As of today I am 35 years old and I have been aware of Jesus Christ as long as I can remember. Sadly, it wasn’t until about 7 years ago that I truly began to put my faith in Him. What do I mean by that? Let me explain.
When I was younger I grew up in a very religious home. My dad was a pastor of a small church and as a family we made it to every Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening service for years. We celebrated Jesus on Christmas and Easter — never Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny. We prayed before every meal, memorized scriptures for Sunday School, went to kids camp every summer, and occasionally read our Bibles together as a family. As far as I knew we were the perfect Christian family, we had it all together, and we were all going to make it to Heaven.
Now, I’m not going to make any assumptions about the faith of my parents or my siblings. I couldn’t and can’t see their hearts; however, the Lord has revealed quite a lot to me about my heart. I’m going to share some of those insights with you here.
Growing up my faith was rooted in rules. I believed that if I followed all the rules I would make it to Heaven. I don’t ever remember anyone actually saying that to me, so I don’t know if I was taught to believe this or if I misunderstood what my parents and my church were teaching. Either way this misplaced faith led to a puffed up spirit, an arrogance, a pride, and an “I’m better than you” attitude.
But Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.
Yes, I was that Christian. Even at seven years old I could look down my nose at you, a filthy sinner, and judge on the spot where you would be spending your eternity. Don’t believe that I could be that stuck-up at such a young age? Let me tell you a true little story.
I remember standing in the lunch line in second grade when the boy in front of me turned around and began to tell me that his parents were getting a divorce. I responded, “My parents will never get a divorce. We’re Christians.” Yes, I said that verbatim and nearly three decades later I remember it like it was yesterday. I didn’t give that little boy a hug, or cry a inward tear for him, or offer to pray for him, or even ask him how he was doing. Instead of loving him, I stuck up my perfect little Christian nose, looked down on him, and judged his sinful little family.
Rules. They were so important to me. I believed I had to obey the rules or I wasn’t going to get into Heaven. That’s where my faith was – in the rules. I was so convinced of their importance that I didn’t understand why the father in The Parable of The Lost Son welcomed back his prodigal boy (Luke 15:11-32). When it came to the adulteress caught in the act, I didn’t understand why Jesus didn’t say, “Go ahead. Stone her. She deserves it,” when instead He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Those Bible stories left me confused and bewildered so I focused on the things I understood – the rules.
Rules. I loved them.
I loved the rules so much that I failed to see why Jesus really died on The Cross. My faith in rules prevented me from developing a real faith in Jesus. I had faith in something that couldn’t do anything for me. The only thing that rules could do was point to my need for Jesus, but for years – no, for decades – I didn’t see that. And when the worst storm my family had ever faced hit the rules couldn’t save me. They couldn’t comfort me. They couldn’t protect me. They couldn’t give me answers.
That storm? DIVORCE.
When I was 12 my parents called it quits. Yep, that dirty word that the boy in second grade was telling me about; that sin I bolding proclaimed would never happen to my family; that rule breaking behavior that I believed kept people out of Heaven… it was happening to my family.
I was devastaed. It hurt. It hurt me, it hurt my parents, it hurt my sibilings, it hurt my grandparents, it hurt our church. But I couldn’t focus on the hurting people, I could only focus on the rules. My parents broke the rules. They weren’t suppose to get a divorce and in my mind that meant they weren’t going to make it to Heaven.
It all happened so fast; my parents divorce, my dad resigning his position as pastor, and then all of a sudden we were spending our Sundays at home. No more going to church. No more prayers. No more Bible reading. Soon both my parents remarried. Life moved on.
And still all I focused on was the rules.
But my focus shifted. It shifted from how well we kept the rules to how many we had broken. And the more rules we couldn’t keep — the more I couldn’t keep — the fewer I tried to keep. Eventually I just gave up trying all together.
By the standards of most I was still a pretty “good” kid in junior high and high school. But by the time my early 20s hit I was way in over my head with parties, bars, drinking, and men. By my late 20s I had one failed marriage under my belt and a severe case of depression.
