The Word of our Testimony: Jerry Altieri

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

I’ve always been amazed at the testimonies where the person giving them had turned away from a dramatic life seized by drugs, alcohol, crime or hardened disbelief. In fact, there were times where I almost wished I had a story like that to share. But, looking back, I see that the Lord, in all of his wisdom, goodness and mercy, was there for a little boy living with a single mom and his grandmother in a quieter, less visible, but just as amazing way.

I recall my mom working about all the time and spending time primarily with my grandmother. We did not attend church, but my mom and grandmother read Bible stories to me and regularly talked about Jesus and His love for me. Although I did not have a Dad, I recall regularly talking to Jesus about all sorts of things… not in some deep or formal prayer… just talking…. like to a friend or to a Dad. Although some of the other families in the neighborhood would invite me to do things with them, I never recall any of them talking to me about the Lord or inviting us to church. What I knew about the Lord came from the mouths of my mom and grandmother… and Bible stories.

When I was about 7, my uncle and aunt took me to vacation bible school. One of the projects over the week was a craft of Jesus’ face using glue and small colored stones. I recall that when I finished it and was looking at the face and eyes, Jesus was looking directly at me just the same as if I was looking at someone else in the class. During the service that followed, I responded to the Alter Call, went down front and gave my life to Jesus. (Amazing that God has blessed me with a poor memory… but, I can recall that experience as vivid today as then!)

When my mom remarried, our family started attending St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, where I actually considered becoming a Priest. Obviously, that did not happen. But, conversation and prayer with the Lord, as well as a commitment to Him, have been a regular part of my life. The Lord has blessed Pam and me with great pastors and Christian friends over the years who have taught and shown us the value of giving and receiving the love of Christ. I am so thankful that I had a mom and grandmother who shared Christ’s love with me.

Jerry Altieri
Elder

The Word of our Testimony: Lisa Miles

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

My testimony actually begins three years before I was born. My parents adopted a baby boy and during that process got to know their case worker quite well. She interviewed friends and family and spent hours in their home. She learned my parent’s deep faith, love of music (both of my grandmothers were gifted pianists), and amazingly connected family. After that adoption, they kept their name on the list to adopt another child, never knowing if they would get the call that another child was available to adopt. Over two years later, a precious college student was pregnant and knew she could not keep her baby and wanted to make sure her child was placed in a godly home. This same case worker went to the hospital when I was born and held me. When she saw me, she knew who my family was to be. She called my parents and told them she had a baby girl with piano fingers who was waiting for her family. Six weeks later, I went home.

I grew up in a family that loved God. My dad was Methodist, and my mom was Catholic. There were times we went to church as a family, but there were also times my brother and I went to Sunday school with my dad and mass with my mom. Although that sounds strange, I have strong memories of watercolor pictures of a smiling Jesus from Sunday school and stained-glass pictures of Jesus from mass that shaped my young life. God was a consistent presence regardless of where we were. By the time I was in second grade, my parents had started to attend a Bible study together. They began to understand and experience a personal relationship with Jesus. They were so excited and shared all their excitement with my brother and me. We grew alongside our parents, and as a family began attending another church and going to Bible studies together.

The following summer, we went to family camp. My brother and I went to the children’s tent for part of the day while my parents went to the adult meetings. It was at that tent that the message of salvation came to life for the first time. I knew of a loving God, and I knew the story of Jesus but had never fully realized the story of Jesus was about my salvation. I remember how heartbroken I was when I realized Jesus had to die for me. As a shy and quiet seven-year-old, I bravely got up by myself, went forward and asked the tent leaders to pray for me.

From that moment on, I never doubted the presence of God in my life. There were times when my choices made me feel far from him, but he remained faithful. He has been a constant through the ups and downs that has never shifted. Psalm 139:13-16 has been a favorite of mine since I was young. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” His love reached out to me before I was born and set in motion a plan to draw me to himself, just as he has set a plan in motion for each of us.

Praying you see God’s hand in the pages of your story today.

Lisa Miles
Director of Children’s Ministries

The Word of our Testimony: Kurt Goddard

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

Sutton keeps asking me for my testimony for the eNews and I keep telling him I don’t have one. I think I have always thought this because I feel as though my faith is growing and changing all the time. I think I believed that I wasn’t “there yet” or that my walk was inferior to some of my colleagues or friends.

As most people know, I grew up in Africa. My home was 50% Christian; my mother and I were Christians, while my brother and father were not. I was baptized as a baby but confirmed my faith in Jesus when I was twelve years old. Although my mother was a Christian and would make us go to church, my godmother, Janet, was one of the main reasons I was a believer. When there wasn’t much else in my life to give me a reason for believing in God, Janet was always confident in the existence, power, and presence of God. When I was a child, she was miraculously and instantly healed from ovarian cancer and a terminal diagnosis, and would go on to live 30 more years. This forever impacted my faith.

