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Welcome, Friend

My faith journey began when I was 16 years old and it's not over yet! Getting to know Jesus has been a life-long process, but it's been an amazing one and I can't imagine my life without Him. I hope my story will inspire you to embark on your own. Peace and Love, Joellen

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How I Came to Know Jesus

When I was a kid, I enjoyed Christmas as much as any other child. I loved looking at the packages under the tree, eating my mom’s Italian cookies, and the thrill of Christmas morning. But after the initial rush from the stuff, I felt empty. One year I remember staring out the window looking for the Christmas star because I thought if I could just see that star, Christmas would mean something. ​I often wondered why I thought about Jesus on Christmas, Easter, and Sunday mornings but forgot about Him all the other days. It seemed like I was missing something. Then one summer when I was in high school, a friend invited me to a Christian camp. It was in a beautiful mountain setting, and everyone was super friendly. The theme of the camp was “This is going to be the best week of your life.” It was. That was the week the gospel of Jesus sunk in. ​Before camp, I knew the gospel message: Jesus is the Son of God who came to earth as a human being to save the world (John 3:16–17). He loves us so much that He allowed Himself to be tormented and die an agonizing death on a cross to pay for the sins of the world (Mark 15–16). He rose from His grave on Easter Sunday to abolish death and give life and immortality to those who believe in Him (2 Timothy 1:9–10). I knew those things, but what I didn’t realize is there’s a difference between “knowing” and “believing.” Knowledge happens in the head; belief happens in the heart (see Romans 10:9–10). There was something I needed to do to bridge that gap. ​I sat at a picnic table one night at camp trying to grasp what Jesus had done for me. His profound sacrifice had become very personal.  A candle was on the table, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. I felt something I had never felt before. I couldn’t talk. A youth leader sat with me in silence then asked if I wanted to receive God’s gift of salvation. He explained what that meant, and I said yes. ​The way to salvation is two-fold: Repentance of our sin and belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Sin is when we do things our way instead of Jesus’s way.  It’s a problem because God’s presence is so powerful that it obliterates sin and whatever or whomever is carrying it. This means heaven is off-limits to all of us unless we’re cleansed of our sin (see Romans 3:23; 6:23). There isn’t anything we can do on our own to become clean in the sight of God¾not even a million good deeds (see Ephesians 2:8–9). Jesus is the only one who has the power to forgive our offenses, bad behavior, and wrong thoughts (see 1 John 5:11–12). When we confess our sins to Jesus and are truly sorry for them (repentance), we are forgiven and promised eternal life (see John 3:16; Romans 10:9; 1 John 1:9; Ephesians 2:8–9). God’s forgiveness isn’t just about eternity¾ everything in life is sweeter when we’re free from the weight of sin. ​My youth leader and I prayed together, and I received God’s gift of salvation. Afterward, I knew something special had taken place. I had received the Spirit of Christ in me. Long ago, I was born physically, but when I put my faith in Christ, I was reborn spiritually (see John 3:3-7; Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:9–11). The Holy Spirit was what I’d been missing. ​I received the promise of eternal life and the Holy Spirit instantly (see Ephesians 1:13), but I didn’t change outwardly right away, which was a little confusing. I learned that salvation isn’t a transaction. It doesn’t come by praying a simple prayer correctly or asking Jesus into our heart. Rather, “salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life.”[i] I don’t think everyone’s “moment” has to look the same. God’s grace is what saves us, not our self-assured opinions about what must happen for it to occur (see Ephesians 2:8–9; 1 Samuel 16:7). When I gave my life to Jesus at camp, that was my moment (see Romans 10:9–10). ​Jesus is our friend, and He desires to be in relationship with us throughout our entire life (see John 15:1–15). Getting to know Him, like any true friend, is a process that requires commitment. I got to know Jesus by reading the Bible, learning to hear His voice, and talking with Him. I still struggled with things and had a lot of questions, but gradually my faith matured and my heart changed (see Luke 8:4–15). My faith became real in a way it hadn’t been before. It was my personal relationship with Jesus that bridged the gap between my head knowledge and genuine faith (see Matthew 15:8; 7:21–23). ​One of the ways I changed is that I developed a biblical worldview (see 2 Corinthians 5:16). That means I believe the Bible is true, and I test everything against it. If someone tells me what they believe or I question something that happens in my life or in the world, my thought is, What does Jesus and the Creator of the universe say about that? (see Genesis 1:1). ​Now, Sundays and holidays aren’t the only days I think about Jesus. I talk with Him all the time. When something captivates me, like the beautiful Connecticut blue sky or when hummingbirds gaze at me through my window, I think of Him and my heart swells with gratitude. When I feel alone, I know that I’m not. I have joy, peace, hope, and so many other wonderful things on a regular basis now because I know Jesus, and the Holy Spirit lives in me (see Romans 8:9–11). It isn’t always easy to follow Jesus, and I certainly don’t do it perfectly, but I do follow Him genuinely and I think that’s what matters most. ​Christmas is an important day to honor and celebrate Jesus, and to reflect on how everything changed the day that little babe was born in a manger long ago. I enjoy how people are kind and thoughtful to each other during the Christmas season, and I love getting together with my family. Gifts don’t leave me feeling empty anymore because I have finally seen my Christmas Star. He’s in my window every day.

