I was raised in a nominal Christian home which means that I attended church on a weekly basis. I was provided with a relatively safe environment – I never went without food or clothing. I was given some religious education in primary school but beyond that there was no other discussion or teaching related to God. Between the weekly church attendances there was no reading of the Bible in my home. So at that time in my life, as young boy, I had no real concept of who God was and I certainly did not realize He wished to have a personal relationship with me. I knew of Jesus Christ but did not fully understand that He died on a cross for me. As I entered the teenage years religion and God did not seem to be relevant to me.
However it was at this time that I also began to feel an emptiness in my life. I vividly remember long periods of time feeling very lonely and unsure of what life meant. I was beginning to give thoughts to some serious subjects – why was I here and why did life seem to be so difficult. That may seem to be strange thinking for that age but I clearly felt shy, awkward and most of all I felt like I didn’t fit in. Even with the few friends I did have I often felt on the outside of what was happening. Looking back I know that the teenage years are a difficult time with many adjustments but I did not feel there was anyone to talk to about the feelings I was having and so my uneasiness grew.
When I was 13 I discovered what I thought was a way to deal with my shyness and my loneliness. This was the age I first had a drink of alcohol. However, it was around the age of 16 that I truly believed I had found the escape from loneliness that I had been looking for. I began to regularly use/abuse alcohol and narcotics. It seemed like “fun” and at the time it was “fun” for us. I certainly had no idea of the trap that had been laid for me. For the first time in my life I felt free to open up, to laugh, to be “the life of the party”.
Little did I realize I was on a slippery slope that would lead to a continued abuse of drugs and an immoral lifestyle.
I soon headed off to college. I managed to graduate and get a job in the high tech industry in 1985. However, through college and in my job the focus on weekends and soon many week nights were the abuses in the name of fun and pleasure. By 1988 I was fully enslaved in this abusive lifestyle.
Even through all of this the feelings of loneliness and the bigger questions of life never left my mind. They were only put on hold and after coming down from a high those issues would still be swirling in my mind. In fact the feelings of emptiness and uncertainty began to intensify and would soon come to a crisis point.
Looking back I did not realize the deep scars this lifestyle would leave on me – scars that could only be healed supernaturally. As the Word says “… by His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
However, during this time of turmoil – when I was in the work force – God began to expose me to His truth. Through all of my struggles I still had a belief in God and I believed in an after life. Mostly I thought that I no hope of pleasing God and I feared the worst … that God would be so angry with me that he would turn His back on me.
God had other plans. He placed a faithful and obedient Christian in my workplace. Someone who was 1 year younger than I and amazingly enough someone who had grown up in the same small town as I had. When I lived in Eganville, Mervyn and I never crossed paths – except for one brief period in high school. Our high school offered their very first computer class in 1981 and I took this class and so did Mervyn.
I would not see Mervyn again until 1985. I had just begun to work at a software company when somebody told me there was a co-op student who just started a work term and he was from the same town as me. Of course, it was Mervyn. I don’t remember too many of the details of our conversation that day but I do know that Mervyn did talk to me briefly about God and His love for me. As I would later find out Mervyn had recently become a Christian.
It was another 3 years before I would see Mervyn again. He had joined our company full time and in 1988 we ended up on the same project. We were part of the same small team so we saw each other every day.
It was not long until I began to observe that Mervyn lived his life much differently than mine. On Mondays mornings the various team members would discuss the activities of the weekend which mostly involved the bars and parties attended. There was usually some coarse talk and innuendo. Mervyn never participated in this but we would soon realize that Mervyn attended church on Sundays.
As I said earlier, in my sober times my mind was swirling with questions about life’s meaning. I observed that Merv had something I longed for – confidence, hope, joy and peace. That he had these things became painfully evident to me as we began to engage in several long conversations and he began to patiently explained the gospel to me and how his relationship with Jesus Christ changed his life forever.
Merv was open and honest. He explained that he was not perfect but he had complete confidence that he was forgiven because of his faith, his trust in Jesus Christ and nothing else.
Over the course of 2 years Merv and I had several conversations. He always was patient, never harsh but always presenting the need for a Saviour. I asked him many difficult questions. He honestly told me he could not answer some of the questions I posed. But he never wavered that we are all guilty of sin and need the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ.
Now more than ever I was aware of my own sinfulness but my internal struggle continued. I still felt lost, without a real purpose in my life and the seeds of my life being worthless had been germinating in my mind. Looking back now it is easy to see the war that was happening within myself.
It was now late 1990 and I attended the MET Church for the first time. The preaching and teaching was totally different than I remembered from my childhood days. For someone who was not yet a Christian I found the teaching very encouraging and hopeful.
Now it’s the spring of 1991 and my internal battle is reaching a climax. I now clearly understood that I had a choice to make … but fear had a strong grip on me.
I felt I had nowhere to turn and on April 28, 1991 I trusted Jesus Christ as my Saviour. The healing process had begun. I was now a child of God.
The first change I distinctly and still vividly remember was a sense of relief and peace that swept over me. The fear of dying and it’s consequences had dissipated. I had a feeling for the first time in my life that I was where I belonged.
