My Story

I have heard many amazing testimonies of individuals whose lives have been totally transformed by the power of God when they turned their lives over to Jesus. Gang-member-turned-preacher, Nicky Cruz comes to mind. I read his story in The Cross and the Switchblade and saw it depicted in the movie when I was a teenager. It was impressive.

My story is not so amazing. I was not a drunkard, or dope dealer, or gang member. I was what most people would consider a “good kid.” As a child I always tried to be perfect. I wasn’t and there were times I got into a little bit of trouble for doing things I shouldn’t have (like fighting with my brother and not doing what my mother told me to do when she told me to do it). I recall one disturbing incident during a 9th-grade physical education class. I became so angry at the girls who wouldn’t cooperate with our team captain (my best friend) that I yelled at them and really wanted to hit someone. I was really not an angry or violent person, but at that moment, I definitely was. The desire to hit someone was so strong that it scared me.

But, for the most part, I was a very quiet and well-behaved child. I went to Sunday School almost every week, sang in the children’s choir (not very well), and grew up believing that God existed, that He created everything and that Jesus was His only begotten Son. I even believed in the existence of the Holy Spirit. The problem, though, was that this was all really just an intellectual acknowledgement. James tells us in his epistle that even the demons believe that there is one God (Jas. 2:19).

I didn’t really understand that I needed to make a very personal decision—I needed to decide whether Jesus was going to be my Savior and the Lord of my life. I guess I didn’t really understand that I deserved to be condemned by God and would, in fact, be condemned if I was not a part of the body of Christ. In some ways, I think I thought of myself as the Pharisee in Luke 18 thought of himself. Surely, I was much better than all of those “other people.” I didn’t realize that I could never be “good enough” on my own.1 I didn’t realize that church “membership” or church attendance was not evidence that I was saved, that a piece of paper saying I had been baptized as a baby was not enough to make me right with God.

I considered myself to be a Christian. After all, I had been baptized; I was confirmed in the Lutheran Church; I attended church and Sunday School regularly; I believed in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. I started a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at my high school. At my coach’s request, I lead my high school track team in prayer before a meet (yes, times have changed). I lead the prayer at the high school girls’ athletic banquet. How could I not be a Christian?(2)

Nevertheless, I watched Billy Graham crusades whenever I could. I listened to the Hour of Decision on the radio. More than once I prayed the “sinner’s prayer.” One day I received a little booklet that explained the Four Spiritual Laws. One might consider that to be an imperfect presentation of the Gospel; nevertheless, it did grab my attention. I even gave the booklet to my mother and asked why the church hadn’t given me something like that years before to make it clear that I had to repent(3) and make that personal commitment to Jesus. God was offering me a free gift,(4) but a gift is not truly mine until I receive it. I prayed the “sinner’s prayer” again, perhaps with a bit more passion this time.

I sensed that something was missing in my spiritual life, but I had no idea what it was. I went off to Army Basic Training in 1980, followed by advanced training at Fort Sam Houston. There, I met a young woman who was having some personal problems. We talked a little about God, but I really didn’t know anything about sharing my faith. When I got home, I sent her a copy of Charles Sheldon’s book, In His Steps. It had made a big impression on me a few years earlier and I thought it might help her. Unfortunately, I didn’t have her exact address, so I made a guess, knowing her next duty station, and sent the book. I never heard from her and have no idea what happened to the book or the lady.

Over the next few months, I read many tracts and pamphlets from various religious groups. The issue that came to the forefront during that time was baptism. I had never really thought much about baptism. Oh, I was quite familiar with the Great Commission and Jesus’ words to baptize them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”(5) But I had been baptized, so how could there be a problem?

I had never studied baptism—how, why, when—but during those few months, I realized that the examples of baptism in the New Testament were of people who believed, who confessed Jesus Christ as the Son of God, who made a conscious decision to turn from their sinful lives. (How can a baby do this?) Then, they were baptized in water. Going down into the water clearly indicated this was not a sprinkling or pouring of water, but an immersion in it. This new learning caused me to decide that my “baptism” as a baby was not the baptism described in the New Testament.(6) That realization bothered me. I did not yet know that the Greek word baptizo, from which we get the English word baptize, means to immerse or submerge.(7)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making judgments about infant baptism. What I’m saying is that as I studied the New Testament, I saw that the people who were baptized were old enough to hear and believe. That does not include babies. In addition, the description of the actual act of baptism clearly indicates the people were immersed, not sprinkled.

Now, I’m well aware of the argument that baptism is for all people everywhere and surely God wouldn’t make it so hard for people in areas where water is in short supply, such as in the Arctic, Antarctica, or a desert, to be properly baptized. I won’t argue this point, for I was not in that kind of situation. I was in North Dakota, where running water is plentiful. There was, therefore, no reason for not following the examples in the New Testament. There was no reason for me to think that God would allow my sprinkling as a baby to be an acceptable alternative to the New Testament examples of a believer being immersed.

