Grace Given to Me — my personal testimony — Part 1

Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.   (2 Timothy 1:8-10)

In 1990, when I was 21 years old, I began getting my hair cut by Rick. He was this tall, bulky, motorcycle-gang-looking guy who worked alone in his studio. An entire wall – from the floor to the top of the ceiling – was covered with Christian bumper stickers. You would sit there during your haircut with all of these witty sayings staring you in the face. Things like, “My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter.”

As he cut my hair, Rick would monologue about the exploits he used to have with women in the back room of his salon in the days when he was still a heathen sinner. Embarrassed by his stories, and wanting to change the subject, I once asked him, “Soooo, Rick, what’s the deal with all of these bumper stickers?”

It worked. He began to talk about something completely different.

He explained that the wall of bumper stickers was there to proclaim the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth for a reason, Rick said.  He died on the cross and rose from the dead to offer salvation: something I could accept or reject.

Rick opened a door, and asked me to walk through. He made it clear that I had a decision to make: was I willing to believe in the gospel?

I was a Roman Catholic.  My Mom was Italian; all four of her grandparents were born in Italy.  (Irish Catholics may be devout, but Italian Catholics are proud.)  I didn’t see any need to believe in this message because I was already on good terms with God.

Plus, my favorite grandmother had recently passed away; she didn’t believe in this gospel, so if I did I would have to forsake the chance of ever seeing her again. In fact, I would have to forsake all of my family and friends!

No, it was impossible; I could not believe.

“I’m sorry, Rick, but there is no way I can believe what you are telling me.  If I did, then I’d be admitting that everyone I love is going to hell.”

Rick replied, “You can only make the decision to save yourself, Lisa; you can’t save anyone else.”

That seemed logical.  I thought to myself, “what if this is true? Am I going to reject Jesus Christ, am I going to reject heaven, just because everyone else does?”

I grew up surrounded by Catholics and Jews; I had barely any prior experience with Christianity. Rick was the first person to ever preach the gospel to me, and his message was in total opposition to my own beliefs.

The way I imagined God was that He created the heavens and the earth, and then withdrew into His isolated heavenly realm to watch us all from above. Left on our own, we had obviously messed things up; we had generated a problematic world of pollution and poverty. I figured that God was disappointed, but as a good and loving Father, He forgave us for our mistakes. I certainly didn’t believe in hell, or even in the existence of evil. As God’s children, we were basically good at heart. Everything would be okay in the end since we would all end up in heaven living together happily ever after.

By my sophomore year of college, I had given up the attempt to be Catholic.  During my junior year of college, a series of events led me to admit I was not “okay.”  I actually had faults.  My happy childhood was useless to protect me from my own inner inadequacies.  And it was during my senior year of college, that I met Rick the hairdresser.  Even though I rejected the gospel message that he presented to me, I was nonetheless intrigued. I was recovering from a phase of depression, and was open to new ideas.

In order to get to that place, God used three special people to call me to the Savior:  Molly, Willie and Byron.  Each of these Christians planted seeds in my heart that God watered.

The first one was Molly.  She was the first Christian I ever met.  It was 1989, and I was a junior at FSU.  She became my closest friend that year, but her closest friend was Jesus. Her obvious relationship with Jesus Christ was strange and intriguing to me.

Before long I met a flaming Pentecostal named Willie.

Willie was a blind man working on his Master’s degree in Theology. I was hired by FSU’s Department of Blind Student Services to type his papers as he dictated them to me. We developed a father-daughter friendship, and it became his personal mission to save me. He insisted that I ask Jesus into my heart.

I was like, “Sure, no problem.”

So I got into the habit of asking Jesus into my heart every morning. In the morning Jesus came in (I assumed), but by the evening, it was quite obvious that He was gone.

Willie gave me my first Bible. It was a tiny green Gideon’s pocket Bible, and he suggested that I begin with the Psalms and Proverbs.