During high school, my saving grace was my awesome youth group. I formed amazing friendships there, and at the time had no idea the deep seeds of faith that were being planted. I could easily have gone one of two ways, but luckily my youth group became the popular place to hang out. Although I wasn’t living a very “Christian” lifestyle, I attended youth group religiously and the foundations of my faith were being laid by my Youth Pastor, Dave, without my awareness.

When I was 17, I was recruited to come play Rugby in America with an athletic scholarship. I packed up everything I owned into two bags and flew halfway across the world to start a new life. I thought I was a big deal ...I was wrong. And for a few years, let’s just say, I lost my way. Although I thought I was a Christian, something was always missing. I believed in God and I felt like I was a good person, and therefore I must be a great Christian. Wrong.

I decided to get back to the church. After looking at a few churches, we walked into Orchard Hills and I immediately felt like this is where I belonged. I felt like God was speaking directly to me and my faith began to grow. I realized that what I was missing was a relationship with God.

A couple years later I quit my job with “corporate America” to take up a position at the church, and I haven’t looked back since. Almost weekly now I feel like something else happens that causes my faith to grow. I now see that God was able to use every mistake I made along the way to make me into the man that I am today. As it says in Romans 8:28, "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." I’m not proud of who I was, but I think that I am becoming the man that I was made to be. I guess the reason that I told Sutton that I don’t have a testimony is because I feel like it’s always changing, growing, and getting stronger daily. I can’t wait to see how God uses me in the future.

Kurt Goddard
Media and Video Director

The Word of our Testimony: Kevin Hughes

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

I grew up in a home with my mom, dad, brother, and sister. We were very much a loving family and very active in our community in Harrisonburg, VA. Even though I grew up with my mom and dad always teaching me right from wrong, personal responsibility, being a good person etc.… none of this was ever from a biblical or godly perspective. Occasionally, we would go to church whenever my mom could wrestle us into our “Sunday best” or on holidays. I basically grew up like a lot of people believing in God or just whatever my parents believed in.  The belief I had was, “If I’m a good person and believe in God, then I am good to go.” 

I was a good person as far as the world could tell. I was nice to others, joined Boy Scouts, played sports, did my homework, and served others. As I was getting older, I met my best friend, Gordon. We were basically inseparable from 1st grade-to age 34 (my current age). Gordon and his family were Christians, so naturally they would take me to church with them when I stayed the weekend at his house. They took me to every VBS his church had, even to youth group when we got older, and eventually Wyld Life in middle school. I started to learn a little more about God each year. But I was still missing a true understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Christ.

That was until 10th grade when Gordon invited me to Young Life. Young Life partnered with the church and was led by college students in my home town. Through Young Life I was introduced to even more about who Jesus was. The summer of my 10th grade year I went to a Young Life camp called Lake Champion in New York. The entire week had this message of a life before Christ, what Christ did for us, and a life after Christ. For the first time someone explained to me that God wasn't just a big distant guy in the sky that wanted me to be good, but that He wants to be relational and personal with me. So that summer of July 2002 I gave my life to Christ and began my personal relationship with Him. I’ve had my ups and downs through life but have always had that rock of a relationship to lean into.

Kevin Hughes
Student and Family Pastor

The Word of our Testimony: Jon Speas

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

I grew up in a christian home and am the son of a pastor, so being around the church and hearing about the gospel were very normal experiences for me. I had the misconception however, that the saving grace of Jesus was something that I would receive automatically if my parents were christians. I remember one night when I was 7, my mom was tucking me into bed and we were talking about salvation. I remember to this day telling her, “I’m good because you and Dad are christians and since you are, that means I am.” My mom explained to me that night that that was not how believing in Jesus works. She explained to me that each person has the choice to either follow Jesus and be saved or not. After she left the room I remember wrestling with the thought that I was not a christian and then knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I wanted to follow Jesus and that I wanted Him to be my savior.  

The next morning I talked to my dad after church. I told him what I was feeling and what I knew in my heart; that I wanted to follow Jesus and have Him be my savior. He and I talked for a while about what that means and looks like. He wanted to make sure that I knew and understood what I was doing. He and I prayed together and I accepted Christ to be my Lord and Savior. 

Since then my life has had its highs and lows but with Jesus at the center of my life and all that I am and do, He has carried me through and continues to do so. Praise the Lord for all He has done. “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8.

Jon Speas
Worship Pastor

The Word of our Testimony: Stephanie Browning

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home and church. Both my parents had left their “formal” religions and formed personal relationships with Christ as young people and met and married in the church I was raised in. They set a strong example for my younger brother and I in personal faith, time with Jesus, and serving others. I accepted Christ in Sunday school at a young age and was baptized in the same lake that they had been when I was 9.  

