Tuesday, May 17, 2011

You Must be Born Again

What follows in my attorney father's testimony of his conversion. This was first published in Faith at Work magazine, vol. 80, no. 1 (Jan-Feb 1967), pp 3-5.

A Certain Lawyer
Kenneth W. Linsley

"Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)

It was a beautiful January day. The bright morning sun gave an aura of exotic elegance to the lowly castor bean trees near the window.  The apartment was quiet. Betty Ruth had gone shopping, taking our three daughters with her. I was at home alone, intent on fixing the family washing machine that had long since failed to function.

Across the cluttered courtyard a huge, one-eyed Alaskan malemute lay motionless in the mud, as above him a kindly faucet dripped incessantly. The world as then seen from my kitchen window gave no cause to suspect that this was to be a very special day for me.  If I had any needs greater than a way to wash dirty clothes, I was unaware of them. I commenced dismantling the washing machine.

Lying on the kitchen floor amidst faint odors of rust, grease, stale detergents, and a growing accumulation of washing machine parts, I began to hum the tune of a hymn I had heard a few nights before on a telecast from Billy Graham's San Francisco Crusade. And then, unable to remember the words, I did what was, for me, a very odd thing.

I got up, went to the piano in the living room, found the words in a hymnbook, and then went back to my place on the kitchen floor, wondering why I had done such a foolish thing, but nonetheless singing.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid'st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

I kept singing this over and over for no other reason, I suppose, than that my quite awful singing voice seemed to sound a little better coming off the floor.

A few moments later, I had a strange feeling that someone was praying for me; and immediately I suspected a slightly nutty Pentecostal woman named Joy, who had been coming to me for legal counsel.

I began to sing the hymn again, but something had changed. This time it was different. This time, I meant the words I was singing.

Suddenly, the room was flooded with a warmth and a great light. Overwhelmed, I stopped singing, knowing absolutely that I was in the presence of the Almighty.

This was my introduction to the love of God. It occurred to me that the only reason that God would ever come to my house was because He cared about me. I simply could not be in his presence and begin to see something of his love for me without also experiencing a staggering conviction of my unworthiness of such love. Some people have called this "conviction of sin."  I never knew what they were talking about before, but suddenly I did.

I pushed my face against the cold asphalt tiles of the kitchen floor and, in a torrent of tears of joy and shame intermixed, said over and over words somehow dredged up from my subconscious memory, "Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner."

That was all I could think of to say - not witty, not original - but I did mean it.

Then the Lord spoke to me. He said, "Come and put your fingers in the nail holes in my hands, and place your hand in the hole in my side."

As a young boy, I had read the Gospel of John, but with this absolutely astounding invitation came a wholly new consciousness of what our Lord had meant when he said to Thomas, "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed."

Revealed to me for the first time was the terrible sense of rebuke that is in those words, and now that sense of rebuke was mine. I did not want to be a Thomas; so I kept my face hard against the floor and exclaimed in a halting voice, "Lord, that won't be necessary."

There are no words to describe what happened next. Gertrude Behanna says of her conversion that it was more like a spiritual shower bath than anything else. Someone else has described it as feeling as if somebody pulled out a plug and drained away the sin. I suppose it may depend upon how one is accustomed to being cleansed.

The room was shiny with love. I knew that I had been permanently forgiven, and along with this came a wonderful sense of peace; and I said to myself, “This is the peace that passes understanding.”

Incredible as it now seems to me, for the first sixteen years of our marriage my wife, Betty Ruth, and I never talked much about God. I was not sure how to tell her what had happened. I began saving up courage, and that night when we were in bed, I said, “Dear, a very strange and wonderful thing happened to me today.”

“That’s nice,” she replied disgustedly as she settled into her pillows. “When are you going to get my washing machine fixed?”

With that I abandoned any attempt to tell her in so many words; but in the weeks that followed, she began to get the message. Playfully Beth Ruth now says, “I knew something had happened to you when you suddenly began to insist that we give a tenth of our income to the Lord.”

Several days later, in a conversation with my slightly nutty client, I guardedly made some vague references to having had a spiritual experience on Saturday morning. Joy volunteered that on that same morning she had walked out on an ocean pier to pray. High on her prayer list was the concern that I, Ken Linsley, be born again. She also mentioned that she had at the same time received some kind of miraculous assurance. I never pressed her for details.