Like an obedient child, I said again, “Sure, no problem.”

I noticed that Proverbs divided people into groups: the ‘foolish and the wise,’ ‘the wicked and the righteous.’ This was a brand-new idea to me, because I had always imagined that God saw all of us as equals.

A verse from the Psalms said: “Lord, cleanse me from my hidden faults.”

This one jumped out at me. What hidden faults?

In my astonishment I asked God, “What does this mean? Do I have any hidden faults that I need to be cleansed from?”

It had never crossed my mind that God saw me as a person with faults. All of my mother’s hard work was in vain: although she brought us to Confession every three weeks in order to get forgiven by the priest, I had never personally embraced the Catholic teaching on venial and mortal sins.

Consequently, seeing this verse in the book of Psalms about having “hidden faults” made a pretty big impression on me.

While working at the Department of Blind Student Services I went through an atheist phase.  I felt uncomfortable and unsettled living this way.  And three months later, God used Willie Davis, the blind man, to share a Bible verse with me that helped me see clearly.

I was back to believing in God.

In the summer of 1990, I worked at FSU as an Orientation Leader with this boy named Byron. Whenever we had a free moment, Byron would preach to us that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins.

Meanwhile, God had begun to answer my prayer from the Psalms, “reveal to me my hidden faults.”  Byron’s preaching, therefore, was getting through my thick skull.

I returned to Tallahassee for my senior year of college deeply humiliated by a series of personal failures.  I often prayed for death. I lived as a hermit for many months, brooding over my misery.

However, my feelings of hopelessness diminished with time, and I eventually decided to stop blaming everyone else for my problems. I resolved to accept responsibility for myself. As I began my last semester of college, I reentered society.

I was intrigued one morning by a newspaper article about New Age philosophy. It described how the power that moves an ocean wave is the same force that gives flight to a butterfly. I did something unusual and cut out the article for safekeeping.

Butterflies were on my mind, so when I saw a yellow one the next day while on a solitary walk, I intently observed him. He was the picture of happiness. He flew around performing all sorts of loops and rolls, truly delighting in the joy of flight.

Turning towards home, I walked slowly in order to keep an eye on him, eventually realizing that the butterfly was following me. He followed me all the way across campus, along my course home. Twenty minutes later he was still behind me! Past the library, I crossed a two-lane street; however, the butterfly refused to cross.

“C’mon little guy! Come on over! …No? …All righty then.”

I walked back over to his side of the street. He then led me in a direction that was perpendicular to my intended course.

We walked past two student dormitories – Landis Hall and Broward Hall – then arrived together at a spot on the edge of campus where, across the street, stood three buildings: on the left was a bar named “The Phyrst,” in the middle was a candy store named “The Sweet Shop,” and to the right was a United Methodist Church that was basically an outreach ministry to the college students.

The yellow butterfly then flew across the street. I followed. He flew to the right, towards the church. There was a sign on the lawn in front indicating that tomorrow’s service was at 10:00 am. The butterfly flew diagonally across the church’s sign. He then, literally, disappeared from sight.

I stood there on the church’s front lawn waiting for him to reappear. I waited for minutes, looking and searching, but he was gone. I got the message, though. The following morning, I was in church promptly at 10:00 am.

When my Italian mother later found out that I was attending a Protestant church, she did not take it lightly. She was upset and angry, and argued vehemently that the Catholic Church is the only true church.

“It is only at Mass that you can receive the body of Christ in the Eucharist,” she said.

“What? …Wait, you actually believe that, Mom?”

“Yes,” she answered, “I have faith.”

I was sorry to be letting her down, but I liked this church and the new ‘crowd’ that accepted me. Plus, it was an eye-opening cultural experience to observe the guilt issues of these Christians.  I had never seen anything like this before in my life.  After a Saturday night of drinking and revelry at some fraternity party, they were plagued with sorrow on Sunday morning – often tearfully answering the ‘altar call’ at the end of the service in order to rededicate themselves to the Lord.