My parents believed so strongly in my brother and I being educated from a Christian worldview that they sent us to a small Christian school. It provided a great foundation for me in learning how to memorize Scripture and study the Bible, deepening my faith and relationship with Jesus. When I moved to Virginia at 18 to attend to Roanoke College I always assumed after college I would travel, do mission work, or otherwise. God had different plans for me and I met my husband Matthew. I didn’t expect to get married that young, but once I met Matthew we knew that was what God wanted for us. We were married a month after we graduated.  

While my faith had faced small trials, it had never faced a significant trial like what we would experience shortly after we were married. Less than a month later, my healthy dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he died several short months after that. My heart was broken. It was a struggle to deal with my own grief and watch those I loved the most grieve as well. While I was broken and deep in grief both leading up to and following his death, it provided the opportunity for my faith to deepen. God was never more real to me than during that time, and I was able to cling to my faith in a way that I had never had before. My faith was all I had. The knowledge that God was a good God who loved my dad and loved me, carried me through the hard questions and sobbing moments. Looking back at this hard time in our lives I can see God’s hand through all of it. From providing me with a strong spouse (young as we were) who bravely walked through this time with my family and I, to the friends we had, my grad school program, and the books I read. God had provided the supports around me to get through it. 

When I graduated from high school, my class chose Jeremiah 29:11 as our class verse. “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans for a hope and a future.’” Our lives are not going to be perfect. We will face trials, grief, and darkness. But God does promise us hope in Him. He can provide a peace that passes understanding and comfort in times of need. Throughout the trials of my life, God as always shown up and revealed himself in a deeper way than I would have otherwise known.   

Stephanie Browning
Elementary Children’s Director

The Word of our Testimony: Sue Vinson

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

I was such a happy heathen, so what the heck happened?

I was raised in church, walked the aisle, and was baptized when I was twelve.  Late in high school, I decided that the concept of God was not intellectually cool and I chose to reject him altogether.  I went away to college (go Hokies!) and had a great time!  I was happy, having lots of fun, making good grades, and falling in love (go Mark!).  I wasn’t looking for a change.  I didn’t consider myself a lost sheep and I certainly wasn’t looking for a shepherd.

Then one Christmas I went home from college and I was looking for something to read.  My mother offered me a book that compared the prophecies of the old testament to the life of Jesus.  There were so many fulfilled prophesies that I couldn’t ignore them.  So, as much as I hated to admit it, perhaps there was a God.  I went back to school and told Mark that I was having to reconsider the whole God issue.  To my surprise, God had also been dealing with him over the break too.  I should have realized then that God had a plan!

Shortly after that, we met some Jesus followers who started inviting us to hang out and share meals with them.  We asked them lots of challenging questions, hoping to argue with them about the faith and how we should act.  They never took the bait.  They wouldn’t tell us how we should behave; they wouldn’t argue.  They just loved us and encouraged to look to Jesus for our answers.  We often say they “glowed” because they were so full of the love of God.  I remember saying shortly after we met them, “I’m not sure what they have, but I want it.”

We finally gave in and Jesus changed our hearts and our lives in a very real and powerful way.  And he’s still changing us today, 45 years later.  Turns out, the shepherd was busy looking for a lost sheep who didn’t even know she was lost.

Sue Vinson
Prayer Ministry

The Word of our Testimony: Mike Hall

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

It was the mid-90s in Roanoke City and I was doing what most 14-year-old boys were doing at the time; growing my hair long, listening to Sublime and Nirvana, and skateboarding. To say I was running around with the wrong crowd would be an understatement. Just like myself, most of the boys in my group came from broken homes with little or no parenting.  My mother had a terrible divorce from my father when I was two. She told me that he was a very physically abusive alcoholic. Unfortunately, the man she remarried when I was five didn't need alcohol to be abusive. It came naturally to him, and I was always on the receiving end of it.  

I spent every weekend and all of my summers with my grandparents on their farm in Blue Ridge or their cabin on Smith Mountain lake. I was safe there and had a solid role model in my grandfather who was a great man. Unfortunately, as I grew older, I wanted to spend more time with my “friends” and spent less time where I should have. 

One summer, we were approached by our friend's dad who said their church wanted to start a Friday night youth skateboard park. He said if we would build the ramps and boxes, then they would buy all of the wood. This was a dream come true for my group.

With our friend’s dad’s help, and the money from the church, we built all the boxes and ramps that we had been dreaming of.  It was a blast until we had to give them all to the church, leaving only Friday nights for us to skate on them. My friend's dad would go around in his van to pick us all up and take us there every Friday night. We would hang out and skate, and it was great until the dreaded part in the middle of all the fun. They would make us stop skating and bring us all into one place where someone would preach to us for what seemed like an eternity. I despised it. My family didn’t go to church.  Not that my family was against going, we just didn’t. We never talked about Jesus or religion at all for that matter, so the whole concept was foreign to me and just felt plain weird.

