Changed Lives

Changed Lives: Tina

A few years ago, God brought along a new friend who became such an encouragement to me since I’ve known her. Her uplifting words and passion to share the Gospel have been inspiring. As we got to know one another, I started hearing about her life and how the Lord saved her. A few months ago, I asked her if she’d be willing to share her story here. I believe you will be much encouraged by what she shares. God is so faithful. And He changes lives!

Here is Tina’s story–

As I reflect back through the years of my testimony, I am amazed at the work the Lord has and continues to do in my life. Nothing of what I share has anything to do with my efforts or doing, it is all Him, Our Lord. He has redeemed me and changed my life.

I was born in Toronto, Ontario, the city where my parents went to elope. My birth dad was known as a drug addict and an alcoholic. Due to his addictions, he was abusive to my mother. When I was five years old, my mother took my younger brother and me and returned to the states.

She did divorce my birth dad. We lived for a short period of time with her oldest brother and his wife. It wasn’t too long before she met another man and, within the year, they were married.

Four days after their wedding, we were traveling home from the grocery store when an oncoming car, holding four drunk ladies who had just left a bar, collided with our vehicle. I was thrown from the car and Frank (my mom’s new husband) was badly injured but my mom and younger brother were both killed in that accident.

I was unconscious for days with a head injury. Perhaps some might have said it was a miracle that I survived and I have oftentimes looked back and wondered why God spared my life. I have questioned at times why my mom and brother died and I was spared. If there is one thing that probably has been in the back of my mind it is this question: Were they saved? I have come to a place of peace in my understanding that these answers will remain unanswered until I am with the Lord. But, through it all, God has shown me that He is good in and through it all.

I awoke in the hospital with my aunt by my bedside. Naturally, as a child would, I cried out for my mom and it was my aunt who had to share with me that my mom had died. I then cried out for my brother and she told me that he had also died. I remember it so clearly that day–my aunt holding me as I just cried.

My mom, Darlene, was 26 years old and 3 months pregnant and my brother, Stephen, was 5. I was 6 years old at this time. I went home days later with my Aunt and Uncle. I remember her telling me later in life how many people were praying for me. No one knew the effects this would have on a young girl. How does a young child who just lost her family cope?

I can reflect back and remember vividly that I adjusted quickly. I took to my aunt and uncle fondly, but especially my aunt as she was very loving and tender with me. After a short time of living with them, I remember running out to the kitchen and asking her if I could call her Mom. God was already at work in my heart, and, yes, I would surely say He was answering prayers.

The first time I ever heard about Jesus was through my aunt. I remember her sharing John 3:16 with me:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only begotten Son. That whosoever believes in Him, will not perish but have everlasting life.

That verse resonated deeply within me as a young child who so desperately wanted to be loved. I would often think about God’s love. Little did I understand then the full extent of what that love meant but I understood that God loved me. I started attending church and would continue hearing more about Jesus and how He died on the cross for my sins. I then started to understand that I was a sinner. That Jesus had to die for my sins. It was something I so easily understood and believed. I wanted Jesus in my life.

At the age of 7, I was in my bedroom playing but kept thinking about John 3:16. I understood I was a sinner and that Jesus had to die for my sins. He died for me. I believed He died on the cross, was buried and rose again. I ran out to my aunt and excitedly told her I want Jesus to live within me.

A few years later my aunt and uncle adopted me. God had taken this little girl and given her a new family. I will always remember my birth mom, Darlene, and am very thankful for her. As I will always remember my birth dad, Doug. Much of what I struggled with throughout growing up are my questions of why my birth dad did not love me as a father should. I will share more about where God has brought me to with my relationship with Doug. But I am truly thankful for the family God had placed me in.

Moving ahead to my teenage years, I look back and can reflect much. My friendships where not always the best influences for my life. I made some really bad decisions and choices. If you were to know me then, I was very much living in the world and much like the world. My life did not resemble Christ. It pains me to see and know the person I was. Oh, I believed In Jesus. I went to church, was a part of youth group and active in it. I would even talk to my friends about God and share with them about what Jesus had done. But I lived two different lives. I wanted the world and I wanted Christ. But, as I later learned, you cannot serve two masters. Matthew 6:24 says—

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

As I continued down the path I was on, which include drinking and vulgar language, I hit one of the lowest points in my life. When I was 15, I was raped by a 21 year old man. I held onto guilt and blamed myself for what had happened. This led me to make another poor choice which was an eating disorder.

As I can look back and realize now, I really was struggling with a sense of control. I had no control of what took place with my birth dad being abusive to my mom. I had no control of the accident that led to the death of my mom and brother. I had no control of why my birth dad did not make any effort to be involved in my life. And I had no control of what took place in my life when I was raped. Instead of turning to God and repenting of pride and surrendering my life to Him; instead of allowing God to take all of what I was holding onto, I turned further into despair. I wanted to be able to control one aspect in my life that no one could take from me. Oh, how foolish I was as I gave into sin and lived in it.

At the age of 19, I attended Bob Jones University which is where I met my future husband. I don’t remember exactly the year or day, but there was a sermon that was preached on hell. I listened to that sermon and was terrified. I went back to my dorm that evening and was examining where I was before God. I realized the depravity of where my sin led me, which was death, a total separation from God. I realized that not only would I be separated from God, but that I would take the wrath of God for my sins for eternity. I questioned: Was I truly saved?

The next day I had shared with Bruce, my future husband, what I had been thinking through. I wanted to surrender my life to Christ. I knew I needed to repent of my ways. It was only through faith of believing what Christ had done for me on that cross. I truly wanted Christ and nothing more. Ephesians 2:8-9 says:

For by grace you have been saved, through faith and this is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no one can boast.

I was then baptized a few weeks after, as I wanted to make a profession of my faith. God started to chip away and He was pruning me to be more like Christ.

The years that followed led me to marriage and starting a family of our own. I was growing in my walk with the Lord but there was still a hidden sin in my life that I was holding onto. It was my eating disorder and an unforgiving heart towards Doug. I carried the weight of the eating disorder for 17 years. At the age of 32, God broke me and opened my eyes to the sin I had been holding onto. I felt such shame and guilt. I realized I needed to repent of this very sin. I repented of it and it was only through God, who took that sinful desire from me. When temptation came, He gave me the strength to turn from it. There is not a day that I look back and desire to go back into that. My freedom is in Christ. Oh, how I am so thankful for the freedom I have from the bondage of sin. If there has been a verse that has been so profound to me now it is Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Tina and her husband, Bruce

I can honestly say now that I desire nothing more than to surrender this life to the one who gave His life for me. I want to be the salt and light of Christ. I want to be a reflection of His love.

In the years moving forward God has brought much healing and growth to my life. One of the amazing things He has done in me is in opening my eyes and softening my heart towards my birth dad.

Doug was now living in a nursing home. I knew that I needed to see him. I was nervous as I did not know what to say. I prayed on that entire drive up to where he was, asking the Lord to help me to love and to forgive. When I saw Doug, my heart changed and, instead of anger, I looked at this man with compassion and forgiveness. It was the first time I could face Doug with love and not hate. In talking with him, I had the opportunity to share the Gospel with him. I left that day with a peace that only could come from God.

God is continuing to chip away areas in my life. He continues to prune and to refine. Every day I realize more and more of my dependency upon Him. I am so thankful for the freedom in Christ alone from sin that held me in bondage that led me to death. Oh, what joy, oh, what peace there is in our Lord.

 

Changed Lives: Becky

About a year and a half ago, my dear friend, Becky, messaged me that she had been taken to the ER with stomach pain. By the time all the tests were run, she was given the news that she had stage 4 colon cancer. There was no cure. They would simply be working to prolong her life. As you can imagine–this rocked her world. This was not the only thing going on in her life and was simply added to another heavy, heavy burden that she was already bearing.

And, yet, every time I would stop for a visit to cheer her up…well, she’d end up cheering me up! Here she was–going through all of these things– and she was not only smiling (anyone can fake a smile) but she was full of that deep, abiding joy and amazing peace that is a true gift of God to those who have surrendered and submitted their lives to His holy will.

Becky could write a whole book about her life (in fact, I told her she should and that I’ll help her!). It is full of fascinating and interesting adventures. It is also full of the love and care of her Heavenly Father. She has spent a lifetime loving and serving God and He has been there for her time and time again. But a stage 4 cancer diagnosis will tend to test all you have said that you believe, and Becky was no different.

The last couple of times I was there to visit, I asked her how she could have so much joy amidst such dark times? I told her that if she’d ever want to write about it to encourage others, I’d love to post it here on the blog. Smiling, she’d be noncommital but did say she’d think about it.

And then one day, there it was in my email box. She couldn’t sleep the night before so she had written a bit about her cancer and her journey to joy.

I know you will appreciate this and that it will encourage you greatly as you seek to find joy in your own circumstances. Now here are Becky’s own words about her experience–

___________________________________________________________

It is easy to be happy and have joy when things in life are falling into place the way we want them to. But what happens when things go “wrong” in our perspective? Can we still have joy? What do we do with the verse in Philippians 4:4 that says, “Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS; and again I say, Rejoice.” When I say joy, I am talking about the deep joy in our hearts that is there, no matter what comes our way.

So often we like to think that we can handle the turmoils of life when they come our way; but when it does happen, we find out otherwise. What happens when we are going through the major throes of life finding out we have cancer, a child has rejected what you have taught him/her and walked away from the faith, you are having major financial difficulty, or you have lost some one dear to your heart?

That time came for me when I had to do some intense soul searching a little over a year ago when I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. The doctors said that there wasn’t much they could do except try to prolong my life some. This really threw us into shock, and all plans and goals came to a screeching halt. I did not ask God why but how. How was I going to get through this? How was I supposed to deal with this and have the right attitude? How could I glorify the Lord and not fail Him?

Then one day while pondering all this, I started asking myself, “Do I really believe God is Who He says He is”? I grew up in a Christian home singing the hymns of the faith, hearing the Word preached, memorizing Scripture, and hearing of other fellow believers’ experiences of God working in their lives and carrying them through life’s storms. But now that I was put into this position, what was going to be my anchor? Do I really believe God about His character, His promises?

Then and there is when I made up my mind that I do believe God, and Who He claims to be in His Word. That is when I found peace, His peace the passes all our understanding! And along with that came the deep seated joy! Satan wants to steal our joy and make us ineffectual as followers of Christ. If we start concentrating on the “What if’s”, it is easy to fall into depression or get angry. God, in His perfect will and wisdom, has a plan for each one of us, and it’s up to us to accept it with the right attitudes and allow Him to work in our lives and through us, to draw us to Him and show us Who He is and what He can do! In trying to be an encouragement, many say that God will not give us more than we can handle. However, many times He does give us more than we can handle so that we can get to know Him and experience that peace and joy from Him.

Since my diagnosis, my Heavenly Father has been by my side, holding my hand and helping me to learn of Him. My days are not always perfect. There are times when I have to ask God just to hold me in His arms as a child and show me He is there. I have been learning so much and, although I wouldn’t have chosen to go through these hardships, I am thankful for the opportunities. He is my steady anchor and the reason I can have joy no matter what He deems necessary to allow into my life. A favorite verse of mine that is a great picture of our help and safety in God’s character is in Proverbs 18:10 –

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe!”

 

 

Changed Lives: Cathy

Two or three years ago, I received an email from a reader named Cathy. She introduced herself as the pastor’s wife of a small church and wondered if I would consider speaking at their upcoming ladies’ retreat. While I was among the ladies at her church, I felt like I was among family (and I guess I was, spiritually speaking!) When they asked me to come back again this past fall, I gladly accepted. As we sat around the table, Cathy starting sharing just a bit of her testimony with me. As I listened to her, I knew I had to ask her if she would share this with my readers.

It’s been just over a year since I shared the story of a fellow Christian as part of the Changed Lives series. This ongoing series is here to serve as a reminder that God is working! He is changing and transforming lives–even through the most tragic of circumstances. Cathy’s testimony is a shining example of God transforming a life.

