Yesterday, we began the new Sunday school quarter, in which each of the Elders will be presenting their testimony. Sharing each other's personal story of faith is a great way of sharing the Good News: Jesus saves, and this is how he saved me. With Father's Day, many of you had to leave after worship and didn't get to stay. So here's my story, and I hope it's an encouragement to you. Join us over the next few weeks to hear from the other Elders as they share with us.
One of the most enjoyable things we do on the Session is listen to the testimonies of the people as they come to join the church. We hear stories that have tears, laughter; some have both; all are a cause for joy and rejoicing. We’ve often said that we wished that the entire church could hear those stories. So for this short quarter, we thought it might be a good idea to hear from the Session and have each of us tell our story.
My story is that I grew up in a broken home. My parents split up when I was 11. But the home was broken long before that. Mom and Dad were not Christians. As such, there was a lot of turmoil, shouting, and anger in the home. Additionally, my mom was mentally ill and, at times, could hardly care for herself, much less 4 children. We were free range kids, and we ran wild. I began experimenting with drugs. My experiments were very successful. I found that drugs gave me an escape from my experience and, I thought, an acceptance into this secret society of “cool people” that were my friends.
The drug use was a thin veil and it brought further conflict into the family. Lying to my parents, sneaking around, missed curfews, more turmoil. By the time I was 14, mom’s mental health continued to worsen, my brother and I had been arrested for drugs, and Dad decided he had to take the children to live with him and my grandmother.
My grandmother was a strong Christian. She had insisted that we children go with her to church from the time we were very small. But by the time we were teenagers, we had stopped going. But even then, as a 14 year old, I knew my life was headed in the opposite direction from the stories I had heard in Sunday school.
At 15, the court put me on probation, and as a condition, I had to attend church. And so I did, and I put in a year of dozing through services, doing time. At 16, probation was over, and the whole experience hadn’t really changed me. When I could get away with it, I was still using, and I added drinking.
But as a 16 year old, girls became a competing interest. I was smitten by a little blonde girl. This little girl went to church. Her dad was an Elder in the church. He didn’t think his little girl ought to be hanging around someone like me. And so to establish my bone fides, I went to church and started showing up for Youth Group on Wednesday night.
The father allowed me to call upon his daughter and invited me into his home. Spending time with this family was eye opening. They prayed together, they showed me grace.
In Youth Group, I got to know the youth leader, who was a Seminary Student. I was drawn into the conversations about faith in Jesus. But the more I heard, the more I know that I didn’t have what some of these folks had.
I decided that I would go with the Youth Group for their summer trip to Jekyll Island, GA. I had no idea what happened at these things, but how awful could a week at the beach be? Plus, I was still interested in this little blonde girl who was going too.
We’d go to small group meetings in the mornings, play on the beach in the afternoons, and at night, have a big meeting where we’d sing and some preacher would get up and talk. On the second or third night, a guy got up. Don’t remember his name or really much else. He talked about a man, the son of a poor carpenter, who said he was the Son of God, and had died for my sins. He was raised from the dead and conquered death. If I would repent, He would forgive my sins and I could have life.
Having sat through a lot of church over the last year or so, I’m sure I’d heard that same thing many times. I’m sure that even in Sunday school as a young kid that I’d been told that story. But I had never heard it the way I heard it that night. When he finished, he said if you wanted to come forward and pray with him and accept Jesus to come on down. I jumped up and raced down the aisle. It felt right. And that began a new life for me.
I returned home and told everyone I knew. Things were going to be different. I joined the church and got baptized. I dug into all the books I could to find out more about the Christian faith. I read the Bible.
But old habits die hard, and my walk faltered. I went through a year or so of being fired up, messing up, fessing up, and then getting back on the horse again. It took a while to get my feet underneath me and understand how to maintain a steady, slow walk of faith in which I could look for small steady growth and rest on Jesus for each day’s needs.
Since those early days of faith, by His Grace, and through the fellowship of good Christians in my church, I grew and matured. I learned to accept that the Christian race was a marathon and not a series of sprints. I learned that the key to a Christian life was committed service as a member of a church. I learned that my salvation was God’s work and not my efforts. I learned that God doesn’t convict every one of the same sin on the same day. I learned that the best place to grow was in the church where I could be accountable to others. I’m still learning those same things today, 35 years later.
As of late, God has further impressed upon me that the key to your walk is this membership in the Church. It is a radical statement in a low commitment culture to put your membership vows ahead of all of the other options we have available to us. It speaks volumes to a watching world. This is the institution that Jesus came to establish and it is here that we are expected to live our faith and to serve.