Sharing My Faith Journey with My Church
Today, I want to talk a little bit about how important it is for Christians to share their faith stories and share some of my personal faith journey with you. Here’s one of the most important things you need to know. You don’t have to stand at the podium and you don’t have to write anything down unless you want to. You can stand in your pew or if you want to stand up in front of the church you can do that too. This is how I feel comfortable sharing my story, or as I prefer to call it, my journey because my story won’t be finished until I stand before Jesus. Regardless, you need to share in your way and when you are ready. Oh, and you also don’t have to talk as much as I do.
The second important item is, because we are called to witness to Christ everywhere, remember to listen for God nudging you, or pushing, to share wherever you are. Keep in mind you can witness without having to share your whole story, sometimes a few words, if they are inspired by God, will help.
The third item, and I believe this is one of the more important things to consider, is we need to be conscious of whether we are sharing with someone who is a Christian or someone who doesn’t know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
That being said, I’m not going to stand up here and give you instructions on how to share your faith story or witness to Christ. You will know what to do and when to share, because the Holy Spirit will guide you. Remember to pray for God to speak through you. My prayer is when we share, Jesus’ light will shine through us and they will see that light and want to know more.
I have to admit that I still feel somewhat new in this church. I didn’t grow up here so I confess I still don’t know everyone’s name, where you work, who is related to who, or even where many of you live. I want to know your stories because they are an integral part of what makes up our church family. We are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, we have the same heavenly Father, and we share God’s House in this building. We even share the same mission for our lives, which simply put is, making disciples who make disciples to transform the world. We are all disciples.
I’m pretty sure most, if not all of you, are aware that the Methodist Church has a book of rules called the Book of Discipline. The title sounds ominous to me. It reminds me of High School, and if you didn’t follow the rules you could get detention or expelled. Let me assure you, that God will never expel you. He sent his only son to die for our sins.
The only reason I’m bringing up the Book of Discipline is because one of the rules in the book is called The General Rule of Discipleship, which is: To witness to Jesus Christ in the world and follow His teachings through acts of compassion, justice, worship, and devotion under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. [The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church-2012, ¶1117.2a]. This is one of my favorite rules. Compassion, justice, worship, devotion…these are truly words to live by.
My hope today is to share with you some of my faith story and encourage you to share your stories with our church family and with the world. You may have a defining moment of when you knew Jesus was your Lord and Savior, or you might be like me. I always believed in Jesus, but didn’t truly, in my deepest heart understand what it meant to claim him as my lord and savior. What I didn’t understand was that God expected me to act on my faith, not just go to church and have a prayer life.
I can’t tell you the exact moment Christ came into my life and really changed me forever. I was raised in the church, my father was a deacon, my mother was a Sunday school teacher, I was in the children’s choir and we all went to Sunday School.
When I was around 13 years old I was devastated when my parent’s divorced. I still went to church even when I was the only one in my family who went. We lived in Silver Creek and I lived there until I was around 20 years old. After the divorce my mother, my sister and brother and I had to move.
We stayed in Silver Creek for a while, but after my father remarried (hence the reason for the divorce), my mother spent a lot of time in Westfield, especially on the weekends. She was working in Westfield and started seeing a man who would become my step-father. My brother went with her, leaving my sister and me to fend for ourselves. My sister eventually moved to Arizona, leaving me, now 16 years old, home alone for the weekends.
Now before I go any further, I just want to say that even though I had stopped attending church, and was not a model Christian as a teenager, I never left Jesus, or I should say, he never left me. I prayed to him, I prayed a lot. I guess you could compare it to whining or how about moaning. Something similar to when the Hebrews left Egypt and were forced to wander the desert. I was trying to figure out why all these bad things were happening to me. I was afraid to be in the house alone all night, so when my mother and brother were in Westfield, I would call my girlfriends and we all stayed at the house together.
Now, this was in the late 70’s so you can correctly assume that pretty soon, my so-called friends had multiplied and my house became the party house. I admit it was fun, but I kept waiting for something else to happen. I knew my life couldn’t go on like that. I was going to be a senior soon and had no idea what would happen after I graduated. My father was well off but never, even when I was an adult, offered to help out financially. My mother was barely scraping by. There were times when I had almost no food in the house. Thank God for friends and pizza!
My mother finally sold her house the summer before my senior year and I was forced to choose between moving to Westfield for my senior year or move in with my aunt and uncle whom I loved and had spent many summers living there babysitting my younger cousins. Of course I chose to remain in Silver Creek with all my friends and classmates. My guidance counselor at school asked me what I was going to do after I graduated. He didn’t offer me any advice or even tell me that I could attend JCC for free. I told him I was going to keep working at the grocery story.
That was the end of the so-called guidance I received from him. I was in the Honor Society and graduated 9th in my class. My best friend was the valedictorian, so we didn’t do too badly in spite of being unsupervised for two years.
After graduating I remained in Silver Creek working in the local grocery store where I was promoted to the office. I started dating a young man who would become my husband. We married in 1983, bought a house in Brocton and had two beautiful daughters. Now we are at the point where God came back into my life with a bang. I had two daughters whom I would not allow to grow up without knowing God and attending church. I think the only relationship I had with God before then was a prayer life. I wasn’t thinking about how I could serve Him, and I definitely wasn’t thinking about how to be a disciple.
