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GARY WESTGERDES—TESTIMONY—1964 to 1980, RAISED CATHOLIC
At the age of seven I first heard John 3:16 ("For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.) a few days or weeks after being taught about heaven and hell in my Catholic catechism class. Like a child I took the verse to heart and really believed Jesus died for me that I might receive forgiveness of sin and eternal life. The moment I believed, God’s assurance of my salvation and the joy of the Holy Spirit filled my heart; I wanted to be the nicest little boy I could possibly be.
I am not sure how long the break was, maybe several months, my parents were having our home dedicated to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, a church leader or Priest asked me why I was so happy I told him “because I’m going to heaven when I die” he just chuckled and laughed and said “Oh No! You can never know for sure if you’re going to heaven or not until after you’re dead, because you can never know for sure if you’ve been good enough or not.” I was in shock!
Following his visit, I remember looking at my five brothers and sister running around the house screaming and Mom scolding and thinking “If you have to be good enough to get to heaven no one in this family is going to make it!”
My religious upbringing taught that eternal life is something that you must work towards through the Church, with good deeds, the sacraments, and devotions. I always hoped the Church was wrong and God’s word was true, but I had nowhere to turn, I was a good kid growing up but after high school, and then during my tour of duty in the Navy, I began conforming to the world’s pattern.
With three years in the Navy I was moving up. I had made it to third class and was having a good time with my daily jogging which had me in excellent health. (I had received a few witnesses about Jesus, and took them to heart, but I didn’t really do anything about them, I felt my life was altogether.) I remember telling God jogging is what I wanted to do with my life. That very week I was given a desk job and began having pain in my leg. The pain continued and increased and three weeks later I found myself hospitalized with a blood clot in my lungs which had passed from my leg and through my heart. The Doctor told me I could have died. With my life at age twenty-three coming so close to death I began to reconsider my life and its direction.
After recovering from the clot and being placed on limited duty, I began to think about my sin and my accountability towards God. I started going over to the library to read God’s word and God began to work on my heart. A friend asked if I were worried about my leg, and I said, “No, because I knew God could work things out for the best.” He asked if I was a Christian, and I said, “I did not know,” he then invited me to his church.
We went to Rock Church and after the service I went forward to pray and seek God. Afterwards my friend encouraged me to read the Bible. That week as I was reading in First John this statement hit me hard. “He that committeth sin is of the Devil.” (1 John 3:8). I had always thought I was a pretty-good person, but suddenly I knew I deserved and was headed for hell. I was shattered. God placed his finger on my sin, and I could not deny it.
I returned to the library to read 1 John again the next two days, with the same results. I knew my life wasn’t worth living if I was just going to die and end up in hell. I cried out to God about my struggle but did not communicate this to my friend. That Saturday my friend helped me pick out some Christian books. One of the books I read—CLAP YOUR HANDS! A Young Catholic Encounters Christ—shared the simple gospel message that I had always hoped was true back when I was seven. There is nothing of myself that I can offer to God for my sins. My sins deserve the eternal punishment of a Holy God. But God’s love reached out to me through Jesus Christ.
Throughout the week I had acknowledged my sinfulness to God, I then read, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9 KJV) and realized that eternal life is given as a gift to all who believe in Jesus. It was then that God’s mercy, grace, and peace flooded my soul with understanding and forgiveness. I knew that what I was told at age seven by the Priest or Church leader was false. My joy returned as my eyes were opened to the truth of God’s Word that salvation was through faith in Jesus and his atoning sacrifice on the cross. I had experienced Emmanuel “God with us.” Matt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14.
Praise God! "Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ." (Eph. 2:13)
Larry Tomczak, in CLAP YOUR HANDS! is sharing the gospel with his father.
“These things I am writing to you that you may know that you have eternal life—you who believe in the name of the Son of God” (I John 5:13, Conf. Version). “Let me see that.” Dad reached for the Bible. He focused on the verse I had underlined in red. “Hey! You’re right! It does say that!” “Let me ask you another question,” I began.
“Dad, suppose that you were to die tonight and stand before God, and He were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would you reply?” Dad mused over the question for a few moments and then said, “Well, I’ve tried to be a good Catholic—lead a decent life and obey the Ten Commandments. I’ve never intentionally missed Mass. I don’t think I’ve been too bad.” “Anything else?” “I’ve been an usher for a number of years and helped out in a lot of parish projects. I’ve always given my Sunday offerings, too!” “So you’d say to God: ‘I’ve been a good Catholic, led a decent life, obeyed the Commandments, attended Mass, served as an usher, helped out in the parish, and faithfully given a weekly offering, right?” “Right.”