It is my hope that, from this particular testimony, some of you may be encouraged to know that you can be healed from horrible abuse if you go to the true Healer. I hope that you will learn that someone’s antagonistic, hostile response when you share the Gospel is not always a reflection of what’s going on in their heart. The other thing I hope you will reflect upon as you read this is that just because a family looks perfect does not necessarily mean it is. The post-war era of the 50s was a happy time–but it wasn’t a happy time for everyone. Not even for the perfect-looking family living in the cookie-cutter house on the tree-lined street.

And, finally, I hope you will consider the Christian who caught Cathy’s eye and that you will take a moment to examine yourself in light of her witness in Cathy’s life. Are you standing out like she did? Do co-workers, store clerks, parents at your kids’ school, etc see a difference when they view you in light of their worldly counterparts? Would the way you live your life give someone pause to consider the Gospel? This really made me think and I hope it will you, too.

So without further comment from me, I present to you Cathy’s testimony–

I was born not long after the end of WWII. I was born into a prosperous America, a time of peace. My mother, father, older sister and I lived in a classic, Norman Rockwell suburban neighborhood. Tree lined streets, lots of “baby boomer” kids to play with, being able to stay outside until “the street lights” came on, a dog to “love on”, a stay at home mom, home cooked meals…it was a good time to be a child in America. My father was agnostic, and my mother was Catholic, although not very observant. God was never discussed in our home. The only time I heard His name was when it was being blasphemed.

From the outside looking in, it all looked like a “Leave It to Beaver” life. But behind closed doors, things were VERY different. My earliest memory is of being restrained by my mother while my sister was abused by my father. The abuse, emotional, physical and sexual continued until I left home at 18 to get married. God blessed me with two wonderful children, but I continued to be haunted by the events of the past.

I continued over the next decade or so to be a very angry young woman. I never felt at peace, or even remotely content. My anger would bubble over and my mood swings were extreme. I did everything to the extreme.

Sadly, that marriage ended in divorce. My children and I went on to live in a small apartment. One night a man broke in and attempted to rape me. Blessedly, he was unsuccessful and was arrested and found guilty of his crime. Still, I ran from God and my past.

I joined the early feminist movement. I left that because, even as a lost woman, I recognized that abortion was murder and they asked me to support abortion or leave. God moved me off that destructive path.

One day I realized people were coming into my life and sharing the Gospel. (At the time, I didn’t know it was the Gospel). I would laugh at them and off-handedly dismiss them and their message. I continued to be angry. I made a promise to myself that I would be the one to break the cycle of abuse with my children and because I was successful, I became very prideful over what I perceived as “being a strong woman”. I continued to define myself and excuse my sin because I was a “victim”. I held strongly onto that “victim” identity. Without it, and my anger, I didn’t know who I was.

I went to nursing school and began my career as an RN. People continued to witness to me. I still scoffed at them (now I praise God for them). One day a Christian nurse joined our team. I watched her at work because she was SO different than all the other employees, including me. She had unbelievable compassion for the patients and other workers, she had a peace and a calm that I had never seen before. She was not embarrassed or ashamed of her love for Christ. She NEVER complained, even when we had to work Christmas. I didn’t know what it was, but I wanted what she had.

One day we had to go on an errand together. When we got in her car, I asked her to put on music. Her reply took me aback. She told me that all she had was “Christian music” and she didn’t think I “would like it”. That was the day that I really started to look at myself compared to her. God was beginning to humble me.

Our Lord continued to send people into my life who boldly shared what Christ had done for sinners. I remember the day like it was yesterday, I realized that I was a sinner, that I was separated from God, that I was headed for hell. I fell on my knees and sobbing, I begged God to forgive me of my sins and received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior! I couldn’t wait to tell the Christian nurse. She responded in a way that God would use many times over the years…she stated, “I have been praying that God would send a Christian nurse to work with me, I never thought it would be you!” 

Time and time again this simple statement has reminded me to pray for those who seem “very lost” and not responsive to the Gospel. It has reminded me to be bold in my faith and it has reminded me that living my faith out in front of people is one of the most important things that God has commanded me to do.

My life since my real “birthday” has been a wonderful testimony to our Lord’s grace. Immediately, my desires changed. I couldn’t learn enough or be around God’s people enough. Our home changed dramatically; the world was no longer welcomed there. My children repented and received Christ when they were pre-teens. I was blessed to be able to attend Bible college (with my Christian nurse friend who was diligent in discipling me).

Then the most amazing thing occurred, God sent a godly man into my life. He was a pastor and I found myself a pastor’s wife with four more wonderful children to love. As I grew in the Lord, I understood that God in His wonderful sovereignty allowed things in my life to prepare me to minister to other women who have experienced similar things. Over the years, my life before I was saved, my sweet friend’s words at the time of my conversion and all of the faithful who shared the Gospel with an angry, seemingly hopeless young woman have been used by God to serve the brethren and reach out to the lost.

I no longer was angry; I was able to forgive my parents and was able to have a relationship with them. My sister remained angry all her life. Praise God that I was able to share the Gospel with them. Sadly, my father, mother and sister all died lost; but I know that that too is under God’s sovereign control. I am at peace.

I pray my testimony will encourage those who read it to never give up on loved ones, co-workers, or others that may seem “too lost”, or will “never be saved”.  Live your lives boldly and totally for our Lord and Savior. Live to give Him glory and honor. Live to magnify Christ. I want to be able to say, as the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” 2 Timothy 4:7 and to the Philippians, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21

Our wonderful Lord saves and uses the most broken vessels in magnificent ways for His glory. I am undeserving and blessed!

Changed Lives: Michelle

It has been quite some time since I did a Changed Life post here at Growing4Life. It isn’t because there is a lack of testimonies, that’s for sure. But it is sometimes hard to work out all the details. Many do not feel comfortable writing their stories. Some do not want to relive all that pain or would rather not share their story publicly. Many times I don’t even ask because of a variety of reasons.

However, one person I did ask awhile back was my cousin, Michelle. She kindly said yes and last week she e-mailed me what I am going to share here today.

It is hard to believe that it is coming up on nine years ago this December that her beloved dad was in a terrible car accident. For three and a half weeks, while the rest of world was celebrating the holidays, she was wondering if her Dad would survive. Michelle, her mom, Lorraine, and her sister, Melissa, put their lives on hold while they lived in a tiny church apartment far from home, traveling back and forth to an unfamiliar hospital, as the days melted into weeks.

The shock wasn’t for her family alone. Her dad, my Uncle Larry, was a much beloved member of the family by all of us. He was my mom’s brother and they were especially close. He was the kind of guy you knew you could call if you needed help. He had a great sense of humor and, as an over-the-road trucker, always had lots of stories to entertain us with! But, most importantly, he (and my aunt Lorraine) love(d) the Lord and, with God’s help, have created a wonderful Christian legacy through the lives of their daughters and families.

Michelle, a wonderful writer, is willing to share with us about this time in their lives and how the Lord used it to grow her and so, without any further words from me, I share her story–

 

O God, our Help in ages past,
Our Hope for years to come,
Our Shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal Home!*

With this hymn flowing through my mind, my eyes searched the buildings of the city that loomed before us.  I wondered how would we ever find our destination in the darkness and falling snow? We relied on a traditional map along with limited directions…and ceaseless prayer.  Then, appearing through the murkiness like a longed-for beacon, were these bold letters: E.C.M.C.  I remember feeling relief mingled with uncertainty. We had arrived at Erie County Medical Center in Buffalo, New York.

The previous day, December 21, 2009, the beloved patriarch of our family had been brought to E.C.M.C. following a tragic auto accident. We had traveled all night to get to Daddy. In the back seat, Mom and I looked pale with the stress and the wondering. The front seat held my husband along with our son and, of all things, his puppy who was too young be left behind. Togetherness gave us hope. Ultimately, we traveled with hope that centered on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

If you’ve faced a similar pathway, you know that the Lord uses life’s storms to teach and equip us. Here are some of the vital lessons we learned.

 

The Lord’s Gracious Provision

There were some provisions that came well before Daddy’s accident. Dad always spoke highly of “his boys.” My husband and brother-in-law were the sons he’d never had. He expressed more than once that he was thankful for the men who took care of his girls. Our husbands, who were both pastors at the time, kept up with those responsibilities along with supporting us, our parents, and fulfilling the role of “Mr. Mom.”

During our time in Buffalo, my husband took on various roles. He quickly became our mediator, making and returning phone calls on our behalf and driving us where we needed to be. He became our spokesman, especially when we didn’t even know the questions to ask. When he and our son had to return home, I recorded in my journal – “I feel a bit fearful of Mom and I being ‘on our own.’  Praise the Lord, [Christ] is our Rock (Capital R) and God has moved in the hearts of His people to assist us. We are not alone!”

In God’s providence, He had already prepared a place for us to stay. The day after Christmas, we moved into the guest house of a nearby Baptist church. In my journal, I wrote —“After settling in to our new ‘home-away-from-home’ and washing clothes until 12:30 am, we had a fairly good night’s sleep. What a blessing to get most of [our laundry] completed. The guest house is cozy and clean. In the morning, we attended their Sunday School. The church family received us warmly. It’s always amazing to see how Christ’s love reaches across the miles and the way we are bonded together with other believers.” Furthermore, the pastor assured Mom and I that transportation would be provided to and from the medical center. I later wrote – “We keep crying and offering thanks to the Lord as we see His provision.”

Strength and comfort came through family and friends who surrounded us with prayer, made visits, gave thoughtful gifts and words of encouragement, and sent a plethora of cards, particularly when Dad celebrated his birthday. The Lord’s faithful provision also included the medical team who skillfully cared for Dad. He had several physicians plus a nursing staff of at least 22 different women and men who tirelessly ministered to his needs.

 

The Greatness of His Sovereignty

Michelle and her Dad on her wedding day

As days blended into weeks, God clearly revealed His supreme authority. Despite how it appeared, the Lord was completely in control of our circumstances.  Although we deeply desired for Daddy to be restored to health on this earth, we eventually began to realize that this may not be a part of God’s plan. When these heart-wrenching thoughts came, God’s sovereignty gave us security. On one particular day, I found, nestled in a pamphlet, an excerpt from Amy Carmichael’s little book, If.  A moment of dread passed through me as the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart through her words–“If the burden my Lord asks me to bear be not the burden of my heart’s choice, and I fret inwardly and do not welcome His will, then I know nothing of Calvary love.” I knew, then, that I must welcome God’s will, regardless of the outcome.

The greatness of God’s sovereignty enables us to welcome His will whether or not it makes sense to us.

A truth my husband shared in a recent sermon dovetails with this beautifully– “Prayer is not getting what we want but aligning our will with God’s will.”

 

The Gift of the Ordinary

At one point, as the unknown future stretched far in front of us, I remember a longing to do ordinary, mundane chores–washing dishes in a fluffy mountain of bubbles, cleaning my kitchen floor on my hands and knees, chiding our two female dogs who always seemed to be fussing with one another. Perhaps these tasks seemed so appealing because, if they were taking place, it meant life had returned to normal. We would be living in a new rhythm of days, one flowing gently into the next and Daddy would be well and whole again. We learned that ordinary days and simple joys are meant to be cherished.

 

The Goodness of the Lord

God’s goodness was clearly displayed through His Word that brought comfort coupled with conviction. We were filled with confidence in the Lord’s plan as we read Romans 15:13 –“Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”  I counseled my heart with verses Daddy had recently shared with me — “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  When my Uncle, Dad’s brother, came for a visit, he read Romans 8 to us. What a precious reminder that all things work together for good to those who love God and that nothing can separate us from His love! Even when our precious father went home to be with the Lord on January 15, 2010 the goodness of God remained evident. Certainly the grief was excruciating. Yet, our hearts were gently lifted up by our loving Heavenly Father Who is always and only good. A friend wrote a poem for us that she penned the day after Dad’s funeral. Below the title, When God Is Good, she included this verse – Psalm 34:8 “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him.”   An excerpt of her poem asks,

When is God good?
Is He good when life is filled with pain,
When the dreaded phone call comes,
When your world is turned upside down,
When it seems there can be no gain?
When God is good
Do we trust Him?

