Angel on the Boulevard
I really donít know when I got saved. I was either fourteen or twenty-two, Iím not sure which. I guess it really depends upon your point of view. You see, I accepted Christ at fourteen, walked away from Him at fifteen, then returned to Him seven years later. Now, you may think I was saved at fourteen while others would argue that had I died prior to my twenty-second birthday I would have surely roasted in the fiery abyss. Maybe youíre wondering which position I take, was I heaven bound or hell bound as a young fellaí? Iíd have to answer Ďyesí as Iím pretty sure it was one of those. Weíre you expecting something a little more decisive? Perhaps you were hoping I was the chosen one, the supposed sage who would finally settle this centuries old debate of Ďonce saved always savedí. Thatís another essay for another time and Iíll be sure to submit my entry when Iím ready to disclose all the answers to this great mystery. But for now, I will simply tell my story.
Shortly after I celebrated my fourteenth birthday I prayed to receive Jesus. The memory is as vivid as red lipstick on a clericís collar. It was a warm September night on Van Nuys Boulevard, a popular strip where young people from all over the valley hung out. We called it Ďcruisingí. It was not only trendy back then it was legal. Eventually cruising was banned because of difficulties with policing those who didnít respect the tradition. The Boulevard stretched seven miles from one end of the valley to the other. All four lanes filled up with cruisers who spent the evening driving back and forth from Sherman Oaks to Pacoima like they were part of some sort of Mardi Gras for car freaks. If you ever saw the movie American Graffiti you have an idea of what Iím talking about. I could relate to this film because I lived it on a regular basis, only I never saw Suzanne Somers waving at me from a T-Bird.
Wednesday night was considered to be club night on the boulevard. Every group claimed their own turf. The surfers parked their Woodys at Jack in the Box, the Low Riders packed the Pep Boys parking lot, preppieís crowded around Bobís Big Boy and the Hellís Angels lined up their choppers at June Ellenís Donut Shop where the Boulevard ended at Ventura in Sherman Oaks. Traffic was always bumper to bumper with all kinds of cherried out cars, vans and trucks, some raised high, others lowered to the ground. Then there were the kids who were too young to drive. Theyíd cruise the crowded sidewalks on foot. Thatís what my buddies and I were doing when we were accosted by an Angel. Itís true, Iím not kidding.
This fellow by the name of Stan Angel came out of nowhere and started sharing Christ with us. It was the first time I had ever heard a gospel presentation. I believed every word Stan said, I truly did. He totally convinced me I was a sinner and he didnít even need a little stick drawing of a chair inside a circle to do it. I canít speak for my buddies but when Stan led us in the sinnerís prayer I truly meant it. Do you remember the story of when Jesus told that Rich Young Ruler to get rid of all his earthly possessions and follow Him? I was right there, believe me. I didnít have any material belongings of worth but Iím sure I would have left them all if I did. I would have followed Jesus I just know it. I also know I would have lasted only a few short blocks before turning back with my tail between my legs. Not that I wasnít sincere when I took up after Jesus, I just had no idea the road was going to be so rough.
The beginning of my journey went pretty smooth. Stan introduced us to a Christian coffee house on the boulevard. I never realized such a place existed but it was always packed, unlike the topless joint next door. From time to time the pitiful patrons from the peep show would venture over in an attempt to die to the flesh and a few of them even got saved. The Mustard Seed became home to a lot of freaky folks. It was a place where misfits like me found acceptance. The people were genuine, they all loved Jesus and I was one of them. I didnít find out until many years later that I had been part of a movement - the Jesus Movement. Itís true! A picture in a Jesus People news rag shows me in a crowd of fanatics marching a seventeen-mile stretch from Van Nuys Boulevard all the way to the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. Arthur Blessit led the pack, carrying a huge wooden cross every step of the way. I even held a sign! It said ĎOne Way!í in big, bold letters. I also passed out little red stickers with happy faces that said, ĎSmile God Loves You!í These are things you donít do unless you are radically saved, right?
