The following is the written testimony of my brother in Christ, my friend, Jerry Gibbons, who recently went to be with the Lord. I know he is celebrating now, and we will take good care of those he left behind, until we can all join him, Praising God face to face.
Jerry Gibbons - WITNESSING FOR CHRISTIANITY - MY STORY 2019.02.28
DEVELOPING A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS
WHAT IS CHRISTIANITY ABOUT? WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO ME, TO EVERYONE? WHO SAYS?
- Christianity is a belief system. It is a lifestyle. It involves the accepting that Jesus came to earth to seek and save the lost.
- God, the Father, established the rules by which everything functions. When He established a relationship with the Jewish people, He told them that He would be their God and they His people. He established a system of feasts, festivals, and sacrifices to honor, celebrate, make atonement for sins, and worship God so that the people could better function as members of His followers, the body.
- Millenia later, God sent His Son to earth to establish a new order wherein Jesus became the teacher, the savior, and, ultimately, the sacrifice, through his death on the cross, that the sins of all mankind, present and future, could be forgiven, wiped clean.
- If one could just acquire enough knowledge of Him to come to believe in just who He is, what He has done, how He died for us, and then to make the invitation to Him to be Lord and Savior of our lives, all our sins could be forgiven. We would then meet the standard by which God will write our names in the Book of Life. Only those deemed sinless will find their names there. Who can be sinless? None of us, for sure. Only Jesus lived a sinless life here on earth. BUT, we can have our sins forgiven, wiped away by making the all-important choice to invite Him into your life.
- Jesus is the Redeemer. Through Him you may be redeemed, your sins forgiven. Inviting him into your life to be your Lord and Savior is THE pathway to Heaven. He is one part of the Triune God. That is, He is the Son of God, the Father. The third person in the Holy Trinity is the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost).
The authority for all the forgoing is Jesus, Himself. His words, explanations, directions are summarized in the Book of John, Chapter 3. When I reference the Bible herein, I will be using the New American Standard Version. I choose it because it reads easily in modern English (unlike the King James Version with its Middle English thees, thys, thous, shalts, verilies, etc.).
John 3:3 “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Here Jesus speaks of that moment of the ending, or death, of a person’s old life before becoming a believer, and his rebirth as a new person, forgiven of sin, with the assurance that when the time comes, Heaven awaits.
Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.”
This speaks of the forever situation wherein Jesus is always extending the request to be allowed into your heart. He may give you gentle nudges, he may tap ever so lightly on your awareness, he may send messages to you through people, signs, books, sermons.
He waits, patiently. If you decide to open the door and invite Him in, He will become part of your life. How do you invite Him in? This is not cast in stone, but a common and widely used method is a prayer of invitation (often referred to as the “sinner’s prayer” because it involves a “sinner” praying for forgiveness of sins, past, present, and for all time and inviting Jesus to become that person’s Lord and Savior.
Rom 10:17 “so faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”
How does one learn enough about Jesus to believe He is whom He says He is and that trusting in Him as one’s savior will lead to you going to Heaven one day? The book of Romans in the Holy Bible says your faith develops from hearing the story of Jesus, and that story is in the Word, the Holy Bible.
For instance, one can go to any good church that actually teaches salvation, offers the opportunity to pray the prayer of invitation, shares Jesus’ story of life, death by ritual sacrifice, and ascension to Heaven after many days.
Or one might read the Bible (not so easy on your own, but made much easier if using one of the many student bibles available which guide, teach, and interpret the contents).
Most people find the opportunity to pray for salvation in a church. Another way for many thousands was to attend a crusade hosted by Rev. Billy Graham – Come, just as you are, right now, start walking. Join me at the foot of the cross and pray with me. People are coming from all over the (building/stadium/church). Keep coming. There’s still time… I love my memories of those video snippets, of all those hundreds of thousands of people being reborn, being saved from eternal damnation, being given the gift of eternal life with Jesus in Heaven, forever and ever…and ever.
My daughter, Heather, became familiar with the prayer through her friend and one evening, in the privacy of her own bedroom, prayed that prayer and it happened, just as surely and as thoroughly as in any church or crusade. She was saved.