Perhaps there are easier ways to learn these lessons but those were not chosen for us. Instead, the Lord took us through this difficult time and gave us precious reminders –the graciousness of His provision, the greatness of His sovereignty, the gift of the ordinary, and the abundance of His goodness. And when the next storm comes–and it will–may we find our refuge, our ONLY refuge, in Christ.

 

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in Him will I trust.”

Psalm 90:1-2

 

The author, second from left, enjoys an afternoon at Sight and Sound with her family. Her husband is to her right, her son and daughter-in-law to her left. To the right of the photo is her mom and our aunt, Sarah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*A portion of the Hymn: O God Our Help in Ages Past
TEXT: Isaac Watts; based on Psalm 90
MUSIC: William Croft

 

Changed Lives: Adrienne

Changed Lives

This testimony is quite a bit more personal than any I have shared before. That is because today I bring you my daughter’s story. A few years ago, we started to see a remarkable change in the life of this child. A few months ago, I asked her if she would be willing to share what God has done in her life. She said she would and this is what I present today. But, first, I want to share a bit of my own testimony as background.

As you may already know, we have four children. Two were fairly easy to raise, as they were saved at a young age and quickly grew to be full of conviction regarding spiritual matters. While we certainly had our difficult moments with them, we were mostly encouraged as we watched these two grow in their faith during their childhoods and teen years. The other two, also supposedly “saved” as little children, actually probably weren’t. Of course, only God knows the heart but if they had stood before a judge the evidence would have been against them, for they had rebellious hearts, a passion for worldly things, an apathy toward their sin, and ungodly lifestyles (I John 2:15; I Samuel 15:23; John 15:14; Galatians 5:16-24).

Acknowledging this was most definitely one of the hardest things my husband and I have ever had to do. Because in doing so, we had to also acknowledge our own failure in communicating our faith to them and we also had to face the devastating fact that should a tragedy suddenly take their lives, we were fairly certain about where they would spend eternity.

We felt disheartened and powerless as we watched these two kids during this time. And then we did the only two things we knew to do. First, we tried to let go of the battles that were not biblical, while holding firm and staying faithful to biblical boundaries, using the Word of God as our authority. This meant lots of communication and discussion and, yes, some punishments, as well, all taking place beneath the umbrella of our unwavering and unconditional love for them. And, second, we prayed A LOT. Many others prayed with us. Grandparents. Aunts and Uncles. Friends. And one lady–a dear lady from our church–prayed so faithfully for us all. It was so encouraging! I specifically prayed for three things—1) That these children would come to love God with all of their hearts, souls, strength, and minds (Mark 12:30) and 2) That God would protect and keep them from making any wrong choices that would yield burdensome, lifelong consequences and 3) That He would spare their lives at least until such a time that they would come to know Him.

These were dark days for our family. We felt so helpless as we watched our precious children make wrong choices. I would like to add here that, thankfully, neither child did anything super bad. So, in that sense, maybe we had it good. But we recognized that the root of rebellion that is within any child who rebels is EVIL—no matter how it exhibits itself.

We traveled those days one step at a time, supported by our ever-present faithful God and by the prayers of those who lovingly and faithfully prayed for us. We found hope in the little things and God–in the way He often does–would give us just the tiniest bit of encouragement just at the moment we would need it. And, looking back now, we can see God’s kind hand of protection upon both of them throughout this time and we are both humbled and amazed.

This difficult time lasted for several years and then it started gradually to improve when first one and then both of these kids came to know the Lord personally. We are so humbled and incredibly grateful that, all due to God’s amazing grace and His generous mercy, He saw fit to bring both of these children to Himself in their late teens.

But even as I write these words, I do feel compelled to remind you that my family and I are wicked sinners just like everybody else (Romans 3:10). Life didn’t suddenly become perfect when these kids turned a corner. And this isn’t about perfection (or anything close to it!) but rather it is about how God continues to work in and through this imperfect family, daily shaping us into His image through the Holy Spirit working in our lives.

I also wanted to make a note here that salvation is not simply a prayer or a moment. Some of us can look back on a moment when we surrendered all to Jesus and some of us can’t, instead experiencing a growing love for– and submission and obedience to –God’s Word, giving evidence of a changed heart. I say this because we have been taught to look for a “moment”. But sometimes, as you can see from this testimony, that moment is not genuine. We parents dare not hang on to assurance of salvation simply because a child (or anyone) said a prayer. Scripture makes it very clear: True belief yields a changed life (Matthew 7:16).

And so, now that I have shared a bit of my own testimony in seeing God work, I want to share the testimony of my daughter. I stand amazed—in complete awe– at how the Lord has answered my prayers regarding her life. Adrienne has become passionate for God and His Word. And she and I have rebuilt our relationship and it is stronger and closer than I ever dreamed possible! It is unbelievable that this is the same child that I had sadly resigned myself to the probable fact that we would never be close. This goes to show that we should never underestimate God!

I hope that Adrienne’s story will encourage any parent (or grandparent) of a rebel. The sentences she writes here hold so much emotion that cannot really be expressed with mere words. She writes in one simple sentence some of the struggles she faced, but what the reader cannot see or comprehend are the depths of sorrow and the utter hopelessness that undergird her words. Life is not easy. We all have our burdens to bear. But may we never forget that God, through His grace, His mercy, and His Word can change a life. And we know this because we have seen it in our own family!

 

ADRIENNE’S TESTIMONY

I grew up in a Christian home and would have told people for most of my life that I got saved when I was 6. Looking back on it now, I recognize that I didn’t really get it. Salvation is understanding that I am a hopeless sinner and that God sent His son Jesus to die on the cross to save me from my sins (John 3:16). At age 6, did I truly understand what that meant? Did I realize that I needed to change my lifestyle and try to do all things to glorify God? I can’t say that I did.

Now at 6 years old I had heard all about Jesus and how He died on the cross to save me from my sins so, of course, I had somewhat of a grasp of what it meant to be a Christian. But reflecting on it now, I can see that my life at that age revolved around staying out of trouble and doing the right things to please my parents and I wasn’t necessarily interested in pleasing God. And, while there are definitely some circumstances where kids grasp salvation at a young age and continue to show fruit in their lives as they continue to grow in the Lord, I can see now that I was not one of them.

Around age 13 I started to really struggle with wanting what the world had to offer me. When I compared it with what I wrongly thought the Lord had to offer (rules and boredom), the world looked much more appealing. I became disrespectful to my parents and elders around me, I struggled with an eating disorder–always trying to be pretty enough, and I desired secular music and movies.

I would say at this point I knew what was right and wrong because of what I had been taught but I was simply not willing to give 100% to the Lord. And, so, overall I would say I was in a pretty rough spot in life. Thankfully by the grace of God, the love of my parents, and lots of prayers for me by my parents, grandparents, and others who loved me, I never got myself into too much trouble!

During this time my parents never gave up on trying to direct me in a Godly path and pull me from the worldly path I was on. 1 John 2:15-16 says “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.” My parents were consistent with discipline and did all they could to protect me and I am beyond thankful for that. I had good times and bad times all throughout high school. I would say I really battled a lot with truly wanting to please God but I just wasn’t ready to give up worldly things.

I went off to college and there I became involved in the wrong group of friends. Nothing super-terrible but I still found myself longing for what the world had to offer and, therefore, was failing to give 100% to God. This kept me half-hearted in my faith and also made me very ineffective for Christ and the Gospel. I did feel conviction, so I do believe I was saved at this time. I just didn’t really care about growing in the Lord for the most part. I seemed to be at a standstill.

One specific night in college I was with all my friends and I remember sitting there thinking, “Nothing about this conversation is honoring to the Lord. I know there is a God, I know God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to save me from my sins, and I know for a fact that I am not living a life that is pleasing to the Lord.” From that moment forward I would say I really started to change who I was and started to really strive to please the Lord.

Since that time, I have grown a lot closer to the Lord for two reasons: First, I have moved 3 times since I’ve been married, all of them being far away from my family which has been hard–to say the least. During those hard times, though, I have truly had to rely on God and He has always shown Himself even in the smallest circumstances. This time of my life has also provided me with the opportunity and time to study the Word more than ever before. This has been life-changing for my spiritual growth.

Second, I have finally fought my temptation– with the Lord’s help—of listening to worldly music and I also have changed the kind of TV and movies I watch. Let me encourage you to do the same, as this has changed my life completely. I feel closer to the Lord and, the less I partake in the worldy things and focus on The Word, the less is my desire for them and I find I can’t even stand the evil that is in most secular music, shows, and movies.

I am grateful for the way God has changed my heart in this area of life. Don’t get me wrong– there are many things I still struggle with but worldly entertainment seems to be a sin among many Christians that gets ignored. I promise you: Practicing discernment in this area of your life will make a difference in your walk with God—just like it has in mine.

Looking back I am so grateful for all the prayer and Godly examples I have had throughout my life and continue to have. One thing I cannot IMG_1965revexpress enough is how grateful I am for my mom and dad and the fact that they never took the easy way out and just gave in to what I wanted. They never gave in to me and I wouldn’t be where I am without either of them. Also–a little side note–my mom was a parent growing up but not always a friend. I say this because I am sure my mom wanted to just be a friend and give in to what I wanted, especially on those days where I wouldn’t even talk to her because I was so upset with her. But she never caved into that desire and continued to push me to do what was right. As I write this I can truly say my mom is my best friend. So all the moms out there going through a tough time with their daughters, I want to encourage you to not give up or give in– because your daughter will one day be so grateful that you didn’t!

I would also like to encourage parents to not just assume that, when your daughter or son says the salvation prayer at a young age, this necessarily means that they personally know the Lord. Continue to look for fruit and growth in their walk with the Lord, as that will show if they are truly livGoodFamily2016-34ing for the Lord. Personally, I can see now that I wasn’t truly saved until my late teens, as God started to work on my heart.

Looking back through my 22 years of life, I can see how God protected me and continued to lead me toward Him. I am truly blessed to be a part of God’s family.

 

 

 

Changed Lives: Larry

Changed Lives

Once in awhile I “meet” a reader who really blesses me. Larry is one of those readers. He encourages me often with his kind words and has become a main prayer supporter in my ministry here at Growing4Life. A year or so ago, he shared his amazing testimony with me. I told him that some day I would love to share it with my readers. Well, that “some day” is today! He wrote it down and I am so pleased to share it with you.

Addictions are a tricky thing, are they not? And God deals with them in all different ways. Sometimes it will take months or years to overcome an addiction through the working of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. But, other times–more infrequently–God will remove the sinful desire instantly. Miraculously even. This is what happened to Larry. Read and be encouraged! Pray that this will happen for you or the one you love and don’t give up hope. No matter how God chooses to work in the life of the addicted believer, know that His ways are perfect and His plans are for His glory and for the best in the life of the one who is struggling.

Here is Larry’s story–

I grew up in a place down south called Jug Fork. I was so excited when we got a TV and a rotary phone. The best I can remember is that we were on an 8-party line (for those of you who are too young to remember, this means that eight homes shared the same phone line!) The luxurious school I attended had outdoor toilets and one drinking fountain right in the middle of the school yard.

Just to give a bit of background about my childhood–I don’t remember using any curse words. In fact, I didn’t even know any. I never remember my mother and dad using curse words and so they were completely unfamiliar to me.

When I was 12 years old, a family member offered to take me on vacation with him and his wife, I had never been on a vacation. After stopping at a store in the mountains, some beer was purchased. I had never tasted beer and I really did not like the smell of it at all. It had a “you need to roll down the window” kind of a smell. After a bit of harassment, I tasted it. I recognized the taste– like water out of a rotten stump in the woods! I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me, you paid for this?!” I was told to drink some more of it and it will start tasting better. Very reluctantly, I did, and it did start to taste better.