One particular Friday, the youth pastor told a story of a man who loved his friends so much that he took the punishment they deserved all the way to death. The same man who I remembered from weeks past was a Shepherd that would leave all the sheep in his flock to go find that one who went missing. It was at that point that I felt a faint knock on the door of my heart. I could not explain what it was, but I wanted to be cool with my friends, so I didn’t act on it and put up a front.

The next Friday when they called us all in, I acted as if it pained me to go. The sermon this time was on a love that is unconditional. This was also a foreign concept in my house because their love was extremely conditional. This God loves me no matter what? Me, and everything I have done? Me, a boy whose own father had looked at him and walked away? It was simply unbelievable to me. I was in a tug of war between what I thought was the truth of life and what this Jesus said the truth was. At that moment I wanted it. I wanted that love. I wanted the father that would come looking for me because I was so very lost. At that moment, not caring how I looked in front of my friends, I had to make a change, I had to meet this Jesus.

At 14 years old I opened the door to my heart and was introduced to the truest friend and father I have ever known. Moving on from that point as a fourteen-year-old, I tried to do the best I could with little direction. I also tried to leave his side and go down my own path many times. When I would look up and realize how lost I had gotten, once again Jesus was there and would once again carry his lost sheep home. That is my story. At the end of the day I am just a nobody trying to tell everybody about the man I proudly call my father and friend, the one who saved my soul! 

Mike Hall
Men's Ministry Leader

The Word of our Testimony: Brenda Simmons

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

My childhood was full of so many changes and uncertainties that I always dreamed that my adult life would be more stable. As the oldest of five children, I assumed a mother role at very young age. We were a military family moving about every 4 years. None of our moves included a church. Religion or God was never discussed in our house. It was much later and a broken heart that lead me to Jesus.

I was introduced to church through my first husband John’s family who were Catholic. I converted to Catholicism after we were married. I went through the motions but did not have a relationship with Jesus. John and I were married for 8 years and were thrilled to have three sons Sean, Ryan and Stephen. We were devastated when our son, Ryan, died when he was 3 months old of SIDS. Just three years later, John was killed instantly in a car accident. I was so angry at God. I felt I was being punished for something but couldn’t possibly imagine what I might have done to deserve all this.

I learned to hide my pain and fake happiness. I could smile and look “normal”, but inside I was just a mess. I was still faking happiness when I met my future and current husband Keith. Keith was loving, patient, and kind to me and my boys and loved Jesus. His love for Jesus didn’t matter to me at the time, but it became the thing I admired most about him. We started going to church and attending a home group. I started wanting what I saw in my husband and church family and longing for a relationship with Jesus. I knew I was missing something in my life that no other person, amount of money, or stuff could fill. It was at home group in our neighbor’s living room that I finally accepted Jesus as my Savior. I felt such a rush of adrenaline in that living room, it was amazing. I was baptized in the southern California Pacific Ocean a few months later. Keith and I were married in our church. Our family grew with the birth of our son, Joshua, a week before our 1st anniversary and our daughter, Haley, 22 months later. Those outside our church family said it would never last, but we will be married 30 years next March.

It has taken time and an army of strangers, co-workers, friends, church family and prayer warriors walking alongside me to help me see who Jesus really is and the extent of his love for me. I had no problem believing Jesus could love everyone else but struggled with him loving me. Developing a personal relationship with him has truly saved my life as well has my soul. My heart had been shattered into so many pieces. I couldn’t imagine it ever being whole again. Now, I see my heart as pieces of stained glass, broken, then forged together and made more beautiful. Life hasn’t been any easier as a Christian, but it always has HOPE! When faced with challenges, I may take day trips to the dark place I came from in my life before Jesus, but I don’t live there. The heaviness I felt is gone and replaced by light. I have a God that continues to amaze me with a life I could have never imaged. He continues to give me the tools and gifts to equip me to handle the trials of being human. People mistakenly say, “God doesn’t give us more then we can handle”, but I believe he equips us to handle the times in our lives that we feel we can’t handle.

Brenda Simmons
Children’s Ministry PreK, Director

I love this song. I listen to it and think about the army Jesus sent to rescue me and continues to send for all of us. - Brenda

The Word of our Testimony: Rick Troutt

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

I grew up with no exposure to Christianity. As an only child I was raised in a home where arguments and alcohol were the norm. My parents divorced when I was 12. By the time I was 15, a time when I needed my Dad the most, he died from complications of alcoholism. He was 42. My mother married another alcoholic, this time one who was also physically abusive. Within a few years, that marriage ended. Thankfully. However, my mother suffered long term physical effects from the abuse.

