forgiveness

I’ll never forget the spiritual journey that brought me to faith in Christ. My father is a retired pastor, and we were always in church. My mother was a godly prayer warrior. From my earliest age, I remember having my spiritual faith encouraged. We had devotions, went to church, and I had numerous opportunities to experience faith.

I learned to be a good little boy. For most of my childhood, I believed the facts about the gospel. I tried to do all the things I should (read the Bible, confess my sins, behave well). In spite of my efforts, my teenage years were internally disturbing. I experienced uncertainty about my salvation and could not be confident that I would have eternal life. For about 6 years, I faced mounting doubt and uncertainty. There were a number of occasions where I just wanted to die so I could find out where I would spend eternity.

On the outside, I’m sure I looked fine. On the inside, I was a spiritual mess.

During the summer of my 18th year, I was invited to go to summer camp with my cousin’s church. I distinctly remember having a conversation with God prior to camp where I said,

“God, I don’t know what is going on in my soul. I can’t get peace. But whatever you say, whatever you tell me to do, I will do.”

At camp, the internal turmoil did not ease. Rather, it grew exponentially. My heart was bursting with tension and frustration. It was at this point of tension, that God spoke loudly and clearly,

“Chris, you need to be forgiven. Your sins are the reason I died. You need to trust Me alone for your salvation.”

That night is forever imbedded in my memory. I gave up. I asked God to forgive me. God saved me that night at summer camp. In that moment, I experienced a peace, a joy, a freedom that was unexplainable. Something else became unalterably clear to me in that moment. God wanted me to preach his gospel to others. For me the call to salvation and the call to preach occurred at the same moment.

In the 20+ years since that experience, I’ve thought a lot about my conversion and call experience. Following are some insights into God’s call that I’ve developed as I interpreted my experience through the lens of Scripture.

  • Personal experiences are not universals, but they can be templates. It is important that we don’t generalize our experiences that we believe they are universal for everyone. But we should learn from personal experiences. Moses’ call in Exodus 3 might not be replicated in our lives today (God speaking through the burning bush), but when God calls, it will be to reveal himself and send us on his mission (this is the universal).
  • My need for salvation was because I had been relying on my goodness rather than God’s grace. Over the years I reflected deeply on why I was not converted at a younger age. I believed the facts of the gospel long before I experienced salvation. God helped me understand that one could believe spiritual facts while still relying on self for salvation. Trusting in Christ alone is required for salvation, and that is what I was missing.
  • God’s calling to salvation may not always be a calling to preach, but it always includes a calling to serve. Not every salvation experience includes a vocational call. But every salvation experience does include a call to follow Christ and serve his purpose. I’m afraid that in experience-driven Christianity, this may not always be communicated clearly. God’s call to salvation anticipates a call to serve his purpose and testify to him and his glory. According to Matthew 28:18-20 we all have the obligation to lead our neighbors and the nations to follow Jesus.
  • In order to hear/sense God’s call, we need to have distractions removed. That fateful summer camp for me provided a time of devoted attention to hearing from God. Moses’ burning bush experience occurred in the wilderness where he was alone. Many of David’s psalms were written during his alone time with the sheep. The principle is this: if we are going to hear from God, we need to make time to be alone and quiet with him. Cell phones, television, and other distractions must be removed so we can hear and experience God.

What about you? Have you experienced God’s call to salvation? I hope so. Nothing is more important than knowing God and being confident of eternal life. If you have that peace, then have you embraced God’s call to serve his purpose and live his mission? If not, why not make time to pause, pray, and hear from God about his calling on your life.

My first six weeks at Wilkesboro Baptist Church has been a bit of a whirlwind. I can hardly believe we’ve sold a house, moved all our stuff, concluded one ministry, begun another, all in the last 90 days. My first six weeks at the church have included baptism, the Lord’s supper, a funeral, deacon’s meeting, finance committee meeting, deacon ordination, pastor installation service, and a church business meeting. It’s been a fun whirlwind.

I’d like to share a few initial observations about my time so far:

  • I remain convinced God placed me here at Wilkesboro Baptist Church. Not only did I sense God’s leadership here, but the church is a good fit for me and my family.
  • Preaching weekly is a joy. Having the opportunity to pray, think, plan, study, and preach through sermons and series is an incredible privilege. I am thoroughly enjoying this aspect of my ministry.
  • My church is fantastic. Everyone has been so warm and welcoming. From the meals, gifts, and cards, to the banana pudding and pound cake, my family and I feel welcome. Thank you Wilkesboro Baptist Church.
  • God has blessed Wilkesboro Baptist with a wonderful staff, deacon body, and church leaders. I look forward to the years working together to accomplish God’s mission of making disciples.

Let me offer this word of exhortation from my pastor, Dr. Greg Mathis. He shared these thoughts regarding an effective ministry at my installation service on September 27. Let us forgive early and often (show the grace and forgiveness to one another that Christ showed to us), protect our priorities (keep God first in all that we do), evaluate our attitude (don’t be judgmental, bur rather be humble and contrite), remember the power of prayer (depend on God’s favor and power), and clean our hearts daily (deal with self regularly).