40 Year’s in Jesus: A Reminiscence of LIFE in Jesus
October 16, 2012
Today is my 40th birthday in the Lord. From day one on, it has been an amazing journey for me over these 40 years. Before coming to faith in Christ, I had never spoken of Christ except with loathing and as a curse. The very acceptance of the truth claims of Jesus Christ – that He is the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth – was the most difficult reality I had ever had to come to grips with, and it never, ever, settled into a warm, comfortable journey, but has been a wild ride ever since.
I want to share some of that ride with you today, to praise God for what He has done, to encourage you in your life in Christ, and to share with you some of the lessons I have learned.
My life in Christ began with someone reading me these words from Isaiah 53 (you can read more of the details here): “Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering… it was the LORD’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the LORD makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in His hand. After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities.”
My life in Jesus began with the Word of God, and that word became the mainstay of my life in Christ. It truly is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). 8 months after coming to faith in Jesus, I led one of my patients at the medical center to Christ, and I was told that if I promised to leave Jesus out of my counseling, I could continue at the medical center and my phenomenal career would be intact. What did the Bible say about this? I had no idea. I wanted to stay at the medical center, but I knew that God now had pre-eminence in my life. I asked for a day to think and pray about it, and I went home that night and read and re-read the book of Acts, searching for an answer. With courage and confidence, as well as fear and trembling, I was able to return the next morning and say from Acts 4:20: “I have to speak what I have seen and heard.” I was promptly fired.
I was newly married, I had been fired from a great job, we did not have a penny to our name, and I had to learn right then how to praise God in all circumstances and that “indeed all that seek to live godly lives in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12). I was learning that following Christ had a real cost connected to it. Everything I had hoped in, everything I had dreamed of as a career, everything I had achieved was removed from me, and my wife and I learned that all we have in this world is Christ and each other. We learned from 2 Corinthians 12:9 that Christ is enough, that Jesus will always be enough, and that such a journey was the journey of the Apostle Paul who “resolved to know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
I realized I needed to know the Bible and learn how to study the Bible. Soon afterward, after praying earnestly for someone who could teach me the Bible, I was introduced to Pastor Ed Robson, a pastor of the Syracuse RPC who knew the Bible better than anyone I had met during my brief life as a believer. I had no idea how deep scriptural teaching could be. In my amazement at his breadth of scriptural knowledge, I asked him how he got it. His response was not what I expected, but I never for a moment doubted the veracity of his answer. He said that as a young Christian he took the words of Luke 24:45 for himself: “Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” He had written in the margin of his Bible that this was to be his verse – that God would open his mind to understand the scriptures – and then he had put it into practice. This is what I wanted. I went out and bought the same Bible that he was using, and wrote exactly the same thing in my Bible, asking God to open my mind to understand the scriptures. Do you know what I did next? I began studying the Bible, and using it in my life. Teachings that had never been acceptable to me, such as election and predestination, suddenly became perfectly clear.
It wasn’t long before I heard of Westminster Theological Seminary and we were on our way down to Philadelphia. As much as I wanted to learn more and more of the Bible, this was terribly difficult for me. I couldn’t believe that I, holding a hard-earned doctorate and seven years post doctoral studies, was once again to be a freshman. It was a humbling experience, teaching me according to James 4:10 to “humble myself in the sight of the Lord.” I was learning quickly that God wasn’t impressed with my degrees or my former career, or even with what I had sacrificed. After all, He said in Romans 12:1 for us to “present yourself as a living sacrifice, which is holy and acceptable to God. This is your reasonable service of worship.” I had to learn quickly to stop thinking more highly of myself than I ought (Romans 12:3), and to “do everything without complaining” (Philippians 2:14). Life became much better at that juncture when I changed my attitude.
After five good years at Westminster, my family ended up on a mountain top in Switzerland, which then led, after a lesson in the importance of repenting of my sin against people and asking their forgiveness, to being a speaker with George Werver of Operation Mobilization at a Basel theological academy’s annual conference, to teaching in Seeheim, Germany, to teaching in Brussels, to teaching in the Netherlands.
It was there – convinced I HAD TO preach and that God was going to kill me if I did not preach, but yet running from it – that I received a telephone call asking me to start a church in Ottawa, Canada, with no money, no building, and only one family who was interested. This was the first real opportunity to preach, and before God I could do nothing else.
I had been a believer for 8 frantic, but incredible years, which, as I look at them now, were all moving and pointing to and preparing me for my life as a pastor. 32 more years have since passed, with a speed that is hard to believe. I look back on these years as having been the opportunity through the ministry of being more and more conformed to Christ – through good times and bad times and even some terrible times; through blessings and battles and immense disappointments. But through it all I look at these years not so much in terms of all that I have experienced (as extraordinary as that has been) but rather, what God was teaching me through all that I was experiencing.
Here are some lessons I have learned from forty years of learning and living in Jesus:
1. Standing in Jesus Christ is completely, 100%, the grace of Jesus alone and nothing of ourselves. If we decide in any way we can do it on our own, we will inevitably wind up destroyed. I still, at times, find myself absolutely amazed that I am a believer, and that my life is being lived for Jesus Christ. I look back on myself wondering: How does a man who grows up using the name Jesus Christ only as a curse come to live for and love Jesus Christ? How does such a person come to believe that there is nothing greater in the world than to know Christ and to live for Christ? It is the grace of God alone.
2. God is faithful, and it is the faithfulness of God that keeps us. I love what David says in 2 Samuel 7:18: “Who am I Lord that You have brought me this far?” In and of ourselves we are nothing, but Christ is everything, and He will complete what He has started in us (Philippians 1:6).
3. Live each day TODAY. NOW is the acceptable time, NOW is the day of salvation (2Corinthians 6:2). TODAY is the only time we have. Live it fully, whether the time is good or bad.
4. The importance of repentance and forgiveness. Be quick to repent. We read in 1John 1:9 that when we “confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Develop a forgiving attitude so that you are not consumed by bitterness but are ready to forgive when someone who has sinned against you comes to you in repentance and asks for your forgiveness.
5. Ask God to open your mind to understand His Word. Seriously study the Bible, and use it, apply it to your life. The goal is not accumulation of data. Rather, understanding it will change your life. It will enable you to live more faithfully, worship more robustly, and minister more powerfully. It is God’s truth that transforms your life by conforming you into becoming more and more like Jesus, but such a transformation is not magic. It doesn’t happen automatically, but rather as you pray and as you grow in the knowledge of His Word, as you diligently study His Word, and as you put His Word into practice.
Friends, there is so much I have been blessed to have learned over the past 40 years, and there is so much I have yet to learn in the next 40 years. For these next 40 years I plan to continue in Christ, and it is not only because “who else can we go to?” but because I love life in Christ and there is no one else I would ever want to go to. He is: ‘adonai elohanu’, ‘my Lord and my God’. Friends, may you too say, whether it is day one for you as a believer or 50 years: ‘adonai elohanu’, that Jesus is for you: ‘MY Lord and MY God’.
If He is not, He can be, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, because “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). Have you called upon Him? If you haven’t, do so now. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will save you from your sins, and He will be forevermore your Lord and your God.