I accepted Christ on March 19,1971. I felt that I had acquired salvation. Sadly, that’s all I understood. No one was there to disciple me; I had no real understanding of who Jesus was or what my relationship to him could be. The Baptists, the Methodists, and the Lutherans tried to explain it on occasional Sunday mornings over the next 35 years. I just didn’t get it. I married in 1974, because it seemed like the right thing to do. We had a beautiful daughter. But by 1979 the marriage had ended.

I married again in 1980, to the person who has loved me when I have been at my most unlovable. She has believed in me and stuck with me through the most terrible times in our lives. Our son was born in 1982. Soon after, my mother, who had been the one constant in my life, passed away as a result of the abuse she had suffered at the hands of my stepfather. My world began to crumble. I slowly faded into what I refer to as my decade of insanity. Through my selfish, arrogant behavior, I came very close to destroying my relationships with everyone who had ever loved me. My wife, my children, my friends.

In December 2006, I walked through the front doors of Orchard Hills Church. For the first time in 54 years I left a church service feeling good, even hopeful. I actually wanted to come back to hear more about this Jesus who wanted to have a personal relationship with me. Scott made a statement that was a turning point for me, “Everyone wants a savior, no one wants a Lord.” That was me.

On November 10, 2007, on an Emmaus weekend, I was able to lay down all my selfishness, arrogance, pride and brokenness and surrender to Jesus who has redeemed all the darkness in my life.

I hope you can see the results in the man I am today.

Rick Troutt
Community Care

The Word of our Testimony: Sutton Wirt

In tandem with our sermon series on the Book of Acts, we thought it would be helpful if the leadership of the church each shared their testimony. Testimonies are powerful. They’re personal stories of what God has done in our lives. Along with the blood of Jesus, Revelation 12:11 says that we overcome the Enemy by the “word of our testimony.” Our hope is that through this series of articles, your faith to continue the fight will be strengthened, you’ll get to know all of us better, and you’ll see that Jesus can and does redeem all kinds of people in all kinds of ways.

I grew up in a Christian home, in the strongest sense of the term. I was given the incredible gift of parents who didn’t merely bring us to church so other people could tell us about God, or even just tell us about God themselves, but who faithfully and humbly showed us what God was like, through their love for us and for the people with which our family interacted. To this day, my parents are some of the most consistently Christ-like people I know.

So when it came to God, I had no trouble believing in his existence or that he came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ to save us from sin and death. And I certainly didn’t have any doubt that I was a sinner in need of his saving. At the age of 5, I remember lying on the top bunk of my brother and I’s bunk bed, asking for Jesus’ forgiveness and inviting him to live inside me.

As I grew though, I began to feel a lot of doubt about what had taken place in my heart. I began to be confused by the process of salvation, and I found myself constantly questioning whether I was secure in the Lord’s love or not. As I attended church services, and Christian concerts, and conferences, I found myself wracked with guilt, “praying the prayer” yet again, and wondering if maybe this time I had been repentant enough for it to “work.”

My fear of death and hell got worse until my anxiety kept me awake at night. I was only able to fall asleep after hours of listening to worship music. I couldn’t figure it out in my head. I knew that Jesus had come to bring salvation, but the Bible seemed to be all over the place in its descriptions of how we were supposed to receive it. “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9) “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21) “Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16b) “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15) What was it? Repent, believe, call, confess? I couldn’t make sense of it.

I tried to. I would cry and wrestle and read and think, and my parents would counsel and pray for me. But it wasn’t until I was reading Max Lucado’s In the Grip of Grace that the Spirit finally helped me to understand: I couldn’t be saved by my own effort. No amount of “praying the prayer,” repenting, confessing, our believing could save me. Only Jesus could. And the Bible said that he had already saved me on the cross (Rom. 5:6), that he was saving me as I became more like him (1 Cor. 1:18), and that he would save both my soul when I died (Rom. 5:9) and later my body (Phil. 3:21) when his people are all raised to life on the new heaven and new earth. I finally saw that I couldn’t do a thing to rescue myself. But he could. And he did. And he will. HE himself is my great hope, and now my soul finds rest in him alone.

Sutton Wirt
Administrator

Letter From the Elders

Building Campaign Update 

Through your generosity, we have raised over half the money needed to start building our new sanctuary. The current pledge period is scheduled to end October of 2020. When the remainder of the pledged amount comes in, we will be only about $150,000 short of what we need to build the exterior shells of the sanctuary and two additional classrooms, while retaining the existing classroom wing and building a completed larger foyer. 

In an effort to be good stewards of the resources God has graciously provided, we are considering various options for use of the money currently in the building fund earning no interest while we wait for God’s provision of the remaining funds needed to start building. 