Long story short, I became a full-blooded alcoholic. My addiction became an obsession–to the point that the person who introduced me to this horrible drug said, “I can’t believe how you are acting.”

I did and said unspeakable things under the influence of this number one drug in America. I hear people say that social drinking is okay. But may I share this with you: Social drinking is the number one cause of alcoholism in the world. Before you get involved in anything, ask yourself this question: Has this activity ever harmed or enslaved anyone before? If it has, stay away from it.

I was told that I would always be a recovering alcoholic. That I will always be one drink away from alcoholism as long as I live. (By the way, that is a lie from the pit of Hell.)

One day I went to a church. I had already tried everything else and so I decided to try church. I sat in the parking lot, drinking a few beers before I went in (yeah, I did that). When I worked up the courage to go in, I found that the old preacher just kept preaching one thing (or at least that is all I heard): John 6:37.

It was Jesus speaking, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and him that cometh to me; I will in no wise cast out.” The preacher just kept saying that this means any him. These words were for anyone! It does not matter where you come from or what you have done! ANY HIM (or her)!

That day, the social drinker that became a habitual drunk took Him up on His Word. My long eloquent salvation prayer was, “Help me, Jesus.”

It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. This is true. At that time, it was hot July in Mississippi and all my friends were drinking friends. They encouraged me by saying things like—

You will never make it.

and

You want to be with us; we know you want to drink.

And I did! But I knew it was wrong. Oh, I prayed and prayed. The struggle was almost unbearable after the Lord saved me. I would still sit in the church parking lot and drink before church.

But the Holy Spirit kept working on me. Until I just could not stand it anymore! I prayed, “Lord, if this horrible thing that has got me is so bad, please help me! Please make even the smell of it make me throw up!”

Be careful what you ask for!

The next day I got in a car with one of my friends and the car smelled strongly of alcohol. Have you ever been in a car or any other place like that in which people drink? No sooner did I smell it, when extreme nausea hit me and I had an impulse to vomit. I had to get out of that car. I didn’t know what they thought, nor did I care.

Later on, I found that when I went into a restaurant where alcohol was being served, I would have to leave. As the Lord is my witness–and this has been many, many years ago now–I have had no desire to even be around that stuff.

Maybe this all means nothing to you, but I know that most people are struggling with something. We all have battles, whether it be alcoholism or something else. I did not need a 12 step program. I needed Jesus.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with a program but the Lord can remove even the desire for what you know is hurting you–no matter what it is. Whether it is over-eating or wrong sexual attraction or anything else.

The key to overcoming anxiety is found only in the God of the Bible. Our God is a radical God, going to the root or origin of the problem. He will use extreme measures to correct a problem. Would you be brave enough to ask Him to make a radical difference in you? To ask Him to change your current situation–whatever it is?!

I am not saying He promises roses without thorns in life, but He does promise His abiding presence in all situations. I still learn new things about Him every day and I have learned to pray as Jesus did, “O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.”

Remember the Goliath you are looking up at is the one that God is looking down on right now.

I leave you with these life-changing words that Jesus said:

Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

John 6:37

 

Photo2Unworthy but FORGIVEN,

Larry

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changed Lives: Dennis

Changed Lives

Homosexuality. This word brings up strong feelings in almost all of us. It is most certainly not a neutral word. And, with all of the changes over the past twenty or so years, this word–this subject–now affects almost all of us in one way or another.

Years ago, I had a youth group leader named Dennis. He was a wonderful, super-talented guy that everybody loved. Little did I know of his secret struggle with homosexuality. A few months ago, I found out not only about this struggle but about his victory over it through the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I listened to his testimony, I was compelled to ask him if I could share his story here and he kindly said yes! I believe this is the perfect time to share it. What better way is there to contemplate the Lord’s sacrifice and victory over death than to hear the victorious story of what God has done, through the cross and resurrection, in a man who had little hope for ever experiencing victory? Because of God’s gift of salvation, Denny has experienced victory over sin in an incredible and powerful way. I am so thankful that he is willing to share his story at a time when it is increasingly unpopular to do so. Please pray for Denny as he strives to bring hope to others caught up in this sin.

Here is his story–

It’s one of the more familiar scenes in scripture. A crowd gathered around a tomb as Jesus calls out –

LAZARUS COME OUT! You can almost feel the crowd holding their breath watching. Some are excited.  Some are fearful. Many are skeptical. Many of the religious leaders were frankly angry. They were already plotting to kill Jesus, so the last thing they needed was a major miracle. Jesus’s words echo off the stone.

We don’t know how long they waited in silence, but you can bet that when Lazarus appeared from the darkness of his tomb, there was noise. First a collective gasp. Screams of shock turning to cries of joy.  This was one major party. There was such a commotion that Jesus had to remind them to unwrap the man. Let him loose! Unwrap the grave cloths. Jesus had given Lazarus new life….but the remnants of death were making it difficult for him to move. He needed help.

Hang on to that image of Lazarus stumbling out of his tomb wrapped in grave cloths, and jump ahead to the Church in Corinth where there was a major problem. There were lots of walking dead folk. Lawsuits, incest, gossip, you name it. Things were a mess.

So the Apostle Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:8-10–

No, you yourselves do wrong and cheat, and you do these things to your brethren! Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.

There were LOTS of problems with the Church in Corinth.  And smack in the middle of Paul’s letter of warning is the word: Homosexuals. (Okay, there I’ve said THE WORD, let’s all take a deep breath!)

Same Sex Attraction. GAY.

It seems you can’t pick up a newspaper or listen to a news report these days without getting bombarded with that particular word?

Let me continue reading from First Corinthians 6:9-11 because I didn’t finish Paul’s thought.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

I love that past tense: WERE.

My journey begins mid-way through the last Century. My parents were extremely young when I was born, the first of six kids. I was raised in a devoutly Christian home that included Sunday school, church, and mid-week prayer meetings. At the feet of my grandmother, I heard stories about my great-Uncle’s missionary work in China. She’d also tell me about her prayers for me. She firmly believed that God had a ministry for me. In high school, my friends were all part of Youth for Christ. I worshipped frequently at my girlfriend’s church as well as my own. Following graduation from high school, I attended the ultra-conservative Bob Jones University. The course of my life was set. Nice Christian family. Check. High school diploma. Check. College degree–then marry my high school sweetheart—then have two kids– and a dog.

Let’s back up. That’s only part of the story. While I may have been called to new life in Christ, I was still wearing grave cloths.

During my early formative years with Dad away at work, I was primarily raised by my grandma, my mom, and my female aunts. I don’t remember EVER having a male friend prior to entering first grade. Simple fact, there were no boys my age living nearby. (Hey, this was the 1950’s where, for entertainment, my cousins and I used to spend summer evenings counting cars going back and forth from Lititz to Lancaster! True story. We are talking way rural.)

But, as a young boy, my battle with homosexuality began. As I grew into a young teenager, things worsened as I discovered gay porn magazines and from there it went downhill. At one point I went to a youth pastor and told him about my sexuality. (I think it is safe to say that most Bible colleges weren’t teaching students how to counsel homosexuals at that time.) He blanched, blushed, and suggested prayer. I went to the Billy Graham exhibit at the New York World’s Fair in 1965 and talked to a counselor. His advice? That I take a nice girl to the prom and all would work itself out!

My sexual encounters continued even in the heart of the Bible Belt, Greenville, South Carolina, while I was in college. Indeed, they escalated.

The winter of my senior year I left Bob Jones – disillusioned–and returned to Lancaster. I felt lost. I didn’t know what to do next. The little game plan that I thought I had was clearly not happening.

If you grew up in this era (late 60s and 70s), you probably weren’t aware that any of this was going on. Did you know that in the 1970s homosexuals were persecuted just for being homosexuals? They were called names, attacked on the streets, and even arrested just by having this label. But in 1969, that all started to change with the riot of homosexual men and women against the NYC police at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Times were changing and I realized that I was not the only disillusioned young man in America.

This movement eventually made its way to Lancaster county and made me more comfortable with my label of “homosexual”. Fueled by alcohol and any number of drugs, anonymous sex became routine.  I was running around with Lancaster’s movers and shakers.

By the time I was 21, I was totally disenchanted with anything that had to do with the Church. I was designing interiors and window displays for Watt & Shand and other major department stores. I was running around with the theater crowd from a local college. If you were part of the cool straight crowd, you had to have token black and/or gay friends. For nearly seven years, my life was one long party waking up next to nameless people, sometimes wondering how I’d even gotten there.

One night one of my best friends asked me: “Do you think we’ll ever be able to forget the things we were taught from the Bible when we were kids?” His family were pioneers at Calvary Church and I can tell you point blank, that even then–while high on drugs and alcohol — I KNEW without a doubt that God was still there. I can also tell you that I knew my parents and grandparents were praying for me regularly – even if they didn’t know the depths to which I had fallen.

One Memorial Day after a day of drinking and drugs, I fell apart–mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Late that night I called my Dad. It’s the first time in my life I ever remember asking him for help. He told me that he was coming to get me. He picked me up at my apartment on West King Street, but instead of taking me home, I discovered that he was taking me to the hospital. When we got to the parking lot, I got out of the car and started running. My dad took after me. Grabbed me, knocking me to the ground.  I remember his words as vividly as if he were standing here now:  “YOU ARE MY SON, AND I’M NOT LETTING GO.”

He wasn’t the only FATHER not letting me go.

During my few weeks in the psych ward, I met Jerry Young, a young pastor who had just started a church in Lititz. He gave me an invitation to visit his church and left. Nothing came of it until two years later, the last Sunday evening, October 1974, while I was on my way to work. I had been serving drinks part-time at a mixed gay/straight private club and I simply pulled my car to the side of the road.

“Jesus, I am so tired of this. You know my life is a mess. Please change my life.”

If repent means to turn around, in this case, it was quite literal. I turned my car around and went to that little church in Lititz.

If this were Bethany, the crowd would start roaring because Foreman was stumbling out of the grave much like Lazarus! Stumbling being the key word. There were years and years of addictive grave clothes in the way.

Slowly I began to see God at work in my life. Through the ministry of that church I began to grow. God also provided a way for me to return to college and get my degree. Thank you, Grace College!

Unfortunately, it was around this time that I received some of the worst counsel I’ve ever had. A trusted leader told me: “Do NOT share your same-sex struggles with anyone in the church because they won’t understand.” (And, you should know that when word got out that I was starting to share my life story at various churches, I’ve had similar counsel!) Week after week I would hear testimonies from men healed from alcoholism and/or drug addiction. I’d hear about a marriage that was healed after major infidelity. I heard testimonies from men who had spent time in prison. All the while white-knuckling my temptations and usually failing, all the while hearing the prevailing message of the time: ONCE GAY, ALWAYS GAY. Gay is different. It is abhorrent to God. It’s the end of the downward spiral. You cannot change.

This is important: Jesus had breathed NEW life into me, but I was deeply entangled in grave clothes, and I didn’t know how to extricate myself. I wanted freedom to dance. I believed God’s Word–I just wasn’t sure of how to get free from my addictive lifestyle! And – remember – I had been told I shouldn’t ask anyone for help.

I finally decided to try a Christian counselor. After 6 months, he confessed that he didn’t know anything about homosexuality. What?!!! It took 6 months to figure that out?! I went to another Christian counselor and after several months realized that he was hitting on me!!!!

How do you handle that?

You know, it’s fairly easy for someone to say, “Just stop what you are doing!” But when we think about other struggles and addictions—whether they be food, gossip, or shopping; alcohol, cigarettes, or prescription drugs—we know it just isn’t that simple.

Here was the dilemma: I had asked Jesus to save me. And He had! But I still had very strong sexual urges and I didn’t know what to do with them. Plus, I’d been told not to discuss my sexuality with anyone in the Church. And So I opted to live two very distinct lifestyles. One in complete secrecy.

