And you were dead in the trespasses and sins (vs. 1) and that was me and that was you before you knew Christ and if you do not know Christ, I am afraid that is you right now. in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (vs. 2-3) and next comes probably the two most beautiful words that can be combined in the Bible … “But God”
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (vs. 4-5)
“But God”, they are the two words that change everything. As long as you are still alive and God is still on the throne, God through His wonder working power of His mighty grace because of the all sufficiency of Christ can change anyone and everyone and set their life on a different course – eternally.
When I grew up, I grew up in a very nominal Christian home. We went to church a few times a year. We had a Bible in the house but I don’t ever remember it being read. So yeah, it was a pretty typical American Christian house. Where people chase the American dream, a nice house, a nice car, my parents had nice middle class jobs, a nice marriage with nice kids and sprinkle a little Jesus on top. Oh, and did I mention that my parents like to drink but only socially. They would throw parties once in a while. That’s normal. And they would also occasionally smoke marijuana. But that’s what responsible Americans do for fun and might I add “Christian” because every American believes in Jesus – just ask them. You go to work, you pay your bills, you don’t lie, steal or cheat – that is what good people do. And then when you die, if you are lucky you get to go to Heaven if you have done more good than bad. Until 6th grade I went to a Catholic School, probably because my parents thought that would help me be a good person. I am not sure. Then when we moved and I went to public school. When I was younger I liked to do for fun what most boys liked to do. I loved sports like wrestling and football and loved the outdoors, anything that had to do with being outside, fishing and playing in the woods and I did really good in school, too.
But then I started to be about 12-13 yrs. old and one of the things that cool kids did was smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol and so I started experimenting with that, because something in me thought it was important to be cool, and also it looked fun. Then I found out what the really cool kids did was smoke marijuana and I actually didn’t think it was really that big of deal because I knew my parents did, even though they tried to hide it and so I thought – ya’ know I know where my parents hide their stuff and everybody will think I am awesome if I have it, so I will just steal some of theirs and pretend it’s mine and so that is what I did. Well, long story short – that was the beginning of a life headed down the wrong direction that took me through a lot of pain and ended in a lot of sorrow. Well, I shouldn’t say ended because by God’s grace I am standing here – remember those two words “But God” – yeah, they change everything and they changed me but we will get to that but for the time being …. I spent 20 years of my life, either in jail, in prison, on parole or running the streets. You see I quickly got addicted to getting high and pretty soon I quit going to school. My parents tried to discipline me but I just rebelled. I didn’t care what anyone thought. I just wanted to be high. I started stealing my parents alcohol and my parents marijuana on a regular basis but I was really sneaky about it, only taking little bits here and there but as I started to crave more and more - what I was getting from my friends and taking from my parents was not enough. I than started taking larger amounts from parents and because of this and numerous other things I used to fight with my Dad. He would be so angry and I didn’t care and he would hit me and I would hit him back. Until one day he couldn’t take it anymore and told me to leave or maybe I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to leave – I can’t quite remember.
So I found myself living on the street, sleeping wherever I could – sometimes on people’s couches, sometimes in abandoned houses and sometimes on the street. And all the time I was doing literally doing anything and everything to get high; stealing, breaking into houses, stealing from stores, and selling drugs but all to get high and stay high 24 hrs a day. By the time I was 15 I had been arrested a few times and was sent to a reform school for boys, which is a nice way to say ‘prison’ for those under 18. As it was a prison. It had razor wire fences, armed guards and I was locked in a cell. I was there until a little after I turned 16. I got out and started doing the same things right away. When I was 17 I got in a fight with a group of police officers because they were trying to arrest me when I was drunk. I ended up getting charged with assault and battery as I hurt a few of them pretty bad. Eventually I ended up being prosecuted as an adult because the juvenile system was sick of dealing with me and I was sentenced to 2.5 years in a medium security prison.
When I got out I was determined I was going to change and was not going to go back because I decided that was not the life I wanted anymore. Well, my determination did not last too long. When one night, as I met up with some old friends, I decided having one beer would not hurt anything.