Freedom First Credit Union is working closely with us to explore options to best position us to move forward building the sanctuary. Unfortunately, since we started this journey there has been a significant, unexpected rise in building costs. One option allows us to use cash currently in the building fund to pay down the principle owed for the educational building. A lower debt amount along with a new amortization schedule allows several positive outcomes. First, our mortgage payments can be reduced by nearly $900 per weekThe annual savings benefiting our Church would be about $46,500 due to a reduction in interest expenses. Second, our debt-to-value ratio improves by the amount of the pay down, putting us in a better position to obtain funds for future building. Third, the money is used for its intended building expansion, rather than sitting idly in an account. The funds in the building account will then be replenished by continuing pledges and new dollars contributed to the building fund. 

While we believe this option represents good stewardship of the resources entrusted to us, we fully realize that others with the same goal of investing in people for eternity may have different opinions as to the best way to use the funds currently on hand. Accordingly, we would like to hear from you prior to making a decision.

You can let us know your thoughts in two different ways. On Sunday, June 30th at 5 PMwe will meet at the church to answer any questions and discuss any suggestions. We will also have available information about the plan for a new sanctuary for anybody who missed it the first time around. In addition, if you have given or will give in the future to the building fund and prefer your contribution remain in the building fund account rather than being used as outlined above, simply let us know. You can call the church office, send an email, or place a request in the Sunday offering. This need not be an all-or-nothing decision and your wish will be honored. 

Please prayerfully consider how God is leading us to honor Him and do our part to expand His Kingdom. Please let us know your thoughts on how to be good stewards of the resources God has provided our congregation of His Church. We thank you and look forward to continuing our journey together of investing in people for eternity. 

Sincerely, 

Your Elders

Question 26: What else does Christ's death redeem?

Christ’s death is the beginning of the redemption and renewal of every part of fallen creation, as he powerfully directs all things for his own glory and creation’s good.
 

God and Christianity are often times so misunderstood. One of the primary attributes of God is that of redemption. Redemption by definition is the action of saving or being saved from sin, error or evil. It also means the action of regaining or gaining possession of something in exchange for payment or clearing of a debt. We typically think of redemption as it applies to us, human beings, but God's redemption extends well beyond us to all of creation which has suffered due to man's sin, error or evil. God revealed His plan to redeem the heavens and the earth to the Apostle John. Revelation chapters 21 and 22 describe what this redemption will entail. Not only is this a beautiful depiction of what the earth will look like one day but it also reflects the beauty of a restored intimacy with God as well. We see that the physical and spiritual are all linked together in sometimes mysterious and miraculous ways. Take a moment and read those chapters.

While Christ's death initially appeared as victory for our enemy it was in fact victory for humanity, all created beings and the heavens and earth because His redemption had immeasurable, far reaching, and eternal effects on all of God's creation.

Question 25: Does Christ's death mean all our sins can be forgiven?

Yes because Christ's death on the cross fully paid the penalty for our sin, God graciously imputes Christ's righteousness to us as if it were our own and will remember our sins no more.

 

The simple answer to this is, yes. Thank you, have a great week.
Why is it that we tend to make this more complicated than it needs to be? Scripture tells us that through Jesus, we are washed as white as snow. God will remember our sins no more. Our sin is removed as far as the east is from the west. All have sinned and fallen short, all deserved death as the rightful punishment for sin, but God, in His mercy and love for us, puts all our guilt, all our brokenness, and all our sin on Jesus. God in the flesh put Himself on the cross as a substitute for us.

In light of this truth, I find it perplexing that many cling to their sin by trying to work their way to salvation. Maybe it’s pride, arrogance, and distrust that makes us hold on to our sin identity. Our past has shaped the person we are now, the good things and the bad. When we surrender, not only our sin but also ourselves completely to Christ, we are given a new identity. God’s Holy Spirit comes to dwell within us. We can revisit our mistakes, our regret, our guilt and hold on to our sin identity if we choose, OR we can allow God to redeem all those things that have held our spirit captive. We can be set free to live out our new identity as sons and daughters of the King. Forgiven.
Yes, Christ’s death means all our sins “CAN” be forgiven. Will you allow that to happen in your life?
 


Rick Troutt
Community Care

Question 24: Why was it necessary for Christ, the Redeemer, to die?


Since death is the punishment for sin, Christ died willingly in our place to deliver us from the power and penalty of sin and bring us back to God. By his substitutionary atoning death, he alone redeems us from hell and gains for us forgiveness of sin, righteousness, and everlasting life.

Today, we are focusing on the question, “Why was it necessary for Christ, the Redeemer, to die?”  

The shedding of blood has been a part of the gospel narrative from the start.  When we look back at the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve sinned; they broke God's law. They realized they were naked, so the Lord killed an animal to cover their nakedness and their shame.  It took the death of an animal to cover Adam and Eve's sin. Sacrifice is the only way there can be forgiveness of sin. Woven through the Old Testament tradition of the temple and the sacrificing of spotless lambs by the priests to atone for sin is the picture of Jesus and the sacrifice needed for atonement, but the sacrifice of lambs had to be repeated. The animal sacrifice was not enough.  

