After hearing a preacher speak at an evangelistic meeting at our small Baptist church in the country, I asked my mother to pray with me to ask Jesus to forgive my sins. I was seven. I do not remember a thing about that moment, other than the story has been told to me by my mother long enough to create its own memory. At seven, I didn’t know the extent of my sins, only that I did bad things. At seven, I didn’t understand the extent of what Christ did in my place on the cross or even what “the gospel” truly meant. I only understood Jesus loved me and died on the cross for me because I was a sinner, and I also knew I did not want to go to hell when I died. Like many children raised in Christian homes, the thought of hell terrified me; along with the guilt I felt due to my sins. My thoughts of hell and my feelings of guilt brought many whispered prayers in the night…often asking Jesus that, “if I wasn’t already saved and forgiven, that He would forgive me now.”
The small Baptist church we attended was a classic in its time, every sermon ended with an alter call, the choir was the place to display one’s musical gifts, and people dressed up for church like it was a social event. Sadly that is all church was to most people. Many of my Sunday School teachers did not know much doctrine beyond what was presented in the Regular Baptist Press Sunday School curriculum. I remember once asking my Sunday School teacher why God created me. She seemed a little surprised by my question, and answered that “Maybe God was lonely and wanted friends.” I thought that sounded good, and didn’t visit that question again for a long time. And so melding humanism and Scripture began in my thinking even as a child.
In my teens, I began to focus on good works in an effort to draw closer to God. I read my Bible daily, spent time in prayer, and for a time, wore clothing that resembled the Mennonite and Amish people we lived near in Pennsylvania at the time…yes, I even wore a head covering! I felt God was truly pleased with my conservative ways.
Still, I was oblivious to the fact that I was seeking spiritual peace through my works instead of resting only in Christ for my salvation and sanctification. I prided myself in my plainness, modesty, simplicity, piety, and anything else I invented that made me feel closer to God.
Mother’s, though imperfect, can have insight into the hearts of their children that no one else has. My mother saw the contradictions in my life and heart and gently pulled me aside one day and, as Yankees do well, she bluntly spoke truth into my floundering mind. She pointed out my faults…the faults like my unkind speech, controlling nature, and lack of basic tenderness toward others due to my overblown self-image. After getting a glimpse of my true self, I remember feeling very much like a failure. The headscarf came off immediately, and I began thinking through the motivations for every behavior.
In my college years, my faith deepened as the Lord began to provide spiritual mentors in my life. Due to the friendships of some extraordinary older women, I began to see a glimpse of what it meant to live out the gospel (although that term was never used.) Grace began to become something I not only partook of, but was learning to live out what had been poured so generously on my life.
One day, while I was preparing to move on from my current place of work, my mother asked me how she could pray for me that coming week. I told her to “Please pray my husband would ask me out this week.” It was a very specific yet heartfelt prayer. Because my hunger was to marry and mother children, but I was getting older and those days were numbered. And I did not want to waste my youth in a waiting mindset. That very week a young man did ask me out! In six months, I was married to that man.
Jim had a different perspective on Scripture than me, in that He was reformed in his theology. Reformed theology was a unimportant in my opinion, so I certainly didn’t let that prevent me from marrying him. And thankfully he married me despite my lethargy about that portion of doctrine.
A year after our marriage, Jim and I were led by God to help a close pastor friend plant a church in the Midwest. The Lord provided Jim with a job that came with a free apartment if he would work maintenance for the landlord. So, Jim quit the job where he was thriving, and started in a new field of work. We felt we were making a big sacrifice to leave good jobs and family, but the Lord had in mind to bring about in our lives a blessing we had no idea existed…a church family.
Up to that point in our lives, church was truly and event and tradition, even though we believed it was biblical to attend, we missed seeing it as an essential part of our faith. In fact, both Jim and I found church very frustrating and our Christian brothers and sisters to be full of contradictions. In Nebraska, there are few traditional believers or pretend Christians. For instance, when I got hired on for my new job after our move, knowing that I was a woman of faith, the owner made it clear that she was not a religious person and would say words that might offend me. Which she did. It was actually refreshing to be around non-believers with no religious pretenses.
Our dear church grew very quickly. Being so far from our family those first years of marriage was also extremely healthy for our relationship with each other. We grew closer to God and to each other out of necessity.
But it was the family of the church that provided the greatest avenue for Spiritual growth. We were surrounded by people, who truly cared for the state of our souls. We had people praying with us and for us as we walked with God. As other Christian’s poured their wisdom into my life, my heart began to grasp biblical truths it had never before seen, and an excitement about the truths of God’s Word and the Gospel began to sprout in my heart.