One Sunday, I stopped by a softball complex to see the end of a softball game a friend from high school, Julie, was playing in. After the game, we started talking. Somehow the conversation turned to baptism. Julie suggested I talk to her minister, Ron. Julie had also grown up in the Lutheran church so she understood where I was coming from. I was leaving that day to go back to college and I wasn’t sure I was ready to talk to someone else about this issue. However, three weeks later, I returned home on a Thursday night, instead of Friday afternoon, for my National Guard training on Saturday and Sunday. I had an appointment with Ron at 11:00 Friday morning. I met Ron at the church building. We reviewed the Scriptures for an hour. I had studied the New Testament, so I knew what the Scriptures said and I told him I wanted to be baptized. At about 1:00 that afternoon, Ron baptized me by immersion in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in accordance with Acts 2:38.(8)

I am not going to argue about whether Acts 2:38 should be translated “for the forgiveness of sins” or “because of the forgiveness of sins.” Whether baptism is the means by which I symbolically contact Jesus’ blood and, in doing so, receive God’s free gift of salvation through His Son or is simply a public declaration of my trust in Jesus because He has provided the means for forgiveness of my sins, is a debate I will leave for others.

Baptism and salvation go hand in hand. Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples and baptize them. Peter commanded the believers on Pentecost to “repent and be baptized.” Then, the Scripture says, they were added to the church. There are no examples in the New Testament of unbaptized Christians. Baptism and salvation became synonymous. In Ephesians 4, Paul says there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” meaning one salvation.

We are saved by grace through faith, not by works. Now, I’ve never thought of baptism as a work, but rather as an act of obedience to my Lord resulting from my love for Him. It is the blood of Jesus that covers our sins, not the water of baptism. However, believers are commanded to be baptized and the New Testament examples are of believers being immersed.

My baptism was witnessed by Ron’s wife and children, and my friend, Julie. When I came up out of the water, I can’t say I felt ecstatic or like I’d been transformed or anything like that, but I felt peace and contentment. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that if I were to die that day, I’d enter into eternity with Jesus. That assurance continues to this day. That’s what had been missing all along. I hadn’t been sure.(9)

I believe the reason I wasn’t sure was because God placed upon me the desire to do everything just right (i.e., I’m a perfectionist, at least to some degree) and this was one of those things that I wanted to do “just right.” This desire was fueled in part by Sheldon’s book, In His Steps, which I had read a few years earlier. This is the book that sparked the “What Would Jesus Do?” movement.

The examples in the New Testament of how people in the first century became Christians didn’t match with my life and I had a need to do what they did. I finally understood completely that this was a decision that I must make for myself, that I couldn’t rely on what my parents had done on my behalf; I couldn’t rely on my mother’s faith. I had to receive Jesus as my Lord and my Savior, and I had to allow Him to truly be both Lord and Savior.

My attitude toward worship services changed. I began to go to worship God, not because I felt obligated to go. The opportunity to attend Bible class as an adult was new to me and I learned much.

When I went to Germany in February 1987, I took my faith with me, but I wasn’t as faithful in attending worship services or classes as I had been at home. It wasn’t entirely due to my work responsibilities. I believe it was an opportunity for Satan to distract me. If I learned too much and became truly passionate about sharing my faith, I could pose a problem for Satan. So, keep me busy enough Monday through Saturday and I’d be too tired to want to worship God on Sunday and too busy to regularly read and study the Bible or pray effectively. Was this the work of Satan? Possibly. Actually, I had in many ways let my job be my god.

I left active duty in 1989 and moved to San Antonio to go back to graduate school. During this time, I periodically attended worship services, but was not studying the Bible, either personally or in a group. After graduation, I moved to New England for almost two years. Again, I let my work direct my life instead of God. I rarely attended worship services.

Then, in 1992, I returned to San Antonio. At first, I didn’t attend services often, but eventually started worshipping fairly regularly. However, I remained a visitor wherever I went. Work was still the driving force of my life. In the spring of 1998, I finally decided that I needed to stop visiting and find a church home.

I had purchased a mobile home lot in 1996, so I was no longer moving to a new apartment every few months when the rent went up. I had intended to visit several congregations close to home and then make my decision. However, I decided to check out Sunset Ridge that first Sunday. Why? After all, it was almost 22 miles away. There were several closer congregations, but I went to Sunset Ridge. I had been there once in 1986, during my Army Officer Basic Course at Fort Sam Houston. I hadn’t been there since. A friend of mine had mentioned a few months before that she and another friend had considered going to visit there but never did. That brought Sunset Ridge to my mind again and I decided to go. Was this the work of the Holy Spirit? I didn’t know that then, but I believe so now. After my first couple of visits, I decided that Sunset Ridge was to be my church home and I placed my membership there in April of 1998.

