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Guilty

User Submission: Forgiving the Guilty

The following is a submission from a user like you. Emily shared her incredible story so that it might touch the hearts and lives of our readers. If you would like to share your own story, you can do so here

For as long as I can remember I have always found healing in writing. It’s how I process emotions and a whirlwind of overwhelming situations – situations that seems to weigh so heavy on one’s heart that it shakes their faith to the core.

Because I had many stories with situations like that to share, I began writing my book last September. I had been brainstorming for three years before I actually sat down to write it. More than anything, I wanted to be as honest and as open as I possibly could. It truly was a healing process for me as I reached back into the recesses of my mind to share very personal stories about my life – stories that would glorify my King, Jesus, and point others straight to Him and the miraculous transforming power of salvation, healing, and deliverance.

Although I openly discuss many things that the Lord helped me overcome, mostly sexual sin and rebellion, there is a particular occurrence that strengthened my faith more than anything I could have ever imagined. I find myself needing to talk about it today, knowing deep down in my soul that no matter how dark, tragic, or extremely sad it may be, Jesus has turned beauty from these ashes and will receive glory from it because what the devil meant for evil, the Lord has and will continue to turn around for good!

Last week, I found out that the man who murdered my father five and a half years ago was given a guilty sentence. He will serve up to 45 years in prison as a punishment for his actions.  And while most people are shouting: “That man should burn in hell!” I am preaching, “You MUST forgive!”  because I know the severity of holding onto the wrongs that others have done to us. My friends, it is simply not worth it.

“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14 (NIV)

Although I made a CHOICE to forgive the man who took my dad’s life right after it happened, I wrestled with so many emotions and thoughts after reading the articles describing the horrendous acts of murder that turned my world upside down in November of 2008. Seeing the photo of this man, as he was escorted by two police officers out of the courtroom, his stone cold eyes looking straight back at me, made my stomach churn. My heart was pierced and so many different emotions rose up in me.

Avoiding traumatic thoughts and emotions was the main reason I chose not to follow the murder case as the years went on. Immediately, I chose to forgive and move on with both my life with Christ and my now husband. I did not want to live in the trauma. It wasn’t that I didn’t love or miss my dad terribly.  It was because dwelling on all of this wicked and demonically influenced tragedy would never bring my dad back.  I knew that justice belonged ONLY in the hands of the Lord.  Most of all, I longed for that man to repent of what he did and find a life-changing relationship with my Jesus like I had found. I still pray for that to this day.

I can’t say that I have found the strength to pray a prayer like this from soley within myself. My strength does come from within though, but it is the power and might of the Holy Spirit who has given it to me. My life verse from the Bible will forever hold true, and I will never stop standing upon the promise of Philippians 4:13: “I can do ALL THINGS through CHRIST who strengthens me.” I’m so thankful for that promise.

Jesus will never abandon me. Although, my earthly father is gone, I have a Heavenly Father who loves me more than anyone could. I cling to Him when the storms of life try to overtake me, for He is my anchor of hope. I cling to and stand upon His Word that is full of promises – promises of His love, mercy, and grace, for He is my Rock and firm foundation. I cling to my Jesus and the voice of His Holy Spirit, for He is the One who gives me strength and courage to endure every trial I could ever face. No matter how dark life may get, know that when you trust in Jesus, and you hide your life in Him, you have a Light within you that shines so brightly it will overtake all of the darkness.

Die To Yourself

What Does It Mean To Die To Yourself?

“And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.’” – Luke 9:23

What does it mean to die to yourself? There is something startlingly subjective about this edict Jesus gives to His disciples upon their final realization that He is the Messiah.  While it’s more common for Jesus to speak in universal terms regarding belief and behavior, the above verse speaks directly to the individual would-be-follower.  Jesus is saying to each individual subject, “If you want to follow Me, then you must take up your cross and follow.”  This leads me to believe that while the principles for following Jesus are mostly universal to all and commonly applicable, the ways each of us will have to daily pick up our individual crosses and follow will differ person to person and situation to situation.

There is no one way to pick up your cross, and when Paul tells the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all men so that by all means I might save some” the practicality of what it means to deny yourself daily becomes clearer.