We need Jesus. It takes the blood of Jesus to pay the price for sin.  

Jesus is THE spotless lamb (John 1:29).  He lived and walked on this earth without sinning. He dealt with the same things that we deal with today, and yet, he did not stumble, not even once.  Jesus is our lamb. He took the sins of the world on his shoulders, bore our sin and shame. Matthew 27:46 says, “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama Sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God why have You forsaken Me?’” God had forsaken His Son because Jesus was covered with the sin of the world, our sin. Jesus died, but that was not the end. He arose victorious from the grave three days later, conqueror over sin and death! Without the death of Jesus, there is no atonement, and there is no everlasting life with the Father. Jesus death is the bridge that crossed a great divide. Hallelujah!


Jon Speas
Worship Pastor

Question 22: Why must the Redeemer be truly human?

That in human nature he might on our behalf perfectly obey the whole law and suffer the punishment for human sin; and also that he might sympathize with our weaknesses.

 

What does it mean to be “truly human?” What do you think of when you hear “humanity”?  Some may think of present humanity’s flaws, our weaknesses.  “How could I resist? I’m only human,” is an excuse often rendered.  I know I think of my flaws, my pride, and my mistakes.  Even when I think of human nature as a whole, I sometimes think of the hurt, the selfishness, and the evil.  But Jesus became fully human and showed us what humanity was supposed to be. He was the perfect version of humanity. 
 
Jesus in his humanity also knows every weakness we have- the tiredness, the hunger, the emotional struggles.  And yet, he remained perfect.  He didn’t give in to the weaknesses of humanity. It would have been easy for Christ to have stayed perfect at the right hand of the Father and only been fully God. But he didn’t – he came to Earth. 
Jesus had to be fully human, in order to be the appropriate substitute for us on the cross.  This question brings to mind Philippians 2:3-8: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. 5In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very naturea God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very natureb of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
 
We can’t be the perfect human that Jesus was, but our humanity can’t be our excuse. Because our Redeemer was truly human AND truly God, his Spirit lives inside of us as believers.  And that’s the point - we need his Spirit in us to live like he did and to love like he did.  We know we won’t be perfect which is our necessity for a Savior in the first place.  But by his grace we can strive to become more and more like Him. 
 
Stephanie Browning
Elementary Children’s Director 

Question 20: What sort of Redeemer is needed to bring us back to God?

One who is truly human and also truly God.

When I read this question, my thoughts are pulled to the stories of adventure and heroism that we all love. Whether it’s Lord of the Rings, Saving Private Ryan, or The Avengers, the stories that tug at our hearts and capture our attention usually revolve around ordinary people sacrificing everything so that evil can be defeated, good can prevail, and people can have life. I believe that we love those stories because they capture something of the Story, the Story that is being told in our everyday lives, and has been told from the beginning of time.

Most of us know this story well, but I think the sheer genius of it can get lost in the familiarity. We forget that before Christ came, no one expected God himself to come to earth as a human. When he came and lived in 1st century Israel, most people, even those closest to him, had trouble believing that he was God with skin on. The Apostle Paul refers to God’s plan to come to rescue us in Jesus as a mystery (Eph. 1:9, Col 1:27), a secret plan that he was waiting to reveal and that he implemented at just the right time.

The Scriptures also lead us to believe that though Satan knew that Jesus was God, even he did not understand the fullness of the plan that God had formulated. In the crucifixion, the very act that appears to be the Enemy’s victory over Christ, God pulls the biggest reversal of all time and uses the death blow dealt against him as the very means to save humanity. What a move! What glory! What a magnificent plan to defeat evil, uphold justice, and rescue us all from the death that we deserve. And no one could have accomplished this except Jesus, the Messiah, fully God and fully man.

Friends, this is the mystery of our faith, this is the glory of God, this is our hope, and our life, and our freedom. This is the Story that satisfies the deep longings of our soul. This is our Redeemer. Hallelujah!

“Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.”  – Eph. 1:7-10, the Message

Sutton Wirt
Administrator

Question 19: Who is the Redeemer?

The only Redeemer is the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, in whom God became man and bore the penalty for sin himself.


I could begin this week’s response to the catechism question with a three paragraph theological explanation. Instead I'll start with a story about a friend of mine in Pharmacy School.
 