I faithfully attended Sunday morning worship services, but didn’t start attending Sunday morning Bible classes until about two years later. Why? I don’t really know. Perhaps it was Satan working to keep me from really committing myself to the work of the church and to my own spiritual growth. He does not, after all, have a problem with lukewarm Christians and would be perfectly happy with pews full of lukewarm Christians. In the spring or summer of 2000, I finally started attending Sunday morning classes. At some point I started attending Wednesday evening classes. Although I don’t recall precisely when that was, I think it was early in 2000.

Then in November 2001, I attended a Renovaré Conference in San Antonio, along with people from many other churches in the area. Several people from Sunset Ridge attended. After the conference, I was invited to join two other Sunset Ridge ladies in a Spiritual Formation group. We started meeting every week, initially working our way through the Spiritual Formation workbook. A couple of weeks after this group started, I was invited to join a small Bible study group.

As a result of my participation in these two groups, I have grown spiritually, observed God at work in amazing ways, and have come to know some wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ. I know it would have been better for me if I had done this kind of thing years ago, but I can’t go back in time. I can and do thank God that He put these beautiful people in my life when He did and that He instilled in me a desire to draw closer to Him and His people. Praise God from whom all blessings flow! These two groups and the entire congregation at Sunset Ridge have been a tremendous blessing to me.

There is much about God that I don’t know, but this I do know—He sent His Son, Jesus, to die for me and because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and my receiving Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I will spend eternity in the presence of Almighty God!(10) Because of this knowledge, I have an inner peace and joy that truly does surpass all human understanding.(11) I still have to deal with life’s annoyances, trials, and tribulations, but nothing—nothing—can destroy the peace and joy that I have through Jesus Christ and I won’t trade that for anything!(12)

(1)Romans 6:23 (ESV)
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 3:23 (ESV)
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

James 2:10 (NLT)
And the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as the person who has broken all of God’s laws.

(2)1 John 2:3-5 (NLT)
And how can we be sure that we belong to him? By obeying his commandments. [4] If someone says, “I belong to God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth. [5] But those who obey God’s word really do love him. That is the way to know whether or not we live in him.

1 John 5:13 (ESV)
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

Acts 2:37-41 (NLT)
Peter’s words convicted them deeply, and they said to him and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”
[38] Peter replied, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. [39] This promise is to you and to your children, and even to the Gentiles—all who have been called by the Lord our God.” [40] Then Peter continued preaching for a long time, strongly urging all his listeners, “Save yourselves from this generation that has gone astray!”
[41] Those who believed what Peter said were baptized and added to the church—about three thousand in all.

(3)Acts 17:30 (ESV)
The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

2 Peter 3:9 (NLT)
The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise to return, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to perish, so he is giving more time for everyone to repent.

(4)Romans 6:23b (ESV)
…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(5)Matthew 28:19-20 (ESV)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, [20] teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

(6)John 3:23 (KJV)
And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized.

Mark 1:9 (NLT)
One day Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee, and he was baptized by John in the Jordan River.

Acts 8:38 (NLT)
He ordered the carriage to stop, and they went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

Col. 2:12 (ESV)
having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Romans 6:3-4 (NLT)
Or have you forgotten that when we became Christians and were baptized to become one with Christ Jesus, we died with him? [4] For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

Acts 8:12 (ESV)
But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

Acts 18:8 (ESV)
Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.

Mark 16:16 (NLT)
Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned.

(7)baptizo: to immerse, submerge; to make whelmed (i.e. fully wet); used only (in the New Testament) of ceremonial ablution, especially (technically) of the ordinance of Christian baptism. (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance by James Strong, S.T.D., LL.D. 1890 Public Domain)

(8)Matthew 28:19 (ESV)
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 (NLT)
Peter replied, “Each of you must turn from your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

(9)1 John 2:3-5 (NLT)
And how can we be sure that we belong to him? By obeying his commandments. [4] If someone says, “I belong to God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth. [5] But those who obey God’s word really do love him. That is the way to know whether or not we live in him.

1 John 5:13 (ESV)
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.

(10)John 14:2 (NLT)
There are many rooms in my Father’s home, and I am going to prepare a place for you. If this were not so, I would tell you plainly.

Hebrews 11:16 (NLT)
But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a heavenly city for them.

Romans 6:23b (ESV)
… but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(11)Philip. 4:7 (ESV)
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 12:6-7 (ESV)
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. [7] Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Col. 3:15 (ESV)
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

John 14:27 (ESV)
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Romans 5:2 (NLT)
Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

Romans 5:11 (ESV)
More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

1 Peter 1:8-9 (ESV)
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, [9] obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Galatians 5:22 (ESV)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

Romans 4:6-8 (NLT)
King David spoke of this, describing the happiness of an undeserving sinner who is declared to be righteous:
[7] “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sins are put out of sight. [8] Yes, what joy for those whose sin is no longer counted against them by the Lord.”

John 17:13 (NLT)
“And now I am coming to you. I have told them many things while I was with them so they would be filled with my joy.

(12) John 16:33 (ESV)
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Matthew 5:12 (ESV)
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

John 16:22 (ESV)
So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

——
Copyright © 2003, Star Ferdinand. All Rights Reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

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