Let me paint you a picture of how disgusting sin is and what it does. My best affections for you will have to be put aside because I want you to know God’s truth and how much he really loves you and me. Truly, I was probably the most despicable person I know.
I was born and raised in Richmond, VA. I thought I had a normal upbringing.
My grandfather was very strict. My grandmother talked like a human warning sign. Every word she said was in a harsh, violent and loud tone of voice as if fear would demand obedience. And you know what? For me, it did.
I didn’t get the privilege of doing family activities like eating dinner at a dining table. I wanted to go out and be with friends, but usually the answer was no. My grandparents were so strict that I often times felt like I needed to tiptoe around the house so they couldn’t hear me. I didn’t hate them, but I was afraid. You’ll probably ask, at this point, where my parents were all this time. They worked 6 days a week, 13 hours a day. I couldn’t blame them for anything. They worked all the time and put food on our table. At the end of the week, we’d go to church.
All my mother ever wanted was a good Christian family. She wanted a family. My father, on the other hand, decided he would coast through raising us up. He didn’t teach me much of anything. So, I never really knew what it was like to have a loving father. It wasn’t that my father wasn’t physically there or putting food on the table. It’s that he wasn’t emotionally or spiritually there. My grandfather had my brother and me doing high school level math and other subjects when I was in kindergarten. If I got a question or problem wrong, he would beat us. Who was I to question them? They’re my grandparents, right? When I look back at it now, I ask “Why would my parents allow this?” And then I asked my mother, and she wept because she never even knew. She worked too long and or family never gave her a break so that she could love her kids.
My brother is a very quick-tempered, bitter man today because of what Hebrews 12:15 says: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” He fell victim to the root of bitterness just like I did.
So, this for me was a normal childhood. I had a soft spot for mothers, was confused about fathers, and grandparents at first glance seemed very mean looking. Just kidding about the grandparents. I only meant my own.
I grew up in Presbyterian church. I couldn’t understand what the Pastors were trying to tell me. I never tried to either. Church, for me, was having fun with my friends and trying to be good, but receiving the Word meant, simply, making sure I didn’t fall asleep during the sermon. I mastered the art of coming 90% close to falling asleep during every sermon without going all the way. I think, nowadays, that the reason I loved youth group so much because I just got to be around my friends.
I honestly can’t remember any sermons, yet I went to church every Sunday until high school. That’s a problem especially when you’re like me and claim to be a Christian growing up. But going to church didn’t make me any more Christian than sleeping in a garage will make me a car. I knew Jesus, but I didn’t KNOW Jesus. In my confusion, I figured I’m a Christian because no one told me I wasn’t, and I figured I’ll just be a good person and everything will be okay.
By the time I was in high school, I had enough of church. I was determined for such a long time to try to be nice with people and try to be active in my youth group, but things weren’t going my way. I was so selfish and I wish someone had called me out on it. But no one did, so I turned to the world to go get my way.
I was a pretty good student. I attended my classes and had a lot of respect for my teachers. I wanted to do well academically and eventually find a college to go to. I studied and worked very hard in my junior and senior year and eventually landed a scholarship to an art school in Arlington, Virginia.
Until college, I’d never been to a party, tasted alcohol, smoked a cigarette or done drugs. I figured that made me a pretty good kid. However, I was also socially awkward. Having moved to a new city, I didn’t know anyone and so I decided I’d force myself out of my comfort zone and get to know people and learn how to be social. This took a couple years, but I made some friends. I still kept to myself most of the time, however, and I also prided myself for never having tasted alcohol or done drugs. I did, however, have my first drink of whiskey at age 22.
Everything seemed great on the outside, but on the inside I was really giving in to some of the worst temptations our Bible talks about. Our Bible calls giving into temptations ‘sinning’. It’s a disease that lives in all of us and causes us to fall short of the glory of God. Sometimes, we look at this ‘sin’ in our lives and we put them on a chart and say “these are little ones I have that aren’t that big of a deal” and “these are definitely a lot bigger, but as long as I hide them nobody will know…”
So, let me paint that picture of my sins. And I’m doing this because you really need to know how much God really loves us, so much to save the terrible, despicable person that I was.
I remember myself at my worst, mostly in recent years.
When I was 19, I’d slept with a woman for the first time causing her to cheat on her boyfriend and after I told her that I didn’t love her she painfully acted as if it was her fault. And I stood there and did nothing. This has happened at least 2 more times, once to a single mother.
In my early 20’s, I felt so much anxiety, depression, and bitterness growing all on top of this crazy sense of entitlement as if the world owed me something. I was so full of myself, I didn’t even stop to think of my mother’s needs when she was in the first stages of her separation from my father. She worked in her own store in Blackwell for over 20 years and has been robbed at gunpoint 6 times. Instead of seeing that she’d be okay by helping her at her store, I allowed her to work there by herself and went on acting like everything would be just fine because I wanted to chase money more than I wanted to look after my dysfunctional family.
At 24, I found a new church to start going to. Everything about it was cool. I thought it changed my life, but really I know now it was just my ‘drug’ to make everything I was doing seem okay. As long as I was going to church and participating in outreach, it could balance out all the evil thoughts and deeds I committed. I just wanted to be in the limelight and allow everyone to look at me as if I was someone important and special. I remember even getting on that stage and sharing a testimony about forgiveness and having people come to me and tell me how much of a blessing I was. But I was just one big lie. And I was being a big lie in front of God and his people.
I even ended up working at that same church by age 25. I wanted to be with the coolest looking good guys. That is until it started not working out for me. I didn’t want to help other people. I just wanted selfish gain. I wanted to be in charge. I even got baptized there because other people were doing it and I figured it would be ‘cool’ for me to do it, too, and say I got baptized. Anytime I prayed, it was only because I needed a miracle and not because I wanted Jesus.
