Bob’s Testimony (Longer Version)

This is Bob’s longer testimony. For a shorter version, see here.

I was drawn to faith in Jesus Christ, partly through “UNSHACKLED!”, the radio ministry of Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. When I wrote to thank them, they asked me to submit my testimony for possible use as a radio program. This document is long, but aimed to give them more than enough details to work with. I also wrote it to help other Christians write their own testimonies to bless others. I give all glory to Jesus Christ who loves me and gave Himself for me.

The Early New York Years (1953–1976)

I grew up in Irvington, NY, a small village 20 miles north of midtown Manhattan. My family was loving and caring, yet little attention was given to God’s ways, word, or works. My mother saw that my brothers and I attended church and Sunday School on a semi-regular basis, but until age 23 I did not understand that Almighty God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is a real person. Now I know that the God of the Bible is a divine person we all need to love and serve. I don’t remember doubting God’s existence or perfections, or thinking that I could ever work my way to Heaven by my own goodness. I was too realistic for that, but sadly I never gave much thought to God or being right with Him at all. I grew up in the selfish 1960s and foolishly felt that everything should revolve around me. Most thoughts I had of God were fuzzy, based upon my own imaginings, not on Scripture truth. Through my childhood, teens, and early twenties (even though I never knew it), my maternal grandparents were asking God to open my heart to trust Christ. Praise the Lord! He answered their prayers!

I always vaguely knew the facts about who Jesus is and what He came to do, in part through the great hymns of the church. I believed that Christ is the eternal Son of God, equal to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit in power and glory. I believed it, but didn’t fully understand. I knew that Christ came into the world over 2,000 years ago, adding a human nature to Himself, giving up none of His God-ness. I believed all along that He was perfectly sinless and kept God’s law from youth. Even His most vicious enemies admitted His innocence. I believed that He was crucified for His people’s wrong as a substitutionary sacrifice, suffering Hell’s equivalent in our place. Then He physically rose from the grave to live forever. I seldom doubted that these and all the events of Jesus’ life recorded in the Four Gospels are historically true. I knew that if I were there, I could have taken photographs of these realities. Yet, I never connected the dots or saw the relevance of these truths for me. They seemed like the remote history of George Washington defeating the British, or Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, or Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. I knew the events in Jesus’ life were true and factual, but so what? What did it have to do with me? I overlooked that Christ is the God who created all facts and who makes all facts meaningful. “For in Him we live and move and have our being….We are His offspring….and now He commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:28, 30)

As a child, I had a sensitive conscience which grieved me when I lied, stole, disobeyed my parents, or hurt others. I felt ashamed about my selfish thoughts, deeds, desires, interests, and concerns. As I grew older, I tried to ignore my conscience, but I couldn’t. It was like a loud voice within me, pronouncing me guilty. I couldn’t silence that screaming voice, so I learned to live with it.

I had no clearly defined purpose in life, but I was driven to achieve early success in business. Upon graduation from college, I had many job offers and went to work with KPMG, a huge international accounting firm. I was soon the youngest MBA and CPA on staff and the highest paid man on my level. I was ambitious to become a partner in the firm and was progressing toward that goal.

But I still felt empty. My accomplishments were not satisfying. God has made us for Himself and our hearts are restless until we rest ourselves on Him.

On Christmas 1975, a classmate from college gave me a Living Bible (paraphrase). I thought she was too religious and refused to discuss Christ with her, but the Scriptures spoke to me pointedly as I read them. Over several months, I read the entire Book and felt like the Lord was writing to me personally, as if I were the only man on earth. I didn’t understand all the Bible’s teaching. But I saw on every page, in an amazing and overwhelming way, that God is more real than I imagined. He is infinitely powerful, wise, true, and loving. He is so good and holy that He can’t tolerate people breaking His moral law, summarized in the Ten Commandments. This loving Heavenly Father was watching me all the time, in public and private, calling and expecting me to love Him and live for Him.

I gradually came to see that I was a lawbreaker in heart, mind, attitudes, and actions. I was doing what was right in my own eyes and ignoring God. My wrong living was rebellion against the Lord who made me and cared for me so generously. I saw that God demanded punishment for my transgressions against His love; He wasn’t going to let me or anyone else off the hook. The penalty is eternal suffering in Hell–a real place where Jesus says there’s weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. I didn’t want that for myself or anyone else. I was cut to the heart and saw that I was offending God our Father. He showed me that my guilt before Him was causing that screaming voice of conscience within me, and I saw myself standing before the Lord as a condemned man on eternity’s death row. I grew up ten miles from a maximum security prison in Ossining, NY, where they used the electric chair, so God’s role as Executioner was not foreign to me.