Do you want to follow Jesus?

​​1. If you know about Jesus but don’t know Him personally, read Matthew15:1–9, then Matthew 7:21–23, and think about the difference. Salvation is an attitude of repentance and faith that we carry throughout our lives in relationship with Jesus. The Bible teaches that it comes by belief in Christ, not by being a good person. Good deeds are important, but they flow naturally out of our faith and repentance (see James 2:14–16; Acts 26:20). To get to know Jesus, I encourage you to read the Bible, starting with the New Testament. If you’re unable to purchase one, drop by a local Christian church and ask for one. 2. Below are some of the Bible verses that summarize the gospel message. They are an invitation to you to receive Jesus as your Savior. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. (Romans 3:23) For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. (Romans 10:9–10) For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13) And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:11–13)  3. If you believe in Jesus and want to follow Him, that is wonderful news! This is your moment. I acknowledged my faith with a prayer like this: “Yes, Jesus, I believe in You. I know I’m a sinner. Please forgive me. I accept Your gift of salvation. I commit my life to You.” Your moment may look different. The important thing is to seek Jesus wholeheartedly and get to know Him like you would any other friend. Interact with Him daily by reading the Bible and talking with Him. ​4. Relationship with Jesus is a process, so be patient as it grows. Faith isn’t genuine if it stays in our heads; the Holy Spirit will inspire you into action (James 2:14–26). If you falter, it’s okay. We all do. Every minute of every day is fresh and new and an opportunity to reconnect with your Savior. Tell a pastor or friend about your new faith in Jesus. It’s important to connect with other believers, especially as you begin your new life with Him. 5. If you have not committed your life to Jesus, what questions or obstacles keep you from believing in Him? Genuine faith doesn’t mean your faith is perfect. In fact, imperfect faith is a sign of genuine faith because it means you’re seeking Jesus with all your heart (see Jeremiah 29:13). He wants us to seek answers to whatever questions we have, but many things about life and faith are a mystery. We will never get all our answers. Ask the Lord to help you work through the obstacles that interfere with your belief. It may take some time, but if you have read this far, I’m certain your heart is open to faith in Christ. Jesus’s heart is always open to you, no matter what (see Matthew 7:7–8). Whatever the obstacles are to your belief, here’s my challenge to you: Acknowledge that all humans including Christians are broken and imperfect. Ask yourself if the questions and feelings you’re holding on to are worth missing out on eternal life and a more meaningful life on earth. Take a risk and let your questions go for now. Wrestle with them later, but do it with Jesus and the help of the Holy Spirit. For now, you can accept the gift of salvation Jesus offers you. I certainly didn’t have all my questions worked out when I became a Christian, and I still don’t! [i] J. D. Greear, Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (Nashville: B&H Books, 2013) ​

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