Friday, September 28, 2007

A Testimony of Faith - Tony B.

UpbringingMy father was born in South Georgia, raised in a Southern Baptist church; however, after he finished high school, he joined the Air Force. He left the church, and to date has not been interested in returning. My mother was born and raised in Colorado, coming from a strong Lutheran background so after I was born, I was baptized as an infant in a Lutheran Church. From my earliest childhood memory, I remember being raised in a small Lutheran Church. My sister is eight years older, and my brother is six years older. My mother took my sister, brother, and me to church, but my father chose not to go. As my sister became a teenager, I remember her challenging my mother about going to church. My sister’s justification was that since my father didn’t have to go to church, she shouldn’t have to either (touché). So my sister stopped going. My brother liked attending the service at a different time, so I remember spending a lot of time with only my mother in church. As I became a teenager, I went through the Lutheran confirmation process. Confirmation, also known as an affirmation of baptism, required weekly learning on Sunday evenings, normally taking about two years to complete. I was confirmed at age 14, where I had to stand before the congregation and answer aloud in the affirmative to several questions. After being confirmed, I was accepted into the body of Christ as a member of the church and could partake in Holy Communion. Because the Lutheran Church services were liturgical and ritualistic, I often found myself reciting rather than worshipping.

Post-Confirmation Through CollegeI considered myself to be a Christian as a teenager, but I know that I did tremendous damage to Christianity. I engaged in promiscuous behaviors, drank alcohol to get intoxicated, and had a foul mouth.

[Jesus said,] “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
Luke 6:46 NIV

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
James 1:21-22 NIV

If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”
1 John 1:6 NIV

I remember three specific occasions in college where God spoke to me to ruffle my feathers:
1) Freshman: A guy that I knew visited our dormitory hall looking for someone. I offered him a beer, and he said that he didn’t drink. I pressed him on it, but he didn’t waiver. I thought he was strange, and I said to myself, “What’s wrong with him? How on earth can you have a good time and party without drinking beer?”

2) Freshman: Another pitcher on the baseball team was always listening to Christian music, such as Amy Grant. Once I asked him if he listened to anything other than Christian music, and he said, “No.” I asked him why not, and he replied that he felt that everything, including music, should be to glorify God. I thought he was strange, and I said to myself, “This guy is whacked. What a nut!”

3) Sophomore: Driving home from college, which was in South Carolina, I had a one‑car accident. I hit a deer driving about 60 mph and lost control of my father’s small pickup truck. The truck struck the deer, and then I went down an embankment where the truck flipped several times, finally landing upside down. I was taken to the hospital and had nerve damage in my neck, right shoulder, and right arm. This wreck took care of any baseball career that I might have had.

However, I continued in my sinful lifestyle through college. While I gave God credit for sparing my life and sensed deeper purpose, I rarely gave God a second thought. He was up on the shelf. If someone were to ask me if I were a Christian, I would have said “Yes,” but it would have been in name only. I was a “party animal” type in college. Knowledge of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were in my head, but were far from my heart.

[Jesus said,] “Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.”Mark 4:18-19 NIV

Married Life
My wife grew up Southern Baptist, so we had a bit of a challenge figuring out where to get married. In 1991, we got married in a Methodist Church and tried to be Methodists for about three years. I was not interested in Sunday school at all, so we never really connected with folks there.

In July 1994, I felt a strong conviction to stop drinking alcohol, and I haven’t touched it since as I have no desire for it. At the time, I didn’t realize that the Holy Spirit was beginning to convict me and that alcohol was my doom.

A new non‑denominational church was built less than a mile from our house, so we decided to give it a try. It seemed to fit our needs, so we joined in 1994.

I have been blessed with a wonderful godly woman who kept encouraging me to come to church and try a Sunday school class. We tried one, but didn’t like it. A couple of years later, we tried another one, but didn’t like it either. So we (mainly I) gave up on Sunday school. I was content with going to church, listening to the preacher, and then heading home.

