How I Saw Heaven Opened, Was Born Again, And Finally Stopped Shoplifting
Two weeks ago I shared the story of How I Found Out That God Exists. Then last week I shared about How I Started To Stop Stealing. Here is the rest of the story—how I finally stopped stealing completely and was born-again.
Circle K Camp
When I was ten years old, I went to a Christian camp for children and teenagers called Circle K.
My grandmother paid my way. I really didn’t want to go, but my parents made me. However, it was a wonderful place when I went! The people who ran that camp were the funnest people I had ever met, and they were overflowing with the love of God! It seemed that their faces were glowing with love and kindness. I remember how much it meant to me that one of the ladies who led the camp, Vicky, remembered my name. I didn’t think she would so readily know my name among so many other kids.
The day and night were full of fun activities, rough games, swimming, capture the flag, big shaving cream fights, and more. I also found out that I was really good at foosball! There were morning and evening chapel meetings. We sang praise and worship songs, and then Vicky’s husband Bob preached to us. After every morning chapel meeting, we all went to sit at a spot in the woods for 15 minutes to read our Bibles.
Touched By The Gospel And By God’s Love
I loved this place. I loved sitting in the woods reading my Bible and going to chapel. I felt a level of peace I had never experienced. The joy that these people had was contagious.
At night, Bob preached about how Jesus suffered and died a horrible death to deal with our sin so that we could have peace with God. I remember children weeping, deciding to give their lives to Christ. I felt the glory of God and it was like heaven to me. The message of the gospel touched my heart in a way it never had before, and I decided that I wanted to give my life to Jesus.
My cabin counselor was a friendly guy named Mike. He was soon to leave as a missionary to Papua New Guinea to teach the gospel to stone-age tribespeople. He gave me a quarter to buy an ice pop and told me that in the same way, God’s gift of salvation was free. All I had to do was receive it. I decided that I wanted to become a missionary too.
But when I got back home after that week, it seemed that everything was even worse. I felt like I couldn’t stop stealing, and I had no peace. Again, I was tormented by the fear that I would go to hell if I couldn’t change my life.
I returned to the same camp the next year. I don’t remember any specific time that I prayed, or any super-spiritual experience. I just had lots of fun. I played foosball and capture the flag, and I enjoyed singing songs in chapel and the devotional time in the woods. I felt God’s love and God’s goodness there.
“What Is There To Be Depressed About?”
When my parents came to pick me up, I was really down because I liked being at camp and didn’t want to leave. Halfway home, we stopped to go hiking on the Appalachian Trail. When we got out of the car, my mom saw how depressed I was and said “Jonathan, what is there to be sad about?”
When she said that, I thought back to myself, “Yeah, what is there to be depressed about?” I didn’t pray a prayer, but when that happened, it felt like heaven opened over me and joy and peace descended on me.
I guess that maybe it was just the moment when in my heart I was tired of living my selfish life and I preferred to live Christ’s life, which I saw demonstrated when I was at that camp. When I went home, I was a different person. I never struggled to stop shoplifting again; it was gone. I believe this was when I was “born again”.
The first thing that I remember doing when I got home was washing the dishes and sweeping the floor. Nobody asked me to. Before that I would complain when my mom wanted me to do chores, but now I wanted to help. Ever since then I have liked washing the dishes! I also began sleeping with my Bible under my pillow so I would remember to read it the next day.
A few years later I returned to all of the stores I remembered shoplifting from and I offered to pay for what I had stolen. I now had some income from delivering newspapers. It was terrifying to approach the store managers and confess my guilt to them, but I had decided to follow Jesus no matter what the cost.
It was interesting to see their reactions. Some accepted the money and praised me for my courage and integrity in making things right. One store said they couldn’t accept the money for fiscal reasons, but the manager gave me a long, angry lecture about how much shoplifting hurts their stores. I apologized again and reminded him that nobody had caught me and nobody forced me to make amends—I wanted to make things right.
I’m so glad that Jesus saved me! It feels so good to be righteous, to have fellowship with God the Father, and to be free from the bondage of sin!