After my conversion I expected my life would be perfect and that all of my struggles were behind me. As I learned over the next few years there was still an enemy that desired to attack me and try to have me revert to those feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. In the beginning I did not realize that God had begun a rebuilding process which would involve transforming my mind and my character.
I had many struggles in those early days of my walk with Christ. Although I generally felt secure about my salvation there were times when I did backslide, that I wondered if God could truly accept me. I began to wonder how could He ever forgive me for some of the things I had done prior to coming to Christ. There was still an ongoing battle with my confidence and self-esteem. One scripture that I read began to shed a new light on who I was … “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). I began to realize that I was made in God’s image and to Him I am wonderfully made.
I still struggled though thinking I needed to be perfect. If I sinned wouldn’t this invalidate my Christianity? Wouldn’t I be hypocritical in my beliefs? How could I ever tell someone about the gospel when I still sinned? God again spoke through His mighty Word and said to me “… as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). This verse taught me that God is not holding my past sins over me, ready to throw them back in my face. He has put those sins behind him, never to meet them again. If I am faithful in confessing my sin, He is faithful in forgiving them and all of this resting on the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ.
Again through these early struggles Merv was there to follow up and encourage me. He and his prayer partner invited me to take part in a couple of Bible studies. One of the studies was particularly beneficial as it dealt with the supernatural battle that was occurring for my mind. As we worked our way through Job and Ephesians I began to realize that Satan would use all means to make me doubt and to try and have those feelings of worthlessness resurface. Satan knew that I was now a child of God but he wanted me to keep my mouth shut. Although Satan continues even to this day to attack I know the war has been won by Jesus Christ. As long as I stay close to my Rock and Redeemer I am safe.
As I moved into 1998 God had given me victory and healing in a number of those areas where there were deep scars. From time to time Satan still throws a flaming arrow and I need God’s protection from this. I believe God now had a new challenge for me. One area where I had great struggles was in being a Christian witness. I felt my shyness was just too much to overcome. I had trusted Christ and that was enough. What more do I need to do? I feel now that God wants to take one of my greatest weaknesses and use it to show His power.
In my life as a worker in the software industry I always feared … BIG TIME … the aspect of public speaking. I know this is one of the most common fears amongst people but for me it was paralyzing … I just felt intense pressure if there was any possibility of public speaking … even if it was a simple team meeting.
I decided to take the NETS (Evangelism Training) study offered here (at the MET Church) in Sunday school. I had an idea of what I was getting into but I knew I wanted to be a more effective witness for Jesus. This study was beneficial in that it taught me the importance of evangelism and the course provided practical ways to discuss things of a spiritual nature with other people.
It was also during this course that Mr. Chip Welton organized some weekly door-to-door outreach in east end Ottawa. OK God, I said, this is pushing it … there is no way I can do this. Of course my mind whipped up the most vivid of fears. But I saw this as a challenge and an opportunity. It was both. It was also enlightening to me because the people (mainly middle class neighbourhood) whom I thought would be open to discussing God more often than not would not want to talk with us and the people whom I thought would turn us away (poorer neighbourhood and Muslims) were often quite open and willing to talk about spiritual things.
I found the NETS course quite useful. The simple verse that still stands out in my mind was the simple command that Jesus gave to his first disciples “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” It would be hard to dispute that each one of us is not called to witness on behalf of our Lord and Saviour.
Finally, in June of 1999 God presented to me the biggest challenge so far in my Christian walk. As many of you are aware Chip Welton is the Canadian Director of the evangelism ministry called Open Air Campaigners. In June a training seminar was held in Montreal to teach the need for open air ministry and how to hold effective open air meetings.
During our NETS class Chip had circulated a brochure for this seminar and over the 6 months I prayed and struggled with idea of taking this seminar. The struggles once again flowed mainly out of fear … the fear of public speaking. Once again I said, “C’mon God, public speaking, on the street, telling people about Jesus Christ, telling the good news … no way … I can’t do it.” But I knew deep down I had no excuses and again it was an opportunity and a challenge. I took the seminar and it was a wonderful week. It was hard work, emotionally and physically draining for me but once again God proved that through Him all things are possible.
So in closing I would like praise God for His faithfulness. I felt His closeness over these last 9 years. I have also come to believe that God will change me one area at a time. I know when I slip He is there to pick me up. It’s still tough during those times when I fall because I do understand the price God paid for my sin … the death of His Son and my Saviour.
My life has been changed forever because of a chain of decisions. The most obvious is God’s decision to redeem mankind from our fallen state by sending His Son to shed His innocent blood. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, I now have been given a new life here on earth as well as eternal life in heaven.
But there were other decisions involved: Merv decided to trust Christ ; Merv decided to live an obedient and faithful life even when he was on the outside in a work environment; Merv decided to answer my questions boldly and honestly never once swaying from biblical truth ; Merv decided to follow up with me and ensure that as an infant in Christ I was properly cared for.
Just this past week I heard a statistic that only 4-7% of the world’s population has heard the gospel. That statistic may be a bit dated – maybe 10 years old – but I would guess that number has not risen above 20%. That means 8 out of 10 people have not heard the good news – Jesus Christ has died for you and today He is alive in heaven awaiting an invitation into your life.
My prayer today would be that each one of us when given the opportunity would boldly tell people, with gentleness and respect, the reason for this hope we have.