Last Sunday, Garth Young began telling his story about being a member of the Oregon City Followers of Christ Church. Today, Garth continues his story of seeking biblical answers. Please come back Sunday to read the rest of the story.
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There were problems but problems are a part of life. From today’s perspective, I know the problems of life come from living in a fallen world. We are all born with a tendency to be self-centered which is sin and contrary to being Holy. The problem with sin is it stains. Afterward we decide to do better and move on, but the stain is still there and our record of wrong doings cannot be erased. The only thing the natural man can do is cover it up.
I remember one time as a teenager, a friend told me he was speeding down the highway and a police car pulled him over, my friend jumped out of his truck threw open his hood and exclaimed the gas pedal was stuck and the truck would not stop, of course there was nothing wrong with his truck but he was so convincing that the officer let him go. My friend justified his actions by saying his dad told him to do whatever you can to get out of a speeding ticket. On the other hand there are some people that would never tell a lie – or at least not a big lie like that – because good people have standards to meet. Good people come to the erroneous conclusion that doing what is right will make them righteous people; these are the same people who are thankful they are not like the sinners, like the Pharisee praying at the temple (Luke 18:10-13). Being good and doing the right thing in an attempt to become righteous is just another way of covering up sin, but the stain is still there. I thought that I was better than my friend who lied to get out of a ticket, because I lived by a different standard when it came to telling the truth. The problem is I had lied in the past, and that made me a liar.
Serious questioning about the destination of my soul became very burdensome by the time I was thirty. I read that the greatest commandment is - And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. (Mark 12:30) This was a problem because the love I was supposed to give God had been given to other things. I’ve come to realize now that loving anything more than God is not small - it is a crime against God and he will not sweep it under the rug. The biggest fear for a sinner like me was that accounts will be settled.
It’s hard to recall a more difficult time in my life than this. Discontented best describes my overall state of mind. Every time I tried to succeed in an area of my own personal righteousness, I would fail in another area, it seemed I could do nothing right. Going to church wasn’t helping me; I felt like a foreigner who didn’t speak the language, there were no answers. I was isolated in my thoughts and wanted out of the confines of this torment that seemed hidden from everyone’s perception of reality.
My dad died when I was 10 and my mother died when I was 21. Chances were, physically speaking, that I would not live much longer. Listening to people outside of our group for answers was not easy but it seemed a reasonable alternative. If you would have asked me what I was doing at the time there is no way I could have articulated it as clearly as I can now. There was definitely a fear of the unknown because I had been told my whole life that people outside of our church were worldly, and there was for sure a fear of being alienated from everyone I had known all my life. Often I listened to Christian radio programs and sometimes would call in to ask questions. There were at least five different Christian speakers that I listened to regularly from all around the country, they all had different styles and techniques of communicating but what they all had in common is the gospel.
What happened next was nothing short of a miracle, I understood what the bible said. Before this, the truth of the gospel was foreign and unseen, everything that was important to me was only about me and was incompatible with the holiness of God; I didn't see how great He is. Everything I had stood for was wrong. I said I believed in God and no doubt he was real but it wasn't a belief that pleases the Lord, it wasn’t a belief that propelled me into worshiping God, and neither did I see Jesus as glorious and loving. There had been a complete focus on my righteousness. This new understanding of who I was and who Jesus was broadcasted in my heart and mind that I was catastrophically stained, unable to pay my debt, and without hope. But Jesus is the great and mighty Savior, as we often praised His name in the following classic hymn:
Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law's commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.
Rock of Ages by Augustus M. Toplady
The words “thou must save, and thou alone” had come out of my mouth hundreds of times in the last thirty years.
Toplady wrote such profound biblical truth that he has blessed the church for centuries – even though he himself had none of the essential qualities my group considered necessary. From 1740-1778 Augustus M. Toplady lived his brief life in England, attended Westminster School, London and Trinity College, Dublin. He preached God’s word without any recording of being called through prophecy, tongues or dreams and was never a member of the Followers of Christ Church and yet had a profoundly accurate theological understanding of God’s word. How is that possible? But perhaps the bigger question is how could I have mouthed those words so many times and not really understood what I was saying? The answer is that I was blind, I was dead, and I was an enemy of God. And there was nothing I could do to cure myself because only God can give life to the dead.
Having my dead eyes opened to see biblical truth, I was about to enter into becoming a disciple for the first time.