I was witnessing first-hand the cycle of “repentance, obedience, failure; repentance, obedience, failure,” that defines the life of many evangelical Christians.

It was at this time that I began to get my hair cut by Rick. He was known as the best hairdresser on campus and a master of ‘big hair,’ a popular style on the East Coast in those days. When you left his salon, your hair would be poufed out to five times its original volume.

On the day that Rick preached the gospel to me, the blinders on my eyes were pulled back ever so slightly; God gave me a glimpse of my unbelief: an important reality to accept. Though I rejected God’s offer of salvation that day, He did not give up on me. I don’t think He ever gives up on anyone.

Rick the hairdresser gave me two cassette tapes of sermons by his pastor at Calvary Chapel Tallahassee. I listened to those messages over and over again during those last months of my senior year, and I even went to Ricks’ church a couple of times. Since I’d soon be graduating, he encouraged me to check out Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale.

I graduated in May of 1991, then moved back into my parents’ home in South Florida so that I could be with my sister, who had also recently moved back home. After a summer of heavy partying, we were both ready for a change. She enrolled in Nursing School, and I turned my course towards Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale (CCFL).

I decided that I belonged there. God had clearly revealed to me my hidden faults, and I believed that going to church would help me to improve. I still didn’t believe a word of that “you gotta saved and born-again” stuff, though.

One of the worship leaders there at CCFL reminded me of my mom. They looked so much alike that, from a distance, I could imagine my mother as the one on stage singing about Jesus! It was an incredible sight!

Introducing myself to her after the service, I related this to her and said how delightful this was for me in light of the fact that my mother was not even saved. A few others were standing near us and this lady announced, “C’mon guys, we need to pray for her mother’s salvation!” We gathered in a circle, and as we grasped hands to pray I told them, “Actually… I’m not saved either.” So, the group prayed for my salvation as well as my mom’s.

Several Sundays later, September 1, 1991, Bob Coy taught on the first of the Ten Commandments, “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Though I had never committed adultery or murder, I had clearly disobeyed the First Commandment. God alone is the one to be worshiped, and did I worship Him? No. My whole life revolved around me. I worshipped myself! The weight of my sin and guilt grew heavier and heavier with each moment, for “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23)

Realizing that my sin deserved punishment, I was prepared to accept the gospel (the word gospel means good news or glad tidings). Paul says in Romans that the gospel “is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.” God brought salvation to me that morning.

God removed the blinders on my eyes so I could ‘see’ the choice I had to make: on my left was Jesus Christ and His offer to me of eternal life, and on my right, was an eternal hell. I understood that I justly deserved to go to hell, and that God would not have been unfair to send me there. Which would I choose?

Grace Given to Me — my personal testimony — Part 2

I chose Jesus. This was a private moment between God and me; all I did was respond to the offer that He presented.  Responding to the gospel is described in the Bible as the “hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:2). It is not a “work;” it’s the acceptance of a gift.

When I received the free gift of Jesus, I passed out of death and darkness because Jesus is “the life.” (John 14:6) He gave me His life, and His life saved me.

If you want to receive salvation, you simply need to believe in this message of grace and decide to trust in the good news. Tell God that you trust that Jesus died for the forgiveness of your sins; that you believe He paid the debt that you owe. Tell Him that you accept the free gift of the Holy Spirit; that you need His life to save you. Thank Him for the gift of eternal life.

It was 1991, and I had become a brand-new creation. Once a foreign concept, I now understood that to be born-again was real! This was proven to me the day after my salvation.

I worked with my mother at a law office, and in the hallway, I noticed the obituary of the lawyer’s father posted on a door. The article related how he had attained great wealth, success, and fame.

Suddenly, I began to cry. My heart ached with sadness over this lost man.