We eventually sold our home in Brocton and relocated to the place I’d been avoiding so long. Yep, we bought a house in Westfield so our girls would be near their grandparents and could go to school in Westfield.
We began attending the Mayville UMC regularly. We all soon became involved in many roles of the church, I served as Lay Leader for three pastors. I believe God was molding me during my time at that church. In addition to our church activities, I was working full time and taking classes to earn a degree in Business, Management, and Economics. I learned two things during that time, my husband didn’t like me taking classes and working full time, even though his work required him to be in the office during the day, and at the bars and clubs when his work sponsored the infamous Budweiser parties. The other thing I learned was that he was jealous because while on a retreat for church we were asked to rank a list of items by importance. My list started with God, then husband, then children. He saw my list and even though I explained that without God there was no us, there was no anything, he never seemed to understand. So eventually, my world fell apart when my husband decided he wanted a divorce. Let me just put it this way…he sinned. He moved to Falconer with his soon to be new wife, while the girls and I remained in Westfield and continued to attend church.
I remember being so angry at God when he didn’t answer my prayers to save our marriage. I trusted Him, I trusted our marriage vows, I prayed and prayed and prayed, but God didn’t fix everything like I asked him to. I think the answer was free will on the part of my ex-husband, but seriously I really do know that our prayers are not always answered in the way we want. I had to try to find peace in my soul by leaning into God, but it wasn’t easy. Of course, I was heartbroken and worried about how the divorce would impact my daughters.
My mother and step-father were living in Jamestown now, and my mother drove to Westfield every Sunday to attend church. She was chair of the Trustees and she had her work cut out for her when we had to purchase a new parsonage. By this time my mother was my best friend. Then we had another devastating blow. My step-father was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and there was no hope. It was only a matter of time and he was in so much pain.
One Sunday, when my mother and I were in church in Westfield, the pastor asked everyone to close their eyes and keep them closed. Then he asked anyone who wanted more of Jesus to stand. My mother and I were standing side-by-side, eyes closed, and holding hands while the pastor prayed. It was during that time, my step-father scribbled on a piece of paper, “Sorry, can’t do this”, then took his hunting rifle and took his life. My mother arrived home from church only to find his body. I think other than the day my mother died that was truly the worst day of our lives. All I could think was why would God let this happen? We were just standing in church asking for more of Jesus, and this is what happens? On hind sight, I think he did give us more of Jesus in order to get through such a terrible ordeal. I also have to thank God that I had just begun putting an addition on my house in Westfield. That allowed me to change the addition to include a very large bedroom with a sitting area, and another laundry and bathroom so my mother could move in with me. She was a diabetic and had degenerative disc disease, a family trait that was passed on to my sister and myself.
Thinking back on all the “Why God, why?” questions I threw at God all my life, I’ve come to understand that there isn’t an answer to every question and sometimes, we just have to trust God and know that he loves us, and when we suffer, he suffers with us. It might seem strange, but I have to thank God for the adversity and troubles in life because I believe He has been building me up to make me ready for the plans He has for me.
After Jim and I married, we tried to help Jim’s father care for Jane, his mother who was bed ridden and his father was doing his best to care for her at home. Eventually, Jim’s father had to make the difficult decision to move her to the nursing home. One day when I was visiting Jane and washing her face and combing her hair which she seemed to find soothing, something strange happened. I know she was trying to communicate with me even though she was unable to speak. I felt God telling me to let her know it was okay to let go and we would watch over John, Jim’s father. That day also happened to be our wedding anniversary.
I started making phone calls and asked the family to come visit her, praying that I was wrong, but also praying for her to be with Jesus rather than in pain and unable to speak. Everyone came in to visit her and went home. Actually Jim and I went to dinner for our anniversary and just as they brought our food out, we got the call from the nursing home saying she had passed. I have no idea why I thought that she would pass that day, but I thank God that we were all able to spend time with her before He took her home.
My life, continues to have adversity and troubles, just as we all do. Do I wish we didn’t have to deal with troubles? Of course I do. Hawk Nelson sings a song called Diamonds. The words include “When the pressure is on He is making diamonds out of us. Oh, the joy of the Lord, it will be my strength. He’s making diamonds out of dust, he’s making diamonds out of us.” When I feel that pressure, like I’ve had more than I can possibly bear, I think of Jesus and the persecution he and his disciples had to go through. Then I think of God and his grace and how our sins are washed white by the blood of Jesus.
I believe that God gave us life so we can live it abundantly. He gave us rules to follow knowing that we would not be able to follow them all the time. He gives us grace and mercy for those times. He commands us to love one another as Jesus loved us. We are to love God with all our heart, all our minds, all our souls and all our strength. I know God has been working in me and calling me to do more, but I didn’t know what. I wanted that big, booming voice like Moses had on the mountain. So, after much searching and prayer, I laid down my life to God and continue to pray for Him to use me. He knows the plans He has for me. I feel like “a soul on fire”. I want to tell the world of His greatness. I know that I desparately want Him to take my life and let Jesus shine through it so others will see Him, not me. All I really want is more of Jesus. All I want for you is more of Jesus. He is my everything-full of grace and love and mercy, and I NEED to share that any way God leads me. THAT IS MY STORY…Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16