While I could provide what I think Jesus meant by calling His disciples to deny themselves daily and what Paul meant by attesting to his willingness to accommodate anyone for the cause of the gospel, in actuality I can only provide a testimony of what this has meant for me. When I hear my Jesus telling me to pick up my cross daily, only I can know what that cross is.  My hope, in sharing what I deny myself in order to follow Jesus, is that it would be an encouragement for you to explore your cross and the ways He is calling you to do the same.

For me, in my life, I must die to my desire to be right all of the time.  I have seen in my behavior, and in my ministry experience, a fatal unwillingness to be wrong, whether within Christian contexts or outside of them.  As Christians I think we feel a certain sense of intellectual superiority because of our access to Jesus who Himself claimed to be the embodiment of Truth itself (John 14:6), however our relationship to Jesus (who is Truth) does not guarantee our absolute rightness; in fact, that relationship more calls our wisdom foolishness and our intellect inferior (1 Corinthians 1:27).  God is omniscient (all knowing) and I am not.  To deny myself the need to be right has meant for me a level of compassion and understanding for people from all walks of life for whom God has called me to be all things in order that they might possibly be saved by Him.

What is your cross?  What is Jesus calling you to deny daily in order to follow Him more closely?  Please share your testimony below in order that we all might benefit from our shared openness about the radically different way Jesus has called us to be His disciples in this world.

Jesus

A Love Affair With Jesus

As Christians, I believe we need a new love affair with Jesus. Often times, the longer we have been labeled as a Christian, perhaps maybe even like those of us who have been married a long time, the more our extraordinary love becomes comfortable. In fact, just look at a young person falling in love, they constantly are posting about their significant other in status updates online and not a day goes by where that person isn’t mentioned, thought about, or discussed with others. Why? Because love is contagious and love is all consuming. However, our love relationship with God might be lacking this all-important fervor. Sure, we sing about it in Church and deep down we know it to be true, but we fail to allow the power of our words, our unique story, to reach others.

Recall with me for a moment, when was the last time you told someone about Christ? Perhaps it was yesterday at the grocery store or a month ago at the gym…or maybe it’s been much much longer. Now, notice, I didn’t ask when was the last time someone received Christ, I simply asked about a conversation between you and another person where Christ was introduced as the object of your affection.

Our testimony (words, experiences, stories) are the gateway to the power that we possess in Christ. No one can argue with what God has done for you. People can question theology and who God is on a surface level, but when you share something personal, it can take root in their heart and leave them tasting a bit of the character of God. Revelation 12:11 says,

“They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…”

The enemy doesn’t want this truth to be recognized because people can fall in love with Jesus and the enemy can be defeated by these two things:

1. The power of the revelation of Jesus death’ and their need for salvation through it.

2. The power of your story.

In Acts 22, Paul, the Father of ‘How to Share Your Testimony,’ gives us a great example that we can use when speaking with others. Here’s a little background information: Paul was taken into custody by Roman soldiers because many people were upset that he was sharing his faith with the Gentiles (Gentiles were people that the Jews did not believe could receive the one true God). Yet, as a Roman citizen, Paul, by the grace of God, is able to secure permission from the commander to address the people. As Paul motions to the crowd, a hush falls, and he begins speaking to them in the holy language, that is, Hebrew. Paul has the awesome moment to take the stage and share his love affair with Jesus. The very thing the apostle Paul has been longing for, is being granted. He gets the opportunity to share his testimony in the very heart of Jerusalem.  He could have used many ‘strategies’ to ‘win people over,’ but he used his story because he knew the power of a testimony.

Let’s listen to Paul amazing speech:

“My dear brothers and fathers, listen carefully to what I have to say before you jump to conclusions about me.” When they heard him speaking Hebrew, they grew even quieter. No one wanted to miss a word of this.  He continued, “I am a good Jew, born in Tarsus in the province of Cilicia, but educated here in Jerusalem under the exacting eye of Rabbi Gamaliel, thoroughly instructed in our religious traditions. And I’ve always been passionately on God’s side, just as you are right now.I went after anyone connected with this ‘Way,’ went at them hammer and tongs, ready to kill for God. I rounded up men and women right and left and had them thrown in prison. You can ask the Chief Priest or anyone in the High Council to verify this; they all knew me well. Then I went off to our brothers in Damascus, armed with official documents authorizing me to hunt down the followers of Jesus there, arrest them, and bring them back to Jerusalem for sentencing. As I arrived on the outskirts of Damascus about noon, a blinding light blazed out of the skies and I fell to the ground, dazed. I heard a voice: ‘Saul, Saul, why are you out to get me?’