MY STORY -
My life and my quite long journey to finding a path to a direct relationship with Jesus -
Being a Christian is far from the only thing in my life, but I can assure you it’s easily the most important. I do know to really appreciate just what that means, you have to do it yourself.
Let’s go back to my childhood: I was exposed to “religion” just a relatively little as a child. My father was Catholic, my mother Episcopalian. Neither attended church during my lifetime. They were only in any to attend a wedding or funeral.
There was a period of a few years when I was perhaps nine to eleven when my mother used to get me ready and send me off to the Salvation Army Sunday service bringing my little sister. We had not a penny to contribute to their organization or to spend on the way to or from there. This was in the little town (10,000) of Oskaloosa, Iowa in the 1952 to 1954 period.
By the way, I was conceived there in Oskaloosa, born in Watts, California December 10, 1942 (one year and three days after Pearl Harbor was bombed bringing us into World War II). My father had gone out there looking for work which he had heard was plentiful and well-paying.
As an aside, my father walked a block over from our street to the street which led to the highway leaving town, heading west. He stuck out his thumb, watched the first car pass, then the second car stopped. “Where you goin’?”, the driver said. “California”, my father answered. “Me, too. Get in.” the driver said.
My father tossed his simple suitcase in the back and off they went. He had thought to go to Oakland in northern Cal, but that man was heading for LA, which was close enough (and a happy event, as far as I’m concerned, because I did much of my growing up in the Los Angeles area, though most of the family did return to Iowa for the 1949-1956 period).
Dad slept in the car while the driver stayed in motels. This was in the February/March time frame. Brrrrr. He stayed very close to the car, leaving only to go to gas station bathrooms, lest the driver be encouraged to leave him. He KNEW just how fortunate he had been to find this incredible ride.
And so, when they could afford to make the move, our parents established their home in nearby South Gate where I spent most of my youth.
Back to my journey: After my visits to “church” during my 9, 10, 11 period, I had a bit of a taste for the old standard, traditional hymns, and held a definite respect for religion in general, though no conviction regarding any of the tenets of that or any church. Over the years, I came to hold that Jesus was a respectable character, but just one of such as Mohammed, Buddha, and others.
It came to pass that I graduated from high school with honors. I had been on an Academic program (majors in math, science, and foreign language (Latin) and all this helped me when I joined the U.S. Navy six weeks later. They administer a battery of tests to see for what you might be qualified and best suited. I had requested aviation and they sent me to Memphis, TN for nine months to attend avionics (aviation electronics) schooling.
During my three years, four months Navy service as a sort of electronic technician (Aviation Fire Control technician – Bomb Director, Second Class – that’s a bombing system tech) on Guam, the Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong, and off Vietnam aboard an aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger, CVA-61, I sometimes attended Mass at Catholic services. I considered that we were a Catholic family (as did my three older brothers during their service in the Army, Navy/Marines, and Army, respectively). We all had “Catholic” stamped on our dog tags.
I liked my visits to Mass which were mostly in English, though, with three years of Latin, I was prepared to struggle through Medieval Latin as best I could. I learned little of the story of our religious history, nor Jesus’ story of his life, death and resurrection. Nor was I convicted to pursue any such teaching as I could remember having been exposed to by those erstwhile priests.
After the Navy, I fell into a job working in plastics making blow-molded things (tanks, jugs, toy horns into which you could blow) for six months.
Eventually we moved from the LA area to Vista, near Camp Pendleton. That is from where my Marine brother was about to depart for Vietnam leaving his family with no nearby family for support. My parents and I moved down there together. However, they were unhappy and moved back about six months later. I had gone to work for Pacific Telephone, in the meantime, so I stayed there. No church activity during any of this time.
After three years of mostly telephone installation or repair and some frame work and switchman work, I was promoted to management as a computer programmer in San Francisco. I bounced around the company doing computer support, training (including a program I helped write in Madera for Native American students who then got jobs in telephone companies west of the Mississippi and in Alaska). I supervised technical clerks and directory assistance operators for some periods, and I worked in Piscatway, New Jersey for Bell Communications Research (Bellcore) on the development of a large computer system for engineering and planning managers helping to modernize and develop the communications network in the Bell Operating Companies.
