My Time of Conviction
Living within sight of the church, I was often reminded of the promise I had made Andy many years ago on my wedding day. I was reminded of it, every time I glanced out a window on the North side, every time I mowed the yard, and every time I drove by the church on my way to the neighborhood convenience store. My wife had already started to attend church on occasion. It took me a little longer. It was nearly a year after we had moved into our new home that I decided to come to church one Sunday. It was a spontaneous thing; I had not even planed on going the night before. I actually felt good about going to church that morning, not so much from any religious aspect, but because I was making good on a promise that was long over due. I did not expect to be ‘moved’ spiritually that day.
It was not very long into the sermon that I began to feel conviction move upon me. I had never had that feeling before. It was a feeling of guilt mixed with an uneasiness and out right fear. Different people are moved to conviction by different types of messages. For some a Hell fire and brimstone message is the motivater while for others it may be a message which tells of the peace and comfort that can be found knowing Christ. The message preached this particular Sunday was one demonstrating God’s love and mercy. This is the message that pricked my heart. As I sat there and listen to Andy preach that God loved me unconditionally and would forgive me regardless of how distant I was from Him or no matter what I had done, my heart felt heavy. I leaned that not only would God forgive me, but He would forgive me to a degree no mortal of this world could. God would cast my sins into the sea of forgetfulness never to be brought against me again. I felt a mixture of wonderful hope and yet a terrible feeling that I was displeasing to He who loved me so very much. Tears filled my eyes. I was being called. Jesus was knocking at my door. A part of me wanted to get up and go to that alter and have my sins forever washed away and begin a new life serving God, but yet I did not go. I walked out of church that day just as lost as I had come in.
I did not attend church the following Sunday nor the next. I do not recall how many Sundays I missed before I returned. The Sunday I had attended left me with such a feeling of uneasiness that I could not bring myself to go through that again.
Sometime in this general time frame I had taken a trip to Vanderbuilt Hospital in Nashville for a medical problem my Joan was having with her leg. While on the way home I discovered that something was severely wrong with my eye sight. At this point it is necessary to go back a few years to explain a medical condition I have with my eyes. In the early 90’s I was diagnosed with a disease known as Presumed Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome. Without being too technical, it is a condition of the retina which leaves scaring which results in blind spots in vision. Through the years it had gotten progressively worse leaving me legally blind in my left eye by the mid 90’s and about 20/30 to 20/40 vision in my right eye (vision quality fluctuates). Suddenly and without warning, my eye sight had worsened dramatically. I had my eyes checked when I got home and my vision checked 20/400 which is significantly worse that what is considered legally blind. Over time by the grace of God, my sight improved very much but I never fully recovered the loss of vision from that flare up. Through much strain and discomfort I was able to hold my Design job at TRW but driving to work was to become a real challenge and even an unsafe task for both myself and other motorist. This is when I started car pooling with Mark Skelton. This is a major event in my testimony because through car pooling with Mark, I found the best friend I had ever had and also received the benefits of his witnessing. Mark is not only very knowledgeable in God’s word but he has a talent for explaining and teaching that I have never seen done so well. I learned more of God’s Word and gained a level of understanding I had never even come closed to before from riding to and from work with Mark. Loosing a significant part of my eye sight was perhaps an ugly piece of the puzzle God was putting together, but the picture will be beautiful when it is complete.
During my time of abstinence from the church I thought about my eternal destiny which added to my uneasiness. I could not get it off my mind. I opened my Bible for the first time in many years and began to read on salvation. I had never really read much on the subject of salvation. I had some misconceptions on the subject. I came across a scripture one night that completely shattered preconceived belief on salvation. That scripture was:
Ephesians 2:8, 9
8. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of; yourselves: it is the gift of God.
9. Not of works, lest any man shoud boast.
I read that scripture over and over. It taught me that I did not have to be good to be saved. All I had to do was believe, repent, and call upon him with a humble and sincere heart. I could come to God just as I was and turn it all over to Him. What a revelation to realize you don’t have to straighten out your live before giving it to Jesus, you give it to Jesus the way it is and HE will straighten it out! That realization gave me a great deal of peace, but yet I was still lost.
