It was Good Friday that year. That was the day my life changed. Forever. And by “forever” I don’t mean just until the end of my earthly existence. I literally mean “forever.” As in “eternity.”
You see, that was the day I discovered that the reason I did things that I wasn’t too proud of. I learned exactly why I said and thought things that I knew weren’t right. I was a sinner, a realization that made me ashamed and broken. Further, there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
But I also learned that evening that God loved me—and the entire world—so much that He offered a solution to my dilemma. You’ve all heard it before: God loved the world so much that He sent His one and only Son. But in 1969, it was brand new news to me. And when I heard it for the first time, my heart was broken. I was the one who deserved to die, and God loved me so much that He sent His Son Jesus to take my place.
I realize that it is more difficult than that for some, but for me, that was all it took. I surrendered my life—that moment and all the rest of it—to Jesus. I made Jesus the Lord, the Boss, of my life. My whole world lit up!
I went back to Forest Hill High School, Jackson, Mississippi, with my eyes on fire for Jesus! I wanted everyone to know what I knew. The only problem was that I wasn’t very tactful about it. I didn’t know any better. And I didn’t know a whole lot about what the Bible had to say. In my early days of being a Christ-follower, I did the best I could. I carried my Bible to class (something I probably wouldn’t be allowed to do today!), not because I wanted to show off, but because I had just discovered it, and wanted to read it every chance I got. But the truth was that my sins had been forgiven! I was going to heaven to be with Jesus! And I wanted everyone to go with me!
Looking back, I know that some were turned off by my enthusiasm. There was nothing wrong with the Message—it was me they had a problem with. My joy and enthusiasm for following Christ had consumed me, and I just couldn’t bear it to think that my classmates didn’t know Him, too.
I didn’t get everything right. I made a LOT of mistakes. I still struggled with my temper. My hormones (I was 14 at the time) still raged. My brain still entertained unhealthy thoughts. That’s was when I discovered that I could have forgiveness all over again—that God would restore me and pick me up and give me a new beginning in Christ.
If you knew me back then, you may remember my enthusiasm and zeal for Jesus. If you knew me closely, you will certainly remember my sins and failures—even when I thought I was doing the right things. I was, at times, a self-righteous, Pharisaical jerk. I ask for your forgiveness.
Forty-five years have gone by, and I will turn 60 years old this year. I never thought I would be this old! Life has not always been very kind, and there have been plenty of ups and downs. I’ve struggled with arthritis since I was 18, and sometimes the pain and the future of this disease would depress me if I didn’t have Jesus. I’ve continued to be a sinner, doing many of the things that sinners do. But God has blessed me far, far beyond anything I deserved or can describe in these few words.
There have been times in my past I couldn’t pay my bills, but I have been and continue to be a very rich man. I think about my family, whom I love beyond description. I think about my friends, whom I also love very much. I remember the adults who worked with us young people and guided us. I especially recall both the youth and adults who were so very patient with me when I was so hard-headed.
And I wanted you to know that all the things I believed then, all the things about Jesus that brought me joy and made me wish the same things for you, all the things that brought me purpose and peace and meaning for my life—they’re all true.
I continue to learn more about Him that brings me even more joy. I’m not always laughing, and don’t always have a smile on my face, but I know Jesus, and the joy He gives is deeper than any life circumstance. The joy and convictions I had as a teenager in high school have stood the tests of time, and I wanted you all to know that even when I made mistakes in sharing Christ with you and in being a witness for Him, His Truth and Love were not affected in the least.
Forty-five years are only the tiniest of drops in the bucket of eternity, but they seem like a long, long time to me. And in that span of time, I’ve learned that He is everything He claims to be. He is more than our little feeble brains can comprehend. His love is deeper and richer and wider and higher than anything we can imagine.
I am almost breathless when I tell you that everything He says is true. And you can trust Him.
--Rocky Henriques, www.uticabc.com