We are taking a break for the summer until futher notice.

Week 5 - Personal Stories

We have two stories this week about salvation. The first involves the story of a woman who realized that others who call themselves Christians and believe that Jesus is God who died for them, may still be trusting that their works will earn them an eternal relationship with God. They don’t grasp the truth of James, that works are the evidence of salvation, not the cause of it. The second story is about a young woman’s journey of faith.

Stephanie’s story
Years ago, I was very active youth group which was responsible for bringing me to faith in the Lord when I was in Jr. High. There I met and made instant friends with Carissa, who attended a different church than I did. We did everything together and had and still have a dear friendship. Until recently our religious differences had never been an issue.

Several months ago I had occasion to go to church with her. I was in total shock from the message of the sermon, which instructed the congregation that church attendance was required for salvation. While listening to this message I was stirring in my seat, not sure if I should stand and shout...."Wow you seem very confused....Jesus died for you already, don't think for an instant that you can do anything yourself to change that!" However, I sat there and bit my tongue.

As the service continued, the time for communion came, and I was not sure what to do. After asking a friend who indicated that I should participate, I proceeded up to receive communion. Well, Carissa informed me after church in a very blunt strict way that I am not welcome to receive communion there. My heart was totally broken that she believed that the rules of her church excluded me from being her sister in God.

At that moment I realized that she believed that she and her church were the only ones going to heaven because they followed their rules and obligations made by man. What I heard that day was not about faith in Jesus but about doing enough good works to earn God’s favor. I also knew at that point that God had led me down the right road to this point because everything I knew to be true just came flowing out of me to her in response. With a lot of tears we departed feeling a little beat up.

This event has put me in deep prayer for my friend. She later wrote me a sweet note about how she was sorry and that she just wanted to share the "rules" of her church with me. Although we haven't talked much lately, my bitterness over the situation has diminished with much thought and mostly prayer. I know that she may want to complete the discussion we started and that God will speak through me. She may not agree with me, but I know we both believe that Jesus died for us. I believe that he did it all and that there is nothing else I can do for my salvation. Wow!! What a relief not to have all those burdens and guilt of my sins hanging over me. He has forgiven me already and has accepted me to join him when my day comes; no matter what I do today can't mess that up. I just want to live for Him!

Amy’s Story
I grew up in what I thought was a very "normal" family, even average to the point of boring. I grew up with both of my parents and my younger brother all living under one roof in a Dallas suburb. I was referred to as the "good kid" where as my younger brother was more the black sheep. I made good grades, usually A's, I was a ballet dancer, a softball player, a volleyball player, a basketball player, a singer in the choir and the teacher's pet -- how much more well rounded could I get? My parents would tell you that they're "good people", and even today I would agree with that. They have good work ethic, always had a job and provided the necessities for my brother and me, donate used clothing and occasionally money to charity, you know, the basic responsible citizens. The only thing really different from my friends’ homes was that my parents often invited friends over and there was usually a party at our house on the weekend including alcohol, but no drugs, and after all, most adults drank a little, right? Besides, that just meant that all my friends wanted to spend the night at my house because there was always something fun going on and we always had good junk food.

Well, one summer when I was 13, two of my best friends (twin sisters) invited me to church camp. We were going to sleep in cabins and play games and do a lot of outdoor activities--that sounded like great fun to me. I was also told that we were going to do some Bible study things and I was totally fine with that, too. After all, my family believed that there was a God. I had once asked my mom what religion we were and her reply was, “ . . . (long pause of silence). . . uhh, Christian, I guess,” so I should fit in other than not knowing very many people. The next week changed my life forever. ~Never underestimate the power of inviting someone to church~

I spent the first few days of camp having fun and getting to know people. But with each passing day I was remembering my childhood fear of death and always wondering what happened afterwards. As a young child I would sometimes cry myself to sleep because I was so scared of not knowing what was beyond death, and I remembered my parents not having an answer to that fear. But with each Bible study and worship session we had at camp, I was finding answers that no one had been able to give me before. It was the first time in my life that I had heard of eternal life, salvation, grace, and the sacrificial Lamb. I was captivated by all of this information and I couldn’t wait to learn more. One of the things that made a huge impression on me was the older high school guys. During the worship sessions these guys that were several years older, twice my size, and very tough on the outside, would break down and cry and talk about how grateful they were that Jesus died for their sins. The display of such raw emotion from all these big, tough guys was absolutely dumbfounding and made it all that more real to me. I was repeatedly asked if I was ready to “accept Christ into my heart” but I still felt like I was just getting a grasp on the whole concept and I didn’t want to leap into anything just because of an emotional high. I knew that my decision better be one that I was prepared to live out for the rest of my life, this was no light subject. I finished the week of camp without accepting Christ, but thirsting for more of this information and wanting desperately to better understand the Bible.

I spent the next few months going to church on Sundays and Wednesdays with those same friends who invited me to church and learned more and more each week. I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what I was dealing with before I turned my soul over to it. At first it was hard to understand that I was sinner daily, not just occasionally. I was accustomed to being the good kid, and good at just about everything that I did. I didn’t lie and steal like my brother. I didn’t cuss and drink like my parents. I wasn’t doing drugs and experimenting with sex like the kids at school. I tried to always be honest, do what I was told, and excel in everything. Sure, I messed up sometimes, but much less than everyone around me, or so it seemed. Maybe a couple of times a year my brother would make me so mad I let out a four-letter-expletive, or maybe I would not tell the whole truth about how late I stayed up on the phone on a school night, but that was about it and they were such trivial little things, really.

Slowly but surely I began to see how selfishly I lived my life. I made good grades to compete with my genius best friend, I tried to be a good athlete to satisfy my father, I stayed out of trouble to avoid punishment, I was living for my purposes and not God’s, that’s where the sin was coming from. That fall I accepted Christ as my savior and submitted my life to God at a volleyball tournament where I was pulled out of game and put on the bench. I had nothing else to do, just sitting there watching my teammates play the game I wanted to be in, so I started praying. At first I prayed for my team and that we would win, that kind of thing. But I began to feel like God was really listening to my prayer and that he was right there with me. I knew then my life needed to be lived according to a higher purpose and asked Him to reside in my heart. In contrast to how I was raised, I finally understood that good people don’t go to heaven, forgiven people do.

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