The year was 1978. My father had a Ford Station Wagon that was green, with brown paneling on the side. In those days, station wagons were made with a backseat that faced the traffic in the rear. It was great to make faces at oncoming cars and to get truckers to honk their horn.

The day was December 31st. We were on our way to baptize my brother, Keith. I remember as if it were yesterday. It was unusual to have thunderstorms in St. Louis in December. It was raining hard. Thunder was loud. Lighting lit up the sky. As I was sitting in the far backseat on our way to the church, I was scared. Not scared of the loud thunder or the flash of lighting, but scared that if Jesus came that night or I was hit by lighting and died, I wouldn't go to heaven.

I was 12. I heard all the fire and brimstone sermons. Preachers pounded the pulpit. The same question sermon after sermon, "If Jesus were to come today, would you go to heaven?" At 12 years old, I was so afraid that I wouldn't go to heaven. I wanted to go to heaven! I wanted God to love me and not be mad at me.

As my father drove, I sat quietly. Praying. "God, if you get us to the church building safely, I will give my life to you. I will be baptized. I will live my life for you."

We made it! Our family entered the church building and my brother Keith was preparing to be baptized by my brother Jim. I sat on the front seat with nervousness. "I made a promise to God," I said to myself. I finally got the nerve to go to my dad and say, "Dad, I want to be baptized, too."

My dad asked, "Why do you want to be baptized?"

I said, "Because I want to go to heaven. I want Jesus to be Lord of my life. I want to be a preacher and tell others about Jesus, too."

My father wrapped his big arms around me and gave me a big hug and said he was proud of my decision. After Keith was baptized, it was my turn. My brother Jim baptized me on a rainy night in December. As I resurrected from the water, I knew! I knew that something changed within me and connected me to God, Jesus, and Spirit. It was more than any feeling I had felt before. It was powerful! 34 years later, I can still feel what God did at my baptism.

During the last 34 years, I've gone against God's best for me. I sin. I'm weak. I feel the pressures of life. Early in my life, I only heard about the punishing God. The all-seeing eye watching every move we make kind of God. If we get out of line, he will surely punish us.

That was then. Today, I know a God who is deeply in love with his children. I also know that God does not call us to be perfect; he calls us to trust him. He will get us through all the difficulties we get ourselves into. When we love him with all our hearts, soul, strength, and mind our attention is taken off ourselves and placed on God. We will do our best to serve and be involved in kingdom work, not because we are trying to please God, but rather, we desire to glorify God.

God has always been about grace!
The faith journey is not perfect, but his forgiveness is limitless:
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness (1 John 1:9 NLT).

Our spiritual life will have traces of weakness — but his grace is sufficient:

My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness... (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT).

We will get weighed down by pressures, life struggles, and sufferings. Yet Jesus said we can always come to him:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out…Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life (Matthew 11:28 MSG).

God has always been about grace! He has never been the all-seeing looking out to catch those doing wrong. God has always been the all-seeing Father who cheers our victories, hurts when we do wrong, forgives when we're sorry, lifts us up when we are down, and loves at all times.

God has always been mercy! God has always been a forgiver! God has always loved us deeply and forever!

Today, I know a God that I didn't know 34 years ago. He hasn't changed, but thankfully knowing grace has changed me!