My reaction surprised me; it was as if someone else were living inside of me and giving me a new way to view the world. That was exactly the case.

I had received the Spirit of Jesus; I now had access to His mind. God’s view of success was radically different from my own: true success is finding the grace and peace of God, and has nothing to do with fame and wealth.

A few months later, my parents called a family meeting in order to discuss my strange new behaviors. They were disturbed that I was going to church four times a week, reading the Bible at the kitchen table, and worst of all, they were angry that I got baptized in the Atlantic Ocean, a very offensive thing to them in light of the fact that I had already been baptized as an infant.

The family meeting gave me the opportunity that I was looking for to tell them that I had accepted Jesus and was born again!

They did not share in my enthusiasm. As they saw it, I had joined a cult. I was a fundamentalist, a term I had never heard before.

“What’s a fundamentalist, Mom?”

She answered, “It is someone who takes the Bible literally.”

“Oh!” I said, “Then it must be a good thing to be a fundamentalist!”

My mother set up an appointment for me to meet with our Parish Priest. I explained to him that I found God, and had become a new person.

He said, “No, you found God and received the Holy Spirit when you underwent Confirmation at age 13. You are welcome to come back home whenever you are ready. Once you realize the mistake you’ve made, the doors of the Catholic Church will always be open for you.”

Of course our Catholic priest was wrong; I had found the true God. To illustrate His reality in my life, here is a diary entry from December 9, 1991, just three months after my salvation.

 Dear Diary, 

God gave me understanding today as I was taking a shower. Thank You, Jesus, my God. My wonderful, loving God! I didn’t even ask for this – but I needed it. Thank you, Holy Spirit, for knowing my needs. God revealed to me the fall of man. 

Before sin, Adam and Eve were in perfect union with God. They had a perfect relationship. That is why and how God created us to be. Adam and Eve lived in perfect peace and happiness. Then Satan came along, stealing God’s serpent to speak through and tempted Adam and Eve to commit sin.

“No, God’s word is that we can’t do that.”

Satan said, “Oh, c’mon, you believe God’s word? Would he really punish you? He’s God. Did he really say that? C’mon, do what I say and you will know what evil is. Your eyes will be opened. You will know all things.”

O.K., they said. They were tempted and they followed and they sinned against their father’s word. God was grieved – he was hurt. Now they could see good and evil. Now they were unclean, unworthy of God.

God could not change what happened. He created us with the free will to choose him or to reject him. Adam and Eve chose to reject God. So the punishment for sin is death. Sin would have to lead to death. Sin had to be killed.

As Adam and Eve procreated, all their children were born as they were – separated from God by their sin. Nothing they could do could change that fact. We are born ungodly creatures. We are born as children of the devil. Our bodies are destined to death. Sin is contained inside our flesh and our soul. But God desires and yearns for his creation.

God does not want any of us to perish. But when he saw how sinful we had become, he sent a great flood and wiped out most everyone. That didn’t work. Then he sent us the 10 commandments and the Law spoken through prophets. It was written down and called Scripture. But the law couldn’t save us or take away our sinful flesh. God told us that he would send us a son. He said a child would be born by a virgin.

This child was born and he claimed to be God himself. But his words were rejected. He was hated and eventually was killed. The blood He shed on that cross fulfilled God’s word. That blood took away our sins. God rose from the dead and therefore overcame death. Satan was defeated, forever. But since we are sinful, we must now turn from our sin and accept God.

If we don’t believe that God’s blood was shed on the cross as a sacrifice to us, then how can we be saved? If we don’t believe, we are still living in sin. We remain as simply a creation that has rejected God.

When we come to believe in Jesus’ sacrifice and that God rose him from death, then we become God’s adopted child and heirs to his kingdom.

How are we saved? All one has to do to be saved and to have eternal life in Jesus Christ is to truly believe that Jesus was sent to save us from our sins. That takes a leap of faith. Believing that is all you have to do. Then, to secure your salvation he sends the Holy Spirit to live inside of you.

