Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why I became a Christian

This is the transcript of a talk I gave shortly after I first became a Christian, in 2001, at the annual church camp of Darwin Baptist Church, which was my first church.

Before I share my testimony with you, I would like to first let you know that I was brought up in a Christian household, I attended church on Sundays and weekday bible studies. I even went on a short mission with YWAM to Indonesia when I was 17. Throughout all of my life, however, I was never certain of where I stood with God. I lacked any understanding of how my actions related to the concept of ‘sin’.
I would like to encourage anyone here who is not sure where they are at with God to listen very carefully to what I have to say.
When I became a teenager and young adult, I started ‘going out’ with guys. One thing led to another and at some stage I found that I had fallen into a sexual relationship with my current boyfriend. I won’t go into the reasons for my choice to have sex, but the results were pretty clear-cut. I knew that the Christian church teaches that sex outside of marriage is wrong. But I had started doing it and was keeping on doing it. My shaky relationship with God was totally devastated because I refused to give up my sinful ways. I did not want to play by God’s rules, so I gradually pushed God out of my life so I would not be reminded of what the rules were.
While I was in my first years of teaching I read a lot of feminist literature, and became convinced that ‘women are equal to men’ – I still agree with this, although I would now add ‘equal but different’. It was through feminist literature, modern women’s magazines etc that I became convinced that it was possible to get life ‘right’ if I just found the perfect self-help method for me.
So I started reading more and I also came across literature on topics such as Feng Shui and Chinese Astrology. I was looking for a book on Feng Shui one day when I came across the Good Luck cart at Casuarina Shopping Square and decided to buy myself a ‘lucky charm’: a necklace with a figurine of a naked woman (a goddess who would watch over me). Pretty soon I was reading all the books I could on Goddess religions (that is, neo-pagan religions based on worship of ancient mythological goddesses such as the Egyptian Isis and the Roman Athene).
You might think that this was a pretty far cry from my Christian upbringing – and you would be right. But each step along the way was only a small one. And at each step, the devil was constantly using plausible arguments to convince me to go one step further.
So I started worshipping a moon goddess, and I also started researching Wicca (so-called modern-day white witchery). Pagans do not recognise the existence of the devil and when Christians and others call them ‘devil-worshippers’ the standard response is that they don’t even believe he exists. But as I stand before you now, I want to refute this argument totally. The moon goddess that I prayed to, each of the gods and goddesses that pagans pray to, they are all just demons that answer to Satan, whether the pagans know it or not.
As we were driving down here yesterday I saw a car with a purple sticker saying “Magic Happens” and I want to assure you that it does. But the power behind the magic is not some benevolent mother earth deity. It is indeed the Devil, answering prayers to him, which are uttered in the form of spells and incantations.
I came to a position in my belief where I decided that it did not really matter to whom I prayed. I considered all gods and goddesses merely facets of the one unknowable deity. I also held the belief that as long as I was ‘good’, I was not guilty of sin. The only problem was, since I had long ago thrown away the book of rules, I was using my own rusty conscience to set new ones, and I wasn’t very good at it.
It was at this time that I met Jeffrey and we fell in love. I knew that he was a Christian and we had already had several pretty heated arguments about my pagan beliefs. Because I wanted to stay in our relationship, we came to a compromise: that I would support and encourage Jeff in his Christian beliefs and allow our children to be brought up Christian so long as they were also taught that other people believed differently. And soon we decided to get married.
That agreement that I made with Jeff was all God’s work. God took that tiny little compromise and ran with it! Under the agreement to encourage Jeff, I felt it was my duty to make him go to church – since he’d been in the army he hadn’t been much, even though his beliefs were obviously very important to him. And of course the easiest way to get Jeff to church was to go with him! Then I thought it would be a good idea for Jeff to do an Alpha course, and once again the best way to get him to go was to go with him myself. I have to say, I am not normally that pushy. But I kept thinking “This was really part of our agreement” and God kept saying to me “You should go to!” Looking back now, I take encouragement from God’s willingness to take the smallest move on my part and build it up until I was running straight into His arms.
I still had a lot of stuff to work through with God. It helped that at Alpha it was a person on a TV set talking to me, and I couldn’t shout and get angry at him like I would have in a similar discussion with Jeff. It also helped that I was shy enough to sit and not say much for the first few weeks – to listen to what was being said without feeling a burning desire to develop a counter-argument.
It was only the third week of Alpha when I was faced with answers to questions that go way back to my experience as a teenager, when I was never sure of where I stood with God and whether I was a ‘real Christian’. I would like to read you two passages from the New Testament that uncontrovertibly answered this question for me. From the gospel of John, chapter 1, verse 12 (NRSV):
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.
That “all” at the beginning of the verse is very important to me – I no longer am faced with the challenge of becoming the ‘perfect holy Christian’ because God is interested in adopting everybody!
From 1 John, chapter 5 verses 11-13 (NRSV):
And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you might know that you have eternal life.
Once again, it is one word that makes all the difference to me: “know”. Now, it does not matter if I feel saved, if I feel holy, if I feel like a ‘real Christian’. Because I know it is true. I don’t have to wonder if I am redeemed any more: I KNOW THAT I AM!
So (on Ash Wednesday, 2001) I prayed to God asking forgiveness for my many sins – certain that He would forgive and forget. Soon after that, the Alpha course challenged Jeff and I to get serious about our prayer life, and we began to pray together each day. I tell you, there is nothing like praying with a partner regularly to strengthen you in your own individual prayer and in your reliance on God’s abundant love. We were also challenged to read the bible, something that I now do pretty much every day – and something that I never did as a teenager. This has strengthened my knowledge of Jesus and my thankfulness for his death on the cross immensely.
God has gradually begun to show me where I am off his path. As I read the bible, I find I am continually challenged about my own actions and thoughts, and how God might respond to them. God is continually saying to me “Look, you really could be doing better in this area of your life, Sharon”. But along with that God is also saying to me “Don’t worry, I will help you do better. And don’t worry if you sin again – you know that Jesus died to redeem any mistakes and bad choices that you might yet make”.
I have started reading Christian books, and thrown out all my books on Paganism. And it has been an immense encouragement to me. The biggest encouragement is this one last passage from 2 Corinthians, chapter 5, verses 17-18 (NRSV):
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation.
This is why I stand before you now: I know I am finally reconciled to God, thanks only to Jesus’ death on the cross. I pray that you are or will soon be reconciled to God also.

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