(1 John 3:1-3)
Most people in town know me as Pastor Fritz, from First Baptist Church in Amboy. This is the other side of the story you probably don’t know.
During my childhood and teen years, thoughts of God and religion were a part of my life. However, just like most everyone else, there were other things more important in everyday life. For me, it was sports which kept me occupied and out of trouble. Those glory years are but a faded distant memory now, but the following events will be remembered for eternity.
Good Family - I was the tenth of thirteen children born to loving parents on December 3, 1958. Dad was responsible for giving me the name “Rocky,” and Mom eventually accepted it.
Baptism - Being from a good Lutheran church going family, I was baptized (sprinkled) as an infant. Church tradition says I became a child of God at baptism.
Church Attendance – Whether we wanted to or not, Mom always made sure we went to Sunday School. We usually stayed with her for the church service every Sunday.
Morality - My parents faithfully taught us and gave their children a great example to follow. Dad and Mom are both living examples of love, discipline, hard work, honesty, and moral character. Alcohol, tobacco, cursing, and immorality were never allowed in our home.
Prayer - As a child, I learned to recite the prayers, and also developed some prayers of my own. I seemed to be on the good side of God, and could even point to times where I believed God clearly answered prayers in my life.
Confirmation - As a teenager, I went through the Catechism on Saturday mornings, and learned about the “Christian faith.” The dogmas of tradition became a part of my life, and I now sought to make the Bible fit into my religious tradition.
First Communion - On my confirmation Sunday, I was able to participate in my first communion. We were taught that in taking communion we were actually receiving Jesus Christ. The bread and the wine actually became the body and blood of Christ as we ate it.
Church Membership – Now that I was a member, I tried to live what was expected of a church member. I even got involved in being a part of the Sunday morning worship services. Surely God must be pleased with my Christian life now.
At the age of sixteen, I went with some of my school friends to a Baptist church. I was almost afraid to go into the building, since I had been warned about those kind of churches. The service was definitely different than anything I had ever experienced before. More than anything, what was preached really bothered me.
There was strange talk of being “saved, born again, and knowing that you are going to Heaven.” I didn’t even know the Bible spoke of such things. The love, joy, and peace I saw in the faces of all those people in church was something I had never experienced before.
For three years, I would occasionally attend that church as well as my own church listening carefully to what was taught and preached at both places. I began to read the Bible for myself, but ran into frustration. Partially because I found it hard to understand, and partially because what I did understand went against the tradition I grew up in.
The more I heard about being saved and born again, I would think that was great for some people – maybe those who grew up without religion. As for me, I’ve always believed in God and tried to do what my church and parents expected of me. Then God’s word would tell me, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
But I’m a good person, I don’t drink, smoke, cuss (too much), I go to church…. Sure I’m not perfect, but I was quite confident all my good works and religion would cause God to look favorably upon my life. Still the Bible was very clear: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)
The words Jesus spoke in Matthew 7:21-23 were directed to me: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”
On Saturday, April 1, 1978, everything in my life changed. I was going through a heart breaking experience in my personal life. I took a long walk through the woods behind my childhood home and our neighbor’s sheep pastures. Serious thoughts of suicide raced through my head that morning, but I found new life instead.
The Bible verses on the back page of this tract were going through my mind as I had previously memorized them at the Baptist church. For the first time in my life, I understood in my heart and soul, that I was a sinner, condemned to spend eternity in Hell. There was no religion, church, or good deeds that could ever make me worthy of Heaven. I fell on my knees before God, confessed my sin, and received His gift of eternal life.
I began to recall the things I was trusting to get me to Heaven: my good works, morality, prayers, baptism, church membership, etc. I pictured in my mind putting all those things in a sack and throwing them down the hill and watching them roll into the Kilbuck creek. Turning from those things I once trusted, I turned to a real relationship with Jesus Christ my Savior. Don’t get me wrong, these things are good and important for the Christian. Not to get us saved, but because we are saved.
From that very moment, my life began to change from the inside out. My family and friends thought I had joined some sort of cult because they did not understand the work of God’s saving grace. I followed the Lord in believer’s baptism on April 9, 1978 at Berean Baptist Church in Rockford. Now I was “double dipped” as one of my brothers mockingly said. Many in my family literally disowned me, and did everything they could to try to discourage me from following Jesus Christ.
One of the greatest miracles I have witnessed is how God gradually changed this quiet, bashful personality of mine and brought me to the place where He could use me as a preacher. “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1Timothy 1:12-15)
God not only saved my soul from an eternity in Hell, but he salvaged my life. There is no greater life than living for Jesus. He blessed me with a beautiful Godly wife, four children that are faithfully serving the Lord, and the opportunity to pastor the First Baptist Church in Amboy for over 19 years now.
Many of my family and friends have since trusted Christ as their Savior – Praise the Lord! What about you? What will you do with Jesus? You will spend eternity in Hell if you are trusting in the things I once trusted. Salvation is not in a church or religion, it is only in the person of Jesus Christ. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)