tanner & Erin Ball
I grew up in a household, where faith was a central part of our lives. My parents, and especially my grandparents, made sure to get my siblings and me to church and teach us what our faith was all about. I’d say in middle school and high school, I was known as a good kid. I’m pretty sure however, that the person most convinced that I was a good kid was me. I spent a lot of time criticizing others, pointing out every little thing that they did wrong. I got so bad about pointing out how good I was compared to everyone else that other kids eventually just started trying to stay away from me. The fact that they were avoiding me just made me more self-righteous. I was convinced that they were just afraid to be around me because they didn’t want to feel convicted about all of the things they were doing wrong. I knew all the answers because I went to church, I did all of the right stuff, and God loved me.
It’s hard for me to point to one moment as the turning point, but I think a trip that I got to take with my high school to Nicaragua during my senior year had a momentous impact on me. I went with some other students and a couple of teachers to build a well in a remote village. Once we got down there, I was shocked by the conditions that these people were living in. They slept on the ground under lean-to shelters or in hammocks. The only real structure in the village was a cinderblock building that was about the size of this room. I came to find out that a man from Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, had sacrificed his livelihood, uprooted his family, and moved a town near this tiny village just to build that building, which turned out to be a church. The man commuted every day from 45 minutes away to live life with these people, work with them in their fields, help them cook, wash their clothes, and take care of their kids. On Sundays, he would come and preach. I had the opportunity to hear him preach the first day I was there. The sermon was in Spanish, so I didn’t really understand any of it, but what really hit me was the prayer at the end. I understood enough to know that this guy spend almost 15 minutes thanking God for just about everything that they had in this tiny little village. The gratitude made evident in that prayer was lived out by the villagers. Despite the fact that they had next to nothing, a bunch of women slaved away for hours preparing a huge meal for us on the last day we were there. That night, I had a conversation with one of the faculty chaperones on the trip and pretty much just asked him how on earth they could be so generous in the face of such poverty. He told me they had everything they needed in Jesus. I didn’t exactly understand what he meant, so I asked him to explain. He then went on to tell me pretty much the same story that I’d heard hundreds of times in church and from my parents and grandparents. We’re born into this world sinful. That essentially means that we hate God, we love ourselves, and we pursue what makes us happy. That much I knew; I’d spent my whole life pointing that fact out to others. Because we’re sinful, we deserve punishment. Paul, in Romans 6:23 says “For the wages of sin is death…” We deserve to spend eternity in hell for turning our backs on our creator. However, God, in His great mercy, sent Jesus to endure the punishment that we deserve in our place. That’s why Paul finished off Romans 6:23 by saying “…but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Because of Jesus, our debt has been paid and we no longer deserve hell. Instead, we can now spend eternity with God. That was the part I had been missing. I had been trying for so long to do all of the right things to prove to God that I was good enough for heaven. Pointing out faults in others made me feel better about myself and more confident that I had secured a place in heaven. Those people in that village in Nicaragua realized that their eternity was secure in Christ. Because of that, they were able to deal with whatever life through at them. Because Christ had served them in such an incredible way, they were willing serve others in any way they could.
Since that time, when I first really understood the gospel, the Lord has been working in me, helping me to learn to care less about the sin I see in others and look more at myself. Like the villagers in Nicaragua, I want to become more like my Lord. I also want to serve others like Christ did. He’s been helping me grow in that too. I’ve got a long way to go, but I know now that it isn’t what I do, or how good I am compared to everyone else that matters. What matters is that Christ lived a perfect life, died for my sins as the perfect sacrifice, and saved me from the eternal consequences of my sin.