The Same Old, Same Old Salvation Story, And How My Cynicism Got Punched in the Gut.

My church-related cynicism took a fresh hit of reality this weekend, one that was well-needed.

At a church event, the people leading it shared their testimonies. They were (separately) dealing with similar issues. They had heard of Jesus-related things when they were young, but they shoved it aside. Instead, they pursued drugs and alcohol, sex and sports, just about anything else to find happiness in life. Traumatic events shook them. Eventually, they found themselves ready to end their lives, sinking in desperate situations.

But God intervened. Maybe it was a Gideon Bible in a cheap motel room. Maybe it was a kind word from a family member or friend. Whatever it was, God intervened, pulled them out of the gutter and brought them to a place where they chose to follow Him for the rest of their lives.

When I heard these testimonies, I shook my head and thought, “Not again. How old and tired is this narrative? Are they just embellishing to make a bigger point? It couldn’t have been that bad.”

I carried that thought with me for an hour or so. See, not every salvation story is that way! I didn’t do drugs and drink alcohol in high school. I never hung with the wrong crowd. Not for as long as they did, at least, maybe for a couple hours at most before I realized they were the wrong crowd. So what does this have to do with me?

Eventually, I got reminded of something that’s amazing about God.

He’s the same yesterday, today and forever. And there’s something about that sameness that is ubiquitous in these kind of salvation stories.

See, humans are, at their core, the same. We’re all looking for the same thing. Happiness, fulfillment, contentment.

And, for the most part, we go to the same thing to find that. Attention from others, substances of some kind (drugs, porn, alcohol), pouring ourselves into our work.

And the same thing happens every time – it doesn’t fulfill it. It doesn’t do the trick. It doesn’t really help us.

So we all often find ourselves in the same basic situation – stuck, lost, hopeless. Maybe it turns to us wondering why we should even live anymore, but we essentially wonder what the point of life is.

And then God reaches us with the same message – “I love you. I care for you. In me, you will find rest for your souls and forgiveness for your sins. I am the same yesterday, today and forever.”

Then we ask God the same thing – to forgive us of our sins, come into our lives, make us whole again.

And the same thing that happened to everybody else who accepted Jesus happens to us: He does it.

I realized something else today as I was writing this: Those testimonies can perhaps be the most powerful because we can all find some way to relate to them. We may not have dabbled in drugs, but we’ve got something that gets us high but ultimately leaves us unfulfilled.

And that’s one of the many beauties of the Gospel. It relates to every single situation that man faces and provides the same answer: Jesus, on the cross, taking on sin, so we could live forgiven and fulfilled. The ultimate answer doesn’t need to adjust based on what we’re going through.

You know how one medicine doesn’t fix everything? You can’t take Advil to cure internal bleeding (at least I don’t think so). You don’t need chemotherapy for a flesh wound. That’s not how it works with Jesus. Every illness, every disease, every problem has the same cure.

That’s something to celebrate every time we hear the same old testimony of death to life. Because really, my testimony isn’t that different. I didn’t do drugs, but I was pursuing things that didn’t bring true fulfillment or joy. Then Jesus intervened, and I began to pursue the thing that did.

Cynicism can be a good thing in the right and proper context (that’s a whole other conversation for another time). But sometimes I’d wish it would just go away and let me rejoice in the beauty of the Gospel.

That’s the same thing I’ll be working on for a while.

So please, people, go on and testify.

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Why Am I A Ransomed Soul?

“But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.”

The above verse is perhaps the foundational verse on my life. It took me a little bit to fully understand all the ramifications of this piece of God’s Word, but it describes me. It describes the God I worship. It describes our relationship.

Let me tell you the story.

The Background

I was born on November 9, 1992, at 8:37 a.m. in Central Carolina Hospital in Sanford, N.C., to two awesome parents. Of course at the time I had no way of knowing whether or not they were awesome parents, but over time, they grew to be.