The next night I had a few more and the next a few more and then pretty soon I found myself not feeling like going to work and then soon I could not pay rent and soon I was out on the streets again and you know where that leads. In a matter of six months I burglarized more houses and sold more drugs then I could ever even begin to count. I was arrested one day and charged with a couple counts of burglary and also had a large amount of drugs on me. I found myself facing 70 yrs. in jail and after of a year of being in the county jail, I was sentenced to 7 yrs.
I served 4 yrs. because I got out for good behavior. But towards the last few months before I got out, something seemed different. Something kept going over and over through my mind, a recurring thought that I just could shake. I kept thinking, “there just has to be something better to life than this, there just has to be, there just has to be something better…”
I hadn’t really been in contact with my parents to much for about 10 yrs. now but towards the end of my prison sentence they contacted me and came and visited a couple times. They asked if I would come stay with them when I got out. I said sure. I had nowhere else to go.
But the craziest thing had happened. My parents had become Christians for real and the day after I got out of prison they took me to church and I heard the gospel preached. Don’t ask me what else I heard or what the sermon was about but I heard the gospel. I know I did. I heard about how Jesus died for sinners like me. I heard about how there was redemption and forgiveness of my sin, if I would only ask. I heard about how there was new life to be had if I would surrender my life and my will to Jesus. And I don’t know what it was but tears were flowing down my cheeks. I felt broken and it felt good and I found myself going forward at the end of the service and I asked Jesus to save me.
Yes, I thought to myself. I found that something better or rather something better found me. Because I was not looking for Him, my whole life I was not looking for Jesus. But He found me, through the preaching of His word. Our lives are no accident. And somehow I believe, my whole life was working and pushing me and preparing me for the place where I would come and meet my savior.
Now, I have to admit – things did not become automatically easy after that. I stuggled. I started going to church 2-3 times a week, as well as reading my Bible and praying every day. I got a job. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke but something seemed missing. There was no joy in it all. It all just seemed like a mechanical routine. You know, this is what Christians do. Nothing great but at least it was better than being in jail.
Where I had been working was a saw mill. It is a place where trees are chopped up, sawed and made into boards. Every day after work, all the workers would sit around and smoke and drink some beers. They always offered for me to join them but I always said no but then one day I was feeling kind of down and bored with the routine, so I said yes. Over the course of the next several weeks I had a few more drinks and next thing you know I was drinking while I coming to work. Real smart I know, working at a saw mill while drunk. Well, I ended up losing my job. I left my parent’s house and ended up finding a room to stay in. One night I passed out drunk with a cigarette in my hand and the room started on fire. I woke up to the room being in flames and the police pounding on my door. I jumped out the fire escape and slept that night on the bottom of a stairwell in the pouring rain. As I laid there, cold, tired, broken and all alone. I thought to myself. Here I am again. And I cried out to the Lord with everything in me. I cried out for help. Please God! Help me!
Instead of being sent back to prison, I ended up being sent to a Christian drug treatment center, called the New Hope Center. Miracle of miracles, my parole officer was Christian and she decided to give me a 2nd chance. I know I was in a treatment center but I loved it, it was what I needed. It was structured. It was structured. There were group devotions every morning and a chapel service every evening and there was Bible classes during the day. With a new found focus I found myself seeking God. With a life and death dependency I sought Him. I said, “God, you are going to change me or you are going to kill me because I am not letting go until you do one or the other – there is no other way God, I can’t do this anymore.
