This week we are having a guest evangelist lead our church and a sister church in some training entitled, “Every Believer a Witness.” In a world where we have access to so many TV shows featuring a courtroom, we know that a witness is someone who tells what they know to be true from personal experience. We have been writing our stories, and I thought I would share mine.
I was born and reared in the thriving metropolis of Spartanburg, S.C. I was pretty fortunate to have both parents in the home, and I had one younger brother who swears I tortured him mercilessly growing up. I loved the early years. I spent most weekends with my maternal grandfather whom we all called “Pop”. He taught me to hunt and fish, how to ride a horse, and a multitude of other “guy things.” Life was simple, and good.
As a middle schooler I was a little short for my age, and somewhat “chubby”, and definitely not a part of the “in-crowd”. I remember being tremendously insecure and I lacked in self-confidence. I was an introvert. As I got older, my father became increasingly dependent on alcohol. He wasn’t funny. He was a mean drunk. I remember being too embarassed to bring friends to the house. I remember wishing our home was more “normal” as I imagined my friends’ homes to be.
We did go to church as a family. It was the Sunday thing to do. It was about the time I began middle school that our church group attended a summer camp in the mountains. I remember horseback riding, water-skiing, and square dancing at night. I also remember we had a missionary who spoke to us each night. On the last night of camp he talked about how Jesus came to rescue sinners. He pointed out that “all have sinned and come short of God’s glory” which I know now is Romans 3:23. Even though I had been a pretty good kid, I didn’t do drugs, drink smoke, and those kinds of things, but I knew that “all” included me.’
He told us that Jesus is God who became man, and that He died on the cross to take the punishment of our sins. He talked about how he was buried but that He rose again on the third day, all of this just as the Bible had promised. Then he told us that Jesus wanted to forgive each one of us of our sins and give to us eternal life. He asked anybody who wanted to let Jesus become their Savior and Lord to come down to the front of the room we had gathered in and talk with him. I had seen a public opportunity to respond like that once at a Billy Graham Crusade I had attended a couple of years earlier. I remember feeling drawn to the front to talk to him. He sat several of us down on the front row and after everyone else had left, he talked to us again about Jesus becoming our personal savior, and Lord of our lives.
He directed us to pray a prayer asking God to forgive all our sins and inviting Jesus Christ to come and live in our hearts. I did that. I vividly recall there was another boy at camp that I had fought with all week long. He, too, had responded to this same opportunity. I remember us hugging each other and apologizing to one another.
I did not realize they would, but apparently they turned my name into the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. I started getting Bible Studies in the mail. They became a source of learning the Bible and beginning to grow as a Christian. Life wasn’t radically different. I do remember prayer becoming more real to me and studying my Bible as a young boy.
When I was in High School, I made a significant discovery. There were more girls at the Baptist Church my neighbor attended, so I began to go there. I am not sure why, actually, I was still relatively shy. (I didn’t become the suave and cool guy that I am today until college, LOL). It was at this Baptist Church that I began to believe God had a real purpose for my life and that I should become a minister. I attended college and seminary with that in mind. I married before seminary, and during these days I worked as a youth minister in a couple of churches.
Life was generally good. But in 1991, I returned from a trip overseas and life fell apart. My wife told me she didnt love me anymore, which eventually led to divorce. I found myself terminated at the church I had served as pastor. With three children to feed and provide for, life was tough. I began to be angry with God. I began to walk away from God. At one point, I even prayed, “God, if you will leave me alone, I won’t call your name.” And I meant it. I was stubborn, angry, confused, and I began to live without God as a major part of my life.”
I discovered that a BA degree in history, and a Masters degree in theology don’t mean much in the business world. THe only real options continued to direct me into sales, and eventually I owned my own business. I had remarried after a few years of single life, although I am not sure why she loved me in the mess I was in as an angry confused, and I felt like failure.
But she loved me and prayed for me. I attended church, even taught Sunday School, but things weren’t good between me and God. I lived on a spiritual roller coaster, and really a double life. But in 2004, God began to answer my wife’s prayers. God began to deal with me, and on February 5 of that year, I got up from my desk at work, went home, shut myself in a room, and cried out to God. I surrendered my life completely and totally to God. I remember joy replacing my anger, and faith replacing my fear. All my problems did not vanish, but God began to put the pieces together. My wife told me she got a new husband that day. She said before I had been a…, well just say it was another name for a donkey’s bck side.
Over the next few months, old friends began to come back into my life and encourage me. God fully restored me, and even opened doors for me to return to the ministry. The world had changed in the long years I wandered without God’s direction in my life. But some things remained the same. I discovered that God is faithful and loving. I found that He had a better plan for my life. He has a better plan for yours as well.
And that is my story, (at least a brief synopsis of it), and I am sticking to it.