Two months earlier, on a Sunday afternoon, Joy and her husband, an air force captain, and their two young children had been enjoying a drive on a back country road when, with awful suddenness, a speeding oncoming car had veered wildly across the center line, causing a terrible head-on collision and bringing instant death to the captain and their eight-year-old daughter. Somehow Joy and their ten-year-old son had escaped serious injury.

The driver of the other car had been a drunken woman returning from a weekend party. Her companion had survived the crash but had been injured to the extent that he would never regain his senses.

Tried for manslaughter, the woman had been acquitted when she testified, contrary to the state’s evidence, that the now senseless companion had been the driver of the car.

A few days following the terrible bereavement, Joy, numb with grief, came to me for help. For several weeks I worked to try to bring order out of the sudden chaos of her affairs. I was touched by her grief and apparent helplessness and resolved to be of all possible assistance. It never entered my mind that it was I to whom she was about to minister.

When by appointment she came to my office, she was trim, smartly dressed, and seemed terribly alone. She wanted to talk and proceeded to tell me virtually her entire life history. She had been raised in poverty and had no education beyond high school. Her life had been marked over and over again by tragedy, and yet there were no signs of self-pity. Even now, her greatest sorrow seemed to be the bereavement of her son.

She prays a lot, I thought, as she went on to tell me how she thanked God that her husband and the daughter whom she had loved so dearly had “gone together to be with Jesus.” She also seemed to take great comfort in the fact that her husband and daughter were, as she said, “born again Christians.”

The phrase born again Christians” disturbed me. It purported to make distinctions which seemed judgmental. A Christian is a Christian, I thought, so what is a “born again Christian”? It was obvious, however, that the term meant a great deal to Joy; and even more annoying, there was no mistaking the fact that she considered herself to be one.

In the several meetings that followed, she further embarrassed me by insisting that God had sent me to help her in this time of need. Not once did she try to instruct me. She simply talked naturally and unashamedly about her living Lord Jesus.

Perhaps the thing that impressed me the most, however, was the fact that she had completely forgiven the wretched woman whom she knew had killed her jet pilot husband and beautiful young daughter. She not only had forgiven her, but, what is far more, she also prayed for her salvation.

I suppose that all of these things were part of the reason I suspected Joy might be praying for me that glorious day when, at age thirty-seven, I first came to know what it means to be a “born again Christian.”

A few months after my conversion, I was transferred to duty in the Philippines. It was several years before it occurred to me that I should write Joy and thank her for what she had done for me. When I did, I received a reply which read, in part, as follows:

It was thrilling to receive your letter. It gave me insight into things I had not known before. It also made me feel very humble that the Lord used me as a vessel for his work in such a way.

That day out on the ocean, as I watched the water swirl and tumble, I thought about how constant is our eternal God. I was praying for the Lord to shower you abundantly with his love and blessings.

At the same time, I was surrounded by a tremendous warmth and love and glow beyond all human comprehension. Although I came to the Lord when I was eighteen, this was beyond anything I had ever experienced before. It is really beyond description, isn’t it?



Anastasia Theodoridis said...

A very beautiful reminder: the Holy Spirit works everywhere and always. Alleluia!

Stephen said...

My experience though not exactly of the same cotent, by context was very similar. I too had a song in my head, but it was a song by the group "Yes" titled, "We Have HeaveN'..it listened to it over 20 times in three days and understood Focus on the Center, Focus on The light (knowing not what that meant). Long story inbetween culminated with 'The Floor" moment where I understood my utter worthlessness before the Power of Truth, penetrating with ceaselessly ending waves of Forgiveness as I saw by His Virtue my nothingness before Him; he was cleaning 'the inside of the cup' and cleanings off 'my plate' of 'fore-head' knowledge of presumptuousness , opinions, and assumptions straight to the Center of the Light. This culminated in Inexpressible Joy.

Alice Linsley said...

Stephen, you obviously have had a powerful experience. Being born again means that the old person dies that Christ might live in and through us. It is "putting on Christ" as Paul expressed it. Christ Jesus died for us that we might live in newness of life, His immortal life. Jesus basically told Nicodemus that eternal life is expressed in ontological change and without this change, we are dead in our sins.