Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Jerry Zengler was the lead singer in a popular Maryland rock band called The Lemon Lime. During that time, Jerry’s band was climbing the staircase of Maryland’s rock scene two steps at a time, hearing much applause while playing at such venues as The Hulabaloo and The Jaguar Club. After Jerry won the best lead singer award at a battle of the bands’ contest, featuring over one hundred bands, the pinnacle of his rock career culminated on February 16, 1969. On that Sunday evening, he and The Lemon Lime shared the stage with Led Zeppelin in the old Baltimore Civic Center.
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” is arguably one of the best rock songs ever written. Some of its lyrics even wax existential, with such lines as these: “Yes, there are two paths you can go by / But in the long run / There’s still time to change the road you’re on.” At the same time, however, I doubt if Robert Plant, Zeppelin’s lead singer, intended to express the idea of repentance when he penned those words. But as for Jerry, after having lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle for several years, he felt a void that gnawed at his soul like a bull dog chewing on a bone, and realized it was time to change the road he was on.
Jerry’s detour from that path occurred when a gentleman from a local church knocked on his door one afternoon. Always looking for an opportunity to amuse himself, Jerry opened the door and invited the man inside. When the fellow started to tell Jerry about Jesus, and about how God loved him so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for his sins, Jerry lit up a Marlboro and blew smoke in the man’s face. Undaunted by Jerry’s smokescreen, the man continued,
“But Jesus didn’t stay dead because God, His Father, raised Him from the grave. This is the gospel,” the man declared.
Jerry opened the refrigerator door and reached for a can of Miller Beer, then hesitated and closed the refigerator and sat down at his kitchen table and took a drag from his Marlboro that burned in the ashtray. Only this time, he did not blow smoke in the man’s face. But instead, he listened, as the man quoted these words of Jesus, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
“You better leave now, mister” Jerry told the man. “I got better things to do than sitting here all day listening to you.”
“Thank you for your time,” the man said. “Here’s another verse I would like for you to ponder, ‘There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death’” (Proverbs 14:12).
Within minutes after the man left, Jerry butted his Marlboro and realized that he needed Jesus. He dashed outside to try and find the man. Spotting the gentleman as he was about to knock on his next door neighbor’s front door, Jerry said,
“Hey, mister, I need to get saved.”
The man walked over to Jerry, looked him in the eye, and quoted this verse, “’For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 6:23). Do you believe that you are a sinner, young man?”
“Yes sir, that’s a fact,” Jerry said.
“We all are sinners, son,” the man said. “And furthermore it is our sin that separates us from God and ultimately will put us in hell. But Jesus took care of that separation for us on the cross. All we have to do is receive His gift by repenting from our sins, which means to turn away from them, and by believing the gospel, that Jesus died on the cross to forgive us for our sins and that God, His Father, raised Him from the dead. There’s nothing we can do to save ourselves. Our only hope is in the finished work of Jesus Christ. Scripture says that ‘Whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved’ (Romans 10:13). Are you ready, Jerry, to call on His name, the only name under heaven by which a man can be saved?”
“Yes, sir, I want to get saved right now.”
“Then pray with me, Jerry,” the man said, “and ask the Lord to come into your life. Dear Jesus, I know I’m a sinner and would be lost in hell without You. I turn from my sin and ask You to come into my life and forgive me. I believe You died on the cross to save me from my sins and that God Your Father raised You from the dead. Thank You, Jesus, for giving me Your free gift of eternal life. Amen.”
Jerry may have once opened for Led Zeppelin; but for the past 40 years, he has been opening for Jesus Christ. Shortly after Jerry surrendered his life to Jesus, he became a preacher. But not your typical every-Sunday-pulpit-preach-to-the-choir kind of preacher. No. Jerry first preached Jesus in the trenches of prisons throughout Maryland with a jail ministry that he started. For 20 years, he preached a simple message of repentance and Jesus crucified and raised from the dead. Hundreds of inmates responded to that message and surrendered their lives to Jesus, who gave them true freedom and His free gift of eternal life. Jerry never took a nickel for preaching. He supported his family as an iron worker in Baltimore, right down the street from where he once shared the stage with Zeppelin. He believes that since Jesus freely gave the gospel that he also should freely give it. For the past 20 years, he has preached that same message to thousands of truckers at God’s Trucking Ministry in Jessup, Maryland. Jerry likes to kid around with the truckers and say, “I know many of you have been pulled over by the police and given a ticket. Well, today God has pulled you over and given you a ticket: a ticket to heaven through His Son, Jesus Christ.”
I have known Jerry Zengler for over 30 years. I, too, once lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, even though I never played in a band. When I was a young man, shortly after I surrendered my life to Jesus, I met Jerry at a church one Sunday morning. I was long-haired and visually impaired, an outcast, having recently been diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), an incurable eye disease that leads to blindness. But those things didn’t seem to bother Jerry. We became friends, and he soon discovered that I, too, had the gift of evangelism. He took me under his wing and taught me how to articulate the gospel of Jesus and to share His love with the world. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
“And if you listen very hard the tune will come to you at last….”