Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Spiritual Birthday

I miss my friend, Rick Rakes. He's been gone now for more than three years. He was known to those of us in the Huntington East High School Class of '68 as "Ricky". I didn't know him real well back in those days, but got to know him well about 10 years ago, when God brought us together after all those years.

Rick served as chairman of the pastor search committee that brought me to Westmoreland Baptist Church. In the years that followed, we grew very close. Cancer took him from us far too soon, but I cherish many memories of Rick and our time together at WBC. He served as Church Treasurer and as a Deacon. I think of him often.

I especially remember Rick today. This is the day that I could always count on receiving a birthday card from Rick. He did it every year!

Now, to family and friends who know me well, I know you are probably thinking, "Your birthday is in October." It's true that I celebrate my first birthday eleven days before Halloween, but March 15th is my second birthday. That is the day I experienced the New Birth.

I was born the first time about 2:00 AM on October 20, 1950 in Holden, WV. My name was duly recorded in the clerk's office at the Logan County Courthouse and the West Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics. The Adkins and Stidham families rejoiced when Caudle and Patsy's first son came into the family. I was there, of course, that night, but I don't remember a thing about it, other than what I have been told.

My second birth also came in the wee hours of the morning. It was March 15, 1969. Mom and Dad happened to be there also that night, and I remember everything about it. There was no note taken at the Cabell County Courthouse that night, but that was the night that my name was written down in "the Court House in Glory"!

I had grown up a PK (Preacher's Kid) and had been going to church since 9 months before I ever saw the light of day. I knew many of the songs in the hymnal from memory, and could repeat details of numerous Bible stories I had heard for the past 19 years. I had the Sunday School faithful attendance pin, knew most of the "spiritual jargon", and had even been baptized by my dad and my grandfather in the Ohio River - but I was lost.

"Lost" is not a word we use in church much anymore, but it is one of the most accurate adjectives there is to describe my spiritual condition. I had been a church member since age eleven, but sadly, I had no personal relationship with God. My life was very busy. It was my Freshman year at Marshall University. My time was spent revolving around music, liberal political causes, school work (Poly Sci major) , writing poetry, and, of course, girls! I worked as an assistant manager at a fast food restaurant, and there were just not enough hours in the day. I was in my prime, and I was going to enjoy every ounce of life.

But in quiet times, I knew I was lost. There was a void in my life, which nothing seemed to fit or fill, no matter how hard I tried. And I did try! But late at night, the emptiness would hit home, and my inner being ached for something more, something with meaning.

Perhaps that is why God waited till 2:00AM to be able to get my attention. I was dead tired from the long day of school, work, and dating, but instead of being asleep before my head hit the pillow, (my usual late night condition) sleep fled from me that night.

Looking back, I realize that there was no great crisis, nor dramatic event that night which led me to think about spiritual things. But I could think of nothing else!

I lay there on my back in my bed, staring straight into the blackness of the night. Something was gnawing away at my spirit. I know now, that it was simply the Holy Spirit, dealing with my godless heart. He was doing his work of conviction, and I was feeling it full force.

In my mind's eye I saw the familiar picture of Christ on the cross. I'd seen variations of that depiction thousands of times, but for the first time I saw it in a new light. His eyes pierced my soul. Even though I knew the story by heart, for the first time ever it hit me. He did that for me. He died in my place! It should have been me on that cross.

Suddenly the scriptures I had heard all my life began rushing back to my memory. Concepts of Grace, Peace, Forgiveness and Love became vividly alive to me. It was Love in the eyes of Jesus that I saw that night. It was love beyond any I had ever known, and deeper than I could fathom. It broke me that night. It broke my heart that God could love me so much that He would give Himself as a ransom for me.

I went into mom and dad's bedroom, crying, and woke them. (must have scared them half to death) I asked them to pray with me, and they did. It had nothing to do with them praying, but everything to do with me trusting Jesus, turning from my way to His way, and receiving the peace that surpasses anything in this world. That night I was born again - born into the family of God. It sealed my eternal destiny, and changed the course of my earthly life from that day forward.

Was His Grace irresistible that night? I can't answer that for sure, but looking back over these past 43 years, I have to say that I'm not really sure that I could have resisted that pure love, and the powerful drawing of His Spirit.

I do know this... He is mine and I am His. I am loved. I am forgiven. I am a recipient of Grace so amazing. I have abundant life. I have eternal life. I have peace. My destiny is sure.

Today is my spiritual birthday. I am thankful for the first one, but without the second one, the first one would have not been worth anything of lasting value.

My old buddy Rick understood that. I miss not receiving his card today, but I glory in the thought that because of the second birth... I'll see him again one day... in the presence of our Lord.

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