I have been in and out of church when I was young and baptized as an infant. I have pictures of that day, but I don't remember. Typically a godparent was to help with the teaching of Christian values, but that never happened. My godparents were there only for the ceremony of my baby baptism. When I was in the second grade, I went to another church to get my communion sacrament. I have pictures of that day, but I don't remember anything that changed in my life.
I was invited to lots of different churches. I was invited to a big church for vacation bible school. I don't remember what was taught, but I do remember that real Oreo cookies and real Hawaiian Punch were served, and we played lots of fun outdoor games, and the music was loud. I was invited to a small church. A bus would pick me up; afterward, I would get a free Dairy Queen ice cream if I had good behavior. I remember we did not play games, and instruments were not allowed like the big church. I was taught how to memorize scripture. In my hometown, there was an outdoor ministry where the preacher was always getting people saved. I found it awkward that the same people would come to the altar for salvation every week.
See, I went to church, but every week I would keep living my life in sin with no real knowledge of Jesus, no conviction, no discipleship. I have been to many other denominations and found it no matter how long I went; I never changed anything. My sin increased with no conviction or wanting to stop.
Have you ever walked into a pet store and found out that no matter how long you stay in, you don't become a cat or a dog or bird. You are still you. When I walk into an H.E.B., no matter how long I stand in front of the produce section, it doesn't make me a banana. No matter how long I went to a church or what church I went to, I was not a Christian. I was just someone who went to church. I was in church, but not in Christ.
What Kind of Disciple was I? I was a disciple of religion.
After some difficult years in my life, my sin grew. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but it didn't matter. Eventually, I gave up on going to church. I learned how to be cold, bitter, angry, and act out in bouts of rage. I learned to push people away. I even had murderous thoughts towards my enemies. One of the reasons I joined the military was to learn how to hurt others. I would put on my stern, get out of my face, look, and push people so that they wouldn't get close to me. From my military training, I learned how to fuel the fire that raged inside of me. I was going to be a mean green fighting machine.
I had bottled up my emotions; eventually, they blew up like a volcano, an inferno that seemed inescapable. Sometimes I would be venomous towards those who cared for me or tried to help me. I had secrets I hid; I learned how to live a double life; I learned how to harbor hatred in my heart. The world was teaching me. And I let it. The spiral of life was only getting deeper, darker, and more dreadful. All those emotions exploded back in my face when I tried to live my reality without God, Jesus, or Holy Spirit.
You may have heard of people having an out of body experience, seeing the light, seeing heaven, seeing their bodies on the hospital bed. I didn't believe those kinds of stories either until it happened to me. It happened the day I died, April 7, 1993. I could not speak, but I could see myself from above my body; I could see the shadows of doctors working on me. Then what I saw afterward was sheer terror. I was in complete darkness; I feared as I have never feared before. For the first time, I felt out of control. I felt very alone. I felt the fullness of evil. I don't know how long I was there, but I know that I wanted to get out. I didn't hear voices, but I could see eyes glaring at me. I felt hopeless. Eventually, I was brought back to life, but nothing changed in me.
What Kind of Disciple was I? I was a disciple of the world.
For the wages of sin is death,
but the gift of God is eternal life
through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Then one day, I fell. I fell hard. I fell hard in love. I fell hard in love with Jesus. For the first time, I asked Jesus to come into my heart. I meant it this time. I wanted to know Jesus. I needed a change in my life, and thankfully, someone had the answers I was looking for. I was given a second chance. Not everyone is fortunate.
My friend was new to the college I was attending. She and I were walking on the track field. She was bold enough to ask me if I was a Christian. I told her no, but I used to go to church. That's when she explained to me the message of God's love and all he did for me by sending Jesus to die for my sins. Jesus died for my sins. I realized how terrible I was in my lifestyle, rebellion, anger, rage, and hate, and how much I needed Jesus in my life. For the first time in a long time, I expressed an emotion of sorrow and repentance. Jesus died for ALL of my sins.
Since that day, I have not turned back. I can't say that I'm not a sinner, but I will say that it's fewer and farther between because I realized that I want to please the Lord. I learned to truly repent quickly, honestly, and ask my friend for help when I was stuck and needed some guidance. She was patient with me when I flooded her with questions. She didn't answer them all the time. She would tell me to study a particular scripture that pertained to my situation.
I found out that going to church didn't make me a Christian, but asking Jesus into my heart made me a Christian Believer. But was it enough for me to be a believer in Christ. Even the devil believes in Jesus.
Anyone here has enemies? I am sure you can think of someone now. We'll come back to that thought in a bit.
