Today is the eve of my 39th birthday which means that it has been 30 years since I placed my faith in Jesus as my savior. Thirty years as a Christian is a true milestone. So if you will indulge me, I am going to share my testimony in long form. Hopefully it will actually be encouraging to you and not just a boring self serving piece by me.
Thirty years. A lot of life has happened in that much time.
What was it like becoming a Christian? For starters I had no idea what I was getting into. As an 8-year-old my decision seemed simple. The gospel was explained in children's church, and I came to understand that I am a sinner. I certainly didn't fully understand what it means to be a sinner in its entirety. I knew that I had done things God wouldn't like, although I didn't grasp that what I had done was so deeply offensive to the creator of the world. I also understood that, because I was a sinner, what I deserved was hell. I am thankful to a children's minister (whoever she was) that was clear about the consequences of sin. I knew that if we had a wreck on the way home from church, I would go to hell and that I would be separated from God. That was a crushing realization for me. That same children's minister explained that we could be saved if we simply prayed and gave our hearts to Jesus. If we meant it, then we would be saved.
That's all it took for me. Sitting right there in the back row of children's church I asked Jesus to save me. I gave him my heart, and I meant it. There is a lot of digital ink spilled these days over the concept of a sinners prayer, but I can say unequivocally that for me, my life changed with a prayer.
That is how it began, with at simple prayer. The prayer of an 8-year-old. I don't know how it was worded, nobody guided me to say the right thing, and I didn't even tell anyone. I do know that I meant it, and that I gave my heart to Jesus. Thirty years later it is still the most important thing I've ever done.
Thirty years is a long time. A lot happens in thirty years, and though my salvation was complete on the day I prayed that prayer, my growth in Christ lacked much. It would be years before I was baptized, and it would be even more years before I truly gave God the control of my life or before I promised Him that I would go wherever he called me ,and do whatever he called me to do.
On the day I gave my heart to Christ, I did not tell anyone. I remember plainly the children's church minister telling us that if we had prayed a prayer, we should come up front. But I was shy and the idea of going up before all those other kids petrified me. Shortly thereafter my family moved to a different town, and it would be a few years, 3 houses, and a parental divorce before we were again settled in a church home. I remember regularly being convicted that I needed to be baptized to tell the world that I was proudly a follower of Christ, but that old fear of going in front of all those people kept gripping me. What finally pushed me over the edge? My brother, who after being baptized, taunted me for not yet being a Christian. I had been a Christian for years and being taunted by my little brother was more than I could take. I made it public the next week and soon thereafter I was baptized by Bob Lowrey.
Though I was a Christian from that day 30 years ago, and though the world knew it after my baptism, my faith lacked a depth of commitment. I was a good kid but I never really gave God, who saved me, the position of priority he deserved.
In college that finally changed. When you move a couple of hundred miles from home you get a lot of freedom. Many college kids use that freedom as an opportunity to do all the stuff they know is wrong and that their parents wouldn't approve of, but not everyone. For me I became involved in the Baptist Student Union (Now known as the BCM) This was the first time in my life where I was exposed to a group of people my own age who were actually committed Christians. They were not there because parents made them come or because anyone expected it, they were there because they loved Jesus and wanted to be around others who did as well. During my first year at college I made a commitment to God that was much deeper. I promised God that I would go anywhere and do anything as long as I knew it was his will.
Since making this commitment, God has called me into ministry, lead me across town to witness, three states away for seminary, and across the country for missions. I look forward to see where he will guide me in the future.
A lot of people come into play in thirty years of Christian life. I would like to publicly thank some of them here.
First of all, thanks to Tennessee Avenue Baptist Church. I moved away years ago, and because I have no ties to the area I remember very little about those people and practically nothing about that church, but I am thankful that God put them in my life.
I am thankful to people who took their next-door neighbors to church. (I think their name was Blevins.)
I am thankful for a Sunday school teacher who gave me my first Bible because he saw I didn't have one.
I am thankful to a children's minister who was clear enough with the gospel that an 8-year-old could grasp it.
Amazingly, all of those people at Tennessee Avenue know nothing about me today, nor have they known anything for the last 29 years. And yet they played a tremendous part in my life and helping me be who I have become.
I am thankful to Concord Baptist, the church of my formative years. My youth minister, Mitch, always loved us and through him I learned so much about living as a Christian as a part of everyday life and being fully devoted to Christ.
As a teenager Buddy Crabtree taught me so much about passion for Christ. (Also I credit him with introducing me to apologetics so you can blame him for this whole website.)
I also learned through so many loving people at Concord what a church is and what fellowship is. To this day, those people would do whatever they could for me. I am certain of that.
I'm thankful to the UK BCM and all those students who encouraged me and taught me that you could live your faith even on a college campus hundreds of miles from home.
I'm thankful to my parents. My mother who took my brother and I to church as small children, and my father who kept us there as teenagers.
I am also thankful to a group of college and seminary professors, pastors, and Christian friends over the years who have cared about my becoming more like Christ.
Ray VanCamp - Who once fired me, but was encouraging even in the midst of that ordeal
Brent Highfil - Other than my wife, the best friend I've ever had
Stephen Wilson - One of the greatest encouragers I've ever known and very significant in my education
David Weeks - My former pastor, boss, and friend who I am grateful to for so many reasons. Not the least of which is that he fed me many, many meals.
Bill Korver - who let me teach at Carolina College of Biblical Studies, my favorite job ever which helped me refine my calling.
I'll save this last paragraph for my wife Julia. Because of her I do want to be more like Christ every day.