Traveling is one of my favorite things to do. There is just something amazing about seeing new places for the first time. Sometimes, though, the best journey is to retrace the steps of your past paths. The first trip never uncovers all of the wonders of the surroundings. Going back to see what you missed is a wonderful way to discover a new appreciation for the places you have been.
Recently, I had the opportunity to do just that. I was asked to share “my story” at a large Bible study gathering. As I retraced the steps of my past, I discovered a fresh dose of God’s grace. It was there the first time and every time I have been back. Still, each journey down the roads of the past causes me to discover a view I missed the first time and to once again be in awe of the God who never left me by the wayside when I detoured from the way.
Today, on my wedding anniversary, I’d like to share what I said to the ladies last week. The journey is a bit long and the road is rocky, but should you choose to read my story, I hope you will be reminded of God’s grace in your own journey and will revisit your own beautiful destinations.
(As you read, it might be helpful to know that our Bible study is on Deuteronomy and the journey of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery to the freedom of the Promised Land.)
"I don’t have time to tell you my story of salvation this morning, but I’d like to share my Israelite story with you. It’s a tale of having a godly heritage, turning away, then being redeemed and blessed beyond measure by a gracious God, and finally, the need to pass on our faith to the next generation.
Like the Israelites, I came from a godly heritage. We did the things we were “supposed” to do: went to church every Sunday, prayed before meals, and didn’t participate in what many would consider the worldly things. But we also didn’t engage in discussing what we believed or why we believed it. We just sort of coasted on what we knew. So, when my biggest test of faith came, I was not prepared.
Skip to when I graduated from college and moved to Florida. I started working for my brother and planned to do that temporarily and then move to Nashville to try to become a Christian singer. Instead, I fell in love with a coworker who was a great guy and treated me better than most of the Christian guys I had dated in college. Problem was, he was an atheist. At first, I thought I’d just “missionary” date and that he’d surely become a Christian. However, I quickly found myself in over my head. While he told me that I was the only Christian with a brain that he’d ever met, I quickly found that my Christian brain was failing miserably. I could not effectively explain what I believed or why I believed it when he challenged me. I would give a couple of verses or maybe what I call Christianese answers, like “I just know that I know,” when I didn’t know how to answer his questions, and he would shake his head at me and poke holes in my answers. I found myself shaken and confused. I asked him to just investigate Christianity and give it a solid chance, and he said he would.
In the meantime, I started living contrary to everything I said I believed. (As the Israelites fell into idolatry when they did what was right in their own eyes, I also fell into the idolatry of wanting a man more than I wanted God.) I stopped going to church and even stopped being able to pray. I would ask others to pray for me, because I just couldn’t face God, and I didn’t know how to give up what I wanted. For a while, this guy stayed true to his word to look into the claims of Christianity, but with me not really walking with the Lord and not being much of a “missionary” girlfriend, he quickly lost the urgency to do it. Over the course of our 2-year relationship, there were many break-ups and difficult times as I struggled with conviction in my heart, and I finally decided the only thing I could do was to leave town or to accept that my distance from the Lord would be permanent, because I saw no way that this guy would ever become a believer.
Before I worked up the courage to walk away, though, we took a little trip to the Florida Keys. This guy had his private pilot’s license, and the trip was only a couple of hours, so off we went. (Keep in mind, I’m skipping a lot.) On our way back, we hit some unexpected bad weather and were blown off-course over the Everglades, which is a huge swamp area where there are almost no landmarks to get you back on track. We started getting low on fuel as we tried to find our path again, and the wind shears were throwing us around like a rag doll, bouncing us up and down with huge roller coaster drops. I was certain this was God’s punishment and my just end as I saw my life flash before my eyes. Little did I know that my atheist boyfriend was in the pilot’s seat “making deals” with this potential God, that if God would get us down, he’d start really studying the claims of Christianity again and trying to believe.