 “‘Who are you, Master?’ I asked.

“He said, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, the One you’re hunting down.’ My companions saw the light, but they didn’t hear the conversation.

 “Then I said, ‘What do I do now, Master?’

“He said, ‘Get to your feet and enter Damascus. There you’ll be told everything that’s been set out for you to do.’

Now, fortunately, this seems like everything is going well. Paul has given his background information about who he is, where he is from, and has proceeded to tell about his encounter with God. Yet, the Scriptures go on to tell us that Paul was hated for what he was saying to the people and even tortured for the outrage that broke out. This is not exactly the response he was going for, I’m sure! Yet, so much can be learned by Paul’s testimony here and I encourage you to read all of Acts chapter 22. Here are some truths I found interesting:

Paul’s approach: Paul addresses the people as ‘brethren’ and ‘fathers.’ Additionally, he spoke to them in their native tongue, thus capturing their attention.

What we can learn: When we share our faith, look for the common ground. This is the perfect way to build trust and establish our own humanity, instead of trying to act superior to the person in which we are speaking to.

Paul’s approach: Paul wasn’t afraid to be vulnerable by sharing his pains and sins. In verses 4-5, he explains, “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons…”

What we can learn: Our life doesn’t need to appear perfect….ever! Both before and after Christ, we are still living the same life – we have to let the  good, bad and ugly be seen. When we speak to others we can be open with them about the areas we struggle in and the pain we have experienced.

Paul’s approach: Paul painted a vivid picture of how he met Christ. He didn’t ramble on forever, and he didn’t spend hours boring the people, but he did get to all the important facts of his journey in a concise yet powerful way.

What we can learn: Often times we skip over important moments leading up to our decision to follow Christ. Paul did not. People need to ‘feel’ not just ‘hear’ the emotion of how Jesus captured you. It would be like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind person. Details are important.

Paul’s approach: Discipleship is key to becoming a mature Christian. Paul didn’t forget to mention how people influenced his walk with God. Paul speaks of the disciple Ananias coming to him with a message from the Lord. The apostle says that Ananias was, “a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well-spoken of by all the Jews who lived there.”

What we can learn: Discipleship is how people go from hearing, to actively doing God’s work on earth. Don’t forget to share with others the people in your life whom have helped you along the way because most of us fell in love with God through the example we first saw in someone else.

Paul’s approach: Paul was not afraid to speak out. Much like a person madly in love, his words were passionate. He held nothing back because he knew everything was at stake.

What we can learn: Not everyone (just like Paul’s experience) will be happy with what you have to say but be bold in the truth you know. Don’t be condescending or judgmental, but use your journey to light the way for someone who is searching.

Lastly, please remember that you cannot share without prayer. Why? Because it is not your own strength that will ultimately pursue the person, but God. An active sharer of the Gospel once said, “Talk to God about people before you talk to people about God.” Paul tells us in the Bible many times that he was a huge prayer warrior and the way in which he could stand before those who wanted him dead and share his faith was because he had prepared with prayer in advance! Ask the Lord who he might be leading you to through prayer every day. He knows your story and He knows who needs to hear it.  So, share your story with others by: finding common ground, sharing your pains, painting a vivid picture, and including others who discipled you along the way. There is power in your testimony.

 

Turning It Over To God

Personal Testimony: Turning It Over To God

From time to time at PurposeCity.com we share testimonies as an opportunity to see God at work in the lives of His people. I’d like to share with you a testimony from someone that recently wrote in. It’s a great example of what it looks like to surrender your life, turning it over to God’s control:

I am nineteen years old and currently a freshman at Albright College. Originally my plan was to attend Liberty University, so that I could be surrounded by bunch of Godly people and stick within my comfortable Christian surroundings. However, one night, I remember praying to God saying, “Father, do with me what You will. Whether that means you want me to attend Liberty University, or even if it means to move to the other side of the world, I am willing. Help me to bless others, Lord, and ultimately bring glory to your name.”

