The gospel changes us.
“Seven sticks and a circle saved my life.” This story shows the gospel’s life-changing power to create faith in Jesus.
Nathan C. Buege
In 1970, at the age of 18, Mike joined the military and spent three years in Vietnam, Thailand, and England. Each of those years included heavy drinking. When he got back to the States, he attended college for five years. And the partying continued. He married Linda, his college sweetheart. Together, they raised two handsome boys.
But God was never a part of the picture. The drinking from his military and college days had never stopped. And nearly 40 years later, in 2009, Mike found himself in a terrible place. He admitted his addiction to alcohol. He successfully quit drinking for about 18 months. But God still was not part of the picture.
Then a relapse. During the next two years, Mike spiraled down to new depths. “After my eighteen-month sobriety, those next two years of drinking made my previous 30-some years of alcohol addiction seem like nothing,” Mike recalled. And after those terrible two years, Linda finally had enough. She moved out. Divorce was all but certain. And Mike’s first thought was, Good. I don’t care. Now I can drink without her complaining about it all the time.
Wanting a change
But Mike couldn’t sleep at night. He couldn’t sleep in his lonely bed. He couldn’t sleep on the couch by the TV. He couldn’t sleep on the patio furniture outside by the pool. He tried drinking even more in order to make himself pass out, but he couldn’t even do that. He struggled to care and considered suicide. He missed his wife, he missed his boys, and he realized he was about an inch away from losing everything. He pulled aside a Christian friend from work and spilled his soul. Mike expressed that he was desperate and needed help.
Mike also promised Linda he’d attend an addiction support group meeting. But he got totally lost in metro Houston on the way to the first meeting. He was turned around, stuck in traffic, and furious with himself . . . when he looked up and discovered that he was somehow in the right spot. “Jesus helped me get to that first meeting,” Mike said.
For decades, Linda had begged Mike to attend church with her, but he never would. So Mike decided to make a change on Sunday mornings also. He began to attend a church within walking distance from his house—Victory of the Lamb, Katy, Texas. He purposely came late and left early, never leaving any contact information. He told himself he was just doing this for a little while to get Linda back. “Those first couple of Sundays, I must have checked my watch 50 times during the service,” Mike recalls. “I really was just forcing myself to be there.”
After his third Sunday, Mike was trying to sprint out the door, as usual. But this time, Hal Brazee, a longtime member of the congregation, was waiting for him. “I’ve seen you come the past three or four weeks,” Hal said, “and I haven’t been able to say hello yet. Why don’t you try coming to our Bible 101 class? It starts next Wednesday. I’ll go there with you.” He gave Mike a Bible and said, “You’re going to need this when you come to class.”
Mike thought to himself, You’re just trying to get me to join this church. But he started Bible 101 class anyway.
Hearing the life-changing gospel
At first, it was tough sledding. Mike had many questions: “How can Jesus be God and man? Would God really forgive wretched humans? Does this mean my fourth-grade teacher was a liar because she had taught me evolution?” Mike wasn’t sure if any of the Bible was true.
Almost every week, I always used a drawing of a stick person, a cross, and two arrows. It shows the gospel simply. One stick man is made from five sticks and a circle. Two more sticks depict the cross. Sins follow an arrow to the cross. The perfection of Jesus follows another arrow from the cross to the stick man. The gospel is the news that all our sins are transferred to Jesus and all his perfection is transferred back to us.
After five weeks or so, Mike stuck around after class to express his doubts to me. I listened carefully and then had a suggestion: “There are a lot of things in the Bible that are hard to believe, Mike. Why don’t you try listening to the Bible as a child would? And then, in the end, either you believe it, or you don’t.”
Mike took me up on this suggestion. He simply listened to the Word as a child would listen. The drawing started to make sense. And gradually, without even trying, he noticed his attitude changing. Instead of listing all the reasons why the Bible probably wasn’t true, Mike found himself simply saying, “This is true. I believe it. God loves me, yes, even me! God has forgiven me for everything in Jesus! My life has changed!” And that day after Bible 101 class, a grown man in his 60s skipped home, smiling as big and bright as the stars in the Texas sky.
Living as a changed man
In November 2013, Mike had a great question for me: “Pastor, I need your help. Can you help me write a Thanksgiving prayer? This will be my first Thanksgiving dinner that I won’t be drunk, and I’d like to lead my family in prayer before the meal.” What a wonderful question for a man to be asking! It was a breakthrough Thanksgiving for the Young family.
A little over two years since Mike had forced himself to walk through the church doors for the first time, Mike and Linda were confirmed as members of Victory of the Lamb. And as they walked back to their seats after taking communion, Hal Brazee was waiting for Mike again. This time, it was with a huge bear hug. Through tears, all Mike could say was, “Thanks, buddy.”
After worship on their confirmation day, the Youngs threw a party to celebrate all that God had done for them. Several of their new church friends were there, as well as some other friends who were instrumental in helping Mike fight alcoholism. Mike exclaimed, “You know how many parties I’ve had at my house where there was all kinds of drinking? Well, that party we had on the day we joined the church was the best party we’ve ever had!”
How is Mike doing now? “I can’t even explain how much better my marriage with Linda has gotten—and it just keeps getting better and better. I enjoy serving as an usher, because now Sunday is my favorite day! There’s a kick in my step, and I can’t wait to get to the church service. It’s totally different than it was when I first walked through the church doors.
“And I also love talking about how seven sticks and a circle saved my life.”
Nathan Buege is pastor at Victory of the Lamb, Katy, Texas.
This is the second article in a six-part series on the power of the gospel.
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Author: Nathan C. Buege
Volume 105, Number 6
Issue: June 2018
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