Friday, September 7, 2007

My Testimony

Outdated Book

By definition I was an agnostic throughout my high school years-when an elder Christian gentleman (Mr. Garry Lawrence) confronted my non-belief with the Bible.
To me the Bible was an outdated book full of contradictions and fairy tales with little relevance for the twentieth century. Each week I would see Mr. Lawrence and he'd bring a page from a little notebook he kept, with biblical references he'd written down on it. His tireless effort to reach me with the Gospel was surprising since I had launched every objection I could against his belief without so much as making a dent in his faith. Regardless of what topic was covered on his little pages of biblical references, it always ended with my need to be 'saved' (his words) and experience the reality of Jesus Christ in my heart as Lord and Savior.

The Experiment
As time went by I thought to myself that I'd conduct an experiment. I would ask this "Jesus" into my life, and then when nothing happened I could say with some authority that I tried it and it nothing happened! But how does one conduct such and experiment?

How would you conduct such an experiment?

I pondered this question seriously. Certainly, I reasoned that even if a god existed who created everything, he probably wouldn't be interested in this little speck of dust in one solar system in one of billions of galaxies let alone one fininte individual among billions who lived on that speck of dust. There was no way I believed in any god(s) especially a personal God, so what harm could there possibly be to simply say one 'prayer' as an experiment?
But any experiment will yield results of somekind and then the experimenter will be faced with what to do with those results. That begs this question; what if by the remotest chance my prayer should bear fruit of the 'divine' - would I be willing to see it through? In other words, would I allow the results of the experiment to influence my conception of the truth if it were proven to my satisfaction that I encountered God; would I then be willing to change the entire course of my life? This was a difficult decision because up to this point I had been my own god. I enjoyed my life and the so-called 'sins' that being my own god allowed me to participate in.
After much thought, I concluded that it would be worth the infinitesimal risk to my personal lifestyle to know the truth. My opinion was that the experiment was actually a futile attempt that would only continue to confirm to me that my pre-conceptions about God, the Bible and religion in general were correct.
So on Saturday night, August 8, 1964 I knelt down beside my bed in the dark and contemplated what words would constitute a 'prayer.'

God Encounter
While kneeling there I suddenly sensed a presence I'd never known before - emanating slightly behind me and to the left. I turned and looked but saw nothing -yet I sensed what can only be described as the purest love I've ever experienced! It radiated all around me and immediately I felt filthy and naked, as though this radiance exposed my most foul, secret imaginations. Strangely it was without condemnation. My eyes filled with tears as this amazing love melted me down and I knew without a doubt that I was in the presence of Jesus Christ. I cried and pled for forgiveness and then I actually felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I don't know how long I remained on the floor but I knew that I encountered deity, and His name is Jesus Christ.

Plummer St. Foursquare Church
Having had a standing invitation for months to attend the Lawrences' church, (Plummer Street Foursquare, in Sepulveda California) I decided to take him up on it the very next morning. Persuading my dad and brother to go along, I mentioned nothing that had happened the previous night.
We drove up in front of an average house on Plummer Street. The house was a "pioneer" Foursquare church with a small congregation. Before the service began Mr. Lawrence had instructed me that, if at the end of the service I wanted to be 'saved' I should wait for the 'altar call' (an invitation by the pastor to go forward to an altar). At the end of the service I went forward at the invitation and to my surprise so did my dad and brother. The minister, Rev. Marion V. Wagner prayed first with my dad, then my brother and finally she came to me. She laid her hand on my head and said -"you've already received Christ!" which amazed me since I'd kept quiet about it. Then someone began speaking in a strange language following which someone else spoke in English. That was very strange. I wanted to know what Mr. Lawrence thought of that.

Spirit Baptism
Later that day Mr. Lawrence explained it as the Holy Spirit's gifts of tongues and interpretation. He showed me an article in a Pentacostal Evangel magazine citing where he'd spoke out in tongues in a church service and there was no interpretation. He was discouraged thinking he had spoken out of order but after the service two Catholic Jesuits who were in attendance at the meeting approached him wanting to know where he learned that language, because it was a language they were working on. Of course the only conclusion was that this was a demonstration of the gift of tongues. I asked him if it were possible for me to receive those gifts and he said certainly but rather to pray first for for the
Baptism in the Holy Ghost. This seemed 'far out' to me, but I wanted to get more of what I'd experienced. That Sunday evening I went back to the church. I asked those in the congregation to pray for me; I wanted to receive the Baptism in the Holy Ghost. They gathered around me and began praying, laying their hands and Bibles on me. They told me to pray out loud as well and I began stammering in another language. Later I was baptized in water as the Lord commanded.

My Old Friends
When school started again I tried to hang out with the old crowd but the dirty jokes, profanity and porn no longer held an attraction for me and I drifted away from them. I began carrying a Bible to school and spending lunch hours reading from its pages. One thing I ran into right away was a ridicule from those who were as I had been before. They asked me questions I had of my own and couldn't answer back then, but it forced me to dig deeper into the Bible. Many of the questions took me beyond the knowledge I had and still do, but dozens of those questions have been answered to those who will seek the answers. As I progressed in my Christian walk I began finding others who shared a love for Christ and the joy that is inherent in knowing Him. I thought then as now that even if there weren't a hereafter I was personally much more gratified by being a Christian than as an agnostic. I realized a new purpose and meaning to life that had been lacking. I even became acquainted with influential men in the '60's Pentacostal movement, Demos Shakarian, David J. DuPlessis, Ray Bringham and a host of others who shared my love for Jesus Christ.

The Living Word
Its amazing how the Bible came alive! It's still that way. It's characters live right off it's wonderful pages.
There’s a great song that describes it – though it’s not sung much in today’s modern churches with their pop-Christian chorus', but it's one of my favorites anyway; it describes the difference Jesus made in my life.

“Since Jesus Came Into My Heart”

What a wonderful change in my life has been wrought
Since Jesus came into my heart!
I have light in my soul for which long I had sought
Since Jesus came into my heart!

I have ceased from my wandering and going astray
Since Jesus came into my heart!
And my sins, which were many, are all washed away
Since Jesus came into my heart!

I’m possessed of a hope that is steadfast and sure
Since Jesus came into my heart!
And no dark clouds of doubt now my pathway obscure
Since Jesus came into my heart!

There’s a light in the valley of death now for me
Since Jesus came into my heart!
And the gates of the City beyond I can see
Since Jesus came into my heart!

I shall go there to dwell in that City I know
Since Jesus came into my heart!
And I’m happy, so happy as onward I go
Since Jesus came into my heart!

Since Jesus came into my heart-
Since Jesus came into my heart!
Floods of joy o’er my soul
like the sea billows roll--
Since Jesus came into my heart!

A lot of those old 'saints' have gone home to be with Jesus. Garry and Vera Lawrence, Rev. Marion Wagner and her husband Forrest, my dad--yet memories from those days are vividly imprinted on my mind!
When I go to Hawaii I visit Garry Lawrences' grave. He and his wife Vera went home to be with the Lord years ago; but I'm forever thankful for Garry's faithfulness in not giving up on me. I know he's not in that grave but I visit to remember and take pause to thank God that He sent that man into my life. I only hope that I've touched someone else's life as he did mine. One day I will see him, Vera and many others who've departed this earth to heaven's shore-

R. W. Hoeppner

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