I caught Greg doing something unusual every day before lunch. He would open up his door, allowing everyone in the dorm that traveled down his hallway on their way to lunch to see him reclined on his bed reading his bible. Greg practiced this all year despite the ridicule, in hope that someone seeking God would join him. "Why continue doing it?" I asked. Greg explained that when he became interested in Jesus he was intrigued by the question of why it was necessary for Jesus to die on the cross. "God makes up all the rules. Why would He create a system that would cause Him so much pain and lead to His Son's death?" The more he read, the clearer it became. "He could have created us to have robotically loved and adored Him. We would have never sinned." Greg smiled. "But that love wouldn't have meant anything without giving us the choice to love him or not to love Him.” That choice not to love Him lead to sin...and sin led to punishment...and punishment lead to the only option a perfect God had. A perfect God sent a perfect Son to do what only He could do--redeem us. Greg said this act of God stunned him. If God planned this knowing exactly what it would cost Him, then it had to radically change the way he lived. So Greg believed he was placed there in Richmond to bring glory and attention to God, and that getting a Pharmacy education was just a secondary goal.
 
This was very convicting to me. Like many people my plan for my life was to pursue things like a Pharmacy degree, and a girlfriend in Pittsburgh, and invite God into everything I was doing in life. Greg's view of life was the compete reverse. He was pursuing God and enjoying the direction God was leading him every day. In the midst of this he was inviting the events of his life to join him as an afterthought. Completely different mindset. Interestingly, Greg seemed so much more freed up and joyful and content than almost anyone else I knew. I tell you this story because the catechism question is this:
 
Who is the Redeemer?  The only Redeemer is the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, in whom God became man and bore the penalty for sin himself.
 
This statement either leaves you shaking your head in an academic manner as you check off question #19 and plod on to question #20, or it reminds you of the fierce, relentless love that Jesus our Redeemer has for you, and how this knowledge transforms your life. These truths can stir us, delightfully disturb us, and ultimately shape the way we live, or they can just remain stale one-liner questions that don't mean anything more than a memorized answer we can use just in case someone asks us the question. I must admit I look at life differently because of how I saw Greg live 35 years ago in the halls of my Medical College of Virginia dorm hallways. May we all inspire those around us with such authentic love for Jesus our Redeemer.

Steve Forbes
Elder

Question 18: Will God allow our disobedience and idolatry to go unpunished?

Question 18: Will God allow our disobedience and idolatry to go unpunished?

No, every sin is against the sovereignty, holiness, and goodness of God, and against his righteous law, and God is righteously angry with our sins and will punish them in his just judgment both in this life, and in the life to come.


People are constantly crying out for justice. We want to see the guilty party “pay” for the injustice they committed. Some people riot in the streets when they feel that justice has not been served while others riot against God and question His sense of justice. “How can God allow this injustice to occur”, we demand? “it’s not fair!” we exclaim. And yet when confronted with our own injustice and the myriad of times we have chosen to turn our backs on God, gone our own way and done our own thing we cry out for “mercy”. We fail to recognize that JUSTICE demands that all of us suffer eternal punishment that results in our separation from God.

God is just. The penalty is death. But thankfully there is one who has endured the punishment and paid the price for our disobedience and idolatry. That person is Jesus Christ and if we will turn our lives over to Him we will be spared the punishment we JUSTLY deserve. Thanks be to God that He is both JUST and the JUSTIFIER for all who follow Jesus! (Rom. 3:26)

Scott McLucas
Pastor

Question 17: What is idolatry

 Question 16: What is idolatry?

Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.


What are our idols?  Or, an easier way to think of it is, “What is REALLY important to me?”  “In what do I REALLY trust?”  “What would I REALLY miss most if it was gone?”  “What do I REALLY get my hope and happiness, significance and security from?”  Is it my job or position?  Is it my income or bank account balance?  Is it my home or other material possessions? Is it my hobby?  Is it a particular skill or ability?  All of these are gifts from God and, when kept in the proper perspective, are fine.  But, we are all probably already aware that any of these can also easily become our idol…. what we passionately pursue and trust in place of God.
 
As I was praying about this question, I was led to another idol that seems to be a little more camouflaged and probably more dangerous than the ones we usually think of.  It can take years to quietly develop and can easily permeate every part of our lives... almost naturally. It is one that probably all of us have battled at various points in our life… or, at least I know I have.  It is the idol called “Self.”
 
This idol is fed and grows as we go about our normal activities.  It sometimes hides behind accomplishments and even good deeds.  It thrives on feelings that it has to be in control and on opportunities to share, what is undoubtedly, the correct answer or solution in any situation.  It looks at whatever it does as a time to figure things out on its own and take personal pride in what it perceives as a positive result, or looks for a place to lay blame on a poor one. If left unchecked, it can easily grow to the point that it exudes a false confidence that it is the ultimate thing and that it needs nothing else… not even God.
 
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened… Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools… Romans 1: 21-22
 
On whom or what can we truly trust as our hope and happiness, significance and security?
 
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit… Jeremiah 17:7-8
 
I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one… John 10:28-30
 
Jerry Altieri
Elder