One day, an older lady I met with regularly for studying Scripture and prayer, brought my attention to a sermon by an old-time preacher named, Paris Reidhead called “Ten Sheckles and a Shirt.” I listened to that sermon over and over with tears. Something clicked in my heart for the first time, as I realized my idolatry. In that Sermon, Reidhead brought up the humanistic thinking that had infiltrated the American church and I saw it abundantly in my own faith.
Questions that Reidhead brought into my head taunted my mind. Did I follow Christ only because He has promised me salvation and heaven? I concluded that God is worthy of my lifelong worship and praise even if my destiny was to be hell for my sins. The idea that God did not need me also became a reality. Even the concept, that a person is helpless to receive redemption without the drawing of the Holy Spirit (John 6:44), and that even the faith to believe is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9) permeated every thought. And to know that Christ did not redeem mankind to fix an unexpected mishap, but that redemption was God’s amazing plan before He created the world! (Eph. 1:4, Ro. 8:29…). God’s sovereignty began to make its appearance to me through Scripture.
I focused my thinking on the sovereignty of God, and spent hours in awe and as my heart began to understand a bit about God’s sovereign grace, and the concept that God choose me. I devoured doctrine and Scripture as though seeing it for the first time. Scripture suddenly made sense as it was placed in the perspective of devotion to God’s glory. I realized Christ did not come to redeem me for me, but for Himself. I had, without meaning too, crossed over to what many Christians call reformed thinking. Scripture passages fell into place under the perspective of God’s sovereignty. My life and all its circumstances took on a meaning beyond myself. To me, it was a turning from the humanistic perspective I had about God, Scripture, and my place in it all, and a simple resting in the God who created and ordained all things for His glory.
As my understanding grew, so did an ache in my heart for my friends and family, neighbors, my children, who must also come to realize that EVERYTHING is about God, not about us! My heart resonates with Paul “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Rom. 11:33. Even now, I understand but a glimpse of those depths and my heart is amazed. My theology up to that point had been so man-centered…humanistic, but the truths that John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and modern-day John Piper brought to my understanding from Scripture, sunk deep into my heart. My perspective turned from its humanistic marriage with Scripture to seeing Scripture through its goal to bring God glory. I still feel I have been playing doctrinal catch-up as I study Scripture up to this day.
After seven years, leaving our church family in the Midwest was truly the deepest grief we have ever felt. But the Lord had made it clear we were meant to move, and so we followed His lead with hope of finding a similar fellowship in our new territory. We thought finding a good church would be easy, but it proved otherwise.
After a year, of seeking churches, we had found nothing. We needed to find something… so we settled at a conservative, Presbyterian church and joined. After engaging in small groups for a very short time, our hearts were greatly saddened to see the lack of value placed on Scripture. In fact, no one even opened a Bible during small groups. We were floundering spiritually, and finding our hearts living in discouragement. We knew we needed the fellowship of Christians along with sound Biblical preaching. So, continuing to fellowship with the small Presbyterian church, we also started attending Sunday evening services at a mega church in order to deepen our relationship with God. We debated joining the large church, but children were not welcome in small groups there, and we really wanted our children to be a part of the church, not just a Sunday School class. After a year of attending two churches, we began praying and seeking for a church again, but with little optimism.
A month into our new church search, Jim received a call from a head-hunter for a job interview. In a short time, the Lord once again asked us to move… this time, we were determined to find a church, so we could be close to the believers we fellowshipped.
We committed the matter of a church to prayer. Once evening, Jim was browsing on his phone one evening and came a across a post from an old college acquaintance. It was a post of a worship service. “Listen to this.” He showed me. After we listened, Jim said, “I wonder where his church is…” After looking it up and seeing the church was minutes from our new location, we planned a visit. We knew after our first visit we had finally found a church home. We still marvel at God’s work.
After a summer long transition, we are two months settled into our home and absolutely cherishing our new church family and looking forward to seeing what the Lord will do in our hearts and lives as we seek Him and continue to grow.
I am in awe of what God does and how He truly encompasses our ways in life to not only physically place us in a position to draw closer to Him, but how He orchestrates every event to even give us a hunger for Himself. It is all about Him…truly everything is all about Him!
Like Mary, in Luke 1:48-50: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Not because of anything I have done, but I rejoice in Him because of what He has done for His glory.