By Grace Alone: My Story

grace-alone

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I tend to shy away from talking about it too much because people might think I’m nuts. Then, I remembered that I worship Jesus and most people think I’m nuts anyway. So, for better or for worse, here’s my story:

A Bit of History

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, or one that really practiced any sort of religious belief (unless watching Star Trek religiously counts). From what I recall, the only time someone said “God” or “Jesus” was when someone was exasperated. I learned a couple years ago that apparently I went to Sunday School a few times when I was about six, but the only thing I remember is making a guitar out of yarn and styrofoam plates.

I suppose that’s an indicator of what I learned there, isn’t it?

During high school, I took most of my spiritual thoughts from pretentious musicians and bits and pieces of Eastern philosophy that came up in conversations with my boss at the comic book store. Probably the most accurate description of my worldview would be nihilistic. Nothing really mattered, so as far as I was concerned, I was free to do whatever I pleased so long as it didn’t make me look bad.

Meeting Emily

In college, I met a girl named Emily. She was something else. She was smart, pretty… and she was a Bahá’í. Her family raised her in a spiritual/mystical buffet; her mom (a lapsed Catholic) would expose her to Christian churches of various sorts as well as a host of books by Gary Zukav and the like and Tarot reading.

We started hanging out. I fed her. She liked me.

Eventually she wasn’t a Bahá’í anymore.

We dated all through college, moved in together in our final year, then got “engaged;” no wedding date in mind, but we’d do it eventually. We both started working, making some money and consistently spending more than we made. We always kept separate rooms in any apartment we lived in; eventually we both started using those rooms more and more. And we both had computers. To be honest, it’s nothing short of a miracle that she even was still with me at that point. I was not easy to live with; I was incredibly selfish. I spent way too much time looking at things I ought not, and talking to people I didn’t need to.

Alpha and Adam

In 2004, my friend Adam got in touch via MSN. A couple years prior (a few months after we all graduated from college), he had become a Christian. I thought this was funny, because Adam wasn’t one of “those guys.” I’m not going to get into his story, because that’s for him to tell. But the way he described it was he had been praying about who to invite to Alpha, the understand-the-basics of the Christian faith course turned evangelism sensation.

And he got the distinct impression that he was to invite me. After some time doing the “yeah, buts” with God, he decided to ask the next time I was online.

5 seconds later, there I was.

He bit the bullet and asked straight out. Told me exactly what it was; didn’t try to sell it as “a casual dinner and conversation about faith,” or anything like that. To his and my surprise, I said yes. And promptly forgot exactly what it was about until the first night when they said, “Welcome to the 10-week Alpha course…”

For the next few weeks, we went to Alpha at Glad Tidings Assembly in London, Ontario. I slept through the videos, but participated in the discussions. At the end, Emily and I both said, “Well, that’s nice for them, but it’s not for us.”

Buying a House by the Christian Bookstore

In January, 2005, we moved into the house we had purchased the previous November and had returned to primarily sharing a room. Two blocks away was a Christian bookstore. Adam continued to hang out with us and the conversation would always, eventually, turn to God.

One day in March, I walked over and bought a Bible. I figured I’d read it so I could at least be properly informed in my mockery. What I found was quite surprising. I was confronted by a Jesus who was authoritative and passionate. He was intriguing.

Then, things started to get weird.

Opposition

Neither Emily nor I ever left our bedroom(s) after we went to bed. It always felt like something was there. I’d sometimes catch glimpses of things out of the corner of my eye. I’d wake up with scratches on my shoulders and back that I could not have made by myself. Emily told me that most nights I looked like I was fighting in my sleep.

We were both scared and paranoid, and too afraid to talk to one another about what we were experiencing.

One night in May or June, we were on the way home from dinner with a couple from Adam’s church, Matt & Melissa. Out of the blue, Emily says, “When we get home, I think we need to burn the Tarot cards.” (A few years prior, Emily had taken up Tarot reading.) “Okay,” I replied.

We got home at about 1 am, took a roasting pan out into the backyard, put her box of Tarot cards, all the books and some flyers for kindling and lit the pile. I stood close, watching everything burn. Except for the cards.

The night just got creepier from there. And for the first time, I stumbled my way through a prayer, “God… I’m not even sure if you’re real, but if you are, could you make this all stop?” The cards, which hadn’t even been touched by the flames prior (although the books underneath them had burned) immediately burnt up.

I cleaned everything up and went to bed.

A couple days later, I woke up with a thud.

Literally.

Salvation

At 3:34 AM, My eyes opened when Emily said, “Go away!”

I fell.

I asked her what was happening, and she told me that she woke up to see me being picked up from the bed. Scared out of our wits, I offered up a fumbling prayer, “Is this in our head or is it real? If it’s real, can you let us know?”

Things got worse.

Emily and I were paralyzed. She was crying. It felt like someone was pressing their knees into my chest. And I kept hearing something mocking me, telling me that I belonged to them.

But something else started coming to mind. Imagery from the gospels: Jesus’ authority over demons, His knowledge of who belongs to Him, His bearing my sin on the cross… And in a moment, I cried out, asking Jesus to save me.

And He did.

Everything stopped. Emily (who repented roughly 15 seconds before I did) and I looked at each other, frazzled and more than a little confused and asked each other,

“Now what?”

The Slow Process of Sanctification

From that moment on, we’ve been on the slow, sometimes painful road of sanctification.

We spent the next several weeks doing our best to uncomplicate our lives, seeking counsel from the pastors of the church we joined and from friends. Within two months, we were really engaged. Nine months later, on May 27, 2006, we were married. We welcomed our daughter, Abigail, into the world on March 18, 2007.

During a baptism service in late August, 2005, we surprised our friends and our pastor by being a last minute impromptu baptism. We went home in wet clothes, but it was a great blessing to publicly declare that we belonged to Jesus.

We became heavily involved in small groups, eventually leading one for a number of years. I worked in children’s church, went on a missions trip and became increasingly frustrated with my job. God kindly created a position for me at Compassion Canada, where I work today.

Final Reflections

While the above is almost exclusively positive, it really has been often difficult. We’re the only Christians (as far as we know) in our families at this point. Trying to make life work during the months leading up to our wedding was filled with family strife, a lot of hurt feelings, confusion and more than a few nights where I showed up at Adam’s apartment at 10 pm with Starbucks.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Through all of this, I have seen very clearly that it is only by God’s grace alone that He saved me.

I wasn’t looking for Him. I wasn’t on a “spiritual journey.” I didn’t really have a sense that anything was missing in my life. I was a good person (sort of) who lived a decent life (kind of).

What did I need God for?

The truth is, I hated Him. I was, as Ephesians 2 says, a child of wrath.

But He was merciful to me, a sinner. He forgave me; He made me, a dead man, live. He gave me a passion for Him and His Word.

And He continues to be very patient with me as I stumble into holiness.

He continues to be very patient with you.

The only question is, will that patience lead you to repentance or to continue to store up wrath for the coming judgement?

Do you know Jesus—not a Jesus that spouts pithy truisms with no real authority, or who wags his finger at people saying, “Stop having fun or I’ll getcha!” The real Jesus. The King of the Universe; God who became a man to show us how God intended for humanity to live, to suffer and die in our place, for our sins, bearing the punishment that we richly deserve? The only person worthy of worship and praise?

Will you stop running from Him and run toward Him?

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