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    Jesus Christ

Mine is a typical story

of a lost human being
who has been found,
saved and now wishes
only to be an instrument of
the Lord Jesus Christ's
love in this world.

This is how I got here.

I was raised in the Methodist Church and developed a strong believe in God through the efforts of my parents, my church leaders and most of all the influence of my two grandmothers.  They were polar opposites as far as personality but God shone brightly in each of their lives in their own unique ways.

Four other people in particular planted the Gospel seed within me that eventually took root.

"CACTUS JIM" a.k.a. DICK MOORE was the host
of an afternoon children’s TV show out of Quincy, IL, when I was a kid.  He was great!  He taught me to drink Prairie Farms milk (the sponsor, of course) and to "kink my pinky" when I drank it.  To this day, whenever I hold a glass of any kind, my pinky flies outward at a 45-degree angle in his honor.  One amazing Sunday morning “Cactus Jim” came to my church and shared his testimony.   I have never in my life been so riveted during a sermon!  What a joy that I located him and had the opportunity to know him 45 years later.  He was the first major non-relative who sowed Christ into my life.

NORMAN LITTLE was the man of the house next door, a Bible-thumping Southern Baptist who was extraordinarily zealous in his attempts to evangelize to me.  His method was to dangle me over Hell like a weinie (burn, baby, burn!)  in the hope I would accept Jesus in order to save myself from an eternal, fiery death.  Unfortunately, he came on so aggressively to this young, shy kid that instead of scaring me out of Hell he mostly just scared the Hell out of me!  But his words were planted and would blossom later.

BRIAN HOLT was my best friend between the time I met him and the day he moved away a year later.  He was a grade younger than I but there was just something about him that I loved.  He wore his faith on his sleeve every day and refused to be corrupted by my foul mouth or crude ways.  I admired his goodness of character and serenity and wished I could be like him.  Now, nearly 40 years later, I recognize I was seeing Jesus through Brian.  His influence on my life was of bedrock value.

REV. RALPH NAST of the First Baptist Church in Champaign, Illinois, touched my life in so many ways over the years.  He was my Grandmother Deem's pastor and every time I visited her I went to her church and crossed paths with Ralph.  I have never known a more Christ-like man and his kindnesses to me over the years were of such great import.  And it was his words from the pulpit that busted the dam of my resistance to Christ (more on that later).

Due to a less-than-ideal home life, I grew up a troubled fellow.  The situation took a serious turn for the worse as my parents divorced when I was 16 years old.  My life began an accelerating spiral into despair, culminating in an arrest for stealing and even jail time on weekends and nights for three months.  I was a classic picture of a young man who was building an outhouse on a concrete slab.

My life miraculously detoured one afternoon in December of 1977 when my dad asked me to join him to see a new Disney movie called Pete's Dragon.  I had watched television ads for that film and its combination of live action and animation was intriguing so I agreed to go.

We went, we watched, I was bored.  After it ended, I got up to go but Dad said he wanted to stay and watch it again.  This was in the days when one could do that sort of thing.  I grumbled but since he had the car keys I had little choice and sat back down again.

Somewhere during that second showing, the innate goodness of the people in the movie and the love the characters felt for each other touched something in my soul that had been dormant for years.  I found myself WANTING that kind of love in my life again.  When I left the theater I was a changed man although it would be eight years before I learned the reason why.  Back to this a bit later.

My life started turning around.  I gradually gave up the late nights, the hours playing pinball at a local eatery and the middle of the night eight-hour round trips to Metropolis, Illinois, for absolutely no reason at all.  I returned to the Boy Scout program as a leader and started giving back some of what the program had given me as a boy.  But I remained unchurched through this time.

In 1985 my world changed once again.  Grandmother Deem had become ill and it was determined that someone from the family would have to go live with her.  As the lone single member of the family in over a thousand miles, I was elected.  I must admit that it scared me to death--leaving home, starting over, having to take care of an elderly woman dying with cancer.  But there are occasions when one has to play the hand one is dealt and I knew this was one of those times.  I went.

I immediately joined her church and reconnected with Ralph Nast.  Before becoming a Baptist I first had to appear before the elders and share my Christian story.  That would have been far easier if I only had one!  The lady who joined at the same time told a glowing tale about being baptized in the River Jordan.   I was left to mumble a little dogma I learned from the Footprints in the Sand poem.  They let me in anyway!  I think they knew something I didn't!

The challenges of this new life were even more distressing than I had expected and I was becoming more and more terrified every day.  Then one Sunday that October, I was sitting in our usual pew next to my grandmother when Pastor Ralph started looking right at me as he said, "You need to understand this:  Jesus Christ died on the cross for you.  Just for you!"

His words pierced my heart.  I had encountered this kind of thing my whole life but today I truly heard them!  I finally wrapped my head around the truth of that statement.  And I knew what I had to do.

