Thursday, October 27, 2011

How I became a Christian

I have been a Christian now for 26 years, and I have seen a bit of growth in my time as a follower of Jesus Christ.  Given that I am 44, anyone that can do math can tell you that I haven't always been a Christian.  So what happened? 

As it turns out, that's the million-dollar question.  For those of you who have wondered what happened to me in the summer of 1985 to make me so different, and to those of you who only know me from my online activities, and for everyone in between, this is my story.  It's 100 percent true to the best of my abilities, and in hindsight, I wouldn't change a second of it.

I began life in a little town in North-Western Ontario, Canada, where I was born into a family of little means, but of great history.  For the first 5 years of my life, I lived in my dad's uncle's house with he and my parents.  When I was 5, my dad and his uncle bought a Motel, and I spent the next 14 years between that place and my dad's parent's farm.  So I grew up in the sticks, in the service industry, and on the farm.  In hindsight, none of those places are bad to be from.  It sure didn't seem like it at the time.

My dad was an alcoholic.  He was also abusive.  My average weekend while he was around - well, let's just say it wasn't fun.  He was also a truck driver, so he wasn't home a lot.  It's hard to say in hindsight whether I suffered more from the abuse or the lack of a father-figure, but by the time I hit high school, I was one of the most shy, nervous, bullied, lonely guys around.  And because of my lack of self-confidence, I had real trouble making friends, or talking to girls (not that I didn't like girls, they just didn't like me).  I can distinctly remember a day where I was only to glad to get to school to get out of the house and away from my family situation for a few hours.  By the end of the day I was only too glad to go home to get away from all the stupidity that was my life at school.  I remember thinking, "where can I go?" 

This all culminated when I was 18.  My hometown had an open foot bridge over the train yard, where the trains would go speeding through.  I was in a particularly deep depression that day, from all the bullying, all the rejection, all the abuse, all the junk.  I paused to take a deep breath while I walked over that bridge between my high school and the shopping mall.  I looked down, about 60 feet, and it occurred to me that I had a way to make my pain stop right in front of me.  I looked up to see if the train was coming, because I wanted to make sure it was over.  Fortunately, it wasn't.  I have no doubt I would have jumped to my death.  That stuck with me, that event - not that I would repeat it, but that I had so narrowly escaped just because I had missed the train.

About a month or so later, I think, I had a job as a security guard on our paper mill modernization project, where if was my job to make sure all the property of the construction company stayed on the construction site.  I came across a guy on his lunch break reading a leather bound book.  I found out later that his name was Greg, he was an electrician, and he was from Thunder Bay, a nearby city (if you can call 5 hours nearby).  I knew somehow it was a Bible.  I approached him and asked, "Hey, is that a Bible you're reading?"  He answered that is sure was.  I asked the fatal question - "What are you reading that for?"  We talked for about 30 minutes, and he explained to me that he was a Christian, and that he really enjoyed reading God's Word.  I told him that I was a Christian too.  He asked me how I knew that, so I gave him the answer I had learned from my parents:  I was born to christian parents and that we lived in a predominantly Christian nation.  Fortunately, he explained that there was something else involved - that he had a relationship with Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity.

I walked away from that conversation intruiged.  Here was a guy that claimed to have become a Christian, who wasn't born that way, and who said he had an actual friendship with Jesus Christ.  How was that possible?  I began to seek Greg out on other days to run some really hard questions past him.  You know, stuff like, if there's a God, why doesn't He put a stop to all the bad stuff that happens?  Somehow Greg knew that I was talking about myself, that I had experienced those things myself.  He never asked me what happened, but his answers spoke of a real friendship with God.  At that point, I could count the number of real friends I had on one hand (hold up two fingers!).  Neither of those friends knew what my home life was like, but they were picked on as much as I was.  These conversations went on for a week or so.  I was becoming attracted to what Greg was describing.

Finally one night, I found Greg at the electrician's tool crib and he was in charge of giving out supplies that the other electricians needed.  He asked me if I had thought about what we had been talking about, and I answered that I had been thinking about little else.  He gave me a little booklet that explained in detail why and how to become a Christian, and then told me he wanted it back, because it was the only copy he had.  I told him I had to spell off the guy at the security shack and that I would read it and return it to him later that evening.  I returned to the guard house and read it.  It shared four very simple things based on John 3:16, a verse from the Bible which reads " "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."  Those four things are as follows:

First, God really does love us.  "For God so loved the world..."  If you're reading this, that includes you.  It doesn't matter who you are or what you have done, or what you think you may have done - God loves you individually regardless.  In fact, He loves you so much that he gave the best that He had, His Son, so that you wouldn't perish, but have eternal life.  Huh?  What?  Perish?  What does that mean, I thought to myself.

Second, there is a real possibility that we can miss out on that wonderful gift God has for us because something stands in the way.  That something is what the Bible calls sin, but it's really anything that you do that violates God's holy standard.  Ever tell a lie?  Even a white one?  That's a violation.  Ever steal anything?  Even just a buddy's pen when he wasn't looking?  That's a violation.  That kind of thing means that we are separated from God's love.  Wow, I thought - That's me.  I lie, I cheat, I steal, I lust in my heart, I murder in my heart, all of those things are violations.  However, the booklet pointed out that there is hope!  Remember that God loved us so much that he gave His Son?

