I remember everything about that day…nine years ago today was Sunday, February 3, 2002. That morning I put on my new (stolen) pair of Birkenstocks and favorite red Tommy Hilfiger shirt (also stolen) as I prepared to visit First Baptist Church Citronelle for the first time.
You see, I had been invited to church; since I never went to church I showed up early hoping that no one would notice me. Moreover, I had “good” reasons for visiting the church—there was a girl there that I liked and that was the place that I acquired some of my new clothing on the previous Friday evening at a youth event (I thought that maybe I could obtain some more).
Since, it was a small town (about 3,700 people) and everyone knew who I was—that I was the kind of guy who borrowed things and never returned them; the kind of guy who got into a lot of trouble (I had been arrested and put on probation)—I showed up early to prevent a situation and if I showed up early then I wouldn’t be able to see them whisper about me, especially if I was sitting down when they came in.
Little did I know that God would drastically alter my life that day, that day when I woke up early “on accident.”
After youth Sunday school we went to what the teacher called “big church.” I sat beside Kelly Stewart who was sitting beside John Williams; Michael Newberry sat in front of me.
Then some guy named Jeff Vanlandingham got up to talk; as he talked I felt odd…I thought to myself, “He has something I don’t—peace.” So, I decided I would talk to him. Oddly enough he said people could come see him and talk to him at the front of the church after he finished speaking. I fought with all my might to stay in my seat; I gripped the pew so hard that the wood creaked pretty loud. After everyone started to leave I found him and asked if I could talk for a few minutes in private, he consented.
When we went into his office I asked what he had that I didn’t. I told him I wasn’t happy. I told him that I didn’t need God because God didn’t love me. I told him that I was looking for happiness in alcohol and mischievous sins. Then, I waited for him to speak.
He shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with me. He told me that I was a sinner and that all men were (Rom 3:23). He told me that the Bible teaches that the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23); that my sin was the reason for the wreck that was my life.
Then he told me that God offers hope—that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ Jesus died for us (Rom 5:8). He told me to confess my sin to God and to ask God to forgive me for my sins because the Bible teaches that everyone who confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believes in their heart that God raised him from the dead will certainly be saved (Rom 10:9).
It was simple, almost too simple. The gospel is so simple and yet it is so true—you are an awful sinner, you need Christ to save you from you sins because they are killing you and they condemn you before a Holy God, if you believe in Christ and hope in Christ you will be saved.
No matter who you are or what you’ve done, the mercy of God in Jesus Christ can save you—it reaches you. His salvation will make you holy, blameless, and above reproach in the Father’s presence if you will but believe (Col 1:22). Come to Christ.
Life has never been the same, it was indeed dramatic. After he finished he asked me if I wanted to pray to God and ask him to save me, I shook my head indicating “Yes.” I got on my knees around 12:45pm on February 3, 2002 and asked God to forgive me of my sins, to save me. One month later, on March 3, 2002, I was baptized.
Sometime later, I returned the Birkenstocks to the kid I stole them from in the youth group and I apologized. Sadly, I’ve never had the opportunity to return the shirt—it serves as a reminder of the man I was but am no longer, I’m a new creation in Christ (2Cor 5:17).
I remember everything about that day…nine years ago today, the New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl (XXXVI) as kicker Adam Vinatieri made a game-winning 48-yard field goal as time expired. Nine years ago today, on Super Bowl Sunday, I was found, I received amazing grace, I was given life everlasting, I was the recipient of unmerited matchless grace that was free. O the mercy.