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When I got to high school, I had a few friends who would regularly invite me to church. One year, my friend Kaci invited me to join her on a retreat for Young Life at Windy Gap. I remember lots of outdoor activities such as a climbing wall and zip-line, sleeping in bunks in tiny cabins, and singing worship songs with everyone. At one session, our camp leader was telling us that we should be praying for our future spouse (we were around sixteen years old then). So at the first opportunity, I sat on the side of a hill and prayed, for the very first time. I do not remember accepting Jesus that weekend, but it was weekend of seeds planted.
When my husband and I started dating near the end of my senior year of high school, I began going to church with him regularly. It was a small conservative church of Christ. I was not a Christian then, and my husband desired to be "equally yoked", so it was important to him that I hear the gospel and have an opportunity to respond to the call before we continued our relationship.
The pastor, his wife, and my very new boyfriend (now husband) invited me to have dinner with them. I think it was a Friday evening--a date night. We enjoyed a lovely dinner, and then they opened up a Bible to share the Word with me.
The only thing I recall that they shared with me that night is the part where the pastor laid out all the steps to becoming a Christian:
1) Hear the Word
2) Believe the Word
3) Repent - turn from my sins
4) Confess Jesus as Lord
5) Be baptized
I heard that list and basically responded to each one like this:
1) Check! I just heard the Word--YOU told it to me!
2) Yeah, I believe it--you just showed it to me in black-and-white. Check!
3) Repent....hmm...let's see...I don't drink, smoke, do drugs, or sleep with anyone....so, yeah, I'm good there. Check!
4) Confess Jesus as Lord--Yeah--I'll say that!
5) Be bapti....wait, WHAT??!?? I haven't done THAT! WHY didn't someone tell me about this step before now???? What if something had happened to me before this day and I hadn't been baptized????
Okay, so that last one--a bit of a dramatization of the actual events--but in my MIND, that's exactly the response I was having. They shared with me the story of the Ethiopian who was getting help in understanding the text of the Word, and then said, "Here is water! What hinders me from being baptized?" I pretty much did the same thing. The pastor said I could wait until Sunday to be baptized, but my logical mind quickly decided that I needed to be dunked, and QUICK! I was insistent that we find water that night. As in, "Take me to your water!"
On the way there, many from the church were called and came to witness my baptism. They were a lovely group of people who loved the Lord and loved one another. But the baptism itself seemed anti-climactic! I mean, we had just read about the Ethiopian's conversion, and then the one baptizing him, Philip, was taken up by the Lord! Nope. No one disappeared the night I was dunked!
In fact, that night, I was more angry that no one had told me that checklist before, than I was glad and rejoicing over this new knowledge about what Jesus had done for me! That does not sound like the attitude of someone who had just found out that someone else had paid the ultimate price for her life!
Was it real?
My boyfriend became my husband a few years later, and we continued our journey together. For years I doubted whether I was really "saved"...because I realized that I actually HAD sinned (contrary to my beliefs that night of the "checklist salvation"). Every time there was an "altar call" for those wanting forgiveness for their sins, I continued to feel the need to respond, because I had not attained it myself yet. I still needed a Savior!
We went from that super-conservative church to a very demonstrative (read: Pentecostal-influenced) church, and then we moved from South Carolina to Alabama, where we found a growing church in our area in which to plant ourselves. But that's not the end of my story....it's actually more like the beginning...
A New State...and Painful Growth
We had been at this wonderful church with many of our friends for five years, when a situation at church occurred. (I'll have to leave those details out for now, but do hope to share it one day.) That situation felt like my entire foundation had been rocked. It left me asking many questions about the church itself. It was quite painful to go through this situation! The friends who had originally invited us to come visit this church no longer answered my calls or text messages, so not only did I not want to go, I was also shunned.
We actually did not return to church for a full year. I was very alone, very confused, and very deeply hurt. The only One I could cry out to was the Lord. So that's just what I did.
I wanted to know Truth from Him directly. I wanted to ask Him my questions, not have smooth answers given to me. So I began sitting up reading late at night--and I was only reading the Bible. I read the Word one entire book at a time each night. It took me around a month to finish the entire New Testament. I was reading to understand, not just find verses. I wanted the big picture of all of it!
I was looking for Truth regarding God's grace and freedom in Christ. I was looking for Truth on matters of life and looking for God's heart on those things. And I was looking for God Himself.
He is SO faithful. In the middle of one night of reading, I "got" it. His grace made sense. Freedom in Christ made sense. And I had an experience much like that of Paul on the road to Damascus. I had been stuck in the rut of obedience to a black and white text. Obedience, in itself, was not bad...but my motive for obedience was not based on my love for Him.
I lifted my hands to heaven at 2:15am while sitting on my bed reading, and as my husband slept beside me. Tears flooded my cheeks, and I understood the whole story of His love, His Son, and my TRUE faith began.
I am still very much a student of my Bible, and I love to talk to the Lord in prayer. My heart has changed from one of strict rule-following tendencies to a heart that understands that faith is where it all begins, and that from love stems all pure obedience. (And yes, we returned to our church.)
Where am I today?
Do I know all there is to know? NO WAY. In fact, I'm adopting this phrase from an older, wiser woman who has taught me so much, "the more I know, the less I know". I'm not perfect. I don't believe that is possible.
Do I believe the Bible tells me the way I should live? YES! Paul wrote about the culture of Christianity! That may not line up with any culture on this world today, but it is reflective of the heart our Lord has for His people to be "set apart" (sanctified). I still believe in God's Word, and I still believe we need to teach more of it, but I don't believe that everyone needs to "just do it". If you do not know the One whom you are obeying, it has no benefit for you.
This verse sums up my life and understanding lately:
"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become
and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love,
I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body
to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Do I still want to obey His Word? YES! But now I do it because I've surrendered all of my will to Him and am aligning my heart with HIS desires. Since that night, my walk with Him has never been the same!
It is for YOU, too!
Fast forward a bit... Mary was visited by the Holy Spirit and was chosen to carry God's Son, Jesus. He was born, raised, taught of the Lord, and began to perform miracles. For only a few years, He healed many, forgave many, and then submitted to the will of God and went to the cross to die for my sins and for your sins. He breathed His last and was buried in a tomb. Three days later, though, He was raised again! After He died, his disciples wrote down the story and additional inspired words from God for us to learn the heart of God for His people.
Salvation is offered as a free gift by the Lord! It is only because of His sacrifice and blood that we can be saved! It is offered because of His grace, and received through our faith alone. It really is very good news! Sin has been overcome by blood. Death has been overcome by a risen Savior! Our hope is in heaven because of Him!
Do you believe it? Do you want to begin a relationship with Him today? If you need someone to walk through all of this with you, please email me by clicking the email link on the right side of this page. If you have any questions in general, feel free to add them as a comment below.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I'd LOVE to read YOUR testimony! Put it in a comment below!