My 41st birthday rolls around one month from Monday. My, how the time flies! Most of my Facebook friends will not send me a birthday message on that day because March 15, 1969 does not appear on my profile page. My Facebook profile shows my birth date to be in in 1950. So which is it?
The answer is, both!
I was born the first time on the 20th of October in 1950 (about 2:00 in the morning) the first grandson on both the Adkins and Stidham sides of my family. My name was recorded in the birth records of little Holden Hospital, and in the county records of Logan Co. WV, and subsequently in the West Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics. I don't remember a thing about it, but those who were there tell me there was much celebration in the communities of Dehue and Holden where the Adkinses and the Stidhams resided. Their tribes had increased!
Coincidentally, it was also about 2:00 AM, when I was born the SECOND time, in the back bedroom of Mom and Dad's house on Gallaher Street in Huntington, WV. The date was March 15, 1969, and unlike the first birth, I remember this one like it was yesterday. My new birth was recorded in the "Book of Life" at the "Courthouse in Glory", and according to the Bible, there was some kind of party thrown in Heaven. Angels rejoiced at the news of my new birth! (Luke 15:10) The Kingdom of Heaven had gained another subject.
I don't remember the first birthday, but I do the second. Without the first one, the second would have been impossible. Without the second one, the first wouldn't have been worth a plugged nickel. The first, made me a son and legal heir of Caudle Adkins Jr., a coal miner from Logan, WV. The second marked my adoption as a chosen child of Almighty God (John 1:12-13) and made me an heir of God, and a joint heir with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:14-17). The first birth gave me temporary life on this planet. The second gave me full, free, and abundant life on this earth (John 10:10), and everlasting life in the world to come (John 3:16). This abundant, eternal life, and personal relationship with God, comes only through faith in His Son. Not just a mental assent that there was a Jesus, but a single, clear conscious choice to rely fully on Him as Savior and Lord. The testimony of God's word seals the deal, "God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:11-13)
Have you had such an experience? Have you been "born again" or "born from above"?
The Bible tells us of the life changing moment experienced by Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Many of us have heard testimonies from other believers regarding dramatic conversion experiences. I confess to you that mine was hardly dramatic. No booming voice from Heaven. No earthquake. No lightning flash was involved. But the moment was as real, and powerful, and eternity altering as any "Damascus Road" experience. It is forever burned in my memory, and settled in Heaven, as the moment when I truly first began to live.
Allow me to share what happened to me on that night.
I had finished my shift as a curb boy at Wiggins Fifth Avenue Bar B Que that evening. It was a job I had taken when in high school, and was still working during my freshman year at Marshall University. We stopped taking orders at midnight on week nights, and by the time the lot was cleared, tables wiped down, rest rooms cleaned, dishes and windows washed, it was usually around 1:30 AM by the time I got home.
I was exceptionally tired. Too tired to even take a shower. After a full day of classes, and an eight hour shift of pounding the pavement and serving up Steakcheburgers and fries to a few hundred customers, all I wanted to do was fall into bed and sleep. I could clean up in the morning. So, still smelling of ketchup and Windex, I turned out the lights and lay down, exhausted, on top of the covers. But instead of simply immediately losing consciousness, as I normally would, I couldn't sleep. Unbeknown to me, I had a divine appointment scheduled.
Now keep in mind, I was a preacher's kid. I had been in church since nine months before I was born. I knew all the Bible stories and hymns. I had heard about Jesus all my life. In fact, at the age of 10, I had even come forward during a Vacation Bible School invitation. A group of believers had gathered around me and prayed, and I had cried like a baby. The pastor asked me if I felt better. Sure I did. You always feel better after a good cry. I was even baptized on Father's Day of 1961 by my Dad and Grandfather, and became a member of the church. Only one thing was missing. I had gone through all the motions, jumped through all the hoops, and did all the right things - but had not simply trusted Christ as my Savior.
Even though I knew the right words, and thought that I understood all the concepts, there was no change. Nothing had taken place in my life. It was simply an embracing of a religion that I knew ABOUT. Instead of a relationship, I simply had a religion. As the years passed and I grew older, it became increasingly more obvious to me that I was living a life of pretense. My slavery to sin increased as I grew into my teen aged years, and now, at age 18 and a freshman in college, I was simply going through the motions in church and in front of my family. A hypocrite, pure and simple, in my heart, I knew I was terribly lost. My life was miserable to say the least.
Then came that night in March of '69.
Lying there on my back, staring into the darkness of my bedroom, the Holy Spirit drew His work in my sad life to a crescendo.
In my mind, I began to picture Jesus on the Cross. You know the image. It was the well known, sanitized version we have all seen in multiple paintings, crucifixes, and Hollywood movies. But the picture began to change in my mind. It became more frightening, more brutal than I had ever noticed before. The sense of the suffering of Christ seemed to engulf me. The anguish and pain was etched on His face, visible through the flow of blood that ran down from the crown of thorns that had ripped the flesh on His brow. The image was more disturbing than any I had ever seen depicting His crucifixion.
The picture focused upon His face, and His eyes were looking right at me. They seemed to look right through me, and try as hard as I might, I could not look away. And for the first time in my life, I heard Him speak to me. He looked sadly into my eyes and said, "C.J. I am doing this for you. I am doing this BECAUSE of you. Your sin has nailed me here. Why do you reject my love for you?"
Was it an audible voice? No, of course not. But it was much louder than that. It reverberated, not in my ears, but the deepest recesses of my soul.
Like the prophet in Isaiah 6, I was "dissolved". My heart was broken. The vastness of my sin was before me in technicolor and I suddenly realized for the first time the enormity of what Jesus had done - for me! Suddenly the biblical words, which I had heard hundreds of times, became real to me:
"But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him. " (Isa 53:5-6)
Now, understand that I believed then (as I do now) in the reality of Hell. The Bible plainly tells us that it is a real place of torment and eternal separation from God for those who die in their sin. Jesus taught that it was a place to be avoided at all costs. But hear me on this! It was not the fear of a Devil's Hell that brought me to God that night! No. No. No! It was the enormous, overwhelming, unfathomable power of the Grace of God and the Love of Jesus that brought me to my face before Him.
I was so sorry for my sin. I was so ashamed of my life. I had trampled through the blood of my would be Savior for so many years that I cannot express the guilt and shame I experienced that night. I knew only this. I was lost. Unable to help myself. Carrying a burden and a spiritual weight that I could no longer bear.
Broken, I came to him.
I had nothing I could offer Him. No goodness. No merit. Worthless. Spiritually bankrupt.
But it didn't matter to Him. All that mattered was that He loved me and He wanted a relationship with me. So I did the only thing I could do. I repented. That means I made a 180 degree turn from my way to His way. I trusted Him to do for me what I could not do for myself. I asked His forgiveness, and He GAVE it! (Jn. 6:37) The burden was lifted (Matt. 11:30). The guilt was gone (Rom 8:1) . My sin was covered (1 Jn. 2:2) . I was alive for the first time in my 18years! (Rom 8:10-11)
My son asked me recently, to write about the three or four most memorable spiritual experiences in my life. March 15, 1969 has to be number 1. Now, nearly 41 years later, I understand it much better than I did that night. However, it all boils down to what the Apostle wrote in 2 Cor. 5:21 "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
My dear late friend and brother in Christ, Rick Rakes, used to send me a birthday card on March 15th. He is the only person who ever did that for me. I miss that now as much as I miss him. But birthday cards or not, of my two birthdays - THAT is the one that matters most!