January 11, 2014 The Worst of Them All
This is not something that you would expect most people to say about themselves. Usually people are full of ideas and thoughts about how wonderful they are. If people put themselves down it’s because they “lack self-esteem”, confidence, have been abused, need motivation, and even have self hate. Something has to be wrong if you don’t know your worth.
15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it:
“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.
16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners.
Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.
17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever!
He is the eternal King,
the unseen one who never dies;
he alone is God.
1 Timothy 1:15-17
Of course the person who wrote the verse above had, at one time in his life, thought quite well of himself. In fact, he could have filled his resume with all the boasts he could crow, like some rooster. He had lived a religious life, following laws, doing good, studied, gave, sacrificed. He was even willing to keep what he believed pure from teachings that were out of sync with his own. He was raised and taught with strict beliefs and held them as his own until that day he met Jesus. It turned his life completely around.
I remember that day for myself.
I was raised in the church. We never missed, unless we were sick. If that was the case, only the ill child would stay home. We were raised Southern Baptist. We attended church Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights. Sunday school, GA’s, Bible drill, Vacation Bible School, Back Yard Bible Club, Choir, the works. I loved it, though. I loved all the Bible Stories. I would even get up early on school mornings to watch a show Flying House (which was an Anime style show about Bible stories). I would listen to sermons and make mental notes of all the things being taught. One thing that I appreciated about my parents is that they wanted me to become a Christian, but never pressured me. Every once in a while my dad would ask me about it. I knew all the right answers. I was a sinner. Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sin. I needed to believe in him and repent. I had all the head knowledge, but I never felt it was time.
Baptist like to keep records and counts. Our church that we were a part of had in their records, and rightly so, that I was not a Christian. Our youth leader called me up one day and asked if she could come over and share with me about becoming a Christian. She shared all the things I mentioned above. I think she even had a tract with the throne and a stick figure sitting on it, and that represented me in charge but separate from God. Anyway, she went through it all and at the end asked me if I would like to pray and become a Christian. I agreed. I definitely wasn’t opposed to it. So we prayed, I told my parents, was baptized and that was that. I could now eat the Lord’s supper and check “yes” I was a Christian on my camp forms.
I was about 11 or 12.
Looking back, I always knew nothing had changed. Deep down I knew I wasn’t a Christian.
Fast forward a few years to when I was 16. Alan and I had been dating for a while. I share his testimony here. He had been a Christian for a few months. We had a couple who was new to our church that really loved the Word and led us in knowing it more. They had invested a lot of time to teaching us in Sunday School. As Alan began to change, I had been struggling. I had some depression and self hate. I felt alone. I think a lot of teens go through these kind of feelings, but for me it was a despair that was growing inside. I like to describe it as a false pride. I didn’t like who I was, but at the same time I was prideful and arrogant. I loved to hate myself. I was lost in life, slowly slipping into a deeper pit.
I had no hope.
I saw hope all around me, but I knew for the first time in my life that I really had no hope.
We are told constantly to fill our selves with love. We stuff our minds with things like, “every one of us is beautiful and perfect”. You, as God’s creation, are a beautiful and loving thing, so please, hear me out. But you, on your own, without God, are nothing. If you are suffering from depression, you are deeply loved and my prayer is that you will find the hope like I did.
Our church was having revival services. That is when a preacher comes in for at least a week and you have church every night, specifically refocusing on God. I don’t remember anything that the preacher said. I don’t even remember if I was listening. As soon as the service was over I was overcome with lostness.
I ran down to the basement, full of tears. The best way for me to describe how I felt was that I was on the edge of a cliff. I felt something pushing me closer to the edge, but I had nothing to grab on to. Nothing to save me. That’s when I realized. I was overwhelmed, because I knew that in a very real way, for the first time, that I needed something, someone to save me. I couldn’t do it on my own. I became aware of my own sin, how it separated me- it was like a chain wrapped around my body, weighing me down. Pulling me to the edge, and over. I cried out right there for salvation. Later, Alan came and found me crying. He went and got Donna (our Sunday School teacher). She and I talked more deeply, but I already had a peace. I had found the hope that was missing.
Before that night, March 31, 1991, I could have told you all the right things that a person needed to be a Christian. I knew I was a sinner, separated from God. I knew the prayer to pray. I was baptized. I had eaten the Lord’s supper. None of those things are what saves a person. Until I acknowledged from within that I had no hope, that I was full of sin with nothing good in me, I could never accept and believe the sacrifice that Jesus made by dying on the cross.
In a very real way, my heart echoed what Paul said above, “I am the chief of sinners!”
As Alan and I were discipled it was obvious that a real change had taken place. Both of us had different chains that were now cut loose. Read through the beginning of Ephesians 5 and you will see a list of sins that quickly I let go of. At school we began to be alienated from certain people that we would have called friends because we had changed and they didn’t agree with us anymore. On more than one occasion we both had been publicly mocked or rebuked. I think the biggest difference was that, for the first time, when I read the Bible it became alive. It was no longer words on a page or great stories. Everything now had meaning and I could understand deeper truths. I could go on and on about all the things about me that had changed.
I think it’s important though to tell you that it hasn’t stopped. You would think that after 22 years a person would slow down. That there isn’t that much about me that has changed over time. You would think that I could relax and ride out the rest of my life on coast. That’s just not the case. Yes, I do believe that I am sealed in my salvation, but I also believe that everyday I must press on in my faith. The moment I let my guard down is the moment the Enemy will begin his lies in my heart. Pride will rear its ugly head.
Paul says it this way,
18 Timothy, my son, here are my instructions for you, based on the prophetic words spoken about you earlier. May they help you fight well in the Lord’s battles. 19 Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked.
This picture of me was drawn by Donna as a reminder of the change. Although the darkness around me no longer is part of my identity, I am still in it. No longer am I held captive in its death grip. I am here to share my story with others that they too may find Hope. If you would like to know more about becoming a Christian, please feel free to ask.