Once you have the Holy Spirit – you are saved and you know it. You may not realize it is the Holy Spirit at first, but you will feel a rebirth. You are no longer the same person. You have been made whiter than snow on the inside. God now can see us and have a relationship with us. Because, when God looks at you, he sees the pure blood of Jesus. You are now justified. You have been born-again.

All you have to do to be saved is to believe that Jesus was sent from God to die for us, and that he was raised from his death. You believe by faith, and you are saved through God’s grace. Ask God for the faith to believe. Ask God to reveal your sin to you.

God, help me to understand salvation. I want to share it with everyone. Lord, I want to be with you in heaven. I desire to love you, God. I want to obey. (End of diary entry.)

Meanwhile, my church was teaching me to walk away from Christ. This was actually a popular teaching at CCFL:  that maturity in Christ is the ability to walk on your own.

One of the female deacons could see that I was fully depending on the Lord, and that He was working in and through me. So, she set me straight.

She told me, “Yes, God is holding your hand now, but as you grow in the faith He will let go of your hand and teach you to walk on your own.”

One day I would be on my own? God would eventually push me away from Him? How deflating and discouraging it was to hear her say those words! But, she was popular, and well respected, so I trusted her; I believed her.

I allowed this falsehood to begin to permeate my thinking. In fact, I began to like it.

My prideful nature began to assert itself.

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other…” (Gal 5:17, ESV)

I didn’t want to struggle with sin; I wanted to be perfect and holy. I didn’t want to have to wait around for God to continue leading me; I wanted to take control. Sure, I had read the verse that says “God would be faithful to complete the work in me that He had begun,” but I wanted to be faithful to complete the work myself.

“Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Gal 3:3, NIV) …Apparently, yes; I was that foolish.

Fifteen months after getting saved, in January of 1993, I moved across the country to California in order to attend Calvary Chapel Bible College. I was thrilled to be in an environment where I could commit myself 100% to works-based-sanctification.

“Sure, positionally you are sanctified,” we were often told, “but practically you are not.”

I lost sight of my closeness to Jesus as I focused my eyes fixedly on myself and worked tirelessly to accomplish my sanctification.

One of my roommates complained to the Dorm Dean about me. My behavior made her feel uncomfortable. Well, sorry, but I was not going to change for HER. I had a mighty God to please!

I continued with my 5:30 a.m. quiet times, attended all of the prayer meetings, wrote the best papers that Pastor Larry Taylor had ever seen, fasted once a week, went street witnessing in L.A. every Friday night, did the hospital ministry, the phone hot-line ministry, the Junior High ministry, wore baggy clothes, and taught Sunday School.

Without acknowledging that I was in a competition with the other students, I did realize that I was at the top of the food chain: after all, I had been asked to come on staff and manage the front office. I was practically in full-time ministry, thank you very much.

Despite my efforts to be godly, I continued to struggle with the temptation to binge on junk food. This bizarre behavior had confounded me for eight long years; it was painfully obvious that there was nothing I could do to change myself. And then one day­­, I said a very sincere prayer: “God, I am completely fed up with this. Could you please give me a new sin to struggle with?”

As it turns out, God said ‘yes.’

This event should have proven to me that my efforts to ‘sanctify myself’ were futile. We cannot conquer our own sins, but the Lord God can choose to change our hearts. And on this day, He chose to deliver me.

For years, it had been like walking down a long, dark alley with a scary man following me. The fear of that man had been with me for eight years. In the months to come, I would occasionally turn my head to check for him, worried that he was still there lurking in the darkness, but he was really gone. As I said, I had begged God to give me a new sin to struggle with, and He did. But that is an entirely different story.

 

Grace Given To Me – my personal testimony – Part 3

I worked full-time in the front office of the Bible College, and attended classes part-time. One day in December of 1993, a brand-new student from Virginia Beach was brought to the front office to check in. He was fresh out of the Navy – mustache and all – and had been serving as a deep-sea diver.

