He is like a tree planted by streams of water...

He is like a tree planted by streams of water...

Friday, September 15, 2017

My Testimony: God's Kindness and Grace

I grew up in a nominally Christian home. I thought we were a thoroughly Christian family, though, and especially admired my mom’s “faith”. She was committed to good works; she was a hard-working, faithful wife and mother, she read her Bible daily, and prayed constantly. She got to know elderly neighbors and helped them in any way she could. She made baked goods for people we knew and delivered them. She was a model of good works.

We rarely went to church. I do remember going, sporadically, throughout my childhood, but only for a time, and then we always stopped for long periods before trying another church.

I went to a Christian school in my very early school years, and we were told that Jesus loved us and wanted us to invite Him into our hearts. My teacher prayed with me (I think she prayed FOR me) with my mom present, and I believed that I was going to heaven. I tried hard to be obedient and do good things. I believed what my mom believed…that believing Jesus died for my sins and being good enough got me into heaven. I was proud of my morality and was as self-righteous as a young girl who often doubted herself could be. My parents sent me to various VBS’s during the summers and when I was 11, I went to a Christian (Navigators) summer camp for 2 weeks. It was the most Christian environment I’d ever been in and it had a great impact on me.

In my 7th grade year, my mom left my dad, very suddenly. He took a trip, and she told us bluntly that she was looking for an apartment for us to quickly move to while he was gone. She found one the first evening and the next day we moved. It was the most devastating thing for me. It was betrayal of everything I thought my mom believed and stood for. It shook my understanding of Christianity and my trust in my mom’s faith.

 My parents reunited after 5 months or so, before the beginning of my 8th grade year.
I again went to the Navigator’s camp that next summer and remember realizing that I wasn’t really saved. I’m not sure what convinced me of that; but I believe I saw a big discrepancy between my thinking and actions and those of the believers I saw around me.  My longing to belong to the Lord and live as these people did, for Christ, was ever increasing. I memorized verses while I was there, and the Lord spoke to me in His word. “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (I John 5:11-12). I became more and more unsure of my salvation and more and more desirous to be saved.

My mom left my dad again in the spring of my 9th grade year, again taking us 3 children with her. Immediately after we moved out, her unsaved parents came for a visit and she took us all to a Bill Gothard week long seminar in Ft Collins, 2 hours away. [Disclaimer: I do not recommend Bill Gothard or his ministry. There was much legalism in his teaching, and it has since been revealed that he is disqualified from ministry.] We went every evening. I ate up the teaching. I was so hungry for spiritual truth and so needing to be able to rest in Christ and know I was saved. It was also eye opening that he taught strongly on the need to be obedient to and under God-given authority, while my mom, who had been my model of faith my whole life, had just done the opposite. I prayed with the speaker when he presented the gospel and wholeheartedly trusted Christ and committed my life to following Him, whatever it cost.

I remember the joy. I remember the rest from my insecurity, and the overwhelming desire to be with other believers. I started attending church, and the Lord providentially brought me to a sound, expositionally Bible teaching church, and I grew leaps and bounds. The Bible became alive to me…God spoke and enabled and revealed Himself to me in His word in a way I’d never seen or understood before. He convicted me of my attitude toward my both my parents and gave me the desire to obey and honor them. My relationships with my sister and brother changed. I began to think about how I might love them, rather than thinking of them as a nuisance or a resource for my own happiness. School became a place where I could stand up for Christ, and while there were times of fear and weakness, I wanted to do right and increasingly learned to do so. I stopped constantly defending and justifying myself. I began asking for forgiveness when I did wrong. I learned that Jesus commanded that all believers be baptized as a public testimony and profession of their faith in Christ, so I was baptized. I saw 1 Cor. 5:17 in action in my life: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, behold, the new has come!”

Adam [my husband] and his family began attending my church during my senior year, and we began dating a few months after. We were married two years later, and moved to Casper, WY, then to Butte MT. During those years, I struggled with the selfishness and sin that marriage brought out in my life, as well as parenthood. When Adam finished school and got a job in Garland TX, I began growing in my understanding of theology. I also began regularly listening to John MacArthur's radio program ministry, Grace To You, which I discovered online.

About 6 years ago, I was listening to a series from Philippians and was sideswiped by the teaching on Phil 3:7-9; “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes through the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” I had been holding on to vestiges of my self-righteousness. I knew I sinned, I knew Jesus died in my place to pay for those sins, and that His atoning death and resurrection made me right with God when I trusted in Him, but I had trouble realizing that even my “good” works weren’t good…and that nothing I had ever done nor was doing was earning anything with God. They were all worthless; they didn’t count on the righteousness record; they couldn’t. The record of Jesus was the only sufficient record, and believing that I added anything worthwhile to it was an insult to His holiness. It was a watershed moment for me, spiritually. I was thoroughly sinful; all my righteous acts were filthy rags. The Lord was faithfully humbling me.

He moved us to Houston almost 4 years ago, and I went through the most spiritually difficult time I’ve ever had since my salvation. I’d been praying for humility, and this was it. There is nothing so humbling as being invisible, unneeded or unwanted, and unsuccessful. We had few friends, and almost nothing we tried to do seemed to bear any fruit or go anywhere. Jobs, relationships with neighbors, at church, ministry efforts, school…all seemed fruitless and met with indifference from those around us. I’m still trying to make sense of those three years. A sweet friend of mine reminded me that I may never make sense of it, but I can bow before my wise, sovereign Father and say, “I don’t understand, but I trust You.”

After those three very difficult and humbling years in Houston, the Lord has moved us to where we are now and is continuing to so very graciously teach me how to walk in obedience to Him out of gratitude, and to study and pray because of my great need for Him, not because these are good works which somehow earn me greater merit or more love from Him. I continue to struggle with sin. I would love to be rid of it. I look forward to that day when His victory will be completely mine and I can bow before Him in perfect praise and gratitude…and never sin against Him again but serve Him forever in perfect joy. In the meantime...I am so thankful for His grace and mercy and faithfulness in my weakness.

“To Him who is able to keep you from falling
and to present you before His glorious presence
without fault and with great joy—
to the only God our Savior
be glory, majesty, power and authority,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
before all ages, now and forever more! Amen.
JUDE 24-25

When I fear my faith will fail
Christ will hold me fast
When the tempter would prevail
He will hold me fast
I could never keep my hold
Through life’s fearful path
For my love is often cold
He must hold me fast

Those He saves are His delight
Christ will hold me fast
Precious in His holy sight
He will hold me fast
He’ll not let my soul be lost
His promises shall last
Bought by Him at such a cost
He will hold me fast

For my life He bled and died
Christ will hold me fast
Justice has been satisfied
He will hold me fast
Raised with Him to endless life
He will hold me fast
Till our faith is turned to sight
When he comes at last