“Dad, I’ve got some good news for you! Heaven is not something a person earns, or deserves, or works for. According to the Bible, heaven—eternal life—is an absolutely free gift.” “A free gift?” “Yep, the Bible says that eternal life is a free gift, unearned, unworked for, and undeserved. Free!” “Oh, go on, nothing’s free!”
I sat down next to him on the couch. Opening the Bible to Romans 6:23, I pointed to the verse so that Dad could read for himself. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is life everlasting in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Conf. Version). “Hey!” Dad exclaimed. “I never knew that!” “Dad, when the Gospel is read at Mass, do you remember hearing the words of Jesus, ‘How narrow the gate and close the way that leads to life! And few there are who find it’?” (Matt. 7:14 Conf. Version). “Sure.” “Well, if only a few find this gift of eternal life, wouldn’t you like to be one of them?” “Of course!” “The first thing we want to look at is what God says about man.”
Flipping the pages of the Bible, I found Romans 3:23 for Dad to read: “all have sinned and have need of the glory of God.” Dad looked up from the page. “So, what’s new about that? In the Mass we say, ‘I confess to almighty God… that I have sinned through my fault.’ I know that everyone is a sinner.” “Well, because man is a sinner, and a sinner can do no good thing of himself anyway, it is impossible for him to earn his way into heaven, even if it weren’t free, which we’ve just seen that it is. The Bible states this very clearly: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not from yourselves, for it is gift of God; not as the outcome of works, lest anyone may boast (Eph. 2:8-9, Conf. Version). “Hold on a second,” Dad said. “Let me read that last one again!” His face appeared slightly pale. “Larry,” he finally said, “I want to receive this gift of eternal life. What do I do?” “See Dad,” I said, “faith is the key that opens the door to eternal life.”—I tried to live a decent life. I tried to obey the Ten Commandments. I, I, I, I, I was really trying to be my own savior. (pages 134-136)
Tomczak, Larry. Clap Your Hands! A Young Catholic Encounters Christ, Plainfield: Logos International, © 1973. Print 134-136 Catholic Approved by: Nihil Obstat: Rev Michael J. Arrowsmith, S.T.L. Censor Deputatus; Imprimatur: The Most Reverend William W. Baum, S.T.D. Archbishop of Washington. October 6, 1973. The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur official declaration that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error. No implication is contained therein that those who have granted the Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur agree with the content, or statements expressed.
And Jesus called a little child unto him and set him in the midst of them, And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it, were better for him that a millstone, were hanged about his neck, and that he, were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt. 18:2–6)
We Agree! The Tomb Is Open, Christianity vs. Catholicism, Pages 244-247
Sin and Reconciliation through Faith in Christ
Westgerdes: As a child growing up in the Catholic Church we were required, whether by our parents or the Church or both to go to confession once a month. This was not a joyous time but boring. You had to think of something you did wrong, confess it, and then the Priest, who sounded just as bored as we were, said, “Say five Our Fathers and five Hail Mary’s” and then we would go back and sit or kneel and pray and reflect for a time. Ugh!
However, I do remember there were two times, maybe three, where the Holy Spirit was really convicting me of a certain sin, and when I confessed it during one of my monthly trips to Confession, the joy of the Lord flooded my soul and heart with assured forgiveness. I was just as joyous as I was when I had trusted in Christ at age seven. This was not a result of the Sacrament of Penance but of my faith that God could and would forgive me of my sin.
Only God can forgive sin is attested to by the Jewish leaders and in an indirect way by the Catholic Priesthood since they claim to be doing so in Christ place. Without this self-proclaimed power they would have no power to do so. Which they do not. Jesus’s pronouncements of forgiveness were valid because he, is God, one with the Father.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, thy sins be, forgiven thee. But there were certain of the scribes sitting there, and reasoning in their hearts, Why, doth this man thus, speak blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God only? (Mark 2:5–7)
We Agree! The Tomb Is Open, Christianity vs. Catholicism, Page 97
Westgerdes, the following is my final step in my decision to leave the Catholic faith.
I struggled quite intensely when trying to decide whether to stay in or leave the Catholic faith; Did I need to pray to Mary plus be a born-again Christian? Et Cetera. After around six weeks, surprisingly, I decided to stay.
I went to Mass the next Sunday and the first thing the Priest said was “Don’t worry about reading the book of Revelation because no one can understand it anyway!”
Well I will tell you what, upon hearing that, unsurprisingly, the Holy Spirit told me, “Gary, now you can leave the Catholic Church.” I had already read the book of Revelation and knew that verse 1:3 says blessed is he who reads the words of this book. I needed that one last step—the confirmation from the Holy Spirit and I have never looked back.