“Stay away from him,” I thought. “He’s my age; he’s cute, and a bit nerdy too! I could really like him.” I was committed to my college classes, however, so I tried to avoid him as much as possible.

A year later, in November of ’94, I had reached the ripe old age of 25, and I was finally ready for a serious relationship. So, when Christopher asked me to eat lunch with him in the school cafeteria, I said yes.

This was the beginning of our “courtship” as we called it. We agreed that our purpose was to discover if we would make good marriage partners. Christopher then began to read book after book on the proper methods of Christian dating, advice for newly married couples, etc.

We went to Chuck Smith’s church – “Big Calvary” – on our first official date. Chris drove us to Costa Mesa in his ugly black Dodge truck that had a three-foot-long bumper sticker on the back window stating, “Jesus said: “Unless you repent, you shall perish!”

After church, Chris sat me down to discuss the message. “OK now, did he say anything that was wrong?” Wrong! Wrong? Isn’t that against the rules? We’re not allowed to disagree with Papa Chuck!

Five months later, in May of 1995, Christopher asked me to marry him. The next day, he broke off our engagement.

Chris wasn’t sure if he was in the center of God’s will. We were constantly told that it was essential to find God’s perfect will for our life; otherwise we would be living in sin and disobedience. Christopher had prayed and waited and fasted and listened and… He had not heard from God.

Feeling distressed, Chris sought advice from a pastor who taught at our school, David Hocking. Pastor Hocking said that as long as I was a believer, Chris was free to marry me. He recommended a book, Decision Making & the Will of God: A Biblical Alternative to the Traditional View by G. Friesen.

Chris found the book in the school library, devoured it, and his life was changed! We became reengaged! This had all happened in one day. Man, was my head spinning!

Christopher was now set free from a huge weight; he was released from the pressure to live up to an unattainable standard. I did not grasp or comprehend the matter, so I just brushed it under some rug in my mind.

We graduated in June of 1995 and were married several months later. Since we were such “committed Christians,” of course we had our first kiss at our wedding, and forbade dancing and alcohol at our reception.

After our honeymoon, Chris joined me on staff at the Bible College. With a close-up view of the pastors, Christopher began to witness instances of hypocrisy and abuse of power. He was repelled. His attitude toward the “rules” became even more relaxed. He acted out with a variety of antics, such as burping on the staff walkie-talkies, listening to secular music at home, and quitting his daily Bible reading.

Meanwhile, I was uptight and uneasy and wondered, “Why is my husband so “ungodly” all of a sudden? How could he be doing this to me!? What must everyone think!?”

In December of 1996, we moved to Colorado. My family had been living there for four years, and I wanted to raise our kids near them. I was five months pregnant by this time, planned to become a stay-at-home mom, and knew I would depend on the support (and free babysitting) of my mom.

Once in Colorado, we made the local Calvary Chapel our church home.  Over the next five years my husband continued to experience a growing hatred for all things ‘church,’ and I was growing more and more frustrated…would he ever repent!? He was not doing anything that a Christian should do!

Overwhelmed with bitterness, I would often secretly cry my eyes out behind closed doors, …but at times I was not able to hide my resentment. Chris would look into my eyes and detect my true feelings. He’d call me on it, which cut like a knife.

I began to think, “What kind of a Christian has a heart as wicked as mine?”

One Sunday morning we walked into the church foyer of RMCC and Christopher said to me, “I hate this place.”

For years I had been waiting for him to repent of his backsliding and to return to a life of obedience to God. But when he spoke those words, it finally dawned on me that he would never change.

It was 2002, we had three small children, and Chris had given up on church. I continued to take the kids to church without him, but often came home in a bitter mood. In fact, my attitude overall was quite sour.