My great liability was not just a list of sins I had committed, but my total failure to love God my Maker and Master with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength and to truly love my neighbors in everyday life. I had it backwards! I was outwardly decent, but living for myself. I knew the good I ought to do, but I didn’t do it. I neglected my duty to care for poor, needy, and defenseless people, because they are precious people made in the Lord’s image. The Bible says that God must have first place in our lives, but I made no room for Him in my thoughts. Most often, I was selfish.

The Later New York Years and Conversion (1976-1979)

God, through the Scriptures, was telling me the bad news about myself, but thankfully in His word He spoke the good news as well! I read in the Bible and heard a radio preacher from Plano, TX explain Jesus’ words:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light. (Mt. 11:28–30 NLT)

This was the greatest news I’d ever heard! My sins against the Holy Father didn’t bar me from accepting Christ’s invitation. In another place, the Lord Jesus says, “I did not come to invite good people to turn to God. I came to invite sinners.” I saw, more and more clearly, that Christ came into the world to save and bless flawed and imperfect people like me.

As I read the Four Gospels, I saw Jesus pardoning people of all sorts—public criminals and private schemers, Jews and Gentiles, young and old. I reasoned that if He had pity on the Samaritan woman, the dying thief, and the Apostle Paul, He might have mercy on me. I noticed that Christ was only hard on Pharisees, who looked down their nose at others, who were hypocritical, hyper-critical, and judgmental, who were blind to their own wrongs. They knew information about God and performed religious rituals, but they didn’t know Him in a saving, loving way.

I saw plainly that I needed to respond to Christ’s gracious offer. But how could I call on the Lord? Jesus walked on Earth centuries ago and now lives in Heaven–a real physical place. I was clear about that. But how could I come to Him by faith? These questions plagued me.

UNSHACKLED and McAuley Water Street Mission

In 1976, I stumbled upon Christian radio and enjoyed the testimonies on “UNSHACKLED!” I recall the testimony of Bill Drury who came to faith in Christ and then brought Jesus’ hope to teenage gang members in Philadelphia. After one “UNSHACKLED!” program, the speaker said, “If you want to know more about eternal life in Christ, call this number.” I jumped to my phone and called. Chaplain Theodore Woodruff at the McCauley Mission (now New York City Rescue Mission) answered. The mission brings Jesus’ good news to homeless people and ex-offenders, many with alcohol or drug problems. I knew that before the Lord I was inwardly the same as those people, desperately needing the Lord’s mercy. Christ the Savior was my only hope.

Over the phone, Chaplain Woodruff asked me if I knew that I was a sinner, that I grieved God and provoked Him to great anger, and that because of my lifetime of offending Him I deserved to be thrown into Hell. I admitted: “Yes.” Woodruff asked me if I saw any way to save myself from my sin problem. I confessed: “No, I needed God’s gracious help and mercy.” Woodruff asked if I believed that the Lord Jesus Christ, by His life, death, and resurrection could save me from all my trespasses. I said hopefully: “Yes. I do.” Then Woodruff urged me to turn from my wrong and selfishness, intending to put it behind me, and to entrust myself to Christ by faith, asking Him in prayer to be my Savior (to rescue and reconcile me) and my Lord (to defend and rule me). He made it sound so simple; it seemed too good to be true! Woodruff spent a lot of time with me and backed up all his statements with the Bible.

I prayed with Chaplain Woodruff over the telephone, believing that God heard me. After the phone call, nothing was outwardly different, but I felt like a new man from the inside out–ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven! Immediately, I sensed that I was accepted by God, because of Jesus, and at peace with Him. Now my zeal and ambition began to be re-directed, so that out of gratitude, I now wanted to please and serve God, instead of myself.

For months, Chaplain Woodruff tutored me using Bible correspondence studies, beginning with the Gospel of John, until I was settled in a biblical church. My attitude toward everything in life gradually changed as I learned more of God’s word. Joyful obedience to Christ became my chief goal, with my accounting career being my sphere of service. I now saw my work as a calling from the Lord. I still sought excellence in my field by helping clients, but now my motivation was different. I sought God’s glory and praise, rather than just my own personal advancement or gain. I was also eager to tell others what Christ had done for me. That came easily! I met rejection by friends, family members, and work associates, yet nothing quenched my zeal for sharing Jesus’ good news.

Shortly after my conversion, the Lord re-introduced me to a wonderful woman who I’d known since kindergarten. Our fathers even went to school together. She had been converted to Christ during high school. We began dating in 1977 and married in 1979. We joined the Old Dutch Church of Sleepy Hollow, NY and grew spiritually under the steady and faithful shepherding of Rev. Gerald Vander Hart.

