Thursday, July 26, 2007

My Coming to Christ (Part 2 - Girlfriends)

Almost a month and a half ago, in an Introspective, Thankful post, I mentioned a few things about my life that I know are completely by God's grace. At the time I said I wanted to write about some of these things, and since then I've written about My Parents (Part 1 and Part 2), My Marriage, Panic Attacks and My Coming To Christ (Part 1). There's just no denying that I am what I am by the grace of God.

Continuing with the story of how I came to Christ, I'll first say that it wasn't because I recited the "sinner's prayer" and I didn't have any sort of visible, emotional or tangible "salvation experience." I didn't even start "living a good life" at the time. In fact I have no idea what the "date" was when I came to Christ. Here's the thing... as far as I can remember, going back to my young life, I've always been a believer. I didn't "accept Christ." I simply believed, and faith has always been there, even when I haven't been actively involved in pursuing any sort of "relationship" with Him. What I'm saying is that I was saved a long, long time ago, by faith, but I just didn't know what it all meant! I really believe that all throughout my young life, into and including my teenage years, even when I was out "drinking and partying," and "hanging with the wrong crowd," I was a saint of God, a new creation, who simply didn't yet know it. I had not been taught who I was in Christ.

I remember praying once or twice. Such as when my first girlfriend broke up with me. "GOD, WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME!!!" (That was my prayer. Really, it was vain repetition). :) But seriously I think it was the first time I really cried out to this God that I'd known about for all those years. And that gets me to the point of this post. As I look back at my relationships with people, a large part of my coming to really know Christ came through my relationships with girls. I don't mean to be egotistical at all, and it wasn't until I got to this point of writing this post that I realized where it's going. I believe with all my heart that God used these experiences as a big part of the ongoing process of helping me to know Him.

Although that breakup was hard for this sixteen year old boy, I quickly "moved on" and began going out with another girl (a friend of the girl who broke up with me) who had recently become pregnant by a 21-year-old man who had then quickly departed from her life. I was young and dumb. But as I look back, I remember that I "witnessed" to her - without ever having been told that I was "supposed" to be a witness for Jesus, and without even realizing that I was being a witness in the first place! I have NO IDEA where these words of comfort came from, but I remember consoling this girl by telling her that God loved her and was always with her and that He would see her through. That's just not the way I talked when I was hanging with this "wrong crowd!" I really stunned myself! I could have been shot down and rejected right there and then - and I wasn't even trying to "be bold for Jesus." "I" didn't have the guts to share something like that with anyone - not to mention that that type of thinking just wasn't really what went on in my mind! But I remember her reaction... tears, and relief. This teenage girl, who I would never have thought would have any interest in God, was responding to the message of gospel coming from a teenage boy who never would have thought those words would come out of his mouth!

I guess the work of the Spirit goes much deeper than we know and realize. In Him I lived and moved and had my being, even when I didn't know it and even when I wasn't "trying."

The summer after I graduated from high school, I began dating a girl who clearly told me she didn't want a "relationship" with anyone. But I spent the summer with her and kept dating her for four months after I moved away to college. She said I was the first person to ever treat her the way I did, and I think that's why the "relationship" actually meant something to her. She even asked me if I would marry her, several times. Well, every weekend I would come back from college, just to be with her. But on many of my trips home I heard all kinds of rumors about her, most of which turned out to be true. Let's just say that she definitely had a hard time being a one-man-woman. I broke up with her and got back together with her at least twice. My reason for getting back with her? Well I specifically remember the last time we got back together. I was sitting there with her, balling my eyes out, telling her that God had forgiven me every single time I'd ever messed up, and so I forgave her.

Again, I had no idea where all that came from, but it was my true, heartfelt reason for taking her back. I wanted to forgive as I believed God had forgiven me. Believe me, I wasn't following some "Christian principle." I believe this was simply the Lord at work in my life, even though I didn't know it at the time.

In my very early 20's, I still wasn't "walking with God." A friend of a friend, who I'd had sort of a crush on, took me to a party one night. I couldn't believe she had actually picked "me" to spend time with, and I wasn't about to say or do anything foolish to ruin her perception of me! Well, there we were, in the midst of a bunch of people who were partying like it was 1999. Through a "miracle" (according to my perception at the time), we actually began to talk about the two of us going out. All the more reason for refraining from saying anything that might taint her perception of me! "Religious" talk was the farthest thing from my mind.

However... as we spoke, I suddenly felt compelled to tell her that I really wanted to have a "Christian home." As those words came out of my mouth, I thought to myself, "You NUT, you RUINED IT!" But she began to tell me she felt exactly the same. We didn't date for very long, but this experience, along with other experiences that I already mentioned, really got me to thinking more about what I was going to do with my life and in regards to a relationship with Jesus. I now "knew" that that's what I wanted. In the most awkward of times and places, when my "instincts" told me that talking about the Lord should be the LAST thing I should do, that's what came out of my heart.

See what I mean, that this is all about GRACE? In these circumstances, I wasn't trying to witness. I wasn't trying to live a Christian life. In a huge sense, the outward appearance of my life, and even most of my internal thinking, was not directed in a "God-centered" direction at all. But God was always inclined in a Joel-centered direction.

The pinnacle of all this came in 1991, and early 1992. I had been dating another girl, and we ended up going to the same college, about 80 miles from home. We got an apartment together, but after about only one month, we broke up and she moved back home. There I was, sitting in the apartment, feeling kind of lonely. Well, I "rebounded" rather quickly. I knew of a woman who had dated a friend of mine back home. He always called her a "Bible-thumper," and on the one hand that turned me off, but on the other hand it got me kind of interested in getting to know her. I called her that same day and we talked for 2 1/2 hours, mostly about the Lord. I moved back home and we began to date. It was very interesting, to say the least. At first, I thought she was "the one." We would talk a lot about the Bible, but really we were two people who had absolutely no clue what we were talking about! She was really down on her ex-husband, who always "took the name of the Lord in vain." She was very, very disgruntled about that. But yet her own sins... smoking, fornication... and everything else... were ok to her. ;)

Over the course of time, we had lots of "fights" about the Bible. She had her views and I had mine. Funny, one of the things we fought over was grace. ;) Anyway, towards the end of our relationship, in December of 1991, I really began to become more and more displeased with my own way of life. I had begun to pray prayers with more substance... although my life wasn't really changing on the outside, yet.

All this leads me up to January 7, 1992, when my life changed for good. All these relationships played a big part in getting me to that day. I'll share more about that day, but the main thing I wanted to communicate here, if it didn't come across, is that I am what I am by the grace of God. As I learn more and more about who I am in Christ, a huge part of "letting go" of trying to make it about my efforts to be a good Christian comes from remembering these experiences. I didn't "give myself to God." I wasn't actively seeking Him. God drew me to Himself, gently and methodically, so to speak. He hasn't changed!

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