As long as I can remember, I was in church on Sundays. I grew up going to Jonesboro Heights Baptist Church in Sanford, all the way up to sixth grade. I was very involved at church, participating in plays and kids groups and Bible drill and grand prix cars, all that fun stuff.

Over that time, I began to build my bank of biblical knowledge. Bible drill was huge for that. I would memorize verses and “titles” for chapters and bits of Scripture. For instance, Hebrews 11 was the “faith chapter.” John 19 was the crucifixion of Jesus. I can’t remember any of the verses I memorized.

But I was a good kid. As good as I could be, at least. That was my calling card. I was the one who wanted to follow all the rules, do all the right things. I prayed the prayer and got baptized when I was 7 years old. I was a Christian from the moment I was born, it felt like.

Around sixth grade, my family started attending Turner’s Chapel, also in Sanford. Again, I carried my “good kid” mentality around with me. I was the pure definition of a goody-two-shoes just walking around.

But I didn’t have a real relationship with Jesus. I wasn’t faking. I think I legitimately thought I was a Christian, but I don’t think I grasped the Gospel, the fact that Jesus lived a perfect life, died and rose again, all so that I could be forgiven of my sins and have a relationship with God.

The Climax (Which Wasn’t All That Climactic)

I don’t know for sure when Jesus became my personal Savior. I do know it’s one of two instances. I’ll write about both as if they were the real thing when, in reality, I have no idea. But both experiences were as real as Reese’s Cups are delicious.

First: July 2006. I was at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters, a youth camp in the mountains of North Carolina, with my church’s youth group for a week. Snowbird is an awesome place where the Bible is preached, the Gospel is emphasized, and staffers are goofy and funny and love their students.

That Wednesday night, I went to the prayer chapel, a building where different stations were set up to pray for different parts of the Christian experience – missions organizations, personal holiness, etc. There was a painting of Jesus with a glass pane on top of it. People were encouraged to write a sin they were struggling with on the glass with a whiteboard marker.

So I did it. I think I wrote pride or something like that. I then sat down to pray. All of a sudden, somehow, I realized that I hadn’t accepted Jesus. So I prayed and said, “God, if I’m not saved, please save me.”

Second: November (roughly) 2006. It was a late night and I was feeling the weight of conviction of sin (which makes me think that perhaps I got saved in July, but I’m not 100 percent sure). I was distraught and overwhelmed. I felt like I needed to read my Bible, which hadn’t been opened in a while.

So I pulled it out of my bedside table (still the same one I have today) and did the famous “Scripture roulette” method – open it randomly and see what happens. I landed on Psalm 49.

It’s kind of a depressing Psalm to start off. The psalmist writes about men who are stupid and pompous. For instance, verse 12 – “Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish.” Pretty bad stuff. But then I stumbled across verse 15.

But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.

In that moment, I knew God’s love for me. The simple fact that God will receive me was so encouraging in that moment. I had grasped, almost unknowingly, the meaning of the Gospel in that moment. And I believed it.

The Aftermath

Psalm 49:15 became my calling card. I named my movie production company “Act 49 Studios.” Ransom My Soul was the name, and the verse was the basis, of my longest short film. Even today, my church league softball number is 49, after Psalm 49.

But perhaps the way this verse stays most relevant in my life is through this blog. The summer of 2011, I started this blog and needed a name. I thought a fun gimmick would be to say all these posts were written “by a ransomed soul.”

And it’s stuck. Over 100 posts later, I’m still a ransomed soul. Jesus paid the penalty. He paid the ransom for my soul. And because He paid it, God receives me. Death and Sheol wants to bring me down and keep me from pursuing Jesus. They want to keep me from loving God. They want to keep me from obeying His Word. They want to keep me from accepting the grace and mercy of Jesus.

But I must remind myself that it’s God who has ransomed me! And there’s nothing that can cancel out that ransom. There’s nothing that can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). So why should I fear in times of trouble? It is all God. Through Christ.

And that’s the Gospel. And that’s why I’m a ransomed soul.