In 1997, we decided to move across town. The church was less convenient to get to, so the distance made a rather easy excuse, skipping a Sunday now and then.

Family Beginning
We wanted to start a family, but medical reasons delayed us. After two painful miscarriages, God blessed us with our daughter in 2001. She was our song of joy and thanksgiving. As our daughter grew into a toddler, my wife would lead prayers at appropriate times, such as bedtime and sing songs with my daughter. I found it difficult to pray aloud, and my wife knew my father didn’t pray. I think she knew I was uncomfortable praying aloud. Any excuse for me was good.

We wanted to have another child, and God blessed us with our son in 2003. This is where my testimony of transformation begins. My son had to be taken a whole month early because my wife’s body was not cooperating. We knew that my son’s lungs would not be developed fully and that he would be at‑risk, meaning he would have to go immediately to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after being born. We simply ran out of options and time, so we said a short prayer and scheduled my wife for induction. As predicted, my son was born and was taken immediately to NICU. He was struggling to breathe but was holding his own. The doctor informed us that he would probably get worse before he got better. The next day, the doctor informed us that my son was on oxygen. When I went to see my son, even though I knew the doctor’s strategy, I was not prepared for what I was about to see.

{Note: I remember when my father-in-law was on his death bed, and my wife was going to visit him often. I remember asking her if she was prepared for his ultimate death especially if she were there when it happened, and she said she was. When he died, she was at his bedside. While she cherishes being there, she was not prepared for the death of her father. She was crushed. My point is that our head knowledge is not the same as our heart knowledge. The head knows, but the heart feels. And God wants both your head and your heart.}

My son was fighting for his life. My wife and I knew that this was not just a doctor’s strategy; this was a life or death, grave situation. I had been bottling up my emotions the whole time I was at the hospital so my wife would see me strong.

But after seeing my son, I was unable to continue. I had to go find the chapel. When I got to the very small empty chapel, I saw several prepared prayers on the altar. I had to find something to verbalize what I was feeling inside. None of those prayers were what I was feeling, so I looked at the back of the chapel and saw a small book rack on the wall. The books in it offered nothing either, but as I was putting one of the books back in the rack, I noticed a crumpled up piece of paper in the rack. I looked at the paper, and as I started to read it, I knew that was the prayer that captured exactly what I was feeling. I dropped to my knees before God Almighty and prayed an exhausting, emotional prayer. I was so emotional that I was out of control. I dumped it all on Him. For a brief moment, I had a feeling of what God must have felt to give His only Son to die. What a sacrifice! And what Abraham felt when he went to sacrifice Isaac. I connected with God through the heart. I repented and asked God for a new beginning. I told God that I was devoting my life to Him, and to please heal my son. Even if my son didn’t make it through this, I was devoting my life to God. He is my number one from this day forth.

“Then he [Peter] began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, ‘I don't know the man!’ Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.”
Matthew 26:74-75 NIV

My son was my rooster. What is it going to take to bring you to your knees and emotionally drain you to repent and fully commit your life to Christ? Will it be a rooster? Will it be a sick child? Will it be the death of a loved one? Maybe it will be a car accident? What is it going to take for you? And what are you waiting for?

Conviction of the Holy SpiritMy son did make it through. But there’s a whole lot more to this story. You see, when you really commit your heart to God, you will be convicted by the Holy Spirit. Shortly thereafter, I told my wife that I had a strong draw to be baptized as an adult like Jesus was. Then I found out that Baptists require baptism by immersion to become a member. I told my wife that I wanted to visit some Baptist churches. We visited several churches before coming to the one we knew would be our church. We felt the presence of the Holy Spirit there when we visited. My wife and I knew we found our church home. We joined after a few weeks of visiting, and Praise God, I was baptized as an adult. That was in September 2005. But this was just the beginning.

We found a Sunday school class that my wife and I both love. For me, this was a miracle. Learning the Word of God in a small group setting where we can ask questions and offer supporting points is extremely effective for us. We pray for each other; we socialize in and out of church. If I ever have a personal or family issue, I know that I can go to one of my brothers in Sunday school class for help.