We Agree! The Tomb Is Open, Christianity vs. Catholicism, Pages 154-155
MARK LENNARTZ—RAISED CATHOLIC
My name is Mark, and this is how I have become a Christian.
I was born and raised in a loving caring Catholic family. My parents raised me the best they knew how. They took me to church every Sunday and always told me that I had to go to church to learn about God and the Catholic faith.
On November 22, 1985, I married my wife, Rita, who was also Catholic. Sometime in March of 1990, she came to me and said that she turned her life over to Jesus Christ, and she felt as she was now a whole new person, and she knew she was going to heaven.
I thought to myself “good, maybe she will settle down a little” because she lived a more outgoing lifestyle than I did. She told me that she and her friend, Mary, were
praying for me that I would do the same. I told her that I thought I was going to heaven because I was a good person. I was nice to people, went to church regularly, obeyed the Ten Commandments, and went to confession. Rita told me I was going about it all wrong. She said I needed a personal relationship with Jesus, so Rita and her friend, Mary, asked me if I would meet with the pastor at their church. The date was August 12, 1990. I agreed, and during the meeting, the pastor explained to me why I needed Jesus in my life and what I needed to do to ask Jesus into my life. He told me I needed to admit that I was a sinner because the Bible says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). The only way back to God is through Jesus Christ.
I needed to realize that being a good person was not enough. Because it is by God’s grace and our faith that we are saved, and it is a gift of God: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8–9).
I needed to believe that Jesus died for us sinners. Romans 5:8 says: “But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” That
our sin is forgiven by the shed blood of Jesus, as 1 John 1:7 tells us: “But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of
Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
I needed to put my faith in Jesus alone for my salvation. “And they said, Believe, on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31), and John
14:6 says: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.”
After the pastor explained why I needed to do this, I prayed with him and accepted Jesus as my Savior!
Now the difference in my life is I know for sure I am going to heaven, instead of “I think so.” Now I want to go to church and read the Bible, instead of thinking “I have to.” Also, I want to be a good person because I am now a child of God.
Is life easier for me now? No, not really, but I know that Jesus is with me during my life’s journey, and I know that I am going to heaven.
I also want to say that God gave me another chance. About forty years ago, I was in a very serious car accident and was the only survivor out of four people. My neighbor told me that God was not done with me yet. At the time I was not for sure what he meant by saying that, but now I understand. “The Lord is … not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
From: We Agree! The Tomb Is Open, Christianity vs. Catholicism, Pages 239-240
THE JOURNEY TO FREEDOM - FROM HOMOSEXUALITY - THIS IS DAVE’S STORY
Maybe your story has some different players and components, but some of the same thoughts plague:
* “I have to accept who I am and just live with it”
* “I can’t talk to anyone about this because they won’t understand.”
* “I know there’s only one way out of this. I’ll just end it all, and it will be easier for everyone.”
But, as Dave’s story emphasizes, there is hope!!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always felt that I was different. However, I could never say exactly why. At about the age of 14, I discovered what I thought was the reason I felt different. I was with a friend from school and had my first experience with homosexuality. At that time, I believed I had discovered what I was searching for and that this was the lifestyle for me. After many years of living this way, I discovered this lifestyle left me feeling unfulfilled and empty, but I didn’t know why.
Years later at a home bible study, I came across a verse that stated my homosexual encounters were morally wrong. I wanted to do what was right. I wanted out of this lifestyle, and I desperately hated what I’d become. I told myself “no problem, it’s wrong; I hate it; I’ll quit it.” As I struggled to break free of this, I encountered people’s opinion on homosexuality. This ranged from ridicule to hatred. I realized that I could not go to any of my family or friends for help. Their reaction would be rejection of me, not my lifestyle. I was all alone as I fought this battle raging within. I felt the only safe place I could possibly discuss my feelings was with my gay friends, and the gay community. However, they could offer none of the help I desperately wanted. The attitude of the gay community and also the “world” is, “You are what you are; just accept
yourself for what you are.”
For over 15 years, I tried and failed to get free of the grip that homosexuality had on my life. This cycle of trying and failing threw me into a deep depression. My career at that time was a cross country truck driver. While in this depressed state, the solution was placed in my mind. “The reason you have such a struggle is because you can’t change what you are. Either accept it or die.” I happened to be in Pennsylvania crossing Snow Shoe Mountain when the “way out” presented itself. This mountain offered me an escape. On the way down, there is a ravine about a ¼ of a mile deep with lots of trees. I’d be free of these homosexual feelings forever. It would be just another truck driver that fell asleep at the wheel. It’s a terrible thing, but it happens. Ready to take this way out, I headed towards the ravine. Just before I hit the edge, one of the Bible study lessons I had recently studied flashed across my mind. My life is a gift from God and to throw that away would be far worse than anything I could ever do or have done. Suicide was not the “way out”. I regained my composure and got back on the road where I belonged.