Third, God gave His Son to pay the penalty for those violations!  We don't have to pay for that stuff, as if we could anyway.  And all we have to do is believe?  In Him, the Son of God?  Sounds too easy, right?  Well, it wasn't for Him.  Read the story for yourself.  He was arrested like a criminal, beaten and mocked, found innocent by two separate rulers, and still beaten again and then put to death in the most painful way imagineable.  All to set us free from the penaly and power of those violations in our lives.  The Bible calls the "The Gospel," or good news.

Finally, this gift, like any other, needs to be received.  think about it.  If I were to give something to you as a gift physically, what would you have to do?  You'd have to reach out your hand and take it!  We're talking here about the most valuable gift ever given - just for you!  Then it shared another Bible verse, this time from the Book of Revelation, chapter 3, verse 20:  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me."  This was the message I had waited my whole life to hear - That God Himself was looking for me, and he wanted to be my friend!  And I didn't have to go to some great place, or do some great deed to be worthy - He wanted me just the way I was.  All I had to do was open the door.  And believe me, I wanted to open that door.  But how?

That booklet shared a final verse:  Romans 10:8-10 says "But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART"-that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."  Then it shared a very simple prayer that went something like this.  "Lord, I come before you and admit that I have wronged you.  I see that Jesus Your Son died to pay the penalty that I cannot.  I accept that payment, and invite you into my life to be my Saviour, and My Lord.  Thank you God, for saving me."  I don't remember the exact words, but I remember that I read it out loud, and that I meant every word.

It's very hard to explain what happened next.  It was June 18, 1985, and it was 8:02 p.m.  I remember to the square foot where I was sitting.  But how do you explain all the weight of the world, all the bullying, all the lonliness falling away from my shoulders?  (I actually walked differently, standing up straight probably for the first time ever.)?  I was filled with a joy that I had never known before, and that I still coudln't explain.  I was free of it all, and I had found my best friend.  He had always been there, He was waiting for me!

I have had all kinds of adventures since then, and some have not been good.  I have never been the person I am supposed to be.  But he has always been the friend he promised he'd be, and has helped me pick up the pieces several times in my life since that day.

Now how about you?  I'm sure you have questions.  I'm here to tell you that they all have answers.  And if I can help you show you His answer for any of it, please contact me.  I would be only too glad to make that introduction.

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

"Trust the Lord" is more than a platitude...

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."  (NASB)

In the 26 years I have been a Christian, I have heard this verse many times.  I've read it, I've said it, I've been comforted by it, especially these days, where my industry is affected greatly by global economic uncertainty.

Have you ever had someone say it to you?  When you were having a hard day, or were stuck in an uncertain situation, did someone try to comfort you with these words?  Maybe someone did - and you took it as a mere platitude.  Maybe it was said that way - ineffectively, as a sort of brush-off.  You said, "I'm having a hard time!"  They said, "Well, trust the Lord!"  It felt like they were saying, "I really don't want to hear about your problems."

There might be reasons for that, some understandable, some not - but you found it less than helpful because it struck you as a meaningless platitude.  I can tell you it is no mere platitude!  ! It is the promise of the King of the Universe, and he means it for all of us at a personal level.
So what does it mean, "Trust the Lord?" defines trust as "reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence." Quite simply, it means that we can rely on God, on His integrity, His strength, His ability. We can have confidence that God is who He says He is and that what He says is true.
So how do we do that? Well, the passage says next "with all your heart." That means with our entire being, we make a conscious choice to rely on what He says. (This gets easier over time, because as we do it He proves He is trustworthy!)
Then it says "do not lean on your own understanding." For me, that is difficult. I'm a type A personality (as those of you who have met me recently will attest). I was raised in an abusive situation that taught me that the only one I could really count on was myself. I had to be the good boy, I had to run fast enough that I couldn't be caught, I had to be the smart one to see things coming and then plan to avoid them. I was the one who had to figure it all out! Others are just intelligent and good at figuring things out already. We have a really good understanding, and 99 percent of the time, we are right! But we are supposed to abandon that and lean instead on the promise of the King of the Universe. It took me a while, but I'm starting to figure out that He is smarter than me. (Insert healthy laugh here!)
Then it says, "in all your ways acknowledge Him." What? How do I do that? has five meanings that are all applicable in some measure:

  1. to admit to be real or true; recognize the existence, truth, or fact of: to acknowledge one's mistakes.
  2. to show or express recognition or realization of: to acknowledge an acquaintance by nodding.
  3. to recognize the authority, validity, or claims of: The students acknowledged the authority of the student council.
  4. to show or express appreciation or gratitude for: to acknowledge a favor.
  5. to indicate or make known the receipt of: to acknowledge a letter.

We need to recognize that we are dealing with Almighty God, and that He, the King of the Universe, is very interested in our progress and doings. We need to be thankful for the situation we are in (that's a whole other topic that I call "on-the-job training), and recognize that he is with us and will see our best interests accomplished.

THEN it says, "He will make our paths straight." The King James Version says, "He will direct thy paths." When we put our trust (reliance) in God (the King of the Universe), and do not "try to figure it all out" but simply acknowledge Him and be thankful for the situation we are in, then He will take us to the place that is best by the best possible route.

So what about you? Do you want that kind of direction and promise? Do you want the confidence of God Himself as you step into the unknown? The Scriptures say that if you ask for it, you will receive it. Revelation 3:20 says: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me." He is standing there, waiting for you to simply open up to Him. And He promises that if you will, then so will He.

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)