Those four words forever changed my life. I’d heard the words before and hated them. I hated those who believed in them. Why? Because I was a Christ-hater, a blasphemer, a thief, an immoral man. But on that night of February 10, 1972, everything changed.
Before I continue let me say this about conversion stories. Everyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ has one. Every one is a miracle, a treasure, a testimony of God’s grace, love and forgiveness, the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and to regenerate the spiritually dead sinner. To me the most powerful story is that of the young man or woman who was raised in a Christian home, was faithful to Christ throughout high school and college, and continued in the faith into adulthood. In our culture this is an amazing testimony. It is so rare. Would that my story was like that. It isn’t.
I was stationed at the 100 man Marine Barracks in Naples, Italy. The Marines guarded the NATO base, and the headquarters and security buildings for AFSOUTH (Allied Forces Southern Europe). I had just finished my guard cycle and was on Liberty. Sweet Liberty! Another night to revel in darkness. I dropped a half tab of LSD in the bar across the street from the Main Gate, washed it down with several hard swallows of whiskey to give it a kickstart, then by 9:00pm was downtown in the San Fran bar draped over the jukebox, listening to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, definitely in an altered state of mind.
Thirty minutes later I felt a strange compulsion to go back to the barracks, something that had never happened before on Liberty. My plans were to pound the streets hard until just before Roll Call, at 7:00am. However, “many are the plans of a man’s heart, but God directs his steps” (Prov 19:21).
He was about to redirect mine.
A KALEIDOSCOPIC TRIP
I caught a cab back to the barracks, hallucinating the whole trip, went straight into the room of a Christian Marine with a name like mine––Mike. He was sitting on the edge of his bunk, like he was waiting for someone. He was. Me. If it had been a scene from a movie it would have looked staged, contrived.
I sat down on the chair beside his bunk and proceeded to tell him what a great “trip” I was having. I stared at the marble tiles between my feet as I talked. Mike didn’t say a word for 20 minutes. It might have been two hours, or two minutes (time is irrelevant when you’re stoned). Then a thought occurred to me that I might have hallucinated my return to the barracks, that I might still be in the San Fran bar. When I looked over at him his face wet with tears. He was sobbing. Whoa! A Marine––a jarhead––sobbing. I asked him what was wrong and he told me.
“Mike, Jesus loves you.”
What happened in the next instant is a testimony of God’s love, grace, and power. I became cold sober! Not drunk. Not stoned. I was completely clear-headed, as though I hadn’t taken any drugs or alcohol.
That scared me.
Mike took me next door and introduced me to a new arrival in the barracks named Terry. Terry had been in the barracks about a week. His room was directly across from mine, so I’d seen him before. I noticed he carried a Bible.
Terry was a Marine Jesus freak!
He was lying on his bunk when Mike and I entered his room and––guess what?––he was reading his Bible. Liberty night and he’s reading his Scofield. For the next hour-and-a-half Terry and Mike shared the Gospel (the Good News) with me in a way I’d never heard before. They talked about God’s love, His holiness, my sin, heaven and hell, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Strangely, I didn’t hate them. I didn’t reject what they were saying. In fact, I hung on every word.
Finally, Mike pressed for a decision but I told him I needed to think about it. I was still a rebel at heart and didn’t want anyone pushing me into anything that wasn’t my idea first. I didn’t become a Christian that night. Instead, I went across the hall into my darkened room, shut the door, looked up at the ceiling and said, “If you’re real, God, then I’d be a fool not to want you.”
THE WINDOW CLOSES
After that I climbed into bed, closed my eyes, and for the remainder of the night the effects of whiskey and LSD once again raged through my mind and body. The Holy Spirit had held back their effects for a window of time, while two faithful Marines told me about Jesus. The window closed. And now, lying on my bunk, the Spirit who had once hovered over the darkness of the unformed earth, was hovering over the darkness of my soul and about to unleash His creative power.
Next blog: Out of Darkness