Why I Told My Story


First Century GalileeSome time ago, I realized that I had a habit of starting blog posts with “backstory,” something you should not do if you’re writing fiction. I’d begin my article by stating why I was writing on that particular topic—as if most readers really cared why I decided to write on Ebola instead of King David.

So yesterday without preamble, I wrote a post entitled “My Story,” a piece which fills in the gaps of a couple other articles which tell how I became a Christian.

But it’s bugging me that I left out the backstory, the why I was writing My Story. So now I’m backtracking.

Sunday my pastor, Mike Erre, preached from Luke 9/Mark 5ff. As usual, he connected lots of dots until a whole picture emerged, and there was one particular picture that is memorable and beautiful.

Part 1: Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to an area known at the time as the Decapolis, an area populated primarily by non-Jews who were pagan, worshiping various gods. They were heavily influenced by Greek culture, so many of those gods came from the Greek pantheon.

When Jesus arrived in the Decapolis, He went to a place where there was a demon-possessed man living in a graveyard. He was out-of-control violent and had superhuman strength. The people of his community apparently tried to restrain him because Scripture mentions his breaking chains that bound. Chains!

Instead of going the other way, Jesus held a conversation with him and eventually ordered the demons (there was a group of them) to come out of him. Chaos ensued. The demons, with Christ’s permission, entered a herd of pigs (which were apparently used in the sacrifices to those pagan gods) which rushed into the sea and drowned. The herdsmen fled the scene and apparently told anyone who would listen what had just happened.

Soon a crowd arrived. They found the man who’d been demon-possessed clothed and in his right mind. Instead of showing gratitude that this crazy man was sane and sober and lucid, they were scared to death and told Jesus he needed to leave. At once.

The former demoniac told Jesus he wanted to follow Him. Well, of course, why wouldn’t he? And Jesus was in the business of telling people to follow Him, so it was a perfect storm, right? If I were writing the story, I’d have the man packing his bags and climbing into the boat with Jesus.

But thankfully, God is better at figuring out what’s best than I am. Consequently, Jesus told him to go home instead and tell the people “what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19b) As a result, the man “went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed” (Mark 5:20).

Part 2: Jesus went back to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee where he performed a number of other miracles—healed some people, raised someone from the dead, fed the 5000 using just a few loaves and fish, walked on water—then he returned to the Decapolis.

This time things were different: “Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis. They brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they implored Him to lay His hand on him. Jesus took him aside from the crowd,” and healed him (Mark 7:31ff).

In the area where the man freed from demon possession had gone to tell of the great mercy God had shown him, now people weren’t asking Jesus to leave. They were bringing to Him people who needed healing. They were coming in crowds so great that Jesus had to say, enough. Not that they listened: “And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it” (Mark 7:36).

The point is simple: though we can’t know for sure, there’s a good possibility that the one man who went home and told people about God’s great mercy and what Jesus had done for him, turned the Decapolis to Christ.

Before the man told his story, the crowd was frightened and told Jesus to go away. After the man told his story, the crowd came to Him and were astonished.

It’s not a leap to think the man freed from the legion of demons made a difference because he was willing to tell his story.

And isn’t that what God has asked each of us to do? Which was Pastor Mike’s point. Jesus delivered the great commission to one man as an example for us that we might also go and tell.

Published in: on November 19, 2014 at 7:38 pm  Comments Off on Why I Told My Story  
Tags: , , , , , ,

My Story


I'm the one in the front with the "what's going on" expression.

I’m the one in the front with the “what’s going on” expression.

I love hearing how other people have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Though our backgrounds are different and the events in our lives are miles apart, we still have a common experience when it comes to giving our lives over to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

So it’s exciting to hear other people tell the details that brought them to that place.

My story always feels ordinary and unexciting, but I guess that’s part of the beauty of God’s amazing love. While He can pull out a last-minute rescue such as the one the thief who died next to Jesus experienced, and He can dramatically turn around a Christian-hater like Paul, He can also open His arms to the little children whose parents brought them to receive His blessing.

My story is like the ones those little children might have told years later.

I came to Jesus when I was three—as near as I can tell. I don’t actually remember the moment in time when I turned my life over to God. At least not that first time.

Yes, there were multiple times. I’ve written elsewhere (in “Believe in Jesus” and “My Deceitful Heart“) about my early doubts and the process of coming to realize I had, in fact, entered into a relationship with God despite my sins of action and attitude which continued to plague me. You see, I’d thought the evidence of my relationship with God would be a life of perfect obedience, and I just wasn’t seeing that.

Eventually I came to the point where I realized if I was to get off the roller-coaster of doubt, I had to trust that God meant what He said: if I confessed with my mouth (and I had) and believed in my heart that Jesus was who He said He was (and I did), I was saved.

The issue wasn’t what I had to do because I couldn’t do anything big enough or great enough to earn a right relationship with God. If I was to be saved, it was because of what Christ did for me, and I simply had to put my trust in Him.