I was atypically quiet during Sunday dinner and left the house right afterward to seek a rendezvous with the living Christ.  I started driving and passed by a small wooded area sandwiched between two highways.  I thought about going there but a sign at the entrance said this was private property and that trespassers would be prosecuted.

I started to drive away and I have to say the resulting conviction on my soul was so deep I felt like I had King Kong sitting on my chest.  I completely understood that I was supposed to go back.   My trip to Christ was looking like it might lead me directly to jail without passing "Go" or collecting $200.00.

There was a pond at the center of the woods and I walked almost all the way around it, searching for whatever it is I was looking for.  Finally I came upon a fallen tree trunk large enough to sit on and I did so.  I read my Bible for a little while then began a chat with the Master of the Universe.

I had always known I needed to accept Jesus as my personal Saviour and I believed I was ready to do that.  I acknowledged to God that I was not able to bear up to the responsibilities I had taken on and that I was prepared to place my life in His hands.  

I waited.

I have heard many tales of the explosive, powerful Christian conversions that happen when this process takes place.  I felt in NOTHING!  As I sat there, I began entertaining thoughts I had never before experienced.  Was this all just some kind of cruel hoax?  Had I and all the wonderful people before me been the victims of a celestial sucker punch?

As I sat on that log, growing more dismal and morose with each passing moment, one sentence spoken to me by Norm Little so many years before popped back out at me.  "You have to be prepared to surrender your entire life to Christ--every single aspect of it."

So I started examining every facet of my life.  I thoroughly examined every activity, bad habit after bad habit, and agreed to surrender each to the will of Christ.  I got to the end of my list and I found myself becoming a bit irritated.

"What's going on," I asked out loud.  "I AM ready!"


It was as if a joy bomb had just exploded in my chest.  A radiating, atomic burst of pure love, a very real physical experience and one that was completely and totally unexplainable with human vocabulary.  This was proof--all the evidence I would ever need that Jesus Christ is real and that everything I had been told was true.  I started laughing and fell off the log into a patch of briar and did not mind in the least!

And God was not through with me this day. There was one more very personal revelation on the horizon.

The very first home video units were becoming popular and I had purchased one just before I moved.  I also bought my very first videotape and had paid $85.00 for it - Pete's Dragon (of course!)  But up until this point I had never watched it.  I had decided to save it for a special occasion.  Since I never had a more special day than this one, it was a perfect time to fire up the VHS player and enjoy that impactful movie again.

 Right in the middle of the film I found myself leaping out of my chair and staring at the screen in excitement.  It's star, Helen Reddy, was crooning the movie's signature tune Candle on the Water:

I'll be your candle on the water,
My love for you will always burn.
I know you're lost and drifting,
But the clouds are lifting.
Don't give up, you have somewhere to turn.

I'll be your candle on the water,
Till every wave is warm and bright.
My soul is there beside you,
Let this candle guide you.
Soon you'll see a glowing stream of light.

A cold and friendless tide has found you.
Don't let the stormy darkness pull you down.
I'll paint a ray of hope around you.
Circling in the air, lighted by a prayer.

I'll be your candle on the water,
This flame inside of me will grow.
Keep holding on, you'll make it.
Here's my hand so take it.
Look for me, reaching out to show,
As sure as rivers flow:
I'll never let you go!

The song had been written as a plea from a lonely lighthouse keeper to her sailor man lost at sea.

But for the first time, I finally understood why that movie had so touched my soul.  This was not the words from some lonely woman calling to her man--this was the voice of the Holy Father speaking directly to me!   My mind had never grasped their meaning before but the truth within had resonated in my spirit. In my deep despair, the Lord lowered a lifeline to me to pull me out of the darkness.  Before I ever went looking for Jesus, He was there reaching out to me!

To be sure there were others who invested in me along the way to my salvation.  Those I can remember as this is written would include Rev. Ron & Carolyn Colton, Rev. Wayne Armbrust and his daughter Nancy, Rev. Gary Motta, Charlie Runkel, Joan & Bob Leach, Jim Stefl, David Cox, Bob Keeshan (the immortal Captain Kangaroo!), Willard Cody, David Tiffany,
Deane Harmon (my aunt), my grandmothers Sylvia Deem and Gail Gilbert, Gary Kinnett (my brother) My mother Betty Sullivan and my father, Bill Deem.

The road from that day to this one has certainly had its share of bumps, potholes and craters but the joy of that hour has accompanied me along the way.  Even these current days are filled with challenges, pain and a sense of loss.  I know that even now in 2015 I am being pruned for God's great work that still lies before me.  It's sometimes hard to say I'm having fun.  I often have difficulty counting it all as joy.  But my hope is in Christ and my future bright!

Many are still lost and drifting and it is my greatest hope that Jesus will use me as His lifeline to any of those desperate souls I may encounter.