I grew up in a typical American “Christian” family. My mother came from a Catholic background and my father from an Episcopalian one. Neither of them were particularly devoted to their respective denominations, yet both of them were committed to raising us with a knowledge of God. What I mean by this is simply that from my earliest childhood years I was raised to believe that there there wasindeed a God and that his existence impacted our daily lives. This foundation, though insufficient for salvation, was a tremendous blessing that I will always be thankful to my parents for and more importantly to my gracious God. Because of this simple foundation my heart was fertile ground for the Holy Spirit’s later work in my life.
Our family floated from church to church and I caught various tid bits of truth and falsehood from each of them. I prayed the sinner’s prayer multiple times knowing that I didn’t want to go to Hell and that if a prayer was my ticket out, I would take it. Unfortunately, though these prayers gave me momentary freedom from my fear of eternal punishment, they did nothing to resolve my need for permanent forgiveness and freedom from sin.
As I moved into my preteen and early teen years I became increasingly ensnared by private sin. From the outside I was a moral, mostly obedient daughter. I was a good girl. But in my private life, in the darkness of my own heart I was enslaved to sin and its burden was more than I could bare. My relationship to God was a vicious cycle of rebellion, shame, and penitence. I made vows to the Living God to forsake my sin, begging to be forgiven just one more time. I was ashamed before my Heavenly Father, filled with the guilt of my sin sickness. I was lost and operating on a religion of works-a religion that just didn’t work for a young girl enslaved to sin. I desperately wanted to get out of this deadly cycle, but couldn’t. The Holy Spirit had not yet whispered the key to salvation into my dead soul.
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8 ESV)
The summer before my sophomore year in high school I was invited by a friend of the family to a youth camp. My Dad, who was always enthusiastic about such things, encouraged me to go. With a borrowed Bible in tow (my uncle had gifted my brother with one on a previous Christmas) I set out with a bunch of strangers hoping to make some friends and potentially even flirt with a couple boys along the way.
Upon arrival the speaker asked us to take out a sheet of paper and write down why we were Christians. As I tore out a small piece of notebook paper I considered what I would write. It seemed pretty simple, at least from my perspective. My pen quickly scrolled out my entire theological understanding: “I know there is a God and he had a son named Jesus.” Of course I knew there was something special about Jesus, but what exactly was still a mystery to me. To me, Jesus was just a part of the religion that was a part of my life. After a brief silence the speaker proceeded to explain the reason he was a Christian.
He looked at us with a serious expression and said, “I am a Christian because I am so in love with Jesus Christ who came to earth to die for my soul and give me eternal life.”
I remember at that moment feeling very concerned about my lack of understanding of the Christian faith. The passion that this man exuded as he spoke about a personal relationship with Jesus was something that was beyond my understanding. I had never experienced such real, life altering faith and it was appealing to me. Throughout the following week my soul began searching for answers to questions I had never thought to ask. The most elemental principles were shrouded in mystery. I even asked another student (who was probably just as oblivious as I was) what she thought about as she prayed; did she imagine a light? Jesus on his throne? I had no idea!
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 ESV)
The last night of camp was a night that changed everything for me. It was intentionally emotional-the lights were turned down and a video of the crucifixion played over a big projection screen. It was a night to make a “decision;” a night for the students to come to terms with the reality of the gospel. I look at such emotional techniques now knowing that they have the potential to produce highly emotional mountain top professions of faith followed by disillusioned returns to the valley of worldly life. And yet, I can’t help but marvel at the Lord’s mysterious working in my heart through that video. Never before had I understood that Jesus was God and that God had chosen to die a horrible death on the cross for my sins. I was struck by the incredible sacrifice that took place, struck by a King dying for his rebellious people… for this rebellious, broken young girl. I loved him. For the first time in my life I loved him and wanted to know him. My heart overflowed with appreciation and joy. My guilt was washed as away as I learned that Jesus paid the debt for every evil, disgusting sin I had ever committed. In a marvelous work of regeneration, the Holy Spirit removed the scales from my eyes and revealed my Savior to me. In that moment I was made free.