As the Holy Spirit convicted me, God revealed Himself to me. He shined His light into my heart. For the first time in my life, everything was crystal clear. God is real; God loves me; God can use me. I raised my hands to God Almighty and said in my heart, “Here I am; you are going to have to do all the work, but use me as you will.”

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
Isaiah 6:8-9 NIV

I wanted to read the Bible all the time. I began having confidence in praying aloud, and took the Christian leadership in the home. What a miracle! This yearning for God’s Word grew stronger daily and continues to be a very strong priority in my life.

“As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
Psalm 42:1-2 NIV

I learned about tithing and how God wants us to be obedient with our finances. I had never tithed in my life; I couldn’t afford to. The Holy Spirit convicted me to get my finances in order. I heard about Crown Financial ministries on the radio since I started listening to Christian radio. So I went to the website to apply for free sessions with a financial coach. My wife and I prepared to meet with the financial coach, and he showed us how we should adjust our finances to make tithing a reality. I praise God for opening my eyes to being obedient with our finances. That was a miracle!

About the time we joined the church in 2005, God moved me to start a Masters Degree program. He basically took away my excuses. The company I worked for paid for it 100%. What a blessing! I completed that degree in February 2007.

Shortly after I finished the degree, my Sunday school teacher asked me to substitute teach when he was out. I accepted, and substitute taught my first Sunday school class ever. Folks, this is a major miracle in my life considering only a couple of years earlier I loathed Sunday school classes. I substituted many times and praise God that He has called my wife and me to be Sunday school teachers for another class.

I felt God calling me to take the FAITH evangelism class. While I thought this class was simply a classroom exercise, I realized quickly that it was a “learn as you go” weekly. The second week we were visiting people’s homes. Praise God for that class! I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to be effective at sharing the Gospel.

In June 2009, I was asked by the Church body to become a Deacon. How humbled and overwhelmed I was by that nomination! I went through the nomination process of Deacon interviews, and I was ordained in November 2009. God is amazing in His ability to transform and use a broken sinner like me. We serve a mighty God!

Self-Examination: Has There Been a Change in My Life?
There is a big difference between thinking you are saved and being born again. Someone who is truly born again identifies with the sacrifice Christ made on the cross for their sin ‑ the debt that they could not pay and an eternal gratitude exists that reprioritizes one's life.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?”
2 Corinthians 13:5 NIV

True saving faith is followed by obedience to the Word of God. It's a dying to self and to sin to protect the new relationship with an Almighty God. A believer's testimony is more than recalling a prayer that was recited. It must recall the events that brought them to the realization of the sin in their life and that their greatest need is to be forgiven by repenting and turning from their old life and walking with Jesus Christ. (See 1 John 5 for additional information.)

To summarize:
Before Conviction
1) I grew up with a warped sense of Christianity.
2) My actions in high school and college damaged the image of Christianity.
3) I attended Church with no interest in Sunday school or other involvement.
4) I showed no Christian leadership in the home.

After Conviction
1) The birth experience of my son humbled me before God and changed my heart.
2) I am a new person from the inside out.
3) My goal in life is to bring glory to God in all that I do and to live for Him.
4) Please don’t waste 20+ years like I did doing damage to Christianity. Repent of everything and give your whole self to God now.

“Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.”
Psalm 103:1 NIV

“Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’”
John 14:23 NIV

In closing, I remember being a child and wanting to wrap around my parents’ legs while they were standing up so not to let them go or sit in my parents' lap when they were sitting. I remember telling my parents how much I loved them. What a feeling of security and joy! Now that I'm a parent, my children want to wrap around my legs and sit in my lap to be close to me, and I understand what they are feeling and how I make them feel. That is exactly how God, your Heavenly Father, feels about you and the relationship He wants with you. He is your security and joy! And He wants you to come sit in His lap.

[Jesus said,] "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne."
Revelation 3:21 NIV

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