And I made it through 9 months of being in the New Hope Center and honestly did not want to leave because it was the first place that I really spent a lot of time seriously studying the Bible. I was seriously contemplating going into ministry the rest of my life. It was the only thing that made sense. Something was different. I don’t know what it was but there began to be joy. The things of God began not to be just a routine but began to be something more. Something I hungered after. All of life began to be meaningful. Almost like worship. I found myself listening to sermons all the time and reading as much as I could get my hands on. I wanted to know God more. It all began as me wanting God to help me fix my life but now I just wanted God to be my life and it was wonderful. And then one Sunday I was in church and I noticed a beautiful young lady singing and after the service I asked her to go out with me. Three months later I got married to the 2nd best thing God gave me besides Himself, Rebekah Hoekstra. We have been married 11 yrs. now and have 4 beautiful kids. Has life always been easy, no – not at all. Is it always easy now – no, not all. But I tell you what, I would not trade any of it or change a thing because it has all brought me where I am today and where I am today is where I want to be because I know that God is working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Life is hard. It really is. It is hard no matter what. But it is 20,000 times harder without Him. Mostly because we are our own worst enemies – we need a savior. We just do and we know it. We need a loving Father to guide us and comfort us and discipline us. We need the Holy Spirit to change us from the inside out, we need new desires and new wants. We need to be filled with the Spirit to battle against sin and we need to fight to see Jesus more clearly every day.
We need this, because like I said – life is hard but not just because sin indwells our hearts but sometimes not because of anything we have done but just because we live in a fallen broken world filled with sinners, as well as filled with the devastating effects of sin. One of the hardest years since we have been married, our daughter was on life support in the hospital and almost died, our house completely burned down and we lost everything, our son did die and our bank account was broken into and we lost all our money.
And the only thing that got us through was the hope we found in Christ. And at this time in my life, I had been on a few missions trips and I had seen a few different parts of the world and God just started speaking to me. You know I thought, there are a lot of people that live in a lot worse circumstances than I do and even if not – circumstances are not what matter so much. I just thought to myself. There are just a lot of people in this world who have no hope.
Without Jesus, this is all this world has to offer – but than nothing. No hope. But with Jesus, there is everything and I want others to experience that. And that’s how I became a missionary.
I figure if God can take people like me and change me and make me new, He can do the same to others and I want to see it happen, over and over – it gives me great joy and I think it gives God great joy to fix and to heal the lost.
Remember those words we started with “But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love in which He loved us…” (Ephesians 2:4) God has great love and He is rich in mercy. Do I think a missionary is someone who is called to go amongst faraway lands and meet strange and different people? While there is a need for that, probably more than we realize. There are still billions of people of have never even heard of Jesus before. There are more than 6,000 distinct ethnicities in this world who are considered unreached. Meaning they do not have any gospel witness amongst them. No churches, no Christians and no access to the gospel. Places like Asia, the Middles East, India – are just very much unreached and unengaged. Thousands of people die over there every day and go off into a Christless eternity with never even ever having heard the gospel. In so many places, the gospel is so abundant and we have so many resources and we just don't care - and yet there is an abundance of places where they have never even been given the opportunity to not care yet. They need to hear at least, some will believe. So there is a need for it, a great need. The Bible tells us that Jesus died for a people from every tribe, tongue and nation – so we need to be crossing cultures and reaching out to all people … and we also need to be preparing for Heaven now and getting ready because Heaven is going to be a really colorful place, with people from all walks of life.
One of the things that blows my mind the most is that there are over 13,000 languages in the world and God understands them. One day we will too. So we need to be loving our brothers and sisters now. It is one of the true ways, the world will know we are His.
But no I do not think a missionary is just simply one who travels far away. A missionary is one who has been so captivated by the love of God that he/she cannot keep it. A missionary is one who has had their life so transformed by the love of God that they know if it happened to them, it can happen to anyone and the earnestly long for it to happen to others.
A missionary is one that has been so loved by God that he wants to love others the way God loves them. In other words, every Christian is a missionary. Ask yourself, if you really believe this. Do you really believe the gospel is the power of God unto salvation? If you do, spend your life for it. Because people are going to hell without it and also Jesus is worth it. Jesus is worth everything you give up and everything you sacrifice. Jesus is worth every hard time you endure and every amount of energy you expend. Jesus is worth it.He gave His life for me. I figure the very least I can do is live for Him. That’s how I became a missionary and by God’s grace, might we all be missionaries, on the same mission together – for the good of all peoples and for the glory of God.