John Zietlow’s Faith Story


“Lost in a Lost World”—that song by the Moody Blues was my favorite song in my late teen years, perhaps because I related so well to the title.  Raised in a church-going, decent home, there was a void in my life that felt like it was the size of the Grand Canyon, and I didn’t know how to fill it.  Some turn to friendships, some to drugs, some to sports—I turned to alcohol.  Choosing to attend Butler University (in Indianapolis), I began to drink more often and more heavily to escape the pain of an empty life.  But I had religion in my life—what was wrong?  Let me backtrack for a few vital details.


My parents had me and my four brothers and sisters in church every Sunday from the time we were born until we left home.  Baptized as an infant, schooled in religious instruction throughout my formative years in Sunday School, trained through three years of catechism instruction, and confirmed (publicly saying with others my age I would follow Christ), it would seem that Christianity was central to my life.  But it all seemed meaningless, and God was as distant as some remote galaxy.


I remember going through the college bulletin Butler University sent to me during the latter part of my senior year in high school, and noticing that they had some “Christian” groups on campus.  Sounded interesting—would have to check them out, I thought.  About that time I noticed Keith Orr, one of the guys I was confirmed with, reading his Bible—it had the words “Living Bible” on the cover—in senior lounge while the rest of us watched TV or played cards.  Hmmmm…..must be something special about that Bible, I figured.  Anyway, at our high school drinking bash-senior party I was pretty much out of it the whole evening.  I do vividly remember about 40 seconds from that night, during which I seemed to be totally sober, in which I talked to Becky Slagle, a Southern Baptist pastor’s daughter whom I deeply respected and a fellow senior class member.  I asked her about one of the groups I saw mentioned in that college bulletin, a group called Campus Crusade for Christ.  She told it me it was a great group, and I should check it out.  I told her I would, and she asked me if I meant it (maybe she smelled alcohol on my breath?).  I said I did, and in my mind committed at that point to look that group up when at Butler.


As Providence would have it (and I thought it was a coincidence!), my first roommate at Butler was John Schreckengost, now a sophomore.  John would read his Bible every night before turning in, which kinda bothered me because I hadn’t even taken my Bible to college with me (what’s the use, I thought…).  Wouldn’t you know it—he was heavily involved with Campus Crusade for Christ as well!  But before I get any farther with that, let me tell you about an event I visited right at the beginning of my freshman year.  InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) had an “icebreaker” volleyball/picnic gathering off campus for new students.  While there, I observed my faculty advisor, one of the econ profs, Tom Wilson, and his wife.  Although he never said anything about his relationship with Christ, the mere fact that he and his wife had taken a Saturday night to be there spoke loudly to me.  (Soon thereafter, I visited one of the IVCF nightly gatherings, and picked up a booklet called Basic Scripture Truths.  I also visited a Campus Crusade meeting, and was given a booklet called Four Spiritual Laws.  My first friend at Butler took me to his church, a Christian Science church, and I also attended an on-campus group meeting of Christian Science students. I was starting to search for reality and was open to many things.)


Things culminated quickly.  As I started entering the frat party scene and drinking more heavily in the dorm, I began to realize that I was losing control of my life.  My roommate, noticing all of this, turned to me one night and asked:  “You know, Bert (the Campus Crusade staff leader) was asking me if you were a Christian, and I wasn’t sure what to tell him.”  In his roundabout way, John was asking where I stood with Christ.  I don’t even remember answering him.  But that night, I lay awake wondering, “What makes one a Christian?”  Then I thought: “Can one not be a Christian after going to church about every Sunday in his entire life?!?”  I got kind of defensive and mad at God for that possibility.  But that kindled my spiritual hunger, and created a hunger to know what I might be missing.  A week or two later, on a Friday afternoon, I hopped on the bus and went downtown to a H.L Green store and bought…you guessed it…a Living Bible.  That evening, with the Living Bible, the Four Spiritual Laws, and the Basic Scripture Truths booklet, I started searching.  That night was to be one that changed my destiny.


The best way to describe what happened that night is that God entered my dorm room and peeled back the scales from my spiritual eyes.  The Bible truths that were spread across those two booklets and in the Bible I had purchased became exceedingly simple and crystal clear.  Here is what I discovered.


First, I found out that God loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life!  I had comprehended the first part, in a very abstract and impersonal way, but I sensed God’s love and was astonished to think He had a mapped-out plan for my life.   In the Gospel of John, Chapter 3, I read (all quotations from the King James Version; or, put mouse over references to see in New International Version - John 3.16-17):


16  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

17  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

18  He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.


But the key verse that really convinced me that I did not know or believe in this sense was John 10:10:


9  I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

10  The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.


I knew that nothing about my life could honestly be called abundant or fulfilling!!!


The 2nd spiritual law said that I had a spiritual problem, called sin.  I was convinced that there was a great gulf or chasm separating me from God and what He had intended for my life.  Romans 3:23 clearly included me:


23  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;


I could have conned myself and maybe many others, but I found out further that breaking any part of God’s commandments included me in the category of “lawbreaker”, meaning I had made a reservation for an eternity in hell.  This I found out from James 2:10:


10  For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.


God had my attention!  The great news is that God has made a way to bridge that chasm!!!  That way is the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ!  I believe that He is the Messiah promised so many places in the Old Testament.  I found that He came to die in my place!  I John 5:11-12 says:


11  And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

12  He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.


So, while I was reminded that I did not have life as God intended it (because I did not yet have the Son living in and through me), God had made the provision I needed!!!  But how to receive it?


The last piece of great, liberating news is that we must individually receive Jesus Christ as our personal Savior and Lord.  We do this by confessing (agreeing) that we have sinned, gone our own way, violated God’s commands, and then desiring to turn from those ways.  Then we invite Christ to come into our lives, and become our Master and Guide.  This I found from several verses in the Bible.  First, in the Gospel of John, chapter 1 (John 1:1):


12  But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: {power: or, the right, or, privilege}


Also, in Revelation 3:20, we see Jesus knocking on the door of our hearts (and this applies equally to Christians who have drifted from the Lord, as this is the audience to whom the words were originally directed):


20  Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.


That word “sup” means fellowship, and has the idea of “breaking bread together”.  God, the Almighty Creator and Sovereign of the universe, wanted to talk and converse with me!  Broken before God, feeling very much my unworthiness yet the awesome fact that He had chosen me for salvation and the personal knowledge of Himself, I bowed beside my bed and talked to God as never before.  I agreed that I had done my own thing, violated His commands, and so sinned against God.  I told God that I wanted to change.  I thanked God for sending His Son to die for me, and I asked Him to come into my heart and take control of my life.  The best way to describe my emotions at that time is like having a ton of bricks fall off my back.  The release from years of guilt and shame was incredible!


I was fortunate to be able to have staff members of Campus Crusade (Steve Edlin and Bob Hartley), and my roommate (John Schreckengost), continue to encourage me and mentor me.  Especially vital, they got me involved in Bible studies and a Friday night fellowship held off-campus.  Although I still struggled with some bad habits and thought patterns for several years afterwards, gradually I saw God begin to conform me to the image of His Son.  Getting involved in a Bible-believing and Bible-teaching church was greatly helpful in my growth as a new Christian.  Also, Campus Crusade helped me learn to share my newfound faith in Christ, instead of simply keeping it to myself.  I hope that my story is helpful to you in guiding you to that sure foundation, Jesus Christ!  Please feel free to contact me to talk about your relationship with Him—I’d love to hear from you!.