know this kid is an attorney somewhere today.) I gave up. This was it. I had to accept Jesus. I just knew He was right and the screaming darkness I had endured for the past months was proof to me that just any old pathway to God ain’t the ticket. It better be God’s plan or it’s an exercise in futility…or much worse…it’s hell on earth!
I prayed to accept Jesus that day. As I prayed the sinner’s prayer asking Jesus to come into my life and forgive all of my sin, the kids all around me started praying softly in another language! It blew me away! It sounded like angles praying. But I didn’t dare ask what THAT was all about…I had enough to deal with just in going through this born-again experience!
When I went home I had this incredible warmth spreading throughout my body and soul. I reclined on my bed, awestruck. Feelings are not the issue in coming to the Lord, faith in God’s truth is. But, as with most any personal relationship, feelings can and often do happen.
That was July 19, 1970. I’ll never forget that day. And I’ll never forget the obnoxious kid with the steel blue eyes who wouldn’t let me, a new kid, slide silently into the class and slide back out into the world-without KNOWING that I had my salvation in tact!
Soon the Lord brought me to a group of really great kids at another church, Hollywood Presbyterian. The college pastor, Don Williams, was awesome. There was also a team of kids forming for summer outreaches, a group to which I attached myself. Within weeks we were all scheduled to take a trip to Berkeley, California. There was going to be a mass demonstration at San
Quinten Prison over a famous court case involving the Soledad Brothers. (People with gray hair will remember that case).
So we went up there and witnessed and past out tracts and told people in this demonstration about Jesus. We spent two weeks up there and witnessed on the streets as well. It was scary. Berkeley is a strange spiritual environment to begin with. But back in 1970 it was REALLY weird and especially along Telegraph Avenue…you wouldn’t have believed it! Spiritually, it was like
the assorted creatures seen in the Star Wars cantina. All kinds of strange people adorned themselves in costumes preaching odd religions I’d never heard of and haven’t heard of since.
Surprised By Love At 2 Million Giga-Watts
While I was up there I grew very close to a small group of the kids I was with. Only thing was, when we prayed together, I heard that same angelic language thing going on, the same phenomenon I had encountered in that youth group. Finally, I pressed in and asked, “Okay. What is it! That thing you guys are doing, that language deal with all the words I can’t understand! What is that?”
They explained to me that it was the same thing the early disciples experienced in Acts chapter two on the Day of Pentecost. I replied, only slightly troubled, “But I’ve heard some teachers say that stuff isn’t for today.” They shrugged and said something like, “Apparently they’re wrong.”
“Okay. I want this. See, I’ve been through a weird religious cult. And things have really changed, but there’s some sort of residue and I’d like to get all the power of God I can get. So… I guess I’d like to get this thing. How do I get it?”
I must have amused them because they exchanged smiling glances and said they’d pray for me that night at the small Bible study we were having at Polly’s house.
I was really looking forward to that night. For months prior to coming to Jesus, I had tasted, first hand, the shear vicious force of demonic bondage…something I had never even believed in! But it didn’t matter! Hell had come knocking on my door anyway because I had rejected the Gospel of Christ in high school and embraced some ding-bat guru crud and in so doing,
threw the door wide open to all kinds of spiritual junk.
So by now, I knew the reality of the spiritual realm even though it was invisible and I knew the wrath of hell because I’d been bathed in it for months prior to saying “yes” to Jesus. So now…
I was really ready to taste something from God!
That night in Polly’s living room we all gathered in a circle and talked. Rick, Polly, Peter, Gweny, and me. We laughed, had fun and then it was time to pray for Bob. They explained a little more from the Bible about this phenomenon of being filled with the Spirit and it sounded good to me. I bowed my head and they laid their hands gently on me and started to pray.
What I’m about to describe is not motivated by a desire to sound sensational. Frankly, any words I use here fall woefully short of what really took place…
I had my eyes shut, agreeing with my friends prayers’ that I would be “filled with the Spirit of Christ”. When suddenly, in my “minds eye” (…not my physical eyes, but it seemed as real as anything I’d ever seen…) I could see in Gweny’s shoulder a pinpoint of light forming. Like a thread of light it flowed down her arm. In seconds, this thread of light increased into a stream, then a forceful river. What I saw was the exact combination of light and water. And it was swirling all around me…then it flowed INTO me.
Folks…the theology of what was happening to me is easy. Describing the depth, height, width, power, flavor, joy, feeling, understanding, fellowship of this event is impossible. The theology is found in the Bible, Acts 2…and what was entering me (or really, Who) was the 3rd Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit and He was immersing me with Himself as an expression of God’s love and power. That’s the theological assessment.