In time, God was able to reveal to me that something was wrong with this picture. If I was the one attending church, reading my Bible, striving to live a holy life, praying and serving God, why was it that Christopher was the one bearing the fruit of the Spirit? He was kind and affectionate, and I was totally critical and hateful!

It became obvious that my devotion to church was coming between Christopher and me. In fact, church also seemed to be hindering my peace with God. I got the impression that He wanted me to quit church too. But I had huge doubts. Was the Lord truly telling me that it was time to let go?

I struggled and prayed for months, one day deciding to call my church, Village 7 Presbyterian, in order to ask for godly counsel. The elder told me that I should definitely continue attending church without my husband. He contended Chris’s absence from church was evidence that he wasn’t bearing fruit for God and, therefore, wasn’t saved. Thankfully, I didn’t buy into that nonsense: Christopher had rejected religion, not God.

It may seem incredible that God would want me to quit church. Yet His urging was so strong – His hand was so heavy on my heart – that this struggle can best be described with the following analogy: I am lying flat on the floor in the foyer of my church, having a temper tantrum because I don’t want to leave; I am digging my fingernails into the carpet in order to prevent myself from being dragged away. I am clinging and grasping to no avail — someone has a hold of my feet and is gently pulling me out of the church building: that person is the Lord Himself.

After two years of attending church without my husband, I finally released my idols, lifted my hands in surrender, and said yes to the Lord. I quit church.

Once He had me all to Himself, Jesus began to reveal Himself to me again. I began to experience that glorious JOY that only the Lord can give. His presence satisfied and calmed my restless spirit.

This is what I had been missing! Him!

For years I was devoted to being a good Christian. My relationship with God required constant work. Yet it was only when I gave up that I discovered the truth: I HAVE fellowship with Him – and always will – because He dwells inside of me.

Next, God brought ladies into my life who also did not go to church. We’d meet at parks for play dates with all of our kids, and we would end up having the most amazing conversations.

We’d depart saying to each other, “It’s been nice having church with you!”

God showed me that I wasn’t “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” after all (Hebrews 10:25).  We don’t go to church; we are the church.

God leads us by our desires, and He gave me a voracious desire to understand why Christopher hated church. Over the three years that I searched for an answer, I read books such as: Pagan Christianity, Why Men Hate Church, Wild at Heart, and Psychoheresy.

During these years I would look forward to going to church on Christmas Eve. At least we did that as a family! But one year, Chris was not in the mood to go. In fact, he wanted to go out and buy some whiskey.

The Lord had been teaching me that He does not look on the outer man, but at a person’s heart. After a difficult inner struggle, I decided to trust in the Lord’s wisdom. I walked over to Chris and gave him a hug.

Speaking from my heart I said, “Okay, we don’t have to go to the Christmas Eve service; go and buy your whiskey. I love you just the way you are. You’re real. And I’m happy that you are not one of those fake, smiling Mr. Christian Nice-Guys who say things like “praise the Lord, brother!”

By 2006, when our youngest was four years old, the Lord had stripped me of most of the rules and laws that I had seen as mandatory for a Christian…. except for one: 1 John 1:9.

I was still holding on tenaciously to it: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In order to get forgiven for a sin, a Christian HAD to quote 1 John 1:9, right!?

But then one day in early 2007 while listening to AM radio, I heard this guy named Bob George – founder of the radio ministry People to People – give a different interpretation of this verse. Bob said that John was speaking to the Gnostics when he wrote verse nine. That got my attention!

I sat down and read the book of 1 John…and then read it again. It was totally clear. John obviously switches audiences as he writes, and in the famous 1 John 1:9 verse he is not addressing believers.

This had a huge implication: if the issue of forgiveness was truly over, then I no longer had to ask him to forgive me for my daily sins. He had already forgiven me!

I finally understood why John called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And when He said, “It is finished,” before dying on the cross, He meant what He said. The work was finished! The sin of the world had been taken away! Thank you, Jesus! “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32.)