The Philadelphia Years (1979­–1995)

After several years of serving as a layman at the Old Dutch Church, the elders and members encouraged me to study for pastoral ministry at Westminister Seminary in Philadelphia. At Westminster, I learned how to interpret the whole Bible in a Christ-centered way and how to live all of life in gratitude to Christ. Jesus delivered us from our misery by His grace, without any merit of our own. And because Christ redeemed us by His blood, He is also restoring us by His Holy Spirit into His image, so that with our whole lives we may show that we are thankful to God for all His benefits. I learned that Jesus is to be praised through the way we live, so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ and follow Him also. My professor and friend, Dr. John H. Skilton, impressed on me these Scriptures:

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7–11)

Dr. Skilton modeled Christ-like service through his loving example, his cross-cultural ministry, his nursing home work, his care for immigrants and orphans, and his bringing Jesus’ good news wherever he could, especially to “underdogs” and overlooked people. I wanted to do the same.

While still a seminary student and after graduation, I served a mission church from 1980 to 1989. We were able to reach hundreds of people with solid biblical teaching, counseling, evangelism, diaconal work, and mentoring seminary students. However, an enduring church was not established. After that experience, I returned to public accounting with a firm near Philadelphia. This “tent-making” provided for my family’s economic needs and I served part-time with churches in the area.

The Houston Years (1995–Present)

In 1995, God led me to a church in Houston, where I served happily until 2008 as pastor. I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could! This really is still a land of opportunity. For most of this time, I was the solo pastor: preaching and leading worship at morning and evening services, teaching adult education classes and Bible studies, training elders and deacons, and doing outreach and evangelism. It was my happy privilege to pray regularly for members, regular attenders, and others, and to provide pastoral care, counseling, visitation, and hospitality to people all over Greater Houston. I especially enjoyed serving and working with many international people from Australia, China, Columbia, Egypt, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Philippines, South Africa, Wales, and beyond. This helped me to love, respect, and gain skills in working with people from very different social, political, and religious backgrounds than my own.

In 2008, I re-started Words of Hope, building upon my prior training and experience. We bring Bible teaching and counseling to unloved, untaught, unsaved, and unchurched people who fall through the cracks and bring them Jesus’ hope through word and deed. I taught college classes at Belhaven University and Windsor Village Methodist Campus and do cross-cultural ministry with African-Americans, Hispanics, Chinese, and Koreans here. I led a pastor’s conference in Eldoret, Kenya under Global Field Evangelism and teach and mentor at two prisons nearby. I have been trained as a volunteer law enforcement chaplain to serve police officers, their families, and the community. With tensions rising in the post-Ferguson era, peacemaking in Jesus’ name is now needed more than ever.

My Christian life has had ups and downs, failures and successes, but God has done and is continuing to do His transforming work in me. He has given me a new heart and a new way of life that flows from that. He has put His Holy Spirit in me who enables me more and more to put sin to death in myself and to be alive to practical righteousness—following Jesus. My lapses into wrong words, thoughts, and deeds grieve me more now than ever, but I keep on running back to Christ by faith, for pardon, cleansing, and empowering. Like King David, I say: “I cling to you; your strong right hand holds me securely.” (Psalm 63:8)

In the Old Dutch Church, where I was married and first preached, a brass bell hangs in the steeple. The bell was cast in Holland in 1685 and is engraved with Romans 8:31: “Since God is for us, who can be against us?” God the Father proved His love by giving His Son. God the Son and God the Spirit are on our side also—saving, helping, keeping, loving us to the end. God is making all things work for His glory and our good. Like Jacob the Patriarch, we sometimes feel that, “Everything is going against me!” (Gen 42:36), while the Lord actually makes everything work for us.

Warren Wiersbe reminds: “We need to begin each new day realizing that God is for us. There is no need to fear, for our loving Father desires only the best for His children, even if we must go through trials to receive His best.” Jesus says, “For I know what I have planned for you. I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you. I have plans to give you a future filled with hope.” (Jer 29:11 NET)

I love God my Father and His Son (who is my Prophet, Priest, and King) and His Spirit (who is my Counselor and Comforter). Pleasing the Lord is my greatest delight and offending Him is my greatest dread. Scripture reminds us: “Christ died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15) I have received so much from the Lord; I know that much is required of me. Love amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all! I pray that God who began a good work in me will carry it on to completion until Christ’s return.

What about you, my friend? Will you repent of your sins and trust the Lord Jesus for salvation and daily living? Will you also respond to His words?

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light. (Mt. 11:28–30 NLT)

May God help you come to Christ and follow Him forever! Or at least help you learn more about Jesus and consider His claims and promises.