I think I have mentioned that I began helping out with our high school youth group last summer. It has been an amazing year getting to know these boys and girls, but summer is here and it’s been planning time. Our youth pastor had all of the youth leaders meet recently, and challenged each one of us to write down how they came to accept from the heart the gift of salvation that Jesus gives those who recognize their sin and ask him to forgive them. That was a huge challenge for me. You hear all these stories from Christians about how quickly they accepted the Truth as soon as they heard it. Well that wasn’t me. Sort of. Well maybe.
Actually, my acceptance and faith in Jesus wasn’t a decision as much as a journey. Maybe you can relate. Here is my story:
“I grew up in the Roman Catholic church. Unlike most Catholics, I grew up reading the Bible, mainly because my mother had converted from the Lutheran church when she and my father married. My Bible that I received in 1966 is underlined and written in a lot. I was probably a junior or senior in high school when I really saw the verse in John that stated “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (That memory is so strong that, while writing this, I could almost see it on the page. Right hand page, second column, near the top. I pulled out that Bible and there it was, just where I remembered it). While I truly knew and believed that Jesus was who he said he was, and had died on the cross for the sins of the world, and rose to live forever, I didn’t know how to use that knowledge.
Part of the problem was that I knew what I was taught in the Catholic church didn’t match what I read in the bible. Part of the problem was that I can often be very skeptical. While I continued to attend the Catholic church through college, I visited other churches, including the local synagogue, and still wasn’t able to see how to use that knowledge about Jesus. I stopped going to church altogether after returning from college, when I encountered the new parish priest in my Catholic church who was all about the money. I just knew that wasn’t right.
While I never considered myself a terrible person, I knew that I wasn’t really doing the right things all the time. So, I and a friend began “trying to find ourselves” in some of the New Age philosophies floating around –reincarnation, mysticism, so-called tribal and mystic paths. But something always kept pulling me back, so I didn’t go in too far.
By the time I was in my mid-thirties, my mom died from cancer, and it was just me and dad in the house. I continued my day to day existence without any real purpose. Things began to change when I was about 45. My dad was starting to act differently – getting forgetful, and sometimes belligerent. We started fighting a lot, which was out of character for both of us.
In December of 1998, my ‘other dad’, my best friend in England’s father, died on my birthday. In February 1999, my dad was diagnosed with dementia, and we had to get him into a nursing home for the last two years of his life.
Several months later, a friend invited me to church one Sunday with her, an Assembly of God church. I felt immediately “home.” It took a little while for me to become a regular attendee at church, but as I continued to go, I began to learn more and more about what God had been trying to show me all these years. I realized just how much my poor decisions, my tendency over the years to pooh-pooh talk about God and to go my own way, my anger and lashing out hurt God, and hurt Jesus. I remember going and crying at the altar and asking God to forgive me several times. However, I still struggled with that early training from the Catholic church.
The way I came to finally fully accept Christ from my heart came from the struggle I had with baptism. I had been taught you only do some things, like baptism, once, or else it was a sin. It took a lot of wrestling to finally put that aside and say to God, ‘your word says to repent and be baptized.” I was finally able to surrender from my heart and said to God that I repent, know who Jesus is and would be baptized in obedience to what His Word said. I was finally able to accept from the heart the gift of salvation that Jesus died to bring to me.
The old skeptic was still there in some ways. My mind continued to ask “Did he ever really do miracles? Was he really a tangible presence and power?” Remember, I was in a church where people spoke in tongues, and had many other visible gifts that I didn’t have, so I doubted. But God had an answer for that as well. As a matter of fact, he had two.
The first one was at a healing service. I didn’t intend to go, but a co-worker had heard me talk about it, and asked me if I would go to pray for a relative of hers. Now, I had been going to a chiropractor –also a member of that church – on and off for months because of a shoulder injury. At the end of the service, the man conducting the program began to circulate through the people, praying as they asked him to. He passed by me, but then came back and said “Your shoulder is really sore,” and held my shoulder and prayed. I found that surprising enough but since it was still sore, didn’t think much beyond the fact that this man must have been very observant or something. The next morning, I got up to go to work and stretched, and realized that I had raised my arm straight up without pain! I couldn’t stop saying Thank you. Jesus!
The second answer came later at a prayer service when a woman I didn’t really know came and said she wanted to pray for me. She prayed and asked God to release me from the spirit of rage that filled me. I was immediately and absolutely sure that had a hold of me for a long time. I was equally sure that God had taken it away. I right away recognized that rage had been consuming my life for a long time, and that God wanted to free me from that emotion once and for all, and he did.
So my story has come about in stages – some very long – but I know who my Lord is. Once I got out of his way, God began to work out his plans for me. He has brought about changes that only God could have designed – meeting that special someone at age 45 (of all things!), a new larger family through the addition of my in-laws and church family, and mostly, getting to know Jesus more all the time.”
Maybe you are like me and searching for a way to fit the pieces together, to finally be absolutely sure that you have made the most important decision of your life. If you are, then I urge you to write down your story and to share it with your pastor or an elder that you know and trust. Writing it down will help you connect the dots and know in your heart that you are a Child of the King.
If you don’t know Jesus as your Redeemer and Lord and haven’t accepted his precious gift of salvation from your heart, seek out someone who does know Him. Talk to them, find out about Jesus, find out who he is and just how much he loves you. Then share your story with others! I challenge you! You won’t regret it.