So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36 ESV)
I came home from that youth camp a new creation. My heart yearned to know my God better, to learn how to please him and walk in his ways. Wednesday night youth group became a regular part of my life and soon Sunday worship service did as well. By God’s gracious providence I found myself in a Bible-centered church that focused heavily on discipleship and personal growth in holiness. They thought much of God and his Word and it translated into their everyday lives. It was there that I was introduced to names of faithful men from the past like John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards, men who became profound spiritual influences on my life and understanding of Scripture. It was there that I was introduced to modern day preachers and teachers like John Macarthur, John Piper, Wayne Grudem, and R.C. Sproul, men who continue to challenge my thinking today and encourage me to hold tightly to the living Word of God. It was at that church that I was given a bearing for interpreting and understanding Scripture as well as taught the extreme importance of doing so rightly. Theology was a part of my earliest introduction to the faith and served to deepen and ignite my passion for the Lord and his Word.
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 ESV)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)
In addition to the incredible influences I was exposed to outside my local church, there were many faithful men and women within it who God used to shape and mold my spiritual character. Two of these people were Kris and Chelle Stire. About a month or so after I began attending church regularly, a Youth Pastor was hired named Kris Stire. He and his wife Chelle became the two most influential people in my spiritual walk. I began meeting regularly with Chelle for “discipleship” which was basically a dedicated time where she would hold me accountable for various areas in my life (i.e. Bible reading, obeying my parents, my relationships with boys, modesty, etc…) and share with me the lessons the Lord was teaching her. She became a sort of spiritual mother to me, continually lifting me up in prayer and encouraging me to walk in this new life with Christ and not give in to my sinful flesh.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7 ESV)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV)
When you become a Christian and are loosed from the bonds of sin, you quickly find out that your struggle with sin is not over. In fact, in a very real way, it is at that time that your struggle with sin truly begins. Before I came to know Christ, I could not overcome sin, I was a slave to it. No matter how hard I tried no matter how much I begged God, sin still exercised a harsh rule over my life. Christ died so that I could experience victory over this former oppressor and once I trusted in his sacrifice on the cross I was given the ability to do so. Sin is a pesky thing though, and our renewed spirits are housed in fleshly un-renewed bodies that continue to crave sin. Old desires, habits, and struggles were still a temptation to me and are to this day. The difference was that I now had the power of the Holy Spirit to fight the fight that I will eventually win (a victory that Christ secured for me). Some battles I won, while others I failed in, but all the while Christ’s blood was ready and able to forgive and empower. As I grew in my knowledge of him, my life slowly (oh what a slow process!) and consistently was being transformed into his image.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25 ESV)
But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23 ESV)
Through the ministry of my home church, my mother, father, brother, and sister-in-law have all come to know the Lord. Our family is now free to experience the incredible fellowship and love that only children of the Lord can enjoy. It is truly a merciful gift from the Lord to be able to worship him alongside your most loved family members.
I set out from this church of my spiritual infancy after graduating high school and through the Lord’s providence met my beloved husband while attending college. Richard was a young, handsome, and passionate man of God who wanted to preach the Word of God after so wondrously being saved through the mere reading of the gospels. Since then we have been on a spiritual (and physical) journey in our effort to follow the Lord’s will for our lives. Being a Christian doesn’t mean that God gives you everything you desire or think is good. It means that you trust that his will for your life is perfect, loving, and wise. It means that Christ himself is enough for you, enough to satisfy the deepest longings of your heart. Throughout set backs, disappointments, and grief the Holy Spirit has continued his sanctifying work in our lives. We have experienced a devastating miscarriage, very slow progress through seminary, more moves and job hunts than many experience in their entire life. Throughout every trial, God is constantly teaching us to rely on him alone and to hope in his perfect will above all else. Our plans may fail, our dreams may die, but nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that is the sustaining and liberating truth that we cling to. He has blessed us with all spiritual blessings as well as with a wonderful marriage, beautiful children, and loving family-all of which we are completely unworthy of!
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39 ESV)
And so my grace story continues to this day as I seek to follow his will as a wife, mother, homemaker, church member, daughter, sister, and friend. I am learning more and more to live in his grace, to rely fully on his unfailing character to bring me to sanctification. As we prepare to welcome a new little baby into our family I am more aware then ever of my own inadequacies, but look forward to seeing the Lord fill those up with his own miraculous power. It is true that “the journey to Heaven is uphill” (Prentiss), yet it is also true that I don’t climb that hill with my own strength. I climb it with the strength of the Risen Lord, who died to secure my to sanctification.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37 ESV)