But in spite of my acts of commitment I didnít stick with it. My faith faded out with the Jesus Movement. Not because the movement ceased to be cool, I just hit too many bumps and finally got sick of it. Some might point to this as evidence I was never saved at all. They would argue that I was the seed which never fell on fertile ground. I would have to say, ďTrue!Ē The soil wasnít cultivated very well, I admit it. But does this mean I was never saved? I have studied the Parable of the Soils and here is what I see: The seed which never hit the dirt and landed on the wayside was quickly swept up by the enemy. This is the person who all-out rejects the gospel, he was never saved nor was he ever interested in salvation. I didnít fall into that category though. There was also the seed which fell on fertile soil (Iím jumping ahead here, I know.) and this is the guy who receives the Word gladly and bears much fruit. Definitely saved! But there are those other two categories in between: seeds which fall upon rocky soil and get fried out (me), then there are seeds which fall in thistles and get choked out. But it is never suggested that they arenít saved or lose their salvation. Jesus simply states that the one who fries out falls away and the one who gets choked out is unfruitful.
Though Jesus never stated that the Ďfriedí or Ďchokedí were never saved, He never ruled it out either. Letís face it; there are those that get on the Christian bandwagon who are insincere from the get-go. And for some, their decision is nothing more than an emotional response to an altar call given by some charismatic super stud with an Elvis jacket. Maybe some were drunk as a skunk at the time. But the fact of the matter is, not everyone who falls from the faith fits into the Ďnever savedí category. There are sincere people who become believers only to fall away or get choked out by the world. But we donít have the wisdom to decide whoís who or which is which; weíre simply called to accept people where they are. Iíve learned these valuable lessons from Jesusí parable: First, salvation is Godís work, which He accomplishes through the hearing of His Word. Secondly, some believers are more fruitful than others. Finally, God hasnít put us on fruit patrol or called us to determine who is truly saved and who is not. Weíre to cast seeds, not stones.
I believe these lessons are both biblical and practical. I further believe that each of us should judge the sincerity of our own heart and the genuineness of our own faith. Personally, I needed to explore why I became fruitless and why I fried out and fell away. I needed to look at the man in the mirror, not to tear down or criticize myself, but as a necessary precaution to insure against falling again. I can summarize why I fell in one sentence: I didnít press into Jesus. I pressed into many good things, mind you. There were a lot of well meaning people around telling me to get into church, get into Sunday school and get into Christian service. However, if there was any voice encouraging me to get into Jesus, I did not hear it. This presents an even more searching question: What exactly did I fall away from? Was it from religion or a relationship? If I have learned anything from Jesusí discourse of the vine and the branches it is this: our lives can only be fruitful when we are abiding in Christ (Read John 15). Fruitfulness is not a product of religious deeds. The bottom line is this: if you are not abiding in Jesus you will fall. One of the enemyís greatest lies is that we can avoid such tragedies by clinging to the church or other religious stuff. It seems the right way to go but unless we are clinging to Jesus daily, a fall is inevitable. Our Lord taught ďWithout me you can do nothing.Ē (See John 15:5) The only way to remain standing is to cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ each day. I did not. I failed to spend any time with Him whatsoever. I was busy doing a lot of stuff like marching and attending services but private worship was not a part of my early Christian experience. So, I fell.
Although I drifted pretty far from God in those lost days I see now that His hand was always on me. He refused to let me get away from Him completely. Before checking out on the Lord I spent about a year of getting acquainted with Him. There was a root or two dangling in fertile soil when I fell into the mire, just enough for God to pull me back. And pull He did, for seven excruciating years.
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Thank you so much for sharing this. God NEVER forgets a decision to accept Jesus....and HE obviously did not forget you. Sometimes we have to come to the end of ourselves and just surrender all to HIM...even those who have been believers for years, have fallen and been restored. I do very much agree that when a person makes the decision to accept JESUS they should be encouraged to get acquainted with HIM personally, sometimes it is through Sunday School, Church attendance...these are helps, but that one on one is the bottom line. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the WORD of GOD. GOD BLESS YOU