Every September I am reminded of the first day I attended church in my hometown of San Diego, CA. Even though it was several years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday.
I had just returned from my third season playing minor league baseball for the Texas Rangers in Savannah, Georgia. Although I had played baseball since the age of 8 that summer was unlike any other I had experienced on or off the field.
In June, My teammate Shaun Cheek invited me to attend Chapel by the Sea Baptist Church on Tybee Island. I wasn’t really interested but I went with him anyway. I tried to persuade him to take me to a place where I could get a drink but he politely insisted we attend church.
Before that evening I had attended church less than a handful of times in my 23 years. I was the product of a divorced home and well intentioned but distant parents. I cruised through the early years of my life on a positive attitude and uncanny ability to dodge trouble at every turn. However, by this time in my life I grew more empty everyday. When we entered the church I remember the formal atmosphere felt awkward but comforting. Then the Pastor stepped into the pulpit and addressed the small gathering from Psalm 23, commonly referred to as the Shepherd’s Psalm, for the first verse reads, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
What happened to me between the invocation and benediction is something that I cannot explain except to quote the words Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again. ’The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” That warm summer evening in that quaint church nestled beside the Atlantic Ocean the Great Shepherd brought me home. The next Sunday I was promptly given a Bible by my team’s Chapel Leader and announced to my teammates that I had placed my faith in Jesus Christ.
Now back in San Diego after a terrible second half to the season I remained hopeful because of my new found faith. Once again I entered a baptist church. The First Baptist Church of La Jolla was also nestled one block from another large body of water, the Pacific Ocean. This time the formal atmosphere felt familiar as I was greeted by the Elders of the Church. I proceeded to sit down and then looked toward the front of the sanctuary. There was a piano, beautiful foliage, the pulpit and two elder’s chairs. Then I looked up and saw the most beautiful image I had ever seen in my life; the unfettered California sun beaming through a stained glass window depicting our Lord carrying in His arms a resting lamb. It was at that moment I realized that the lamb in Jesus’ arms was me and immediately my heart warmed and I felt the presence of God.
Nearly twenty years later I now know that though I wasn’t searching for God He was searching for me and right now He is also searching for many people of whom you know and love. I encourage you to invite one of those stray lambs to your local church this week. Who knows, maybe another one of God’s precious lambs will be brought home by our Great Shepherd.
Since that time in Savannah, GA I continue to read God’s Word daily and give Him praise for saving my life from the power and penalty of sin. And now, everyday is an expression of Joy in the goodness, grace and mercy of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I currently live in San Diego, CA with my wife Shauna, sons Jacob and Wyatt, and my darling daughter Austyn Marie.