where it all began....
I grew up in Fellowship Baptist church, my parents would take us each Sunday and also on Wednesday evenings as well. I remember also there were times in which we attended a Sunday evening service but I don't recall our family attending those services as regularly as morning and midweek services.
My father was not as faithful in his attendance as my mother was growing up, in fact my mother was really good at getting us to church each week, I remember her also spending a lot of her time serving at the church in the nursery and with children ministries. Sadly, my mother is an unbeliever, even though she was faithful in her attendance, she was far from Christ. My father to this day is also an unbeliever, I pray for them often and with much sorrow as the day draws nearer and nearer to eternity, I pray the Lord would save their souls.
Despite the fact that to this day they are unbelievers, at the time I was ignorant and unaware of what it really meant to be a Christian. What is a Christian? Well in my childhood and teens years, which also even carried in to my young adult life, I believed it was simply someone who believed in Jesus Christ (his death, burial and resurrection) and went to church. You might say... wait a minute isn't that a Christian? Well, yes and no.
Not that I want to confuse you, the gospel is simply by the grace of God through faith in Christ (His death, burial and resurrection). You may ask, then why say yes and no? The reason I say yes and no, is because while the gospel is a glorious message that Christ died to save sinners, a person can believe in their mind, yes sure I believe Jesus died for me but never having truly experience new birth in Jesus Christ. The bible says a man must be born again. My parents would have confessed that they believed in Jesus and even to this day they will profess they believe in Jesus, but the heartbreaking reality is they have never experienced new birth. When regeneration takes place in an individual God removes the heart of stone and gives them a heart of flesh, their desires change, the Spirit of God indwells them, the faith that they have is alive, and not a dead faith. A man can claim to have faith and to some degree or another everyone expresses the reality that we all have faith in something or someone. It is the object of ones faith that matters. So you can claim to have faith in Christ but in reality the Christ you claim to know is not God the Son. As Jesus said of the Pharisees and scribes in Matthew 15 verse 8 "These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men."
For more evidence of what I am referring to I want to point you to the parable of the sower in Matthew 13.
In verses 1-9 Jesus says, That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”
Christ explains the meaning of this parable to His disciples in verses 18-23, “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
Christ explains that while some hear the gospel (seed) only the good soil produces fruit, the others are simply unbelievers, two of which appeared to be believers for a time but proven otherwise when the faith they claimed to have in Christ is challenged.
Christ goes on to explain in verse 24-30 He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
Jesus explains this parable as well in verse 36-43, and while this parable is referring to the fact that in the world you will have the righteous living along side the unrighteous and this can also be applied within the local church, where you will have individuals who profess to know Christ and may display a sense of moral character but in reality be a false convert, one who is unrighteous along side the righteous (only those who are born again in Christ Jesus). The reality is that when the harvest comes the unrighteous will be gathered out of His kingdom and cast into the fiery furnace.
And this was the place in which I found myself, in the same state my parents where in, although again not realizing it at the time. I had asked Jesus into my heart more than once during youth in church and one time I can distinctly remember while at a youth camp. So when I got into my teenage years and was able to drive and get a job, I stopped attending. To be honest I don't really remember whether or not at that point my mother continued to go and take my siblings or not but as for me, I know I had stopped attending church. Not because I hated it or rejected the teachings but because I was at an age where I had more say in my life and it became filled with occupying my time with other things.
I ended up dating a girl and getting her pregnant around the age of 20, joined the army and got married, still believing myself to be a Christian but having never experienced new birth. After some years I ended up getting divorced and went over seas, still in the army I returned home to a new duty station in the states and got married for the second time, still not a believer even though I still would have said I was if you asked me.
It was during my second marriage, after I had come home from the serving in the Army, I had spent my last year deployed to Iraq, after we came home my time was up and I left the Army. I went a few times to church in the area because they had men's basketball every Sunday evening at the church, but to play you had to attend the church at least once a month, so I wasn't very consisted but wanted to play basketball, they also had a youth basketball program that I enrolled my only daughter (at the time) in. But that fizzled out and nothing in my heart every changed, but again, if you would have asked me, I would have said of course I am a Christian.
Time went on and I had a good paying job and bought my first home, things seemed to be going great. Yet, something was just not right, I began to have no peace in my life, I wasn't going to church anywhere, wasn't listening to any preachers, had not had any conversations with anyone at that point in my life that I could recall, but I had no peace. So much so that one night I couldn't sleep, nothing I could do to find rest, I ended up on the floor at 3 o'clock in the morning weeping and praying to God, and it was at that point that I began recognizing that I had sinned against God, and I cried out to God to save me. And He did!!!
From that point in my life things changed, I told my wife at the time, that we were going to go to church that weekend, I had no idea where to go, I had know idea about theology, I knew Christ died for me and I knew all the things I was taught as a young child and into my teenage years, so the only place I could know for certain that we could go was Fellowship Baptist church, where I grew up.
Many of the people that where there from when I was a child were still there and they welcomed us with love and I don't know why but I felt like I was home, like I was where I needed to be. And it wasn't long before I went forward to become a member of the church.