So take a deep breath, everyone….here we go….

In my mid-30’s I began working at a local church and became a licensed pastor. In 1993, I received a Youth Sponsor of the Year Award. At the same time, I was living completely in sin in my secret life. In August 1999, I was one of two individuals nominated for National Youth Pastor of the Year by my denomination. I am NOT saying this to brag, but because, less than 4 months later, on December 9 of the same year, I was arrested in a sting operation for trying to pick up an undercover policeman.

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Galatians 6:7

I came face to face with the fact that what I had sowed, I was now reaping.

In a moment, I lost everything. My career. My friends. My church family. My NAME. My integrity.

Breathing was difficult. I didn’t want to live. One evening while driving home, I began to see each telephone pole as a target. I wanted to die and yet something—the Holy Spirit?–urged me to pull the car over. Storm clouds were gathering as I pulled into a parking lot along the road. Slowly as I got out of my car, I saw a rainbow and God’s Word wrapped around my heart, “I will NEVER leave you or forsake you.”

Call it what you will– you are entitled to be skeptical– but I don’t think I’d be here were it not for that experience.

Under Church Discipline and given oversight by a three-man ‘restoration’ team, I was reminded from Hebrews 12:5 and 6–

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

I went into hiding mode.

It took one little girl from my former youth group named Ashley to help me begin again. She placed a tape of Christian music in my mailbox. “Jesus, Lamb of God, worthy is Your Name…bearing my sin, my cross, my shame…Jesus, YOU are my all in all.” I played that tape written by Dennis Jernigan constantly as I drove to the only job I could find– working the 3-11 shift at a local mini-market. For nearly two years, I just existed.

Earlier I stated that on December 9, I lost everything. Not true. I discovered just how incredibly much God loves me. Even though I was a hot mess of raw nerves, God’s Spirit was there. Jesus was so near, He was palpable. While I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, I wouldn’t trade that dark time for anything because I was beginning to understand how deeply God loves His fallen children.

Another job opened at a bank about a thirty minute drive from my home. One Sunday afternoon, one of the clients stopped by and said, “Denny, I don’t know you other than from banking here, but I just sense that you need prayer. Would you mind if I prayed for you?” Yeah. Right in the middle of a grocery store! Candid Camera time?! It wasn’t too much longer before he began to disciple/mentor me. Jesus was beginning to use people I barely knew to start unwrapping the grave clothes.

Steve admitted that he never struggled with homosexuality, but he pointed me to a counseling ministry, DaySeven, in Lancaster. Through that organization, I was encouraged to attend a conference for men and women coming out of the gay lifestyle. I went kicking and screaming to that conference.

The very first night, the worship leader opened with “Jesus, Lamb of God, Worthy is Your Name….bearing my sin…”  Would you believe it? Dennis Jernigan, the writer of many of the most popular worship songs of the time, had come out of the gay lifestyle! (His testimony is available online and I highly recommend it!)

Jesus said I AM the resurrection and life. It is one thing to trust God for our salvation. I’d done that, but I was still struggling with this huge addictive sin nature.

About five years ago, I realized that it was essential that I become part of a church family again. I’d stayed at my former church thinking that it was important for those from my former youth group to witness God’s restoration. But after a while it became quite clear that if I stayed I would be a spectator.  And so I began to search for a new church. God faithfully led me to a church where I can serve Him.

So, here I am: One who identified as being gay for most of my life. There is something ironic about the fact that I ‘came out’ as a gay man at a time when you could get beat up, arrested, or killed if anyone thought you were a homosexual and at a time when you didn’t mention homosexuality in churches.  Now here I am ‘coming out as EX-gay’ at a time when the tide has turned. It is now politically incorrect to even hint that the gay lifestyle is wrong. Counselors who teach that homosexuality is a sin and point to the way out can lose their credentials. Church after church is using terms like “affirming” when discussing same-sex relationships. The gay community has flexed its muscle and they would not be happy to see me here. Within the past month, I was the target of a Facebook/Twitter hate campaign because of my stance. Some would say that my testimony can be equated with hate crimes.

But guess what? The religious leaders in Jesus’ day didn’t just want to see Jesus dead, they also wanted Lazarus silenced. In John 12:9 we read—

Now a great many of the Jews knew that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus’ sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He had raised from the dead. But the chief priests plotted to put Lazarus to death also, 11 because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.

Two years ago, I was asked by a young pastor (one of the men from my former youth group) to come speak at his church. At that time, I stated:

“I’m not here this morning to get into the politics of gay marriage. I’m afraid that ship has sailed. Little did any of us realize how quickly the Supreme Court would move to legalize same sex weddings.

And so I am here to offer HOPE to anyone here who is struggling with same-sex feelings. To offer hope to men or women who may be involved in same-sex relationships or to those of you who have friends or family members caught up in the lifestyle. And it is a lifestyle. It is a community.”

So, now you know my story. Dead in sin, and when finally recognizing Jesus voice calling, “FOREMAN, COME OUT of that tomb,” struggling with the remnants of the grave, entangled in grave cloths and told to be silent. BUT here I stand, not the FACE of Gay men…but the face of ONE sinner saved by God’s Grace and still in the process of untangling.

So what have I learned in the journey that has led to sharing my story in churches? I have one simple premise:  GOD’S WORD IS TRUE.

The Bible is a love story.

A loving Father God creates man and woman in his image according to Genesis 1. A loving Father God creates man and woman uniquely designed to complement each other and form a perfect union.

You know the story. A perfect garden and a horrific fall. SIN enters the picture and we are left with the heart-wrenching picture of Father God calling out: “Where are you, Adam?!”

The proponents of Homosexual Rights would like ME to believe I was born gay. Okay, I’ll go this far. I was born into a fallen world. Hey, gang, I have some news for you: We are ALL born with sin NATURES.  David reminds us in Psalm 51:5: Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

How many of you had to teach your kids how to be disobedient? After learning the words Mama and DaDa, isn’t one of their first words NO? Their disobedience usually followed by the word “MINE,” as they discover the sin of being self-centered!

So, yeah, we are all born with sin-natures. We are also born with the need to be LOVED.  Andy Comisky writes:  “Our longings for love become sinful when we take them into our own hands and say, ‘this is how I’m going to meet my own needs; they are mine and I am going to meet them any way that I can and want.”

When I was growing up, there was a popular song that stated: “Silence is Golden.” But I beg to differ! Silence is a prison that can cripple. The church that is appalled over what is happening with the Gay Movement was completely silent about it when it mattered and, because of this, I—and many like me—were led to believe we were hopeless and beyond redemption.

We need to re-look at ROMANS 1:16a

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…

I needed to know that I could be saved, too! That my sins had not taken me beyond salvation! The irony in all of this is that many of these same churches were using the Book of Romans or the Romans Road in reaching the lost. Hey, I was one of the LOST! I needed to hear the rest of that book. Romans is priceless because it offers HOPE! I needed to hear that God’s kindness leads to repentance!

I want to share two important things to consider if this subject is one you, a family member, or a friend are battling–

1. The Bible is God’s Word. It is TRUTH. I grew up believing that. I still believe that. That belief, that FAITH – sometimes buried in the darkness of my tomb-like existence – was still there. I couldn’t shake it.

Listen carefully, because I believe this is absolutely necessary for healing from ANY sin: God’s Word is True. When I hear gay activists say, “The Bible doesn’t really mean that loving relationships between two men or two women is a sin,” I get very nervous. It sounds remarkably similar to the line the serpent gave to Eve when he was tempting her to eat the fruit: “Did God really say you can’t eat…”  Does God really say that homosexuality is a sin? YES. So, for me, the first step toward healing was that I BELIEVED WHAT GOD SAYS. For the sake of the souls of men and women bound by the sin of homosexuality, we dare not let go of the truth of God’s Word.

2. Coming Out is a BIG deal for gays. For those of you who don’t know what that term means, Coming Out means that I’m basically announcing to the world and my family that I am a homosexual. Every gay organization encourages men and women to come out. The feeling is that when people recognize their brothers, sisters, and friends are gay and NORMAL, it will open up other doors. And if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention during the past 50 years. Good grief, if you think this hasn’t worked, you haven’t been paying attention the past Two YEARS! I have lived long enough to see a world where homosexuality wasn’t discussed in polite society, to a world where you can rarely see a newspaper or TV show where gay issues are not presented on a regular basis. On a recent Today show, the cast of Will and Grace were interviewed and they stated bluntly that they were proud that they had introduced gay men to American households, making homosexuality acceptable to millions. And even within the past year those that believe that homosexuality is a sin are not only in the minority but are ostracized and called names.

You are witnessing a continuation of my healing. There was a time when being OUT was important to me. As a Believer, I’m NOT going back in the closet, I AM COMING OUT of the bondage of homosexuality. And being separate. I am coming out of sin and living in the Light of Truth. I can no longer be silent! Returning to the Book of Romans I’m learning the importance of speaking out! Scripture says—

that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified. IT IS WITH YOUR MOUTH THAT YOU CONFESS AND ARE SAVED!

As I started to heal, I also came face to face with the truth that my sin had affected others. My sins – and your sins – are never without impact upon the greater body around us. No sin is only personal.

I have been forgiven by a loving, merciful Heavenly Father, but the fact remains that when my homosexuality was exposed in a very public way in 1999, my sin was no longer personal. It had a HUGE negative effect on a congregation.

From that moment, it was absolutely clear to me that my repentance and restoration had to be played out in full view of that congregation, particularly the kids in my youth group. I had to take responsibility for the God-designed boundaries I had broken. It is one of the reasons I am eager to share my story whenever I can.

CS Lewis makes a strong statement when he says: “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sins. Mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of sin. The guilt is washed out not by time but by repentance and the blood of Christ.”

Brothers and Sisters, we desperately need each other. James reminds us—

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16a)

And now I’m going to let you in on the ‘secret’ of my healing.

I’ve always loved the stories of the Exodus and God’s dealing with the Nation of Israel. I remember reading and scratching my head, baffled by the way Israel would see God do monumentally amazing things–like parting the Red Sea, for example, and then watch as the people built a golden calf to worship! What?! Id’ read that God would provide manna, and then, after a few days, the people would complain, “It was better in Egypt. At least there we had onions and garlic.”  And time after time, there was the issue of IDOLATRY.

It’s a term we rarely use today. We don’t use it, because for most of us, when we say ‘IDOL’ we immediately think of statues made of stone or wood. Objects. But the reality is that IDOLATRY is divinizing what is not God. And here is where I must return to Romans 1:25—

…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.

And as a result: perversion and death–the due penalty for our idolatry.

In I Samuel 15:23 we read, “Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and arrogance (pride) like the evil of idolatry.”

When I identified myself as gay, my life was devoted to sensuality. It had become my idol.

Let me re-read that I Samuel passage: Rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft and ARROGANCE like the evil of idolatry.

I was worshipping the wrong thing. While at the same time growing more and more frustrated with God because He didn’t seem to be healing me. And then one day it dawned on me! The greatest idol in my life wasn’t sensuality or homosexuality—it was ME!

I had spent so much time focusing on the sin of homosexuality, that it had become the end all be all.  Subconsciously I had started to believe that if I could stop being a homosexual, I would be perfect. Did you get that? I was so focused on homosexuality, I truly thought that if that were gone, everything else would be resolved. Saying that out loud only underscores how ludicrous that is!

In essence, I was saying, if it weren’t for the homosexuality and pornography, I wouldn’t need God. I had forgotten other areas of my life like negativity, gossip, over-eating and not taking care of my physical body, lying, cheating, coveting the latest car, driving through an upscale local development and wishing one of those homes would be mine, and the list goes on.

In other words, without homosexuality in my life, I thought I didn’t need JESUS.

And that leads me to my conclusion and my salvation. JESUS.