Soon after reading that scripture I decided to attend church again. This second trip was just as the first. I felt conviction, and the tears flowed. This time Andy saw the tears. Once again I did not heed the call and left the church a lost man. I went through the same pattern as before. I could not bring myself to go back right away, but continued to read my Bible learning a little more with time. Eventually I felt another draw to the church. It is truly amazing how the Holy Spirit can convict you and scare you and yet draw you all at the same time.
My third trip to church came in June of 2000, approximately two months since my first visit. Going to church an average of once a month may not seem like much of a church goer to many but considering I had never attended church at all as an adult other than a wedding or funeral, once a month was huge improvement for me. The third trip was just as the first two except that conviction seemed stronger than it ever had before. I believe I almost made the alter call that Sunday but almost don’t count.
Why does a person reject Jesus? Why does a person turn from the only one in which there is any hope, the only one who can save a person from the torments of an eternal Hell? Why would anyone choose eternal torment rather than eternal life in Heaven where life there is so wonderful it is not in the hearts and minds of man to comprehend the wonderfulness and glory that awaits those who choose the Lord? Why would anyone with an ounce of intelligence who believes the gospel not choose Jesus with all he has to offer, both in this world and beyond? It does not make sense. There is no logical answer why any believer of the gospel would reject Christ knowing the consequences. I was a believer and I am not stupid, yet I rejected him three times in a row. I can not answer for everyone; we all have or had our own excuses for rejecting Christ but I believe my biggest excuse was the fear of the unknown. Sure, I knew if I accepted Jesus there would be positive changes, the most significant being my eternal destiny, but I knew that if I became a Christian, I would be expected to live my life in a totally different way. I had leaned that salvation was not of our own works but by the grace of God, but I also knew that salvation was not a free ticket to sin. I did not want to live the life of a hypocrite and therefore lifestyle changes were required in order to live a life of fellowship and service to God. I lacked confidence in my ability to make those changes. Some of the desires of my heart were worldly and not pleasing to God so I knew there were some things I would have to give up and things I would have to change. How can a person change who they are? How can a person will themselves to not enjoy the things they have always enjoyed? How could I look upon an attractive female and not see her in a lustful manner when I had always done so before? How could jokes that used to be funny suddenly no longer be funny, and even be offensive? How in the world can a person be expected to completely change who and what they are? Was I prepared and did I really want to make those lifestyle changes? Could I make them even if I wanted to? I did not want to become a prude. I did not want to be one of those people that no one wants to be around because they feel as though they have to walk on egg shells in order not to offend them. I simply did not think I could change my life so completely.
I was right, I couldn’t change myself, but God could and did when I was saved. After rejecting the Lord for the third time, I went home feeling lower than I had ever felt before. I thought about my situation and how dangerous it was. I knew that if I was to die as I was, I would go to Hell. This fact plagued me with sadness and despair. I could not take it any longer and so that evening after church and after dwelling in these feelings for a while, I finally called out to the Lord and asked Him to save me. Some people say that it was at that time that I was saved. I do not think so. At the time I called on the Lord, I was not under conviction, I was only concerned for my eternal destiny. There is a difference. When I cried out to the Lord to save me, there was no sincerity in my repentance. I was not truly sorry for my sins nor did I have a commitment to turn away from them. I was acting on fear and not conviction. Fear and conviction are not the same thing, though fear is one element of conviction. I believe conviction also has elements of guilt, shame, and a desire to completely change from evil ways and serve the Lord. These elements were missing from the feelings I had when I cried out to Jesus therefore I did not have true conviction and did not receive salvation. The proof that my conclusions were true is that after crying out to the Lord to be saved, I did not feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, I had no desire to tell anyone of the experience, and the most significant evidence is that my life did not change afterwards. My language did not clean up, the desires of my heart did not change, there was no conviction nor chastisement for the sins I committed afterwards. I had tried to be saved outside of conviction and it simply did not work. I had not moved when God had called me. I did not strike when the poker was hot. I called on the Lord to save me several more times over the next couple of days, yet I was not saved. I knew the reason I was not being saved and decided to attend church the following Sunday and when conviction came this time I would heed the call. My mind was finally ready, I just needed for my heart to be ready. I thought that since God had tugged on my heart strings for three consecutive church attendences, he would continue to do so.
