The gospel still works! If you ever get past the gospel, you’ve gotten past God’s Word—from the first page to the last, the Bible is about the good news of Jesus.
One year ago, a terrified single mom stepped into Emmanuel Baptist Church, and her story of salvation and growth has encouraged me greatly. Perhaps it will encourage you too. For the most part, the paragraphs below are Sarah’s story in her own words.
With her permission, I share it with you, and invite you to be reminded of all that Jesus has done for you!
Sarah’s Story of Faith in Jesus Christ:
“The cross has made you flawless—not in the eyes of men, but In the eyes of God.”
A One-Year Celebration of Life-Change
“One year ago today, I walked out of the strip-club and into a church building for the first time in my 27 years of life. I had committed to going, so I couldn’t disappoint Sarah, but I was also afraid of being disappointed myself.
“Through a text, I asked Sarah what the dress code was—she said “like you’re going to a nice dinner.” Naturally, I decided pink shiny leggings, a sequin-covered hoody, and sequined boots would be a good choice. I was excited, nervous, and apprehensive. I was expecting people to say what do you do? And when they heard, kick me out or say, “Well you can’t do that anymore.” I was afraid they would find out I used to date women and considered myself a lesbian and hate me. I was afraid that I wouldn’t fit in.
“I’m not going to detail my entire experience, because it would be way too long, but I sat in services for weeks just listening. I was expecting something mystical to happen, and then I was upset when it didn’t. Like, I’m closing my eyes during this prayer time and saying the prayer—I want a little mini-Jesus to come into my heart with a key and save me! WHY ISN’T HE DOING THAT?!”
“Then I met with Derrick and Darci. They talked me through everything in a way that was easy to understand. I knew nothing. I basically thought the Old and New Testaments were two completely unrelated religious books that just happened to be together.
“After I was saved, I developed a thirst for knowledge. I wanted to know everything about this Jesus who died for me and this God who would be willing to sacrifice his own child on my behalf. I wanted to be able to share this amazing gift with others, especially because I think so many people misunderstand Christianity!
“Then I got baptized. That was scary too. I do not like standing in front of people and talking—or even having them look at me. But then I realized it wasn’t about me. And it was seriously the best experience ever!
“A few months later I dedicated [my daughter] Amiyah to the Lord in a baby dedication, and now she attends Emmanuel Christian Academy. It’s just unreal to think about!
From Fake Beauty to True Beauty
“I used to think that my beauty came from my long hair, extensions, fake eyelashes, pounds of makeup, and clothing that made strangers blush. I spent hours on my appearance—from tanning, to long hours at the gym, strict diet, hair and nail appointments, etc. But guess what? Under all that I still didn’t feel beautiful. My manufactured plastic beauty led to attention, money, pride, all of which failed at filling my heart and destroyed me.
“My relationships reflected my attitude—there was no depth or substance, everything was based on the external. I had to maintain or else I would crumble. My joy was rooted in the wrong things.
“I learned that I had to decrease for him to increase. Think less about myself and more about Him and what He has done for me. In turn, I think of ways to please Him rather than myself—to do things not for my own personal satisfaction, but to advance the Gospel and be a vessel for Christ—joyous and radiating joy so that others may be drawn to Him!
“It makes me sad when people think Jesus is an oppressive Lord. Jesus is a great Saviour! And life in Him is glorious and free.”
(My Response: Sarah—If you think about it, since you’ve been saved you’ve been becoming more you than you’ve ever been before. He doesn’t take away your identity or beauty—He gives it to you. Without Him it’s all just a cover. With Him, it’s all real.)
She continues— “Yes, I realized my whole life was haphazardly anchored to other “things ” but the knots always loosened and I floated away and lost myself. Now my everything is in Him and He will never leave me, so I can’t be lost.
Learning of Grace and Gospel-Centered Living
“One thing that really struck me about our class discussion and sermon recently was how a lot of people view Christianity and the Bible as negative or oppressive. They think the Bible is all about what they “can’t do”, rather than what God has done.
“Let me just be real for a second. You want to know what was oppressive? Working in a strip club. That [stunk.] Yeah, I was free to do whatever I wanted to, which included consuming ridiculous amounts of alcohol on a daily basis, fighting, engaging in other risky behaviors. I literally did whatever I wanted, and as long as there was no vomit or blood, there were no repercussions from “authority.” I made my own rules, there was nobody to hold me accountable. I had the ultimate freedom.
Did that make me happy? How did Solomon put it? It was all vanity and vexation of spirit? I felt like a slave.
“Then cute little Sarah comes along, interrupts my margarita date at Chili’s, and invites me (and Jim) to church. I was so excited that someone invited me! It was November and I had been watching Christmas flash mobs and wanting to go to church because I remember they went at midnight in Home Alone. So I was receptive and committed to attending.