Even my wife at the time made a profession of faith, and became a member of the church. I began to serve there over the next five years or so, as an usher, a bus driver, the treasurer, teaching the children in our bible clubs and before I left teaching the teenagers. I was happy to be there and willing to serve. And I loved those saints dearly, my pastor at the time was pastor Jack Ison, and to this day I credit him with so much, he always had time for me, I think it sort of spoiled me in a sense because many times when I was off work I would just stop in at the church and he would invite me in to his office and we would talk for hours. I love him dearly and was sad to see him leave, he retired at the age of 70.
Now let me back up a bit, during my time there it was almost immediately as a new believer that I began to evangelize everyone around me, mainly my family got the most of it. Realizing that I had grown up my whole life believing to be a Christian and now having experienced being born again, my eyes were open. I knew I was a false convert and so was my family, who at this point wasn't attending church, or if they did it was hit and miss. I began to share the gospel with them so much and attempt to point out to them that they were false converts, sadly, I learned later that I had a lot of zeal without knowledge and while I was telling them the truth, and the reality is the gospel offends and truth hurts, there were many times where I was the offense, in my zeal for them to know the truth I acted at times like a jerk!
I desperately wanted them to know Christ and the joy and peace that was found in Him that I shared the truth without love. If this is you today, learn from my mistake!
Also during that time shortly after becoming a new believer in Christ, naturally my desires changed, I wanted to listen to things which were uplifting, and so I started listening to music on the family friendly radio station, not a fan today and very rarely if ever turn it on that station today, but back then I was listening to it for months, but I wanted to learn more and since my mp3 player could get the radio, I started listening to Moody Radio.
Everyday I would go to work, put and ear piece in and listen to the preachers on Moody, Chip Ingram back then was my favorite, so much so that I began to buy his sermon series every couple of days just to listen to them, I spent lots of money of those sermon series over the course of a year but I wanted to learn and I just kept consuming more and more, as well as finding other messages from others on One Place that were free downloads but were short radio versions of the preachers sermons that I would listen to.
One night while coming home from Wednesday night prayer meeting and Bible Clubs, I heard John MacArthur on the radio. That changed everything, haha! I had never heard anyone of the other preachers I had heard preach, preach with that kind of authority and it drew me in.
Also it was a plus, when I found out he had a website that allowed you to download all his sermon series from his entire ministry and the best part for me was they were all free.
I also picked up my first iPod and learned you could listen to things on double speed a bit later which allowed me to listen to just about if not all of the sermon series that was on GTY.
This was the beginning of me becoming Reformed. I have since heard many others credit MacArthur for them coming into Reformed Theology even though MacArthur isn't Reformed. He holds to a Calvinistic view of soteriology but a Dispensational view in his Theology.
Regardless, I had been listening day in and day out to sermons everyday for years, carrying mail, gave me six to seven hours a day of walking and that meant six to seven hours a day of sermons and like I said when I learned about the double speed on the iPod, I haven't turned it off since, unless of course my wife now (who is my third wife, more on that to come in part two) is with me because she has a hard time with it, so for her I slow it down if I am in the car listening and she is with me, but for me, well I couldn't get enough.
Not only was I able to take in so many sermons a day, but I also was able to listen to the Bible, I purchased a KJV audio bible at first and an ESV audio bible later and have been able to listen through the entire bible two or three times a year. Another great resource I came across during this time was the RTS courses online, where I was able to download and listen to Seminary courses from Reformed Theological Seminary for free. I wasn't going to get a degree from it but I sure was able to gain much knowledge from all the teaching that was available.
Going back to when my pastor retired....
Pastor Orlando Collazo became the new pastor of Fellowship Baptist church. He had been there just a short time and one day when I was in the office printing out worksheets for the teen class I was teaching, he walked by and we were talking and he said, I am looking forward to getting to serve with you brother, and I guess it was the look on my face but he recognized it and ask, and I told him that I had come to Reformed theology a while back and was planning on leaving to find a Reformed church after we was able to get another pastor in, we talked about it for a little while, I also still had the rest of the classes I was teaching for the teens and wasn't going to up and leave, I wanted there to be a little transitioning time for the new pastor coming in.
I did end up leaving and parting ways with the saints at Fellowship Baptist church on good terms and at times would return to visit. Even to this day I am appreciative of the saints I have served alongside, those who played a huge role in teaching me when I was a child, even though I wasn't saved until the age of thirty-two, I truly believe God used those people in my life to plant those seeds that one day He would bring fruit from.
From the time I spent with Mr. Hammond who loved visitations and telling people about Christ. Along with Bills wife Irene who was such a joy to talk to and blessing as well. Loved hearing her stories of coming here from Germany.
The faithfulness of Elaine who always had a smile and taught the adult Sunday school class (of course today I would be against a woman teaching men) but she was such a joy.
And Ms. Nancy who loved the Lord and dedicated her life to serve the Lord more than anyone I know, even to this day, her love for children and desire to see them come to know the Lord, my respect for her grown tremendously the more I got to know her as an adult and work alongside her and the many others during the Bible Clubs for the children.
The Williams family, the Satterfield's, and many more dear saints.
Those were good times, joyful memories with faithful servants.