With that being said, God had other plans for me. I declined my opportunity to go to Liberty and accepted an offer from Albright College. I felt that God was calling me here, but I was not sure why and, honestly, my flesh did not want to go because this was not MY plan. I’ve since learned, as God continues to show me each and every day, that I can have plans from A-Z, but never will my plan be better than His.  I am going on my fifth week here and I in all honesty, it has been some of the hardest times of my life. Attending a secular college is a challenge in and of itself for me – however, pairing that with losing my best friend to suicide the second week I was here has made the whole college experience less than exciting. However, what is exiting is how God holds it all together. You see, I have been able to minister to many friends, students, and faculty about God and what it means to have a relationship with Him. I didn’t have to do anything special; I just shared my personal testimony as I am today.

My purpose in this testimony is not to brag or boast about my experience here at Albright. I am writing to tell you all about my experience because it has led me to want more. I believe wholeheartedly that when God is working through you, He gives you that passion to pursue Him deeper. He has given me the story that He has because He wants me to share it with others and show all God has brought me through. He wants me to show people that there is a better way to live than in the darkness. He wants me to show people that there is still hope.

 While I won’t use her name, she offers us the opportunity to see not only what it looks like to surrender your own will over to God, but she gives us an incredible example of how He transforms you as He uses you to transform others. It takes a lot of courage to do what this young girl did – my prayer is that we might all be so willing to be used and we all might be open to God transforming us in the process.

If you’d like to share a testimony like this one, you can do so by clicking here.

 

Adam and Laura's Story

Seeing God at Work: Adam & Laura’s Story

Forward by Noah Curran: I’d like to introduce Adam Atkinson. Adam and his wife Laura have an incredible heart for the Lord and have joined PurposeCity! I’ve asked him to share here  how God has been working in their lives and that is what you will find below. It is an incredible story of how God’s fingerprints can been seen all over your life when you take the time to look back. I urge you to reflect upon his journey and think about how God might have actually worked in your life to date.

As my wife and I celebrated our two year wedding anniversary I took a moment to process just how God has taken us to new heights in our spiritual maturity. As we celebrated our special day just last week, I had a thought – if our lives as a married couple were summarized and made into a book, the first and last chapter would look as though not much had changed. A quick glance would be the furthest thing from the truth though. The reality is, it might look similar as we celebrate our two year anniversary at Disneyworld, the exact same place we vacationed for our honeymoon; however, two years later at lot has changed and we stand smiling, enjoying what God has done in our lives. Let me fill you in briefly on how God transformed us and took us from that first day in our marriage, to where we are now, just two years later.

The day I married Laura I knew my life wouldn’t stay the same, but I never would have envisioned the changes that actually took place. You see, for four years I juggled 40+ hours working as a physical therapist aide, in addition to countless hours volunteering as a youth pastor. I always wanted to pursue a career in full time ministry, but I wanted all the opportunities to simply fall into my lap. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t realize until much later that life doesn’t work like that.  I continued to keep the job to provide income for my family, but I knew ministry was my calling. I wanted to make a difference in the community and reach teens who were lost. Mostly, due to my own stubbornness, I was unwilling to look at alternatives when it came to ministry as I was extremely comfortable, enjoying the luxury that was working and living in the same area as my family. This stubbornness continued for quite some time, even though it meant Laura and I weren’t taking advantage of the strengths that God had given us. Laura and I would often discuss how we envisioned ourselves doing so much more, but then I would quickly dismiss any more talks or “dreams” because I ultimately wanted to remain in my comfort-zone. This went on for quite some time and sadly, it would cause Laura pain as she saw the potential God had put in me, but knew I had a lot of maturing to do. Therefore, instead of wine and complain, she would go to the park and pray everyday.

