Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Personal Testimony

September 24, 1977 started off as any Sunday for me, but the events of that day would change my life forever. That was the day that my squirming during the invitation at church caught the attention of my pastor. He noticed that I was hanging on to the back of the pew in front of me for all I was worth, scared to step out into the aisle and go up in front of everyone. After the last chorus was sung, he announced that if anyone needed to speak to him privately they should let him know after church. I waited after church to talk to him because I wanted to know about salvation. I knew that I needed to be saved, but wasn’t sure about how. The pastor and my mom (I was only 8) explained it all to me, then the pastor led me through the “sinner’s prayer” and told me that if I truly believed what I had just “prayed” (repeated) that all my sins were gone and that I would live forever in Heaven. He then told me about baptism and how it has nothing to do with salvation, but is the first command given by God to anyone who is saved. I didn’t want to let God down, so I was baptized a week later. Everyone was very happy for me and shook my hand and told me how I would never regret this decision.

The next three decades were pretty rocky for me. I went to church fairly regularly for the most part, but pretty much just did what I wanted the rest of the week. I hate to think how many people saw the things I did and were turned off of church because they couldn’t tell any difference between me and them. I could easily blend in at church or in the secular world, and could switch from one to the other without batting an eye. I had a vague notion in the back of my mind that something was wrong, but would find diversions to keep me from worrying about it too much. I was chasing after things of the world, but was still empty inside. When my marriage failed, I hit rock bottom. I started drinking pretty heavily and doing a lot of other things I’m ashamed of now, but God wasn’t finished with me yet.

In November of 1999, about a year after my divorce, I met the love of my life. Heather had been saved fairly recently, but hadn’t been in church much since then. We ended up getting married on December 17, 2000 and she joined the church I was a member of. We attended the morning worship services fairly regularly, and occasionally an evening service, but never Sunday school or Wednesday night services. When our pastor retired and a new one came in, the new one made a pretty bad impression on us and we left. We decided to visit around at the other churches in town, but specifically wanted to check out the Independent Baptist ones because of some issues we had with the SBC concerning Bible versions. I remembered as a teenager visiting Washington Street Baptist one time and thought we should give it a try. On March 18, 2007 we visited for the morning service, then again the following Sunday. The next Sunday, April 1, 2007, we joined.

The girls were in junior high at the time, so they were in Bro. Faron Danley’s Sunday School class. It didn’t take long before there was a problem. One Sunday after church, the girls told me that Bro. Faron had said that they were wrong about how to be saved. I was shocked, but wanted to make sure they hadn’t misunderstood something before I confronted him about it. I asked them to tell me everything that was said. They said that he had been talking about salvation and had asked who could tell him how to get saved. My girls answered right up and told him about the A B C’s of salvation: A - Admit you’re a sinner, B - Believe that Jesus died to pay for your sins, and C - Confess your sins to Him and ask Him into your heart. I was proud of them. They said it just like I had taught them. I asked what kind of problem Bro. Faron had with that. They told me how he had pointed out to them that nowhere in the Bible does it say to pray for salvation or ask Jesus into your heart, but simply to believe, or have faith in Him to save you. Jesus said it plainly in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Adding the other steps to it takes away from what He did for us and puts some of the responsibility for our salvation on us. I had to chew on that one for a while. It’s really hard to admit when you’re wrong, but to have been wrong for 30 years or so about such an important subject, and knowing you’ve taught it to your kids, is devastating. It took me more than a year after that to finally come to grips with the reality of the situation. I was trying to rationalize it by thinking that I must have been saved at some point because I did believe in Jesus and that He died to pay for the sins of the world. What kept coming back to me though was the fact that I had believed that I had applied the salvation Jesus bought for me by saying that “sinner’s prayer.”

I had been under a lot of conviction and decided to take a week off to have time to get my spiritual life straightened out. The devil was hitting me hard. My family was in so much turmoil that it seemed like things would never get better. Monday, September 22, 2008, was the first weekday of my vacation. Heather went out of her way to make sure I would have plenty of peace and quiet so that I could pray and read the Bible without interruption. It didn’t take very long on that first day before I was face down on the floor pouring my heart out to God. I repented of my stubbornness and acknowledged that I was hopelessly lost and that there was no way I could ever change that in any way through my own effort. Believing requires no effort on our part. You either believe something or you don’t. When you start to sit down on a chair, you either believe it will hold you up or you don’t. If you do, you just sit down without worrying about it. If you don’t, you will either not sit down, or just put a little of your weight on it to test it and support the rest of your weight yourself and can’t really get comfortable. You will not be able to rest in that chair. It’s the same way with salvation. You either believe in Jesus or you don’t. If you do, you will trust in him without worrying about it. If you don’t, you will either stay away from Him completely, or rely on your own efforts and hope He can take care of whatever you might miss. When I got up off that floor, I knew that I had been saved. I had it all together now, or so I thought.

Over the next few months, God was working on me. The subject of baptism seemed to keep coming up, but I thought that since I had already been baptized that it was settled for me. Sometime in late December or early January, my pastor, Bro. Earl Baugh, Jr.,  was preaching about baptism. He explained that baptism has nothing to do with salvation, but according to Acts 2:41 is how believers are added to the Church, the Bride of Christ. It was the first time I ever remember really giving much thought to the passage in Revelation 19:6-9 about the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Revelation 19:6-9
6  And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
7  Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.
8  And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.
9  And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God.
In this passage we see that there is the Groom (Jesus), and the bride (the Church), but there are also the guests, or “they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.” These people must be saved or they wouldn’t be in Heaven, but they are not a part of the Church. Bro. Earl also talked about Acts 8:35-38 and explained that baptism can only be administered after salvation.
Act 8:35-38
35  Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.
36  And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?
37  And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
38  And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.
I really had to chew on this one for a while. I couldn’t be baptized again, because then everyone would know that I had been wrong all those years. I tried to convince myself that since I was now saved and going to Heaven, it didn’t matter what my role would be there as long as I was there. Admitting to God that I had been wrong was hard enough, even though I knew that He already knew it all along. It wasn’t until a few months later that I was finally able to swallow my pride and admit it to everyone. Finally, on April 26, 2009 I was baptized as a true believer. Now, not only do I know where I’m going when my time in this world is over, I know what position I’ll have. I'm so glad that God was patient with me and protected me through several times when I probably should have died so that I could live long enough to learn the truth.

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