I was born in the Mennonite Hospital and Sanitarium, La Junta, Colorado December 18, 1957. The hospital is no longer in existence. It was originally built by Christians to serve those who had been afflicted by tuberculosis so that they might be fully restored to health. It ceased being a TB Sanitarium in 1955 and became a full-time hospital.
My parents were young. Dad was 20 years old and my mom was 19 when she had me. I am grateful that they were both followers of Jesus when I was brought into this world. I am certain I would not be a Christian without their influence.
My father was a Southern Baptist pastor and my mother was first class pastor’s wife. I am the oldest of four children. I use to “play Church” with my little brother. I would preach and he would direct the music. We had an idyllic early childhood in Southeastern Colorado and central Texas while Dad was going to college and seminary.
Being the oldest I thought I was supposed to do everything first. I walked first, talked first, and was potty trained first. (I hope) I was to “look after” my little brother and sisters. That might mean keeping them out of the street or protecting them from the local bullies. It felt important being that important. I loved having the role of older brother and first born.
When I was seven years old while living in Eastland, Texas my little brother Jay walked forward in an altar call at our father’s church and prayed to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He became a Christian and was baptized. He did this before me! I don’t remember the emotions I felt as a seven year old, but I can tell you it hurt. How did this happen? I was supposed to be first!
I don’t remember watching him be baptized. I am certain I was present, but I don’t have a memory of it. I’ve blocked the memory.
A few months later, in one of my many surly moods, I had in a quarrel with my brother, sister and some neighborhood kids about what game we should play and they wouldn’t comply with my wishes so I stomped home in a huff. My mother wondered if the reason I was having a difficult time getting along with others is because deep down I was still very selfish. That maybe my relationships would be smoother if I learned to live more for others like Jesus did rather than just for me. Would I like to have my sins forgiven and receive Christ as my Savior? I allowed that I would like that.
So, we left the front porch of the parsonage and walked across the gravel parking lot into Morton Valley Baptist Church and found my father in his study. He went over the “plan of salvation” with me. I had heard it before in his sermons, but this was the first time I heard him explain it in terms that might make sense to a seven year old.
He asked me if I wanted to pray and invite Jesus into my heart and let Him forgive me of my sins. I said that I did. All three of us got out of our chairs and knelt and I repeated a prayer my father spoke aloud. I remember seeing tears fall onto the carpet of the floor and disappearing into the fabric. It was like my sins were falling away and disappearing as we prayed just like those tears. We said, “In Jesus name, amen.”
I lifted up my head and saw my mother’s eyes wet with tears and a soft smile on my father’s face. I asked if I could go tell my brother and sister what had happened. They said yes.
I burst out of that study and into the woods behind the country church screaming at the top of my voice, “Jay! Robbie! I am saved! I am saved!”
My brother says that he and my sister said “Hallelujah” like a couple of little Pentecostals when they heard the good news that maybe now there would be some peace among the children.
The baptistery in our church was not working so I was baptized in a nearby church. I remember looking into the deep pool and seeing a cinder block in the bottom my Dad said was for me to stand on; lots of pieces of debris floating on the surface and a wooden paddle floating with a blue and white cord tying it to the wall.
My Dad stirred the water with the paddle explaining to me it was to mix the cold and hot water together so that the water was warm for us. But I remember it being very cold and the floaties swirling in circles. The baptism meant a lot to my father. He got choked up when he said the words you say when someone is baptized. It was strange to me that my father was getting emotional about me standing on a concrete block in a tub of dirty, cold water.
I have walked with Jesus a long time now. I drifted from him in high school, repented and became a pastor. I drifted from him as a pastor and had to rebuild relationships that my sin nearly destroyed. I have wept gallons of tears on my way back to the heavenly Father where I found mercy and grace in the face of my mother, father, wife, brother, sisters, sons and many friends.
Today I spend a goodly part of each day trying to communicate to sin-infected people that there is a cure and a hope if they turn to Jesus. Spiritual healing can be found not in a hospital or sanatorium, but on bent knee at the throne of the Great Physician.
Never fear repentance.