I had been a Christian for about three months, and my life was changing. My heart and attitude were changing. When I was angry or wanted to hurt someone, I would find myself praying that I wouldn't hate anymore. I was becoming a new person. The layers of sin were coming off—one layer at a time.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:
old things are passed away;
behold, all things have become new.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Something inside me suddenly felt like justice was done when one of my enemies had harm done to them. They deserved the pain because of the harm they had done. My thoughts were not Christian at all. I said in my heart, Good for them; they finally got what they had coming to them. For just a moment, I was exhilarated at the awful thoughts.
How quickly my mind went from loving Jesus, then I was spiting my enemies in the next second. The Lord was dealing with me about unforgiveness in my heart. It was a process, but I didn't want anything to hinder my new Christian Life. I began to notice the junk that was deep in my heart. I did not know what came over me to think such terrible thoughts. I was surprised how easy it was for me to hurl injustices toward my enemies.
I heard the Lord say, "I love them too" My heart broke; I repented of my wickedness. I prayed for the first time for my enemies. I was given an opportunity to come to them, give them my condolences, shake their hand, and say I forgive you. I made peace with them. I was not too fond of the vulnerability, but I also did not want to have lingering unforgiveness in my heart. If I was going to be a Christian and live a Christian Life, I had to learn how to love as Jesus loved.
It wasn't easy, and I am reminded that the same God who loved the whole world who gave his Son for me gave His Son for everyone, even our enemies. I was free that day; I let them go. I have a love for people that I never had before. I have a heart for people I have never met. The Lord set me free; do you want to be free. Let go of those who have harmed you in any way.
Are there still some people that may have come to your mind that you had considered your enemy. Maybe you were like me and believe that your enemy deserves punishment. Perhaps you were considered someone's enemy, and you need forgiveness. It would be an excellent time to let go of them right now if you haven't already done it. Ask for forgiveness. Pray for your enemies; God Loves them, too; Jesus died for their sins too.
For God so loved the world that he gave
His one and only Son Jesus so that anyone
that would believe in him would not perish
but have everlasting life. John 3:16
I had received Jesus in my heart, and I was forgiving, repenting, and growing in the Lord. As I began my new walk-in Christian living and Christian Love, I was baptized in water with full knowledge that my sins were forgiven, and I was confirming my dedication to serving the Lord with all my heart. I was adopted into a new family in Christ.
Next, I attended as many bible studies and prayer meetings as I could. I tried to commit scriptures to my memory like a student would learn from studying new vocabulary in a new classroom. Occasionally a bad memory would try to sneak in, and I would attack it with
I take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5
The Lord has not given me a spirit of fear,
but that of love, power, and a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7
God’s perfect love casts out fear.
1 John 4:18
I would find a quiet place and pray. I would find myself journaling prayers and going back to see when they were answered.
One day, late at night, a terrible memory came to me, I couldn't shake it off. It was one of those memories that seemed like the episode was happening to me again. I called my friend, and she told me to pray about the situation. So, I asked the Lord how I should handle what was going on in my memory. I prayed, my mind was being tormented with the thoughts, I was lost in words; I had no more tears to cry; after praying, I waited. I tried to listen. So I prayed some more, and what happened next took me by surprise. I knew I was praying, but my speech became fluent in Hebrew.
What happened that night? Whatever I was terrified of left my mind. I forgot what I was praying about, what I was stressing about, and felt even more freedom. When I told my friend about what had happened, she explained to me that I had received one of the gifts of Holy Spirit in the evidence of speaking in tongues. It wasn't scary at all, but I felt the weight of the night terror go away.
Those of us who have dealt with trauma understand that when bad memories creep up, it is not easy to "shake off, get over it, or move on" It can leave you debilitated, petrified, and in shock for a couple of hours and sometimes days. But that night, I found the power of prayer, the gift of Holy Spirit, and the answer to helping me overcome the casualties in my mind. I learned how to handle difficult situations through praying first.
On hands training for evangelism was the day my friend and I stood in front of the waving flag for an event called "See You At The Pole." I was about two weeks into my Christian walk. The air was crisp, and the sky was cloud-free. We just prayed for our college, prayed for the students' welfare, a safe school year, and several topics about education safety, then slowly, the students started to gather quietly. Some began to pray. Some were praying in tongues. A few were standing in the distance watching; those are the ones my heart prayed for the most because I was a spectator once. When we ended an hour later, there were students, faculty, and yes, even the Dean was standing where we were. Salvation was offered to those who wanted Jesus.
The classmates from our dormitory that knew me before September 1995 knew that there was something different in my life. I was not inviting people to drinking parties at my place, but I was inviting them to Bible Study. I was inviting them to meet my new friend, Jesus. After about two months, our two-person Bible Study group grew beyond the apartment capacity.
Can you imagine how jamb packed we were in a small apartment? But we always seemed to have enough chips and dip and sweet tea for everyone. No one wanted to leave; they all felt like I did. We were one happy growing family in Christ. The college campus was not a Christian based facility, but we didn't let that stop us from evangelizing our classmates.