April 1, 2012

Captivated by the Cross

A college classmate and I were headed to class one day in March, 1990, when we discovered that the class was cancelled. She was in the process of moving out of her apartment, so she invited me to come over and help her with some packing. In her apartment, I noticed a Christian poster on the wall and asked a question about it. While she continued packing, she described the painful way in which Jesus died, with nails in His hands and feet, and His suffering for us. God used her words to really speak to my heart, and I found myself weeping because of what He went through for me.

Because my friend was packing as she talked, it completely caught her off guard to see me crying, and momentarily she felt badly. However, she realized the opportunity she had and asked if I wanted Jesus to be my Savior. I said yes, and she led me in prayer. I asked Jesus to be the Lord of my life, and my tears were a sign to God, as well as to me, of repentance. Immediately I noticed a change and wondered if the instructor in my next class would notice any difference.

Immediately I noticed a change and wondered if the instructor in my next class would notice any difference.

Looking back, my story starts earlier than that day in 1990. From my childhood, I was tender hearted. Though our family did not attend church much when I was growing up, I was taught that there was a God, to pray by my bedside at night, and to do the best I could. However, I felt guilt and fear over the bad things that I did, and also found myself very afraid of death.

Once as a child, I went to a special church service with a neighbor. At the close of the meeting, they asked if anybody wanted to receive Christ as their Savior, and I raised my hand. I have a vague memory of going to a back room and repeating a prayer after someone. On the way home, I wondered what I was supposed to do from that point. Because I had no instruction, I drifted away.

When I was in high school, I felt drawn to read the Bible and to try to understand it. Still with no guidance, I started in the Old Testament and seemingly found a God of destruction and judgment. In time, I developed the viewpoint that God hated me and I hated Him, and that seemed the best relationship we could have. Yet, God saw the desire of my heart and still drew me. He arranged the details of my life so my classmate would have the opportunity to lead me to Him on that day in 1990.

After praying and experiencing God’s salvation in my friend’s apartment, I became involved with a Christian group at the college and attended a church where some of the participants went. However, that church was located quite a distance from where I lived, and I had to take public transit. So my new friends encouraged me to look for a church closer to home. As I started to search for a place to worship, my goal was to go where the Lord led me.

During my high school years, I had developed a friendship with a young woman who went to the Apostolic Faith Church in Portland, Oregon. After I was saved, I sought her out to let her know what had happened to me. Before long, we were in the same college music program, and I went to some activities at her church. The Lord began letting me know in my heart that this church was the one He wanted me to attend.

Up to that point, I had done a poor job of serving God because I understood so little about how to be a Christian. God knew that I needed to have the truth of the whole Gospel or I was destined for failure! From the beginning of my Christian life, I had been taught that a person sinned and must ask forgiveness every day, so I had a lot of trouble being victorious. I was also told that if you sinned after being saved, the Lord was still with you and you would nevertheless make Heaven. That teaching did not sit right with me. At the Apostolic Faith Church I learned that a person could backslide because of sin and be separated from God. That concept really registered in my heart, and the Lord witnessed to me that this was the truth. I also heard that a person could live victoriously over sin, and I knew that was right too. The Lord let me know that the Scriptures supported these teachings and this was the church for me.

Then God began to show me how to live victoriously. Restitution for wrongs I had done in my past was probably the most difficult concept I had to learn as a new Christian, but now I am glad for it. One particular apology was the hardest of all. After the Lord had been speaking to my heart about it for awhile, I finally told Him that I would not do it. I knew it was wrong to tell the Lord no, but I felt that I was just too scared to make the situation right. At that point, I had pushed the Lord away, but within a week or so, I was so miserable that I prayed in the back room of my work place and asked Him to please forgive me, telling Him that I would make that apology. Immediately, I knew He had heard and answered my prayer, and I started to work on taking care of that restitution.

The following year at camp meeting in Portland, God sanctified me. One Sunday night during the convention I was sure the Lord had given me that experience, but by the next night I was in great doubt about whether I truly had received it. For the next several days I prayed earnestly after every meeting, but then the doubts would return. Finally a Christian lady gave me some wonderful advice. She said, “When the Lord does these things for you, it’s like driving a stake. The devil is going to try to pull those stakes up, but don’t you be the one to pull them up!” It was just what I needed to help me believe that the Lord had truly sanctified me.