Fast forward . . . God DID get us down, and I started noticing apologetics books, which explain and defend Biblical doctrines, lying around the house. Within the month, he started going to church with me. (I had started going again after the plane incident.) Another month went by, and one day, I noticed he took the bread when the communion elements passed by. I thought I was going to jump up and scream right there, and he just looked at me with a sheepish grin. After that church service, he told me about his “deal” with God and said that once he started studying the evidence, he realized that there was no other valid explanation for our existence other than God and His explanation for things in the Bible. While he had believed intellectually for a few weeks, he had wrestled with his pride, not wanting to admit he was wrong. (He had been a fairly proud and vocal atheist.) But now, he could no longer go on as if he didn’t believe, and he surrendered his pride and his heart to the truth and grace of Christ.
Fast forward to the rest of our lives . . . God brought both the proud atheist and this wayward Christian through the wilderness and to repentance, and we were married (and have been for almost 18 years). Within a year of Eric’s conversion, it is bittersweet for me to say that he knew more about Christianity than I did, though I had been in the church from the womb. God’s Spirit moved in Eric in such a way that he started listening to preaching in his car, reading apologetics books, and devouring the Word of God. God put men in his life who invested in him and lived out an example of a godly life as a husband and a father. While we have had much baggage to deal with in our marriage, God has shown us just how amazing His grace is to redeem the wasted years! He eventually even blessed Eric with the amazing privilege to be an elder at our church in Atlanta. Now, Eric is passionate about teaching our children (and anyone who wants to listen) to know what they believe and why they believe it and is passing on a deep faith to the next generation.
Some things I want to say in closing as I reflect on these chapters of my story (and I am saying these things to myself as I say them to you):
- I do NOT recommend missionary dating OR ANY OTHER disobedience to God that we might be tempted to justify in our minds! Although God was gracious in my situation, not all of these stories turn out so well. As with the Israelites, there are consequences to disobedience, even WHEN God redeems those wasted years. I am so very grateful to say that God’s grace brought about Eric’s salvation in SPITE of me, not because of me, but we have suffered many consequences of our sin in our marriage.
- Know what you believe and why you believe it, so you will be ready for the day when your faith is challenged or tested. I can’t stress this enough! Whether through the verbal challenge of an unbeliever or the circumstantial challenge of tragedy, or even success (as God warned the Israelites would happen to them), your faith will be tested.
- Don’t grow complacent in your knowledge and study of the Lord. He desires and expects us to know Him deeply and intimately. We cannot coast in our faith, assuming we have the Lord figured out or that we have mastered the Gospel, or we will eventually be like the Israelites who forgot who the Lord was and what He had done for them and what He required of them. We must continually preach the Gospel to ourselves, so that we remember what He has saved us FROM and what He has saved us TO, and avoid having the forgetful and hardened hearts the Israelites had.
- ZEALOUSLY teach the next generation. Moms, grandmothers, aunts, teach the children the truth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 6 and many other passages command God’s people to pass on His truth to our children, and in 1 Peter 3:15, we’re commanded to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks of the hope that is in us. It is not something that the church pastors are solely supposed to do. WE are commanded to do it, when we sit in our houses, when we walk along the way, when we lie down, and when we rise. Many, many studies show that churched people walk away from their faith in the years after high school. I believe it’s because many never fully grasp the truth of the Gospel. They coast through the easy Sunday School answers but when trials come, they don’t know how to fight the hard questions of the faith with the knowledge of the truths of God, and they end up frustrated and confused. We can combat this within our families by knowing the Word of God and passing on a love for it to the next generation.
- Finally, pray and trust the Lord. He is sovereign, AND He is good. If you or someone you know is struggling with a situation that seems hopeless, remember that as with the Israelites, He knows your heart, the giants of life that you will face, the wildernesses you may wander because of your own disobedience, and the idols that you need to rid yourself of. Although things can seem daunting, pray and trust Him. He is the Lord, the one who can bring YOU out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, out of the wandering desert of wasted years, and into the land flowing with the milk and honey of His abundant grace through Jesus Christ!"