Wednesday, May 30, 2012

My Testimony

Thirty years ago this spring, God changed my life.

My father Alan was a godly pastor. My mother Ellen was a tender homemaker. Both are alive and still serving the Lord faithfully today. I was an only child, but my parents' affection more than compensated for my lack of siblings. They loved each other and they loved me. But most importantly, they loved God. Because of this, I had the privilege of learning the Bible early, both at church and at home.

I honestly don't remember the day I accepted Christ. It feels like a faint dream lying just beyond the haze of my earliest memory. According to my parents, I asked one night how I could avoid hell and make sure I was going to heaven. That evening, my dad shared the gospel again, then led me in a prayer to receive Christ. It was Monday, March 29, 1982. I was three-and-a-half years old. Every December, my Mom inscribes that day on the new year's calendar so we can celebrate the day of my second birth. In many ways, it is even more important than my first birth.

One key moment in my spiritual journey took place at summer camp when I was around six or seven years old. The camp speaker asked who would be willing to go anywhere and do anything for Christ -- to completely surrender to Him. With heads bowed, we were invited to express that commitment by walking up to the front of the auditorium. No one moved. The room was silent. It felt like hours had passed. I was sitting on the front row next to my mom (one of the camp counselors). I was one of the youngest campers there. I turned to her and whispered whether I really had to go forward -- to do this in front of all these people. She said if I really loved the Lord and believed in Him, I should be willing to do it. So, I stood up and went forward. Soon, others followed suit. This was a big step for me to work out my salvation in bold obedience.

I'm thankful God saved me so young, but I must confess I struggled with doubt during my adolescence. Had I really believed in Jesus? Was I truly saved? Was I absolutely sure I'd go to heaven if I died? These questions haunted my soul. To make matters worse, traveling evangelists would sometimes come to our Christian school, employing scare tactics to get us to walk the aisle and convert. But finally, on Friday, March 27, 1992, I had enough. I realized that my lack of assurance was really a lack of faith in the finished work of Christ. I needed to stop fearing and start trusting. If I had truly believed in Christ, then His gift of eternal life was already mine (Jn. 3:36). That night, I re-dedicated my life to the Lord one last time -- just to be sure. And I've enjoyed peace ever since.

The Bible promises that "if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). That is precisely what God did in my life. He transformed me. He gave me a new nature, new thoughts, and new desires. I remember the thrill of sharing the gospel with a girl not more than five or six years old. I remember the joy of listening to a men's quartet who visited our church when I was a little boy. I remember being scared out of my wits and praying desperately for God's protection while huddled on the couch during a fierce Midwest thunderstorm. I remember gazing each night at the John 3:16 plaque hanging above my bed. I remember memorizing Bible verses for Vacation Bible School and Quizzing. I remember refusing my first cigarette and declining my first porn magazine -- not because Dad and Mom might find out, but because I knew it would dishonor God. Even the tiniest "white lie" tormented me until I confessed it. God was faithfully protecting me and using His Spirit to produce a growing holiness in my life. While I was far from perfect, God was undeniably living inside of me.

Ultimately, I don't rest my assurance in any childhood experience, but in my present understanding of the gospel and the fruit of a changed life. I admit that I am nothing but a poor and helpless sinner (Eph. 2:1-3) who stands condemned before a holy God (Rom. 1:18). I rejoice that God sent His only Son to obey God's Law and die in my place, raising Him up on the third day (1 Cor. 15:3-4). By the grace of God, I have repented of my sin and been washed by the cleansing blood of Jesus (Titus 3:5). My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.

Echoing the words of John Newton, my testimony can be summed up in one sentence:

I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior.

Thank You Jesus.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

National Day of Prayer

Religion and politics. We’ve all been warned not discuss these two topics in public. Bring one up, and the mood at the water cooler can go from casual to combative in about 2.5 seconds. But I’m going to breach etiquette and mention them both … in the same article.

First, politics. As we all know, this is an election year. Campaign flyers are flooding our mailbox. The California Primary Election is just around the corner, and six months from now, millions of Americans will gather at their local precinct to choose a leader for the next four years. In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge observed, “All the opportunity for self-government through the rule of the people depends upon one single factor. That is the ballot box.” If you haven’t already, be sure to register and exercise your right to vote in our upcoming elections. It is our duty.

Now on to religion. I must confess, I’m not very fond of the word “religion.” It usually brings to mind cold ceremonies, empty rituals, and corrupt institutions. But if, by “religion,” we mean faith in God through Jesus Christ, it’s the most precious word on the planet.

Each of us has a political duty to vote. But we also have a religious duty: to pray for our country. The Apostle Paul says, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people. For kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2 ESV). Since my 18th birthday, I’ve never missed an election. But to my shame, I sometimes forget to pray for my leaders after they’re elected.

Elections are good, but prayer meetings are better. Elections shape history, but prayer affects the God of history. Prayer unites our hearts with the sovereign Lord of the universe who alone “changes times and seasons, removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21).

Let’s pray that our elected officials will have wisdom and strength. Let’s pray for our schools, our military, our churches, our families, and our law enforcement. Most importantly, let’s pray for the spiritual needs of our nation -- that more people will find true hope in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Tomorrow, we have a great opportunity to pray during the National Day of Prayer. On behalf of the other pastors of the Morongo Basin Evangelical Pastors Fellowship, I invite you to join us at Remembrance Park at Noon on Thursday May 3, 2012. But even if you can’t make this gathering, please pause for a few moments to pray for our nation and our community. After all, it is our duty.

This article first appeared in the Minister's Message in today's edition of our local newspaper, the Hi Desert Star.

New Blog

Today I'm closing up shop and launching a new blog called Pinch of Clay. You can visit it by clicking here . Please stop by and...