I was lost in darkness and I didn’t even know it. There was no hope. No way of escape. I was shackled by the chains of sin and bound by the yoke of death. But did I cry out for deliverance? No…for I was born and raised as a slave. I knew not freedom. I was a typical teenage Canadian, living life as my peers did but I did not realize I was a slave to my own sin.
I was raised in a typical Catholic household. Though we did not actively practice the religion, we held onto the tradition passed through our ancestry. Just because one was part of a church doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is a follower of Christ. Many people are cultural Christians, but not authentic Christians. That is the testimony of most of the church world today. Surely it was my testimony.
Without knowing the difference, my professed affiliation was Catholic. I may have honored the Lord with my lips and actions through the sacraments, but my heart was far away from God. Even though I performed religious practices according to the tradition I was brought up with, I did not intimately know the Lord. Any reality of God’s love was absent from my life. Yes, the priests and teachers constantly preached the love of God but it was simply head knowledge. How do you really know God loves you? How can that cliché be confirmed?
As a young child, you did not question your parents or the church. You obey what you were told because they knew better. I was obedient to their words and I followed their example of what Christianity apparently was. As far as I could remember, I always had a deep sense of respect for God. Even though I did not know him personally at the time, I dared not speak against Him. Blaspheming the Lord never entered my mind.
I recall the preparation of first communion. My 2nd grade teacher would spend a great deal of time preparing us for the sacrament of communion. She would show us how to walk toward the priest, how to place our hands in receiving communion, what to wear and say and the like. I did not know the meaning of this tradition, but out of obedience to my family and teacher, I conformed. I performed these rituals because everyone forced me to do it.
Then the sacrament of confirmation came upon me in the 8th grade. I was aware of morality and the reality of the Lord. I was at an age where I could make a decision to retract confirmation. Even though I professed that I was being obedient to God by performing this ritual, I was lead to follow though because of my fear of man. What would everyone say if I didn’t do this? What would my family and friends think? Everyone in my graduating class is going through with it, why not me?
If one asked me, “Rex, why are you taking the sacrament of confirmation?”
I would have responded very religiously. “I’m doing this for God. Why else?”
But it was a lie. I was lead by the bondage of fear and I did not know it.
Confirmation was nothing more than a façade, a tradition I went through to please everyone around me. We celebrated that night but the reality of God was still far from me. It is a great deception to believe that you are close to God by doing things that may please Him. Is God so shallow that He requires rituals and good works to please Him? Is this an employer-employee relationship?
That ‘spiritual event’ didn’t last too long in my daily living. After the night of confirmation, I returned to my ways. It was simply a list of things I had to do before moving on to high school. I graduated and continued on without any sort of change toward God in my heart.
It was during summer vacation when God planted the seed of eternity in my heart. I returned to my native homeland and met my ailing grandmother. It was a revelation to see the affliction of my country and grandmother.
I wrote a poem in memory of the poverty in Vietnam.
With broken eyes,
She looks in the mirror
Sadness is her reflection
Death and despair are her rays
As she views herself
With broken eyes...
I remember her. A mother with her children, begging for money when I was in Vietnam. Mother couldn't support her children; so all three of them went scavaging. Then she came to me. With a forced smile, she politely asked me for some change in my native language. I looked deeply into her eyes and noticed that one of them looked different. It was as if it were 'cut'. Many slashes marked the eye. I responded and said that I had no money. She smiled again and went to speak to someone else. I could see in the midst of the crowd, two little children, one boy, one girl following her mom.
This is one of many things I experienced took my trip to Vietnam. Little did I realize how God would use these events to draw me to Himself. My grandmother died when I was 15 years old. I never got to know her intimately because of the distance. She resided in Vietnam while I was in Canada. I went back to my native land one time, solely for the purpose of meeting her. She was a devout Catholic. My mother would tell me stories of her faithfulness to the church, but she was unable to attend due to her physical condition. The priest would come over the house every week to perform the sacraments for her. Her illness got worse. It was obvious that death was near. She died a few months after my visit. It was particularly difficult on my mother. She would cry days on end. Finances were sent to cover the expenses, but we didn't have enough to send my mother back to Vietnam to attend the funeral. Surely, someone as dedicated as her would make it to heaven...right?
I was lying in my bed one night thinking where my grandmother went. Heaven? Hell? Purgatory? It was in that moment in time...I finally spoke with God. I cast aside all the ritualistic prayers I was taught growing up to speak to the God of heaven from my heart. In all honesty, it was truly the first time I ever spoke to Him. Speaking to Him as you would anyone else.
"God, I've failed many tests in this life, but the test I don't want to fail is the test to get to heaven..."
I wasn't a Christian when I spoke to God that night. I didn't know anything about being born again, or having my soul regenerated from sin. I was ignorant concerning the things of God. All I knew was that there was a God and He was listening. He heard my prayer that night.
I continued my education through a Catholic high school. It wasn’t until my final year that I realized the joy of God. My previous years as a student brought no new insights of God. I would continue to go through the motions of religion during the seasons of Christmas and Easter, but once again, I was oblivious to God.
It was at the culmination of my final year that God finally spoke to me through a Christian. His name is James. James and I developed a good relationship through our school related work. We would assist each other in projects coincidently in a religion class. He was but a young Christian when he began to speak to me about Jesus. We were in the library during lunch break when he first declared the truth of Jesus to me. I specifically recall what I told him after he finished speaking.