During all these activities, I managed to visit 43 of the fifty states, having lived in Iowa, California, Washington, and New Jersey.
With considerable pressure from Pacific Telephone (now AT&T), I accepted an early retirement after 27 years and one month when I was forty-nine years old. That was is 1992.
Now, a few years before retirement, while I was living in Somerset, NJ, I was gifted of a Bible, and not just ANY Bible, as there are many such, mostly the various translations and specialty Bibles. This one was a Student Bible. The significance of this version is, there are lots of supplemental bits of information available to you as you read through. This includes an introductory section before each of the sixty-six books telling who wrote it, where, and something about why (to the extent known, or as believed by the authors). Good to know. Anyway, lots of other good stuff.
Now the truly special part for me was this particular student bible had the reading tracks. Over the years I made a little progress on my journey. I had attempted to sit and read the Bible cover to cover two or three times. I got a few books into it each time and my interest waned. After the first couple books, it gets somewhat boring to terribly boring for a while. One can profit from a better way.
Ta-da, comes the reading tracks of which I spoke…a lifesaver. They were near the front of that Bible and had three tracks. One gets you through an overview of the Bible in a couple weeks. This is great. Now you have the bones of the story. Then you go through reading track two to flesh out the story – all of some books, and at least some of all books. That bible is no longer in print and I have not been able to find another that has those wonderful training tracks…still looking.
When you finish that, you really feel as though you know the story of the Bible. Between one and two, it takes about six months reading at the pace they set for you, a whole or partial chapter of one or two in the old and the new testaments daily. I found that they left me hanging sometimes and I would read on to see how that part came out. Generally, I spent about a half hour to forty-five minutes per day. I usually did this at bedtime and came to look forward to my time in the Word.
The third track is the whole Bible, which I did not do at that time. I have since read the whole book within one year just one time (along with my daughter, Heather in 2016 as we talked and kept each other accountable). That is a worthwhile pursuit some time farther along your walk with the Lord, but not necessary to get you to the critical point – where you make your decision to invite Jesus into your life as your Lord and Savior.
A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE HOLY BIBLE
I really feel that it is useful to have an overview of the Bible before you start to read it.
The first five books of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, written by Moses, are the history of the Jews up to his time. Then comes the stories of the famous characters and events of those times and that period afterwards to a certain point in history.
Then there are the books of the prophets wherein they describe many events yet to come including the coming Messiah, the savior, whom they call by various names, but never that of Jesus, which is only revealed in the New Testament.
These are the only group of prophesies the world has ever known that have come true over the millennia (occasionally someone gets ONE right and mostly in very vague texts that might apply to many events and many time periods), These prophesies are still coming true today in this period which the Bible describes as the End Times in great detail.
It calls them the End Times because it is the end of the period that life goes on here as it has, and before Jesus returns to establish a new world and a new way where peace will reign for a thousand years under Jesus’ rule.
The New Testament starts as we switch from the Jewish history and traditions to the time of Jesus, His teachings and the events and story of Christianity which grows out of the Jewish base.
That is why we refer to all that as the “Judeo-Christian” belief system/teachings/books, etc.
The New Testament starts with four versions of Jesus’ life, teachings, and death on the cross, the Gospels, written by four of the Apostles: Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. They all address roughly the same time period, but are based on what each of them personally witnessed, so they are somewhat different.
The Apostles were Jesus’ first helpers, followers whom he trained to replace him in earthly functions one day.
The Bible follows with books of the events of the following years, primarily the epistles (letters written to various churches or personages of the time by important Christian characters, especially Saul whose Roman name was Paul.
The Bible ends with a book of prophesy, Revelation. This is the one we Christians follow closely as we have an abiding interest in its inclusions which lead up to the instantaneous removal of all Christian believers alive and still here at that moment, “in the twinkling of an eye”, caught up to meet Jesus in the clouds and be taken to Heaven.