Along this journey my grandmother died and I felt like I lost one of my very best friends. My grandmother and I were very close and it was tough for me to cope with the loss. It had rocked my world. During this time I was blessed to have Laura though, as she would pray with me often to help me work through the pain. It was through this time spent in prayer that I felt a calling to change and simply… do more. I felt the need to get out of my comfort-zone and stop waiting for someone to simply realize my strengths. It was time to actually pursue our dreams.

The first thing that changed, and it was only through the power of prayer, was God taking me out of the great state of New Jersey. I had never seen myself working as a missionary overseas, but now I felt God calling me to discover a new skill set and learn only from His guidance. The steps it took for me to get from hearing God’s call to actually getting on that airplane proved to be a long and tedious. There were times when obstacles were so big that all I wanted to do was revert back and crush this new-found ambition. It was again the power of prayer that kept me going. In the end, I can look back and see it was God making me a stronger man, one who wouldn’t give into the pressure. I was now bent on only trusting Him and I was ready to serve.

On January 24, 2013, Laura and I boarded a plane and flew to Santiago, a city in the Dominican Republic. As I was in the air it finally hit me – there was no turning back now, and the next three months became totally overwhelming! I was excited, but I realized that I had just left behind my family, our apartment, our memories, and all our “stuff.” We left with just four suitcases and headed to a land where we had no clue what to expect. When we first arrived that night I felt God place a reassuring peace over me. I was anxious for what I was about to learn and I felt like this might be the start of a new journey for Laura and I.

During the three months in the DR, I never was nervous, I never feared what might happen while I was there and as a result, my life, which often felt like it was protected by a glass barrier, was shattered to pieces and my eyes were finally opened. As we worked alongside the national churches of the Dominican, I was coached by a missionary named Rick Romano. Rick helped me to grow and operate in a style that was completely outside of the box. In fact, one day you might have found me mixing cement by hand and the next I might have been teaching English or throwing a baseball with the locals. You see, each one of those days was committed totally to the ministry of Jesus. This new mindset required that I stop being hesitant to serving God and understand that I have unique strengths that only God can use.

Sadly, three months later April 24th came and it was time for Laura and I to return home. I honestly had knots in my stomach about leaving my new “home” – that’s how much God had changed my heart while I was there. Laura and I knew we would never be the same people we were before we left. Our whole mindset had changed as we both found our God-given strengths in ministry and now desired to put them into use. Ideally we saw the DR as the perfect place to stay, but God had other plans for us. And, while we loved the DR and knew we had to leave, we also had a feeling that NJ wasn’t a good fit for us at this time. As crazy as it might sound, we were actually happy when we heard that the apartment we were going to rent was flooded and no longer livable. We were honestly excited to find out that both our jobs filled while we were gone and my youth pastor role was filled at the church. Why were we so elated about not having a house to live in, a job, or my old ministry? Because it was another sign for us to keep trusting God, because He was not finished with us and our role in helping to build His Kingdom.

Laura and I again were faced with the uncertainty of not knowing what was next. This time we both knew what to do. We prayed & wrote down our strengths. We focused solely on what we would both like to do and cast a large net with those strengths in mind. A couple weeks went by and we stayed strong trusting God. One day, just to switch things up, I decided to apply for a couple ministry jobs for Laura and she would apply to some openings on my behalf. The next week Laura and I both were contacted by two people – things that seemed as though God created them just for us. Oh I forgot to mention that both these people just happened to contact us from the same city – Tampa of all places. Laura ended up getting a job at a local Christian ministry as a house parent working troubled teenage girls. You see, Laura had gotten a taste of mentoring and leading while in the DR and wanted to continue in that capacity. As for me, I am so excited at the opportunity Laura’s position has allowed me to be able to get involved with PurposeCity. I am passionate about digging into the community, getting to know people, and helping them feed their hunger for Jesus.

So that brings us back to the start – we are two years removed from standing in the same exact place we stood this week – Disney! A shadow is cast behind us and reminds us of our journey thus far. We smile and both realize that this is not the end of the book, rather it is a start of a new chapter in our lives as we pursue God. And… for the first time in my life I am not afraid of the blank pages that follow, rather excited for this journey that Laura and I will take together fulfilling God’s will for each of our lives.