|A different-looking me getting baptized by Pastor Eddie Brown in the spring of 2008.|
This week features multiple anniversaries in my home, each of them having to do with life and death. There's the anniversary of my wife's birth, the anniversary of my mom's passing, and the anniversary of my new birth. The last two are inextricably connected, as they happened simultaneously during the most vital days of my life.
Ten years ago, in the first days of summer of 2006, tragedy touched my life in a way that it never had before and a way (Lord willing) it never will again.
My parents were in dire financial straits. The situation was so bleak that we had lost ownership of our home and the powers-that-be were on their way to evict us from the place where I grew up, learned to shoot a basketball, and made all my friends. All of our possessions were to be removed from the home and the bank was set to take what was rightfully theirs.
My mother was the only one at the house; Dad and I were both at work. When she got the call that the crew was on their way to get us out from under our roof, she panicked and killed herself. Moments later I was saved by the grace of God.
In regards to my salvation, the process didn't begin that day. The moments leading up to my salvation started long before June 22, 2006. Scripture says that it started before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1), as God locked in a plan for me to be adopted as His son. Though He knew everything about me, I didn't become aware of Him until 1995.
When I was in kindergarten and my parents enrolled me in an after-school Bible club. I still have the Bible that was given to me then, it's the first one I ever owned. It's a black hardback NIV, highlighted in different colors on the top and side to distinguish the different genres of Scripture. When I flip through the pages today it's interesting to see what verses are highlighted. Surely I was directed to mark some of them in accordance with the curriculum we were going through in the group, but other verses were marked of my own accord. I know this because my six-year old mind thought it was a good idea to highlight every word of Genesis 1. I'm thankful for that.
A number of years later I responded to an altar call at a church service my AAU basketball team went to in a nearby town. Looking back, I had no real understanding of what I was doing. It's most likely that I walked forward because it felt right and there was some spiritual sense that I had telling me it was the "right thing to do." There was no follow up, though, and I remained in spiritual darkness.
My general view toward spiritual things and the afterlife was very misguided, even cult-like. I believed that if I got baptized and obeyed the Ten Commandments I would be allowed to go to heaven. Never mind the fact that I didn't know the majority of those ten, let alone where to find them in the Bible. My basic thought was that God was my ultimate judge, and He would know that I was a good person.
In December of 2005 I was invited to a church service at Maplewood Church, which was right next door to my home. I had never been inside of the building and I had no idea what to expect. I received the invitation around 10:00 a.m. that Sunday morning and I was sitting in the pew about 30 minutes later. It turns out that I loved the service. Various elements of the service appealed to me and I was hearing things I never heard before.
As the months went on, my attendance was spotty. I did start going to the youth group and attending youth activities, though, and I had a lot of questions. Over the course of seven months, I learned so much about God and His word, but I had yet to bow the knee to Christ. Little did I know that the Father was bringing me to that very point. Looking back, it's incredible to see His hand on my life throughout various events, all the while I was fighting Him, looking to be my own authority. He is truly good.
I heard the news about Mom in the late morning of Thursday, June 22. I was stocking shelves at the local grocery store where I worked when I saw a familiar face coming toward me down one of the aisles. Ron, the youth leader at the church at that time, had come to pull me away from my job and relay the news. He told me to put my things away because we had to go. He would talk to my boss for me.
Minutes later we were sitting in his truck in the parking lot. He was waiting to hear if my dad had been told the news yet. He wanted to make sure that my dad was first to know and that he had permission to tell me what was going on. I knew something terrible had happened as we sat there in silence. I was wearing my work uniform, clutching my utility knife and name tag in my hands. His phone rang and he was given the go ahead.
I dropped everything and began to cry. It started to rain in those moments. It was impossible for me to comprehend the weight of that exact point in time.
Thankfully, Ron knew what to say. How it's possible for anyone to have words in those moments is beyond me, but he had them. He provided immediate biblical counsel and God's Spirit comforted me. It's something He does very well.
During that time I gave up seeking answers outside of God. I knew there had to be more to life than what I was doing. The Lord had made it clear: He was, is, and always will be, totally, completely, unmistakably the Savior. The months leading up to that moment were full of lessons from Scripture, led by Ron and a host of others. My Father had given me all that I needed for life and godliness, and He saved me. I lived out -- along with every other person who has come to know Christ -- the words of Titus 3:4-7.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the promise of eternal life. (ESV)
The gospel of grace is a beautiful thing and I can only be grateful for God's love.
Ten years have transpired since I first believed. In some ways it feels like it's been 50 years and in other ways it feels like it's been 50 seconds. There's so much that I've learned about the Lord and His word, yet there's still so much to learn. For what it's worth, here are ten things that God has taught me from a decade of being carried by Him.
