Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15-20)
I had the privilege of growing up in a very tight-knit, church going family environment. I had every advantage a kid could ask for. My parents (Ward and June Cleaver) have been married now for well over 30 years. I attended North Star Christian Academy through grade school and my grandparents took me to Word of Life Ranch every summer, where during my last year of camp, I made that all important profession of faith. It was at this point that life hit me and sin all but swallowed me up. At the age of 11 and working at a Boy Scout car wash fundraiser, I viewed my pornographic magazine. This one false step would take 15 years and no less than 10 people before I would really question my belief and faith in Christ. During this time, sin truly took me further than I had ever wanted to go. Big deal you say? I brought others down with me, stole to support my addiction, and lied to protect it; all the while attending church on Sunday, hoping in some way that God and I were still on good terms. It didn’t matter where I went to church, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, Community, Catholic, Episcopal, Church of Christ, or Baptist (As all these denominations had part in my walk), nearly every message brought the verse above to mind... “we will be known by the fruits (outcomes) of our labors”. Throughout the time that I went against the one who carried the cost of my actions (the sin I was blindly wallowing in), the Lord Jesus was faithful to ensure this verse always touched my heart.
Congratulations, I was a hypocrite! I continued to go to church every Sunday, but never truly worshiped God while I attended. In a way, I was probably like a lot of people... the only reason I looked at my watch to see how much longer I would have to sit and make others believe I was paying attention. I knew the songs, but sang them only because others said I had a good voice. I knew the stories, but never let them sink into my heart. I heard the words, but never got the message.
Life continued this way until October of 2002. My grandmother, who throughout this time prayed for me daily and continually invited me to church, even bribing me with food while in college, finally tricking me into attending the tail-end of a missions conference at her church. After inviting me out to dinner on a Tuesday night (not traditionally a church night for her), she asked what I was doing. I promptly responded “nothing much”, not knowing that statement would commit me to attending. I felt obligated to go... great attitude to start with. When I got there, the speakers for the night were missionary and former pro ball player Bobby Bonner and Richard Scheer who had been my science teacher back in grade school and since committed himself to full-time ministry. I made it through the first message with Bobby pleading for the church to get involved in the great commission and missions, a concept that even in my state at the time, I could have rehearsed in anyone's ear. But then there was the message God gave Richard Scheer to speak that evening out of 1 Kings 19, where Elijah is running to Mt Horeb.
Though not audibly, I heard the “still small voice” that evening, and was completely unable to sleep that night. The question God asked Elijah rang in my ears and would not leave me be... “What doest thou here, Brian?” I had no answer to this question, none. I had been going to church ever since I was a kid, but I really didn’t have a clue as to why. This was a question that I absolutely had to have an answer to. So, for the next six months this would be the one overarching question attacking my thoughts every moment of every day. I continued to attend church Sunday just as I always had, but added Wednesday evenings with my grandmother that I might be able to try and search out some answer to what I was doing with regard to church. Was religion just a crutch to be tossed aside, or was there more to it than I knew.
Attending a conference for men the following April, I got the answer to my questions. My purpose was to worship and bring glory to the very same Jesus that saved me years before. My time in church should have been worship, but much like Baalim, I never saw... even when I was crushed against the wall I didn’t know.
And the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand: and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field: and Balaam smote the ass, to turn her into the way. But the angel of the Lord stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side. And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she thrust herself unto the wall, and crushed Balaam's foot against the wall: and he smote her again. And the angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left. And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, she fell down under Balaam: and Balaam's anger was kindled, and he smote the ass with a staff. (Numbers 22: 23-27)
That night, April 5, 2003 changed my life forever. After the service that evening and before going back to my room at our hotel, I was asked to join a few guys who were going to pray before heading to sleep that night. That was the first intercession I can ever recall, where I prayed with the saints. When I got back to my room that time of prayer continued and found me on the floor committing my life to Christ.
My life’s purpose now, is to live Christ... or rather let Him live through me.