No, this isn’t my latest theory on what the LOST island was. No, not about my slight obsession with quantum physics ideas on time travel. And no, not my fan-fiction screenplay for Back to the Future 4. No, no. This is the story about how this January God broke through the walls I had built between him and I over the last few years, and how he completely changed my view of my life.
To do this justice, let me tell you what I thought was my testimony…then I will tell you how God flipped that on its head in my own words from the morning that he did.
I was born in a Christian home. I have two older brothers, a brother that is only 356 day younger, and a sister that is three years younger. My parents were great at really trying to raise us the best they new how and really tried to seek God and his will for our family. I like to quote a Rick Mullins song and say, “They worked to give faith hands and feet and somehow gave it wings.”
When I was six, I went to vacation Bible school at our church. I remember two things from that week. I remember earning enough “points” to get a stuffed animal camp, and I remember being scared about going to hell. We were all in the sanctuary of the church. They asked if we knew where we would go if we died tonight, and if not we needed to raise our hand. I was real afraid that my destination would be hell, so my hand went up. I was wisked away to the pastor’s study with several other kids, who I am guessing were hell-ophobic too.
Someone, the pastor I think, told us about Jesus dying for our sins. He led us through a prayer. He said we were going to heaven. I got a Snickers bar…I remember that because I could not eat it. I was allergic to chocolate when until second grade. That’s okay. It was the hell thing that I was worried about. Whew! I was glad that was taken care of.
The next thing I remember on this issue was a few weeks later. I remember asking my mom why I did not feel different. Why didn’t I feel nicer? Peaceful? Joyful? She said that would come with time and not to worry about. Okay. I’ll wait.
I tried really hard to be good. I tried really hard to do what I thought God wanted me to do…a theme that carried on for the rest of my life (even now). I tried to be the best Joe for God that I could be.
When I was nine I decided the I needed to be baptized. I felt a tug on my heart. I walked forward at church. Talked with the pastor, and since I prayed the prayer already I thought it was time for the next step of commitment. My Uncle David is a pastor, we decided to do it at his church. He walked me through it all again, and then I took the plunge (yes, pun intended).
From that point on, my life revolved around pleasing God. Living for God. I went through A LOT of struggles that I won’t get into right now, I “rededicated” my life a few times, but my focus was usually on trying to make God happy with my life.
That led to feeling a calling into ministry. I went back and forth between missions and youth ministry. When the time came, I wound up at a Southern Baptist college studing “Christian Studies”…or for those who don’t know what this means, it is like a Pre-Pastor degree before seminary (like pre-law or pre-med). During college I worked my first two summers at a Christian Camp called Look-Up Lodge, the next summer I did missions in New Mexico, and then, through a long series of events, wound up back at Look-Up for my post-college summer.
That summer I really felt was a turning point in my relationship with God. From that point on, my life was no longer about “making him happy” but about growing in relationship with him and serving him because of love for him and for others. I still had many struggles, but there was a change. I could talk to him. I could vent to him. And he would speak to me. He would comfort me.
Now in the last few year, I grew a little lazy. Paul was right in the Bible when he said that once you are married it is hard to devote yourself to God. You are divided. Once I got married, I started to have less and less of a reliance on God and our relationship cooled a bit. Even more so once my son was born. I think my relationship with him staled a good bit.
This January I was challenged by this. I knew something had to give. Something my community group leader from church said made me want to do something. I don’t remember what it was, and I don’t know if he knows he spurred a change in me, but the next day I knew I needed to get up and read the Bible. I did. I started in Romans because I know God usually uses it to speak to me. That was Monday. Thursday of the same week was when God took a sledgehammer to my heart and started moving furniture.
These our my words from January 21, 2011:
“I was shown this morning that I did not really accept Christ until my summer after college working at Look-Up Lodge. I just did not really understand my need for Christ until then. I knew about Christ and lived my life trying to serve him, but I did not truly understand his sacrafice for my sins until that summer.
It has been hard for me to realize this because I have been a “Christian” since I was six. I know now that I really did not understand enough for this to be true. I lived most of my life trying to “please God” and earn his favor. But that is not Christianity! Reading through Romans 5-7 showed me that this morning.
That summer at camp, we were working through the holiness of God and learning about the impossibility of us living up to that holiness. Our sinfulness can not even be in the presence of his holiness. We need our sin to be covered. Only Jesus’ sacrafice on the cross taking the wrath for our sins covers them. That summer I really started to understand this and find much needed freedom in this. I am free from having to earn my favor in God’s sight. It was already won for me.
I even had a vision one night during worship where I was in the throneroom of God…and I felt the total weight of my sinfulness. I really felt like I should be dead compared to his holiness. I fell down in the vision. Jesus picked me up and presented me to God. The weight of my sin was lifted.
I always thought that was just God reminding me of my salvation. This morning he showed me (after humbling me) that WAS my salvation experience. Thank you, Jesus!
Such a weight has been lifted this morning, because I have really struggled with understanding my salvation. I know I am saved by the presence of the Holy Spirit, but I just have been confused about the changes I have seen in my thought processes over the years and having security in my salvation. God cleared that up for me, and freedom abounds in that.
Now I need to get baptized and symbolically die to sin. This is something I know I have needed to do (I did not understand really what I was doing when baptized as a kid), but I just needed clarity on it all. I have that. I am going to get baptized the next time they do it at my church (not at the end of this month, I am too late to sign up).
It has taken a lot of my pride to be broken down to come to this. But it is awesome, because it shows that God worked through me even before I truly was a Christian! Anyway, I just had to share.”
God has done a ton in my life since then. He has brought people, books, and lessons that I needed to grow. I was baptized on Easter this year (AWESOME to indentify with Jesus’ death and resurrection on that day!). It has been hard to review my life through this lens, but now so much makes sense.
I will probably write more on this another time (the stuff from my past that makes sense now), so I won’t get into it now. This post is long enough!
I just listened to an awesome sermon by Timothy Keller called The Prodigal Sons, and this totally summed up my life before I became a Christian. I was the elder brother. Please check this sermon out. It is so good. So different than most teaching on this passage. Jesus is the true elder brother!
What do you think? What is your story? Have you ever had the change over where it no longer is about “pleasing God” to being about “loving God”?