Don’t be deceived by all the hype out there. We ALL need Jesus.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (I Corinthians 6:9-10)

And that is what some of you WERE.

That is what I WAS.

 But I was washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

One of my favorite worship songs puts it this way:

There is love that came for us, humbled to a sinner’s cross.
You broke my shame and sinfulness.  You rose again victorious
Faithfulness none can deny!
Through the storm and through the fire,
there is truth that sets me free: Jesus Christ who lives in me!
Jesus, You are stronger, You are stronger. 
Sin is broken, You have saved me. 
It is written, Christ is risen! 
Jesus You are Lord of all
No beginning and no end – You are my hope and my defense.
You came to seek and save the lost. 
You paid it all upon the cross
You are stronger, You are stronger,
Sin is broken! You have saved me!!
So let Your name be lifted higher, JESUS, YOU are Lord of all!

 

DForemanDennis L. Foreman (chaplain, teacher) is available to share his story.

 

 

 

 

 

Changed Lives: Melanie

Changed Lives

A few months ago, I received an email from one of my readers. As we emailed back and forth, we realized that we had a lot in common and a friendship grew. As we got to know one another better, she shared with me a little bit about the years she spent searching for God’s presence through subjective experiences and how God opened her eyes to the truth in His Word.

As I listened to her, I realized that her testimony would be a valuable one here on Growing4Life. If you or someone you love is caught up in the IHOP, NAR, or any other subjective, experiential movement, you will definitely want to read this. If you or someone you love is valuing personal experience over God’s Word, this testimony will show the danger that is involved when we do this.

A few things have stood out in my conversations with Melanie. First, the demonic things she was experiencing looked right and good on many occasions. Satan masquerades as an Angel of Light, and her testimony shows this very clearly. Second, the Bible was irrelevant and unnecessary when she was caught up in this movement. It was only when she started filling her mind with God’s Word that He showed her the truth. Third, true joy and peace came to her when she surrendered her need for an experience and gave her life to loving God, denying self, and doing God’s Will. And she clarified that this movement is all about the raising of self–the antithesis of what we find in scripture.

Melanie’s testimony shows us clearly that God will give answers to those who are truly searching for the Truth. It gives hope and clarity to those of us with loved ones caught up in these movements. And it gives us insight into what is really going on in this movement. Recently, very popular evangelicals that we have counted on to remain true to God’s Word have been pairing with the likes of Mike Bickle and others. This testimony shows us why these men and women are actually partnering with false teachers.

And so, with that introduction, I offer to you Melanie’s testimony–

From the beginning…
Jesus called me as His own daughter (John 15:16) at Hume Lake Christian Camp one summer during my Junior High years. I have been following Him ever since. I still remember that special moment going from darkness to light and the joy of that experience– just as sweet and precious as though it were yesterday.

Walking the path of those young years alone was not an easy one, as my parents were not Christians at the time. I remember coming down from the mountain top shortly upon returning home and my parents quickly informing me that they were happy for me but my “religious thing” was not for them. Yet, in spite of my parents not being Christians, how wonderful God’s ways truly were!

As God would have it, I happened to live directly across the street from a Presbyterian church! The youth leaders of that very same church happened to take an interest in me and they were the ones who invited me to Hume Lake. This became my new home and church family through my high school years. I still remember the liturgy, the robes, and even the boring hymns. In that day, religion seemed so boring, but Jesus was a whole different story. He was exciting! This is really where my foundation of God and Christianity was laid. Etched in my memory was the difference I saw between the Jesus I learned about at camp, a Savior who is personal and alive, and the form of Christ that was portrayed on Sundays in my church. The “church Jesus” seemed more distant, boring, and untouchable. Thereby, the two seemed miles apart and very different. And yet, I thirsted to know Jesus, the One who gave His life for me.

So how does one get to know this Jesus personally? How can one really connect with Him?

Early years…
As a young wife and mother of three small children, I had a strong desire to connect with other women on a deeper level. I decided to begin a women’s prayer group in my home. We prayed for our husbands, our children, our church and church leaders, and our individual walks with Jesus. At this time, my husband went to church on Sundays but I knew where his heart was the rest of the week. All of us ladies had one thing in common—a desire to connect with Jesus on a much deeper level. If there was a way to explore the depths of this relationship and really connect spiritually, then we were going to find that doorway and walk right through it.

The problem began when I decided to lead the group in “practice listening” and “experiencing God” exercises.

These were harmless and innocent –or so I believed. This would certainly grow our faith and we all agreed in the group that we wanted to know God better and, of course, more deeply. Please understand that no one showed me these things but, instead, I simply learned them on my own as I leaped out in what I believed to be faith.

·       What could possibly be wrong with wanting to know Jesus on a greater level?

·       Was it not God’s desire that we know Him well?

·       Who doesn’t want to sense or feel God’s Abiding Presence?

Growing in these “gifts” and rather quickly, I also seemed to be very good at them. Without going into detail, I will say here that I recognize now that I had some experiences as a child with the demonic world that played right into the hands of Satan and this “new” way to be drawn to “God”.

Growing steadily in what I believed to be “gifts” (as this is what I was told) through “words of knowledge” and dreams, I developed the ability to see in the spirit realm–a place I had no business to be! My own church leaders even took note (I was attending a Dutch Reformed church at that time). They would send sisters my way when they did not know what to do or have answers for them. If those sisters seemed oppressed or could not move forward in their walk with Christ, they were directed to call me.

Perfecting my craft…
As I daily worked on my “craft” with determination, I also desired to gain understanding. Hungry and eager, I read every book I could find that would help me grow in this area. Many of these were found in Christian bookstores. Sadly, lining many of our Christian bookshelves today are literally hundreds of these books by so many different authors. This might lead one to think that these teachings are perfectly normal and acceptable under the Christian umbrella. Don’t be fooled!

It grieves me to say that I led twelve precious women astray for almost ten years. I lead them right into the heavy experiential/contemplative movement and what I know today are false teachings and false doctrines. Today, these dear sisters believe I jumped ship and have gone off the deep end of legalism. In fact, only one of these will have even very limited contact with me.

Seeking the experience…
Three of us from the prayer ministry excelled and bonded which made us a pretty tight team.  Because I seemed to be most “gifted” in this area of hearing I became the natural leader. Now you must know there was no accountability. I had no one to whom I was accountable to in any way (big mistake).

As word spread, women who needed inner healing would come to me, seeking an appointment. I would tell them I did not want to know anything regarding their situation because I wanted them to have an “experience with the Lord” which would solidify their faith in Him. (I recognize now just how dangerous and wicked this was!) I would then go into prayer on their behalf and write what I heard from the spirit realm. 99% of what I wrote was accurate (just like a medium)! I would then share with them and expose things only the Holy Spirit could possibly know! Or so I believed. Now I know that I was dabbling in the demonic world.

I would also write a love letter for them from the Lord, which would only increase their belief in Him as this also was very personal and highly experiential. (What does this remind you of? Perhaps Sarah Young of Jesus Calling fame? She, too, claims to use automatic writing in order to share “God’s messages”).

As I write this, I’m reminded of one clear day, early on, which sticks out in my memory. I heard, in the quietness of my heart–not an audible voice, mind you, but more like an impression on my heart– “Is this something the Lord would approve of?” But instead of tuning my heart towards the Lord and His Word, I continued on in a dangerous direction.

I also remember thinking at that time that anything the devil had meant for evil, God had surely redeemed, restored, and thereby deemed it all good. Therefore I believed that even automatic writing could be a good thing. This led me to believe that this could be useful and benefit the body of Christ. Tragically, this is what was taught in some of the Christian circles I floated in and out of and it was even approved of by my own church. (This is an absolute lie, of course!) And so I had been clearly warned and yet I ignored the subtle warning and dismissed it as from the devil! I was so young, and, oh, so very foolish.

Sadly, I was also very naïve to anything the scriptures had to say against witchcraft. The lie was really on me, as I believed I had been given a great level of discernment by the Lord! I recognize this now as nothing but pride!

This same lie sadly circulates today in many Christian circles. Just look at yoga, for instance. “God has redeemed it, and if I don’t use it for evil, then it isn’t evil.” We’ve (His church, His beloved bride) gone even so far as to deem that which is blatant and purely evil worship of another god by calling yoga holy. What an oxymoron!

Beautiful witchcraft…
More than once, I was given information from the spirit world about different pastors, leaders, and churches regarding their immorality and sin. Sometimes I would have dreams the night before a scheduled meeting. And so when I went into the meeting I knew things and was able to reveal the darkness and discern the lies going on between the leadership. Now this part was based always in repenting and confessing. I honestly believed that I was doing right by God as I “ministered” in this way. And while some of my theology was correct, partial truth of knowledge is dangerous. The devil also has a partial truth of knowledge but not the whole truth.

Knowing ALL of God’s Truth Matters!

Like so many today in the body of Christ—dare I say most– I simply did not know the Word of God accurately.

I spent many years leading many believers and even a few pastors through “deep inner healing”. This was done mostly by visualization which I believed was being led by the Holy Spirit. It appeared to be so beautiful. How could this not be of God? Especially, if the outcome was good and what we did was all in the precious name of Jesus…

In these inner healings and visualizations, I was able to see and walk people through what was presented in the spirit realm. This led to a high point when they “encountered Jesus” for themselves. This would, naturally, make Jesus more real to them because the experience itself was very real and usually highly emotive.

I remember one pastor who was moving on from his current church and struggling with what direction to go. He was having a difficult time choosing between the churches he had been offered and was looking for confirmation. I told him what I believed to be the place of choice, and with just that word of confirmation, he lives today in that very location. I can see now that this was simply “divination” and certainly not a special message from the One, True God.

I have learned now that we must always look to God and His Word for our answers. We must always put our trust in Him and never in man or in our subjective experiences (Psalms 146:3).

Beware of Christian cults…
As I became more immersed in this new “Christianity”, I was very naturally led to Mike Bickle of Kansas City IHOP (International House of Prayer). Maybe you have heard of him? My group of ladies hailed him as a super–mega Christian leader who was truly connected to the Holy Spirit. I actually flew out to Kansas City to participate in this cult movement.

Sadly, our prayer group followed many who were just so far off from the truth of God’s Word as to be truly dangerous. I shall list a few as pure warnings:

·       Graham Cooke (Third wave theology)
·       NAR (New Apostle Reformation, another name for Dominionism) and the many self- proclaimed prophets (too many to count)
·       Cindy Jacobs (Generals International)
·       Jack Deere (Third wave theology) Deceased
·       Rick Joyner (Morning Star Ministries)
·       Che Ahn (Harvest International Ministries, Pasadena)
·       Mike Bickle (IHOP) and Lou Engle (Joel’s Army)
·       Heidi Baker (Iris Global Ministries)
·       Bill Johnson (Bethel, Redding CA)
·       Jill Austin (The Masters Potter) Deceased
·       Patricia King (XP Ministries)
·       Peter C. Wagner (leader to the NAR and many of those listed here)

Sadly, you can see this was my “circle of influence” for many years. And WHAT an influence they had on my life! They were leading me far away from the path of godly, biblical living with their crooked theology. Reading as many books from these authors as I could get my hands on, I devoured their sweet sugar, this false gospel, and passed on their heretical teachings to my brothers and sisters in Christ. I cannot tell you how sick and grieved my heart is over what I’ve done in the name of Jesus.

Please take a moment and carefully examine your own circle of influence–

·       What gospel is being preached and proclaimed?

·       Does it elevate Jesus as reigning Lord and Savior instead of man and his works of wonder?

You see these men and women draw others unto themselves, instead of to the true majesty of God who forever reigns from His throne–the One who is high and lifted up, the train of His robe filling the temple (Isaiah 6).

My friend, a true encounter with the living God would make one shudder and want to hide in awesome fear! We would never be able to stand one minute under the weight of His Holy presence in our sinful condition. Fear and dread like a dead man would come upon us. No one could handle the “true” magnificent glory cloud of God. We see this in scripture over and over again. It is in complete opposition to the fake experiences that these false prophets provide, conjuring up glory clouds from the spirit world to make you believe you are having an encounter with God himself.