I realize that this time in my life was pretty tame compared to others. You may be thinking okay? so what? nothing major! You may be thinking this especially if you weren’t raised in the church. Maybe to you smoking, drinking, and sex aren’t really a big deal, but you need to remember my love for the rules. Smoking, drinking, and sex outside of marriage were all big no-nos and by engaging in them I was breaking rules. Even though I was breaking these rules (and many more!) left and right they were still holding me prisoner. At this point in my life all I ever felt was guilt and shame. I was without hope.
I remember several times praying, begging, weeping, “God, please! I know I’m breaking the rules. I know You’ll forgive me once I get my life back together. Just please, don’t come back yet! I’m not ready for your second-coming! I don’t want to go to Hell! Please I need more time to fix my messed-up life.” But no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t “fix” my life.
So what changed? How did I get my life back together? When did I start following all the rules and get back in line with Jesus?
Well the truth is I never did get my life back together, but when my oldest daughter was about two years old I started taking her to church. I figured she needed to know the rules. I had broken so many of them, it was too late for me to get my life back on track, but it wasn’t too late for her. She needed a Biblical foundation and a knowledge of God in order to make good decisions as she got older. Maybe she wouldn’t grow up to be a Christian, but a least by taking her to church I would have done my part as her parent.
I didn’t really want to go to church myself. I knew that the people there would take one look at me and know how big of a sinner I was. I didn’t want to feel that judgement but I decided to grin-and-bare-it for my daughter’s sake. So we went… and we were… LOVED ON!!! Yes, loved on! Now, I know that this sadly isn’t the case for all churches but the people in this small little church, the people of Stanfield Crossroads Community, accepted me for who I was. The truth is they probably did take one look at me and know I was a sinner (because they knew that we are all sinners), but this church body truly understood the meaning of “hate the sin, love the sinner.” When they found out I was living with my boyfriend they didn’t ask me to leave. When I became pregnant with my second child out of wed-lock they didn’t ask me to leave. When I took the Lord’s name in vain right in the church building (for crying out loud!!!) they didn’t ask me to leave.
You see, yes, there is a time and a place to ask someone to leave a church, but this was not one of those times. I wasn’t a member of the church rebelliously disobeying, I was a member of the lost world and this church was reaching out to me just as Jesus instructed them to do (Matthew 9:35-38, Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 16:15). This was Jesus reaching out to me through the people that put their faith in Him.
Faith in Him!
Not faith in the rules!
And slowly I began to see, I began to understand, I began to embrace grace. Grace – the undeserved favor that is shown to us by God through His Son Jesus Christ. And as my love for Jesus and His grace grew it began to replace my love for the rules.
Nearly a year after I started attending Crossroads Community I still hadn’t “fixed” my life; I didn’t have things back on track to my standard, but gave my life back to Jesus anyway. When I did I wasn’t perfect — I’m still not perfect — but I had finally realized (or at least started to realize) that going to church and being a Christian isn’t about me. It isn’t about how good I can be, how many Bible verses I can quote, or how many rules I obey. Being a Christian is about Jesus. It’s about putting our faith in Him and Him alone. It’s about believing that when He hung on the cross and proclaimed, “It’s is finished!” that He meant it (John 19:30). It’s about understanding that there is nothing left for us to do to earn salvation except have faith in what Jesus has already done.
So that’s it. That’s my story, at least the beginning of it, because God is still writing it. It’s how God took me, a “perfect” rule-loving Christian and transformed me into an imperfect Jesus-loving Christian. I’m a Christian who still struggles with life here on Earth, a Christian who doesn’t know it all or have it all together, and a Christian who breaks rules and is disobedient more than I care to admit. But despite all of that, I am a Christian who now believes that Jesus and His grace are truly sufficient.
Only by grace,
And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:9
I hope that this testimony has encouraged you and inspired you to perhaps share with others the great work that God has done in your life.
Have a question or a thought? Please feel free to leave a comment.