We refer to this moment as “the rapture” and it will happen in a moment so brief that none will see it save for its results, that we are gone and where we were, there are none of us.
There will be empty homes, driverless cars crashing into each other and all that. A great deception will be released upon the remnant explaining what has become of us lest they know the truth and change the foreseen outcome of which God only knows and for which He has planned to fulfill His purposes on this Earth.
Now, for me, having earnestly read all that in a serious manner, I was pretty well educated in the basics, but still not moved to make that important decision. It is important to know that all three of my children had become Christians by this time. They would sometimes speak to me about all this, and be encouraging, but not at all demanding or pressuring. They all respect me and are respectful in how they treat me.
I began attending churches either with my children, or one brother, all of whom had longed since been “saved”, that is, become Christians so that their salvation was assured, so that they would spend their forever in Heaven (that is Life), as opposed to Hell (that is death).
A great truth you may already know, or you will, hopefully, come to know one day is that forever is for everybody, but where you spend that forever depends exclusively on whether you actually get exposed to the story of God, His son, Jesus, and how God sent Jesus to earth.
There He, Jesus, was to live in order that He might seek and save the lost, to share His story, to establish a new religion. Then, He was to actually die in ritual sacrifice, the purpose of which was so that God, His father, would accept this sacrifice as atonement and forgive all the sins of all mankind that have come to believe in Him and have actually made the decision to seek Him out and invite Him into their lives.
Then, having been exposed to that information, you may come to believe it. Rom 10:17 “so faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”. Having come to believe it, there must come a decision to make the invitation.
Take a serious note here: God hears all prayers. As far as I know, the only ones coming from non-Christians to which He actually LISTENS and RESPONDS, are those coming from people calling upon him to forgive them and be their Lord and Savior.
So I had read, I had pretty much come to believe, I guess. But I was still not willing to COMMIT.
Another story here: While attending a Foursquare Church service with my children in 1989, the pastor asked “with all eyes closed and all heads bowed” if there was anyone here who was interested in having Jesus in his life. I decided that included me, so I raised my hand.
Okay, I thought. Then, after the service, some sweet young lady, a friend of my kids, came up to me smiling and most seriously said, “Welcome to the family”, as she gave me a big hug. So much for all heads bowed and eyes closed, I thought.
After she left, I asked my kids why she had done that. They told me she thought I had been saved. No way, I told them. I had also been attending another church, Melodyland in Anaheim, where they actually all prayed the prayer of invitation to Jesus to come into our lives every Sunday, and had prayed it a number of times, knew what it meant, and had NOT meant it for myself then or at this moment.
Later while still at the church, we happened to have a moment with the pastor, my kids, and my ex-wife. Pastor mentioned that I had raised my hand in church in response to his invitation. “I know”, said my ex-wife who also attended that church. “Hmmmph, eyes closed…”, I thought.
I corrected the pastor saying that I had not meant my response as indicative of my becoming a Christian. I told him that I had been studying it all for six months and had come a long way, but was still short of being fully a believer ready to commit.
Then comes a really BIG moment for me. Pastor told me that there is no way that one can come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and the Bible through just reading it. One has to decide for him/herself, make a decision, then, REACH OUT IN FAITH and make the invitation.
I’ll sum up and shortly share a variation of that simple prayer of invitation for you to read to yourself.
*****PLEASE – It would be a very good thing for you to keep this document for yourself, or others for whom you care, remember where you can find it, and have it handy for the moment when you feel ready and want to use it.
Take another note here. It’s just one version. Anything similar will do. It’s your belief in the story of the Bible, and your commitment to trust in that story and in Jesus when you make your decision and actually make the prayer.
It may be comforting to know that God already knows just how you’re going to pray it and when and where. He’s just patiently waiting for YOU to be ready. Isn’t that a wonderful thing?
By the way, again, if you think God can’t know what you’re going to do before you even make up your OWN mind what your decision will be, consider this. When God was asked whom should one say is directing our actions here, he replied something like, what shall my name be? Say that “I am the great I am”.