On my way home, I stopped at my neighbor’s house. He knew me well enough to know that I was in deep trouble. He offered prayer and suggested that I get involved in Christian fellowship somewhere. Following this recommendation, I attended North Park Church in late 1989. The love and compassion I felt on my first visit assured me that this was the right place for me and may hold the keys to my “way out”.
After a couple of visits, I confided in the pastor about some issues in my life, carefully avoiding the important issue of my homosexuality. As he helped me through those areas, I began to trust him more and more. Finally, I shared my homosexual struggles with him. The response was one of love and acceptance of ME. Now, I didn’t have to struggle alone. It was like a giant weight had been lifted. Now in times of overload
and depression, help was just a phone call away.
I became involved in a discipleship class. I continued to grow in the Lord and eventually felt
comfortable enough to talk with another brother about my sinful past. As I learned to walk away from
this behavior, they became my accountability net encouraging me in times of weakness and during
times of severe trials. In each, they worked to get me back on track with God’s will and never gave up
However, temptation was out there, no matter what I did or where I went. Even my thoughts were used against me. Thoughts like “remember how much easier living was when you just accepted what you were” or “just this once won’t hurt, who is going to find out?” I left the truck driving profession because I thought this would stop the temptations since this profession seemed to offer an abundance of opportunities. However, the temptations were as strong as ever. I discovered at times like these, the memorized word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the tough questions I knew I would get from my accountability group gave me the strength to resist. I began to rely on 1 Corinthians 10:13 “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” This verse helped me in two ways. First, it assured me that this isn’t something new that has never happened to anybody else, so God won’t be surprised or shocked. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. Second, it told me that God always provides a way out. The way out can be many things such as a place, a thing, or a person to go to
I learned that my best defenses were building my relationship with the Lord through prayer and Bible study
and by building my relationships with fellow believers. I learned that if I were to succeed,
these two things had to happen. Without these, my life would only get further out of control.
As time went on, I realized God had a plan for my life. The Lord wanted to use me and the experiences of my life to help others. With the support of other believers, I began this journey. My biggest step was to tell the story about the struggles I’ve had with homosexuality. A secret I would have rather kept to myself. It has been a long hard struggle to get to where I am now, and it is a long way from over. Of all the difficult things I’ve had to do in my life, letting anybody see a side of me that is not pretty was one of the most difficult. But as I am following the Lord’s will for my long journey with Him. I… hope that maybe somebody else will not have to struggle and suffer alone as long as I did.
I’m not asking anyone to accept homosexuality as an alternative lifestyle. It is imperative to understand that God makes it clear in His holy word that homosexuality is wrong. This can be found in Leviticus 18:22 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “… the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God… nor effeminate… shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.”
If you feel trapped in homosexuality, I want you to know there is HOPE.
You don’t have to stay in this lifestyle there is a way out and a chance to change through Jesus Christ.
It isn’t easy or an overnight change no matter how much anyone wishes it could be, but you don’t have to struggle
alone. Help is available through the Lord and His people. As a matter of fact, it has been my experience that it is
impossible to do it alone.
And finally, if you have a family member, a friend, or a fellow worker trapped in homosexuality’s ugly grip, they need you more than you will ever know. Don’t reject them or turn your back on them. Simply show them the same Love Jesus showed you when you were struggling.
The Bible says, “With God, all things are possible,” and in the words of Jesus, “They that are whole need not a
physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” Luke 5:31-32.
We Agree! The Tomb Is Open, Christianity vs. Catholicism, Pages 247-250
SIVINI WAS IN CHARGE OF REVENGE
Dear Friend … How long since you last met a killer? Give me three minutes, and I’ll introduce you.
His name is Sivini, and for years, hatred was his business.
Hatred is a commodity among the tribes of Papua New Guinea (PNG). One tribe, attacks another; people die. Then the other tribe seeks revenge. Sivini was in charge of revenge.
Among the Usarufa people, in the eastern highlands of PNG, he was the legendary fight commander from the village of Moife. Time and time again, he led his team into neighboring areas to carry out revenge killings. You’ve probably never met a man with so much blood on his hands. Somehow, in his many years of fighting, he escaped the slightest injury. His people, young and old, revered him for his almost magical longevity.
But today we know God wasn’t sparing Sivini for the sake of more dying … He was sparing Sivini for a whole new life—life, and more abundantly—an extraordinary new assignment … that would bring the life-giving Word of God to the Usarufa people and beyond.
