Late one afternoon when I was fourteen years old, I was home by myself, painting with oil colors on a large canvas in the basement. While acrylics dry fairly quickly, oil paints seem to take forever. Quickly growing impatient, I plugged in a couple of heat lamps to hurry matters along.
A short time later a pile of rags soaked with turpentine went up in flames. Then the table started on fire, and soon the entire corner of the wood-paneled basement was ablaze.
I ran to the telephone to call the fire department. When I returned, I saw that the fire was out of control, with orange and yellow flames lapping the ceiling, which was directly beneath the living room. I knew that if the fire burned through, the whole house would be consumed — and then I’d really be in trouble.
I grabbed a bucket of water from the laundry room, dashed over to the fire, and threw it on the wall where the flames were climbing. That hardly gave the fire pause. The enclosed basement was rapidly filling with a thick, black, sooty smoke. To make matters worse, the lights had shorted out.
Choking on the smoke and acrid fumes, I was quickly becoming disoriented. I couldn’t see the stairs anymore. That’s when a horrible realization hit — I couldn’t save myself. I wouldn’t be able to find the route out of the basement before I would be overcome. I was in a life-threatening situation.
Just then a police officer arrived and opened the door to the basement. He stepped onto the top stair and began shining around a big flashlight. “Police officer!” he called out. “Anyone down there?”
I could have analyzed the situation intellectually. Things were serious in the basement; if I stayed down there too much longer, the chances were that I would die from the smoke and fire. But the police officer knew the only escape route. He was a trained professional and fully capable of leading me to safety. What’s more, he held a big flashlight to illuminate the way for me.
But it wasn’t enough just to understand all of that. I had to take a step of action. I had to put my faith in that officer — a faith based on facts — by letting him reach out and rescue me. So I followed the light, and he put his arm around me and led me to safety, away from the inferno.
Many years later I was faced with a spiritually equivalent situation. After nearly two years of investigating the claims of Jesus, I knew he had unique credentials and credibility. And based on what he said, I realized for the first time that I couldn’t save myself. I was guilty of sinning against a holy God. It was an open-and-shut case. And the penalty was eternal separation from him.
I was hopelessly disoriented and lost, but Jesus was calling to me and reaching out to rescue me. He was fully capable of leading me to safety. He knew the way to eternal life. In fact, he was the way. And he didn’t need a flashlight, because as he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
And yet just knowing that wasn’t enough. I had to act on it. I had to take a step of faith — not a blind or irrational step but one that was secure and firm because it was based on the history-proven trustworthiness of Jesus Christ.
So on November 8, 1981, I allowed him to drape his arm around my shoulder and lead me out of the darkness, away from the inferno, and into a place of safety.
Statistics show that 84 percent of Americans already believe in the credentials of Jesus Christ. They’re convinced that he’s God or the Son of God. Maybe you’re part of that majority. But if you’ve never acted on that belief, it’s my hope that you’ll let him rescue you from your otherwise hopeless situation by praying to receive Christ as your forgiver and leader.