1. God's word is certain.
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)
Regardless of the culture, popular opinion, or the experiences of people, Scripture remains true, relevant, and full of wisdom. Second Timothy 3:16-17 lists what God's word is profitable for, concluding that by it the Christian can be complete, equipped for every good work. Hebrews 4:12 says that Scripture will tell a person everything about himself. It's all so true. As Solomon said, there's nothing new under the sun. Everything about this planet might change, but God's word remains absolutely certain.
2. God doesn't change.
For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. (Malachi 3:6)
God is not a man that He should change His mind (Numbers 23:19). It's the reason we don't get zapped by lightning the moment we disobey God. For the Christian, God has said that you are His and nothing can change that. The one He has chosen, predestined, called, justified, and sealed with His Spirit, He will most certainly glorify. No matter how worthless one feels, God is still worthy. And for the Christian, God's worth has been given as a personal ticket into His presence. He doesn't change who He is and He doesn't change His mind about those He has adopted.
3. God's people change.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. (Romans 7:18)
The entirety of the Christian life is a battle. Those who wish to follow Christ are faced with a daily war against sin and carnal desires. In and of ourselves we are completely unable to succeed in this fight, but we can thank God who has given us freedom from condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1). We're unable to do anything good, yet He gives us the ability to do all good things through Jesus. We may change our mind, our attitude, our actions, or our feelings on a moment-by-moment basis, but that never detracts from the salvation God has given us in His Son.
4. God's people are essential.
But as it is, God arranged the members in one body, each one of them, as He chose. (1 Corinthians 12:18)
It's incredible to think about the Church, called God's body and Christ's bride, being held together and built up in love (Ephesians 4:15-16). The Lord arranged the Church Himself and He has placed each believer in it. So often people think that church is a part of their lives, when really, God has made people a part of the Church. In my short experience in ministry I have seen the misdirection, lack of wisdom, and, ultimately, pain caused by a low view of God's body. Christians are essential for other Christians.
5. God's people are different.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:14)
It took me awhile to realize this. It's not necessary for every Christian to look, think, and live like me. Heaven forbid that would ever be the case! There are a variety of spiritual gifts, a variety of personalities, a variety of cultures, and so on. We are individuals and we are one (1 Corinthians 12:27). We're absolutely diverse and we're absolutely unified (Ephesians 4:1-7). The whole thing is a picture of God Himself, as He is diverse and unified within Himself (John 17:11). This concept has occupied many of my thoughts in recent history, that I even developed an in-depth chart that covers the issue.
6. God's fundamentals are for life.
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? (Deuteronomy 10:12-13)
Just as there are fundamentals to every task people seek to complete in life, there are fundamentals to life itself. God has outlined these things for us in Scripture. Prayer and Bible study are the typical activities referred to as part of the Christian life -- and for good reason. There's no escaping the call to speak to the Lord and hear from Him. Paul urged Timothy to keep practicing the basics (1 Timothy 2:8, 2 Timothy 4:13) because they are important for God's people. A life devoted to God is full of the seemingly mundane, but it's the only way to grow. The fundamentals of the Christian life are inescapable.
7. God knows my every need.
Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Luke 12:7)
Jesus has assured His people that every need of theirs will be met. God knows all things about every person -- and He's everywhere (Psalm 139:7-12). Not one need slips by. The Lord sees and knows everything and is aware of each person's need. I've come to understand the depth of this truth through the years, as I've the experienced ups and downs of life. I've never gotten shortchanged by God or needed more than I had. He provides every time.
8. God is absolutely sovereign.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; His understanding is unsearchable. (Isaiah 40:28)
It seems like a no-brainer. God is in charge. Jesus created everything and He holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17). There's no one and no thing that could ever upend God's control over the universe. What this means for the Christian is that the Father is not only aware but He is able. Christians should pray with expectancy knowing that all things are simple to Him. He's able to move mountains and tear down empires. He's even able to save those who are totally unworthy, guilty in sin, by giving them new hearts and making them into new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17).
9. God is extremely patient.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
God's patience is seen in a variety of ways. It's seen in the way He allowed me to live for 16 years before my knee was bowed in worship to Him; it's seen in the world today as He allows the nations to continue on in extreme error; it's seen in the length of time it takes for prayers to get answered (it's a long time in human years, not God years). Evidence of God's patience -- which flows from His grace -- is seen everywhere. Without it, no man would stand a chance. Additionally, His patience calls for our patience (Psalm 37:7).
10. God is incredibly generous.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
God has said that He is the One who gives and takes away (Job 1:21), but it's been my experience that He does much more giving than taking away. When I look around at my life and see all that I have -- my wife, my children, the ministry, the place where I live -- it all goes back to God. He's the One who knit this all together and placed me where I am. I deserve to be sitting in a desert somewhere, alone and frustrated. But God is generous.