I left that church after working there only 5 months. I couldn’t take how much good I had to do and just wanted to do bad. I started drinking more heavily and made plenty of drinking buddies, too. Soon, I had my own posse of friends I could drink several nights a week with and go to strip clubs and throw away money and tell the whole world I was finally living the good life.
That is until one day I made a friend in someone I became so infatuated with. I wanted everything this person had. Everything about this person just seemed so good. This person was so in love with Jesus, it was sickening. I wanted to fill my void so much with the love this person had for Jesus, but the sin in me just kept rejecting it and rejecting it.
As I’d sit on my couch alone at night opening my 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th can of beer I’d be angry and sick and then laughing to myself like I was going crazy or something. The only advice I’d get about life were from other friends who were on their 13th, 14th, 15th, and 16th can of beer. I looked at my life and realized I had become the king of my own drunken, lawless land. Filthy, full of wickedness, and going down a long road straight to hell.
Finally, I thought to myself that I would start calling the good Christian friends I used to have and get some good Christian advice. I knew this was what I needed, but unfortunately none of them were available. Everyone had moved. I know now that God had closed all the doors and put me in a woodshed with just me and Him, but at the time all I could think was “I’m all alone.”
Getting deeper and deeper into my disgusting little world, I thought about my whole life and asked myself “In five years, do I want to be a sicker, older version of myself today? Or do I want to be someone I never dreamed I could be?”
Could I be a loving father? Even find a good wife and be a loving husband to her? Could I do what it takes to restore relationships with my family? To finally be able to give my mother the Bible Studies she told me she prayed we’d have together. To finally be able to start a real relationship with my brother. To forgive my father for leaving my mother and even have a relationship with him?
I looked at all these things and I decided one lonely night on September 4th, 2011, and I got down on my knees at my bedside and cried out loudly to God and prayed as loud as I could “God! I can’t do this alone anymore! Why?! Why do I have to feel this way?! I don’t want this anymore! I need you!! I need you!!”
And that night came and went. But, that night, God said “James, I love you. I love you so much. You turned your back on me for all those years. You cursed my name. Through your actions and your sin, you told me you didn’t want anything to do with me. You hurt my children, too. So many times, I called out to you but you wouldn’t answer. What did I do to deserve this from you, James? But, now you’ve called out to me and I’m here for you, James, like the loving father you never had. I love you so much and I want you to be my child. Welcome home.”
With the many awful things I’ve done in my life, I knew I absolutely deserved the hell God tells us we deserve for our evil ways. But God, being a loving and gracious God, thought little me should be saved. How gracious is our God? That when I cried out to him, he was there.
That night, my life changed. I repented from my old ways and literally my life turned completely around. The things I used to want: money, sex, alcohol, selfish gain. These were all literally replaced by my new love for God, love for his word, and wanting to live for God’s will for my life. I truly don’t feel the same. A veil was lifted from my eyes, as if I was blinded before, but now I can finally see. The Bible, His Living Word, has become truly real and alive to me. It’s hard to explain. Imagine passing out and a doctor puts the paddles to your chest and zaps you back to life. That’s the feeling. When I seek something with all my heart from God, he has ALWAYS answered my prayer through his Word, the Bible. God’s also given me a real purpose in serving his will for my life. My prayer life is amazing not because I pray everyday but because I’m literally praying all the time by just talking to God.
God has taught me how to live in relationship with my family, friends, and others all around me. Jesus in me has taught me to be slow to anger, to stop being anxious, and always do my best to treat those around me how a loving family member would.
God has shown me that all the doubts, worries, anxiety, and uncertainties that I had were never from him but from Satan. This is a huge problem in our society. A lot of us are becoming lost in our thoughts thinking we will never make it, we will always fail, we will never be loved, we should just kill ourselves. The last of those led my friend to suicide this past week. She loved Jesus so much and with all the problems in her life, Satan finally convinced her to kill herself. And he’s laughing. Do you see why I hate sin so much?
When Satan claims one of our own, I look at it now as a personal attack to my family. Here’s the truth: God has shown me that he wants me to have joy in the Lord and peace. He LOVES ME like a loving Father loves his child. JESUS LOVES ME and wants a relationship with ME and YOU. That love isn’t just something we feel or say, but that it’s something we do through sacrificing our own lives, like Jesus did for us on the cross, for the sake of the ones we love. But Satan is really real and we need to build each other up together to shield ourselves from his attacks.
New Venture is my new family and because God has shown me grace and how he loves me, I feel a sense of duty to love my new family and be there for them and try to be as good of a servant as I can be. I’ve joined two Bible studies and never want to miss a gathering or event. I want to keep building my character because in 2 Peter it tells us that if we build our character, it makes us more effective and productive in our knowledge of Jesus Christ.
I, like all of us, was dead in my sins. I deserved to die for my sin. And because of my sin, there was nothing I could do to connect myself to God because he cannot be where sin is. He’s too holy and good. But how awesome is it that he loves us so much that he sent his son Jesus (his son!) to die for me and you. He loves you so much, he wants you and me to spend eternity with him in heaven. Before I get there, I want to do what God calls us to do and bring a little bit of heaven down to earth. God has put a big desire in my heart to serve through New Venture. And through New Venture, I personally believe we can change the hearts of our community and really bring Steve’s vision full circle by changing Midlothian. How? By doing it together for Jesus.
Now, I can’t wait to be baptized because my Bible tells me to be baptized and wash away my sins. All the wickedness I ever did and will ever do will all be washed away