And as far as the assessment of the experience?…let me just say…
As this water/light splashed around me and poured into me, I experienced love that cannot be understood on human terms as in a human relationship. Try and think of the most wonderful human relationship and you’ll likely think of a romantic relationship. Bingo! There was romance in God’s expression to me, but not like anything this world can give you-it TRANSCENDED it! How about the warmth of a father’s love (like I never knew from my dad)?…yes, something like that was contained in God’s love expression to me, yet it totally transcended anything of human origin! Still, it was even more than that…The tender love of a mother, the love of the best, most wonderful friend you could ever imagine (like someone your heart burns for) someone with
whom you can share your deepest secrets with…it was also wrapped up in the love of God as I was experiencing it. There were also feelings of absolute awe like standing before ALL POWER…yet there was the safe familiarity like that of being near a close brother. Feelings of “terror” at the grandeur of this Person were present, yet they were mixed with something like the warm fuzzies you get being with someone you have a mad crush on-it’s impossible to explain! ALL of this AND MORE came pouring into me. It was ABSOLUTELY PERFECT LOVE! You could not add anything to this love I was experiencing to make it better! There is no love of any kind a person could ever desire that wasn’t contained in God’s love.
(By the way, for anyone getting nervous about the “romantic” aspect of God’s love that I’m alluding to here, let me reaffirm it was not sexual. Yet the intimacy transcended it. What could be more intimate than physical contact but spirit-to-Spirit contact? Also, I would point to the Bible’s Song of Solomon for a glimpse of the relationship of Christ and His Bride, the Church. It’s awesomely romantic.)
As this was happening, I kept thinking “This is what the nations rage for! This is what EVERYONE longs for and they don’t even know it! Even atheists crave God and they don’t even know it!”
I got struck by how perfect the fit is between the heart of man and the Spirit of God! We’re made for each other! Gosh, who gives a “rip” about religion when relationship with this kind of a glorious Person makes the greatest treasures and pleasures of earth seem like dry leaves tumbling in the wind?
So why did God do this unique experience for me? Not everyone has this kind of experience being baptized or filled with God’s Spirit. It’s not because God loves me more than any other person!! I think He engineered this experience for me for two reasons. One, I had come through the torment of hell like few can imagine. It was only 7 months, but it was a white hot furnace of torment I can’t describe. Consequently, I needed to taste of a greater spiritual force than I had those 7 months, but from God; I’d been clobbered by the powers of hell, now I needed to be embraced by Heaven with as much or more power. Two, I think it was because of the fires of affliction that I would yet suffer in the future. Being able to look back at His visitation has given me renewed strength many, many times when I felt like despairing of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8).
I don’t know how common this is for believer’s to experience God’s love in such dramatic terms. But I was fascinated by a somewhat similar account by a friend of mine 15 years after my Berkeley encounter. It happened under much different circumstances. My friend, Mary, was having a routine surgery when her vital signs suddenly expired. She died right there on the operating table. With a “code blue” in effect, the doctors frantically sought to bring her back. They finally revived her, though she’d been dead for something like five minutes.
When Mary started recounting this story to me, I was riveted. But I was also puzzled. She seemed very depressed when she started telling me this incredible story of God?s love. I couldn’t tie those ideas together (God’s love and depression) so I asked her to back up and explain it to me. (She was more down than I’d ever seen her before). (By the way, Mary is not one to
make up such a story. In fact, she wasn’t telling other people about it because it was so upsetting and because she didn’t think others would believe her.)
In any case… Mary told me that when she died, she began entering the Presence of Jesus. I think I interrupted her right away and asked what she saw! She hadn’t been able to see clearly yet, just out-of-focus colors. Yet what gripped her immediately was this absolutely incredible love! She said it was totally overwhelming, like nothing she’d ever known. But in moments, she
was snatched out of this ecstasy and back onto the operating table. She was furious with the doctors for bringing her back! I said, “But that sounds like a wonderful experience! Why are you so upset?” Mary said it was hard to explain, but that compared to experiencing God’s presence and love-as she had in those moments of dying-even the most wonderful circumstance on earth was like living in hell. Normal life, living in a body, being on earth, vacationing in Hawaii-you name it-it didn’t matter, it was all like hell…by comparison to Heaven. Thus, it took her weeks to get over her hot anger towards the doctors for bringing her back even though she understood why they saved her life.
Mary’s hostile reaction to her life being saved by a medical team can sound absolutely insane… unless one has had a glimpse of God and His love. Only then does it begin to make sense. I could certainly relate it to my Berkeley encounter!
Since those early years, God has continually upheld me by His grace, moved in my life miraculously and been faithful beyond measure!
I praise His name!