“Are you a Christian, Dr. Heller?”
One of my patients asked me this unexpected question. I of course, answered, “Yes, I am!”
“How long have you been a Christian?” was the next question. I boldly replied, “All my life!”
The patient looked me in the eye and said, “You ain’t one!”
He then pressed the issue. “Can you point to the exact time you accepted Christ as your Savior?” he asked.
I told him that he certainly did not understand. I was the dentist for the Methodist Children’s Home; I did cost-for-materials-only dentistry for some pastors and their wives. I was a family man who loved my wife. I worked hard not to do “wrong things.”
Sensing I was defensive, my patient said, “Dr. Heller, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you are a fake! A Christian must be able to point to an exact time he accepted Christ or he is playing a game with God.”
I was totally taken aback by his boldness. Walking out of the room into the hallway, I asked the hygienist to “please dismiss that kook.”
The Rest of the Story
I am sure we would all agree that Mr. Smith’s approach is not the best technique for sharing one’s faith with a relative or friend. But you need to know the rest of the story. I could not get Mr. Smith’s words out of my mind. I commented to the staff about his being one of those “Jesus Freaks.” My wife, upon hearing of my day at the office, listened closely as I tried to explain away my answers to him.
I found myself examining my thoughts during my quiet early morning jogs around the high school track. Why was Mr. Smith so sure of his questions and my replies? I began to ask myself whether I really had enough information to make a spiritual decision. What if I really did not know how to define a true Christian? What if I got to be 50 years old and found that my ladder was leaning against the wrong wall?
I have always been one to pose questions to myself, and my thoughts eventually led me to seek spiritual information for myself. I was happily married with three children, my dental practice was growing, I was having fun coaching little league football and baseball, and my golf game was improving. I was happy with my life. So why couldn’t I get Mr. Smith’s comments out of my mind? I now know the Holy Spirit was putting a burden on my heart to learn more about God.
I remember one time sitting in the worship service of our church looking religious. While the pastor was preaching, I would use 3″ x 6″ blue cards for taking notes. But I was not making notes of the sermon! Only my wife Wanda, sitting next to me, knew that I was working on Monday’s dental schedule. I don’t recall the pastor ever talking about a relationship with God, but a lot of organizing got done during the worship service!
During the next three to four months after the conversation with my patient, there were times Wanda and I would drop our children off at Sunday school at our regular church, then visit other churches to hear the sermon. One day we visited a Grace Brethren church. As we sat down, the pastor asked the congregation to turn to a New Testament Scripture. Since we did not have a Bible with us, a pleasant lady sitting beside us asked: “Would you like to use my Bible and I’ll look on with my friend?” She gave us her Bible, which was turned to the correct passage.
The pastor then instructed us to turn to an additional Scripture in another New Testament book. I looked out of the corner of my eye at the lady sitting beside me and saw she was turning to the left in her Bible. I did likewise, and, to my amazement, I found the book and verse the pastor was discussing. He then asked the audience to turn to a book in the Old Testament. I turned to the left—and to the left—and to the right. Embarrassed, I left the Bible open to a different book from the one the pastor referred to and acted interested. I tried on two different occasions to follow the pastor’s Scripture readings. Finally, I closed the Bible in disgust and embarrassment.
I was impressed with the warm feeling in the congregation, but I felt we would probably not return because I could not follow the pastor’s Scripture search. (Any excuse will work if you are looking for one.) I told Wanda afterward that those people scared me to death. I naturally classified the church members as a bunch of “Jesus Freaks.” Wanda informed me she really liked the pastor, and the people were very warm. She added, “I’ll bet they have a nice program for the children.”
The next Sunday we prepared to return to our regular church. My daughter, Kerry, was wearing a nice yellow dress and carrying a brown paper bag. When I inquired about the bag, she informed me it was “blue jeans for Sunday school.” As Wanda and I were sitting in the worship service that morning, I had a nagging feeling about Kerry and her bag with blue jeans. I told Wanda I was going downstairs to check out Kerry’s Sunday school class. When I peeked in the door of her class, I saw about ten girls standing on their heads! All of them were wearing blue jeans. Their dresses were down over their heads and faces. Their arms were folded; their heads held all of their weight. Their eyes were closed and the room was quiet.
“What are we doing here?” I asked the teacher. She told me the class was studying yoga. “When do they study the Bible?” I inquired. “Next quarter,” the teacher replied. I went back upstairs and told Wanda we were going to leave this church.
We went to other churches, but my mind went back to the love and friendliness of the Grace Brethren church and the people I had criticized as being “Jesus Freaks.” The week before Easter, 1972, we returned for another visit. That morning Pastor Jim Custer preached a sermon on death and one’s relationship with Christ. He made a startling analogy about having a teenage child die and knowing for sure where the child would be after death. He said, “I don’t mean someone in the reception line would come and tell you that your child was in a better place. I mean, do you know, one-hundred- percent-for-sure, your child would be in a better place?”
His words drove a spike into my heart. Kerry was thirteen years old. I had to admit if I looked in her casket, I would not know for sure where she would be in the spiritual realm.
Pastor Jim then said, “If you do not know where your teenage daughter would be, there is a good chance you don’t know where you would be, as well.” He then gave an invitation to come forward to the front of the church.
I excused myself and walked forward. Associate Pastor Frank Gardner came to meet me. He looked at me, and I looked at him. I did not know what to say. Finally Pastor Gardner said, “Is there an area of your life you want to turn over to God?”
“Yes, that’s it!” I said.
He led me into another room. “Your name again?” he asked.
I replied, “Duke Heller.”
“Well, Duke, how long have you known the Lord?”
“All my life!” I replied.
Pastor Gardner’s eyes widened. He said, “What? You can’t point to a time in your life when you accepted Christ?”
“No sir, I cannot,” I replied.
“Would you like to do it now?” he asked.
I eagerly replied, “Yes, sir. I definitely would like to do it now.”
I explained that a few months before, a patient had also confronted me, and his words had bothered me ever since. I asked what I had to do to make sure I had accepted Christ as my Savior.
Pastor Gardner informed me that I should include three items in my prayer to God. First, I needed to admit I was a sinner. “You do admit you are a sinner, don’t you?” he asked bluntly. I assured him that I agreed.
He told me I also needed to ask Jesus Christ to forgive me of my sins, and to ask Him to become Lord of my life.
I was hoping Pastor Gardner would pray the salvation prayer and I would pray after him, but he told me I needed to pray out loud using my own words. That was the day I accepted Christ.
I strongly believe that God took me down a life path with my patient’s challenge. The purpose of my message is to give you hope and direction in boldly sharing your faith with those closest to you. It will give you suggestions for entering into a spiritual conversation and provide step-by-step techniques for presenting your faith. These are proven techniques that are non-threatening. They will help you overcome fear when sharing with those you love. God can use anything we say, but He can’t use our silence.
Make a Great Day, You Deserve It!!
Dr. “Duke” Heller