When I was ten, I went with my father to go hear him share his testimony with a church group. I remember him starting to tell of his childhood and feeling my eyes almost pop out of my head. What was he saying?! Who was he talking about?! This was not the man I knew.
I soon learned that my sweet father was amazingly transparent about his past. This quality endeared him to many, and made them feel comfortable sharing their troubles with him.
I thought I'd let you hear it straight from him today. This is his testimony that he shared so many times; that showed me that he was a humble man; that revealed his great faith in the transforming power of God.
My parents were divorced when I was 12 years old. As my parents were remarried, I lived in five different family situations. With each family there was a different set of rules and standards to live by. I soon became confused as to what was right and wrong. When I graduated from high school and went off to college, I thought I would develop my own set of rules and standards to live by. I soon found that I couldn't even live by my own standards. It seemed like everything was coming down around me. My design grades dropped from A's to C's. I was flunking Spanish and physics. One Sunday morning, I woke up to a Baptist preacher on my clock radio - I couldn't reach the off button and was too lazy to get up and shut it off. I lay in bed and listened to his message. To this day I can't remember what he said but I do remember he said it as if he really believed it was true. (In architectural school everything was relative - sometimes it was true and sometimes it was not true). I really liked what I heard from this preacher so the next Sunday I went to his church. I was lead to the college age group and when I walked into the class, there was Liz (my wife) leading the singing. Well, I really became interested in this church after meeting Liz. I started dating Liz and attending this church. I stared finding some answers to questions I had. But it was like I was leading two different lives -one on the outside and one the inner me that no on knew about. On the outside I was a "good old boy" that got along with everybody and most people liked. On the inside I was a liar, thief and cheat.
I remember when I was about two years old my dad and mom owned their own dry cleaning business. My dad and mom would take me with them to an expensive clothing store in Amarillo. My mom would keep the clothing salesman busy while my dad would cut the expensive buttons off of dresses and coats, when the clothes would rotate through dryers in the cleaners many times the buttons would break and a whole new set of buttons would have to be put on a coat because you couldn't match the old button that broke. A new set of buttons was real expensive so my dad stole sets of buttons. I saw what they were doing. I learned it was okay to steal as long as you didn't get caught. I stole watercolors, paint brushes, magic markers, mechanical pencils, books candy... and so on. I would even figure out how to steal special library books out of the library that they would not let you check out -just to see if I could do it - then drop it in the book deposit as I got outside with it.
Anyway, Liz and I got married in March of my third year of architectural school. She had no idea of who she was really marrying. She thought she married the good old boy but she got the inner me too. I graduated from Texas Tech and took a job with Southwestern Bell Telephone in their facilities department in St. Louis, Mo. We were married 5 years when my wife discovered who I really was. My next-door neighbor in our apartments invited me to go fishing with him in a stream outside of St. Louis. I went down the night before to steal some fishing lures and in the process I was caught for the first time in my life. They kept me from 5:00p.m. to 11:00 p.m. They scheduled my court case and time.
When I left the store that night I was in a "daze". My car was the only one on the parking lot. A two-week-old Chevy Malibu. I got in my car and backed up hitting a pole light base and putting a nice big dent in our new car. When I got home that night I found my wife crying as she sat Indian style on our couch. She wanted to know where I had been and why I hadn't called her. I told her I was caught stealing fishing lures and I was a thief and liar. Furthermore, she could look in any direction here in the living room or go down in our basement and I would point out things I had stolen. She was devastated. I didn't know how I would ever regain her trust and confidence in me. I was charged with a misdemeanor and a $50 fine.
Two weeks after my trial I was transferred to Dallas. I thought, "Great, I will be able to start fresh in Dallas," I decided to start living just one life and that life would be the one I had lived in secret. I would be an open liar thief and cheat. (I was 26 years old then, now I am 55). However, this didn't last for long because after our move to Dallas, my wife wanted me to help her find a church. I put this off for about four weeks until I decided if there was going to be any peace in our house I would help her find a church - but then once we found one I would let her attend without me.
The first church we went to was a small church - I couldn't get far enough away from the pastor for my own comfort. The pastor said something that day that I have never forgotten. He said, "Some of you are living your lives apart from God and your continuing to live this life is keeping you separated from God by a barrier (then he put his hand on the pulpit and pointed to his hand as the barrier). The Bible calls this barrier 'sin' - it's not being what God wants you to be and it's not doing what God wants you to do." (I knew I wasn't what God wanted me to be and wasn't doing what God wanted me to do –I thought maybe that's why I wasn't even sure if there was a God). The he said that man has tried all kinds of ways to get around this barrier to God - he has tried to be good enough, but all to no avail. Then he said, "God had made provision to remove this barrier between you and Him. He sent His Son to come to live a perfect life then He put all of the sins of you and me on Him, placed Him on the cross to punish sin once and for all. His justice was satisfied that day when He punished His Son for all of our sins. His provision for us to get to know Him was through Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross on our behalf. That through Christ this barrier could be moved away and we could know God."
Two weeks later while riding the bus to work, I decided to bow my head and invite Jesus into my heart. I agreed with God that I wasn't the man, father or husband -that He wanted me to he and asked Him to come into my life and make me the husband, father and man that he wanted me to be. I thanked Him for the work His Son had done on the cross for me. I accepted the gift of eternal life He offered me and that day on the bus I started my new life as a beloved child of God. The first area that I noticed changes coming about in my life was in my relationship with my wife. I had fallen out of love with her - probably because of all the lies and secrets I kept from her.
As I started pursuing God with all my mind, heart and strength, I started seeing things in Liz that I really liked - love for her started growing in me. After one year I went from not loving her at all to loving her more that I could ever measure. We have been married 34 years now and it keeps getting better.
My favorite verse is John 10:10 where Jesus said I have come that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly. I have been living it up. About a year after I committed my life to Jesus, the Lord convicted me to make restitution for all the things I had stolen. Liz prayed for me as I went back to over 35 stores to tell them that when I was in their store I stole_____. Since that time 1 have committed my life to Christ and was convicted that what I did was wrong. I'm here today to ask you if you could forgive me for what I did and I want to repay you for what I had stolen. After praying and asking God to bring to my memory anything I had stolen the list was long and costly. I didn't have enough money to pay for everything I had stolen, So I decided to go through with restitution until I ran out of money. This whole process took about one year. Only two-thirds of the people would let me pay them back, on third only would let me pay what it would cost them (wholesale) and to make a long story short the money that I had was sufficient! Praise the Lord!
I did discover one major thing while making restitution and that is that it was so embarrassing and humiliating that each time I went back it got harder until I was finished. At that point I committed that anything I stole in the future I would have to go through the same thing - my discovery is just the thought of having to face another person and say I had stolen or lied has cured me from the habit.