I grew up hearing amazing stories of how God completely transformed a family. Their stories have shaped mine.
How my uncle was mean and ugly to people, heading nowhere fast and then almost overnight turned impassioned evangelist and lover of people. How another uncle, intellectual and with every reason to have pride in himself and his life, found real truth and deeper love, and turned to the Lord. He began pouring his life out for others. I heard stories of sorrow and heartbreak, of my grandma leaving for alcohol rehab, entering AA and finding that Jesus was the only ‘higher power’ with power to save her.
Demonic chains plaguing a family for generations began to be broken when Jesus entered in.
My dad was the youngest of three brothers and two sisters, each of whom were living their lives on their own, for themselves, until God transformed my Uncle Sid. Sid turned to Jesus and then shared the truth of the gospel with them – that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (appearing to more than five hundred people) and that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. The authentic change in him piqued their interest. His new and uncharacteristic love and compassion were unmistakeable. The Holy Spirit moved their hearts – not just to pray a prayer, but to truly turn to Jesus, and to bring many of their friends and acquaintances to him as well. My mom, a native of the same hometown, came to know Christ and was discipled through the ministry of one of my uncles.
My Papa Sam and Grandma Barb, who had attended a non-gospel-centered church for years without being saved, were also convicted of their sin, the power and grace of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and the new life they could have in him. My dad was saved as a high schooler one summer at an FCA camp in Estes Park, Colorado. The direction of his life changed before his critical college years – which inevitably impacted my own life before it ever started.
When I was a youngster, my parents were believers, actively growing in their faith but with lots of rough edges still being refined by God’s gentle and firm hand. I was allowed to stay up late with them one night and we watched a scary movie together (that they probably wouldn’t have allowed in our home in later growing up years!). There were some frightening scenes with demons and evil spirits, and I was terrified. Rather than taking ‘the easy way out’ and making something up about none of that being true – they told me the truth, about there being real evil spirits, a real devil, about hell being a reality. But they also told me about Jesus, and how he has power over all of that. All my life I had heard stories about his amazing transforming power – it made perfect sense that he could also rescue me and keep me safe from such awful realities. I wanted to be safe from hell, and I knew the only safe place was Jesus. My parents led me to call on the name of the Lord, that I might be saved (and that we all might sleep peacefully that night!).
As such a small child, I hardly understood the deep theological meaning behind Christ’s sacrifice and my need for it – but as much as I could understand and have faith in him, I did.
It was a tremendous blessing, knowing Christ from such a young age – one that I hope and pray for for my own children. A child-like faith is a precious thing. I remember as a child adoring storms, smiling and watching the lightning dance in the sky, confident knowing that Christ was in control. I remember feeling his presence and pleasure with me as I read my Bible and prayed as a little girl. I made up simple worship songs and sang them to the Friend and King I knew and loved. I was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he guided me even though I was just a child.
Growing up I had doubts sometimes as I tip-toed out into the world. Did God really exist? What about all the bad things? How do I know I can trust the Bible? Is there any other way, any other truth? I was frustrated sometimes, and asked a lot of hard questions. But this was necessary, so that my faith was authentic, and my own – not just a flimsy extension of my family’s beliefs. My childlike faith matured in some ways that were good, but I drifted somewhat from my childlike, simple and heartfelt faith.
One year though, in middle school, I had grown particularly angry – for reasons that I don’t really remember. Maybe I was just growing up and feeling awkward, rebellious, etc. A friend invited me to camp and I wanted to go. Mostly to get away and feel like I was on my own a little bit. But as it turned out, the Lord used camp that summer (and many summers to come) to really cement my relationship with Him. The convicting preaching in the evenings, the times of passionate worship and fun afternoons playing outside and memorizing Scripture with friends was a real blessing and time of growth for me. It was at camp that I first felt led of the Lord to be willing to surrender my life to ministry and missions if that would be His plan for me. It was at camp that I recommitted and refocused on the Lord. 1 John 2:6 was really convicting and inspiring: “…whoever says he abides in (Jesus) ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
It’s not easy to walk like Jesus through middle school and high school. I failed a lot, but Jesus was faithful to restore me – sometimes in painful and humiliating ways, but always in love. Thankfully I had a small handful of really wonderful committed Christian friends who were on the same path. I loved playing sports with them, leading worship together, going on mission trips and sorting out life together (feeling so big with our cell phones and driver’s licenses!). There were some hard experiences too – realizing that often the deepest wounds come from those we call brothers and sisters in the Lord. Bitterness was/is a hard thing to shake, but by God’s grace I have come to understand that God is so good even when His bride, the church (myself included), are not always.
There have been a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns, but I have been so thankful that Christ has been the center of my life – by His own doing and not mine. Knowing him from my childhood has been the most incredible blessing. Learning more and having my eyes opened to the poverty, depravity and sadness of other religions, and the amazing difference that the gospel makes, and the love that Jesus has for all nations was life-changing for me when I spent a year with YWAM. My priorities were turned upside down as I began to take seriously the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Jesus). Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
I am thankful that I know how my story ends. Many of the twists and turns are still mysteries…but the end, I know. When my body dies, my spirit will leave and I will be present with the Lord, at home in heaven. My heart longs for that time. And, in the mean time – I have purpose, living for him.
But what about you? Do you know how your story ends? If not, might I implore you to be reconciled to God? All have sinned and fallen short, but “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” None of us can do anything righteous on our own, but in Christ, we are made right before God.
You can know how it ends. You can have victory, freedom, transformation. And so can your family, for generations.
P.S. i hope you enjoy this video that illustrates brilliantly how Christ redeems us when we are dead in our sin!