Here’s the thing that I think is so cool about my story of coming to Christ—He saved me from myself.

I used to hear testimonies of people who came from hard lives—drugs and promiscuous lifestyles and gang involvement. Now they had a testimony, I thought. God saved them from stuff that was killing them.

Me? Well, I lied to my first grade teacher and didn’t come to the dinner table right away when my mother called.

See? As I was measuring stories, mine wasn’t so great. It was easy for me to believe in Jesus because I didn’t have all the garbage others had to wade through.

But, oh, how wrong that perspective is. I had my own pride and self-righteousness and judgmental attitudes from which God had to save me.

Which is harder, to save someone who is a drunk or a prostitute, or someone who thinks she might actually be good enough she doesn’t have to have the “sinner” label attached to her?

Well, as it turns out, neither is easier. Both require the exact same thing—the blood of Jesus Christ shed for the forgiveness of sin. Not one kind of sin is more or less easy to forgive than another. Both are forgiven because of His work at the cross, period. I don’t bring a thing to the table and neither does the person who comes from a lifestyle mired in hard living.

My pride and self-righteousness was as great a barrier to reconciliation with God as drug addiction or having an abortion was for other people. Sin, in any and all its shapes, is what blocks our path to God, and sin is built into our DNA.

It’s even built into the DNA of “the good kid.” So my story is really the same as every other Christian’s—God rescued me when I couldn’t rescue myself. He pulled me up from the miry clay because I couldn’t pull myself up.

In the end, my story is really God’s story. He’s the hero, the rest of us, me included, are proof of His love, His power, His forgiveness, grace, and unrelenting faithfulness.

CSFF Blog Tour – The Strange Man, Day 2


Some things can't be ignored

It just won’t do.

Try as we might, there’s no way to miss the elephant, so we might as well give him prime time.

Rather than discussing genre as I hinted at in my Day 1 post about Greg Mitchell’s The Strange Man, I want to look at a bit of theology — the slam-dunking elephant tromping across the pages.

The story hinges on the main character (always a good thing for a novel). Here’s what Jason Joyner has to say about the protagonist (who, for those of you unfamiliar with the book, is NOT the strange man):

Dras Weldon is your typical adult adolescent, not willing to grow up and out of his world of comic books, action figures, and B horror movies. The fact that his childhood best friend Rosalyn is looking to actually move on from Greensboro isn’t helping. He is tired of hearing criticism from his older brother, the pastor, as well.

When The Strange Man decides the time is ripe for Greensboro’s harvest, Dras is an unlikely combatant. He doesn’t have anything to fight with, unless he can reconnect with his withered faith in time.

Let me elaborate a little. Dras is a hard-drinking, disrespectful, user. Not of drugs. Of people. Rosalyn is his best friend, and he’s even in love with her, though he won’t admit it. But night after night she puts up with his drunken stupors, seeing him safely home no matter what condition he’s in.

And his family? His father is dying, but Dras can’t remember to be at family dinners. His mom is so programed by his past behavior that when he drops by she automatically reaches for her purse, thinking he’s come to ask for more money. His brother is convinced of the same thing.

And yet, Dras considers himself a Christian. After all, he prayed a prayer at camp one year when he was nine.

Never mind that he admits all he knows about the Bible is that the first book is Genesis and he thinks the last one is Revelation. Never mind that he has no interest in spiritual things, demonstrated by the fact that he only goes to church to appease his family — and then arrives late, with a hangover, and nods off periodically.

Trust me when I tell you, in spite of all this, author Greg Mitchell admirably makes Dras a sympathetic character. Consequently, the reader is hoping for change and cheering Dras on when he confronts, not only his own demons, but those of the entire town.

But back to the theology. The strange man, a demon set on devouring the shriveling community of Greensboro, sees Dras as standing in his way. But apparently God has marked the boy, and the strange man can’t take him out directly.

So apparently Dras thinks he’s a Christian and God thinks he’s a Christian (maybe), but everyone else in town believes he’s a messed up screw-up capable of doing anything.

Dras himself says his life was the single most influential thing in keeping Rosalyn from coming to God.

So there’s the question. Is it really possible for a person to be a Christian, yet have no evidence of Christ in his life?

I’ll be honest. I’ve heard about people who supposedly believe you can pray a “sinner’s prayer” and then live however you want without fear of eternal judgment, but I’ve never met anyone like that (at least that I know of).

The people I know who prayed to ask Christ into their lives either walk away and don’t claim to be Christians any more, or they struggle at different levels to understand what being in God’s family means on a practical level. This “I’m a Christian but no one would guess it” is new to me.

What’s more, I’m pretty convinced it’s not Biblical.

Mind you, I’m aware that Christians still sin (though there is a segment of professing Christians who claim they don’t — very Job-like in their insistence that they do no wrong). What I’m wondering is this: will a Christian show no interest in God?