“After we left, my next though was Whhhhyyyy did I give this “Jesus-lady” my phone number—now I have no way out and I can’t lie to her! I didn’t want to go. I was so nervous. Like me, in church? When two nights before I was wearing a leotard and pulling someone’s weave out? So anyway, we ended up texting a few times throughout the week and I ended up going.
“The thing I noticed first about Emmanuel was how friendly and welcoming people were—and loving. They didn’t look at me like a project, they looked at me like a person. I honestly thought they were pumping something into the air at first . (They aren’t, by the way.) I also noticed how “into it” everyone was. I grew up in a reform [Jewish] temple, and hadn’t gone since my sisters Bat Mitzvah in 2005.
“For about a month I thought church was great and refreshing and fun—but I didn’t really get it. But I wanted to. I tried to read my dollar store Bible and got discouraged. It sounded like gibberish, and a bunch of stuff I couldn’t or wasn’t supposed to do. I didn’t like that part. But people were so patient, and eventually I got over myself and opened my heart.
“There were so many reasons why I didn’t want to believe the Bible. I didn’t want to trust that someone knew better or more than me. Trusting is so hard. But I chose to. The pastor talked a lot about salvation. I’m not going to lie—I literally thought I would feel a Jesus coming into my heart.
“It wasn’t that. It was a choice. I chose to believe God’s word over my own way. I believed there was something after this life, but I had no idea what it was. Derrick and Darci shared the Gospel with me, and in tears I surrendered. I [stunk] at doing life by myself. Reading the Bible is still hard, but it also makes sense now!
“Now, I don’t view Christianity or the Bible as something restrictive or oppressive—and I don’t have to do what it says—I want to! I was a slave to sin, now I am a servant of Christ—big difference!
“I don’t want be like “look at me, I’m so holy and so perfect and never make mistakes because I am a Christian.” I am a Christian because I’m not perfect and I make mistskes—and most importantly I can’t do it on my own!
Just Getting Started in Following Jesus
“Today I feel so free! Sure, I still have a ton of struggles, but I have hope. I have someone to lean on, something to look forward to. I know that this life is hard, but I have something better to look forward to.
“I used to have no idea what happened when you died. I thought maybe some part of you goes somewhere—maybe you’re a squirrel, or a tree, or a person of a different gender/race/nationality etc. But now I know the truth. My beliefs were based on nothing. If someone asked me what I believed and why, I would have been like “uh, because I think that?!”
“Now I have something to base my life on. Unchanging truth to anchor my heart to—God’s word. I have a Saviour to guide me, and an amazing family of believers who truly genuinely care about everyone. All my life I secretly prayed that if there was a God he would send me friends.
There is, and He did!
“In one of the sermons I was listening to, Pastor said “In Christ, I’m not who I was and I’m not who I will be.” It’s a lifelong journey, and I’m thankful to be enjoying mine at Emmanuel Baptist Church.”
Post-Script (from Cary):
Not long after her salvation, without any way to support herself and her daughter, Sarah quit her job bartending at an adult club. (Not in response to someone making her, but in response to God’s leading.) She has continued to grow in grace, hearing God’s Word in every service (three each week) and saving stacks of outlines and notes.
Aside from the power of her story, two things most impress me about Sarah.
The first is her depth of understanding of the gospel. As a new Christian, I think she understands the gospel more at one year than I did at twenty years! As I watch her refuse to give up, and see her truly ground her heart in the gospel, I keep seeing “She really gets it!” It’s a wonderful cause of rejoicing in my heart!
The second is her sensitivity and obedience to God’s grace in her life. The changes in her life are dramatic, but they are not a product of external forces. Her will, her lifestyle, her heart and value system have changed, but not because of external pressure to press her into a “behavioral mold.”
Her life has changed, and obedience has grown, by the power of the gospel and grace of God working with her heart. It has unfolded in the context of a healthy, grace-filled local church where most Christians didn’t really notice how she looked because we were more concerned about her heart.
Sarah is a growing product of grace! In many churches she would have been rejected—if not overtly, covertly. Many people would have taken one look at her, in self-righteousness, and then had a hard time relating to her at all. I’m grateful that the EBC family is learning to graciously and truthfully love others as Jesus does, and to see them for who they are not for how they appear.
One final note—this all started with one of the most gracious young staff couples I have ever had the privilege of knowing—Peter and Sarah Gallucci. The Galluccis are faithful, humble, godly people who serve the Lord without guile. As they ate dinner at Chili’s one night last November, they were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit to venture out of their comfort zone and invite Sarah to church. One simple, unignored prompting of the Holy Spirit, one uncomfortable opportunity to speak up, one simple church tract, and a kind invitation to church—look what God has done with it. Wow!
Who knows what story is waiting to unfold in the seat next to you, the booth across from you, or the neighbor working in the yard next door.
Hearts are hungry. The unconditional love and grace of the gospel still radically changes lives. And the captivating love of God still flows from willing hearted witnesses!