Personal Testimony

My Life Before Christ

terry yolkFor forty years prior to 1996 I was a name-only Christian. Actually, by definition I was a skeptic. Although I did not deny God-the-Father, I did not know God-the-Son. But God-the-Spirit would come to work a mighty transformation in my life. I was Christened as a baby and confirmed in the faith as a thirteen-year old, but even though my paents mandated every-week Sunday school attendance for both me and my two younger brothers right up into our high school years, I never had a personal relationship with the Lord. That is, I neither had a personal prayer life (beyond rote “God is great and God is good; thank You for this food,” and “Now I lay me down to sleep; my soul to keep”). I certainly did not place my trust in Christ as LORD and Savior. I had absolutely no understanding of the need to ask for forgiveness for my rebellion against God.

I married my wife-to-be of forty-five+ years, who had been convicted in the LORD since the age of five. Spiritually, we were unequally yoked, although I had no notion of what that meant at the time. She settled for being a quiet witness to me as I would spend the next four decades as a happily married, loving and dutiful husband and father to our three children, but I never filled the role of spirtual leader in my home.

Entering my geological and paleontological major studies at Florida State University at age twenty-three after two years of military service, I quickly absorbed the prevalent secular evolutionary, Big Bang, and old-earth teaching of my professors. Worse, until more than thirty years later did I grow to reject  these theories which were essentially being taught as fact. For example, I well recall a specific moment a few months before graduation during a conversation with my best friend at FSU, who was also a geology major. It was then that we verbally shared with one another our total satisfaction with what our secular instructors had taught us concerning the beginning of life, the earth, and the universe.

How I Met Christ

Sometime during the Fall of 1996, at age fifty-eight, having wandered in spiritual darkness for forty years, I suddenly became overwhelmingly aware of a previously unsuspected missing element in my life. I was experiencing God’s prevenient grace, which is the grace God gives us before we are born. I literally cried out in the realization of a gaping hole in my life. I was confused by that because my life included a wonderful marriage, three children who gave us far more joy than problems, the best earning years of my life and the lowest golf handicap since my mid-twenties! If some survey group had asked me if I was a Christian I would have nodded in the affirmative, perhaps even  with a certain degree of indignation. By that I would have said I knew of Christ and his death on the cross. But what I did not believe is that He who knew no sin literally took on the weight of all of mankind’s sins in sacrificing Himself for me. Me!

Without fully realizing it I began searching for Truth. During that same time period I received several direct mail pieces from a nearby church; a church which I had driven past hundreds of times. They read: “Instead of watching Elvis reruns this Saturday evening, why not come and hear about the true King.” It went on to list what was being called “Saturday Sabbath” services, with the invitation to “Come as you are from the tennis court, golf course or back yard.” Have I mentioned that at the time I was playing a lot of golf? Several weeks later following my Saturday round of golf I went directly to the church expecting only to scratch my itch and be done with it. I was amazed that I knew the words to many of the hymns being sung, a forty-year carry-over from my childhood church days.

When I got home I excitedly shared my reaction with my wife, saying “I felt like I had come home!” I told her we needed to start attending church. She was thrilled. I was far from being saved, however, because I had an ulterior motive. I had just spent a year writing my second novel, The Foursome, which was a story of four random characters playing a casual golf match and arguing for their particular perspective on spirtiual faith.

I could not fathom why I (a skeptic) had initiallly decided that the make-up of the foursome was to include an atheist, an agnostic, and a Christian, in addition to a skeptic.  Anyway, after a year of writing I shelved the draft. It was terrible. Why wouldn’t it be? I had no difficulty writing fictional resumes of an atheist, an agnostic and a skeptic, but I was not capable of writing the fictional resume of a Christian. I questioned what I was doing, except for the story’s excellent potential  for conflict. Get this: My research for the definition of a believing Christian had rested with an encyclopedia! Thus it was hardly surprising that when I came across the “born-again” term my understanding was little better than that of Nicodemus’. In other words, I simply did not grasp its meaning.

Since we were now going to church and I had actually begun reading the Bible, I was really more motivated (or so I thought) for the purpose of research for the previously shelved manuscript. I began my reading with the book of Genesis. I got as far as chapter six, verse three, which reads:”The Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal.’” Surprisingly, the verse seemed to be speaking to me in the sense that for the first time in my life I understood that God was not going to wait indefinitely for me to come around from my rebellion against Him. What was I to make of that?

I began to actually wonder if life in this earthly body was all there was to life. Impatient as to what do do about all of that, I skipped ahead to the Gospels. But I could only get as far as Matthew 10:32-33 before my dumb-as-a-bag-of-hammers head  gained a heart-beat. I skated through verse 32, which reads, “Therefore, anyyone who will acknowledge Me before men I will acknowledge before My Father in heaven.”

I could not, however, escape being pierced by the indictment of verse 33, which reads: “But whoever disowns Me before men, I will also disown before My Father in heaven.” I felt God reaching out for me as tears began rolling down my face. (Every man dies, but not every man dies well.) How could I abide either such present failure or future punishment, much less missing the promise of eternal life in the presence of the Creator? I went to my knees in surrender. Several months later, on Christmas Day of 1996 and in my daughter’s and son-in-law’s home in Jacksonville, Florida, and with both my wife and mother present, I publicly accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior.

Even though I had accepted Christ, however, I did not fully realize what had happened. I thought I had somehow apprehended reason enough to change my mind, and that my heart had followed. In fact, it was quite the reverse: through God’s grace there had been a change in my heart. Faith then began bringing forth works. I would come to learn that the change in our own hearts is one of the most compelling evidences we can give of the Bible’s truth.

My Life With Christ

During each of the next two years I read entirely through the Bible, carefully studying Bible application notes and commentary. During that process the LORD graced and enabled my head, heart and mind in such a way that I was able to  finish writing ‘The Foursome.’  And not merely as a simple golf novel, but as a Christian aplogetic.

My marriage to Judy also blossomed from being merely a happy and faithful relationship to one of sharing a mutually deep joy and trust in the LORD. That lasted the remaining nine years of our marriage until her passing in September of 2005 from inoperative non-smoker’s lung cancer. Through our faith, the nineteen months I was privileged to serve her during her illness saw us thriving rather than merely surviving.

Unbeknownest to me at the time, Judy had prayed with her hospice nurse that I would find another Christian woman to be my wife. God answered her prayers as Helga and I later met as we were both serving in Stephen Ministry. We fell in love and were married in March of 2006. Helga and I are not only both involved in various church classes, activities and ministries, we are involved, together, in many of the same things, strengthening our relationship with one another as well as with the LORD, our God.

My walk with the LORD is the single most important thing in my life. Within a short time of beginning to seriously read and study the Bible I not only became an ardent opponent of the non-biblical thinking which had become rooted in me during my university years, but all of my subsequent books and newsletters came to sharply reflect my newly found biblical and evangelical beliefs.

I continue to benefit from sound theological teaching, including overcoming the initially difficult lesson that my salvation comes not from my own efforts or intelligence, but through revelation. As the brilliant German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, “Nothing is so at odds with prayer as vanity.”