After all, Christians pretty much agree that our faith is about relationship — ours with God, which makes us then care about the other people in our lives. So if a person doesn’t read Scripture, pray, listen for God’s voice in the preaching of the Word, if he only treats people in his life with selfishness or anger or disrespect, how is it possible for him to be a Christian?

If it were true that a person has become a new creature in Christ, ought there not be some small bit of evidence?

Believe In Jesus


I have to say, I’m glad I didn’t sit under some of the Bible teaching I’ve heard lately. Don’t get me wrong. I respect the preachers and I believe what they say, but it’s not what I needed to hear as a young, immature Christian who often doubted my salvation.

The message these pastors are giving is a counter to “easy believe-ism.” This false teaching wasn’t familiar to me, but apparently some people claim that as long as you say “the sinner’s prayer” you’re going to heaven no matter what you do thereafter. It sounds sort of like a “works” salvation, with “works” reduced to one — saying a prayer “accepting Jesus into your heart.”

I understand why pastors are standing against this approach to salvation. There’s so much it leaves out. Where’s the part about repentance, about taking up our cross and following Christ, about entering into a relationship with Him, about obeying God, loving Him first and loving our neighbor more than ourselves?

The truth is, though, I became a Christian by asking Jesus into my heart.

I was young, a small child. I don’t remember the specific time I first prayed to receive Christ (yes, first — I’ll get to that in a bit), but I do remember asking a Sunday school teacher how Jesus, pictured as a man on a flannel graph, could fit into my heart.

Chuckle if you must, but I think that’s a good question. It’s not normal to invite a person “into your heart.” Anyone who does so without understanding what he’s doing, very well might not actually be doing it.

That poor, dear, wonderful teacher did her best to explain that it wasn’t Jesus’s body that would come live inside me but His Spirit. So, I wondered, why don’t we say we’re accepting the Holy Spirit, but I don’t think I actually asked that question, possibly because the teacher explained that it was Jesus who died for me, Jesus who paid for my sins.

I got it. But I had another question. Again, I don’t have a clear recollection of the sequence of these events, but at some point when I was six or seven, I wasn’t so sure if I agreed that all had sinned and come short of God’s standard. I knew a few Bible stories by this time, so I figured if I could just think of one person in the Bible who hadn’t sinned, then maybe I could be like him. (I shared a little more about this incident in a post last fall, “My Deceitful Heart.”) I mean, what evil had I done, at six? Obviously I hadn’t yet learned about pride and self-righteousness.

I was probably in fifth grade, maybe fourth, when I came across John 3:18. I was playing alone in my room, pretending to be a preacher (I hadn’t learned yet what the Bible says about women and teaching in the church, either 😉 ). I opened my Bible to about the only passage I knew by heart, John 3:16, and started in explaining what it all meant to my pretend congregation. But when I got through that verse, I had more sermon I wanted to preach, so I went on to verse 17, then verse 18. And when I explained the part about Jesus not coming to condemn but that those who didn’t believe in Him were condemned already because they didn’t believe, I got it.

Salvation wasn’t about toeing the line, because none of us could. We were all condemned. Believing in Jesus gave us a pardon.

I was still confused about a lot of things — most particularly why I continued to sin. It gave me no end of doubt about my salvation and contributed to my “accepting Jesus” any number of times because I just didn’t know if it was enough that I meant it when I said it but later acted like I didn’t.

What was it I meant? That I knew I was a sinner, that I knew Jesus had died in my place, that He would forgive me if I believed in Him, and that I would have everlasting life, which meant I’d go to heaven.

I didn’t want to go to heaven particularly. Everything I heard about it made it sound kind of boring, but I knew I didn’t want to go to hell, so I pretty much just wanted to keep living on earth.

That changed, many years later when I read C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce and came to understand that eternal life is Real Life.

I could go on and tell how one by one God added to my understanding and corrected my misunderstanding. But the point is, my “faith journey” — actually my walk with Christ — started because someone asked me if I wanted to pray to accept Jesus into my heart.

Are there false conversions, people who prayed “the prayer” and who have not continued with Christ? I’m sure there are. That’s what Jesus said in the parable about the sower and the seed. Some seed sprang up, but weeds choked it. Some seed fell on the side of the road and was trampled or the birds snatched it away (Luke 8:5-7). Jesus explained it this way:

Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity.
– Luke 8:12-14

So who, then, believes in Jesus? I’m convinced I was “born again” when I first put my trust in Him as a small child. My faith wasn’t grounded in theology and it wasn’t mature. It didn’t need to be. It only need to be, because the work wasn’t mine. It was and is Christ’s.

After all, that’s what Scripture says:

but these [signs] have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
– John 20:31

And after [the jailer] brought [Paul and Silas] out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved
– Act 16:30-31a

Published in: on February 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm  Comments (28)  
Tags: , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: