I became a Jesus-follower somewhere between 1992-1994. If you attend a Baptist church like I do, you might have trouble with that statement because you think that there has to be a date and and hour when you "sealed the deal." But I truly believe that for some it is more of a process than it is a prayer. I love how John Piper explains the process as an electrical system. People come into our lives and help to install the wiring tracts for the system, but one day God flips the switch and turns on the lights, which only God can do. I can pinpoint the time in my life with much certainty that God "flipped the switch."
It is different for everyone, I am sure. My story is not a condemnation of any one's belief systems, nor is it a commentary on the faith of those I grew up with, it is simply a story of someone who came away from a particular system empty and scared. Not all people have the same response that I did-I can only speak for myself.
When I was little, my parents were faithful church attendees. We went to a close-knit Church of Christ. I think that back in the day, there was a fairly good sized congregation, but the perspective of a child I have found is sometime skewed when it comes to size and proportion. But they were family. They still are. The church no longer holds the name "Church of Christ." I don't know why they changed the name, but I wondered if it had anything to do with that denominations beliefs on salvation and baptism. I really don't know for sure.
I remember Sunday School and Junior Church and VBS. We learned to memorize Bible verses, the books of the Bible, and so on. I have some very fond memories that reach back to those events. But as I grew into a teenager, I was a bit worried. I had met people who I had believed had a real connection with God that I seemed to be lacking. If you would have asked me back then what it meant to be a Christian I'm not really sure what I would have told you. I found comfort in a lot of things that I don't see as edifying now. My choice in music was one of them. My choice in relationships was another. I have never had any experience with drugs, but I did drink a few times well before I was of age. I spent a lot of time telling my mother that I listened to heavy metal for the music, but I didn't care for the lyrics-which was a lie and I knew it.
I went through a lot of traumatic things as a child. Not in my family-they were wonderful. I had loving, faithful parents. My trauma was more with friends and it started with a neighbor that decided one day to raise an army against me. You know how girls fight? They are never content just to be mad at you, they have to take all of their friends with them and form an army. My adolescence started that way. I have had some great friends, but my experience with just one friend left me wounded and raw. I spent the rest of my teenage years looking for acceptance and love. I was loved at home, but I needed more. I needed love from people who were not blood-related and obligated to love me! In retrospect, I think I just wanted to be worthy of love. That led me to seek out love in the wrong places. (remember that song? Looking for love in all the wrong places? I always get that song stuck in my head when I tell this story!) What I did not know then was that I had a hole in my heart that would never and could never be filled by people.
So let me rewind for a minute. When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be baptized. I saw that everyone else around me was doing it, and I really wanted to take communion. My parents called the pastor and he came out to our home to talk with us. I don't remember a single word he said. What I do remember was that after our meeting I was scared. I was scared that I would not make it to the church to my baptism. What if I got hit by a train, truck, or swept up by a tornado? Then I would be condemned to hell for sure! I don't know how long it was in between the meeting and the baptismal service-let's just say 2 weeks for the sake of argument. Two weeks is a long time to sit and worry about death! I needed my sins washed away now! But the two weeks passed, and I lived. I made it to the church and I walked down the isle. I stood in front of our small congregation and made a profession of faith: that I believed that Jesus was the Son of God, I believed He died and rose again, and I believed that I needed Him for a Savior. And I really did believe that. Now time to wash those sins away. I remember one of my first thoughts when coming up out of the water: what now? All those sins are gone, does that mean I can never sin again? How can I be "good enough" for this God? How bad do I have to be to lose this salvation that I just earned by baptism? These were all subconscious questions I had. They weren't answered for a few years.
So fast-forward now to those teenage years. Several years of attempting to "be good" had found me flat on my face. I had failed so many times. I didn't even desire righteousness. I made my own form of it. I supposed that there were people out there who were much worse than me, so I must be doing okay-even though my soul knew I wasn't okay. I won't lie to you, I was tormented. I used to cry at night knowing I wasn't good enough. When I was in high school and struggling with the "friend thing" I had a thought that I would rather be dead. I never tried to accomplish that-I just wanted it. Yet through the day, I wore a confident face for my family and justified everything I did to myself and others. I never would have described myself as "empty" like I know that it was now. I just didn't know.
After learning the ways of the world through a miserable relationship with a man, I decided that it was time to change myself. I resolved to be better. God brought a wonderful man into my life. He was everything that I wanted, but he was also something that I hated--Baptist. My thoughts on denominational lines now are different, but that is another subject for another time. I went to some of his church gatherings and he came to some of mine. In less than a year of knowing him, I knew that I would marry him-but I would never go to a Baptist church!
God has a great sense of humor. But I digress.
My husband and his family introduced me to the doctrine of grace. This was something totally new for me. I didn't remember hearing much about it growing up. I struggled with it at first--because it is a totally un-natural, radical thing. I asked a lot of questions but still couldn't grasp the idea that I could accept Christ as my savior and then live my life any way I wanted and I would still be His. Asinine. For the record-I still don't believe that, but I understand now the transforming power of grace and how God takes a heart of stone from us and transforms it into a living, warm heart of flesh. Remember when I talked about laying the ground wire and letting God flip the switch? It's coming soon. All of the things that I learned about God over the years, all of the things that were continuing to wire me was about to be activated by God. In all of my questioning and confusion, He led me to this verse:
Ephesians 2:8-9 "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God and not by works, lest any man can boast."
I didn't read that and say: "oooh! I get it!" No, when I read that I realized that what I had believed all of these years could possibly be wrong. So one night, somewhere between 1992 and 1994-I don't even remember if it was spring, summer, whatever- I was lying in bed crying. I prayed to God and told Him that I didn't know what was true, but I just wanted Him. And I wanted truth. I needed Him to open my eyes and show me because my "self" wasn't figuring this out and I certainly had never had the peace I desired. God is faithful. And when we humble ourselves before Him, He gives us what we really need. He knew that this was the cry of my heart and that it was genuine. That night, I believe that He performed a work in me. I believe that the next morning I woke up with a clean slate. The work of baptism that I hoped to wash my sins away failed, but my desires were accomplished by a simple act of faith. I didn't know it immediately, but I began to see God change me. I lost the desire for some of the music I once loved. My thoughts in other areas had changed. Others noticed a difference and commented on it. I wasn't super-Christian, flying around with my sword of righteousness--no it was a bit more subtle than that. But it was a change. And I knew something that I had never known before: I was His forever. Nothing I did was ever going to change that. My dirty self was now clothed in the righteousness of Christ and one day I would show up at the gates wearing His righteousness-not my own. And when I got there and He asked me "Why should I let you into my heaven?" I would start to speak and Jesus would interrupt and say:
"Father, this one is Mine. I did all of the work for her, she simply believed."
I now believe that salvation doesn't depend on what kind of church you go to. We attend a Baptist church simply because we like it and find it to be Biblically sound. But I have learned that my beliefs don't have to lie within Baptist boundaries-just Biblical ones. God has used the past 19ish years to transform me, mold me, and change my wrong-headed thinking on many things. And I am still open to that. I am learning all of the time. (Hence the blog title) Despite the things I don't know, I still know one thing for sure: I am His forever and nothing will change that. Nothing, self included, can remove me from His hand. Amazing love. I have found rest from my works in the arms of a loving Savior.
Do you rest in Him too?