Welcome to Stuff I Learned Yesterday. My name is Darrell Darnell, my preferred Bible translation is the English Standard Version, and I believe if you aren’t learning, you aren’t living.

Coming up with titles for episodes is typically a challenge for me, but today’s was challenging in a slightly different way. This episode falls on the first Monday of the month, which means it’s an episode dealing with my faith. In these episodes about my faith, I’m making an effort to try and avoid words that have meaning inside the walls of a church or inside circles of church people, but don’t have the same meaning or understanding outside of those places. Inside the circle of the church I would call this episode My Testimony. That’s certainly a phrase that is used outside of the church, but mostly in courtroom settings. Of course, many non-church people know what a Christian means when they use the word testimony, but I want to make this podcast accessible to everyone, even those with no church background.  Hopefully My Faith Story did a sufficient job of that.

To share one’s faith story, or testimony as you prefer, is to share how you came to faith in Jesus, and share how God has been active in your life. In today’s episode I’ll be sharing my story of coming to faith and some of what I’ve seen God do in my life. You may have noticed that I used two different qualifiers in that last sentence. I’ll only be sharing “some” things with you today because there are more things that will be shared in future episodes, and to say that I’m sharing what I’ve “seen” God do implies that He’s done things in my life that I am unaware of. I’m most certain that is true.

I’ve sort of been going to church for as long as I can remember. My first memories of church are attending with my mom, dad, and brother when I was around 5 years old. We went to an Assemblies of God denomination church in Oklahoma City. It was there, when I was 5 or 6 years old, that I remember praying to ask Jesus to save me. It was during a Sunday school class, and at the end, the teacher invited each of us to pray if we felt led to do so. I knew that I was a sinner and believed that Jesus had died to pay for my sins, so when he prayed to end the class, I prayed silently as well, asking Jesus to save me.  As I recall, I didn’t tell anyone about my prayer right away.  A few months later when my brother was getting baptized, I also wanted to get baptized and told my parents about it.

We continued to go to church, but I don’t know how often it was. Maybe it was every week, but I’m not sure. I do know that my grandparents went every chance they could. They attended Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday evenings. If the church had other services during the week, they attended those too. My grandparents attended the same church as my parents, and I stayed with them regularly on weekends, so I often found myself at church.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that I learned my family mostly went to church because when they failed to show up, my grandma would call my dad and give him the business. 

My parents divorced when I was 9 and my dad remarried the following year. After the divorce, we almost never went to church. I only remember going to church twice with my step-family. Of course, I still stayed with my grandparents often, so that remained an influence in my life. Otherwise, after the divorce at age 9, church was not part of my life, and I certainly didn’t grow up in a Christian household.

My dad and step-mom separated when I was 14. In fact, it was on my birthday in February that my step-family moved out. My dad began working two jobs so that we could afford the rent, which meant that I didn’t see him much. He would leave for work before I woke up, and typically got home from his second job after I’d gone to bed. My brother was old enough that he had friends who could drive, which meant he was almost never home either, especially once summer came around. This meant that I was mostly unsupervised. We lived out in the country, but there were a couple of kids around my age down the road about half a mile away, and another kid that I would occasionally hang out with that lived about a mile away. 

My grandparents sensed it was a pivotal time in my life and that it would be in my best interest if I came to live with them for the summer. That turned out to be a life-changing summer for me. It put me into a household where I saw each of them taking time out every day to read the Bible and pray. Of course, we went to church every time the doors were open, and they also made sure I was able to spend a week at church camp. That week I was around other kids my age who were genuine followers of Jesus. I remembered the prayer I’d said when I was younger, but as I looked at my life, it didn’t look any different than non-Christian kids. One night as the preacher wrapped up his message, I walked up to the front of the pavilion, knelt down, and began to pray. I acknowledged that I was a sinner in need of a savior. 

I wasn’t sure if my prayer from when I was a kid was sufficient. I knew there was much I didn’t understand when I was a kid, but I also knew that I didn’t have to know all the answers in order to be saved. Most of all, I knew that I wanted to recommit my life to following Jesus, and make sure that my confession was sincere.

As I was praying, a counselor came over and asked if he could pray with me. I told him how I was feeling, and he helped me understand some of the thoughts and emotions I was dealing with. Once I returned home, I told my grandparents about my decision. I began making time every day to read the Bible and pray. As I read the BIble and prayed I asked God to show me areas of my life that I needed to change, and give me the strength to become the person He wanted.

