Raised in church
I was born and raised in the Pentecostal Church….it is all I can remember from the earliest of times. I do not think that I was ever converted at a young age….though I did enjoy going to church. One of the main reasons was I got to sit on the front pew with my Great Grandpa who was one of the gentlest and most humble men I have ever known. I look back with fondness at the times I would climb into his lap and he would read GoldenBooks and the little Living Bible to me.
It came as a great shock, when I was about nine years old, that he died from complications from a relatively minor surgery. Being used to death, it was not that someone died that was the problem, it was that he died….someone so important to me. I blamed God and I blamed Him wholeheartedly. I threw myself into my bed, buried my head between the wall and mattress, crying that if that was the type of God in Heaven I hated Him and I wanted no part of Him ever. The worst part was that there was no comfort, no support, no Biblical counsel from anyone in my family. I did not know where to turn or what to do: so I left any pretense of following God and turned inward for the help I needed.
Me a sinner Converted
I soon after smoked my first cigarette, I got drunk for the first time at thirteen, and learned and mastered the fine art of profanity. Throughout my teen years I ran from God and rarely attended any type of church service….I just had no use for it. It was not as if I never had any guilt: for my conscience would sometimes arise but I would beat it into submission and revel in my sin. It was an honor to be the most coarse and crude one in our crowd and we all tried to out do one another.
The years passed and I was now 20 years old and living my life how I wanted to. I was not the worst sinner but even I knew that the life I was living was wrong…and yet God was still at work. I had friends from high school and summer baseball that went to the local Church of God and it just so happened that they had a gym. I would, about twice a year, show up on a Wednesday night and play basketball with them. It was June of 1995 and I was staying with my Grandparents as I usually did while commuting about 30 minutes to mow my parents lawn. On this particular Wednesday I was going over to mow and I said to myself…” why not go play some ball tonight? “ so I grabbed a change of clothes and headed off.
What was interesting is that God was seriously dealing with me…working on the conversion of a sinner…. as there was a weight that had settled upon my heart that I could not rightly explain. My usual pleasures were no longer satisfying and my usual hangouts had lost their luster. I was burdened, uneasy, and unsatisfied with everything in my life.
On this Wednesday night I arrived and the Youth Ministry Building ( the College and Career were part of it ), sat around, listened to the message, and while preparing to leave,Tim the youth minister, threw his arm around me and said, “ Ya know, we are going to Carowinds this Saturday and it just so happens we have an extra ticket. We have a charter bus so all you would need is a little food money….what do you say? “
I thought a moment and told him we would see all the while having no intention of showing up. I thought about it for awhile though and it only made sense…even having to spend the day with Christians…it was a free trip to an amusement park…so I decided to go. They were leaving around 7 Saturday morning so I prepared to go, steeling myself against the thoughts of spending the entire day with the goodie goodies.
We went and the day was mostly uneventful except for a few inadvertent profane words on my part and a couple sideways glances from the ones unfamiliar with the life I lived. I even thought I behaved myself rather well considering my overall attitude at the time and almost broke my arm patting myself on the back.
We arrived home around midnight and as I went to hit the hay I said a little offhand prayer as my head hit the pillow, “ God if you want me to go to church tomorrow wake me up “ Did I expect God to answer that prayer? Not in a million years as I was a heavy sleeper and I had no intention of setting the alarm. I knew sunday school started around 9:45 and deep inside I knew there was no way I would make it.
God had other plans. I woke up around 7, then 7:30, 8, 8:15 until finally I said fine I will go to Sunday school but you cannot make me go to the main service. So I drug my sorry carcass out of bed and went to Sunday school. I sat through it and as I was leaving I felt the heaviness worse than ever before and barely heard one of my friends say, “ hey why don’t you stay for service? “
“ eh….I don’t really want to…but maybe…who knows….”
Guess what? I went in, stood for the songs, bowed my head during prayer, and listened to the sermon all the while denying the Lord who had lead me there. When the invitation to pray was given at the end of the sermon we all stood and I gripped the back of the pew in front of me until my knuckles turned white…..I had no intention of yielding anything in my life to an unseen God who had no part in my life…..I would not…ever.
God had other ideas…..when people started to pray…I remember hearing something like this….” confess your sins, repent, and believe..”
During that time I prayed….a real simple prayer….Lord forgive me….and the most amazing thing happened…He did. The weight lifted, the burdens were gone, and this person who had walked in that morning entirely antagonistic to God now had tears streaming down his cheeks sobbing like a baby…and I didn’t care…not one wit.
Tim came over, placed his arm around my shoulders, and prayed quietly with me as the service wound down. Friends came over smiling and offered the hand of fellowship….and all I could do was smile and cry….cry and smile and thank the God of Heaven that He would have mercy on someone like me.
Much water has went under the bridge since then…I have been a member of the Family since that June in the year of Lord 1995 and through the ups and downs God has been forever faithful to me. Remember the early years and the Bible stories read to me? The moments in church even when I was not paying attention? The Word was sown by faithful men and women of God and the seeds that were planted then….even though lying dormant for years….God brought them to life and gave the increase. So never lose heart when witnessing to loved ones. Never get discouraged though the years of prayer seem to fall upon deaf ears and the Heavens seem as bronze…God is still God and He can and will save whomever He wills. No one is beyond His reach.
The rest of my story…from then til now…will have to wait as that is a story for another day.