When I went to church the following Sunday, I was surprised that I felt no conviction. This continued Sunday after Sunday. I became frustrated at the situation. Every time the preacher made an alter call, I knew there was people there whose heart was breaking. These people were being called and would not go and I wanted to go but was not being called. Oh how I wished my heart would break! I continued to attend church each week after that waiting for God’s call. I prayed each night, not for salvation but for conviction because I knew salvation could not be mine until my heart was broken again. Weeks turned into months. I was very concerned. I wondered if I had used up my last chance. It is a very scary thing to know enough of the gospel to realize your need for salvation and to believe the Lord may never call upon you again. I often discussed my dilemma with Mark during our rides to and from work. I found some hope in the things Mark said to me. I know Mark was praying for me and I knew Mark had a good relationship with the Lord, so I believe his prayers were heard.
Mark even told me that he had already claimed me for Jesus which is an act of absolute faith. Mark also offered me hope through an analogy. He asked me if as a child, I had ever disobeyed my father and been sent to my room as a punishment and to think on what I had done. I answered yes, and he then asked, after a while didn’t your father come to get you? I got his point. He said perhaps I had been sent to my spiritual room for a while. According to Mark, even “old” Christians sometimes mess up and are sent to their spiritual room. In the case of someone who is already saved, it is called chastisement. Their joy is taken away, the comfort of the Holy spirit leaves them for a while. It is all so that we will learn and be better servants to Him. It made good sense and I hoped he was right.
It just so happens that my brother-in-law pastor is also a plumber, or at least he was before he retired a year before. I had a leaky outdoor faucet and he came out to fix it. This was in late fall to best of my recollection. After he finished the job late one afternoon, we talked for a brief while in my driveway. I confided in him for the first time about my dilemma, telling him of the sinner’s prayer I had prayed but had not received salvation. I told him that when and if conviction comes again, I would certainly heed the call.
As the holidays drew near, my brother-in-law, Jack was diagnosed with cancer. Jack had been a very hard working man all his life. He knew what it was to work sixteen and more hours a day in the hot summer sun. At one time Jack had lived a life engulfed in sin. In the last ten or more years however, Jack had cleaned up his act a great deal. With the help and grace of God, he had defeated his alcohol addiction. When Jack was not drinking, he was a very friendly and hospitable man. He was always willing to lend a helping hand to anyone in need. Although he had cleaned up his act a great deal, he was still a lost man however. Jack’s road of conviction which lead to his salvation would prove to be an inspiring testimony to all that knew him.
Jack’s illness was a very difficult and trying time for the Barnette family, especially when it became obvious that his condition was terminal. Aside from the worry of Jack’s physical illness, we all worried for his spiritual condition even more. The experience brought a new sense of reality concerning death and beyond to all of us. Jack had been under conviction for a long time, but was he was resistant. The situation brought other family members into conviction. They knew enough of the gospel to know that their prayers could not be heard without salvation. We all longed for Jack to be saved, even those of us who were lost ourselves. How could any of us expect to have any witnessing power to be an influence on Jack if we were lost ourselves? I suppose it must have also been on the minds of some that in order to see Jack and be with him again after he leaves us, not only will he need to be saved, but we will need to be saved as well. I suppose it was the combination of all these things which brought some of the family to conviction.
On the morning of January 7, 2001 as I sat in the third row from the front surrounded by family, conviction came to all those around me. When the alter call was made, I was the only person left on the pew. The rest of my family who were seated with me were on their knees at the alter. Lonnie gave his heart to the Lord, Roger rededicated his life, and others had come to pray and give support to those who heeded God’s call. I sat there in my pew feeling a strange mixture of joy for those who were being saved and coming back to the Lord, and sadness for myself. I wanted what they were receiving. I was given that opportunity on three occasions the previous year but had not yielded to the call. Now what a terrible price I was paying. I felt “left behind” just like the ones in the Christmas play the church had given a few weeks earlier. My emotions were stirring but I was not sure that it was conviction so I did not move. I had already tried to be saved without being called and it had done me no good and I did not want that experience again as I knew it would only add to my despair. I wanted to know for sure that I was being called before I went to the Lord in a sinner’s prayer.
After the alter call, Andy commented on how blessed he was to have some of his prayers answered that day in that a brother-in-law was saved and another rededicated his life. Then he unexpectedly turned to me and briefly told the church of my struggle and asked them to pray for me that I may be saved also. As I walked out of the church that day and shook Andy’s hand I told him what a wonderful day it was that members of our family came to the Lord and he agreed. I then told him, “The day aint over yet.” He hugged me, and told me to come back that night.
