At the age of 19, I thought I had it all: a girlfriend, a car, a surfboard and good grades in college. I was “sittin’ on top of the world” (The Beach Boys)
I was also partying, doing recreational drugs, and “losing my religion” (R.E.M.).
By the time I turned 20, I was “young, restless and bored” (Bob Seger) and “couldn’t get no satisfaction” (The Rolling Stones). I was empty, angry and unfulfilled (Psalm 107:4-18).
Sin will do that to you.
So, I began to cry out to God for help.
For nine months, I fell to my knees before going to bed every night and prayed the same prayer: “God, I don’t know you. But please, help!”
God heard my prayer. But he didn’t come to my rescue – not right away anyway. He loved me too much for that. He knew how conceited and self-centered I was and so he waited patiently for my self-inflicted pain to slowly break my pride and self-reliance.
Finally, a Disciple of Jesus in the Poway Church of Christ (later to become the San Diego Church of Christ) shared his faith with me and invited me to a Bible study – little knowing that God had tilled the soil of my heart and prepared me for just such an invitation.
I said yes, studied the Bible with him, and three months later repented and was baptized into Christ.
It was the turning point of my life and I changed radically.
Looking back on it, the nine months of writhing in emotional pain in the pit of despair crushed a lot of the conceit and arrogance out of me. But not all of it.
Conversion is just the beginning of our journey – not the end. And after almost 40 years on this path, I’ve learned that our pride is so deeply rooted in our character that it takes a lifetime to root it out – over and over and over again…
Which leads me to her…
About a year and a half after being a Disciple, I met the girl of my dreams at church: Lisa Ann Cornelius. She was beautiful, smart and spiritual. So, we dated for a couple of years and it seemed to be heading for marriage once we graduated.
But we were both pretty stubborn at times, and so we argued quite a bit in our relationship – to the point where I began to wonder if maybe we were not right for each other – which I mentioned to her on one of our dates.
A few days later, she wrote me a card that would change my life forever.
She said, “I know you are thinking about the future of our relationship. But I just want you to know that whatever you decide, I will always love you.”
Those words touched something deep inside of me. They simultaneously convicted me and drew me to her like I had never been drawn to anyone else in my life.
It hit me that she loved me so unconditionally. And her unconditional love for me exposed my conditional love for her.
Her love won my heart. And the new song of my heart was “The Search is Over”, by Survivor (which I played for her when I asked her to marry me).
This week, we celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary. And I can honestly say that marrying her was the second-best decision of my life; the first being my decision to follow Christ.
I loved Lisa because she first loved me. Now I love her for many more reasons; but her love for me is what first won my heart.
And it’s the same with God.
1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.”
I loved God because he first loved me. Now I love him for many more reasons; but his love for me is what first won my heart.
Jesus’ unconditional love for someone as unworthy as me simultaneously convicts and draws me to him – just like Lisa’s love for me.
So, this week, I’m grateful for the two greatest loves in my life: Jesus and Lisa.
Both of them won my heart with unconditional love.
And I’ve never regretted my decision to respond in love and faithfulness to both of them.
Let unconditional love win your heart – over and over again.
It’s the best decision you’ll ever make.