Going from one circus tent to another, (I can’t call them Christian seminars or retreats because they simply were not!) I gleaned much from these well-known self-proclaimed prophets and apostles. Often times in Christian circles we are led to believe these “apostles” have something which appears to be “extremely special” and of “great value”. We are led to believe we must have what they are selling. If you wanted more of God’s anointing, you need to give to their ministry, be blessed by their “special prayers of release”, or perhaps buy their newest book of the month.

These special elitists were supposedly also so special in God’s eyes they were given heaven’s keys, with the ability to tap right into heaven itself, thereby always receiving new revelations. This may sound strange to some but, when you are in this movement, this can be rather addicting. I therefore began to seek my own special revelations and God’s Word no longer seemed sufficient. In fact, I remember telling people: “God is not bound or even confined to His Word as He lives outside of time and space and therefore can do what He pleases.” Obviously, I was confused and certainly didn’t know my Bible.

My passion in going to these events was often driven by this thought: “Maybe they will have a personal word for me today.” I (and people caught up in this movement) are often so desperate to hear from God, that we believe that these men and women have direct connections to God Himself! And yet, now I realize that God has given us His very Word, which is perfect, trustworthy, completely inerrant, and sufficient for all our needs today. There is nothing more deep and satisfying than God’s Word. Just look at Psalms 119! But I am jumping ahead of myself here.

Birds of the same kind…
Please understand, “birds of a feather flock together.” And flock together we did! Circling around these teachers and going to those hosted events, we sought deeper and more vivid spiritual experiences. We were never satisfied by these conferences alone. We were continually commanding, demanding, decreeing, and always releasing a fresh “anointing”.

For years, people would prophesy very confirming things to me at these events such as: “You’re a prophet to the nations” and “you are going to give birth” (not happened yet! And I am 51 years old!) This same “special word” happened everywhere I went in these experiential circles, almost as if others were drawn to me. This became common place as I floated in and out of this movement for over 20 years. Satan really wanted me to think I was something great in the kingdom and pride was always lurking in the shadows! Sadly, because I also walked in the “supernatural” it was easy for me to walk up to strangers and give them direct prophesies or words of knowledge during these conferences. So often at these events the air itself was electrified with the super-natural. There was no doubt, as we could sense it—even almost feel it. However, I eventually learned that these experiences were counterfeit experiences, with the Great Deceiver working his charm on the deceived believer.

My dear friends, the reason for the “knowing” and the supernatural “experiences” is this:

We are simply tapping into “familiar spirits”!

May I also note that at these special events someone always mentioned the endless miracles or gold dust floating through the air! We continually chased the next spiritual high. Commanding, releasing, decreeing as if we were equal to God somehow and had supernatural power. It was really all based on pride and our desire to be “like” God. (It really reminds me of the serpent in the garden when he spoke to Eve and put the thought in her head that she could be wise, like God). A broken and contrite spirit God will not despise as it says in Psalms 51:17. A mature believer demands nothing from his Father but seeks only to do His will. We don’t need nor demand the prayers and blessings of false prophets and apostles or supernatural experiences.

I practiced many forms of what I called beautiful witchcraft and did not even know it! How blind I was– just so very blind.

Spending hours in prayer and visualizing Jesus meeting with me in a beautiful field, my heart was soaked in idolatry. I actually believed that He was leading, guiding me, and giving me many messages. The ladies in my prayer group were always amazed how quickly I was able to find this special place just about anytime and anywhere. (Let me tell you I believed I was tapped in, never realizing that what I was involved in was actually dangerous demonic activity!) I’m sure it made me appear to be very spiritual!

The missing piece…
Please remember I met with these ladies in my prayer group regularly, weekly for 10 years to have “Jesus experiences”. To my shame I could share so many years’ worth of stories with you.

Once you dabble in this camp, coming out and away from it is often times very difficult. Having been so blinded by our own “experiences” which we now believe to be true on every account, it has sadly solidified what we believe, even if it doesn’t match what is actually the truth from scripture. I was in grave error, as I was relying on myself and my experiences to teach me about God rather than on God’s Word. When we do this Satan will deceive us every time! Scripture tells us we are to walk by faith and not by sight! 2 Corn. 5:7

The missing component in my life was the soundness and the accuracy of God’s Word. You see, something that I would have never have told anyone is that I read my Bible as little as possible. I could justify reading other books which had scripture in them. They seemed much more alive and “tingly” to me. I had absolutely no way to weigh these teachings/books against scripture because I simply did not know God’s Word very well. The Bible was a dead book in my heart. I would read it but only to mark it off my list of duties and obligations.

I began– over time– to realize others were coming to Christ as new babes and were years ahead of me in their knowledge in the scriptures. This became a conflict in my heart. Oftentimes they would quote scriptures from the Bible with such passion. Watching with perplexity I realized they didn’t just know their Bible but they loved God’s very word! This Book seemed very much alive to them. Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

Sadly, I knew I did not know and love God’s Word like this. It remained a mystery to me–ancient, old, and more dead than alive. Fear began to settle into the depths of my heart. Bethel Redding, Bill Johnson’s church, was next on my to-do list. The odd thing was that from early on in my walk with Christ, I truly did have a keen sense for wanting holiness in my life. I really loved the Lord and my desire–as twisted as it was– really was to please Him. And so God—in His righteousness and grace, being such a good Father — intervened! By God’s pure, direct hand in my life, and His grace which had been poured out over me, I was kept from my trip to Bethel Redding! I thank God, as this was a very good thing indeed!

Mother’s Day, roughly 11-12 years ago, I went to my mom and dad’s church up in the high desert and a couple were up on the stage sharing about their mission trip to the Philippines. Why were my hands sweating? Why was my heart racing?

They presented a slide show and asked if anyone would like to go along on their next mission trip to the Philippines. I remember telling God, “no way, don’t even ask me to go because I can’t fly in an airplane.” Remember now, I was living in the experiential and so speaking and listening for His voice was normal. While I didn’t hear any voices, I did feel the prompting of the Holy Spirit, challenging my comfortable life and pushing me out of my comfort zone to serve Christ in The Philippines. Long story short, I did go. I went in faith, terrified to fly, but putting it all in God’s hands.

The very moment the plane took off so did my dreaded terror of flying! I was free! What an on-time God we serve.

A shaking must take place…
However, around this time some of the women in my prayer group were prophesying to me, saying “it wasn’t God’s time for you to go to the mission field.”  They believed they confirmed this by special messages from God. Because I did not listen to them, the prayer group started to crumble, as a shaking was inevitably going to take place. God’s plan and design was to bring this out-of-control, unstable ministry down to rubble and dust. Obviously, this prayer ministry had never been grounded in the Word of God.

This led to the beginning of a new life of living in faith! A tiny seed had been planted. Two weeks prior to my trip I pleaded earnestly and begged God to give me a deep love for His Word. Upon returning home from my trip, I opened my Bible and my love for the Word was instant, like a veil had been rent from my eyes! (2 Corinthians 4:3) The Old Testament was like a new story! For the first time, God’s Word was truly alive!

I simply could not get enough of scripture to satisfy my thirst for my Savior. That next year I read as much as possible and simply could not put this precious Book down. I took it everywhere, never wanting a substitute. I only craved God’s precious, undiluted, pure Word.  Meanwhile, on the homestead, cracks and fissures were bubbling. Discord was in the prayer ministry and jealousy was brewing underneath the surface.

Waking up…
After coming home from a few days in Kansas City under Mike Bickle’s IHOP, I had purchased a few books and it happened that I left one on the dining room table. My husband, in passing, just happened to notice this book and picked it up. To his shock and horror, he could not believe what I had been reading and how far off I had gone from the truth of God’s Word! He had been absent spiritually for many years. This was the day of him coming out of his slumber and waking up to the reality of what can happen when a husband does not assume the spiritual role as head of the home that has been ordained by Christ himself. (Eph. 5:22)

My husband and I had experienced great patience by the Holy Spirit. We had both been in a deep spiritual slumber and this would not be easy to undo in one moment. I had bought– not one– but many lies over the years and my husband had been uninterested. However all of this changed that day. My husband began to notice who I flocked to for spiritual guidance and he would search the internet to find truth regards to their standing, weighing each of them against scripture. He would then leave the articles around the house for me to find and read. Maybe a day or two later he would ask me casually if I had found the time to read the article that he had found. He knew I really wanted biblical truth in my inmost being as I loved God dearly. At this time, my love for God’s Word was continuing to grow. As I began to read these articles and discover the depth of deception in these ministries, anger would fill my heart! Thus began the beginning of my husband and I exposing false teachers and digging deeper to find out exactly what was going on in the lives of those who are in leadership positions in these movements on a national level. Exposing toxic teachings and false teachers which do not line up with the Word of God and sound doctrine is not a popular endeavor!

Not everyone wants the truth…
As I began to find huge contradictions and false teachings within IHOP and its famous leader, Mike Bickle, it was now time to share my discovery with my most trusted, beloved sisters in the Lord. After ten years of ministry together, they were like sisters to me. One lady and I were especially close. Our bond was a very special one, one for which I shall always be grateful. No one knew me quite like her. When it came to prayer with her by my side, on behalf of others it was like a synchronized dance. We were always in perfect step together, synced up in perfect harmony. I knew this news would come as a shock and horror to her as it did me.

However, to my disbelief, she was not so eager to hear or believe. After giving her the evidence of what I had discovered, her answer after a few weeks, was simply, “God did not tell me to read this.” (yep, we were that far in) From here the fractures and splinters were now severe and un-mendable in the prayer group. The Lord, in His mercy, swiftly brought down this unsanctified, messy, unbiblical nightmare.

Into the desert…
Now left without friends, confused, stripped of pride, I found myself not just deserted, but also beginning a long journey into the desert. Stripped of everything familiar, I found myself in the desert to be crushed, molded, and reshaped. Isa 64:8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay; you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.

Thankfully, even in the desert, pools of refreshment bubbled up. Finding springs of living water (God’s Word) quenched my thirst, as I longed to be forgiven and made whole. I was completely broken and yet, ironically, I was complete in Him. Desperate and depressed and riddled with shame, His word was restoring! God’s Word was a life line, a true help, and never more alive and living as it was in that desert. I spent nearly 2 ½ years in the desert but it was the greatest place of growth for me. I realized I was finally getting to know my Lord in the right and only way possible–through the reading and applying of His Word. Trusting that He was enough, I realized that I did not need to “feel” His presence in order to be holy and spiritual. God’s Word tells me He will never leave me nor forsake me (Duet. 31:6), no matter what I feel. Where I go, by faith, God is already there. Today I now live by faith and not by sight!

A light unto my path…
His word did not just soothe me, but also restored all the brokenness of what I had done. His Word had become a light unto my path (Psalms 119:105). As the magnitude of my sin weighed heavily upon me, I found myself daily confessing and repenting. Sometimes the unbearable anguish of my heart would try to swallow me up. A season of mourning could not be avoided as I was the cause of so much pain to my sisters, church, and to my dear Savior. Times of true darkness tried to engulf me. Still, to this day, I grieve over what I have done. I had never in a million years believed I could be swayed to believe another gospel– a false gospel– or that I would be responsible for leading others away from the one true gospel of our Lord and Savior. Now daily trusting my Savior, leaning on His Word, I live to obey it. As His daughter it is my utmost desire to live to His glory. With this comes my responsibility to carefully check everything against scripture. Like the Bereans, we are to test:

·       Teachers
·       Leaders
·       Books
·       Teachings and Sermons (theology/doctrine)

Laying it all down…
After laying everything down, I had firmly decided that I was never going to do any ministry again. I wanted nothing to do with being in charge of others, never wanting to hurt another with wrong doctrine and bad teaching ever again. The weight of responsibility was much too great and so I made the decision to never again lead others in any form of ministry. Ministry was obviously not for me and far too risky. I had found that it was far too easy to be led astray and thereby to lead others astray. It was so much easier than most would even dare to believe. In fact, there is a good chance you have bought into some wrong doctrine and do not even know it! Sadly, within the body of Christ today many do not really set their hearts and minds to really study the Word of God. Without knowing God’s Word, you are a sitting duck! You are open to the hundreds of false teachings and bad doctrines which come your way via friends, internet, YouTube, and, yes, even preached and passed on right from the pulpit.

