We started a series on world religions in church this past Sunday. It got me thinking, “Why am I a Christian and not something else?” This is a big question and I’m not sure I have the whole answer. But I can tell you my story of how I believe Jesus has changed my life. Am I perfect? No way! I’m not even close. In fact, I mess up more than I would like to admit. I am on a journey though and I want you to walk with me for a bit as I reminisce about where I was and where I am.
I don’t have a radical conversion story in the sense that as long as I can remember, I have made the Christian profession of faith- God is perfect, I am not and I need Jesus to forgive my sins because God demands perfection. As I grew up, I continued to go to church. I’m not really sure what happened but sometime in high school I started to go a little crazy. I started to experiment with alcohol and sex. Keep in mind, I was still getting good grades in school, helping at home with my disabled mom, involved with band and chorus, and holding a job. I looked like a model person… on the outside. On the inside I was struggling with a lack of self-worth, depression and a need to fit in. I kept going to church and I believe that if I had died at that moment I would have gone to heaven but I would have had a shack on the outskirts of town instead of that mansion just over the hilltop that is talked about. I had a relationship with Christ but it was more of a Facebook kind of relationship than a real, face to face relationship. I fit Him in on Sundays and not when I needed Him. Doing that required work and it was easier to “have fun” than pursue God. To be completely honest it was easier to numb these feelings than to deal with them and let God use them. After high school I moved in with my boyfriend. I say boyfriend but it was more like a friend with benefits, a good friend, mind you but still. Anyway, my hidden life of craziness was becoming more public. I was 19 and I was drinking every weekend, during the week, experimenting with drugs and that friends with benefits relationship was hardly monogamous. I know that some of you may think that there is nothing wrong with this lifestyle. But it was contrary to everything I had learned growing up. And the feelings of emptiness and loneliness were overwhelming at times. I just wanted someone to love me, unconditionally. Maybe that’s why I was still going to church on Sundays? Maybe it was just habit by that time? I’m not sure but I still went every week. Most of the time hungover, but I went.
What changed? Well, the church started this small group Bible study series called “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby. Again, I’m not really sure why I participated. With as unhappy with my life as I was I thought I had it all figured out. I was leading my own life and making my own decisions. Who knew that during something called Experiencing God that I would actually experience God? I don’t remember too many specifics about the series itself except for a Bible verse that we were supposed to commit to memory. It was, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14). It hit me like a ton of bricks that I am God’s and I am called by his name. And it didn’t end there, oh no, I was wicked and proud and sinful and my heart was in desperate need of healing and forgiveness. And it wasn’t as if God was saying to me, “Maybe I’ll forgive you if I feel like it.” It was a promise! If I turned my back on the way I was living, then I would find the love and peace that I was yearning for. It was also during this time that I heard (yes, audibly heard) a voice tell me, “I made you for more than this.” Sounds crazy, but I know what I heard. So when my lease was up I moved back in with my parents and enrolled in college. Don’t get me wrong, I was hardly the little angel. I had a lot of habits that needed to change and it took a lot of time but slowly, one by one, I cleaned up my act.
Today I still have issues I deal with, I’ve been known to drop the F-bomb, I judge people, I speed. No, they’re not what some people would call “major” sins but sin is sin to God. But here’s the good news of my story. It doesn’t matter how bad I was or am or will be. It doesn’t matter how good I am, either. It’s still not good enough to make the standard God sets. He demands perfection and like I told you, I am hardly perfect. In fact there isn’t anyone alive who is perfect. Everyone of us has sinned and no one deserves God’s forgiveness. In fact, we all deserve to die, not just a physical death either. I’m talking about what happens after you die physically. Think of it as an eternal separation from all that is Good, an immersion in evil and pain and suffering. That is what we deserve for screwing up. Here’s the Good News I promised… God knows that we aren’t going to be perfect and so he sent His Son, Jesus, to earth. While he was here he lived a sinless life. He was perfect. He never messed up, not even once. Jesus was then crucified and died a horrendous death that he didn’t deserve. He was physically dead for 3 days and as foretold in the Bible, he lived again. He conquered Hell so that we wouldn’t have to go there. But here’s the catch, there’s always a catch… You have to believe that you are a sinner, that Jesus died to take your place and that He did it not because you deserve it but because God loves you enough to send his only Son to die for you as a undeserved gift.
I know that’s a lot of heavy stuff and I don’t claim to understand it all. Here’s what I can tell you: All I know is my life was empty and worthless and now I have peace that goes beyond what I should have even in times of hardship. All I know is I can forgive, not only others, but myself, even when we don’t deserve forgiveness. All I know is I don’t worry about things because I know God loves me and takes care of me and my family (even when I don’t understand what he’s up to!). All I know is I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.