I had agreed to go on a weekend retreat with the youth group from Emmanuel Baptist Church mostly because a couple of my buddies were also going and we thought we'd have a good time at Niagara Falls. Out of respect for my friend Mark I would attend the required sessions but he knew I wasn't really interested in 'spiritual matters'. Little did I know that God had other plans.
Three years earlier I had met Mark; I immediately knew there was something different about him. I quickly discovered Mark was a Christian; that his faith and church were important to him. He often spoke about matters of faith and continually invited me to 'come to church' -- even inviting me to play hockey with the church team (on the condition I attend church on Sunday!). Mark was a good friend and although not resistant to conversations about matters of faith, I wasn't really interested in pursuing his God.
I guess you could say over time Mark's authentic faith 'wore me down'. I also knew Mark's parents were praying for me-- the often told me when I was in their home! When the invite came to spend Easer weekend at the Falls with the youth group from Emmanuel, I agreed to go. (Janice was also there -- we didn't really connect until two years later but I know now that that too was part of God's plan!) It was at that retreat, Good Friday evening, 1977, that intercepted my life! Almost 40 years later I can still recall the events of that vening with great clarity.
I don't remember all the speaker said that night but one verse has stayed in my heart and mind since that night; it is the truth of Scripture that God used to change my heart: When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:4-5) I had never heard the message of God's grace; about the cross of Jesus, about the gift of salvation. It was a message that reached to the core of my soul and demanded a response.
I remember the speaker inviting those who wished to respond to come forward; there was no way I was going to do that! My heart was pounding; I was visibly shaking, but sill there was no way I was moving out of my seat. 'It'll be over soon and I'll just walk away and whatever this is I'm feeling will go away'!
The session did end and I walked away, still very much troubled by what was happening to me. We walked along the Falls and eventually returned to our room but before I went in I turned to my friend Mark and said, 'I don't know what's happening but I need to talk about it'. We connected with the youth leader from Emmanuel in a quiet corner of the lobby of the Sheraton Brock motel where he showed me more of the truth of Scripture and asked if I wanted to invite the Lord Jesus into my life -- I didn't even have to think about it!
I can't explain what happened in that moment but it was like the weight of the world was lifted from me; something was different! Like Mary in the story of Luke 2, I quietly contemplated what was happening in my life but something inside told me this was real; God was real and He was at work in my life. Looking back I understand that was a divine appointment in which God revealed to me -- a 17-year old cocky, rebellious kid, who didn't think he needed God in his life -- God revealed His mercy and grace! He saved me, not because of the righteous things I had done, but because of His mercy! And for this I am forever grateful!
I want to invite you to share your story that we might bless and encourage and inspire one another as we journey together.