A Story of Thankfulness!
Let me tell you a story about a boy who was your typical kid growing up in America in the 1980’s. He belonged to a very typical family and lived in a very typical home. He loved sports, playing video games and spending time with his friends. He didn’t care too much for school, but he did ok, and each and every weekend his parents took him to church.
To this boy, church seemed to be something that was important to others, but not to him. He went because his parents took him; he didn’t have any choice in the matter. His desire was to do what mom and dad said in order to maintain his reputation as a “good boy”.
However, if it was up to him, he would rather be somewhere else than in that boring old church building having to endure all the rituals that went on week after week. Nothing ever really impacted him, but he tried to make the most of it. Singing wasn’t his thing, but he would try. He would listen to whoever was talking and seek to understand what they were saying. He even would close his eyes real tight and try his best to pray, but it never seemed like anyone was listening on the other end. He would stand when told to stand, sit when told to sit, kneel when everyone else did; he went through all the motions as best as he could. Such that if you could witness this each week, you’d think, “This young boy is as pure as the driven snow.” However, you’d be wrong.
That was the appearance given at church on the weekend. However, during the week, this boy’s life looked very different. God was never thought of or spoke of. Praying never happened, except maybe before taking a spelling test in school. Bible reading was non-existent. His life outside the facade of church on the weekend was devoted to himself, not God. Outside of a single hour on a Sunday morning, the other 167 hours of the week were his to do what he wanted. He was in the driver’s seat, and any notion of God was relegated to the back seat, in fact, more like the trunk. Other things were too important like trying to learn how to hit a curve ball and pass those pesky spelling tests.
So between school and other activities, this boy didn't have time for God, but he maintained a good reputation with his parents and others. He continued to grow up and receive accolades from teachers and coaches, getting decent grades, and winning trophies. He did this all under the guise of being a Christian boy, but something inside was very wrong. No one knew it, not even him.
This is how his life continued for years, and as he got older the veneer of Christianity began to wear away, and he started to get in trouble. At first, it was the small stuff; call it mischief, the "boys will be boys" kind of things. As time went on though, he got into more serious trouble. He would go to the store and shoplift, just for the fun of it. Before too long, minor mischief escalated into more major criminal activity. He could recall as a pre-teen running through the mall with armfuls of stolen items, being chased by security guards, diving into a getaway car leaving a trail of stolen items on the ground as he narrowly escaped.
Right around this time in his life he met his first love – drugs. More than anything else, he loved to get high with his friends – marijuana, and other psychedelic drugs like mushrooms and LSD were his favorite. During his high school years, he would go to school high, and then spend many nights in his friend’s basement with the other stoners, drinking, smoking blunts and bongs, listening to albums like Dr. Dre’s The Chronic.
Sunday morning he looked like a church kid; Sunday night he was a pot head.
This downward spiral lead to even more criminal activity as he would steal money from his own mother to support his ongoing drug habit. There were clues of this deeper problem, but people turned a blind eye to it all. He would have run-ins with the law from time to time and mom would have to come and bail him out. The picture of him as a teenager cuffed with his hands behind his back was quite a contrast from his earlier church-going cute kid persona.
People still believed the best about him though, and at no point did anyone ever question his profession of faith in Jesus. That’s because, for the most part, this boy was good – good at hiding things. He was able to hide most of his bad behavior from his parents, and that’s how they perceived their boy – as a “good” kid. He gave an outward appearance of goodness by still getting decent grades and maintaining a good reputation amongst others. However, it was all external. Behind the smile of his senior picture was a really wretched rebellious young man, and he had so many people fooled.
Nothing changed as he went off to college. In fact, things got worse. Without any restraints whatsoever the drug use increased. The stereotypical college experience of drinking, smoking and carousing was most definitely his experience. The stealing and drug use continued on, but one thing in his life did not – church attendance. The only reason he went to church as a kid was because his parents made him go. Now, being away from home, he could do what he wanted, when he wanted, and because he wasn't made to go to church, he didn't. Gone was the young boy who folded his hands at church, said the prayers, and looked innocent. Now, his true colors were on full display.
