I was raised in a Roman Catholic home in New York. My mother was a very devout Catholic. I believe my father just went along for the ride. But that's beside the point. I received my first communion as a young child. Every Saturday we would go to confession to confess our sins to the priest sitting in the other side of the confessional booth. "Bless my father for I have sinned." The priest/father would have you do penance - five "Our Father's" and ten "Hail Mary's." I would pray the rosary before going to bed. Every time we came into the house, we would dip our finger into the holy water next to the front door and make the sign of the cross - "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." My mother had a statue of the Blessed Mother on top of our television set. She often kneeled before her and prayed to her. I didn't know why back then but somehow this didn't seem right. But what was I to say? You don't talk back to nor do you question your mother. Your honor your mother and father unless you wanted to endure the wrath of your father's belt (yes, it hurt). I pretty much stopped going to church when I was twelve.
Looking back at those days I realized that I learned the gospel of Christ and the doctrine of one God consisting of three persons: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. But I could not stomach the endless rituals that took place on Sunday mornings. Nothing made sense. To tell the truth - I rebelled!
My Very First Encounter With The God Of All Creation
I was seventeen when I graduated from high school in June 1970. I enlisted in the United States Navy two weeks later. I didn't want to join the Navy. I wanted to go to college and had the grades to go to any college I wanted to. But my father was going to realize his dream through me. He was not able to serve in the Navy because my mother was pregnant with me (at least that is what I was told). As I was getting to board the bus to the airport, someone from the Gideon's handed me a small pocket Bible - Psalms, Proverbs, and the New Testament. I threw it in my overnight bag then forgot all about it. To make a long story short, I volunteered for submarine duty in boot camp then attended the Basic Enlisted Submarine School in New London, Connecticut after boot camp. Upon graduating from "sub school" I received orders to the USS Albacore (AGSS 569) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The Albacore was one of the last diesel-electric submarines. It was the first submarine with the tier-drop hull design, what you see today in the modern nuclear submarine Navy. The Albacore quietly ran on batteries when submerged. The batteries needed to be periodically charged. This was done by running the diesel's while on the surface.
It was sometime in January 1972. I went to sea for the very first time in my life. The Albacore was about ready to come to the surface to do a battery charge. I got to stand my first lookout watch on the bridge of the Albacore while this was going on. As I got up there my eyes saw something absolutely amazing, something I never seen before - thousands of stars! I quietly thought "there is much more to God than I learned growing up!" Little did I know at the time that this was my first encounter with the God of all creation.
My Two Friends
I quickly forgot about my encounter with God. I left the Albacore in July 1972 then started my next tour of duty - the USS Dace (SSN 607) in New London. The Dace was in the shipyard in Groton. There were plenty of places to drink and get drunk outside the shipyard. That's exactly what I did when I was on liberty. Us single sailors with no place to live slept on this barge. The Dace shared this barge with the USS Whale (SSN 638). The barge had several berthing compartments and a mess hall (where you ate meals). After getting drunk I would find my way back to the barge. There were these two sailors from the Whale that were very concerned about me. Why? I had no clue. They would take me to the mess hall and sober me up. They told me about Christ - that He came and died for my sins, was buried, then rose from the dead three days later. All I needed to do was repent of my sins and believe this gospel and I will be saved. I always thought that you had to go through the Blessed Mother, Mary, to be saved. That's what I learned growing up so it must be true. And if it is true then it must be in the Bible. So I made it my mission to prove to these so called "born again" Christians that you must go through Mary. But to do this I needed a Bible.
I remembered that I was given a Bible the day I boarded the bus to the airport. I found it in the new overnight luggage bag that was given to us in boot camp. I remembered dumping the few remaining contents from my old bag into my new one. My old one was boxed up and sent home along with all of the other non-Navy issue things we did not need. That Bible wasn't Navy issue but I recall them telling us that we could keep our Bibles, Korans, Books of Mormon, etc.
I started reading the Bible for the very first time in my life, hoping to find that one critical verse that proves you must go through the Blessed Mother to be saved. I read through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I read through Acts, Romans, and so forth. It was frustrating. I could not find one single verse that backed up what I was looking for. However I found several things that got to me. There was that "born again" passage - "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). There was that John 3:16 passage that my two friends kept quoting - “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." I found other passages that they shared with me including "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23) and "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). I also ran across this verse that destroyed what I was taught about Mary, that she was born without the taint of original sin and that she remained sinless, at least before giving birth to Jesus: "And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46-47). If Mary needed a Savior, then she must have been a sinner. And if she was a sinner than I was too. And if I'm a sinner then I needed a Savior. Mary is unable to save me. So what must I do to be saved, to be born-again, to have eternal life? This guy named Paul (I read about the terrible thing he did to Christians when he was Saul) talked about the gospel. I found it: "Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1st Corinthians 15:1-4). Is this all there is to it? I thought I had to go through the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic church. This cannot be all there is to it. I kept looking. "That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation" (Romans 10:9-10). Oh my goodness - all I have to do is believe in my heart that Christ came, He died for our sins - He died for MY sins - He was buried, and that He was raised from the dead on the third day. It hit me like a rock. The God who created those thousands of stars that I saw in January 1972 came to earth as a man and died for MY sins. Not only did I believe this with my mind, I was deeply convicted of it in my heart. MY God and Savior died for ME! I have eternal life and did nothing to earn it except to believe the gospel of Christ with all of my heart.
My two friends from the Whale (I forgot their names a long time ago) tried to get me to come to their church - Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. It was a little over a mile from the shipyard. In fact I stumbled by it a few times in a drunken stupor. But I also remembered looking at it wondering if anyone there could help me. I woke up very refreshed one Sunday morning, put on my uniform, then took a taxi (they were always parked outside the gates of the shipyard) to this church. My two friends saw me walk in then quickly came up to me and had me sit with them. The looks on their faces were ecstatic. I heard a very powerful sermon that confirmed everything I read for myself in that little pocket Bible. At the end he asked everyone to close their eyes, bow their heads, and pray with him. He said that if you have not trusted Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior, now is the time. You may not get a second chance. One part of me was all of a sudden frightened - I wasn't sure if this was the right thing to do. What about my Roman Catholic faith? What will my mother say? I nearly ran out of there. The other part of me resisted this urge. Instead I prayed - "Lord God, thank you for sending your Son Jesus into the world to die for my sins. I am forever grateful." He asked us to raise your hand if you believe in your heart that Christ died for your sins, was buried, and was raised from the dead on the third day. I raised my hand. There were tears in my eyes. In fact one of my friends looked at me, smiled - he also had tears in his eyes. Both friends hugged me. We were brothers in Christ! I was baptized as a new believer a few weeks later.
The gospel message is so simple that a little child can understand it. Yet it's result impacts you for all eternity. The apostle John penned the following:
1st John 5:11-13 - And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Do you believe that the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, came to die for YOUR sins, that He was buried, and the He was raised from the dead on the third day? If you don't then now is the best time to come to saving faith in Christ Jesus. There may not be a second chance. It will be too late if you die without coming to faith in Christ!
All scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.