Next, I decided to read Bob George’s book Classic Christianity. This book is a classic that should be read by every Christian. It was there that I learned about legalism, or as Bob calls it “Galatianism.”

Sitting on our couch, tears streamed down my face as I read the chapter on Galatianism. I knew I had found my answer, and yes, Christopher agreed: it was legalism that had caused him to hate church.

After three years of reading books and sharing my discoveries with Chris and hearing him say, “No, Lisa, that’s not it,” I was so thankful to find what I was looking for. Chris and I are both thankful to God.

I found out that Bob George’s ministry had church plants in various parts of the country. I wondered if they had anything in Colorado.  The reply I received from my email said, “We have a church in Denver being led by Aaron Budjen.”

Aaron Budjen!?  I was quite familiar with him!  It just so happened that I had been listening to Aaron’s radio program – Living God Ministries – since it aired directly after People to People. His teaching had intrigued me because of its similarity to what Bob George teaches.

Next, I requested to be put on Aaron’s mailing list, and in June 2007, I learned that he held Bible Studies at the library one mile from my house!!  I could not have been more thrilled.

Attending his Bible Studies confirmed to me this revolutionary notion of being “a forgiven person.” I learned many other truths from Aaron, such as God’s purpose for giving the commandments to Moses and how to describe the fullness of the gospel. I also learned the meaning of law versus grace, the truth about spiritual warfare, and that “the will of God” is actually a Last Will and Testament.

The New Testament, or the New Covenant, is the good news of God’s “Will” to us believers. Aaron Budjen often encouraged us to discover all that we had been given through our inheritance in Christ Jesus, and as I grew in the knowledge of the many spiritual gifts of salvation, my heart began to change.

It is an awe-inspiring thing to be aware of the fact that God Himself is changing my heart. Though the circumstances and the situations of my life have remained the same, my reactions have become different. It was not my knowledge of good and evil and attempting to obey a commandment that changed me… it was all Him.

We read in Romans that the Law was given so that transgressions would increase, and in 1 Corinthians that the power of sin is the law, but what do these things mean? Aaron explains that the Law was given to Moses (a total of 613 commandments) in order to show us our need for His mercy.

To quote Aaron: “When it comes to the Law, or any law, the value of it is the degree to which it can be used to condemn a person to the point of despair. Only then will they turn to God for His mercy. So, the more legalistic, the more effective it can be.” (Nov. 2012)

Check out the Free Radio Archive section of Aaron’s website: www.livinggodministries.net

After about four years of listening to these messages on a regular basis, and attending his Bible Study on a weekly basis, I finally grasped the root cause of my sin.

Aaron teaches that we all have deep-rooted needs for love and acceptance and purpose and meaning. We look to the world or to religion to have these needs met: that is what leads to sin. As we learn that only God can meet our needs – since He created us for that reason – our sin will be reduced.

Once I understood that God meets my needs, my growth in Christ took off. My need for others to like me and accept me dissipated, and I began to share the fullness of the gospel with them.

God is able to teach me because I am no longer trying to be a Christian in my own strength. I am resting in Him – the Lord of the Sabbath!

He taught me what it means to pray continually, to be thankful in every circumstance, and to rejoice always. This is a perfect summary of our life in Christ: I talk to Him throughout the day, which reminds me to be thankful, and being thankful causes my spirit to rejoice!

The Law told me that I had to love my God with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength. But I found that commandment impossible to obey. God understands that; He intended the Law to lead me to HIM. He is a person and He wants me to hear Him, to go to Him, to lean on Him, to depend on Him. Now God is able to work in and through me, and I find that I love Him and desire Him with all of my heart!

It is only by doing ‘nothing’ that we succeed! It is only in resting, in choosing not to work, that we discover the meaning of ‘walking in the spirit.’

There remains, therefore, a rest for the people of God. For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His. Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:9-11)

 THE END