Throughout that day, I experienced a strange feeling. It was a feeling that something good was about to happen. It was as though conviction was slowly creeping upon me. I had never been to church on a Sunday night; for the past nine months I had only attended church during the morning service and had only been attending Sunday School for about a month. This day however, I felt a strong urge to return that night. I began to feel excited as the evening hour approached. I truly felt that this may be the night when God will show me his mercy and give me another opportunity to accept Jesus. My wife had spent the most of that day away from home with her sister Helen. It was a good thing, because I really needed that time alone. Shortly before six o’clock that evening I began to get ready to attend evening services. Poochie arrived home at about five minutes after six. I told her I was going to church that night. It was then she told me something that made my heart sink. She said that church started at six, not seven as I had thought. I almost decided not to go since I would be late. Then it came to me that my feelings that something great was about to happen must be true because the Devil obviously did not want me to go. When I realized this, I quickly changed my mind and decided to go even though I may be late. I rushed to get ready. The only shirt I had was somewhat wrinkled and did not look very neat. Poochie told me how terrible it looked and I said I was going to church even if I had to wear that wrinkled shirt. There was no time to press it because
we were already late. So with my wrinkled shirt, lace up work boots and Bible under my arm, we headed for God’s house.
Things did not go exactly as I expected. With the drawing to the church that I felt, I expected a sermon with extreme convicting power. but the sermon I heard that night did not stir me in the slightest. I am not criticizing the sermon. My pastor lets God lead him and I know someone there that night needed that particular sermon, but it was not I. I expected a sermon for the lost, a sermon which preached of God’s love, mercy, and compassion for sinners who came to seek Him. Instead, the message seemed to be for the Christian. The sermon was on obedience and the story of Jonah was used to exemplify the message. I must admit that I was disappointed as I sat there feeling no conviction at all when the entire day I had felt such a strong compulsion to attend church that night.
At the end of the sermon, there was an alter call as always. Every head bowed and every eye close, Andy asked for the convicted to come forward and heed the calling. Even at this point, I felt nothing except disappointment. When was God going to have mercy and call he again? My heart had told me it would be tonight, but apparently what I had thought was a drawing was only of my own mind. No one came to the alter. Then Andy asked if there was anyone lost who needed prayer to raise their hand. I had heard Andy ask this question at every alter call he had ever given. Looking back now, it is strange to me that despite how much I said I wanted to be convicted and saved and how much I had even prayed for it, I had never raised my hand when this question was asked. It now seems that I was all talk and no action. It was as though I wanted to be saved but did not have the courage or commitment to let it be known. Well, it just don’t work that way. With God it is all or nothing; He doesn’t accept half just as he doesn’t give half. This night as I sat there with my head bowed and eyes closed, I thought of how I had never raised my hand to request prayer and it dawned on me how hypocritical that was. How could I expect for God to give my pleas any consideration when I was not showing sincerity by never requesting prayer when the offer was made? It was time to show sincerity.
For the very first time I raised my hand to request prayer. I heard a voice, “God bless you, I see that hand”. Suddenly and unexpectedly, my eyes burned, I became very nervous, and another feeling I can not describe came over me. I do not know how to describe the feeling of being called by God. It is like pure love and fear at the same time. This was it! This is what I had been waiting and praying for. The conviction I needed was finally here. I had thought earlier in the day it would come this night but once in church I no longer thought it would be this night. Even the moment I raised my hand to request prayer, I felt nothing. When Andy said, “God bless you, I see that hand” it came down. Knowing this was real, true conviction, I was not about to let this opportunity slip away as I had before.
Within seconds of raising my hand, I stood and headed for the alter. I drooped to my knees and began to pray. I do not recall my exact words but I know I confessed I was a sinner, I asked for forgiveness, I professed my belief in Jesus, I asked to be washed in the redeeming blood of Christ and I asked Jesus to come into my life. That moment I died, and that moment I was born. I was snatched from the clutches of Satan, and the chains of sin that had bound me to a destiny in Hell were broken. My name was entered into the Lamb’s Book of Life. I stood to my feet a new man more pure and clean than the day I was born into this world. I was now a child of God, and Heaven will be my eternal home. PRAISE THE LORD!