Let that be a clue. He is not one who was or who will be something more or different one day. He, through His son, Jesus, created everything there is and there is nothing which he did not create.
God lives outside of his creation, including outside of time. That exists for puny people, animals, vegetables, planets, the heavens, and such. He created the rules by which all that exists, the positive and negative charges of sub-atomic particles, the speed of sound and light, the mass of matter, the latent power in atoms which we have figured out how to release through nuclear fission and fusion. When we say He is the same yesterday, today, and forever, well DUH! Of course, He IS. He just IS! ‘Nuff said.
After the Foursquare Church incident, I pondered all that for a few days. On Wednesday of that week, I made up my mind, finally. I would go forward that Sunday when they had their altar call (the praying of the invitational prayer) at Melodyland Church! Yay! Nothing happened to me then.
I told my brother and his wife what I was going to do that Sunday. They were thrilled and couldn’t wait. Nothing happened.
Sunday, July 2, 1989 came and I thought about what was going to happen that day. A thing: I really had no interest in what I had routinely observed when people professed to be coming to a belief in Jesus and had made the invitation seriously, for THEMSELVES. The pastor would invite all who had made their commitment to come forward to the foot of the cross. They were always blubbering all over the place and making quite a spectacle of themselves. “Not for ME!”, I vowed. Silly business. Unnecessary.
It came the time.
REPEAT AFTER ME. FATHER, I HAVE READ YOUR WORDS AND HAVE COME TO BELIEVE THAT THEY ARE TRUE. I KNOW THAT I AM A SINNER AND THAT I HAVE SINNED AGAINST YOU AND YOUR COMMANDMENTS. I AM NOT PROUD OF THAT. IT SHAMES ME. I ASK NOW FOR YOUR FORGIVENESS OF MY SINS AND THAT YOU WOULD BECOME LORD OF MY LIFE, THAT YOU WOULD SAVE ME FROM ETERNAL DAMNATION, AND, RATHER, TAKE ME INTO HEAVEN ONE DAY THAT I MIGHT SPEND ETERNITY THERE WITH YOU AND ALL THE OTHER BELIEVERS, FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN!
I sat there, excited, my heart full, my anticipation at the highest level. Nothing happened.
The pastor said, “Now if you prayed that prayer for yourself, I want you to stand up…”. I heard that part, too, and immediately stood up.
As I was standing up, I was engulfed with a powerful force, which felt as though I had been standing in the surf at the beach and was struck by a five-foot wave. What it did then was not throw me backwards, but washed right THROUGH me as the Holy Spirit entered me.
My legs began to buckle and I reached out to the seat in front of me to keep from falling. And I was BAWLING! OVERWHELMED! Uncontrollably so. And for a minute or two. I also noted that I had this amazing feeling of CLEANNESS, as though all the sins had been washed out of me leaving me pure as newly driven snow. And I felt lighter as though I could practically FLOAT. I thought about that later. I guessed it felt as though a twenty-five-pound sack had been lifted off my shoulders. I think that feeling must have subsided after several minutes. I’m not sure.
The pastor continued his direction, “…when I count to three. One, two, three. Stand up, right where you are.
Too late. I was done. I was saved. I was crying. I was a Christian. I knew what I knew and I knew that it was all REAL. It really is the truth.
I had received the miracle that all Christians receive, the miracle of salvation. HE LIVES. HE LOVES ME. HE WAITS FOR EACH OF US TO ASK FOR HIM AND HE HEARS OUR PRAYER AND RESPONDS AS SOON AS WE SOMEHOW COMMUNICATE IT (confess with our mouth, raise our hand in response to the question, stand up as directed, whatever. Then, BOOM! Holy cow!
AND I IMMEDIATELY WANTED THIS FOR EVERYONE FOR WHOM I CARED A GREAT DEAL. I was a zealot, a new Christian, someone to be feared and/or tolerated for my new, peculiar behavior.
The pastor continued - “As it is almost the fourth of July, we have hot dogs and refreshments waiting outside for you all to enjoy. We will not be doing baptisms today for those of you who just got saved. We’ll make arrangements later for that. We have some gifts to give you then.
