This article is the first in a series of what will be my Doctoral Dissertation to Louisiana Baptist University. It is my personal pilgrimage of where I have been, where I am at, and where I hope to go! In other words, it is my journey and my attempt to find The Way.
The Way that I am looking for is referred to six times in the Book of Acts and had the reputation of turning the world upside down.
Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.
When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time. And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way.
I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.
But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.
But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of the Way, he adjourned the proceedings and said, “When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case.” So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let him have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.
But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. “Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king -- Jesus.” And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things.
My name is William Daniel Stolebarger and I was born on May 30, 1951. I was born at the Community Hospital in Chula Vista, California. My parents were Mary Ann and Glendal Stolebarger, but they were divorced in my early childhood and I can honestly say that I have no remembrance of my biological father. I was raised by my mother and grandmother until my mother remarried early in my teenage years.
I did not have a formal church background except for the fact that every summer my grandmother insisted that I attend Vacation Bible School at the Methodist church down the street. I still remember the flannel graphs! I did not attend Sunday church, but as I look back, I can see that God was involved in my Vacation Bible School experience, for as a young child growing up, I always believed there was a God and I always believed that He loved me!
As the only child of a divorced and single mother, growing up in the ’60s, I can remember having the feeling of missing out. In those days there were the typical “Father and Son” picnics etc. and I remember really wanting a Dad! My wish was fulfilled as I entered the seventh grade. My mother introduced me to Al Froede and his two sons, Glen and Kent. A few months later I had my “Dad” and two brothers! Glen was a couple years older and Kent was only a few months older. Al Froede was a great step dad and my brothers, who were very athletic, made sure that their new brother toughened up a bit.
The next six years of my life were filled with sports: Pony League, Pop Warner, Boys Club basketball, followed by high school basketball and football. My complete social circle and life centered on sports and, looking back, this preoccupation with athletics is probably what kept me out of the drug culture that had its day in the ’70s. As mentioned, I had no real formal church background and my new family members were not Christians.
Then one day, out of the blue in my senior year of high school, one of my best friends, Mike McMahon, came to school with a Bible! Not just a regular Bible, but with the coffee table version, and he began his “John the Baptist” type of ministry-REPENT! Little did I realize that my life would never be the same!
Mike’s new-found religion was a shock to all of us! He was relentless when it came to witnessing and, being a part of the “in crowd” at Chula Vista High School, he truly had a lot to lose! As time went on Mike continued to confront his “friends” with the Gospel. I became his leading opponent and as far as I could see I was “winning” all the debates, but there was a small (or I guess I should say a monumental) problem. Every night when I laid my head down on my bed, I kept hearing this voice echo in my brain-the voice kept testifying to the Truth! The voice kept saying that my friend was right and I was not even in the ball game!
Finally, push came to shove and I issued an ultimatum to my adversary. I told Mike that I was very worried about his mental well being and I had a proposal for him. I challenged Mike. I asked him to consider what it would take for him to quit witnessing to us (his friends). I told him to just name one thing that he would have me to do and I would do it, BUT that would mean that, upon completion, he would agree to stop the “witnessing.” You see, quite honestly I believed that Mike had overdosed on some kind of hallucinogenic and I was doing my best to bring him back to reality.
To my surprise, but I am sure not God’s, Mike agreed to the challenge and told me that if I would simply accompany him to his uncle’s house on a Friday night, then that would be “it!” And so the challenge was issued. Now, despite what you might think as you are reading this dissertation, I am no fool. There was no way I was going to show up at this “uncle’s” house alone! Therefore, I gathered the troops and organized an “after meeting” party in order to celebrate our victory, believing that this would be the first step in winning our friend back.
When Friday arrived, I had arranged for over twenty people to join me at the uncle’s home. We arrived in a festive mood. (Without getting sidetracked, let me simply say that we were your typical wild, high school bunch.) We gathered in a very small living room and I will never forget Mike’s countenance-he was beaming! Didn’t he realize that this was IT? Well, the uncle began to speak and the room became silent! I can tell you this-that room was quiet (you could hear a pin drop!) and the message lasted no more than a few minutes. All I remember was a small slate chalkboard with a cross drawn on it.
The uncle’s message was simple: “If you were the only person on the earth, Jesus would have still died for your sins! And if you were the only one, that would mean that you would have had to nail Him to the cross!” He also mentioned the fact that not only did God love us but that He had a “plan for our lives.” He concluded with the passage from Revelation that pictures God standing at the door of your heart and knocking.
He then asked us to bow our heads and, if we wanted to, we could invite Jesus into our hearts. At that time, being a 17-year- old with the Vietnam War heating up and not knowing what was up and what was down, I invited Christ, the ONE who had a plan for my life, into my heart!
Now I know that this is a very personal experience and that no two “conversions” are the same; but for me at that time I literally felt the door of my heart open and had a “warm tingling sensation” and felt the door close! There was no doubt in my mind that I had invited Jesus into my heart! I was SAVED! However, what was I going to do with the twenty friends that I had invited along? As we “closed in prayer” and were making our way outside, Todd Pickett, one of my football buddies, stopped me at the door.
It was “point blank,” there was no way I could avoid the question: “Hey, Dan, what was that all about? That was really strange!” And then came the inevitable question … “Hey, Dan, did YOU pray that prayer … did YOU invite Jesus into your heart?”
Now, what do you think this bold Man of God answered? I responded by asking him … “Did you?” After he indicated that he had received Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, I concurred and told him about my experience. Now I know historically there have been some incredible “revivals” that far outshadow what happened on that Friday night, but let me tell you that of those twenty people that attended that little get together, nineteen of them received Christ that night! The only one who didn’t was my brother, Kent! This all happened in late May, 1969.
When I got home I could not help but share the good news with my mom and step dad. My dad was relieved when he discerned that I had not become a Jehovah’s Witness, but he was dismayed over the fact that I was not going to pursue my “potential” football scholarships. So much so, that we agreed that after my graduation I would “move out.” (Interestingly enough, one of my scholarships was from Azusa Pacific...more about that later!)
The next weekend I attended a concert by the group, Love Song, in the San Diego area. I was so moved by the concert that I went forward to receive Christ “again” and discovered Calvary Chapel. From that time I began to drive to Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa every weekend (which was about a 100 mile trip) to attend church. No doubt my time at Calvary Chapel instilled in me a deep desire and a hunger to know more about the Word of God.
After a few months of commuting, I stumbled upon some Christians in Chula Vista who invited me to a coffeehouse named the House of Abba. The coffeehouse was a weekend ministry connected to the First Baptist Church of Chula Vista. The pastor’s name was Ken Pagaard and Ken soon began to take an interest in me and encouraged me to get involved in helping to lead the House of Abba...
NEXT MONTH: Sharing ALL things in Common-Life in a Christian Community based out of Acts 2.