I came out of the desert with a real sense of the majesty and awe of this God in whom I serve. I now have a healthy fear of God. I never want to bring shame to His name again. I promised God I would be content to be a good wife, mother, and homemaker. I let all go for His glory!

Fully Surrendered, yielded vessel…
When we abide in the one true vine as we read in John 15 and allow the Master Gardener to cut away and carefully prune anything which does not bear fruit, the result is a cultivated heart that will produce an abundance of fruit. “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples”. John 15:8

My desire here is to give God all glory and credit for the work in which He has done in my life. As God has restored not just myself but my husband, also, He graciously entrusted a very tiny ministry into the care of my husband and myself. Something we do not take lightly.

·       We have the privilege of leading teams into prison to give a once a month full church service. I am a volunteer chaplain to the women prisoners, leading weekly Bible studies and one-on-ones with female inmates.

·       This past year the Lord, with the assistance and guidance of His precious Holy Spirit, helped me to write and teach a curriculum based on His Word. This is something I would have never believed I was capable of doing, let alone ever desire to do! It is completely out of my comfort zone as I am much too timid for any of this.

·       I hate public speaking (it is the worst!) yet God has me speaking and putting on conferences!

The days are long gone of me seeking or needing to be filled with a “presence”. In the past, I had to have some kind of a “spiritual connection” in order to go about my day but today I simply live by faith and strive to obey God’s Word! I always give God my entire day as in Psalms 37:4-6. I have set my heart in doing the necessary work which needs to get done. My Father’s business is now my concern. This is in stark contrast to making my own needs and desires my main concern in the past. We are actually called to work as His children and it is a privilege to serve Him. Such joy comes from obedience! Luke 10:2 says,” He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Photo1It’s not the end of the road…
People perish apart from Christ everyday because they do not know him. We should want that no man would perish apart from Christ! If we won’t go into the fields, if we won’t share our faith, then who will? We have been given a charge by Christ Himself in Matthew 28 in The Great Commission. Jesus had not yet ascended to the Father and was having a last conversation with His disciples in this key passage. He tells them to go and make disciples of all nations.

God can’t use a vessel (certainly not very well) which is not completely void of self. Luke 9:23 “Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

This is a very hard saying and many are not willing to “deny self” for the sake of Christ.

It is impossible to be done in your own effort so don’t even try to do it on your own merit.  Christ can change your heart and give you His desires! Only ask of Him from a pure heart and He shall hear your prayers. I pray as God has changed my heart and given me a love and understanding for His word that God will do the same in you. My dear friends, this is certainly not the end of the road but the beginning! As we strive to do things His way, in the way which pleases Him, you will find true life and such abundant joy in the serving of our precious Lord and Savior.

John 4:14 “But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” So come to the well of living water, drink and thirst no longer! To God be the glory!

 

Changed Lives: Mandy

Changed Lives

Today I want you to meet Mandy. I got to know her when she started attending the Bible Study I was teaching last fall. It became immediately evident that she had an unusual hunger for the truth. She asked a lot of questions, demonstrating a humble and teachable spirit that is seen in few. One evening, after the study, Mandy shared with me some of her story. I knew at that point that if I ever followed through on my idea of sharing testimonies on Growing 4 Life, that I would want to include hers. It’s a beautiful story of God’s love and redemption. I am so thankful she is willing to share it–

Mandy’s Story

As a young woman, I found myself involved in drinking, partying, and relationships with men outside of marriage. I was desperately trying to fulfill a longing to be loved but, instead, ended up deceived and alone.

I truly wanted to stop living this foolish and dangerous lifestyle and also started to develop a hunger for Truth. God brought a couple into my life who befriended me, bought me my first Bible, and invited me to their church. Even though I still did not know the Gospel, I began to believe there was hope for me.  Looking back now, I can see how God was beginning to divinely draw me to Himself.

Not long after this, I was brought to deep conviction about the sin in my life– particularly for my relations with many men outside of marriage. I had already had two abortions and was a single mother to two sons from two different men.

Around that time, bearing a heavy burden of feeling unclean from my promiscuous lifestyle, I made the decision to have a routine checkup for sexually transmitted diseases. On my way home from the doctor, I fell into deep despair. It was just at that moment that my friends stopped by.

“I deserve to burn in Hell and live with the consequences of my behavior,” I cried. It was a most terrifying and sobering thought. It was at this time that this couple presented me with the Gospel and God began to remove the blinders from my eyes that had kept me in such darkness.

Two weeks passed and, finally, my doctor called me with my test results. I nervously answered, expecting the worst. I knew I deserved it and I was ready to pay a high price for my sinful lifestyle.

But instead he shared with me that I had a clean bill of health! In fact, he told me that my pap test was clear—for the first time in seven years! I praised God for this unexpected news and it was then that I bowed my head and asked God to forgive my sins: past, present, and future. I thanked Him for sending His Son to die on the cross for my sins so that I am able to have a relationship with Him and one day be with Him in Heaven for eternity and I claimed Jesus as the Lord of my life.

Following my profession of faith, my longing to be loved was being fulfilled and I was experiencing the true joy, peace, and freedom that only Christ can give. I truly felt born again!

But all that would change when I chose once again to live in sin.

Prior to my profession, I had been introduced to an active duty marine who was on leave visiting his family. We spent the last several months of his service talking and learning about each other. He came to visit me after his term ended and it did not take us long to fall in love. We knew that we would be married someday in the future. Little did I know, sin was crouching at my door; and its desire was for me. I am ashamed to say that I did not master it. Unfortunately, we did not keep ourselves sexually pure before marriage and I conceived.

I learned the hard way that sin will take you further then you want to go, keep you longer then you want to stay, and cost you more then you want to pay. The shame was unbearable, my purity was sacrificed in one moment of passion, my friendships where falling apart, I lost the desire to read my Bible and attend church, and before I knew it, I stopped walking with the Lord completely.

Three years passed and I was now married and living with my two sons and our newest addition, a sweet daughter. My husband and I bought a home and I worked hard to make it comfortable and homey.

From a worldly view it may have looked like I had it all– a loving husband who was able to provide enough for me to be a homemaker, three healthy children, a charming house, enough money to buy what we wanted whenever we wanted it. And—yet—there was a desperate longing inside me that just wasn’t being fulfilled.

DSC_8704-8After attending a Women’s Conference at a local church in September 2015, the Holy Spirit pressed heavily upon my heart. It seemed far too easy to believe that God was waiting for me with open arms. Surely I had to do more than to confess my sin, accept God’s forgiveness, and then pick up where I left off with Him? But I did this very thing and my life hasn’t been the same since!

I am convinced life is not found in anything but Jesus. My family and I started faithfully attending church and Sunday school again and I got involved in a couple of Bible Studies. God has been pruning, teaching, and molding me through it all. In humility, I am able to say I stand more firmly in my faith because of it and nothing gives me greater peace and joy then serving and glorifying God.

 

Changed Lives: Abrafi

Changed Lives

God is alive and at work! Do you believe that? Sometimes it can be so confusing for those of us who do not base our Christianity on experience. Does that mean we don’t ever experience God’s presence and power in our lives? Of course not! It just means that we base our Christian walk on the Word of God and not on our emotions or spiritual experiences. Because the nature of my blog tends towards discernment in these dangerous times, I tend not to focus on how God is at work –sometimes miraculously–at drawing people to Himself and then transforming and changing them to look more like Christ. But we know that it is God Who works in the heart of man for His will and His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). To Him be all the glory! As I write this, I know that there are so many of us who are witness to this in our own lives.

For awhile now, I have been thinking about sharing the testimonies of people who have seen God at work very vividly in their lives. And so today I introduce Changed Lives on Growing4Life. I hope to present these testimonies of God’s grace and working in the lives of fellow believers on a regular basis, so that we never lose sight of just how great and marvelous our God is! Some of these stories are written by new Christians, some are written by those that thought they were saved but God showed them otherwise, and others are saved men and women who may have found themselves in an impossible situation or entrenched in sinful behavior and watched God work–or in some cases, rescue them– in amazing ways.

We serve a powerful and amazing God! May we not forget it in the midst of this really confusing time.

The first testimony I offer to you is that of Abrafi. She goes to my brother’s church (Pastor Dean) and has been an amazing gift to their church, as testified by both my brother and his wife. As they told me a little of her story, I was compelled to ask her to share a bit of it here with us on the blog. I am so pleased to share it here with you now–

AbrafiABRAFI’S STORY

 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.  (Psalm 19:14)

Hello, my name is Abrafi. I was born in Ghana, a country in West Africa, and grew up in a professing Christian household. I was baptized as an infant, went to Sunday school and even attended a Christian high school where I was confirmed into the Presbyterian Church at the age of 15. But while I called myself a Christian, the life I led was not godly. I attended church every now and then, but Christ was not the center of my life. Over time, I became very liberal in my beliefs and accepted the notion that the virgin birth was too far-fetched and that Christ himself was a divisive figure. I accepted the belief that all religions were the same; that it was the same God being worshiped by different people under different names.

My husband and I raised our children to be responsible, honest, and generous human beings. However, the bible was hardly read in our house. We believed ourselves to be good people—accepting of all people regardless of their race, religion, sexual orientation, and social background. Yet, I was dissatisfied with my life. I was full of anxiety and I knew something was missing in the life I was living.

I compared my life to my mother’s and wondered why she seemed so content with her simple life and I was unhappy in my more sophisticated one. For her, Christ was the answer to every problem she encountered in life. Over the years, she made it known that she was praying for me and always spoke to me about how much Christ loved me. Soon after spending a vacation with her I went and bought a bible and began to read the psalms and to pray.

At first my prayers were for things that I thought I needed to make my life happier, but slowly a change began to take place in my life. I began to pray for Christ to fill the void my life. In January of 2007, my husband was diagnosed with stage four cancer, and I began to seek Christ more earnestly. One night after a very discouraging visit to see an oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic, I cried out to God to make Himself known to me if He truly existed and to give me faith to know Him. I prayed for forgiveness for my sins and for healing for my husband.

I began to read the bible to my husband. Two days before he died I read the bible to him and felt compelled to ask him if he believed in Christ Jesus. He said yes and I asked if he believed that Christ died to save him from his sins and again, he said yes. I praised the Lord and left the hospital with renewed hope and faith that he would get better. When he died, I remember being confused and thinking that maybe I was not righteous enough for such a miracle. I have since come to know through God’s Word that God does not answer our prayers or grant us salvation based on our good deeds but by his grace—“He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our savior” (Titus 3:5-6. In Ephesians 2:8,9 again we are told that,” for by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves; it is a gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”It is God’s grace alone that saved a sinner like me and it is His grace that saved my husband on his death bed. And yes, I do believe that God answered my prayer for healing; He freed my husband of all his afflictions and sins and took him to Himself.

Later, I prayed a specific prayer for a church and He answered that prayer with such precision that, even though I initially was unsure as to whether I belonged there, I was compelled to stay and over time it has become one of the most precious gifts from God to me. At this church, I have grown in the knowledge of who God is, and have come to trust the Bible as the infallible and inerrant word of God, sufficient for all things that pertain to life and godliness. The Lord has also saved my three adult children (O taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man who trusts in Him, Psalm 34:8)! The Lord has surrounded me with people who are grounded in His Word, and filled my days with hope and joy. I am continually humbled by His loving kindness towards me, because I am so undeserving.

 

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