God was still very kind to this young man though, because it was at this time that his future wife entered the picture.
He was instantly drawn to her, but nothing really changed. Now instead of hiding his immorality from his parents, he would now hide it from her. Drugs and deception was something he was very good at it. He had lots of experience over the years, and this double-life would continue on through college and beyond.
During that time, God was still patient with him. God allowed him to marry that beautiful girl, and God even gave them two wonderful kids.
Then at the age of 30, something finally changed! God’s kindness came in yet another form. A faithful follower of Jesus entered his life.
For once, this now grown adult encountered someone who actually lived out his profession of faith. His name was Mark. He wasn’t perfect, no Christian is, but he was genuine. Mark actually lived like a Christian. He spoke about Jesus. He prayed. He read his Bible. His profession of faith actually meant something! It affected how he lived his daily life, and those around him knew it.
Mark wasn’t the preachy type; no all he did was demonstrate a love for God that was apparent to all who knew him. God used Mark to expose the problem within the person in our story. The counterfeit was now being confronted with the genuine article.
This was the turning point! Conversations ensued. Questions were asked. Answers were given. The true gospel of Jesus Christ was shared. God was at work drawing this man to Himself and God saved the soul of this wicked hypocrite, and God used Mark to do it.
This story is very personal to me. I know it from experience, because this story is about me. Better said, this story is about a God who has been very kind to a sinner like me. God could have killed me and sent me to hell for my hypocrisy and rebellion; instead He chose to save me and make me new.
This was (and still does) baffle me. How could a holy, righteous, and perfect God be so kind to someone like me? I guess the answer goes something like the famous lyrics of this song – “Amazing Grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!” That’s how I see myself – as the wretch that song refers to.
For so many years, I was deceived regarding who or what a Christian really is. I thought it was about church attendance. I thought it was about a mere belief in God accompanied by an occasional good deed. I thought I was a good person who hoped that he would be “good enough” for God, not realizing Jesus said, “You must be born again.” John 3
That’s what happened! God opened my eyes to the reality of my deplorable situation. The mask was ripped off! I saw myself in truth, and at that time the greatest need that I felt burning in my soul was the need for a savior! Again, the deception was incredibly strong! This had to be a work of God; no one else could do it!
I thank God for his patience and goodness in my life. For 30 years, I was convinced, not of the goodness of God, but of my own goodness despite everything in my life giving evidence to the contrary.
I wasn't a backslider; I never slid forward to begin with!
So this post exists simply to express my gratitude to the God who rescued a rebel like me and brought me into His family. To become part of His Church and share something really special with other believers like Mark who loves Jesus enough to actually talk about Him! What a novel idea!
We talk about what we love. If you love Jesus, you talk about Him, right? Is His name on your lips as much as your spouse, your kids, the politicians in the news, the celebrities, athletes…we give lip service to that which we love and are passionate about.
Let that be Jesus! Do what Mark did in my life; share your love for Jesus with those around you because my story isn’t unique. There’s probably someone in your life today who is just like the person I used to be and they need to see truth. The truth that God changes people – He makes them new creations in Christ!
You are the Church – the body of Christ! That is, to continue the work that Jesus started and do many of the things that Jesus did – like let your light shine before others and call people to repentance. For 30 years of my life, no one ever said, “Mike, you need to repent.” I wish someone would have said that to me!
As grateful as I am at what God has done in my life, I can’t help but think of others now who are in a similar plight. That’s why I am willing to share my story. Are you willing to share yours?
Are you part of the Church? Is God actively at work in your life? You’re a new creation, aren’t you? Do you have love for Jesus? Then let it be known!
Share your story!
You have one, right?
May I encourage you this holiday season to share your faith? Please don’t hide the light that God has given you – show it off! This is my attempt right here to share my testimony. I thank you for reading it. May my story and yours deeply impact the lives of others this holiday season for God’s glory alone.
From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified…Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world. John 4