I was really quite disappointed at this, as I had come to understand that that particular church offered baptisms immediately after their services so that the newly saved could honor the biblical direction to “believe and be baptized”.
Later for me would move from July 2,1989 to late December 31st of that same year when I would be back from New Jersey for Christmas vacation and would come and be baptized. I attended an evening service at Melodyland Church.
Well after midnight when Jan and Paul Croutch of Trinity Broadcasting Network walked off the plywood sheets on the baptismal spa and removed their cameras, as well, and the Power Team quit tearing up telephone books, breaking handcuffs, and blowing up hot water bottles on the stage, it was baptism time.
We Christians speak much about the shed blood of Jesus for us. We talk of his “stripes”, that is the horrific beating he took during his scourging by the Roman soldiers just prior to his death by crucifixion. We speak of the old rugged cross or the tree, that two-piece structure (Jesus would have carried just the cross piece to the place of his death just outside Jerusalem (Golgotha) alongside a busy road which was the usual place the soldiers chose for the greatest effect).
Rome used the cross to put to death in a very public way to make a powerful impression on the populace those who had most egregiously offended the Roman Empire. That is, any who might have offended the government, which is the Emperor, or any of the many lesser governmental/military figures who had some local power to proscribe such punishment.
As you read this, note that this is very real for Christians, and very important. I ask that you try to understand and be tolerant.
There it is, much of my story and a serious attempt to share with you a very brief overview of what Christianity and the Bible are all about so that you might develop some understanding of it and be encouraged to read it for yourselves if you have not already.
I hope this helps you along your path and that one day you, too, make that fateful decision, to believe that there is someone MUCH bigger than you out there, that He knows you already, that He loves you (truly He does), and He stands ready to forgive you ALL your sins (even those you have yet to commit) and give you your permanent, irrevocable pass into Heaven when one day you pass from this earth to your reward.
Doing nothing has a real and also irrevocable result…and it’s not good news. I want to be a help to you on your journey.
If you do have any interest in all this at this time, then you’re probably going to have questions. If you want to ask me about any of this, or just want to say “Hi!”, you may email me at: (EMAIL REMOVED SINCE NO LONGER ACTIVE) with your questions or comments. There could be tough ones that I’m not properly prepared to answer, but I’ll seek help and get back to you, or offer to refer you to a pastor who IS ready for such.
A note of caution: If you do get saved one day, it will be important to either continue or begin attending a good church before you find yourself being tempted in the wrong directions. It happens to new Christians.
You may, of course, attend ANY church that pleases you, definitely including the Catholic Church, and you likely wouldn’t be the only Christian there in the room, either.
From time to time, over the years, I’ve witnessed a pastor as he has asked the folks in that church how many of them used to be Catholic. Just glancing over the number who raise their hands, it always seems to me to be about 10-15% of the group. So apparently many Catholics eventually choose to move away from their church to one more in line with their current beliefs/feelings and that celebrates their status in a different way. I wouldn’t know how many stay, but I have been told by some that they really enjoy the routine, the participation, and their friends and family there and it works just fine for them.
It doesn’t really matter so very much because salvation, per Jesus, is a matter between you and Him. No church can offer that to you. You may take your salvation with you wherever you choose to go!
I personally go to the Fountain Christian Church of Visalia, on Chinowth just south of Goshen and a long block west of Demaree.
It’s good. I like it. It’s Bible-believing, small to medium in size. Our pastor is a young man, twenty-eight at this writing, Sam Sears, though the church (not this building) is over one hundred fifty years old. Visitors are welcome and can participate as much or as little as they choose. Communion is served every service and is open to all those who have invited Jesus into their hearts (been born again).
Singing of worship songs follows beginning activities and a few minutes of meet and greet. Then comes the sermon, closing prayer, and for those so inclined, free refreshments/snacks in the Gathering Place to the far left just before you exit the main doors (which are in the BACK of the building – haha).
Hey, maybe I’ll see you in church one day. That would be very pleasing to this old man.
Gerald C. “Jerry” Gibbons