“James, I know Jesus died on the cross for my sin and that He loves me. But I’m not going to Him because I don’t deserve His forgiveness.”
In the eyes of the world, I was considered a good person. I did not get involved in drugs, crime, or anything that would be considered wrong. But in my heart of hearts, I knew I was a sinner. I knew I wasn’t perfect and that I fell extremely short of God’s standard. There was no way on this side of eternity that I could fully keep His law. Again, it was the good works mentality that plagued my mind. James was taken back at my response.
We continued to spend time with one another during summer vacation. It was the beginning of July when he finally invited me to church.
“Rex, do you want to come to church with me tonight?” he asked.
“Sure, why not?” I replied.
It was my first visit to a Christian church. The difference between the Catholic and Christian church was vast. I was not used to this environment. The first thing that struck me was the unusual friendliness of the people. They all seemed joyous and happy but I could not understand it. Song service started and I recall laughing at one of the songs they sang:
“I am somebody
Because God loves me
And I am accepted
Just the way that I am
His love is higher
It’s deeper and it’s wider
Then you and I will
This song rebuked my thoughts about myself. I really thought I was a nobody. I felt that God wouldn’t accept me because I was I’ve done things against His word. I didn’t believe that God would accept me the way I am. I thought I had to fix myself up before coming before Him. Like the prophet Samuel, I heard the voice of God but I could not discern that He was speaking to me through this song.
I recall the message Pastor preached that Wednesday night. It was a sermon regarding godliness and holiness. This was a message filled with insight that I’ve never considered before. I was so used to the ritualistic services of the Catholic church that this sermon surprised me. Again, God was speaking to my heart but I could not discern.
Finally, at the conclusion of the service, an altar call was given. God set this all up to finally confront me of my sin and my need for Him. Never in my life did I feel such remorse and conviction for the sins I’ve committed against Him. I knew I was a sinner in my mind, but the reality of sin finally reached into my heart. I was a sinner in my heart. I was wicked before God! The world tells me I’m a good person, but the Lord showed me otherwise.
“There is none that is righteous, no, not one…”
I pushed off the conviction of my sin. I pushed off the cross of Jesus. I didn’t respond to God right away. I didn’t receive Jesus as Lord and Savior.
As we were driving home, James asked me how I liked the service. I told him it was unique from what I was used to. Then I asked him a question that took him by surprise. I didn’t know this until he told me a few months after my salvation.
“So James, are you going back to church next Wednesday?”
“Do you think you could pick me up?”
I didn’t know it, but the seed of the grace of God was beginning to flourish in my heart. Though I pushed off the conviction of God that night, He was very patient with me. After planting seeds in my heart throughout my entire life, God’s divine plan was about to come to fruition.
I returned the following week and God once again challenged me to repent from my sin. I wrestled with the Lord for over a month concerning Him. I knew in my heart of hearts that although I knew about God, I did not know Him personally. The things that really matter in life are relationships…family, spouse, friendships…how much more so the living God? God was finally challenging me to push off the superficial religion of works and come to Him.
James invited me to a monthly Christian concert at the church on a Saturday night. It was filled with various types of music and drama about Jesus.
Then a young lady sang a song that pierced my heart. It was called “Foolish Games.” The song was originally written by Jewel but they changed the lyrics to speak of the foolish games we play with God. I also liked Jewel’s music at the time.
“These foolish games are breaking God’s heart…”
She never sang that song after my salvation. God spoke to me and told me that song was specifically for me many months later. At the end of the night, my brother Carlos gave the alter call. The Lord pressed upon me yet again. For the past month I’ve neglected the tugging of God’s Spirit on my heart. This night was going to be different. I raised my hand, signifying that I wanted to know God and be forgiven. I meant it in my heart. I prayed the prayer of salvation that night.
God saved me on July 27th 2001.
It wasn’t the suave words of a preacher, or the emotionalism of the sermons or music. No, it was God Himself who personally came to me. Jesus came to me. Though I was yet a sinner, Jesus died for me. I’ve ignored God my whole life, thinking I was right with Him because I performed religious activities. But my righteousness were like filthy rags. He didn’t want my works, He wanted my heart. As a young man pursues to win the heart of a young woman, so it was God pursued me.
The Lord God raised up a deliverer to set the children of Israel free from bondage. He used the life of Moses to declare the freedom of Israel to the glory of the Lord. The Lord remembered His covenant with Abraham, that in him “all the nations of the world will be blessed.” And surely it has come to pass with the fulfillment of prophecy in Jesus the Messiah. God has orchestrated salvation to the Jew and Gentile alike through the cross. For in Jesus, we are new a creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things become new.
You can laugh at Christianity, you can mock and ridicule it. But it is faith built on historical, archaeological facts. God has given us enough evidence to come to Him. Jesus the Messiah changes lives. He cannot be forced upon a person. All I can tell you is what I’ve seen and learned in God. The choice is up to you.
I’ll conclude with C.S. Lewis’ statement:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept His claim to be God.' That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
If you want to receive the Lord Jesus in your heart, pray a simple prayer like this. It can be in your own words from your heart:
“Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. Forgive me and cleanse me. This moment I trust You as Lord and Savior. Make me the person You created me to be. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
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