On Easter Sunday morning forty years ago I was not happy. Oh, it was a beautiful, cloudless day, and on the Oregon coast, that was rare. But I wasn’t interested in the weather. As a Deputy Sheriff, I had been up late the night before and I just wanted to sleep. But I was trapped. I had promised our 8 year old daughter that her mother and I would go to the little church where she went to Sunday school and watch her perform in an Easter play.
Unseen forces were at work against me. You see, a sweet little French woman baby-sat for us and asked permission to take our daughter Brenda and son Mark to Sunday school. We said yes, so every Sunday morning a little rattle-trap of a bus came to the house and the kids went somewhere, and then came home several hours later.
I wasn’t happy because I didn’t like churches and I didn’t like Christians. My sheriff and his wife were believers and I spent hours arguing with her, trying to disprove her beliefs. And Jesus: I looked on Him as an effeminate wimp.
We arrived at the little run-down, ancient church shortly before 11:00 AM. The parking lot was jammed and I considered this a good sign. I could sit in the back and no one would see or recognize me. The forces conspired against me again! The old wooden pews groaned under the weight of the people crammed into them. There was only one place we could get a seat. Yeah, you’re right, the front row. Yikes!
Oh, the people seemed nice enough; they smiled and shook our hands. As I looked around that rickety old church, I noticed it was held together in the middle by a large iron turnbuckle near the ceiling. A guy that must have been an usher kept pushing more and more people into the pews and it was really getting hot in the room. Being claustrophobic, I began to look for a way of escape, but every time I turned around people were smiling at me. Rats!
The little play was okay, the kids were cute. Brenda and Mark were wonderful (I thought). A choir sang a song or two, and then the congregation sang a hymn. I was too warm and uncomfortable in general and getting sleepy in particular. Then the trouble started.
A rather slight, balding, friendly looking man wearing a dark suit and glasses walked up to the podium. He began speaking softly, telling us that Easter was more than just a holiday we celebrate once a year. Easter was an event that made it possible for everyone on earth to have their sins forgiven. Sins? Me? I was a cop for pity sake! The unseen forces turned up the heat in the church; it was almost unbearable.
Now this man had a foreign accent and I was captivated by his English. I later learned his name was Ashley Day. He was the pastor and had only come to the United States from England a few years prior.
I had been tricked! I really liked listening to him. But shortly after he began to speak, he grew serious. He began to describe the agony that Jesus had suffered in the garden. He moved on to the beatings by the Roman guards, the taunting, and finally, the crown of thorns jammed into His skull. My sense of justice was offended by that. I worked in the jail and we would never treat a prisoner that way. He said the beatings were so severe His friends couldn’t recognize Him and they jerked His beard out by the roots. I know I was grimacing; I couldn’t possibly understand what that had felt like. Then he talked about the illegal trials, with the last one before the Roman governor. I understood trials. Next he moved to the scourging, where Jesus’ back was beaten raw with a cat-o-nine tail like whip. Flesh was ripped out and white bones exposed. This story of horror gripped my heart and I almost wept, but I felt men shouldn’t cry, and deputies sure don’t cry, so I held on.
Do you know what he said next? He said that Jesus was one of the strongest, bravest men that had ever lived. Most men died from such beatings, but Jesus didn’t. Then, ravaged by pain and the loss of blood, they made Him carry His cross up a hill where He was to be crucified. Then, this brave, strong, heroic man was nailed to a rough wooden cross, where He later died.
“Do you know why He went to the cross?” the pastor asked. Then those unseen forces turned the pastor’s head and he looked right at me, pointed a finger in my direction, and said, “He died for YOU, so you could live with Him in heaven forever.” I was stunned! I don’t remember ever hearing this story before that beautiful Sunday morning on the Oregon coast. I couldn’t get the picture of the man on the cross out of my mind. I also couldn’t understand that He went to that cross to save a man like me who had not believed in Him and had ridiculed those who did. I had to do something.
The following Tuesday I was on my way to work, which meant I had to drive by the church; now empty. I was compelled to turn into the gravel parking lot and sit there for a minute, trying to decide what to do. I had to go in and talk to this man, if he was there. I finally found him in a little office crunched along side of the old, white building. He greeted me as if I were a long lost friend. We talked for a few minutes, and then he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Lyle, when are you going to quit running?” I lied and said I never ran from anything, when in truth I had spent my whole life running from things.
“You know what I mean, running from the Lord Jesus. He loves you and gave His life for you. Why don’t you ask Him into your heart right now?” I said I thought I would like to do that, so this nice little man in a suit, and me in full uniform with my leather gun belt squeaking, knelt together and I asked Jesus into my heart. Nothing happened! No bells! No angelic choir. It took several hours for me to realize that I was different, inside.
The next day, Pastor Day came to our home, and my beautiful wife Darlene prayed for Christ to come into her life as well. In a few years God saved Darlene and I, our two wonderful children, my mother, and 5 of our 7 grandchildren.
Jesus and I have been together for forty years now. He has always been with me, and believe me, there were times when I have called out to Him in desperation and fear. He has never, ever, let me down. I am looking forward to “forever” with Him. I want to ask Him about the way He ganged up on me.
Think of the planning. A little old lady from France lived across the street from us in Rockaway, Oregon. She prayed for our family and got the kids to go to Sunday school. A bus came and picked them up (By the way, after we asked Jesus to live with us, the bus never ran again!) and took them to a little, ramshackle church, where a pastor from England was waiting with the only story that would ever get my attention: the story of the strongest and bravest man that ever lived! I don’t see a coincidence here, do you?
Lyle A. Way