In the fall of 1992, it was necessary for me to change colleges to obtain my bachelor’s degree, and two schools were options. Attending Portland State University would allow me to stay in Portland near my family and the church I had been attending. Going to Western Oregon State College would mean a move to a small town called Monmouth, which was close to an Apostolic Faith Church in Dallas, Oregon. Over that summer, the Lord made it clear to me that I needed to go to Dallas. However, as summer came to a close, my housing search had not produced results. I felt that staying in a dorm was not an option because of the negative lifestyles and influences that sometimes occurred there. Two weeks before I needed to be moving, a minister’s wife from the Dallas church called to say she had found a roommate and an apartment for me. The Lord had come through with a miracle, and I was very excited!

Little did I know how hard moving away would be. Although I was twenty-two years old, I missed my family sorely, but God used this to draw me closer to Him. Before that, when I went through hard times, I had relied upon the spiritual strength of my friends and older Christians in the Portland church. But now I was in a place where I did not know anyone very well, and I had to learn to lean fully on the Lord. It had been a struggle to take time for private devotions, and reading the Bible and praying consistently was a challenge. Going through this difficulty led me to make the time to read and pray in order to survive spiritually. As God drew me closer to Him, my desire was to do and be all I could for Him.

All of the experiences I had that fall culminated on a special night in October of 1992. One Sunday night we had a great prayer meeting, and afterward someone asked if I had received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The realization hit me that I was very close to receiving this experience from the Lord. That week I spent extra time seeking the Lord and even had a prayer meeting with my roommate, who was also a Christian, in our apartment. The next Sunday night, the Lord gave our church another wonderful prayer meeting, and He filled me, as well as one other person, with His Holy Spirit. In recent years, I have come to realize that the time I’d spent seeking the Lord’s will and drawing close to Him was the key to receiving that experience. It wasn’t a magical formula or some great thing I had to do or consecrate. The desire of my heart was to be close to God and to do His will, and that brought the blessing of the baptism.

After I received the baptism of the Holy Ghost, I found there were still trials. The enemy did not want me to move forward, and many times he tried to convince me that I was not saved because of mistakes I made. Yet God was faithful to help me understand who He is and what He truly expects from me. Over the next few years, He took the time to show me what a loving Heavenly Father He is. God helped me to understand that He is not looking for human perfection, but for the desire of my heart to be perfect toward Him. To this day, He continues to teach me discernment on how to know the difference between the two.

God helped me to understand that He is not looking for human perfection, but for the desire of my heart to be perfect toward Him.

One of the veteran Christians in Portland used to testify, “Young people, if you want to be kept, you can be kept.” In my early years as a Christian, I clung to those words and made the decision that I wanted to be kept from sin and from falling. One of my favorite Scriptures says, “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 1:24). This has been an encouraging verse for my life, and I want others to know that anyone can be kept and that God has no desire to see His children fail.

God continued to work in my life and led me to a wonderful Christian man. We were married and now have two daughters. Neither my husband nor I had the privilege to grow up knowing the full light of the Gospel, and it is a blessing to raise our children to know Biblical truths. God has healed our children and provided wisdom for me in handling situations as a mother. Our older daughter has special needs. When she was two years old, she was scheduled to have an MRI to help diagnose her problems. We asked the ministers at the church to pray for her according to the instructions in the Bible (see James 5:14). Within two months of their prayer, she went from a twenty-five-word vocabulary to over seventy-five words. There have been other times as well when the Lord has undertaken for our children’s health, and it has given them something to look back on to build their faith.

In recent years, my husband was out of work for nine months. His company provided a twenty-two-week severance that carried us from July 2009 through Christmas. Although he still did not have a job, we had money in savings and unemployment to get us through to the end of February. Then the Lord supplied us with more money which took us through the end of March. Right at the end of March, God provided a job, and to top it off, we had no less money in savings than we did at Christmas when his severance ran out. God had truly provided for all our needs. The Bible says, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). Truly that was our case! We would tell our children that some people who are out of work for this long lose their homes and have very little. Yet we were able to make every house payment, always had food in our home, and had no major health problems during the time when we had no health insurance. The Lord took care of our every need.

We still live in Dallas and are serving the Lord with a wonderful church family as we await His return. It has been over twenty years since God saved me. Where once I thought the Bible told of a God of destruction and judgment, now I see a God of mercy and love. It was God’s mercy that led me to Him, and it is His love that has kept me in His care all these years. He is my strength, Counselor, Healer, Friend, Lord, and King. I am nothing special. All of the wonderful things He has done for me are nothing more than what He wants to do for all who will choose Him as their Lord and Savior. I am so thankful!

apostolic faith magazine