It happened like this.
The people of Moife grow wheat; for decades they have threshed their wheat by hand. A threshing machine would speed things up. So Sivini traveled from Moife to the city of Ukarumpa to arrange transport of the new contraption. But Ukarumpa is also a major Bible translation hub—with 275 translators working out of this center to meet needs throughout the country… one of the biggest operations of its kind in the world. By God’s perfect timing, a Translators’ Training Course (TTC) was under way that same day. With such urgent demand among the people of PNG for the Scriptures in their many languages, every course is filled to capacity. But at the last minute, one man learned he would be unable to attend; someone would have to go in his place. A friend of Sivini’s knew he was in town—grabbed him—told him he could get in—it would be really interesting, he promised—and a blood-thirsty tribal leader found himself learning how to translate the Bible into Usarufa! Then, as the group made their way through the tragedy of Cain murdering Abel, translating Genesis 4, Sivini was stunned. “Abel’s blood calling out to God from the ground,” he remembers—“the words pierced my heart.” He could almost hear the blood of his many victims calling out to God from the earth where he had so brutally slain them. In that defining moment, Sivini began to feel something he had never felt before: the possibility of cleansing.
The very next Sunday, he walked to the front of the local Christian church to publicly repent of his past. He asked for prayer—he surrendered his life to Jesus Christ—and in that moment, the God of forgiveness and peace lifted Sivini’s burden of guilt.
Everything about Sivini is different now. Hatred has turned to love, by the miraculous power of God’s Word! “Even my looks have changed since I accepted Jesus,” Sivini says joyfully, “because now I no longer carry the weight of the guilt of my past. Who but Jesus could do such a wonderful thing?”
Today Sivini is committed to the Usarufa Bible translation, “turning God’s talk into the Usarufa language so that my people can know the Lord. I want them to find peace, freedom and forgiveness of sin, just like I have.”
Wycliffe Associates every verse, every tongue, every task: www.wycliffeassociates.org, Page 258
A PEW SITTING HELL-BOUND CHURCH GOER - EVEN SAID THE SINNER'S PRAYER!
From a pew sitting hell-bound Church goer, to a follower of Jesus!
“I was raised in the Church . . . prayed the sinner’s prayer”
“I was raised in the Church. I knew the stories: Noah’s ark, Moses, Joseph’s coat of many colors. I believed Jesus died on a cross for my sins. I believed.
I don’t remember the date, the music, or the sermon, but oh, to God in heaven do I remember the invitation! Never before did I hear a man speak with Holy Spirit authority. I was going to HELL. All my good intentions and procrastinations were worthless. It was one of those fire and brimstone Adrian Rodgers messages: ‘You’re leaving this building one of two ways, under the blood of Jesus or trampling over it.’ My heart was pounding.
I got out of that place under heavy conviction. I knew I had to do something. I thought, ‘I can fix all this. I know what to do. I was raised in church.’ … I need to go to church, get baptized and get married; then everything would be alright. So that’s what I did. I got the marriage license and the baptism certificate to prove it – so I’m good, right?
I was clean and I wasn’t going to sin anymore. I will go to church every week and take communion and problem fixed. Yeah, right … I was trying to live the Christian life. I was trying to do everything to save myself. I even put the rock’n roll down and listened to Christian radio in my car.
Man, I didn’t fix anything. I was getting pounded all day with Love Worth Finding. I needed Jesus, not baptism; I needed Jesus’ perfect life, not my pathetic attempt at perfection.
I quit trying to live the Christian life and started trusting in the Savior’s life. It’s a substitution salvation. He died instead of me. It was a free gift. His righteousness was counted unto me. My uncle gave me some Love Worth Finding messages. I started to study the Bible in a whole new way. It wasn’t a textbook in college anymore; it was God’s Word.
All the Bible stories changed. It wasn’t Noah’s ark anymore, the ark was Jesus saving me from God’s wrath, Moses was Jesus delivering me from bondage, and Joseph accepting his brothers was Jesus accepting me. His death on that cross was my sin debt paid in full.
It was hard to understand the free gift. I always felt like I had to earn it. I must have prayed the sinner’s prayer a hundred times, sometimes twice in the same message! I surrendered to Jesus; I gave all I knew of me to all I knew of Him.
Over the years, Love Worth Finding Ministries has affected my life in ways I can’t explain. Thank you for all that you do. You’re my heroes.”
Love Worth Finding, P.O. Box 38300, Memphis, TN 38183-0300, www.lwf.org
We Agree! The Tomb Is Open, Christianity vs. Catholicism, Pages 30-31