Christians often use the word conviction in this context. That is, God convicted me about two major areas of sin in my life: lying, and cursing. I had such a reputation for lying, especially to my parents, that to this very day, my step-mom doesn’t believe me. What I mean is, when we were kids, one time I came home with a scrape on my forehead. I actually told her the truth about what happened, which was that I tripped and hit my face on the pellet gun I was carrying. But I had such a reputation as a liar, she didn’t believe me. When I saw her last fall, she asked me about it, trying to get me to tell the truth. The truth is, I lied so much that there was no way to tell when I was telling the truth or telling a lie.

The Bible has a lot to say about lying and being truthful. Proverbs chapter 12 says, “The Lord detests lying lips but he delights in people who are trustworthy.” The New Testament book of Colossians says, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.” There were many, many other verses on the topic, but it was clear and obvious that being a liar did not align with how I should conduct myself as a Christian.

I also cursed a lot. There was no word off the table for me. My parents cursed, my brothers cursed, my friends cursed, and the movies we watched were full of cursing. I remember tracking the number of curse words I said each day, trying to make that number smaller and smaller each day until cursing was no longer part of my vocabulary.  Once again, it was the reading of the Bible that brought about this change. Verses like Colossians 3:8 which says, “You must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” In the book of Ephesians Paul told the believers there that there shouldn’t be any “obscenity, foolish talk, or coarse joking.”

These decisions to change what came out of my mouth were hard. In fact, I’m still not perfect at these things at all times, but I’ve realized that surrounding myself with likeminded people who will encourage me in my faith makes a tremendous difference.

Once I returned to my home town, I also told my friends about my commitment to follow Christ and make changes in my life. Fortunately, my best friend was also committing his life to Christ,  and I found other friends that shared my new values, and we each encouraged each other in our faith. Even though none of us went to the same church, we were all Christians, and that’s all that mattered.

My dad and stepmom had reconciled by that time and I told them about my decision. I wasn’t old enough to drive, but one way or another, I made sure I figured out a way to get to church every week. Sometimes I walked, sometimes someone picked me up, and other times someone from home would drop me off. Once I was old enough to drive, my dad was kind enough to let me borrow his truck to drive myself. I continued to read my Bible every night. Many nights I’d fall asleep at my drafting table while reading. It took me a few years to get it through my thick head that reading first thing in the morning was a better fit for me.

When I graduated and moved away for college, it was important for me to continue to surround myself with friends who could encourage me to grow. I dated girls that had faith beliefs like my own, and have been diligent about prioritizing finding a church each time I’ve moved to a new city. 

Here’s what I’ve learned.

Being a Christian isn’t easy and the Bible never promises it will be. In John chapter 16 Jesus told his disciples that they would have trouble in life, and that’s certainly the case for everyone Christian or not. Jesus also taught in that same verse that we would have peace in spite of those difficulties. I’ve learned that when I’ve made it a priority to pray, read my bible, attend church and Bible study groups, and surround myself with Christian friends, my life is better for it.

Difficulties come in all shapes and sizes: financial, relationships, unmet expectations, grief, through poor decisions, illness, and many other things. In previous episodes of SILY I’ve spoken about some of the difficulties I’ve experienced. In upcoming episodes I’ll share more of them with you. Even Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, knew what it was like to go through the ebbs and flows of life. In the book of Philippians he said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” 

It’s difficult to live according to the standards of the Christian faith. I would much rather give in to the desires of my flesh and deny the high standard Christians are called to live. But I’m grateful that I’m not expected to be perfect. I’m grateful my actions or works are not what makes me deserving in God’s sight. I’m grateful for God’s grace, which means he has provided a way through Jesus, so I can be seen as deserving. I’m grateful for God’s mercy which means because I’ve put my faith in Christ, I won’t get the punishment I deserve.  I’m grateful for God’s promise that, “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

I look forward to future episodes where I’ll get to share more teachings from the Bible and how I’ve witnessed God’s presence in my life. For those of you who are also Christiains, I hope this episode and future episodes will encourage you in your walk with Christ. For those of you who have been hurt by a church or Christian, I genuinely ache and am sorry that those things happened to you. I hope these episodes will help bring healing and open up dialog that sparks a renewed desire for you to grow in your relationship with God. For those of you who aren’t Christians, I hope that you’ll continue to listen to these faith-focused episodes with an open mind and an open heart, and one day call upon Him for a new life and salvation. 

I’m Darrell Darnell, and this has been Stuff I Learned Yesterday.

I want you to be a part of the next Monday Mailbag on April 29th! Monday Mailbag is your opportunity to Share what YOU’VE learned, so that other listeners and I can learn from YOU.  It can be a message as short as 30 seconds or several minutes long.  It really doesn’t matter just as long as it’s something that will benefit others.  You can send in questions or responses to my SILY episodes, and I’ll respond to them via Monday Mailbag episodes. You can participate in Monday Mailbags by visiting the Golden Spiral Media listener feedback page at goldenspirlamedia.com/feedback.