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Philippians 1:9-11 -- My Personal Testimony

From about the age of 5, I became involved in a Baptist church in South Florida.  At the age of eight, during a revival, I placed my faith in Jesus Christ as my personal Savior.  From childhood and even through high school, my life and primary friendships revolved around the church and its activities.  Looking back today, I have many wonderful memories growing up in that church, and I'm still able to show someone the "Roman Road" the pastor drilled into me as a young teen.  However, though not aware of it at the time, there were a few legalistic viewpoints perpetuated toward some issues, and I didn't realize their negative affects on me until my young adult years. I had a very close relationship with my pastor as a young girl and teen, and I accepted a lot of the “thou shall nots” without question. That's not to say that I bought into them entirely, but I was a "people pleaser" and went along with anything the pastor and church supported. When asked by school classmates why I didn’t participate in activities such as dancing, I remember not being very convincing with my explanations. Baptists were (and still are) generally known for not partaking in certain vices, so I tended to use my Baptist affiliation as the reason I didn’t participate, rather than out of personal conviction.

Within a year after graduating from high school, I began working in a full-time position for one of Florida’s largest employers. There, I was suddenly confronted with temptations and morality issues, or those “thou shalt not” issues, which I hadn’t had to deal with on my own before. Of course I had been taught that I shouldn’t give in to these temptations; but as I evaluated the reasons of why I should or should not give into them, it dawned on me that all the convictions I was supposed to have really weren’t mine. They were my pastor’s and my Sunday school teachers’, but they weren’t mine. After all those years of church attendance, Sunday school, revivals, VBS, Bible clubs and camps, I had to face the realization that all those teachings had never been internalized. They had never really become a part of me. Therefore, since I felt no ownership of these convictions, I set them all aside and decided to do whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it.

As I began living that way, I truly felt I had achieved what I had always been taught couldn’t be done, and that’s living on the fence, or keeping one foot in both worlds. Ironically enough, while I knew my lifestyle was not pleasing to the Lord, I continued to be relatively faithful in my church attendance. “Yes,” I thought, “it is possible to live two different lifestyles simultaneously.” Well, God allowed me to continue believing that lie for a couple of years, but eventually the Holy Spirit began penetrating my stubborn heart and convicting me. He began to show me that my lifestyle wasn’t bringing me peace or happiness, only emptiness.

Once God brought me to that realization, I knew He expected changes; but in all honesty, I wasn’t ready to make them. So, my initial prayer was “God, you’ll need to give me the desire to change, because I really don’t want to.”  I think I was really just overwhelmed with the effort that would take.  The Holy Spirit started working in my life, but the changes were gradual. Even when I got to the point of wanting to change, and even recommitted my life to the Lord, the process was slow, and I failed miserably at times. God, fortunately, was patient with me, and I am so grateful for his forgiveness and unconditional love. Since I accepted Christ at a young age, I didn’t really experience, or understand God’s grace until this point in my life. If you haven’t learned it yet for yourself, His grace truly is amazing.

My lifestyle mistakes and poor judgments during my young adulthood resulted in a strong interest to work with teenagers, so I got involved with the youth program within my home church. I had a tremendous desire to help teens make better decisions than I had made, and perhaps I could prevent some from making similar blunders.

During this period of time, Jack Wyrtzen of Word of Life Fellowship, Inc., out of Schroon Lake, NY, (founder and co-director of Word of Life at the time), and the Word of Life singers held a youth rally at my church. I was extremely impressed with not only the singing, but the enthusiasm of the group. They described their summer and winter youth camps in Schroon Lake, New York and their one-year Bible Institute program. Within a few months of their visit, my church implemented Word of Life’s Bible Club program in which I volunteered as a worker. The following fall, a mother asked me if I would be willing to escort her two teenagers to Word of Life’s winter snow camp, held between Christmas and New Year’s. She and her husband were willing to pay my way if I was willing to chaperon them. I jumped at the opportunity, though it meant traveling on a Greyhound bus from Miami, Florida to Schroon Lake, New York. The transportation was not first-rate travel, but my experiences certainly were.

I was extremely impressed with Word of Life’s camping program and the enthusiasm of the leadership. The words “Christian” and “fun” could actually be used in the same sentence! I also had an opportunity to learn more about the Bible Institute and to talk with many of the students. Needless to say, I became very interested in Word of Life and knew it was definitely a ministry and place to which I wanted to return.

A few months later, I became quite involved in planning the retirement party for one of my department’s employees. After his retirement was all said and done, and he got the traditional company watch, I started taking stock of my own life and its value. At that point, I had been with the corporation for about seven years. Though I had made it into the management ranks within the first year of my employment, I was basically a social security number to the company. If I gave another 30 to 40 years to this company, was my final reward to be a watch?

It was then that I began to desire doing something with my life that was of more eternal value, and the idea of attending Word of Life Bible Institute began to move from the back of my mind to the front. I reasoned that if I really wanted to do something for God, I would need to have some Bible training. I also thought what better place to pursue my call of working with teenagers than with an organization that was founded for that very purpose? In early September, and at the age of 26, I left a career, packed my car and headed to Schroon Lake, New York for a year that would change my life.

My primary goal and desire for that year of attending the Word of Life Bible Institute was to discover a biblical foundation on which to build convictions. Remember, it was just a few years before that I discovered that I didn’t have any. And, to be honest, I wasn’t content to use all the standard verses that I heard growing up. Depending on the problem or sin, it seemed that many Christians I knew could pull a verse out of their hat for any given situation or temptation, regardless of whether it was in the proper context or even applicable. It’s what I call the Heinz 57 varieties of Christianity. I didn’t want that for myself. I wanted something fresh. I wanted something personal, so I began asking the Lord to give me a verse, or set of verses, on which I could base my convictions.

One of the unique aspects of Word of Life Bible Institute is the opportunity to be taught by prominent Christian leaders and theologians. When I attended in 1976-77, the institute had two full-time professors, one who taught Bible Survey and the other Theology. However, almost weekly, an outside speaker was brought in to lead us in an in-depth study of a book or topic of the Bible. During the second quarter of the school year, Dr. Joseph Stowell, former president of Moody Bible Institute, came to Word of Life to teach the book of Philippians. The day he reviewed verses 9-11 of the first chapter, I don’t think my feet touched the ground all the way back to the dorm. I was not only elated, but totally overwhelmed. God had answered my prayers. With absolutely no doubt, I had my verses on which to base my convictions and decision making.

In Part 2, I share with you what I remember about that class, what I have gained from further personal Bible study, and why those verses are so meaningful to me.

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