Revelation 29:11 says “…they overcame him (satan) by the blood of the lamb and by the word of their testimony…” I stand before you today to testify that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus is not just a story of something that happened a couple thousand years ago. This gospel that you hear preached Sunday after Sunday still has the power to change lives. I would like to share with you how this Jesus has changed my life.
I grew up going to church; my parents tried to teach us the bible. But for whatever reason, I viewed God as a harsh judge; angry, distant and not pleased with me. At a very young age, I began to fear this God…not a healthy fear, but a “he might strike me dead at any moment” kind of fear. I lived in constant dread of His wrath.
When I was nine years old, I remember sitting at the table one night; my dad was reading the bible. Suddenly, I had this strange realization that I was not just flesh and blood, but an eternal soul. I got this panicky feeling that started in my stomach worked throughout my body. I knew in that moment that though my flesh would die, my soul would live forever. And I didn’t know where I would spend that forever…though I had a pretty good idea. This is where my quest began; my quest to appease an angry God.
I started reading my bible, thinking that would please God. Problem is, I was programmed to read the bible as a list of rules. So I concluded that I just needed to try harder to be good; to stop doing bad things. And I did try really hard…for a of couple weeks. But I couldn’t keep it up. This started a pattern in my life. Try really hard to be good…fail…despair…then try hard again. This always ended in failure and defeat.
So I began to resent God for having such rigorous standards. I didn’t see myself as that bad of a person…in fact; I thought I was pretty good compared to other kids around me. I had no understanding of the fact that I was a sinner in need of grace. And since I didn’t know I was a sinner, I didn’t know I needed a savior either. I was just trying to stay out of hell.
When I was 15, I decided to get baptized. I thought maybe getting baptized and joining church would take away the guilt and fear. Maybe then God would be pleased with me. Of a truth, I went into the water a dry sinner and came out a wet one. Now my life was governed by a new set of rules…codes of dress and an exhaustive list of does and don’ts added to the ones already in the bible. The weight and burden of all I had to live up to was getting heavier and heavier as I sank deeper into despair. Jason Grey puts it so well in one of his songs: “all that religion ever made of me, was a sinner with a stone tied to my feet…it never set me free.”
I lived here for years, keeping up the façade that everything was fine. I looked and talked like a Christian; I went to church. But inside I was dead. I really did want to be free, to be good, to stop messing up…I just didn’t have the power to do it.
It took getting married and having kids for me to really start to see my sin. After 5 years of marriage, everything started falling apart. I came to the end of myself…I simply didn’t have anything left to live for. All the things I’d used to try and fill the void in my heart just didn’t satisfy anymore. I had the husband, the house, the kids, all the stuff I thought would make me happy. The lure of pleasure and entertainment didn’t take away the loneliness, the emptiness. I longed for something more.
Two and a half years ago, God brought a woman into my life…someone who cared about all the pain and confusion in my heart. David and I spent a week with her and her husband…and this is where my story begins to change. Because that week, I met Jesus.
For the first time in my life, I was able to talk about some really hard things that had happened in my childhood; things that kept my heart locked up. I had so much anger and bitterness inside that was controlling my life. You see, I thought that holding on to these things would make me stronger. But in reality, it was killing me.
As we talked that first day, they invited me to lay all the shattered pieces of my life at the feet of Jesus. All I had to do was surrender, let go. Bowing my head, I began to pray. Tentatively at first; then, like a flood, all the pain, frustration, anger, confusion…it all came rushing out. Like Jonah 2:2 says “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress and He answered me”. Jesus met me there, in my brokenness, and for the first time in my life, I felt His love, His grace, His abundant mercy.
As I prayed, I pictured Jesus taking all my ugliness, all my sin and carrying it to the cross; while I walked away pardoned, cleansed, forgiven. Immediately, I felt the burden of my sin lift. Gone was the fear that had governed my life. Gone the guilt and shame. In its place peace, joy…
It was like scales fell away from my eyes and I saw God for who He really is; not distant or angry…but compassionate, gracious and full of mercy.
That was the day I began falling in love with Jesus. Not a “box of chocolates” kind of love, like Danny mentioned, but a deep, unmovable, satisfying love. A love that makes me want to give up everything to follow Him. Falling in love with Jesus broke the chains from me.
And so today… I live because He died. I have hope because He rose…and I will overcome because He lives inside of me. Thank you Jesus!